Song of Love Chapter Seven
Lorna lay on her side, staring at the wall when Nate found her in the bedroom. He had waited for her in the kitchen, convinced that she would come back and say what had been on the tip of her tongue before the phone had rung.
But she hadn’t returned and now he sat down on the opposite end of the bed, watching her. If he stretched out his arm, he would be able to touch her feet. Instead, a deep crevasse had opened up between them and he had no idea how to cross it.
She sat up with her legs crossed and held up her phone. “That was Lawrence. Liam wants to quit law,” she said in a voice that was void of any warmth. Maybe she expected him to share her surprise, but the information was hardly news to him.
When he didn’t respond, she faced him and said, “You put him up to that, didn’t you?”
An icy silence fell between them, then Nate shook his head. “I didn’t.”
She leaned forward and pinned him down with her eyes. “You put a flea into his ear saying he should do music.”
Nate held his ground. “I didn’t.” Then he thought how stupid it was to argue about this after witnessing the change in the boy’s demeanour when playing music. If anything, it was something positive to be accused of. “I wish I had, but he came up with the idea all by himself.”
Lorna’s lips had formed into a tight line on her face.
“He is wasting away doing law,” Nate continued.
“It’s none of your business,” Lorna said, her forehead deeply etched in a frown of frustration.
Nate sighed. He decided to ignore the dig at him and focus on the boy. “I see a wasted talent, a deeply unhappy young man, wilting away in a courtroom or a law office. How long can he sustain this?”
It was as if his words hadn’t reached her or maybe the crevasse between them had grown so wide they were too far apart to even hear each other. He carried on, louder now so that there could be no doubt that she would understand him.
“Haven’t you noticed a change in him since he picked up his guitar?” She stared at him, unmoved. Nate stood and raised his hands in frustration. “That boy breathes music! You can’t deny him that.”
She looked like a sulky teenager when she replied. “He can still do music when he’s finished law.”
Nate shook his head in disbelief because clearly, she had her head firmly stuck in the sand.
He turned away from her and slouched back down at the far end of the bed, resigned. “If he’s still alive,” he mumbled before he had a chance to think about it.
It was as if the air had been sucked out of the room. Lorna’s voice was so quiet he could barely hear her now. “What do you mean?”
“Are you blind?” The question came out as an angry shout. “When I first met Liam, he was deeply depressed. Do you want to lose him?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She waved her hand as if to brush off his words, dismissive. He wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her into understanding.
When the phone rang again, Lorna reached for it with a sweep of her hand. Inadvertently, she answered over the speaker phone and despite her frantic fumbling to silence it, he heard Lawrence’s outburst.
“Cooper is our son’s new mate?” he yelled into the phone, his voice booming. Not a slick lawyer’s voice now, but six years of marriage pent-up in suspicion and jealousy, re-ignited through a video that was meant to bring nothing but joy.
Nate hoped that the man was somewhere in a paddock on his own so nobody else would have to witness his outburst. He missed the rest of the conversation as Lorna silenced the phone and left the bedroom. Sinking down onto her bed, he lay his head on one of her soft pillows, exhausted. He stared at the yellow wallpaper on her wall, the tiny cream flowers printed in a seemingly random pattern, and when the petals started to swim in front of his eyes, he closed them.
All he had wanted was to write a song for Lorna, to show her what she meant to him. And to make music with two talented teenagers. How had everything turned so vile in such a short time?
The bedroom door opened. Nate’s eyelids had to fight through a thick soup of exhaustion before he saw her stand at the end of her bed with her arms crossed in front of her.
“Are you trying to blackmail me into a relationship? So that if this isn’t going anywhere, I can’t break it off because my boys have invested so much into you already?”
His head hurt just thinking about the ridiculous accusation.
“I didn’t need your boys to get to you. I did that all by myself,” he said.
“I was wrong,” she said in a bristly voice so unlike her own he was disconcerted. “I was wrong about you and me.”
The skin on his neck prickled and he could feel his heart pound in his throat. This couldn’t be happening.
“You’ve listened to your ex, haven’t you? He put you up to this,” he finally said, not even trying to stop the destructive thoughts that were chasing each other in his head. “You live in a different world to me.” He was thinking out loud now, not screening his words anymore. “I remember now. It was a class thing back then. And it still is.”
He pushed up from the bed, feeling like he’d just lifted a tonne of bricks, and faced her.
