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la petite muse

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With his most recent undertaking, Smith proves once and for all that he is a fraud - an inept con artist disguising himself as a mad genius. He is worthy of neither our praise nor his fame. Let us hope that his newest foray into theatre is also his last and Smith will fade away into obscurity where he belongs. His blank sheets of paper will better serve him as kindling and grace the theatre with ample room for playwrights who deserve our attention.

 

The reviews had come in only two days ago but John has every scathing word of the Daily Telegraph burned into his memory. He could recite it with his eyes shut and frequently does. It’s hardly his first bad review. One must develop a thick skin when one decides to take up the life of a playwright. No matter how successful, there is always someone who sees through the bollocks and grasps right at the heart of one’s greatest fear - that you are nothing. A talentless hack who managed to get so far in life by sheer luck alone.

 

This is merely the first time he has believed them.

 

Hunkered down at the heavy oak desk in his study - the one he barely uses because he much prefers to do his writing in the park - John reads the crumpled newspaper once more, tightening his grip around his tumbler of brandy. “A fraud,” he mutters, frowning at the page. “Fade into obscurity where he belongs…” He harrumphs, takes a long pull from his glass, and wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his silk dressing gown. “Kindling. Ha!”

 

Bloody vipers, the lot of them.

 

He never listens to a word the critics have to say. His goal has never been to please them. He writes for himself most of all, but secondly and perhaps most importantly, he writes for his audience. He writes for the people who are willing to sit for hours just to watch his words come to life. He writes for the people who light up when the curtains rise and who leap to their feet with thunderous applause at the final call. He writes because love for his plays has always felt a bit like love for him. It’s all he has ever really had.

 

As far as he has ever been concerned, the critics could hang.

 

Except this time they happen to be right.

 

They’ve been right for a while.

 

He has watched over the years as even his audiences lost their enthusiasm for his work. He used to love standing backstage during opening night, peering around the curtains and watching their reactions, waiting with his heart fluttering like a mad bird against his rib cage for them to smile, for their eyes to light up, for the delighted whispers and gasps to reach his ears. He would close his eyes and drink in the applause like inspiration. With each and every play, the spark in the eyes of his audiences has faded. From behind the curtain, he has witnessed blank faces and sighs of boredom. The idle tap-tapping of fingers against armrests, waiting for the end.

 

They have grown bored of his work. Bored of him.

 

Even John has grown bored of himself.

 

And so what is the point of it all?

 

He swirls the last of his brandy around in the bottom of his glass, sneers at the newspaper shouting his failure to the world, and knocks back the rest of the liquor. It burns his throat but he doesn’t cough, roughly pushing aside the newspaper as he stands, swaying a bit on unsteady feet. He rounds his ill-used desk and begins to navigate the disaster his study - nay, his entire sumptuous townhouse - has become. Since the release of the reviews, he hasn’t bothered with much of anything and that includes getting dressed, bathing, or cleaning up after himself.

 

He steps over a tray of food Clara had left for him yesterday and nearly trips over the pile of books next to it. Biting back a curse, John kicks the books out of the way, stubs his toe on the thick binding of one of them, and hisses, “Buggering hell.” He almost drops his empty glass but it’s the last one - he threw the others against the wall when the reviews first came out two days ago - and he isn’t quite pathetic enough to drink straight from the decanter just yet.

 

Or maybe…

 

He stops in front of the bar car and considers for a long moment, holding up his glass and eyeing the brandy bottle. Perhaps not yet. If he drops the glass, he still has the bottle. If he drops the bottle, however, no more brandy. It’s a thought he can’t quite stomach. He pours himself another drink.

 

Fade into obscurity where he belongs…

 

Perhaps it is where he belongs. He should do them all a bloody great favor and disappear.

 

John considers his glass. He could drink himself to death, he supposes. It would be the more enjoyable way to end things now that he has nothing to live for but an empty London townhouse. It might take a touch longer than he’s willing to wait, however. Not to mention it’s a bit undignified as far as suicides go. He has always been the mean, sloppy sort of drunk. Clara would say he’s already mean and sloppy without the help of alcohol but Clara can sod off.

 

He sips his brandy and eyes the balcony doors, latched shut against the bustling noise of London below. The railing on the balcony is steady enough. He takes a step toward it, pondering what it might feel like to balance precariously over the city streets, to feel the wind in his gray hair and have one last look at it all before he lets go. The fall would be exhilarating but the end… no, too messy.

