Song of Love Chapter Three
Many thanks for your comments on Facebook. Keep them coming! They give me the confidence to keep posting. Here is chapter three.
Nate fell into bed exhausted and slept late into the morning. After breakfast and a couple of cups of strong coffee, he did the housework that he never got around to doing during the week: vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, doing a couple of loads of washing, and ironing his work shirts.
In his bedroom, he hung the ironed shirts in his wardrobe and put his T-shirts, jeans and underwear away in his drawers. He pulled the sheets off his bed and carried them through to the laundry for another load of washing.
When he sat down with his phone for a break, he noticed a message request from Liam Fisher. He was about to delete it because the name wasn’t familiar to him when he remembered the boy from the previous night.
“Keen to get back into music,” the message said. “Any tips?”
Nate thought about it for a while, then typed his response.
“Find covers. Learn to play them. Practise.”
The boy replied with a guitar emoji.
Nate’s thoughts returned to the night before. To the awkwardness during the dinner with Lorna. How they had regained some of their old familiarity around each other over the course of the few hours they’d spent together. And when she’d received the emergency message from Zac, she had leaned on him for support, and he had gladly given it. In the early hours of the morning, when he was about to leave, she’d even wanted him to stay the night.
A message alert on his phone pulled him back into the present.
“I need a new guitar,” Liam had written.
Of course, Liam would be tempted to run off and buy a new guitar. Nate had seen the spark in the boy’s eyes when he’d picked up his childhood guitar, even though it looked a bit small on his knees. But he hoped that Liam would resist the urge to buy a new guitar because he would inevitably end up with something mediocre or unsuitable for him.
“Use your old one for now, until you’re sure you want to pursue this,” Nate wrote back, then pushed the boy out of his mind.
He understood why Lorna asked him to stay: the tension during the dinner, the worry about Zac, and then the long talk next to the fire. Memories of the past fuelled by alcohol, and a song took on an importance he hadn’t foreseen. It would have been easy to stay with Lorna and provide comfort, if that’s what she had been after. But he’d been desperate to get home, to bury himself in his bed and go to sleep. He was crap at anything when he was overtired.
“Haven’t been sure about anything else this year,” Liam messaged.
Nate thought about Lorna’s comments regarding the law degree. About Lawrence’s pressure on the boy.
“You can borrow one of mine,” Nate typed without any second thoughts.
He replied with a thumbs up.
Now, Nate’s guitars were a little bit like children to him and he wouldn’t usually lend them to anyone, but this boy needed to get back into music to lift him out of his gloominess.
“Can I come over?” he asked.
Nate would have preferred to take the guitar to Liam so he’d have another chance to see Lorna, but he didn’t want to intrude on her, especially not after the turmoil with Zac the day before. She might want to spend some time with her younger son.
He texted Liam his address and put the phone down.
After a shower, he went into the studio. There were two guitars he thought would suit Liam. One was his first guitar, the one he had used when he sang Lorna’s song the first time, before Lexi’s recording. It was scratched and had a bump on the back, so Liam wouldn’t have to worry about damaging it. And there was the cinnamon guitar that Nate hardly ever used. He’d bought it a few years earlier during a trip to the United States, but it had never quite fitted him and now it stood in its stand, unused, for most of the time.
He would wait and see which one suited Liam better. It was a bit like Olivander’s wands from Harry Potter, he thought. The guitar chooses the musician, not the other way around.
The doorbell rang and he went downstairs to let Liam in.
“How’s your mum?” Nate asked as he shut the door behind him. Liam stood in the entry with his three-quarter guitar in his hand.
“Still asleep, I think,” he said.
It was one o’clock in the afternoon. Nate wondered if she always slept so late on a Sunday, then reminded himself that he hadn’t left her home until three in the morning.
“Come on in. Do you want a drink?” Nate asked. Liam shook his head.
“Come upstairs then,” Nate said and beckoned him to follow.
In the studio, Nate pulled out a spare chair for Liam. The boy’s eyes swept across the room, then he sat with his hands clasped, silent. He’d sounded so eager in his messages, but now Nate wasn’t sure what the boy wanted from him. His guitar sat beside him on the floor, discarded, it seemed.
Liam lifted his eyes and looked across the other side of the studio to Nate’s guitars, full of longing, almost. Nate was about to introduce his instruments when the boy spoke, quite urgently.
“Which one is your favourite?”
Nate looked around at his rosewood Fender, the red Fender Malibu, his battered first guitar, and the cinnamon one. And those were only the acoustic electric ones.
