As the weekend arrived, it brought more than the usual amount of relief to Maddy. Since their evening at Pepe's, she seemed to have been running into Felicity on campus much more often, and each time she had elicited a maliciously cold stare from the dark haired girl. So it was with a deal of alleviation that she left Sanford's somewhat haunted corridors behind and resigned herself to a weekend indoors. The weather was on the turn, bringing dark clouds and cold winds to the valley town, and she had decided to make the most of the situation by keeping her promise to Liv and training her up on her confidence before their first proper practise. In truth, she had no ideas of her own on how to beat Liv's nerves, having never had too much of a problem with herself. However, she had been doing her research and she was certain she had found a method that would work. This time, the pair were meeting at Liv's, and Maddy couldn't have been more pleased. Not only was it a pleasure to get out of her own home, where tension was mounting with her mother, but she genuinely adored Liv's house. Like her own, it was towards the outskirts of Sanford. However, whilst Maddy's house was new and custom built. Liv's was old and authentic and quaint. She lived with her father and mother in a picturesque cottage, complete with real stones, climbing roses around the door and beautiful oak beams in the ceiling. Maddy had never told Liv, but she had always thought that the house suited the Hartford family perfectly. Liv's father, a kind but somewhat pious man, was a teacher at Sanford's sister school, Sacred Heart Primary. Her mother owned and ran an organic store, and was known about the town for her exquisite home-made jams and preserves. Just like their home, the Hartford family had the outward appearance of being idyllic and wholesome. Maddy imagined that things would be very different, however, if they found out their daughter was gay. Liv's bedroom was at the front of the house. It was not as big as Maddy's by any means, but Maddy loved the low down, mullioned windows and the pretty, wrought iron bedstead and the scent of the polished wooden floor. She was occupying her favourite seat in the window, watching Liv pacing the floorboards with an almost aggressive speed.
Tell me why I'm doing this, exactly? she asked, as Maddy simply observed.
Does it not help? Maddy questioned. Do you not feel relaxed the fluidity of the repetitive backwards and forwards motion? Are you not releasing your nervous energy?
A little, Liv admitted. But mostly I'm just getting dizzy.
Alright, stop then, sighed Maddy. I thought that one might work.
So far they had tried several techniques, including sipping at water slowly and some light exercises to get the blood flowing to the brain and the tension out of her muscles. So far, they had only proved vaguely successful, and that was just in her bedroom. In the wings of a vast theatre, seconds before curtain up, Maddy imagined these techniques would be useless.
Okay, I'm going to try a different route, she said. She abandoned her window seat, guiding Liv down onto the bed. Right, so I want you to imagine you're on a stage in front of a room full of people and they're all waiting for you to perform. How does that make you feel?
Like I want to hurl, said Liv, weakly, gripping at the quilt with her fingers.
Okay, Maddy continued. Now, take a deep breath in through your nose slowly! Then you exhale through your mouth, and with it push all off the tension out of your body. And then repeat, nice and slowly - take your time, they can wait.
She watched Liv's chest rise and then fall again as she breathed peacefully in and out. The tension that had been gathering in her features had lessened noticeably.
Do you feel any better? asked Maddy, hopefully.
Yes, Liv replied.
Do you feel like you can sing? pressed Maddy.
No, said Liv, sadly. It's not enough.
She opened her eyes and Maddy could see they were gleaming with tears.
Hey, don't get upset, she sad softly, drawing the girl into a gentle hug. It's a big thing to overcome and it's not going to happen overnight, so don't get frustrated.
I don't want to let you down, Liv murmured, and Maddy felt her heart swell with adoration.
It's not about me, silly, she said, wiping a few stray tears from Liv's cheeks. It's about you. You have a beautiful voice and you should be able to feel proud to share it with the world, not scared.
I do like to sing, Liv confessed, sniffling. But when I'm being watched, it's like my voice freezes in my throat and it won't come out.
Then that's what we need to work on, said Maddy simply. She took Liv's hand and she pulled her up onto her feet. You stand there, she instructed, positioning Liv in front of the door, facing her bed. I'm going to sit here and I want you to sing for me. Can you do that?