“I thought that you’d changed after your divorce, but you’re still that nineteen-year-old girl who wouldn’t hook up with the son of an alcoholic because he wasn’t good enough for her.” He paused, trying to wade through the blackness that threatened to cloud his thoughts, the unbearable truth that he had just figured out. “I wasn’t good enough for you back then. And I’m still not good enough for you now.”
He made his way to the door, making sure his elbow didn’t touch her as he walked past. “Music isn’t good enough for your boy. In your opinion, he’s wasting his time. In mine, you’re wasting his passion.”
She turned to follow him. “You’re wrong,” she said, her face more relaxed now. She had lost her aggressiveness and seemed to want to talk. “I don’t understand, Nate,” she said, her voice now soft and appeasing. “Why are you investing so much time and effort into him?”
They stared at each other across the coffee table. She looked exhausted.
“I mean,” she continued, “it’s not like he’s your son.”
Nate stood very still. The house was silent, as if it were the middle of the night, not Saturday morning in a bustling suburb. He couldn’t hear a sound, not from outside, not from the inside.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
At home, Nate logged onto his laptop and deleted his YouTube channel. It was an act of defiance that gave him back a sense of control of his life. Even so, the loss of his and Lexi’s hard work left an emptiness inside him. The thought of going up to his studio to smash his favourite guitar crossed his mind, too, but he knew better. He might have been stupid enough to think that Lorna might love him, but he wasn’t that stupid, after all.
In his bedroom, he looked at his unmade bed, at the piles of dirty clothing in his laundry basket, and at the bedside table where he kept the box of condoms he’d bought only a week ago. He reached for one of his flattened pillows on the bed and flung it across the room.
Look what happens when you make yourself vulnerable. The pillow hit the bedside table and knocked off his lamp. What a load of crap to long for fame and fortune. The best thing that’s happened to me in years is out of reach now.
He picked up whatever he could get his hands on – more pillows, piles of neatly folded washing, a set of towels – and chucked them around his bedroom. When that didn’t provide any relief, he stormed out into the garden in his socks, and picked up his axe and a round log of firewood that had been drying in a pile in his woodshed.
He lifted the axe over his head and brought it down onto the log with a sharp thwack. Splinters of wood exploded onto the damp grass and the axe lodged itself centimetre-deep into the chopping block. His cheeks burned hot despite the near-freezing temperature outside. Nate wrestled the tool out of the block when he heard his own sneering voice in his head.
It’s all gone to shit. Your song’s gone to shit. Lorna’s gone, and when Lexi finds out, she’ll desert you too.
And suddenly it was his father’s voice he heard, shouting at his mother in a drunken rampage.
“You useless piece of shit!”
Nate shut his eyes, but still he could see her cowering between a seat and the wall in their tiny lounge, protecting both Nate and his sister with her body. The picture brought Nate to his knees, as if it happened the day before, not thirty years ago. The damp ground seeped through his jeans and still, he heard his father’s voice. Holding on to the chopping block, he focused on the cold winter air as it filled his lungs, then exhaled deeply.
Determined to push the memory from his mind, he stood, lifted the axe once again above his head and hurled it down at the half-round in front of him. The blade missed the log and the chopping block underneath and almost wedged itself into his shin.
His breath was coming in small clouds of steam in front of his face as he turned to sit on the block, the axe tossed away in shock. He forced himself to notice the earthy smell rising from the soil, to feel the cold air on his bare arms, to listen to the chirp of a fantail in the garden next door.
When his throat tightened and his eyes started to sting, he pushed the balls of his hands into his eye-sockets until the pain went away. He stood, looked around to check if anyone had seen him through the hole in the hedge, and went back inside.
The house was cold and empty. Nate couldn’t stand the thought of spending the rest of his day there. Torn between anger and despair, he grabbed his trainers and car keys, and left again.
He jumped in his car and drove, not knowing where he was going until he arrived.
The beach was deserted when he got there, so different to the time years ago when Lorna ended up with sunburn. Her face one out of a million in a crowd, it seemed. He remembered their private spot in the dunes, the cold sand against their feet, and could hear Lorna’s laughter in his ear as if she were beside him.
He cursed himself for coming to this place where he couldn’t escape the happy memories of her. A cold easterly breeze blew across the sand, sand-blasting his bare feet. Seagulls sailed against the wind, and a tangy smell of seaweed and salt engulfed him despite the blustery air.