“You’re asking me to pick a favourite out of a bunch of friends, do you realise?” He smiled, but Liam remained still. “I’d go for the Malibu. And this little beauty.” He picked up the battered one, tuned it and played one of the riffs he had been practising the night before while waiting for Lorna to return.
Liam’s face lit up as he recognised the pattern and he watched Nate for a little longer before reaching for his own guitar. He tuned it quickly and copied the riff very slowly. He took time to press his fingers on the correct strings, to pluck the right string, clearly out of practise. When he got it wrong, he let out a deep sigh and tried again.
“You’re just missing an extra beat in here,” Nate said when Liam couldn’t work out what was wrong. He showed him on his guitar while the boy watched, his eyes focused on Nate’s fingers.
Liam picked the pattern up straight away and copied it, looking at Nate for guidance.
“You’ve got it,” Nate said.
Liam repeated the pattern a few more times with increasing speed and accuracy. Suddenly, he started to improvise on the riff and Nate watched, then joined in with him. A few times, their tunes clashed, but Nate soon worked out Liam’s chord progression, and they played together for a few minutes.
During a break, Nate passed his old guitar to Liam.
“Here, try this.”
The boy took some time to get used to the different size, the larger spacing between strings, the longer neck and bulkier body of the guitar. Nate played along in the background, letting Liam take the lead. To Nate’s surprise, he knew a mixture of blues and pop songs and a folk tune.
“I thought you hadn’t played for a long time?” Nate asked when he got a chance. The boy carried on playing as if he hadn’t heard his comment. Nate wondered if Liam was always so quiet or if he had given up speaking because no one really listened to him.
The best thing to do was to keep playing and not force any conversation on him. He picked up his rosewood and played along, humming quietly, wanting to encourage the boy to sing, but he didn’t.
“Not until this morning,” Liam suddenly answered with a sheepish grin on his face, as if he had to justify himself for wanting to play again. He paused and looked up, resting his hands on the guitar. His eyes seemed a lot brighter and clearer now, his posture more relaxed, moulded around the guitar.
This boy is breathing music, Nate thought. He watched him as he picked up another tune, immediately immersed in his play with his eyes focused on his left hand, anticipating chord changes.
Nate stood quietly. “I’m going to make myself a cup of tea. Won’t be long. Just keep playing.”
He wanted to give the boy time and space to play. He knew how stifling someone else’s presence could be, even though, judging from what he’d seen and heard so far, Liam didn’t have an issue with that.
Downstairs, he turned the jug on, then sat on the bottom stairs and listened to Liam play, first just strumming and picking, then humming along. Yes, there was a rustiness to his play, his chord changes sluggish, imprecise even. But he would only need to practise for a few weeks to catch up with Nate, then overtake him in his skills.
When the kettle boiled, Nate poured his cup of tea and made his way back upstairs when he heard the first few bars of the ‘Song of Love’. He sat down near the top of the stairs, leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, listening to Lorna’s son sing the song Nate had written after she’d broken his heart.
He had a clear voice with a sharp edge to it. His pitch was perfect and there was a strength to his voice that surprised him for someone so young and fragile. It was still a bit immature, but there was so much scope in it, if given some expert training and practice.
“Salty lips and your face covered in freckles.”
Nate’s throat tightened, touched by his own lyrics, even sung by someone else who had no idea what had prompted them. He took a gulp from his tea, then stood.
“You should definitely pursue this singing thing, Liam,” he said to him as he re-entered the studio. “You’re very good.”
Liam turned crimson in his face. “Thanks.”
Nate didn’t tell him that he was a natural, although his perfect pitch definitely was. It was the hours of practise and perseverance that would make all the difference for Liam, not being told that he had talent.
Nate reached for the cinnamon brown guitar. “Try this one. It’s a bit different, but it might suit you.”
Liam took the guitar gingerly and ran his fingers over the lacquered wood grain. “It’s beautiful,” he said.
Again, he tuned it without the need for the tuner, and Nate picked up his guitar to join in. After a couple of strums, Liam stopped and motioned for Nate to pass it to him. He made a few adjustments on the fret, tightened one string, then passed it back. Nate couldn’t pick up the dissonance that Liam had heard, but he trusted the boy’s ear.
Nate played a succession of songs and Liam joined in where he could. Sometimes he took over the vocals or they sang in chorus. Liam challenged Nate to a guitar solo, but Nate soon lost track of his fingers and ended up in the wrong key.
