THE AFTERNOON OF THE CONCERT HAD BEEN HECTIC, BUT PREPARATIONS WERE WELL UNDER WAY. Donna was already dressed and took one final look in the mirror before leaving her bedroom. She wore a three quarter length navy blue jacket with matching skirt and plain white blouse. Her face had just a touch of make up around the eyes and cheeks and her hair was loose. Overall she had tried to dress conservatively so as not to draw attention to herself, as this was to be Theresa’s big night.
As she left her bedroom she knocked on Theresa’s bedroom door before stepping inside. ‘Are you ready yet?’
‘Just be a couple of minutes.’
‘Ok, I’ll wait downstairs for you.’
When Evan and Mrs Lacey told her how lovely she looked, Donna shrugged this off and said, ‘You wait till you see Theresa.’
She appeared a few minutes later, and Evan was the first to say, ‘Wow! You’re gorgeous sis, you really are.’
‘Thanks for that Evan. Even if it isn’t true, it’s the thought that counts.’
‘Honestly Theresa, you do look radiant,’ Donna said.
‘But not as pretty as you.’
Donna frowned. In truth, Theresa did look stunning. She wore tight grey trousers and a white blouse, which enhanced her shapely figure. Her hair was long and black with a natural wave, and there was a warmth to her green eyes. How tragic that she’d been afflicted by such a dreadful disease that had ravaged her otherwise beautiful face.
Theresa’s mum stared at her admiringly. She’d be so proud when her daughter got out there on stage in front of all those people. There were tears in her eyes. Evan too looked emotional. This would be a special night that none of them would ever forget.
‘It’s just a shame Cole couldn’t make it. Then I’d have had all my children round me.’
‘It doesn’t matter, mum. Being in the army means it’s virtually impossible to get away unless it’s a wedding or a funeral, or the birth of a child. But Evan has promised to send him a DVD of the concert.’
‘He’ll probably ring later tonight when it’s over,’ Evan said.
Donna had never met Cole. In fact, all Evan had said was that he was a corporal serving in Afghanistan. But she wondered why he was reluctant to elaborate about his brother.
‘Hey,’ Theresa said. ‘Have you all seen the time?’
‘God, you’re right,’ Donna said looking at her watch. ‘It’s almost six o’clock. We’d better get a move on.’
‘It’s all right everyone.’ Evan held up his hand to stop them in their tracks. ‘Everything is under control. There’s a car waiting outside to take us to the theatre.’
And true to his word, pulling back the curtains he showed them the white Rolls Royce parked outside the house, complete with chauffeur in full grey uniform, standing by the car in wait for them.
Evan couldn’t stop smirking when he saw the astonished looks on their faces, and said, ‘Come along ladies, your chariot awaits.’
The two girls wasted no time and as they stepped outside began to snigger, in what seemed a surreal situation. As the chauffeur opened the doors to allow them to get in Theresa squealed, ‘Oh my God, I almost feel like a celebrity.’ And she sat back on the leather upholstery looking rather pleased with herself.
‘Perhaps that’s because you are sis.’
Evan’s plan to find a way to lighten the tension seemed to have worked.
The Rolls moved off, amid a few curious looks from neighbours and passers-by alike. They travelled slowly down the road and out towards Dexford town centre, making for the Town Hall situated in the middle of the High Street. The car parked right outside the front of the building. The chauffeur got out to open the doors for them. Evan’s mother was out first, followed by Evan and Donna, who took his arm. Then last of all came Theresa.
They were directed to a side entrance and once inside taken to a makeshift dressing room, the door to which was labelled with Theresa’s name. Donna was very pleased with the way things were going so far. Theresa opened the door, and they followed her inside. Evan and Donna stood at the back, while Theresa and her mother set about making sure she looked as good as she possibly could, in the circumstances.
In an apparent effort to calm herself down, Theresa started to take in deep breaths, and avoided looking at herself in the mirror. Then tears trickled down her cheeks, and for a second Donna feared her friend wouldn’t be able to go through with it, even at this late stage.
‘It’s no good,’ she blubbered, taking hold of her mother’s hand. ‘I...I...can’t go out there in front of all those people. Can’t bear them staring, sniggering and laughing behind my back, the way everybody else does.’
Her mother cuddled her as if she was still a little girl. ‘Don’t be silly. Everyone will love you for what you’re doing tonight. All of them will wish they’d got just a tiny bit of your talent.’
