Song of Love Chapter Six
Here is the next chapter in Lorna and Nate's story. How will she react to his surprise party?
By the time Lorna arrived at The Boathouse just after seven-thirty the next evening, she was tired, hungry and nervous. She expected to find him at their table by the window, getting up from his chair to greet her with a kiss and take her coat off.
Instead, she was guided by a waiter to a room adjacent to the main dining area, split off by large folding doors that were now open. She had never noticed the room before. There was a separate large bar with a shiny black counter and mirrored walls behind shelves of coloured liquor bottles. An oversized, yet sleek TV screen hung over an area that could be used as a dance floor, she presumed, or space for a band to set up their instruments.
To her surprise, she was surrounded by people she knew from the minute she arrived: Tash and Delia from work, Marian and her new man whom she introduced as Sam.
Some of Liam’s and Zac’s friends stood on the side, looking a bit out of place, wondering just like her why they had been invited.
“What’s this all about?” Marian asked as she passed a Margarita to Lorna.
“I have no idea,” she admitted, trying to hide her irritation about not knowing.
“Where’s Nate?” Tash asked as she joined them in conversation.
Lorna shook her head.
“I’m not sure.” She took a big gulp from her cocktail. He’d told her to be here by seven-thirty.
Marian and Sam stood very close to each other, holding hands. Lorna reached for her phone and texted Nate to ask where he was. When he hadn’t replied after a few minutes, she walked across the room to speak to the boys’ friends.
“Do you know where Liam and Zac are?”
Zac’s friend Dan answered.
“No idea, sorry.” He looked a little lost, uncomfortable in this gathering of middle-aged adults, she thought. Soon, Dan and his mates would leave, bored out of their wits.
Standing near the bar, she spotted a couple of Nate’s friends from high school. One was short and round with a receding hairline, and she couldn’t remember his name. The other one was tall with dark hair and sloppy pants that were clinging to his frame by a thread, it seemed.
“Lorna!” He called her over and his name came to her just in time.
He pulled her into a tight hug and didn’t let her go for what felt like a long time. Finally, she freed herself from his embrace and smiled at him.
“It’s so nice to see you,” she said. The other man was looking at her, smiling too. “Sorry,” she said, “I can’t remember your name.”
“Evan,” he said. Before she could make polite conversation, George nudged her elbow, lifted his eyebrows and said, “So, you and Nate, huh? I always thought you’d get back together. Didn’t think it’d take twenty years, though.”
Lorna gave a nervous laugh, not sure how to react.
“Have you seen Nate?” she asked, looking around the room. A few more people had arrived: Nate’s sister and a man who she presumed was her husband, and some teenagers she didn’t recognise.
George and Evan both shook their heads at the same time. “No idea where he is.”
It was nearly eight-thirty now. Lorna politely removed herself from the two men and joined Delia back at a table. She checked her phone, but he hadn’t messaged.
“Another drink?” Delia asked.
“No, thanks.” She hadn’t eaten because she’d expected to have dinner with Nate, and now she wasn’t just hangry but feeling the effects of the alcohol in her gut.
At the bar, she wanted to order potato wedges, but a guy she didn’t even know pushed right in front of her to order a round of drinks for his mates. By the time she got a chance to talk to the waiter, she was feeling so shaky she had to lean into the bar to steady herself.
“Are you okay?” Marian asked when she spotted her clinging to the countertop.
“I bloody hate this,” she cursed under her breath. “I just want to go home and eat.” She looked around the room at the throngs of people. It seemed as if the room had shrunk, or they’d plucked random people off the street to join them. “Who are these people? And where the hell is Nate?”
Loud pop music started to play from speakers suspended high up in the ceiling, making it hard to talk.
“Relax,” Marian said as she leaned over, almost shouting into her ear. “Lighten up. I’m sure everything will make sense soon.”
Of course, she should lighten up. After all, Nate had organised all of this just for her. She took a deep breath, counted down from ten and told herself to be more grateful.
Finally, her wedges arrived. She took them to a high table and sat on a bar stool, desperate to eat. The chips were fresh out of the fryer, so hot she could barely pick them up to break in half.
