When It Rains
A/N: Happy Tuesday! And happy New Year!
Third time's a charm—contrary to what's stated in this chapter, once again, the songs featured in the preceding two chapters are not my own (or Marcus's) creations.
I planned on adding an epilogue, but I'm pretty satisfied with where this chapter leaves us and not sure I want to tack anything on after it. Therefore, right now, this story should be considered complete. I have some material written that I may throw into a follow-up story at some point in the future, but we'll see what happens.
Thanks for all of the feedback, as always.
Oh, what a night
You know I didn't even know her name
But I was never gonna be the same
What a lady, what a night.
—Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
'Oh What a Night'
For a moment after it's all over, I'm sure that it was a dream.
To see Marcus, Celia and Neville's faces, they're clearly thinking the same thing—because there's no way this mass of people before us, all of them cheering and applauding so loudly that it can probably be heard across the whole of the city, are actually cheering and applauding for us, because of something we've done. And as I come down from my high, and realise it is our names they're chanting, and our lyrics they're singing back to us, something even more exhilarating and overwhelming washes over me. It's something so much bigger than relief, or pride. It's joy. Total, almost maniacal, joy. And it's been so long since I've felt anything comparable to it—indeed, if I've ever felt anything comparable to it—that all I can do is start laughing.
The next three minutes are a blur. Before I have any time to react, Marcus is at my side, then Celia, then Neville. The four of us standing in a line like that, in the middle of the stage, feels a bit like we're standing on the threshold of something glorious. Like puppets on a string, we force ourselves to bow, then shuffle offstage, chattering madly, dissecting our entire performance, to the point where our voices are indistinguishable as we talk over each other. Before disappearing into the wings, I glance over my shoulder, at the outline of that oak, engulfed as it is in the darkness and the haze that comes after a storm. My mother's figure has disappeared already, faded back into fantasy, but I know now that she isn't really gone—and never would be.
Then, we're outside, back by our tent. We have thirty minutes before Sonia Corona, the vice-president of Corona Records, will appear to announce the winner. Thirty minutes before our fate is decided.
I can see Ms Croft and Jay waiting for us, but before we can join them, I feel a pair of arms wrap around my waist from behind, squeezing tightly as they lift me clear off the ground.
"You were fucking amazing." I relax at the sound of Luke's voice. I hadn't realised until this moment just how much I'd really wanted him to be here. "I mean it, Addie. Fucking blew me away."
He sets me down again, waiting until I'm balanced before relinquishing my waist. "Almost lost my lunch there at the beginning," I admit, "but don't tell anyone."
"I'm sure the people sitting up front are incredibly grateful," he teases.
"She was there, Luke," I breathe, smiling earnestly as the memory of my mother's face returns to me. "I felt her."
He nods like he knows this to be fact, and it's then that I realise his eyes are bloodshot, like he's been crying. He opens his arms to me again, and I all but fall into them. "I felt her, too," he says, voice muffled.
When we pull away from each other, we're both sniffling. I can't remember the last time I saw Luke cry, or indeed if I ever have. I look around, rubbing my eyes. "Wait." I turn an accusatory gaze on him. "How did you get in here, anyway? I thought you needed passes."
"Your voice coach," he says, gesturing to Ms Croft, who is happily congratulating the others a short distance away. "She must be a magician or something. One word from her got all of us in."
"Us?" I repeat. I dread to hear his explanation for this, though I think I already know in my heart of hearts who else he could be referencing. And Luke knows I know—which makes it all the more surprising when all he can offer is a reassuring pat on the back.
"Don't worry. I think he's okay now."
With that, he walks off to reunite with Jay, leaving me speechless and fearing for my life. If what Luke was implying is the truth, and my father is in the vicinity, then I'm really, actually dead. I had about five minutes on that stage to truly live before he wants to swoop in and kill me. Just my luck, really.
Eyes frantically scanning the whole of the fenced-in area, just in case he's gonna jump out at me unexpectedly, I turn to follow my brother—and that's when I see him, emerging from behind the tent flaps, deep in conversation with Aunt Kate, whose presence is equally shocking but far less terrifying. I freeze, foolishly hoping, like a child who doesn't know any better, that if I don't move, he won't be able to see me; but my father can scarcely pay me any attention at first, and I use the temporary reprieve to admire him. He looks like a man who's been put through the wringer and come out all the better because of it, even if he does outwardly look a bit shit. Even from a distance, I can see that his eyes, like Luke's, are red—and because my dad doesn't cry, I begin to think that maybe my initial assumption was incorrect. Maybe they've all been transformed into, I don't know, vampires or something. Maybe that explains that weird little detail.
Aunt Kate notices me first, and throws me a smile even as she points me out to my dad, who turns his eyes on me so slowly that I almost die right then and there. I mentally curse her betrayal; she'll be the first one I come back to haunt.
