Hit­ting The Right Note

Rowena was only in the choir to help out. This first re­hearsal was go­ing to be the last!

The People's Friend - - Nature -

OK, stop, every­one . . .” Cuth­bert held up a hand. His free hand gripped the lectern as he let out a long sigh.

“Some­one,” he said, “is com­pletely off-key.”

In the mid­dle of the choir, Rowena felt ir­ri­ta­ble.

Oh, do come on, who­ever you are, she thought. We’ll never get through choir prac­tice at this rate.

Cuth­bert tapped the lectern with his ba­ton and the prac­tice be­gan again.

“Right,” he said, “once more from the top. ‘Hark! The Her­ald An­gels Sing’. And do let’s con­cen­trate, peo­ple.”

Rowena glanced through the heads at Cuth­bert But­tons, choir­mas­ter at All Saints church. Un­til she’d joined the choir, he was one of the vil­lage res­i­dents she’d known only slightly.

Full of en­thu­si­asm and ded­i­ca­tion, Cuth­bert had am­bi­tions for the choir, and it was ob­vi­ous that at this mo­ment, some­thing or some­one was try­ing his pa­tience.

Rowena took a deep breath, and prayed noth­ing else would hap­pen. She didn’t want to be too late get­ting home; she’d been hop­ing to make a start on the ic­ing for the Christ­mas cake that evening.

In her head, Rowena ran through the steps to fin­ish the Santa’s Grotto cake for the kids’ Christ­mas party.

Then she re­ally must start on the fairy cakes, mince-pies, co­conut snow­men and cherry choco­late rein­deer.

I sup­pose, Rowena thought, as she war­bled along with the oth­ers, I was a lit­tle bit daft join­ing the choir, with ev­ery­thing else I’ve got to do.

It wasn’t as if she was a par­tic­u­larly good singer.

She en­joyed a good sing-along with Abba as much as any­one else, and lately she’d con­jured up the fes­tive mood with a few car­ols while she baked, but she didn’t kid her­self she had a good voice.

Why, then, was she in the church choir?

The an­swer was just a few feet away. Emer­ald.

Emer­ald Honey­dew was her friend and next-door neigh­bour.

“Please, Ro,” Emer­ald had said as Rowena paused, hands poised above her mix­ing bowl. “Please come with me, just the first time. I need to join the choir.”

“You need to join? What do you mean?”

Emer­ald leaned on the ta­ble, putting an el­bow in the but­ter.

“I have to join,” she said, turn­ing slightly pink. “He’s in the choir.”

“Who?”

She smiled coyly. “Forester Scott.” “Sounds like an ex­plorer,” Rowena said. “Who’s Forester Scott?”

Emer­ald stood up, look­ing at her in sur­prise. The but­ter had left a large stain on her sleeve but she didn’t seem to no­tice. She had a look of rap­ture in her eyes.

“You haven’t seen him?” Rowena shook her head. “Ro, you must have done!” She sighed. “He’s just moved into the vil­lage. You know, that lit­tle bun­ga­low at the end of the Meadow. He’s gor­geous.”

Rowena car­ried on mix­ing.

“I didn’t know any­one had moved in. It’s been empty for ages, hasn’t it?”

“Well, it’s not empty any more. Forester’s moved in.”

Emer­ald dipped a fin­ger into the cake mix.

“Mmm, yummy. Any­way, Mrs Ban­nis­ter says he’s al­ready joined the choir, and I thought, well, you know how I’ve al­ways loved singing, Ro.” Rowena jolted to a stop. “Since when?” Emer­ald gig­gled. “Since Forester joined the choir. Please, do come with me. Just this one time.” Rowena rolled her eyes. “The things I do.” With a squeal of de­light, Emer­ald threw her arms about her neck and kissed her cheek.

“So it looks like I shall be at choir prac­tice tonight,” Rowena fin­ished, as she told Molly Bas­sett the story while they bal­anced a glit­ter­ing star on the top of the Christ­mas tree in the vil­lage hall. “I’ll be easy to spot – I’ll be the one at the back, low­er­ing the tone.” Molly laughed.