 

He sighs and steps away from the balcony doors, tapping his fingers against his chin in quiet contemplation. If he were killing a character in one of his plays, how would he do it? The world is a stage, after all. He is merely a player and it is long past time for his exit.

 

John wanders to his desk and sets aside his drink, contemplating the silk belt of his dressing gown. He tugs and it slides from its loops, drooping in his hand and brushing the floor. Wrapping both ends around each of his palms, he pulls and feels satisfied when it doesn’t tear. Strong but still extravagant enough to make a statement.

 

Hanging himself with silk.

 

That’ll certainly get the Telegraph talking.

 

He tips his head back to study the ceiling and nods. The chandelier will work nicely. He’ll just step off the edge of his desk and have done with it. Perching on the edge of the desk for a moment, John pats it with a muttered, “Finally found a bloody use for you.”

 

He starts working the belt of his dressing gown into a noose and he’s absolutely shite at knots but he’s fairly certain he’s managed a decent one when he hears footsteps on the stairs - small, rapid footsteps that usually prelude a visit from his housekeeper. Well, he calls her his housekeeper. Clara insists on referring to herself as his minder.

 

With a sigh, John tosses the noose behind his desk where she won’t see it and picks up his drink again, waiting for her to barge in without knocking like she always does. She doesn’t disappoint him, bustling in with her usual bubbly energy that sets his teeth on edge. “Brought you tea,” she says, carrying another tray in with her. “Not that you ate the last meal I carried up here to you. Or even said thank you. But don’t worry. I like slaving away over a hot stove all day for paltry pay and no gratitude.” She picks her way through the broken glass and books on the floor with a disapproving purse of her lips, setting the tray of food down on his desk with a noisy clatter. “You’re welcome.”

 

He frowns at her, cradling his drink in the palm of his hand. “I pay you plenty.”

 

“Oh, it speaks.” Clara lifts an eyebrow, settling a hand on her hip. “I was beginning to wonder.”

 

“Get out.”

 

She snorts and wanders around the room picking up after him, her heavy skirts trailing the floor as she stacks books into her arms, carrying them to their proper shelves. “I’m not picking up the glass. You’re doing it.”

 

“Fine.” He’ll do no such thing but since he’s going to hang himself the moment she leaves, he sees no reason to be disagreeable. “Now will you go away?”

 

Clara sighs, turning from his bookshelves with a hopeful smile. “Got something that might cheer you up.”

 

“Oh?” He takes another swig of brandy. “Find my talent lying about somewhere, did you?”

 

She huffs, reaching into one of the deep pockets of her apron to pull out a stack of envelopes. “The post was just delivered and I thought you might like to spend the afternoon replying to your letters. Mr. Wilde wrote you and I know how much you enjoy a good argument with him.”

 

He snatches the letters from her grasp, muttering a thank you when she glares. “Is that all?”

 

“Clean up the glass, please. And maybe get dressed. Have you even bathed since Tuesday?”

 

John narrows his eyes at her.

 

She sighs, reaches out a small hand to touch his arm and looks at him with wide brown eyes that she should really get under control. Properly massive, those eyes. “It’s going to be fine, you know. Your next play will be brilliant and everyone will forget all about this one.”

 

He manages a thin, brittle smile for her sake and nods. “Of course.”

 

Squeezing his arm, Clara spares him one last glance and leaves him alone, gently shutting the door behind her. He waits until he hears her footsteps on the stairs before he glances down at the envelopes in his hand. Might as well have a look before he goes. He scans the front of each envelope as he walks toward the fire burning in the hearth across the room. Oscar Wilde - he’ll just want to gloat about John’s failure. He’s in no mood. He tosses that one into the fireplace and watches it burn.

 

The next two are correspondence from his impresario, no doubt fretting over the failure of his latest investment. John throws both of them into the fire too. The last thing he wants to think about is how much he has let down Lethbridge - the man who always put far too much faith in him and his work. And look how that faith has been repaid. With a flop.

 

Scowling to himself, John looks down at the last letter, ready to toss it in along with the others. The unfamiliar handwriting gives him pause.

 

Melody Pond

46 St. Giles Street, West End

London

 

Odd name. Probably just another critic.

 

He walks back to his desk and reaches for his letter opener, tearing open the envelope and pulling out the letter inside. It’s only a page, written in careful, neat penmanship. The parchment itself smells faintly of dust. Intrigued, John unfolds the page and sinks into the chair behind his desk, letting his eyes scan the missive.