‘But what about my face? I feel so self-conscious and ugly all of a sudden. Perhaps I should wear a veil or something to cover it up. I’d give anything to be like you, Donna. You are always look so beautiful. Why can’t that be me for once in my life?’ she cried looking at Donna over her mother’s shoulder.
‘Come on Theresa, please don’t get upset,’ her mother said. ‘A lot of people are here to listen to you play. They don’t care about your appearance. It’s you, the person who writes and plays such wonderful music that matters. You go out there and give them a show they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.’
‘But I can’t face it. I thought I could, but it’s just too much for me.’
As Theresa moved away from her mother, she sat down on a stool. Donna stepped forward, bent down, and lifted Theresa’s chin up with her thumb. ‘Theresa, you can do this. Don’t let all the hard work you’ve put in be for nothing. And what about your audience? Over a thousand people are waiting for you. They’ll be so disappointed. I realise how hard this is for you, but imagine how you’ll feel when it’s over and all those people have enjoyed a concert they’ll never forget. And us too.’
She went red in the face, breathed in deeply and looked slightly glassy-eyed. Heaving as if she was going to be sick, she grabbed hold of Donna’s arm so hard she winced. But then Theresa appeared to regain control, and her grip loosened.
The door to her dressing room opened. A young man’s face appeared to tell her five minutes until she was due on stage. It made her jump and look to Donna again for support.
‘Theresa, I won’t let you back down from this. I understand how you feel – I used to be physically sick before my modelling sessions on the catwalk, but this is different. I never wanted to be involved in modelling, and I don’t intend to be ever again. But you’re not the same, deep down you want nothing more than to play music. Here, I have a little something that might help you and bring you luck. I’ve had my gold St Christopher engraved with your name; my grandmother gave it to me in her will, and I’m passing it on to you. I wore it to every examination I took, it gave me the strength to go through with it no matter what my parents wanted for me.’
Theresa was momentarily dumbstruck, and tear drops began to run down her cheeks from closed lashes as she gulped, ‘Thank you, Donna – I’ll treasure this always. What would I do without you?’
By this time they were all crying and Evan moved close to her and said. ‘Sis, please... I know how much this means to you – and we’ll be so proud.’
Theresa dried her eyes and looked from one to the other. Donna’s heart beat faster as she tried to work out whether Theresa had it in her to go through with it. Then slowly Theresa’s face appeared calmer, her mouth was set in a determined straight line. ‘Ok, I’ll be all right,’ she said, holding her stomach. ‘I’m going out there now, so help me God. Wish me luck.’
She got up, with Donna, Evan and her mother gathering round, embracing and encouraging her too. Then she opened the door, walked out, and made her way to the back of the stage.
Donna led them their places in the front row of the hall. The curtain was still down. There were rumblings from the audience, as they waited in anticipation.
After a few minutes, a local radio deejay came on to the stage in front of the curtain. Donna only recognised him when he spoke; his voice deep and mellow, and well known around Dexford.
‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to an evening of musical excellence from an exciting new talent. Accompanied only by a backing group, this young lady has been an overnight sensation after appearing on TV. Playing a wide selection of musical styles and all her own compositions, could you all please give a warm round of applause to Theresa Lacey.’ He lifted his arm as the curtain slowly opened and then disappeared out of view. The lights dimmed, and the audience began to clap.
A tiny flicker of apprehension came on Donna’s face, as the spotlights homed in on Theresa, sitting at her keyboard, her good side facing the audience. She nodded, then the atmosphere went quiet, while everyone waited for her to start.
At the back, behind her, a small group of musicians, including bass and lead guitar, drums and violin, paused for her cue. For all of thirty seconds in deadly silence everyone stared up at her, wondering what was going on.
Then Theresa began to play her keyboard. It was quiet and slow at first. People struggled to hear it, but then all at once it became louder and very emotional, gradually building up into something very passionate that ended in a breath taking finale.
This first piece lasted a little over seven minutes, the audience seemed to have been caught off guard, and appeared mesmerised by the sheer beauty and excellence of the playing. At the end there was rapturous applause that appeared to go on forever.
Once it had stopped Theresa spoke a little timidly into the microphone, introducing her next piece.
As the audience took to her, Theresa’s confidence grew, so that before long she was playing effortlessly with a great deal of skill.
