I was the first to the music room that afternoon. The classroom was, as promised, empty – the only exception being the chairs and tables all aligned like soldiers. I always thought this room was spooky, as it was completely soundproof and there were no windows. The only light came from the bulbs above my head, which were currently switched off. I closed the door, flicked the lights and sat down in front of a tattered keyboard.
I relaxed myself and my hands took control. They flew elegantly over the keys creating a soft and flowing choice of notes. Soon, with both chords and a melody, my fingers were playing an expertly sweet tune. It reminded me of a fairy-tale coming undone; note by note it sounded so sad with its true meaning being kept hidden behind the music.
That’s when I opened my mouth and strung together words.
I snapped my neck round to the far end of the room as the furthest light from me flashed off, like its power had been cut suddenly. Then, light next to that one also burnt out abruptly. Then the light after that and the light after that. Each one closer to me than the last. My fingers slowly turned the harmonious lullaby into a horror film theme.
I stopped singing. My heart was in my mouth. The darkness was getting closer to me, one step at a time. The music I played got louder and more disjointed. I had never played anything like this before and it was frightening me more than the enveloping darkness.
I heard the door swing open. I froze, no longer playing at all; my trembling hands hovered above the keys for a split second before the lights slammed back on all at once.
I span round on my stool, relief washed over me like a wave as my eyes watched David closing the door behind him. He faced me, his eyes chasing away the remainder of all previous fear. I grinned at him gratefully as a warm welcome and asked if he would mind grabbing a guitar from the back.
He nodded, “You had a good day?”
“Yes thanks, a little uneventful, but okay. You?” I shuddered, still immensely crept out by what had just happened moments before. That tingling sensation was still there, stronger than it had been all day.
“Same old, same old,” He shrugged, picking up a beautifully crafted wooden acoustic and shoved his head and right arm through the strap.
“Same old?” I felt my eyebrows draw together in a perplexed manner, “I thought being you there would always be something new and exciting to talk about, and every day would always be different than the last.”
He sat on the edge of the table in front of me, his feet on a chair and chuckling softly he leaned in towards me, his face so close to mine I could smell his minty breath, “Being like me isn’t as great as you would expect.”
My curiosity burned deeper, “It seems like it should be.”
“Parties get boring after a while,” He said simply. Maybe there was more to this boy than I thought, than he was letting show.
All I could do was smile awkwardly, “So, you’re looking for some kind of adventure?”
“That’s why I’m here,” He leaned back, “I’ve never written a song before.”
“So you’ve stepped out of the castle and out onto the village streets?” I feel the corner of my mouth curve up in the friendly banter.
“Why?” I asked, the whole idea baffling me.
“Maybe I like the village streets better,” He mused.
I pondered on this for a short moment, then said warily, “So, what’s so good about being lower in society, when you can have everything you want when you are a king?”
He sighed softly, “If I were a king, I’d be forced to marry a princess, forced to love somebody I didn’t, forced to be someone I’m not. I wouldn’t be allowed to be with a mere maiden of the village streets, no matter how amazing or beautiful.” Our eyes met and I felt the same bond tying us together as I did on the bus that morning.
I, as the less confident one, was the first to look away. Clearing my throat I reached into my bag for my lyric book and a pen while David continued to tune the guitar.
“So, what do you want to write?” He offered a new conversation.
“Well, it’s up to you, it’s your song. Let’s start with the basics,” I suggested, “There’s a lot you can write about. The main ones; love, dreams, heartbreak...?”
He sat peacefully for a moment, considering his options, “What about attraction? To a person I mean?”
Pouting a little, I agreed, “Sure.”
“So we have a topic?” He raised his eyebrows.
“We have a topic.” I confirmed.
David and I discussed words and rhythms. We spoke of characters, kings and queens and maidens in the village streets such as Prince Charming, bravely rescuing his damsel in distress, and in less than twenty minutes we had weaved together lyrics to a three verse song with matching choruses.
Proudly, he read through it again. He nodded his head in satisfaction at how well it all fit together, like a rhyming jigsaw puzzle, the angle of his mouth twitching every so often, as if he couldn’t believe what he was reading.
Finally, he looked at me.
I bit down on my lower lip in anticipation for his approval.
“This is great,” He stated, “Really great, Ivy.”
I beamed at him, “Good,” Then I asked, “Do you want me to sing it to you, so we can add music? Or you could sing it back to me and I could figure out chords on the keyboard?”
He was silent for a moment, and then, in a quiet voice came the words, “I can’t sing…”
My face softened at what little self-confidence David had in him, king of the entire school and in that moment he was shy enough to be mistaken for a terrified deer. “Of course you can, if you can’t sing for me, how will you sing for everyone at Matt’s birthday? You must be good for him to have asked you.”
David shrugged, “It’s easier to sing in front of a crowd than it is to one person you’re trying to impress. What if I bum a note?”
“Then you bum a note. It doesn’t matter David, you bum a note and you carry on. It’s supposed to be your song, how will anyone know if you’ve sang it wrong?” I lifted my eyebrows in encouragement.