 

Mr. Smith,

 

You don’t know me but I know you. I help sew the costumes for your plays. It’s tedious work that pays very little but I enjoy it. It allows me as close to your work as I’ll likely ever be. I can’t afford a ticket to your shows, but I stay late every evening to listen to rehearsals.

 

I like to think that each of us, sometimes without being aware, bring hope into at least one life in the span of our own. I’d wager you bring more hope than most. You entertain, Mr. Smith. We are all each of us leading our own mundane little lives filled with stresses and illnesses, eager to escape if only for a while. Eager to forget. Every time I linger behind the curtains and listen to your play rehearsals, you help me forget. Every time the theatre is packed with people there to watch your stories play out in front of them, you’re helping them too. You give hope to so many just by putting your pen to paper.

 

I am not a writer, Mr. Smith, but in light of recent reviews, I thought it might be best to remind you that you are. You are a valuable, important part of this world. Particularly mine.

 

Yours,

 

Melody Pond

 

Slowly, John lets the page slip from his fingers and flutter to the desk. It lands on top of the Telegraph review and he swallows, brushing it aside to stare down at the caustic words once again.

 

Fraud.

 

Worthy of neither praise nor fame.

 

He blinks. Funny, reading it doesn’t feel like the punch in the stomach it had only a few minutes ago. He reads the review again just to be sure, reaching blindly for his brandy. It still stings. Every single word makes him flinch and want to throw another glass at the wall. But his silk noose is lying on the floor at his feet and he has no desire to pick it up and loop it around the chandelier.

 

Stunned, John picks up the letter again and rereads it with the mad fervor of one on the edge. He reaches the end, the elegantly scrawled Melody Pond, and feels a reluctant grin twitching at the corners of his mouth. It’s impossible to stifle so he doesn’t try. He sets aside the letter and finishes his brandy slowly, smiling all the while.

 

When the glass is empty, he reaches once more for the letter and reads it. Again. Just once more. And then slowly, with a hand that he’ll never admit trembles ever so slightly, he reaches for his quill pen. And he writes.

 

By the wee hours of the morning, his back aches from bending over his desk, the pads of his fingers burn from candle wax, and his hand is sore from gripping his pen but never once does he think of going to bed. He writes instead. He writes pages and pages of quite possibly his best work in years. The words come so fast and so fluidly he cannot move his hand across the page fast enough. They pour out of him as easily as breath from his lungs and for the first time in years, he feels the return of that elusive spark.

 

John is not a man easily besotted. In fact, he has never been besotted a day in his life. The closest he has ever come is Clara and quite honestly, it’s more of a vaguely terrified fondness than anything else - something like he imagines the owner of a rabid cat might feel. He is a tetchy old man set in his ways, more in love with the written word than any woman. Words are everything. How can a woman compare to that?

 

A valuable, important part of this world. Particularly mine.

 

But this woman… He stares at the letter in his hands as dawn approaches over the London skyline, the page crinkled with use already and the ink faded and smeared like it has aged a lifetime overnight. Melody Pond’s words are seared onto his memory now and branded onto his heart, obscuring even the most hateful critical slights.

 

Particularly mine.

 

The words have nearly exhausted their power now, running through his mind over and over again like a ditty he’ll never get out of his head. He needs more of them. He craves her words just as Melody Pond seems to crave his plays. Maybe there is a way they can both have what they want.

 

John leaps from his chair and rounds his desk, throwing open the door to his study for the first time in days. Morning has come and there is much to be done before he sets out - like washing and dressing. Perhaps breakfast.

 

And then he’ll find her - his little muse.

 

-

 

Clutching at the envelope with his mysterious letter-writer’s address on the front, John stands on the pavement and stares at the decrepit little antiques shop, wondering if he’d somehow managed to get lost. She can’t live in a shop. Can she?

 

He glances down at the address again, squinting.

 

49 St. Giles Street it reads. But Lux Antiques is not a house or a block of dilapidated flats. With a frown, he stuffs the envelope into his coat pocket with a muttered, “Sod it” and marches for the door. It opens with the merry tinkling of a bell when he pulls and he steps inside, his palms suddenly damp and his throat dry. The shop is a dimly lit, dusty place and as he breathes it in, he realizes it smells just like the letter in his pocket. His little muse had written the letter in this room, perhaps bent over one of the glass countertops. He inhales again and sneezes.