Her set lasted well over an hour and a half, and had the audience shouting for an encore. This must have heartened and thrilled Theresa and then Donna was amazed to see her standing up to face the everyone. It seemed she had almost forgotten about her condition, so much so that she began to laugh, tears of joy trickling down her cheeks. She bowed, and looked up at the sea of joyous faces, then down to the first row where Donna, Evan and her mother were sitting. She blew them a kiss. This had to be the happiest moment of her short life.
Then almost in slow motion, everyone watched in disbelief as Theresa’s head went back, her eyes rolled until only the whites showed. This was followed by a high-pitched scream of agony. A frothy red mixture oozed from her mouth, as she collapsed to the ground before all those people.
There were cries and gasps of horror from the audience. Donna jumped up from her seat, followed closely by Evan and Mrs Lacey. They climbed onto the stage, making straight for Theresa lying slumped on the floor. A crowd swarmed round her too, including the backing group and people from behind the scenes. All concerned and wanting to see if she was all right.
Evan got to her first, with Donna close behind. She watched him cradle her in his arms, aware at once that she was dead as her eyes were wide open and still. Evan hurriedly closed them, whispering ‘Oh God, no…’ over and over again.
Within minutes an ambulance arrived, but they were too late. A doctor pronounced her dead at the scene. As Evan finally released hold of Theresa’s body, allowing the ambulance men to carry the body away on a stretcher, Mrs Lacey became hysterical. Tears came flooding out of her, some dropping off the end of her chin. Instinctively Donna took this dear woman in her arms, amid her own grief.
They had originally arranged for the same chauffeur-driven Rolls to return to take them home, but now as they got in the waiting car, once the ambulance had gone, the earlier light hearted atmosphere turned into a melancholy feeling of grief. On the journey home, they sat silent obviously finding it hard to take in the scene they’d just witnessed, each locked in their own thoughts. Donna had regarded Theresa as a special person, someone she felt privileged to call a true friend. And she’d been taken from her.
Arriving at the house afterwards, Mrs Lacey was inconsolable. Perhaps the pile of music on the corner of the dining table had sparked it off, or the silk scarf over the back of the sofa, but once again the flood gates opened, and she was unable to stop the tears. Donna placed an arm around her shoulders while she sobbed – there was little else she could do. She felt nauseated and uneasy in such a sombre mood. This had always been a happy house, and Theresa had made it that way, despite her illness. She’d been such a positive person in spite of everything, and had brought joy into their lives with her music. Now she was gone, how would they carry on?
With the atmosphere so sad and grave, Donna made an effort to encourage these two people, now so dear to her, to open their hearts. Then Evan spoke without being coaxed. ‘Mum, I’ll have to tell Cole about this.’
‘Yes, but how will you contact him?’
‘Through the army. He gave me a number to ring in an emergency. I’ll do it straightaway so he’ll have time to get over here for the funeral. Surely, he’ll be given special dispensation.’
‘All right Evan, just do what you think is best,’ his mother said, her whole body seeming consumed with emotion.
Evan opened his wallet and pulled out a card. He tapped in the number on his mobile. When it was answered, he asked to speak urgently to Cole Lacey, but was told that would be impossible right now as Cole was in a war zone. He asked for a message to be passed on to Cole, to contact his family as soon as possible.
A few minutes later the phone rang. Evan got up to answer it.
‘Oh hallo Cole, I’m sorry mate, but something really terrible has happened,’ he began.
Donna only heard Evan’s part of the conversation, but got the gist of it, that Cole was as heartbroken as his brother.
After about ten minutes, he rang off. ‘He says they’ll fly him over here on the first available flight mum.’
Evan’s mother nodded sadly, her eyes squeezing out yet more tears even though there couldn’t be many left.
‘Should I vacate his room, Mrs Lacey?’ Donna asked.
‘No, no need to worry about that. He can sleep in Theresa’s room.’
‘I wouldn’t mind. Don’t want to cause any trouble. If I’m in the way, I’ll move out altogether.’
Mrs Lacey smiled, but shook her head vigorously. ‘Don’t be silly. I’d be offended if you did, and it would make this whole ordeal much worse. You meant a lot to Theresa and were almost like sisters. Once you came to live here, she got a new lease of life. You gave her the confidence to do what she did, and she looked up to you because of what you’ve achieved. And you were such a good friend to her. She treasured that, so I’ll never forget what you did for her.’