“Stop!” Liam shouted while covering his ears, but he was laughing for the first time since Nate met him. Lorna would give anything to see Liam laugh like that, Nate thought. He felt a duty to make the boy laugh as much as possible while they were at it, so he had another go at the guitar solo and played for a little bit longer before ending up in the wrong key again. Liam laughed out loud, bent over the guitar in front of him, and Nate repeated the same mistake again and again until tears were streaming down Liam’s face.
“Oh man, my muscles hurt,” Liam said when Nate stopped. He wiped his face, which now had a healthy red colour to it. Again, Nate wished that Lorna could see him now.
“Clearly, I need to work on that solo,” Nate said dryly and stood up to stretch his legs. He walked over to open the window for some fresh air, then found two amplifier cords and plugged them into the inbuilt pickup on the Malibu and the cinnamon brown.
Liam cringed when Nate first plucked the strings of the first guitar.
“Let me do this,” he said. Nate played with the settings on the amplifier while Liam tuned both guitars. To Nate’s ear, the guitars sounded fine soon after his first try, but Liam took ages until he was happy with the pitch.
Liam picked the first few bars of the ‘Song of Love’ and Nate joined in without hesitating. Soon they sang the song, Nate singing the verses, and Liam joining in the chorus, adding a simple harmony to it, extending the vocals where it suited, taking his voice back where Nate toned down his voice.
Liam’s voice carried a longing that took Nate back to the days when he was nineteen. Had Liam experienced a similar loss? Had his heart been broken by a girl, too? It was hard to imagine that Liam was the same age now as Nate was when he found out about Lorna’s pregnancy. Liam seemed so young, barely out of childhood. Nate remembered feeling so grown up back then, but looking back now, they were just teenagers, not equipped with the life-changing events that were about to happen.
The song resonated in the studio for a few seconds, then dissipated between the egg cartons, the wall hanging and the sarked ceiling. Nate closed his eyes. When he opened them, the boy ran his hands over his face, pushed the wild hair out of his forehead and gingerly put the guitar down. Liam inhaled deeply, raised his eyes to Nate before looking down at his hands.
There was a sudden shyness in his eyes, like when you first met someone you really liked and suddenly you realised that you’d exposed yourself to them a little bit too much, too soon.
“Cup of tea? Or something stronger?” Nate asked.
“Coffee, please.” The boy didn’t meet his eyes, but Nate thought he sounded desperate.
“Sure. Come down when you’re ready.” Nate left him and made a pot of strong coffee. He found some chocolate biscuits that he bought on special for Lexi and spread them out on a plate.
“Why are you doing law, not music?” Nate asked when Liam found his way down, and sat next to him at the kitchen table, clutching the hot cup between his hands.
Liam shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t let Dad down.” He shrank by half a head, slouching into his chair.
“You can’t live your life by someone else’s dream.” Nate picked his words carefully, not wanting to confront the boy about his unhealthy quest to please his father.
“It used to be my dream,” Liam said, “when I was little. Crime novels, even from a young age, an interest in law, the courts, the justice system.” He shook his head, now almost speaking to himself. “And with everything that was going on with Zac, I wanted to keep Dad happy.”
Nate took a big gulp of his coffee and sat still, not wanting to push the boy, but hoping that he would tell him more of his own accord.
“There were a few very ugly scenes when Mum and Dad split up. It was very traumatic for Zac. I’m convinced it’s the reason for his anxiety.”
Nate pictured Lorna, fighting for her boys, using her sharp mind to get what she wanted, to stand up for her boys. She wouldn’t have given up on them, no matter what, even if she had to fight her lawyer ex-husband.
Liam reached for a biscuit and dunked it in his coffee. “Whenever Dad said something about me taking up law, I kept quiet. I thought I’d work it out later.”
For a boy that had hardly said more than a few words in the couple of times he’d met him, it seemed that he was now unable to stop talking.
“And then suddenly I was about to finish High School and needed to decide what to do at Uni. There was never even a question about not going to Uni. So I enrolled in law, got in, and here we are.”
Nate reached for the pot of coffee and topped up both of their cups. “Just talk to your dad,” he suggested. “You might be surprised.”
Liam didn’t respond.
“What about your mum? How would she take it?” Nate asked.
Liam scoffed. “She pretends this whole elitist bullshit is behind her after her failed marriage to a wannabe upper-class lawyer. But you’d be surprised how much she still clings to the idea of me practising law one day.”
Liam had lost the spark in his eyes, as if the brief conversation with Nate had exhausted him. Nate left the boy in the kitchen and climbed up the stairs to get the dark guitar from his studio.
Back in the kitchen, he pushed the instrument into Liam’s hand.
“You have it,” he said. “I don’t need it at the moment.”