He walked into the wind, bent over to shield his face, regretting that he left his beanie at home. After a while, he broke into a steady jog, much faster than he’d usually run. He wouldn’t be able to sustain that pace for long, but for a short time, he hoped to empty his mind of Lorna. Jogging across the empty beach, Nate kept thinking about that time just over nineteen years ago. A picture started to form in his head. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it earlier.
When his ears were numb and he could barely drag his feet across the windblown beach anymore, he stopped and turned around to see that he had run much further than he’d planned. With the wind in his back, he took a long time to return to his car, cursing under his breath for not keeping track of his distance.
When he arrived back home, he stood under the shower for half an hour, thinking. He worked it all out. All the pieces of the puzzle fitted together. After a tasteless meal of chicken noodles, he sent a message to Lorna. She agreed to meet for a coffee at The Boathouse. At first, he wanted to suggest a different place to meet, but he stopped. This is your new reality now, Nate. You’ll have to face it sooner or later.
It was dark and cold when he left the house. The Boathouse was quiet. A young couple sat at a table by the window and a family of three were just starting on their main course. A folky tune played quietly in the background and soft laughter could be heard coming from the kitchen. Lorna was already sitting at a table, waiting for him. He nodded a greeting to her, then pulled a chair out and sat opposite her.
The waitress turned up almost immediately to take their orders. After they’d asked for a cappuccino each, he spoke.
“You can’t deny me my son, Lorna. He’s nineteen. He can make his own decisions.” It was the first time he’d spoken out those two words. My son. They felt like a delicious dessert on his tongue, a hearty meal. My son. No one could take those words away from him.
Nineteen years ago, almost twenty, Lorna claimed to have fallen pregnant with Lawrence’s baby. But around the same time, Lorna and Nate had spent one night of passion together.
It made perfect sense: Liam’s musical talent. Their instant connection. His looks that were so different from Zac’s. His blue eyes, like Nate’s, while Lorna’s and Zac’s were brown. They were of a similar build and height.
The coffee machine in the background first hissed, then howled as the barista steamed up the milk in a stainless jug for Lorna’s cappuccino.
Lorna waited for the noise to stop, then looked straight into his eyes. “Liam’s not your son, Nate,” she said.
“How do you know for sure?” He fired his question at her like a bullet.
“Lawrence asked for a paternity test a few years ago,” she said, her voice gentle, as if treading on soft ground. When he didn’t respond, she explained. “He found a letter I had written to you.”
“What letter?” Nate asked.
“A letter to say sorry to you, a couple of years after Zac was born. It was going to be my last attempt to reach out to you, but Lawrence found it and I never sent it. He wanted to have confirmation that he was indeed Liam’s father. I couldn’t give him an absolute assurance that Liam was his – there was a possibility that he was yours. So we did the test.” She paused and looked up at him. “And he is his.”
“Are you sure?” Nate asked, not caring how desperate he now sounded.
“I can show you the paperwork,” she offered.
He looked at her with the feeling that the floor was being pulled from him and thought that for the second time in his life, this woman had broken his heart. Only this time it wasn’t her fault. It was his own bloody fault for getting sucked in again, for thinking there might be a future for the two of them, for coming up with this brain fart that Liam was his.
A different waitress came over with their coffees. She kept her eyes cast down in front of her and barely smiled when Lorna thanked her. Nate stared at his coffee and felt the walls close in around him in a muffled sound that sucked the air out of his lungs.
Lorna scooped up a spoonful of milk froth and licked it off. When she spoke in her gentle voice, she put a warm hand on his. “I’m sorry, Nate. I know how much you wanted this.”
Nate couldn’t bear to spend another moment under her soft eyes. He stood brusquely, holding onto the chair in front of him for balance. Lorna was lost for words when he mumbled a good-bye and left, his coffee untouched.
Outside the restaurant, standing on the frost-covered footpath, relief for his lungs came quickly. He sucked in the cold winter air and hurried to his car where a sparkling layer of ice had started to form on its windscreen.
Nate drove down the road and turned into the main street with its corner dairy and bottle store. On impulse, he pulled over and turned off the engine. The sound of his father’s voice returned, only this time he was talking to Nate.
He was a useless piece of shit. He’d chased a stupid dream about a woman who was too good for him. Then he’d conjured up a son because he wanted something of Lorna to hold onto, something to prove that their love hadn’t just been a figment of his imagination.