‘I didn’t do a lot,’ was all Donna said as she welled up, feeling Theresa had helped her, not the other way around.
’Yes, you did – but to lose her so young is hard to take.’ She broke down once again. Both Evan and Donna went to hug her. After several minutes, she finally stopped crying.
‘Mum, why don’t you go to bed, and try and get some rest.’
She nodded, with Donna at hand to help her to the bedroom.
After consoling her for a few more minutes, Donna came back downstairs to sit next to Evan, who head in hands was himself sniffing back tears every so often. He didn’t look at her, and seemed lost in his own grief.
They sat in relative silence, barely murmuring to each other. Donna also found it hard to keep her emotions in check, as she’d lost the only real friend she had. But it was nothing to what Evan was going through. Theresa was his own flesh and blood, and from what she’d seen, he’d loved her dearly.
When it came, it was a deluge. His shoulders moved up and down as great sobs came from his lips sounding as if he was in mortal pain. She hated seeing him like this – he was devastated.
As she took him in her arms, her heart stopped for a few seconds, the memory of the rape still fresh in her mind. For the first time since that awful night she embraced someone male. She had to be strong and fight the desire to get away from him. Thankfully, his grief was genuine.
Then as the crying subsided he said in a whisper ‘Oh why, oh why, why did she have to die?’
‘I don’t know. Why does anyone have to die like that? It isn’t fair.’
‘But she was on the verge of something special. Such a brilliant musician and composer. It takes a genius to write those tunes of hers.’
‘Her music will live on, Evan. We have the recordings, all her work is there for everyone to hear and remember. And we must promote that in her memory.’
‘What will I do without her?’
‘Carry on for her sake. She’ll leave a huge gap, no doubt about that. We have to make sure she’s never forgotten’
‘She may not have been as clever as you, but as a human being she was certainly your equal. There was something unique about her; a special quality few people possess, and I don’t think we’ll ever see the like of it again.’
Donna was troubled. ‘I can only dream of getting anywhere near what she did despite her illness. Being clever and going to University is nothing compared to that.’
Evan tried to smile, but it couldn’t disguise his true feelings, and she wondered if he had the strength to get over this. Now she dreaded what this might do to him.
‘We’ll all miss her so much –’
‘Me as much as anyone. She was the one person I could talk to, like the sister I never had.’ They hugged each another again. ‘We have to help each other to get through this Evan - it’s the only way.’
‘Yes, I agree. I’m so glad you’re here. Or I’d go to pieces again like I did when I had to give up playing football.’
She smiled, hoping this wouldn’t be the case.
Late evening the next day, Evan and his mother sat subdued on the sofa. Donna on the armchair, kept glancing across, worrying over what effect Theresa’s death was having on them. A knock at the door made them all jump. But neither of them were quick to get to their feet, so Donna took it upon herself to answer it. She switched on the light in the hall and through the frosted glass saw a dark figure standing there, but couldn’t work out who it might be. She opened the door to see a young man staring at her. Tall and broad with large shoulders and body. His crew cut black hair and shadow of a beard gave him the appearance of a hard man. His freshly pressed khaki uniform looked smart, complete with a black beret tucked in a shoulder strap, and he carried a large kit bag on his back. This must be Cole, Evan’s big brother.
‘Who are you?’ He looked puzzled to see her answering the door, his ice blue eyes lacking the warmth of his brother’s, inspecting her like a soldier on parade. His eyes twitched as if he recognised her from somewhere, although he never said a word.
‘I’m Donna,’ she told him simply.
‘Nice to meet you, Donna. And what are you doing here?’
‘I lodge here.’
‘Really, that’s a pleasant surprise. Well I’m Cole, Evan’s brother. So how about letting me in, darling?’ he said grinning, revealing a gap between his two front teeth.
‘Oh yes, sorry. I was miles away.’ As she stood to one side, allowing him to come past, for some reason she shivered.
He put his bag down in the hall, and groaned before stretching. ‘That bag’s a bit heavy. And I’m totally whacked. I’ve had a long journey – but I’m here now. Best go and see mum and Evan, I suppose. I presume they’re in the front, are they? Terrible thing about Theresa, isn’t it? It’s hard to imagine never seeing her again.’
Donna opened the door to the living room, where Evan and his mother were sitting. The sight of Cole got them both to their feet, and across to him. There were lots of tears as they all hugged one another.