It was nine o’clock now. Whatever Nate had planned, it wasn’t something Lorna could get excited about, no matter how hard she tried to stay positive. She picked up a wedge, blew on it and dipped it in sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.
Just then, Zac, Liam and a young teenage girl entered the room, followed by Nate. The crowd parted as if they were the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, letting them through. She took satisfaction from watching Nate search the room for her, wandering around in a hectic way, craning his neck.
“Have you seen Lorna?” She could hear his voice over the crowd. When he finally found her, he bent down to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m so sorry for the delay. Are you okay?” he asked.
“I was about to leave,” she wanted to say, but then saw herself as an ungrateful cow, a demanding self-centred princess with no sense of adventure.
“Yeah, sure,” she said and faked a smile. At last the wedges had cooled down enough to eat and she dug into them without further hesitation. His eyes rested on her for a while, but he didn’t say anything else to explain the delay or in fact, anything that was going on.
“Excuse me for a minute,” he said and kissed her again. “I won’t be long.”
She watched as Nate talked to Liam, then Zac. The girl who had arrived with them was over behind the bar, plugging in a laptop while Zac turned on the large screen. This must be Lexi, she thought, recognising her from a photograph she’d seen at Nate’s house.
He found a microphone that was attached to a speaker in the corner, and turned it on, tapping it only to find out it wasn’t working. He signalled to someone behind the bar who flicked a switch, and the next moment, the air was pierced by squealing audio feedback. Lorna flinched.
It took a few minutes for Nate and Zac to find the sound loop that was causing the squeal every time he switched on the microphone. By that time, Lorna thought, everybody’s nerves were so frayed that they were ready to walk out.
“Excuse me,” Nate’s voice finally appeared over the loudspeaker nice and clear. “I’m very sorry for the delay tonight.” He looked around the room. Lorna guessed that there were over thirty people there, half of whom she didn’t know. “You’ll understand in a minute, I’m sure.” He cleared his voice and rubbed one hand on his jeans.
“Thank you all for coming. I’ve never done anything like this before, so please believe me when I say that my heart is in overdrive now and I can barely speak.”
There were murmurs across the audience and someone called out, “You can do it, Nate!” Everybody laughed.
“Lorna,” he said, “Where are you? Come up here for a minute, won’t you?”
Heads were raised and turned in search for her and she heard her name being whispered across the dance floor.
Lorna wanted to sink into the floor and disappear through the cracks in the concrete so nobody could see her shaky hands and her flushed face. Hoping that she might get away with hiding behind the high table, she sat, frozen. Of course, Liam didn’t take long to find her.
“Come on, Mum,” he said and took her by the hand. The cheering of the audience sounded like shrieks to her tender ears.
Liam passed her hand into Nate’s as if he were giving her away, Lorna thought in irritation. Nate pulled her in by his side and spoke.
“As some of you know, Lorna and I go back a long time,” he said.
Someone wolf-whistled. In the dim light, a wall of faces she didn’t recognise looked at Lorna. Zac was the only familiar face she spotted, leaning against the bar counter, looking like he, too, wanted to disappear into the floor.
“An old song of mine brought us back together.” At this point, a video extract of Nate’s song started to play. The part that was the most emotional of them all, where he looked into the camera straight into her soul.
It felt wrong to see him look at her like that in front of everyone, their eyes moving from the TV screen to them and back, as if they couldn’t believe that the words he was singing were meant for her.
Nate pulled her in closer and kissed her on the temple. The smell of him reassured her, coupled with the solidity of his body pressed against her side. I can do this, she thought. He’s right beside me. I’m not standing up here on my own.
The video faded out and Nate continued. “As you might have picked up, the song doesn’t match my current feelings for Lorna.” He paused for effect, she thought, but the audience seemed fidgety and restless, impatient for him to carry on. “So I wrote a new song for her. And she doesn’t know this, but Liam and Zac, her sons, helped me with it. And of course, my niece Lexi, without whom none of this would have happened.”