 

A portly, rosy-cheeked man behind the counter glances up with a smile. “Hello, welcome to Lux Antiques. I’m Mr. Lux. Looking for anything in particular today, Sir?”

 

Blinking watering eyes, John waves away the dust floating in front of his face and huffs. “Melody Pond,” he says impatiently, eager to either find his muse or get out of the dust museum. “Does she work here?”

 

“Ah.” Smile and enthusiasm fading somewhat, Mr. Lux sighs. “Indeed she does, Sir. She isn’t due for another fifteen minutes, I’m afraid. And I have no doubt she will be late. She always is. I suspect she does it on purpose. No one can possibly be so late so often without -”

 

“I’ll just wait for her outside,” John interrupts, already making his way to the door again. The dust he might be able to stand for another few minutes but Mr. Lux and his prattle have already begun to set his teeth on edge. He has never been very good at small talk and even less so with people he doesn’t like. He doesn’t like most everyone.

 

“Or you could just go upstairs,” Mr. Lux calls after him.

 

John stops in his tracks, hand already around the doorknob. He glances over his shoulder. “Sorry?”

 

Mr. Lux tsks patiently and John tightens his grip around the doorknob to keep from scowling at him. “She lives above the shop, Sir. Right up those stairs.” He points over his shoulder. “Which is why I find it so baffling than she can never be on time -”

 

“Thanks,” John interrupts again, sweeping through the shop and stirring up more dust with the tail of his coat and his patent leather shoes as he moves rapidly along. He walks around the counter, ignoring Mr. Lux’s protests, and stomps his way up the rickety staircase to the bright blue door at the top.

 

He breathes in, flexing his fingers and curling them into a fist. On the other side of this door is the woman who inspired him to write some of his best work last night. The woman who made suicide seem like sheer idiocy. How could he possibly give up when there are still so many worlds inside him he hasn’t created and shared yet? If nothing else, Melody Pond deserves his thanks. He raps his knuckles against the door and waits.

 

“In a minute! I’m not even late yet!”

 

He stares at the bright blue door and listens to the sound of Melody Pond moving about her flat, raising an eyebrow when he hears her curse under her breath. He knocks again.

 

She growls, stomping toward the door and yanking it open. “Patience is a virtue, Mr. Lux -”

 

He blinks at her.

 

She blinks back at him, lips parting in surprise. “You’re - you’re not Mr. Lux.”

 

“Thank Christ for that,” he mutters, and attempts a smile. It probably looks more like a grimace but he’s too busy staring at her to mind. He isn’t sure what he was expecting from his little muse – an overworked mother, a little old lady, perhaps even a teenage girl with a crush – but nothing had prepared him for the reality. Melody Pond is absolutely stunning. She actually looks like a proper muse – curvaceous and beautiful with golden ringlets. Sharp, glimmering eyes and a clever mouth. Small hands settled on luscious hips. A full bosom spilling over the top of her corset.

 

She isn’t even dressed, he realizes, his mouth going dry. His little muse stands in front of him in a corset and a slip, curls slipping into her eyes and a frown on her lovely face. “What are you doing here, Mr. Smith?”

 

He opens his mouth, still gaping at her, and for the first time in his life words fail him. He tears his gaze away with no small amount of effort and stares at the floor instead, his cheeks positively burning. “Your letter,” he chokes out. “I read your letter.”

 

She doesn’t say anything but when he glances up again in the ensuing silence, Melody Pond is watching him with an appraising eye, her lips curled into an amused smirk. He resists the urge to fidget. He’s a grown man for god’s sake. The surly playwright who makes everyone else flinch away with one biting word. He steels himself and meets her gaze head on. Apparently pleased, Melody asks, “What about my letter?”

 

“It was flowery and ridiculous and overly sentimental rubbish.” He swallows when she only lifts an eyebrow at him, waiting. “I wanted to thank you for it.”

 

With a sigh, Melody drops her hands from her hips and steps aside, opening the door wider. “Come in then.”

 

“Mr. Lux -”

 

She waves him away. “He’ll keep.”

 

Unlike the dusty and dank shop downstairs, Melody Pond’s tiny flat is bright and clean. The windows are open to let in the morning sunlight and a light breeze flutters the curtains and rustles the fabric of a half-finished, elaborate gown draped over a mannequin. It doesn’t smell old and damp in here. It smells like sunlight and citrus and for the first time in days, John feels like he can breathe again.