Feeling a little out of it, Donna looked on, but as she wasn’t family, she couldn’t expect anything else, and just listened intently. Evan told his brother about the dreadful events of the previous day. The whole heart breaking story brought it back home to them again. When they sat down the atmosphere became tense. Cole looked stony faced, mulling over all that he’d been told, he loved his sister a great deal too.
‘She didn’t have much of a life,’ Cole said finally, frowning to show a deep crease in his forehead. ‘We all knew she was living on borrowed time, but this still comes as an awful shock.’
‘You should have seen her on stage, Cole,’ Evan said, remembering back. ‘What a revelation. It’s ironic really; she was in her element out there, like she was born to it.’
‘I honestly think that too. Wish I’d been there to see it, but you know how it is when you’re in the army. Mind you there was no bother about me getting the time off for the funeral, but I only have five days and then it’s back to the war zone. Rather harrowing over there, I can tell you, and that’s putting it mildly.’
’I bet it is, ’Evan said.
‘So have all the arrangements been made?’
‘Your brother is sorting it all out,’ their mother said. ‘She’ll be buried in the same plot as your father.’
‘Nice touch,’ Cole smiled. ‘So when is it, mum?’
‘The day before I have to go back. Perfect. So how well did you know our beloved sister, Donna?’ Cole asked, as if he wanted to bring her into the conversation.
‘We’d only recently got to know each other, but in that time we became really good friends.’
‘She was very unique, but sadly I only saw the beginnings of her talent.’ Cole sounded as if he regretted missing out on her moment of fame.
‘You missed something special, although I did record it all on a video I was going to send you,’ Evan told him.
‘I’m not sure I can face watching it yet, if ever, and besides it’s not the same as seeing her live. Not being here for her is one of the biggest regrets of my life. But I couldn’t do anything about it.’ He yawned suddenly. ‘To tell you the truth, I’m really knackered. I could fall asleep right now. Such a long journey, and then I couldn’t get to sleep on the plane. I think I’ll turn in shortly– we’ll talk more in the morning – all right?’
‘Oh Cole, I’m sorry but Donna has your room. You don’t mind sleeping in Theresa’s old room for now, do you?’
‘I don’t know about that, I don’t feel I can mum – it’s just too upsetting. I’ll kip down on the sofa, if that’s all right with you.’
Donna felt guilty over this, she bit her lip and realized she had to say something before he left. ‘Cole, I don’t mind going into Theresa’s room tonight, if you want your room back.’
Cole laughed, revealing the gap between his two front teeth again. ‘Don’t you worry about it, darling. I’ll only be here for a few days anyway. It’s not worth the hassle. You’re more than welcome to it.’
From the little she’d seen of him, Donna thought Cole seemed a larger than life character, who tried hard to be amusing. He was bigger than Evan, and more mature looking. She guessed he must be brave, having been in the ‘thick’ of the action. He’d certainly know how to look after himself and other people if need be.
The next day the two brothers went to the hospital and arranged for Theresa’s body to be taken to the Chapel of Rest at the funeral directors.
When they returned, it was to a quiet and subdued household. Their mother and Donna had been looking through Theresa’s belongings, which they’d both found very distressing.
Evan confirmed the arrangements for the funeral had been finalised and told them the flowers had been ordered.
‘Did you have any problems or are there any questions you need to ask me?’ she enquired.
‘No mum, we’re both sure everything will be fine. We even got them to agree to play a piece of Theresa’s music when the coffin leaves the church. Oh and by the way Donna, I almost forgot, I thought you might like this back.’ Evan pulled out the gold St Christopher from his pocket and placed it in the palm of Donna’s hand.
She opened her mouth in shock. ‘Oh my God, no. I didn’t want you to return this. I gave it to Theresa as a keepsake, and I wanted it to remain around her neck.’ And at that she burst into tears, left the room and came back dressed to go out, still sobbing.
‘Hey, hang on a minute, let me come with you.’ Evan offered, getting up from his seat. In the hall he grabbed hold of her arm. ‘Please Donna, calm down.’
‘I can’t believe you did that, you had no right.’ She couldn’t look at him amid her tears.
‘I’m really sorry, I had no idea – I thought you’d want it. Come on, we’ll get this sorted - all right?’
Finally she nodded, but didn’t feel better until she actually saw the St Christopher placed around Theresa’s neck, despite how upsetting that was.