Lorna couldn’t remember when she last had slept past two o’clock in the afternoon. Probably when she was a teenager. She looked around the bright room, then remembered the night before, the worry and fear about Zac, and how Nate had helped her out and stayed until the early hours of the morning. From the lounge, she heard the reassuring noises of the TV, proof that Zac was around because he was the only one these days who bothered with daytime TV. It made him feel at ease, he always said.
She sank back into her pillows and looked at the ceiling. Daylight filtered through the gaps in the curtains in a faint glow that promised a little bit of sunshine in what had been a cold bleak week.
Lorna let her thoughts wander to Nate, to their intense dinner, the discussion about the song, his body right next to hers on the sofa, singing for her, then stopping mid-song. His hasty departure, before she ran after him in her socks, and his reassuring voice of reason in the car when she was frantic about Zac. And then how he came back inside, and Liam said that he was Nate Cooper as if it was the most normal thing.
She rolled out of bed, took a long hot shower, then made herself a strong coffee and toast for a mid-afternoon breakfast.
“Zac?” she called into the lounge. “Can you get Liam? We need to talk.”
Zac made a non-committal sound before calling for his brother. Liam came out of his room holding a guitar she had never seen before. He sat down beside his brother and leaned into the sofa with the dark gleaming instrument on his knees.
“Where did you get that guitar from?” she asked.
“Nate gave it to me,” Liam said, quietly finger-picking an arpeggio chord progression.
She frowned. “Nate? When?”
“I rang him this morning to ask about getting back into playing. He lent me one of his guitars.”
“You saw him?”
“I just got back from his house.”
Lorna frowned, not sure if she liked the idea of sharing Nate with anybody just yet. As soon as that thought popped into her head, she dismissed it as ludicrous. Zac lifted his head, pushed his hair out of his eyes and asked, “Who’s Nate?”
“Mum’s date from last night,” Liam said, grinning at his brother.
Lorna folded her arm over her chest. “He wasn’t my date,” she said, feeling herself blush and irritated at the same time. “Nate’s an old friend from way back, before I went to Uni.”
“You’ve never mentioned him before,” Zac said matter-of-factly.
Trust Zac to keep track of every single friend she’d ever brought home, Lorna thought. “No, because I haven’t heard or seen from him in the last twenty years. And then Marian tagged me in one of Nate’s videos.”
Zac turned to Liam. “What videos?”
“He’s into music. He posted a new video.”
“He’s a YouTuber?” Zac asked, his face lighting up in interest.
Liam shook his head. “No. He just uploads a video every now and then.”
Lorna butted in. “It’s his niece, Lexi, who does that. Not him.”
Zac looked at Lorna. The familiar twitch in his left eye had started, a sign of his anxiety. He felt excluded, worried that he’d missed something, worried that he was missing some important information. “This is all very confusing,” he said. “What’s it got to do with me?”
Lorna put her hand on Zac’s hand and squeezed it. She tried not to show how proud she was of him to verbalise so accurately how he was feeling.
“Last night, when you texted, Nate gave me a lift to pick you up and bring you back home. I’d had too much to drink. My car is still back at the restaurant.”
The twitch in Zac’s eye became more frequent.
“So Nate knows all about me now, does he?” Zac asked, his voice tense.
“Just the basics, honey. I explained that you found it hard sometimes to stay at friends, and that you needed picking up.”
Zac exhaled in frustration.
“I haven’t even met this dude, and he already knows that I’m a nutcase.”
Lorna counted to five in her head, then responded calmly, “Honey, you’re not a nutcase. Don’t put yourself down like that.”
“When will I meet him?” Zac wanted to know.
Lorna looked away, through the ranchslider that led into the garden. A handful of leaves had been swept up by the wind and accumulated on the concrete pad under the veranda. The place needs a tidy up, she thought.
“I’m not sure, Zac.” That was the problem with allowing men into her life, Lorna thought. It was never just a two-way deal, but always involved her boys and the whole emotional baggage that came with them.
“I thought you were dating him, Mum,” he said.
“I went out for a nice dinner with him. That doesn’t mean we’re dating.”
Lorna saw the meaningful look between Liam and Zac, but she didn’t have the energy to dismiss their obvious conclusions.
“Let’s talk about last night,” she said, hoping to draw the attention away from herself to the mishap over Zac’s anxiety attack. “Why didn’t you pick up Zac’s message, Liam?”
“I didn’t hear it.”
“So you didn’t check your phone every ten minutes?”
Lorna was irritated that he’d broken the first rule they had agreed on when they discussed what to do about Zac’s stay at his friend’s.