He strides toward me all too calmly, and before he's even close enough to touch me, I'm whining, "I'm sorry—"
Except he does something even more shocking than slay me right there in front of my friends and family and vocal teacher, whose gaze, I can see from where I stand, has followed his eerily quiet march across the grass, like she knows what will happen at the end of it. What he does then is wrap his arms around me, bury his face in my hair, and break down.
My dad's not an over-exaggerated crier, it turns out, so anyone who can't hear him—or doesn't have some grip on his personality, at the very least—might think he's laughing, judging by the way his shoulders are shaking up and down. I don't know what to do apart from awkwardly pat his back and try to decipher what might've prompted this landslide of emotion.
And then, he chokes out, "Never apologise. You have nothing to apologise for. I'm the one who should be sorry." I hear his breath hitch, and his voice is shaky as he says, "What you did out there… was incredible."
It hits me. Me. Our performance. That's what had prompted it.
It makes me hug him a little tighter. "Thanks, Dad," I say, in a way I hope will prove to him that I mean it, despite all of the confusion I'm feeling.
"You have her voice, Addie," he says as he peels himself away from me, wiping his eyes furiously. "I hadn't realised… I hadn't realised how much I'd actually missed it." Then, ashamedly: "I think there's a lot we have to talk about. All of us, together."
It's strange, really, all the emotions that are scrambled up in finally hearing something you've waited so long to hear. I'd have expected to feel vindicated, somehow. I've known for so long that there are things we as a family need to talk about, and have been unhappy for so long because we haven't; so, to hear him say that he's finally ready, after eleven years, I'd have expected all the self-righteousness and personal satisfaction one is entitled to feel when they're finally able to blurt out, "I told you so." Except all I feel is sadness. Not a heart-wrenching sadness, not a miserable sadness, but a sort of hopeful sadness—because I can see with my own eyes right now how much it's hurt him to come to this conclusion, and although it makes me feel sorry for him, I know that what's happening right now is we're sitting in a cart at the bottom of a coaster, ready to climb the hill to go up to a higher, sunnier place. And from there, we'll look back on all of this and wonder how we could've ever been so scared before.
"I think I'd like that," I finally tell him.
He sighs deeply. "But not tonight. Tonight, you've done my head in." And with a little half-smile tugging at his lips—it looks so out-of-place on his face—he turns on his heel and goes back to my aunt, who's been watching the two of us with such an amazed look on her face that she might have been observing the Second Coming of Jesus.
Once I've gathered myself, I join the others. Bands who performed earlier have stopped at our group to congratulate us, compliment our performance, trade secrets. Marcus is in his element, standing at the centre of a growing circle of people, accepting praise for this baby of his, this project he dreamed up long ago, when he was only a fourteen-year-old boy who wanted to learn how to play the guitar. I haven't spoken to him directly since we came offstage, and I want to so desperately—I want to celebrate with him, I want to hear what he thinks, I want to hold his hand—but I won't interrupt his moment. Celia is standing off to the side, still trembling; Jay and Luke are on either side of her, supporting her weight because she can barely hold herself up-a situation neither of them look too displeased with. And Neville, in all of his eggplant-y glory, is bragging to some unsuspecting girl that he'd felt the spirit of Ringo Starr inhabit his body in the middle of the song. She looks wholly unimpressed as she reminds him, "Ringo Starr is still alive."
Ms Croft loops her arm around my shoulder as I stop beside her. "You were wonderful," she says.
"Hit the high notes," I tell her, remembering what had sent me to her in the first place.
"Always knew you would." She sighs. "I guess that means we both made our dreams come true tonight, eh?"
I furrow my eyebrows at her. "How do you figure?"
"Well, my student accomplished something she thought was impossible, something that scared her." She nods at my dad. "And you discovered how much your singing meant to someone. How much he needed it all along, even if it took him a while to figure it out." Squeezing my shoulder tighter, she sighs, "I guess all that remains to be figured out is what you're going to do now."
Up to this moment, I haven't thought too hard about what will come after the festival. Everything I've been doing for the last eight months has been leading up to the five-minute performance we've just completed. I suppose the record label's decision, whether or not we win, will have some bearing on our future. But even so. It's a chapter closed, and now we either have to start a new one or end the story.
I shrug. "Well, who says I have to stop at one person?"
Ms Croft smiles. This time, my first answer hasn't disappointed her one bit. "Who indeed?"
Suddenly, a volunteer bursts through the stage door we'd emerged from scarcely twenty minutes before. "They're coming back," he volunteers. "The label people. They're ready to make their announcement."