“You think you’ve got prob­lems? Santa’s gone down with flu.”

“Alan? Oh, no! Who can we get to stand in?”

“No idea. Ask around if you get the chance, will you? They don’t have to be white-haired or of am­ple pro­por­tions; we’ve got cos­tumes for both.”

“OK. Let you know if I have any luck.”

It was only a short walk from the vil­lage hall down Chest­nut Road to Mar­ket Square, and as Rowena walked across the cob­ble­stones on her way to see Ter­ence, dark­ness had al­ready fallen and the fes­tive blaze of Christ­mas lights filled her with ex­cite­ment.

It wasn’t just

be­cause of the lights. Over the last few months, she’d found her­self look­ing for­ward to her vis­its to Ter­ence’s Bak­ery.

She en­joyed their chats about any­thing and ev­ery­thing; more of­ten than not, he’d have the an­swer to all of her bak­ing co­nun­drums.

This af­ter­noon, as the smell of bread filled the air, she hoped that Ter­ence would have the fresh yeast he’d promised her for to­mor­row; the spiced fruit buns al­ways tasted so much bet­ter with fresh yeast.

When she ar­rived at Ter­ence’s cheer­fully dec­o­rated shop, he was ab­sent.

“Where’s Ter­ence?” she asked Sacha, long-time shop man­ager.

Sacha looked up from the counter, where she was care­fully repack­ag­ing some de­li­cious-look­ing cakes.

“Hello, love. You’ve just missed him, I’m afraid. He’s gone to see his mum this af­ter­noon, then he’s off out, I think he said. Any­way, he asked me to give you this.”

She reached be­neath the counter, opened the fridge, and took out a small pack­age.

“Glo­ri­ous smell,” she said as she passed it across. “Can’t beat the smell of yeast.”

“It is a won­der­ful smell,” Rowena agreed as she placed it into her bag.

“Thanks, Sacha. By the way, if you know of any­one who could be our Santa for the kids this year, could you send me a text?”

“I heard you were look­ing for some­one. Poor old Alan, he’ll be dev­as­tated to miss the kids. I’m call­ing in on him with some soup on the way home.”

“Give him my love,” Rowena said.

“I will.”

Rowena had just put the yeast in the fridge when Emer­ald called for her.

Deep down, she’d been hop­ing Emer­ald would change her mind, but at six o’clock sharp, there she was, knock­ing on her door. “Ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Rowena replied.

Grasp­ing her arm, Emer­ald ush­ered her down the path and along the road to the church, and be­fore she knew it, there she was at the back of the choir, giv­ing “Hark! The Her­ald An­gels Sing” her very best ef­fort.

It was as they broke into “with th’an­gelic host pro­claim” that Cuth­bert’s voice brought them all to a shud­der­ing halt yet again. “Dear, oh, dear. Stop.” Cuth­bert was look­ing in her di­rec­tion.

“Rowena, love, can we please have a word about breath con­trol?”

The heads of the choir turned to­wards her. Oh, my good­ness, it was her fault!

“I’m sorry,” she said, a flush creep­ing up her neck. “I’m afraid I have trou­ble with the high notes.” Cuth­bert nod­ded. “Maybe this would be an ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ment to break for tea,” he mut­tered.

Con­sol­ing her­self with a cuppa a few mo­ments later, Rowena watched Emer­ald chat­ting an­i­mat­edly to Forester Scott and hoped things would work out for her.

Mis­sion ac­com­plished, she thought. And since this would be her one and only ap­pear­ance at choir prac­tice, it was prob­a­bly just as well.

“You’re singing from the wrong place,” a voice be­side her said.

Rowena looked round to see Ter­ence’s smil­ing face look­ing back into hers.

“Ter­ence! I didn’t know you were in the choir.”

“Joined about a year ago. I love it.”

Rowena sighed.