 

Melody pushes him toward her shabby settee with a flippant hand, bustling into her tiny kitchen to forage for teacups. He watches her for a moment, torn between the urge to forget the whole thing and run away or sit down on her floral printed settee and never leave. “How do you take your tea?”

 

He sits, perching on the edge of a settee cushion. “Six sugars.”

 

“Sorry, was just asking to be polite. I can’t afford sugar any more.” Melody pours them both a cup, glancing over her shoulder at him with a little shrug. “You like biscuits?”

 

He shakes his head. “Not really, no.”

 

“Good. I don’t have those either.” She grins at him, inexplicably proud of her poverty, and John can only stare at her as she approaches balancing two teacups in her hands. He should have brought her something. Giles Street is hardly a wealthy area and he knew that when he came here. He wants to thank her but with what? His gift with words only applies to paper. Out loud, he’s a gruff, inept Scotsman. She probably would have appreciated money. Or food. Feeling like an idiot, he accepts the tea she offers him and settles it on her worn, rickety coffee table with a nod of thanks.

 

She sits next to him, close enough to allow him a brief whiff of her perfume – something dark and spicy, entirely unlike the floral scents always wafting about when Clara bustles around cleaning his home. Melody cradles her cup in her hands and watches him with bright green eyes. He decides very quickly that he doesn’t like her eyes. They see far too much. Her gaze burns into him like she can glimpse the very core of him and he avoids looking directly at her, clearing his throat again. “You live all alone up here?”

 

Melody shakes her head. “Why? Hoping to take advantage of me?”

 

He frowns at her, unruffled.

 

She looks disappointed, glancing down at the steam rising from her tea. “My daughter and her husband live with me. Rory is studying to be a doctor and they can’t afford to live on their own.”

 

“What about your husband?”  He only asks because she has no ring but she has a daughter and curiosity has always gotten the better of him. As he watches her eyes dim, however, he wishes he’d kept his damn mouth shut.

 

Melody bites her lip, glancing down at her bare ring finger. “Dead, I’m afraid. His name was Benjamin.” She smiles, her eyes far away. “He was an idiot.”

 

She says it like a loving pet name and John feels his throat tighten. “I’m sorry.”

 

“So am I.” It’s her turn to avoid his gaze now, like she has revealed far too much of herself and has to make up for it by putting some distance between them. She sips her tea and breathes in the steam rising from her cup, shutting her eyes. “Why are you here? Surely I’m not the first of your fans to write to you.”

 

“No,” he admits, tapping his fingers against his knee. “Just the first to catch my attention.”

 

Startled into looking at him again, Melody smiles, wide and uninhibited, her eyes lighting up. It brightens her whole face, like the sun is shining out of her pores, and it’s only then that John remembers she isn’t quite dressed. She’s lounging on her settee in a corset and a slip next to a complete stranger, sipping her tea like she’s at a bloody social event. “I’m flattered.”

 

Her words draw him from his stupor and caught staring yet again, he looks away with a scowl, flustered. He does not get flustered. Ever. This woman is the most vexing creature he has ever had the good fortune to encounter. His little muse is quite perfect for the job.

 

Remembering the pages in his coat pocket, he shifts in his seat and begins to rummage for them. “I’ve got something for you.”

 

Melody brightens. “A present?”

 

“A new play,” he explains, feeling a smile twitch at his lips at her enthusiasm. He tugs the wrinkles pages from his pocket and presents them to her with a flourish. “I wrote it after I read your letter. Thought you might want to take a look at it.”

 

“Me?” She takes the pages from him with a reverence that makes his chest tighten, looking down at them like one of the antiques in her dusty little shop - like they might crumble if she doesn’t handle them carefully. “Why me? Don’t you have an editor for this sort of thing?”

 

He nods, watching her smooth out the pages over her thighs. “You inspired this one. You get to see it first.”

 

Melody smiles but he can tell she isn’t really listening to him - she’s already reading. He huffs, scrubbing a hand through his short hair. “You don’t have to read it now -”

 

“Shh.” She glances up with a scowl. “Drink your tea, sweetie. I’m busy.”

 

The name rolls off her tongue with such ease he barely blinks at it. He only sighs with just enough force to make her mouth tighten irritably and then he ignores his tea entirely, glancing around her small flat. How is it that someone leading such a dull, insignificant life with no real hope of her own managed to inspire such a magnitude of the emotion in him?