It's like something out of The Lion King, the mad stampede to the door that ensues. No one is safe. As the wave of people carries us into the wings, I find Celia and cling to her, both of us stuttering and giggling, unsure of whether to be terrified for our lives or excited about our chances. We locate Neville and Marcus, the only moment thus far tonight that either of us have been grateful for Neville's eccentric dress sense—that damn purple suit is like a beacon, calling us to them—and the four of us cluster together, craning our necks to see the stage. A young woman with olive skin and jet black hair, wearing a business suit that makes her look too professional for a gig like this, is standing at the centre mike, an envelope in her hands. This is evidently Sonia Corona, vice-president of the label that's about to either make or break our lives.
A hush falls over the crowd as she begins to speak. "On behalf of everyone at Corona Records, I'd like to thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for coming out tonight," she gushes. It surprises me to hear how delicate she sounds, when everything else about her screams power. "One of our executives backstage said this might be one of our most talented, successful years yet—and that stands as a testament to the twenty-five acts who got up here and performed tonight. Unfortunately, only one of those acts can walk away with our five thousand pound prize and recording contract."
Someone in the audience boos.
"I know. I wish we had more to give," Sonia apologises as she tears at the envelope's seal. "But now, it is my sincere pleasure to announce the winner of the fifth annual Hyde Park Amateur Festival and Showcase is…"
One of the volunteer musicians has the good grace to provide a drum roll.
"… Marjorie Mitchell!"
I'm sorry, but who?
As the audience cheers and applauds, a girl with a heart-shaped face framed by a pink pixie cut races across the stage to capture Sonia in the biggest, wettest hug anyone has ever seen. Everyone in the wings is quiet, a mixture of disappointment and genuine confusion. I can't remember who this girl is, what kind of song she'd performed, if I'd even seen her backstage at any point during the show, and judging by the silence, the sentiment is mutual. But there she is anyway. Somewhere behind us, I hear an angry voice—which I'm fairly certain belongs to Avery—shout, "This is bollocks!" before the stage door opens and then slams shut again.
"Wow," Celia breathes. "I really thought…"
She doesn't finish. She doesn't need to.
I turn to look at Marcus, who I expect to see devastated. This is all he's been dreaming of for who knows how long, and he arguably needs the money more than any of us. Except he looks like he's already made peace with the whole thing, like he knows there's nothing he can do to change the result, and that maybe he wouldn't want to even if he could—not if changing the result means changing the performance.
"It's alright, guys," he decides, putting his arm around Celia, who is trembling again.
"But this was it," she protests. "Our last shot."
Remembering my conversation with Ms Croft just minutes earlier, I smile and meet Marcus's gaze. "Not if we don't want it to be."
I wake up the next morning to the sound of my phone buzzing.
I let it sit for a few minutes while I lie in bed, staring up at my ceiling, thinking about how much has changed in the last twelve hours. The band had accepted its loss gracefully, and we'd all parted from each other shortly before midnight to go home, return to our normal lives—except it's been so long since anything about my life has felt normal that I'd gone to bed certain I wouldn't know how to function when I opened my eyes again. And I feel a bit of that now, a peculiar sort of emptiness growing in the pit of my stomach. I would live last night over and over again if I could ward it off a bit longer.
I expertly extract myself from my bed, taking care not to wake Jay or Luke, with whom I'd stayed up until almost two in the morning, and who'd fallen asleep so heavily on either side of me that they might be dead and I just don't know. Plucking my phone off its charger, I read the text:
I'm at Hyde Park. Come and meet me?
I check the time. 7.00 a.m. Barely early enough to be light out. Little does he know I might actually strangle him when I see him.
Big place, that park. Where?
The response comes in five seconds:
Do you know Iris?
Once I've managed to throw some clothes on and sneak out—leaving a note for my father, who isn't awake yet but will certainly freak out if he thinks I've left without a trace; hey, a rude awakening doesn't equal a miracle—it takes me only ten minutes to find him, sitting on the bench where I'd first seen him eight months ago, wearing the same leather and the same beanie. All that's missing is his guitar.
"Damn," I say, plopping down beside him. "I was gonna try and recreate the moment, but you didn't bring the strings."
He smirks. "Didn't mean to throw off your groove."
As we sit there, breathing in the morning air, thick with humidity after last night's storm, I can sense underlying tension. Not a bad tension—we'd worked out everything that had needed working out last night. I'm not angry with him anymore, and his anger at me had subsided as soon as I'd shown up to sing. No, this tension, it's something else, something… electric, almost. It's the tension that makes me want to sit closer to him, but also not too close. It's the tension that makes me want to hold his hand, but also makes me too nervous to just reach out and take it. It's fucking frightening. This is the moment that Jay was talking about—the moment where I realise this person beside me is someone who cares about me, and that I shouldn't be scared of that.
Not least of all because I actually care about him, too.