To even think that he might be a father to anyone! It was for the best that Liam wasn’t his. Everybody would be better off if he never had any offspring of his own.
The liquor shop was illuminated from the inside by bright lights like a beacon in the darkness. Even from the distance, Nate could see the bottles that would send him into the oblivion he craved. He grabbed his wallet and pushed aside a glass door reinforced by a metal grate, entered the shop and scanned the aisles for bottles of wine. Hating himself for his weakness, he hurried past shelves of liquor and beer and carried on to the wine section.
He grabbed four bottles of cheap red wine and carried them over to the checkout, breathing in deeply to settle the tight feeling in his chest. A boy in a red polo-shirt scanned the bottles.
“Twenty-eight dollars,” he said. According to a badge pinned to his top, his name was Rasheem and he didn’t look old enough to legally buy alcohol himself.
Nate eyed up the door which was near the checkout. Would he be able to suppress his creeping claustrophobia and purchase the wine, he wondered. Taking another deep breath, Nate fumbled through his wallet and only found a crumpled twenty-dollar note.
“I’ll take two,” he said to the boy and passed him the money. Half-way through the door, he heard the boy’s voice. “Sir, your change.” Rasheem had followed him through to the door and pushed the change into his hands.
It would have been easy to give the bottles back. Take the change and push the two bottles into the boy’s hands, hurry to his car before the boy even realised, and he would have been okay.
Instead, he took the change and kept the wine. As he drove home, the weight of the bottles sitting in his lap reassured him and his tight shoulders relaxed. This was a way to shut off the pain, just for a while.
Lorna woke up at midnight. After the meeting with Nate, she had returned home and fallen into bed, exhausted, surprised that her brain allowed her to rest. She had expected to be up until the early hours of the morning, chewing over the events of the last day: the ill-fated public launch of the new song at The Boathouse, the toxic conversation with Lawrence, her unease at Nate’s secrecy, and her reaction that Liam was depressed. Mostly the look on Nate’s face when she told him that Liam wasn’t his son. And regrets. Regrets that she had overreacted, that she should have listened to Nate instead of Lawrence, that she should have talked to the boys about their involvement with Nate before jumping to conclusions.
Now she knew that it was too late for regrets.
She sat upright in her bed, rubbed her eyes and turned on the light on her bedside table. Blinking, she reached for her phone to see if Nate had been in touch. He hadn’t.
In the kitchen, she made herself a hot chocolate and sat down by the fire, sipping the hot drink. She put soothing classical music on to ease the tension she was feeling since she’d woken up. After the drink, she lay down on her yoga mat in front of the fire and practiced her breathing exercises that usually helped her calm her unsettled brain.
But tonight, nothing worked to alleviate the feeling of dread about Nate. She couldn’t get the picture of him out of her head as he stood and left The Boathouse: at first glance distraught, then deflating in front of her eyes, defeated and becoming invisible, as if he wanted to disappear.
She gave up after her third round of yoga nidra and reached for her phone to text him. After she hit send, she held it in her hand and watched the screen. Countless minutes passed before she put it down. Just like she had expected, Nate hadn’t replied. By now, it was one o’clock in the morning. He’ll be okay, she said to herself and went back to bed, tossing and turning. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she had to get hold of him and after much internal deliberation, she rang him.
“Hi Nate, ring me when you get this message, please,” she said as his voicemail kicked in. “Just want to make sure you’re okay.”
Half an hour later, she slid out of her warm bed and got dressed, grabbed her phone and her car keys and drove across the city to his house.
The streets were dark with only the occasional streetlight illuminating the black in diffused orange light. No one else was out at this time of the night, not a single car, not even a cat. The drive felt unreal, as if she were in a movie on a secret mission, and it took much longer than she remembered.
The lights were on when she pulled up in front of his house. Lorna felt like an intruder as she used the torch on her phone to find her way in the darkness. The spare key to the house was exactly where she knew it would be, under the large terracotta pot with the lemon tree by the back door.
Not knowing where in the house the back door would lead to, she returned to the front and unlocked the door. The corridor was dark when she stepped into it. Using her phone, she found the light switch and breathed a sigh of relief as the light came on.