 

Her furniture is shabby and worn, nothing like the plush, expensive furnishings in his townhouse, but everything is well kept and comfortable. On one side of the flat is her small kitchen and on the other side are three doors no doubt leading to the bedrooms and bath. Nestled between it all is her little parlor where he sits now, letting the morning light touch his face while Melody Pond reads the first few pages of his latest endeavor. Every now and then, she either mutters under her breath in disapproval or hums in delighted surprise. She’ll certainly keep his ego in check.

 

“Mum? Have you seen my -” John glances over his shoulder as one of the doors on the other side of the flat opens and a young girl with vibrant ginger hair pokes her head out of one of the bedrooms. She stops mid-sentence, eyeing him with blatant suspicion. “Hello.”

 

He lifts a hand in wary greeting.

 

Melody glances up from her reading with a smile. “Amy, this is John Smith. John, this is my daughter Amy.”

 

“John Smith?” Amy smirks at her mother. “The playwright? The one -”

 

“Whose work I admire?” Melody quirks an eyebrow at her daughter and her glare is menacing. “Yes, the very same.”

 

Amy huffs, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she turns back to John with a muttered, “Nice to meet you, I suppose.”

 

“Likewise. Probably.”

 

Amy frowns at him.

 

Rolling her eyes, Melody fixes her daughter with a patient smile and asks, “What did you need, dear?”

 

“I can’t find my hair pin. Y’know, the one with the emeralds in it.” She settles her hands on her hips and despite her lean, willowy frame, looks eerily similar to her mother for a moment. “You didn’t take it to the theatre for costumes, did you?”

 

“What if I did? They aren’t real emeralds, you know.”

 

Mum.”

 

Melody sighs. “Check the bathroom.”

 

Darting from the doorway, Amy opens the bathroom door and pokes her head in, releasing a triumphant noise as she snatches her hairpin from the sink. Tucking it into her hair, she calls out in a booming voice, “Rory! Let’s go!”

 

Melody doesn’t even flinch at the noise, lost in her reading again. Unused to anything but the quiet of his townhouse, John glances back and forth between them, reluctantly fascinated. From the bedroom Amy had just left, a timid young man with an unfortunate nose emerges carrying a heavy satchel over his shoulder. “This flat isn’t that big, you know. I swear I’ll be able to hear you if you speak below a bellow.”

 

Amy smirks, latching onto his hand and tugging him with her.

 

Melody glances up from her pages again, frowning at them as she stands. “You haven’t eaten breakfast yet.”

 

“We’ll get something later.” Amy darts in as her mother approaches, pecking her cheek. “I’m sure you two would rather be alone.”

 

Melody glares. “Amelia -”

 

“What?” Amy blinks, eyes wide and innocent but her mouth still smirking. “You’re practically in your knickers in front of him. You could at least wait until Rory and I are out of the house before you try to seduce men.”

 

Rory sighs and stares at his shoes, blushing. “Amy.”

 

Looking faintly embarrassed but mostly murderous, Melody ushers her children toward the door, whacking them over the head with John’s pages until they duck away, slipping out the door and down the stairs. Amy calls back up, “Nice to meet you, John Smith.”

 

Melody slams the door shut behind them and leans her back against it. “Have any children of your own, Mr. Smith?”

 

He shakes his head, still dizzy from the entire encounter.

 

She huffs a curl out of her eyes. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

 

“Noted,” he murmurs, gazing at her as she finishes the last page. “Well? What do you think?”

 

She folds the pages carefully, keeping her head down as she walks toward him, her bare feet a soft whisper against the wooden floorboards. She won’t look at him and he feels his heart sink right down to his stomach and stay there like a heavy stone at the bottom of a pond. He doesn’t know why her opinion is so important. He only just met her. But overnight, before he ever knew her face, Melody has become his guiding light - the foundation on which he rebuilt himself. If even she doesn’t like the play then there really is no hope.

 

She perches on the settee next to him, far too close once more. He breathes in her perfume and tries to unclench his jaw. He flinches when she takes his hand in her own, glancing down warily to watch her press the pages into his palm, closing his fingers around the bundle with her own gentler, calloused ones. He finally risks a glance at her face. She laughs softly, releasing his hand to cup his jaw, rubbing her thumb over his skin until he stops grinding his teeth together. He feels warm all over at her touch, like the sun is shining directly on him.

 

“I think it’s the best thing you’ve written in years,” she says, still grinning. “You’ve found your spark again, sweetie.”

 

John clutches the pages in his hand and stares at her, suddenly more certain than he’s ever been in his life. “Yes,” he manages hoarsely. “I think I have.”