He beckoned for them to come up, but Zac and Liam didn’t move. Liam smiled and lifted his hand in an awkward wave, but Zac stood frozen, staring at the floor in front of him. Lexi was behind the bar counter, shaking her head to indicate she wouldn’t come up either.
Nate turned to Lorna and looked into her eyes. Is he going to drop to his knees now and propose, she suddenly wondered, panicking. What would she say? Her heart pounded and her mouth went dry.
When he remained standing, relief washed through her and she managed to paste a smile on her face.
“Lorna, I give you my new song. I hope you like it.”
He bent forward to kiss her on the lips. A soft kiss that was far too private to have in front of an audience, she thought.
What are you doing, Nate? Why this pomp and fanfare in front of all these people? She put on a brave face as the TV lit up and Nate and her boys appeared on screen, singing, playing guitar and bass. They didn’t look like her boys but some polished singers from a boyband. Zac’s hair was out of his face, showing the concentration on his forehead as he played. Liam’s voice stood out beside Nate’s, carrying the tune, weaving in and out of Nate’s in a powerful echo.
This was the best song he’d ever written, no doubt, and that was just the singing, but she had no capacity to take in the lyrics as well. The crowd, the glaring TV in the dark room, Nate’s body right next to her, his excitement that she felt so disconnected from – it was all too much.
It was a relief when the video finished, and there was silence, then roaring applause. Nate beamed and spoke.
“We were late because of a glitch in uploading the video onto YouTube. I wasn’t able to upload it any earlier because I didn’t want anybody to see it before tonight.”
Nate looked at her, expecting her to say something, to give him a sign that she loved it, that he’d done a marvellous job, that she was so proud of him and her boys and Lexi. The audience was waiting too, their breaths held in communal anticipation of her praise.
She lowered her eyes, and looked down on the floor with its concrete cracks beckoning to her. The room full of people holding their breath, sucking out every last bit of oxygen; the limited lighting, the glare of the YouTube logo on the giant TV screen – all of it closed in on her. She needed to get out, now, or she’d scream or faint or do something else that would embarrass all of them.
“Lorna?” Nate said as he took a step towards her.
She briefly wondered about Zac. How would he be coping? But he wasn’t standing in the middle of a room full of strangers, swaying, clutching for Nate’s hand to avoid falling over.
“Thanks, Nate,” she said in a voice that she hoped was loud enough for everyone to hear. She didn’t want to appear ungrateful.
He held her hand and studied her as if to work out if she was sincere. With a quick peck on his cheek, she mumbled, “I need to get some fresh air.” She pushed past him, past the people crowding around and wanting to congratulate him on the song.
Even just outside the stuffy room, breathing was easier. In the bathroom, she splashed cold water onto her face and held her hands under the cold tap for a while, letting the refreshing water pull her out of her daze.
All she wanted was to do was go home and hide under her blankets. Tomorrow she would think about the video. The secrecy. The involvement of her boys. But not tonight.
Back in the main room of the restaurant, she asked the bartender to order a taxi for her just as Marian came out of the function room.
“That was an awesome song! You must be so proud of your boys,” she said. “And Nate, of course. What a catch!” She winked at her, then her face froze. “What’s wrong?”
Lorna lifted her hand to her head. “I’ve got a migraine coming on,” she lied. “I’ve got to get home.”
“Oh, darling, what a shame,” Marian said as she put her hand on Lorna’s arm. “Do you need a lift?”
“I’ve ordered a taxi. Can you tell Nate, please? I can’t face going back in there,” she said. She waited by the entrance for the taxi, hoping that Nate would come out and take her home and tell her that all of this had been a huge mistake and that he was sorry for the discomfort he had caused her.
But when the taxi pulled up, Nate was nowhere to be seen. When she arrived home, she made herself a cup of chamomile tea and took it to her bedroom. She sat up, sipping the hot drink, her mind clear and focused for the first time since she’d left home.
What had happened in there? And why was she so furious with Nate?
In the morning, she woke to five missed calls and just as many messages from him. She’d switched off her phone, knowing that he’d try to get in touch, but unwilling to talk to him.