“Zac, what happened?”
He looked uncomfortable, as if the memory of the anxiety attack made him anxious all over.
“I was fine one moment, then suddenly I started worrying.”
“What did you worry about?”
“That I wouldn’t find the toilet in the dark. That I would stumble over the others sleeping on the floor. That I would wake up at night and worry. That I would have a bad dream and scream. That I would sleep in the next day and miss out on breakfast. Take your pick, Mum,” he said and stood up.
“I’m sorry, Zac. I didn’t mean to make it sound like it’s your fault,” she said.
“But it is my fault. You know that. He knows that.” Zac was now pointing at his brother.
“It’s nobody’s fault, honey. It just is what it is. Next time, we will have to think of a different plan.”
“There won’t be a next time,” Zac said and turned to walk out the door. Lorna’s heart ached for her son. He was so desperate to do what other teenage boys did. Normal teenage boys, as he put it.
“Maybe not for a while, honey. But one day, there will be a next time. One day.” She briefly touched his hand before he left the room.
Lorna sat down beside the fire and reached for the basket full of unfolded washing beside her. She dumped the clean clothes onto the sofa and started folding the washing on the coffee table in front of her. Outside, the sky was already getting darker. She had only just got up, she thought, not realising that it was nearing five o’clock already.
Liam left her to it and followed Zac, still holding the guitar. Soon after she heard him in Zac’s room, singing Nate’s song.
“…but I stole a kiss first.”
She froze. There was something wrong about hearing those lyrics sung by her own son. The son who was part of the reason for the anger and pain in them. She couldn’t help but listen to Liam’s version, stunned at how well he could sing and play the guitar. Had he secretly been playing the guitar all along?
When the song was over, she joined the two boys in Zac’s room. “Isn’t that Nate’s song?” she asked.
“Should you play this song?” she blurted out, before realising how odd that would sound to him.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Liam asked.
“It might be personal to him,” she quickly said.
Liam shook his head. “He didn’t say I couldn’t sing it when I saw him today.”
Lorna was stunned. She hadn’t expected this and wasn’t sure she liked it. She wanted to keep Nate to herself, to think of him as her friend.
“You’re playing well, after all this time. It must be hard,” she said.
Liam gave her a wide smile.
“It wasn’t. I just played and Nate joined in, and then we sang a few songs together. It was like we’d always played together. It was really weird.”
Despite her misgivings, she couldn’t deny that there was a change in her boy’s demeanour. He was lighter, happier, and had a bright look in his eyes that she hadn’t seen for months.
Dinner at seven felt more like a late lunch. After the boys had finished tidying up the kitchen, Lorna grabbed her jacket, keys and phone and called out to them, “I’m heading out for a bit.”
Before they could ask where she was going at this time of the evening and the week (she never went anywhere on a Sunday night), she was out the door, heading up the street to retrieve her car from The Boathouse. The brisk twenty-minute walk invigorated her. When she unlocked her car and sat down, she took a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her cheeks were rosy, her ears red. She took a deep breath and decided there was somewhere she needed to go before heading home.
“Lorna?” Nate said ten minutes later when she arrived at his house. From the look on his face, Nate hadn’t expected her when he opened his door. She felt the need to explain herself.
“It didn’t seem fair that Liam got to see you today, but I didn’t.”
She stepped from one foot to the other, rubbing her hands, wondering if she should swallow her pride and turn around since he showed no sign of inviting her in.
Finally, he stepped aside. “Come in.”
She entered a narrow corridor lined with a few hooks on the otherwise bare wall, each a different shape or size, to hang up coats and jackets. She slid out of her puffer jacket and hung it on a polished brass hook. To one side of the passage was a small kitchen with a tiny breakfast bar. A single bar stool was squeezed into the corner.
“Coffee?” Nate asked as he moved into the kitchen and lifted the jug to fill it with water.
He opened a cupboard to get out a jar of instant coffee.
“Sorry, that’s all I have.”
“It’s fine,” she said.
“Come through here. It’s warmer,” he said and walked into a small lounge with a woodburner, a two-seater sofa and a single seat facing each other. This room looked more homely than the entrance, with a couple of bright prints gracing the walls and a low bookshelf beneath one of the windows.
Nate opened the woodburner and put another log on the fire. His lack of communication unsettled Lorna. Maybe she should have ignored her restlessness, and the nagging itch she had felt ever since he left her house the previous night.