“Can you just, sing it for me once? I’ll join in if I can get the hang of it?” David compromised.
So, I began to sing; my voice bouncing off the walls. Benjamin once compared my singing to the song of a nightingale, a bird that had supposedly the most beautiful sound in all the forest, I had never seen the similarity. But when I sang, there was not a soul in the room who wouldn’t stop to listen.
I tried to picture David, watching me as I blinked at the words on the page before me and sang them confidently to him. What does he see? But right then I couldn’t care, I loved to sing and this was a song that showed off all the best qualities about my voice.
When it came to the chorus I was slightly taken aback to hear an accompaniment, one so strong and compatible. As he did, David also began to strum softly on the guitar strings, his left hand playing chords which surprisingly matched the notes, the melody and the key changes perfectly.
I wondered if he would remember which chords he was playing to make the song sound so wonderful. I was almost taken aback by the talent inside this guy, it had been hidden so deep within him and yet was so mentally and physically overpowering it was a wonder how it hadn’t clawed its way out of him.
I stopped singing, and started scribbling down the musical tones he played over the words he changed triads. He was making such complicated and fast movements with his fingers but oddly he didn’t have to watch a single one. He just read the words on his sheet and sang them in a tone so gentle and striking and unique it could have brought tears to my eyes. It was fascinating.
When the song finished we just sat in silence and stared at my piece of paper that held our song.
“We did it,” He said, grinning so wildly I thought he was going to roar at me, “We actually did it!”
“We did it,” I laughed, “Do you like it?”
“Like it?” He repeated questioningly, “I love it! It couldn’t be more perfect. Thank you, thank you so much.”
For a dreadful moment I thought he was going to cry, but instead he took off the guitar strap and hugged me tight, it felt so good. I pulled away and said simply, “You’re welcome.”
And my debt to David Cutler was done.
I opened my front door and dropped my bag at the foot of the stairs. I dragged myself into the kitchen and made myself buttered toast.
“Mum!” I called, but there was no answer. I guessed she was in the garden, or in the bath, or shopping for food. It wasn’t unusual for her to be late home from work either.
As the minutes turned into hours I couldn’t help but worry. I started thinking of tragic scenarios, for example she was involved in a serious car accident on the way home and ended up in hospital. She could have been kidnapped. She could have fallen down a drain on the way to her car and was wandering the sewers lost and alone. It was starting to get dark and there was no sign of her.
I checked the entire house for some kind of note but there was none, the only evidence that she’d been here at all was her breakfast bowl and glass in the sink ready to be washed up and a pair of muddy shoes from this morning’s walk in the forest.
I resorted to ringing her phone. It rang, and it rang, and it rang. There was no answer.
I rang Benjamin, who would pick up because he knew I would only call him in an emergency.
“Hello?” The sound of his voice was like a beacon of hope. I missed him so much.
I cleared my throat, wondering how to tell him, “Hey, Ben?”
“Hey Ivy. What’s up?”
Tell him straight, I said to myself, “Mum isn’t home yet.” I couldn’t keep the worry out of my voice, “It’s nine o’clock, and I don’t know what to do.” My gaze stuck on the same spot on the wall, pained and watery.
The pause on the other end of the line made my palms sweat. Finally Benjamin said, “Have you tried ringing her?”
“She’s not answering.” I continued to bite my lip.
There was another pause. “I’m sure it’s nothing. She’s just caught up at work.”
My posture stooped and I started to tap my foot, I couldn’t keep the question to myself as it slowly bubbled up in my throat, “Ben… what if it isn’t?”
Another long pause, “Well, I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why she isn’t home yet. Just try to get some sleep and if she’s not there when you wake up give me another ring.”
I wrinkled my brow, “Yeah. Yeah, I can do that.”
He called something into the background that sounded something along the lines of, ‘one second’ and then put his mouth back to the phone, “And if things get too much for you, I give you permission to stay at a friend’s house. Just remember to lock up and turn off all the lights.”
I smiled, “I will, thank you Ben.”
“Ring me if you stay out or if anything’s wrong, okay?”
“Of course. I’ll see you on Sunday.” I couldn’t stop the smile rising up onto my face at the thought of my brother’s return.
I hung up the phone and begun to pace the length of the living room. Where was my mother?
I looked out of the window, the evening sky turning a deep orange in the fading winter light. My street was quiet, it always had been. The season had caused my garden look more brown than green; leafless branches, skeletal-looking twigs shook in the mild wind whilst dead leaves provided the only ground cover. The stale breeze, which signaled the oncoming frost, stirred the withered earth. Raindrops splattered into the soil like blood dripping from a mortal wound. I watched it fall and pictured the dewdrops leaving a fresh, crisp scent in the air. A raven sat high in the oak tree, rising tall and regal at the garden’s center, calling out to the blackening dusk.
I shuddered and called Phoenix but she was out and then dialed Elle but got no answer. I sighed and slumped onto the couch, making a mental note to try and get in touch with Phoenix again later; but my guess was I was going to be on my own tonight.