But when he stood at her door at nine, she couldn’t avoid him any longer.
He looked as if he hadn’t slept at all and for a moment, she wondered if he was just going to stand there and stare at her.
“I missed you last night,” he finally said. His eyes were dark, guarded, and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“I had a migraine,” she said and stepped aside to let him in. The clarity of thought from the night before had dissolved, replaced by a foggy heaviness in her brain that would make any discussion with him difficult.
She indicated to go into the kitchen where she made coffee for him and an herbal tea for herself. They sat in silence with their hot drinks between them, neither of them willing nor able to initiate a conversation.
Nate stirred his coffee with a teaspoon and blew on it, desperate for it to cool down enough to drink. When that didn’t do the trick, he fetched the milk from the fridge and added more to his cup. He drank, almost greedily, and emptied the whole cup in a short time.
“Can we talk somewhere private?” Nate finally asked.
The question took her by surprise. “The boys are asleep. They won’t be up ‘til after lunch,” she said, unwilling to shift now that Nate was keen to talk.
He looked around as if to check that they were indeed alone, then lifted his hands palms up.
“I’ve a feeling that I’m in trouble,” he started. “That I’ve done something wrong. Only, I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. Apart from the delay last night, but I have apologised and explained the reason behind it.”
She sipped her tea, imagining the soothing qualities of the chamomile clearing her head so she could find the right words. As the liquid warmed her insides, she wondered again if he’d got any sleep since she last saw him. He had changed into different clothes, but he looked frazzled with dark rings under his eyes and grey, sagging skin.
“Lorna?” he said, his voice urging her for a reply.
“I don’t like surprises,” she said. “Especially not in front of everybody.”
His face dropped, unable to hide his disappointment.
“I wrote a whole new song for you. Aren’t you at least a little happy about that?” he asked.
“It’s a lovely song,” she said, not wanting to hurt his feelings. “But really, there was no need for it.”
He straightened his back. If he were a cat, he’d be bristling his fur. He stared at her, all set for an argument, it seemed, and then his look mellowed and he spoke with a soft voice. “It’s what I do. It’s who I am.”
He put his hands on the table and leaned closer to her. “This is how I feel about you now.” He stopped, thought about it for a while. “And your boys, they helped me. I thought you’d like that.” His voice had taken on an impatient edge.
“You could have told me about it,” she said. She knew she sounded like a whining child but was unable to stop. She inhaled, braced herself for his reaction. “Why the video? Why get the boys so involved?”
“It was Liam’s idea. You should have seen their enthusiasm. We put hours into this!” When she didn’t answer, he carried on, desperate to make her understand. “I couldn’t tell you what we were up to. It was a surprise.”
His eyes lit up at the memory of the time spent working on the song with her boys. Nate reached for her hand and covered it with his, suddenly awake and buzzing. “Do you have any idea how talented Liam is?”
She pulled back her hand, irritated at his implication that he knew something about Liam that she didn’t. “Of course, I do.” As she listened to her defensive self, she quietly wondered if she had indeed known.
Nate sat back, deflated. “I thought you’d be more positive about the song, the video.”
“I would’ve been if I’d known about it.” She knew she sounded like a jealous lover, but didn’t she have a right to know that he had spent almost a whole week working with her boys? Zac’s anxiety meant that she had to know what was going on in his life so she could support him. Most of all, she had no tolerance for secrecy in a relationship, especially one that was still in its infancy.
“Why use my boys? It’s weird, you have to admit,” she said, trying to mould her voice into a more conciliatory tone. Nate’s look hardened and he opened his mouth to counter, but she pushed on. “Why this public show? Why this video with my boys in it?”
He stared at her for a moment as if she were talking a different language to him. “I wanted to show how serious I am about you,” he said. “And the new video connected to how we got back together. If it weren’t for the first video, we wouldn’t have met again.”
She thought about his words for a while, trying hard to see them from his point of view. She opened her mouth to say so when he carried on. “People liked it. It’s a good story.”
A knot formed in her stomach.
“You and I, we’re a story? For others to watch and get their kicks out of?”