She sat down on the two-seater sofa, as close to the fire as possible and waited while he went back to the kitchen. The fresh log in the woodburner caught fire, crackling and spitting sparks into the firebox. She stretched out her hands to warm them up, then leaned sideways to peer through the door to see if Nate was coming back. With every minute that passed, she doubted her decision to come here, and wondered if she should get up, say her goodbyes and go back home.
“Here you are.” He stood in front of her all of a sudden, tall and so close she didn’t know where to put her eyes, with two cups of coffee in his hands.
“Thanks,” she said, taking the cup from him, and trying not to stare at his body hidden behind a long-sleeved top that fitted snugly across his chest. “I thought you’d done a runner,” she added with a grin.
“Why would I do that?” he asked.
“I figured me turning up here wasn’t on your plans for tonight. Maybe I should have rung first.”
He smiled, then shrugged his shoulders and sat down on the one-seater opposite her. “I must admit, I didn’t expect you.”
She couldn’t find the right words to explain herself so she said nothing, desperate for her coffee, but it was too hot to drink.
“Liam had a good time with you today,” she said to fill the silence. Talking about her son was easy territory; a safe topic to avoid the question of why she had come to see Nate. “Thanks for doing that for him.”
Just like she knew he would, he shrugged it off. “It was nothing.”
Glad that he had responded to her distraction, she carried on. “You lent him your guitar.”
“I hardly ever use it anyway.”
She could see what he was doing: downplaying his actions as if anybody would have done the same in his situation.
“Anyway, thanks. Liam has been playing non-stop since he came home.”
“Great,” he said as if that was no surprise at all to him, and then he fell silent, sipping coffee, and leaning into the backrest to stare into the fire.
“How was your day?” she asked when she couldn’t bear the silence between them any longer.
“Good. Dinner at Mum’s was the usual, quiet and relaxed.”
Lorna blew over her coffee and shifted in her seat.
“Thank you for everything you did for us last night. It meant a lot.” Before he could open his mouth, she continued. “And don’t say ‘it was nothing’, because it wasn’t. Your presence made all the difference.”
“I’m glad I was helpful.”
Another silence. He didn’t seem to have the need to fill the quiet with words, unlike her. He didn’t even notice the long gaps between their words. She blew over her coffee again, then took a tentative sip.
“I’m sorry how the worry about Zac overshadowed our evening,” she said.
He looked straight at her, again taking his time as if he’d wanted to make sure he had the right words before he spoke. “It was obvious to me that you come as a package, Lorna. Whatever happens with your boys, it’s part of you. You can’t separate yourself from it.”
She resisted the urge to reply immediately, took a larger sip from her cup and wrapped her hands around it. “I want you to see me as Lorna, not a package.”
He smiled. “I do, but you don’t have to justify yourself for having to be there for your boys.”
She appreciated his understanding, but right now, she wanted him to forget about her family and focus only on her.
The orange glow of the fire sharpened the lines of his jaw, highlighted the ridge above his eyebrows. His eyes had softened, and for the first time, she could see his age in the fine lines beside his eyes, and on his forehead. With the light and shadow of the fire playing tricks, it was undeniable that he had aged. Of course, he had. He’d turned twenty the last time she’d studied him in such detail. What a stupid thing to notice, she scolded herself.
Suddenly, he pushed up from the seat, walked up to the fireplace and turned the knob that regulated the intake of air down. She wanted to protest, to say that she’d only just warmed up, but she kept her mouth shut, and watched him walk around the two-seater she was sitting on. He plonked himself on its armrests on the other end, his feat sitting on the cushions beside her.
Now that he’d turned down the fire, the orange glow was fading, and his outline became darker.
“Why are you here?” he asked into the quiet.
She lifted her feet up onto the couch and pulled them in, facing him. Perched at the end of the sofa, he was higher up than her, at an odd angle for a conversation, and it was disconcerting to have to look up at him.
“I think you know why,” she said.
He shook his head. “Tell me.”
Lorna inhaled deeply. There was no way around telling him why she had made the trip to him on this cold, dark Sunday night, leaving the comfort and cosiness of her home.
“I’ve been thinking about you all day, Nate,” she said.
He blinked, then tilted his head as if he didn’t understand.
“Why?” he asked.
She felt herself blush. “I thought it would be obvious.” Nate didn’t move, didn’t encourage her, didn’t even smile. He wasn’t making this easy for her. She wouldn’t be able to fudge herself through a half-arsed admission, but would have to be honest.
“Spending the evening with you yesterday, and half the night, has triggered emotions in me that I haven’t felt for years.”
He looked at her, once again taking his time to respond. Unlike her, he had no qualms about staring at her. “What, like nostalgia?” he asked.