She perked her ears to listen to a response and could hear the sound of music and a voice. TV, she thought. She knocked on the wall and called out his name, not wanting to give him a fright by arriving unannounced. Stepping into the lounge, she saw him stretched out on the sofa. A glary light shone onto his pale face. On the screen, a TV commercial played. The room was freezing cold.
She only took a second to take in the scene in front of her: two empty wine bottles on the floor beside the coffee table. A penny-sized spot of red stained the carpet. A plastic bucket with liquid running down its side, some inside the bucket, some seeped into the carpet. The smell of vomit and alcohol, and the sound of Nate’s snore as she checked his pulse.
“You stupid idiot,” she said and gave him a shove to wake him, but he was out. His hair was flat, vomit covered his neck and his T-shirt. Dribble had run down his chin and dried up around his mouth.
She shook her head in disgust, then went into the bathroom to find a washcloth and a towel. As she wiped his face and neck, she averted her eyes, not wanting to look too closely at him for fear of feeling sorry for him. She emptied the foul contents of the bucket, washed up the vomit and wine stains, collected the wine bottles and put a glass of water on the coffee table.
The fire had gone out. Lorna lit it, opened the windows to let fresh air in, then brought back the clean bucket and put it beside Nate’s head. The fresh air revived him, and he sat up briskly, opened his eyes and looked at her.
“Let’s get you out of these clothes,” Lorna said and pulled his stained T-shirt over his head. He lifted his arms like an overtired child would, glad to have someone take charge. Back on the sofa, he rolled onto his side, closed his eyes and fell asleep. With much difficulty, Lorna unbuttoned his jeans and pulled them off. By now, the temperature in the lounge was freezing, but Nate lay in front of her in his boxers, completely unaware, his mouth half open, snoring.
She shut the windows, stoked the fire and fetched his duvet from his bedroom to cover his legs and stomach. Looking down at him, she wondered if she should stay the night to make sure that he was safe. He looked comfortable and some of the colour had returned to his face.
What would she say to him when he woke up the next morning? That she wished she could wipe the past two days from both of their lives, erase them like you could delete a video on your phone? She didn’t want to face him when he woke up. He would suffer from a hangover from hell, and she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from giving him an earful for being an idiot.
The phone rang from somewhere in the distance. Nate woke up covered in sweat and a glary light shining into his face. A piercing pain shot through his eyes and forehead and he quickly closed them again.
The room tipped on its side, threatening to throw him off the couch as he sat up too quickly. His mouth filled with sawdust, and his ears seemed muted through earmuffs.
He reached for the glass of water on the coffee table in front of him, frowned at the clean bucket on the floor and the lack of clothes on his body. There wasn’t much he remembered from the previous night, but he distinctly recalled missing the bucket when he threw up for the first time and the mess he’d made of himself in the process.
He felt a faint warmth on his bare arms and looked at the woodburner on his left. A fire had been lit, but it must have gone out recently. The wine bottles from the night before were missing and his clothes were nowhere to be seen.
Confused, he put a hand on his head and closed his eyes, trying in vain to remember what had happened. There was a blank. He didn’t even know where his phone was, but he had a faint recollection of shoving it somewhere where he couldn’t reach it. He pushed up and slowly made his way down to the bathroom.
The shower was hot and soothing, but it did little to improve the hammering in his head. He squirted double the usual amount of shower gel onto his palms and washed himself to get rid of the smell of alcohol that seeped through his pores. He squeezed himself onto the floor of the shower cubicle and closed his eyes, aware of a painful memory clawing itself back into his mind.
“Are you trying to blackmail me into a relationship?”
He shook his head, squeezed his eyes shut, and pictured himself back at the liquor store, buying more wine, spirits even. A few more hours of oblivion would be better than the pain he was feeling now. He’d give anything to make the hurt inside of him go away.
Standing swiftly, Nate wedged his arms between the shower walls to steady himself, then turned the shower off. The cold air from the bathroom revived him as he reached for a towel and wrapped it around his hips.
In his bedroom, he put clean jeans and a T-shirt on and made his way to the kitchen.
“I was wrong about you and me.”
His car keys sat on the bench, beckoning him to return to the liquor store. He reached for them, grabbed his wallet and remembered that his phone had rung. Rummaging through his pantry in the hope to find his phone, he came eye-to-eye with a jar of coffee. On impulse, he switched the kettle on, then searched for his phone, in vain.