Of course, Liv smiled. I can always sing for you.
And sing she did, her voice strong and sweet and clear as she gave Maddy a short but beautiful chorus from a West End classic. Her voice was outstanding, yet what moved Maddy most, what always had done whenever Liv sang, was the emotion: every word was lacing with feeling, as though the song she sang was her very own. She wondered if it was just because Liv was her girlfriend, or if there were other people who heard what she heard and didn't want it to stop. When it did stop, however, Liv looked down at her with a smile on her face.
See, that was perfect, Maddy beamed. And you didn't feel scared at all?
Of course not, shrugged Liv. It's just you. I've nothing to hide from you.
Okay, said Maddy, thoughtfully. Now close your eyes again and bring back that stage and that room full of people.
A tiny frown wrinkled Liv's forehead, and Maddy could see her fists clenching into tight little balls. This was clearly the source of her problem a room full of strangers, watching her and waiting. She had feared as much, as it was a difficult problem to deal with: she could hardly ask them all to turn away, or to listen from the other side of the door. Somehow, then, she would have to make Liv believe they weren't there.
Alright, she began thoughtfully. I want you to focus on that feeling for a moment. I want all those people to be real to you. You can hear them talking and coughing; someone in the front row is rustling a bag of sweets. And they're all waiting, Liv.
Maddy could see Liv beginning to tremble, the colour draining from her cheeks, She felt a pang of guilt, but she knew this was necessary if Liv was ever going to master her fear.
Enough, she said, finally. Open your eyes.
Liv obeyed and her face relaxed at once.
There's no one here Liv, said Maddy, soothingly. There's no one here but you and me. And this is what I want you to see every time you feel that feeling. I want to you to stop, take a deep breath and look again, and I want you to be here. Not there, just here, in your bedroom, with only me.
Do you think that will work? Liv asked timidly.
We can only try, smiled Maddy. We'll have to give it a go in the auditorium next week. But if you want it to be, Liv, then you just have to see it. Just imagine them all away and sing for me.
I guess I can try, shrugged Liv, sitting down on the bed next to Maddy. The only other alternative is to mime to a recording, and I'd imagine we'd loose points for that.
Well, if it needs to be done, it can't be helped, Maddy said, gently. At the end of the day, it's not worth worrying yourself to death over. We'll sort it, one way or the other.
Liv gave Maddy a grateful smile. As Felix wasn't present, the bedroom door was closed even at seventeen, Liv's parents would not permit boys in her room unless the door was open so Liv chanced a quick kiss on Maddy's cheek. Maddy smiled, though she rather wished Liv hadn't bothered one chaste kiss on the cheek would only make her want more, and in the Hartford household, fooling around was very dangerous business.
Hey! Liv exclaimed, jumping up from the bed. Mum and I went shopping this morning and I got a dress for Felix's party. Want to see?
Love to, Maddy smiled. She watched Liv patter around to the wardrobe and pull out a beautiful, one shouldered peplum dress. It was a striking shade of emerald green that made Liv's blue eyes shimmer like sapphires.
What do you think? she beamed.
Gorgeous, said Maddy, reverently. The dress is pretty nice too.
Silly, Liv giggled, her cheeks flushing ever so slightly. Shall I try it on then?
By all means, smirked Maddy, seeing her opportunity. She leaned forward as she watched Liv undress, removing her jeans first, then her shirt. Stop there, she called. Liv paused, perplexed. Good, Maddy said, smiling. That'll do. Now come here.
Liv, standing in naught but her underwear, gave Maddy a scathing look.
You do know my mother is in the garden, right? she asked, her eyebrows raised.
I do, said Maddy, nodding. I'm not asking you to do anything. Just come here and let me get a better look at you.
Sighing, the girl obeyed and came to stand at the end of the bed. Maddy leant in to kiss her and was pleased when, for all her warnings, she didn't resist. However, Maddy allowed her only a brief exchange before she pulled away.
Go on, try it on then, she smiled and Liv glowed with delight.