“I wish I did. It’s not that I don’t like singing; it just doesn’t like me, as you saw.”

“You’ve got a good voice. You’re just singing from the wrong place,” he said. “You should be singing from here.”

He pressed his ab­domen. “Re­ally?”

“Re­ally.”

“You know a bit about singing, then?”

“Not es­pe­cially, but be­fore I had the shop I had a stall in the mar­ket. Take it from me, you soon learn about voice pro­jec­tion.

“From here,” he said again. “Give it a go.”

“I will, thanks.” There was a short pause. “Ac­tu­ally, Ro, I’ve been mean­ing to ask you . . .”

“Back to work, peo­ple!” Cuth­bert But­tons in­ter­rupted.

“Come on,” Ter­ence whis­pered, “be­fore he starts moan­ing again.”

“With th’an­gelic host pro­claim . . .”

At the cru­cial mo­ment, Rowena pulled her­self in and felt her voice soar. It was as if some­one had given her an ex­tra burst of breath.

“Much bet­ter.” Cuth­bert beamed.

Rowena felt re­lief wash over her. She could do it. She still needed prac­tice, but now she knew how.

Not that any of that mat­tered, she told her­self, be­cause she wasn’t com­ing back to the choir, was she?

She glanced across at Ter­ence, who was singing his heart out but still man­aged to smile back at her with pale grey eyes.

He had lovely eyes, she thought. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give it one more try.

Just in case Emer­ald needed her help again.

As Cuth­bert ended the choir prac­tice and peo­ple got ready to leave, Rowena sud­denly thought of some­thing else.

“Um, ex­cuse me, every­one,” she said.

The group con­tin­ued to pull on their coats.

“Ex­cuse me,” she said again, a lit­tle louder.

“Ladies and gentle­men, your at­ten­tion, please!” Ter­ence’s sud­den yell caught every­one’s at­ten­tion. “Rowena has some­thing to say.” He turned to her.

“All yours, pet.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “it won’t take a minute. I just wanted to ask if any­one would be pre­pared to be Santa for the chil­dren’s Christ­mas party? Poor Alan’s ill, and . . .”

“I’ll do it.”

Forester Scott stepped for­ward from the edge of the group.

“I’ll be happy to do it,” he said. “I play Santa ev­ery year at the nurs­ery where my mum works. More than happy to help out.”

“Thank you so much,” Rowena said. “We’re very grate­ful. I’ll let Molly Bas­sett know.”

Glanc­ing across at Emer­ald, who was gaz­ing ador­ingly at their new Santa, Rowena had a sud­den mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion.

“I don’t sup­pose you’d be in­ter­ested in be­ing Mrs Claus, Em, would you?”

Emer­ald stared at Rowena, her cheeks flush­ing a slight shade of pink.

“That’s an idea,” Forester said. “The kids love to see Mrs Claus. And af­ter­wards, per­haps we could have a spot of lunch, if you’d like.”

Emer­ald melted like a snowflake.

“I’d love to,” she said. Mis­sion most def­i­nitely ac­com­plished, Rowena smiled to her­self, as she picked up her coat.

“Can I walk you home?” Ter­ence had leaned across to hold her coat as she slipped in her arm.

“That’s kind of you,” she said. “Thank you.”

Out­side, as they stepped into the bit­terly cold air, Ter­ence of­fered his arm for her to hold.

“Get­ting a bit icy now,” he said. “These cob­bles can be treach­er­ous. Ro, I’ve been mean­ing to ask . . .”

“So you and Forester are go­ing out for din­ner again on Thurs­day?” Rowena asked, smil­ing as she cut two slices of gin­ger­bread. “Things go­ing well, then?”

“Oh, yes.” Emer­ald breathed in the warmth of the gin­ger. “Very well. The whole choir thing worked out just as I’d hoped. And I met my dar­ling Forester.” Rowena looked up. “What do you mean?” Emer­ald smiled at her. “Well, some­one had to get you and Ter­ence to­gether,” she said. “You’re made for each other.” ■

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