When he’d poured himself a cup with two teaspoons of sugar, he sat at the kitchen table, grateful that he was sipping coffee instead of liquor. He allowed himself to think of Lorna. Of their argument about Liam and Lawrence, and of the words that had sent him on this downward spiral: “He’s not yours, Nate.”
He pushed the thought out of his mind. This would have to wait. His phone rang again and just as he pinpointed that the sound came from one of the kitchen drawers, he remembered how he’d stashed it in there, shouting obscenities in his drunkenness. At least he had been alert enough to hide the phone from his own stupid self so that he wouldn’t send any drunk messages to Lorna or Liam, heaven forbid.
“Hello?” he answered.
“Nate? It’s me,” Lorna said. “Are you okay?”
Her voice gave away that it had been her who had cleaned up the mess. He pictured her coming in, seeing him in a state that he couldn’t even remember.
“Did you come in here last night?” he asked.
She wasn’t meant to see him like that. Nobody was meant to know about this.
“How dare you?” he shouted at her, suddenly furious that she had invaded his privacy.
“I was worried about you,” she said and wanted to add something else, but he cut her off.
“I wish you’d never been in touch,” he spat out, seeing red in front of his eyes. His hands shook, wanting to reach for something to smash. He wanted to scream his lungs out, tear out his hair, inflict pain to get rid of this anger. “It’s your fault I started drinking,” he yelled. But Lorna had already hung up.
He walked out into his small garden and breathed in the cold air. The axe still lay in the grass amongst the scattered splinters of firewood. A cat ran across his lawn, apparently terrified. He couldn’t even be trusted with a cat, he thought. The sky was overcast and gloomy. He noticed that he still held his phone in his hands and lifted it up to read the string of messages Lorna had sent him the night before. He listened to her message on his voicemail, urging him to call her in a voice that tried hard to sound business-like, but unable to hide her concern.
Back inside, he stoked the fire and cleaned up the kitchen. In the laundry, he stopped in his tracks as if he’d hit an invisible door, overcome by a foul stench of vomit and alcohol. He spotted his filthy clothes and a towel and washcloth in the tub, opened the door that led to the backyard with its clothesline and stuffed the dirty laundry in his washing machine.
He left the door open and returned to the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” he typed into his phone and sent the message to Lorna.
When she replied with an ok after a few minutes, he pressed the dial button and lifted the phone to his ear.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated when she answered his call. “I’ve been an arsehole. I shouldn’t have said that.”
She replied with a non-committal sound and waited.
“Thank you for checking up on me,” he said, then hesitated. “Although I’d rather you hadn’t.” She was silent on the other end and he wondered if she’d hung up once again.
“See, I don’t remember anything about it,” he said when he heard her take a deep breath. “Whatever you saw, it must have been disgusting.”
“Don’t be stupid,” she said in a quiet voice. “It was nothing that I hadn’t seen before.”
He could see himself now on the couch, covered in his own vomit, the mess on the floor, the scene of desolation she walked in on when she found him at some ungodly hour in the morning.
How could he explain how awful he felt about her seeing him in such a state? He couldn’t find the right words, but felt it in the prickle on his skull, in the need to close his eyes, the want to disappear from his own body. Then, just as he was ready to hang up, embarrassed about his lack of words, he stammered, “I am so ashamed,” into the phone.
There was silence, once again. And then her voice, dismissive, yet soft and kind.
“Don’t be ashamed, Nate,” she said. “It happens to everyone at some stage in their life.”
Maybe it did. Maybe everyone got drunk at least once in their life, so pissed they couldn’t recall a thing. But that wasn’t the reason for his shame.
“You don’t understand,” he said so quietly she didn’t hear.
“Pardon?” she said. When he didn’t respond, her voice became agitated. “Nate? Are you okay?”
He couldn’t stand her concern any longer. She was too kind, too nice for a man like him. He would wreck every little good thing that they’d had, just like his father had wrecked everything their family ever had. Nothing that had ever been important to him in his life could be taken for granted now.
“Yes, I’m fine,” he said as he wished he could disappear from the phone, from this house, from his life. “I think it’s best if we don’t see each other anymore. Thank you for looking after me.”
He hung up before she could say anything else.
She told herself that he needed time.
She told herself that Nate was so embarrassed about his bender that he wouldn’t be able to look into her eyes. That she needed to take the first step and tell him it was okay to make such a mistake. But he ignored her messages and remained silent.