She thought about it. Was her restlessness simply a reflection of nostalgic sentiments of youth and the good old days?
“More than that,” she said, feeling pressured to make apologies for her feelings. “I know it must seem ridiculous to feel like this after one evening together.”
This time, she remained silent for a long time and it was Nate who became restless, fidgeting with his fingers.
“Like something’s been missing all this time, but only now I realise.” She expected him to frown, to flick his hands in dismissal, to laugh at her for her sentimental soppiness. But he didn’t, and after a while, she added, “A yearning.” As soon as she’d said it, she regretted her honesty. She made herself look like a fool; a needy middle-aged woman controlled by hormones.
But Nate glided off the armrest into the seat beside her, his thighs touching her feet, then turned to look at her. His eyes were darker now, hard to read, and she was again surprised by his unashamed stare.
Too fixed on his eyes, she only noticed his hand beside her face when he slid his finger under a strand of her hair that had come loose from her ponytail. He lifted it and pulled away to watch the strand fall back onto her shoulder.
“Yearning,” he said, then paused as if to savour the taste of the word on his tongue. “It’s a powerful word. So much stronger than longing, don’t you think?”
It was near impossible to think about the nuances of the two words with the warmth of his hand radiating against her skin, but she nodded, mumbling, “Longing is more physical.”
His fingers moved from her hair down to her neck where they followed the neckline of her cotton top. The edges were frayed deliberately to make the garment look old. She’d never liked it until now, when he ran his fingers along the seam, and the tip of his finger touching her skin every so often. It was as if he lit a fire along the edge of the garment. A thin burning line right around her.
“So, what is yearning, then?” he asked, continuing along her collarbone, behind her neck, then back and across to the clavicle on the other side.
Taking slow, shallow breaths in the hope that he didn’t notice how his closeness affected her, she averted her eyes to think more clearly. “It’s all-encompassing. Physical, mental, spiritual.”
Nate leaned over until his face was very close to her neck and she could feel his breath on her skin, smell a trace of coffee on him.
“Like that time in the dunes when we kissed until our lips were sore?” he whispered. She picked up his scent that was instantly familiar, even after all these years, flaming her anticipation.
“From memory, there was more than kissing,” she said, closing her eyes, anticipating his kiss, already feeling the touch of his lips on hers.
“Let me show you something,” he said instead. A twinge of disappointment coursed through her as Nate pulled her up from the couch.
Lorna’s hand was soft and warm as Nate led her upstairs to his studio.
“Where are we going?” she asked. Her voice was a little husky, with a hopeful hitch at the end of her question. He briefly wondered if she would voice her disappointment when she worked out that he wasn’t taking her to his bed.
“Just wait and see,” he said as they made their way up the stairs. In his studio, he pulled out a chair for her.
“Give me a moment,” he said as he picked up and tuned his Malibu. From the corner of his eyes, he saw her look around the room, study his instruments, and take in the handmade rug on the carpet under his feet and the amplifier on the floor beside the window.
He shifted on his stool until he was comfortable, then looked straight into her eyes.
“You talked about yearning.” Her look was open, expecting, bright. “Yearning is wanting something that’s unattainable, out of reach,” he said as he pressed his left fingers down for the first chord of the ‘Song of Love’. He played a few bars, then stopped, closing his eyes for a moment. The confidence he’d felt moments ago had left him. What if he’d misread the situation? What if he bared his soul to her, scaring her away? Most likely, she was talking about the physical attraction between them, nothing else.
“Yes?” Lorna was waiting, smiling. He threw all caution into the wind. Make yourself vulnerable, Lexi had said. This time, it wasn’t about winning an audience. This time, it was about showing himself to the woman he used to love more than anyone else.
“I know all about yearning,” he said, then cleared his voice and started again.
Lorna didn’t take her eyes off him throughout the whole song. He was the one who broke eye-contact a couple of times, to adjust his fingers when he missed a string, and to give him a break from her stare, but when they reconnected, she was right there, looking at him, soaking him up.
When the song reached its climax, he worried that he wouldn’t get out the words under her intense scrutiny. He closed his eyes and poured his emotions into his voice, tapped into the pain and resentment and grief from that time.
He finished, feeling as if he’d just been hit by a train, his arms tingling, his eyes stinging, his chest sore. Lorna took the guitar out of his hand, and he rested his hands on his thighs, breathing in and out deeply.
She got up and stood close to him, lifted her hand to his shoulder, then touched his cheek with the back of her hand. She ran it over his shoulder before semi-crouching down in front of him, looking up from under him so she could see his eyes. He closed his eyes, willing her to give him some space.