"How are you feeling today?" I ask, trying to shake my thoughts out of my head. We hadn't had the chance to properly speak last night after our performance, and knowing him, it has to be weighing more heavily on his mind than he might be willing to admit at this stage.
"I don't know," he admits. "It's weird. Is it possible to feel disappointed and sad and scared and happy and really fucking proud all at once?"
"No," I deadpan. "I think you might explode."
"Because I do. I feel it all, Addie." He sighs, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "I know we lost, but I still can't help but feel like we did something really extraordinary last night. Like we mattered." He's staring vacantly off into the park beyond where we're sitting, a look of total awe and wonder on his face, like he can see last night as perfectly and clearly before him as if it were happening all over again. "I was watching the audience the entire time, and I could see it on their faces. They felt it. They felt what we were doing." His eyes meet mine now, and the intensity behind them is almost overwhelming. "It was because of you, Addie."
I shake my head. "It was all of us. My voice, how you guys were playing… the song—"
"Was for you," he interrupts. "I wrote it for you."
My breath catches in my throat. "Did you?" I choke out, so quietly that I'm surprised he can hear me at all.
"The night I wrote that song was the night you ran out on us at Rob's," he admits. "The night we said no secrets." He wrings his hands together nervously. "From the day I met you, you've been so fucking stubborn, and judgmental, and sarcastic, and… steely. And sometimes I think you say things on purpose to make people scared of you. But that night at Rob's, I knew you were hurting, and it was weird, because seeing you like that… it made me feel sick, almost. All I wanted to do…" He trails off.
When I feel like he's not going to finish, I push, "Yeah?"
He takes a deep breath. "All I wanted to do was hold you. But you ran away before I could do anything—and I doubt you would've let me anyway. So, I did the only other thing I could do, which is I went home and wrote you a song."
I'm breathing so heavily at this point that I think I'll either pass out or have to watch my whole fucking heart leap right out of my chest and run skipping down the path. But by some miracle, I keep quiet.
"Some songs, I write and I know that anyone can sing them," he continues. "Like that song Avery's band did. It wouldn't have mattered if it was you or him or fucking Noel Gallagher singing it. Everyone would have loved it and jumped up and down for it and applauded when it was over, but no one's going to wake up this morning remembering that song."
Finally, finally, he reaches over and covers my hands, lying folded in my lap, with his. "But the song you sang, the song I wrote for you," he says earnestly, "was for you. Only you singing it could've made people feel something when they heard it. And if people wake up this morning remembering it, that'll be why."
I let our eyes meet again. My face is on fire, but all I can think to say—so typical for my brain—is, "Do you really think I'm judgmental?" Fucking impeccable.
"Goddamn it, Addie," he growls, then leans across the bench and kisses me. His hands wind themselves around my back, tugging me closer to him, which of course makes me start giggling; but without anyone to interrupt us, I know I could stay here with him like this for ages. I've spent eight months trying to resist him, and now, for the first time in possibly my whole life, I'm willingly surrendering a fight I'm not so sure I even want to win anymore. I think he had my heart the moment I saw him in Hyde Park for the first time. Most people have to fight for it, but I'm giving it to him because somewhere, deep down, I think he'll take care of it.
When we finally separate—by which point I'm all but sitting in his lap—he's grinning cheesily. "So, how about a date?"
I roll my eyes, fingers playing with the curly hairs at the nape of his neck. "Celia is never going to let this go. She's been predicting this from day one."
He shrugs, resting his forehead against mine. "She's used to being right about things. I imagine she might actually be disappointed."
Releasing me from his grasp, he waits until I'm settled on the bench again, leaning into his side, before he puts his arm around my shoulder; and then, we resume our pondering, staring off into the park.
"So, what now?" I hear myself ask. "There's no festival to get ready for anymore." He knows what I'm really asking—not what's going to happen to the band, but what's going to happen to me in the band—and when I look up, he's smiling.
"I guess that's up to you," he says.
I pretend to think about it for a moment, though I've had my mind made up since last night, pretty much since the moment we walked off that stage. I don't want it to end—the practices, the gigs. Scary as all of it had been, it had all been worth it. I want more nights like last night.
"I've been thinking about what we can call ourselves," I suggest absently. For a moment, I think he might perceive it as a random subject change, but the smile sticks, so I know he's also heard it as my answer.
"You really hate Atomic Potato, don't you?" he teases.
I poke his stomach. "I've been thinking about the name Remedy."
"Remedy?" he repeats. Then, again, softer, less questioning: "Remedy."
"Because I don't know where any of us would be without it," I mutter, self-consciously. "Because... it helped us heal."
He smiles. "I think even Cee couldn't object to that one."
Sighing, we settle in to watch the sunrise. Maybe that's how Londoners can stand it, the weather—because this city, it's beautiful after it rains. Full of life, almost, and distant, spectacular possibilities.
But only if you catch it right.