She put herself in his shoes, imagined what it would be like to discover a boy that might be your son, to form a deep, intuitive connection, only to lose him again. No matter what she thought of his secret antics with Liam and Zac and his influence on Liam about his degree, Nate didn’t deserve this. It would have driven the world’s strongest man to drink.
Oh, how she had wished for Liam to be his after he was born. It would have given her permission to leave Lawrence years earlier instead of suffering through six years of making each other’s life a misery.
At night, when the physical longing for Nate was so strong it hurt, she told herself that one day he would stand in front of her door with a sheepish grin on his face and kiss her and ask her if they could start all over again.
Liam went back to Uni. He’d decided that he would finish the first year of his law degree, then change to a music degree, and his father had supported him in this decision, after all.
A couple of times, Lorna went for a coffee at The Boathouse, hoping that she might catch Nate there, but their paths never crossed, just like they’d never crossed in the nineteen years before they had reconnected. She thought of their first dinner together, of the hope and excitement that she’d felt during that short week of happiness.
When she finally picked up the courage to message him again, he replied quickly, as if he’d been waiting to hear from her one final time.
Please let me get on with my life. Your messages make everything worse. I wish you and Liam and Zac only the best.
After a few weeks, it was as if the short time with Nate had never happened, a dream too good to be true.
The first week was hell. He barely slept.
At work, he consumed coffee by the gallons to keep him awake, loud music to stop his brain singing the two songs that were entrenched in his neural pathways, and fruit smoothies at lunchtime to add at least some nutrients to a diet consisting of caffeine and chocolate bars.
He hadn’t been back in his studio since he returned from The Boathouse that night. Lexi was sulking since he had deleted the videos she had put so much effort into, and hardly visited anymore. She had backups of the videos somewhere, but he wasn’t interested, just like he wasn’t interested in her bemoaning the loss of his two hundred subscribers. If he hadn’t set up the channel, Lorna would have never seen the video of the first song, and she would have never contacted him.
He kept going around in circles, telling himself that he would have been better off not spending two weeks of his life infatuated with a woman he loved more than anyone else. But no matter how often he tried to convince himself, he wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that time with her.
Lexi mentioned that she spent a lot of time with Zac now. He wondered if they were just friends or whether there was a romantic element to their relationship, but he didn’t ask, and she never volunteered any information on the few occasions he saw her.
Liam texted him every now and then. One night he called at midnight in a state of excitement.
“I just wrote a song,” he gushed. “At the pub. On your guitar.” There were voices and music in the background, and Nate could almost smell the mix of beer, sweaty bodies and stale oil from the pub’s kitchen as he listened to Liam.
He pictured the lanky boy at the centre of attention around a table with his mates, hammering out a song on his guitar. He was about to say how glad he was that the guitar had found a good use when Liam started to sing into the phone. Nate could hardly hear the strums of the guitar in the background, but Liam’s voice was clear and strong, despite his limited sobriety, singing about strawberry blonde hair and hazel eyes and love at first sight.
He heard someone’s voice in the background, giggling, followed by raucous laughter.
“Who’s the song about?” Nate asked when the noise had died down. There was a long pause again and Nate saw him in his mind’s eye, half-drunk, trying to talk to him with all the distractions of a busy night around him.
“Oh, this girl I met,” Liam said at last.
“Does this girl have a name?” he asked.
Liam laughed. “It’s Aimee,” he said.
“Aimee.” Nate repeated the name a couple of times, thinking how he liked the way the name rolled off his tongue. He wanted to ask Liam how he’d met the girl and when he would introduce her to him, but the phone went dead.
A heavy loneliness settled on Nate’s chest, amplified by the stillness around him. The remaining embers in the fire glowed in the dark, barely giving off enough light in the darkness of the lounge. He wondered if he should add another log to keep the fire burning overnight, then decided that it was too much of an effort to go outside and get more firewood from his stack at the back of his house.
He forced his thoughts to Liam and Aimee, to take comfort in the boy’s excitement about first love. The aching loneliness in his chest gave way to a different feeling, warmth maybe, if not pride, a recognition that he had done some good by Liam. He couldn’t take credit for the boy’s success with Aimee, but he knew with absolute certainty that he had helped him out of his depression.
Yes, everything with Lorna had turned to shit, but he had done some good by the boy. Even if he wasn’t his.
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