Hitting The Right Note
Rowena was only in the choir to help out. This first rehearsal was going to be the last!
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.”
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.
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.”
“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?”
“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.” ■