He exhaled deeply, running out of patience. “It’s not like that, Lorna.”
“That’s what it feels like to me.”
He reached for her hand again and she let him hold it without returning the gentle squeeze he gave her now. “Look, I’m sorry if this was all too much. It was meant to make you happy, not angry.”
“I’m not angry,” she said, then again felt like a child who denied her own feelings.
His look softened. He lifted his hand to touch her face, but she leaned back into her seat, away from him. When he dropped his hand, his voice carried a tone of frustration.
“You look angry to me,” he said.
“It feels like you’ve gone behind my back.”
“Lorna, if I had told you, the whole thing would have been pointless, can’t you see?”
He stared at her, at a loss. Clearly, there had been nothing sinister to his secret plot. Lorna knew that her boys would have been right behind him, egging him on. They would have enjoyed being part of his project.
So why couldn’t she be excited about this?
Reaching for her cup of tea, she took the last sip. It had a slight bitterness to it that spoiled the taste of the chamomile.
Nate was still looking at her, waiting for a response. How could she explain it to him when she hardly understood herself?
The surprise – not knowing about the hours spent with her boys, the song and the video, and then putting her on public display in front of everyone had put her on edge because all of it had been beyond her control.
Enough in her life was out of her control: her mother’s erratic mood every time she visited, making her vulnerable to her outbursts of toxic criticism, then, sudden displays of kindness and affection that she resented almost more. Her feelings for Nate, the fact that she could hardly spend a minute without thinking of him; the giddiness she felt every time she saw him. Her inhibitions she lost every time they had sex, exhilarating at best, but disconcerting to someone who was so used to being in control of everything around her.
The public launch in front of everyone had been too much on top of everything else that was slipping out of her control. She opened her mouth to explain this to Nate, who by now had given up on a response from her, when her phone rang.
Her ex-husband’s voice was nasal, but sharp. “Liam tells me he’s quitting law.” She pictured him in an impeccably pressed grey suit and a muted tie during court proceedings, using the same tone of voice.
She frowned. “This is the first time I’m hearing this,” she said as she stood and turned away from Nate.
“He said he hates law. He wants to quit,” Lawrence said.
Lorna walked into the lounge where she hoped Nate wouldn’t hear her.
“He mentioned the other day that he didn’t particularly enjoy it, but we never had a proper discussion about leaving,” Lorna said. She hated how Lawrence’s words made her feel inadequate, like she had to justify herself all over for everything she had or hadn’t done for the boys since their divorce.
“Were you at any point going to let me know about this?” he sneered.
She hated the deprecating tone in his voice that used to make her feel small, insignificant, but now, it just riled her.
“It was just a comment! I didn’t know he was considering it,” she said.
“So, what now?” That was typical too, always expecting her to sort things out, to find answers.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not paying for him to slob around. If he quits Uni, he’s your responsibility,” he said.
She couldn’t let him get away with this. “He’s mine anyway. All you ever did was pay, nothing else. It’s not like you are really a presence in his life, are you?” Her voice had reached that shrill pitch that she knew he couldn’t stand. It was sad that it had only taken a few minutes of conversation with him to feel right back where they had been, during their divorce.
Lorna wandered into her bedroom and sat down on her bed. The line remained silent. Maybe he had hung up on her.
“He said he’s rediscovered music,” Lawrence said, his voice suddenly calm and composed. She didn’t trust it. “He said he had a new mate who helped him write songs.”
This would have to be Nate, she thought. With a stab of jealousy that she immediately dismissed as immature, she thought that she didn’t like the idea of Nate as her son’s mate.
“He said he helped write a song, and produce a video,” Lawrence continued, “but he wouldn’t tell me the name of it.”
Lorna wanted Lawrence to hear their son’s singing, desperately wanted him to recognise his talent.
She told him the name of the new song against better judgement. “Liam is doing some of the vocals and the guitar. You should watch it. He’s really good.”
“Fine,” Lawrence said. “Let’s talk about the law thing another day.”
The phone went dead and Lorna lay down on her bed with a sigh.