But she didn’t. Instead, she lifted his chin and ran her thumb over his cheek, then traced the shape of his lips with her fingers.
“How do you do it?” she asked. He opened his eyes, looking down on her lips. There was complete silence in the small room, interrupted by a dog barking in the distance outside.
“Expose yourself like that.”
Lexi’s advice had been right once again, he thought, before pushing thoughts of his niece out of his mind. His only interest was Lorna, who was right beside him, looking at him, waiting. She was good at waiting, he had noticed, never showing any impatience.
She had seen right through him, down into the smallest corner of his soul. There was no point trying to hide from her.
“Sometimes, everything lines up, I suppose. My music, my emotions.” He hesitated, trying to find the right words for something that he couldn’t really describe. “It’s like this energy that captures everything about me, a mixture of feelings, my voice, my body, everything in one big bundle, for lack of a better word.”
“A bit like a rush?” she asked.
“It’s more like a burning, a quest. It’s like desperately wanting to get somewhere and arriving at that destination at the same time.”
He looked at her, briefly worried that she might think he’d lost the plot. She studied him for a long time, first his eyes, then looking down to his lips and his hands, back to his eyes.
“I’ve got music in my head, and my hands are tingling because they want to play the guitar. And there’s an ache in my heart.”
She frowned. “It sounds very draining.”
“Oh, no, it’s not like that at all. It’s excitement and want. It’s empowering.”
He lifted his hand to touch her arm. She felt precious, desirable.
“And there’s that other word we talked about before,” he said. Her eyes were wide, unblinking, her pupils dilated.
“Yearning. It’s a delicious want for something just out of reach,” she said in a quiet steady voice. “Just like that time on the beach.”
He held his breath, worried that he’d miss something she said.
She leaned forwards and kissed his lips, gentle and chaste, then held her cheek against the stubble on his jaws, reached for his neck with her hands. Her fingers traced the outside of his ear, found the soft spot on his neck that always gave him shivers when touched, then kissed him with more intent.
“Sometimes, it’s not out of reach,” she said after a while. “That’s what makes it so delicious, this yearning.”
It was all over too fast: a fireball, a tsunami of touch and scent on the handwoven rug, with his guitars standing over them, silent bystanders to the sounds of fulfilled yearning in a studio usually filled with music.
After, they lay in each other’s arms, in a daze, staring at the ceiling above them, Lorna’s wrists tingling. The sky outside was dark, but she could make out Nate’s smiling face.
He turned and lifted his hand to trace the outline of her jaw, then pulled her into his chest. She closed her eyes as his stomach pushed against hers, warm and soft, and thought that she would like to lay here with him for a very long time, but with a mattress under them and a duvet on top.
Despite his warmth, she was feeling the chill in the unheated studio and gently pried herself out of his arms to put her clothes back on.
Nate got dressed, then led her down the stairs again, holding her hand.
“Do you want another drink?” he asked.
She paused in the doorframe of his kitchen, holding on to the sides as the room swayed around her. She could easily lie on the floor in front of the fire and go to sleep now. Even better than that would be to crawl into Nate’s bed, wrap herself around him, and maybe have her way with him once again. Just thinking about it made her weak in her knees and sent her heartrate up. She would take the time to kiss him properly, slow things right down.
“I better head home. Another busy week starts tomorrow,” she said, blushing when he kept looking at her, waiting for her response.
“Of course, you’ve got work.” Nate tried to hide his disappointment with a quick answer. “I’m on holiday, see. I’ve got a few days off.”
“Are you going away at all?” she asked, pretending that she hadn’t noticed his deflated look.
“I was going to.”
He picked up her hand and ran circles on the inside, over her palm, down to her wrist. She found it hard to concentrate on his words.
“But maybe I won’t,” he said, his eyes set on her. She smiled, pleased. Nate pulled her in against his body and held her tight. His voice was right beside her ear when he spoke again. “You don’t want to stay the night?”
She filled her lungs with a deep breath to catch his scent one more time, then gently disentangled herself.
“I need to get back home. I said I’d only be out for a short time.”
Nate took a step back, then ran his hands through his hair, looking sheepish.
“Of course, the boys. I’m sorry, I forgot.”
She stepped up to him again, took his hand and leaned her forehead against his chin for a moment.
“That’s the idea, Nate. That you’d forget about the package and only see me.”
His eyes were full of awe when he looked at her. “I saw plenty of you, alright.”
It took all of Lorna’s willpower not to undress him right there.