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Authors: Ruth Saberton

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Dead Romantic

BOOK: Dead Romantic
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Dead Romantic

 

by

 

Ruth Saberton

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music Mad
interview with Rafe and Alex Thorne, 23
rd
December 2009

 

Thorne take Christmas number one

 

Music Mad
feared that the days of unmanufactured music basking in the Christmas limelight were long gone. In these bleak times of mass-production stranglehold it seemed unlikely that a genuine band would ever take the Christmas number one again.
Thorne
’s festive hit,
“One Christmas Kiss”
, has taken the music world by very welcome storm. The haunting lyrics and soul-wrenching vocals have kicked saccharine pop right back to the eighties dustbin where it belongs. With Rafe Thorne widely regarded as one of the foremost songwriting talents on the British music scene, and with “One Christmas Kiss” playing at parties the length and breadth of the UK and being downloaded every nine seconds, what’s the secret of his success?

“Honesty,” Rafe Thorne is quick to answer. “When you don’t write from the soul your music doesn’t ring true. Sure, there’s a formula, but people aren’t stupid. They soon figure out music by numbers.”

With this Christmas number one Rafe has spilled not only his musical guts but his emotional ones too. His face clouds when pressed about the origins of the song. “Yes, it’s written from the heart. It’s very personal. What more can I say? The song is about something that really happened.” He pauses. “It’s about somebody I knew was really special.”

So the Christmas kiss was real?

Rafe nods. “It was Christmas Eve and I was travelling home to London from a crappy gig – without Alex, for once. I think some girl had taken pity on him and he’d got lucky!”

At this point Alex Thorne stubs out his cigarette and punches his brother on the arm. “There had to be some perks to playing the outskirts of Watford for forty quid! And anyway, she liked you best. You’re just too picky!”

The brothers banter. They finish one another’s sentences and clearly know each other inside out. Noel and Liam they are not.

Back to the song?

Alex grins. “Yeah, don’t stop now, bro. Tell them about how your eyes met across the snowy track and the angels sang. It’s pure Mills and fuckin’ Boon!”

Rafe laughs. “Mills and Boon just bought you an Aston! Anyhow, my train home was cancelled and I was stranded at this godforsaken branch-line station miles from anywhere, waiting ages for the next one. It had been snowing and there was nobody about for miles.”

Just like in your song?

“Yeah, just like that. This girl was waiting for her lift, this goddamn amazing girl. She had the greenest eyes and sunset-red hair.” He hesitates. Gone is the rasping anger of his hits “Dead Lines”
or “Killed”. “We sat on this bench and she was shaking with cold. Her mum was really poorly and she’d come home for Christmas to spend some time with her. She was so upset and I couldn’t help it; I put my arms around her.” He shrugs. “I expect you can guess the rest.”

We don’t need to guess; Thorne’s lyrics speak for themselves.

Rafe sighs, clearly exasperated with himself. “One Christmas Eve kiss was all we had. Man, like an idiot I never even asked her name. Then her father arrived all distraught and my train pulled in. She’d scribbled her number down but it blew away in the snow. I haunted that station for months but I never saw her again. I knew, though. She was the one. The only one.”

And that’s Rafe Thorne’s gift: he can wrap raw emotion up in notes and lyrics that echo through the heart and soul. The opening bars of “One Christmas Kiss

are filled with the bitter-sweetness of lost love, the magic of Christmas Eve and the pain of unfulfilled dreams.
Music Mad
predicts that for many Christmases to come this song will be right up there with Wham!
and Slade.

With his brother lost in reminiscences it’s up to Alex to lighten the mood. “Yeah, the song’s about Rafe’s famous ‘one that got away’! Who knows, maybe she’ll read this and recognise herself? Then she’ll find him and they can live happily ever after!”

Rafe’s girlfriend,
FHM
favourite Natasha Lacey, will no doubt have something to say about that. Still, with “One Christmas Kiss” outselling everything else in the charts and set to become a Christmas classic, Rafe Thorne seems very likely to live happily ever after, with or without his mystery girl.

“But if I could,” Alex says quietly to his brother, “I’d move heaven and earth to find her for you.”

 

 

 

Chapter 1

November

“Is that a normal latte, Madam, or one of our seasonal lattes?”

The teenager behind the counter pauses to allow me to make this challenging decision. He needn’t have bothered. Seasonal latte in early November? What’s that about? I’ve enough problems dealing with Christmas in December; foisting it on me now is nothing short of cruelty.

“It comes with a mince pie,” the helpful teen adds, in case this is enough to tip the balance.

I nearly walk out. All I want is a quiet coffee while I wait for Susie to arrive. The last thing I need is a festive reminder that before long Dad will be on the phone wondering what I’m planning to do for the holiday, the silences between us filling with unspoken disappointments and memories.
Are you coming home, Cleo Rose?
he’ll ask and, as usual, I’ll pretend I have to work or am planning to go away. He’ll know I’m just making excuses because I never go away, unless you count my annual Christmas guilt trip.

“Skinny latte,” I say firmly. “And absolutely no mince pies.”

I shuffle past the till and alongside the counter to collect my drink, trying to ignore the strains of “Last Christmas”,
and concentrating instead on the dismal day beyond the steamy window. The early afternoon sunshine has turned a sickly yellow and the sky is bruised with lemon-hued clouds. Pedestrians huddling under umbrellas scuttle past and cars swish through puddles, their sidelights scattering diamonds over the road. Across the street sodden tourists pour into the Henry Wellby Museum, my workplace, where they’ll be dripping all over the tiled floor, as excited to be out of the rain as they are about seeing the exhibits. Then they’ll be testing the security guards’ patience by touching the statues with moist fingers and fogging up the display cases. The Ancient World Gallery will be even more crowded than usual, a press of faces peering through the glass at the mummies as the tide of visitors sweeps through the dimly lit space, starfish hands leaving sticky kisses behind.

Settling onto a sofa, I decide I’m glad to be away from the Wellby Museum for a while on this soggy Saturday. I’m even gladder Aamon’s sarcophagus is currently hidden away from public view. There’ll be plenty of time for the hordes to see the boy pharaoh once I’ve finished my research, but until then Aamon and his secrets are my personal challenges. I love trying to decipher the hieroglyphics and symbolism and untangling stories that for millennia have lain buried under the desert sands; it’s the ultimate Sudoku.

Susie doesn’t get this at all. She thinks I should be socialising rather than spending every spare minute at work or reading up on the latest academic papers. Mum always understood, though. From the moment she first showed me her collection of artefacts I was hooked. Being named Cleopatra probably helped me too, as did the family holidays to places near my mother’s archaeological digs in Egypt and Sudan. Anyway, I pored over her books, was glued to the History Channel rather than CBBC and spent hours mummifying my unlucky Barbies. It was worth working my socks off and being the school boffin to see how proud Mum was of me.

I stir my drink violently, sloshing coffee onto the table. I’m not going to think about Mum right now. Not here in a café and in full view of everyone. And neither am I going to think about the empty space at the Christmas dinner table.

No. Way.

Where’s Susie when I need her to take my mind off things? I fish my iPhone out of my satchel. I’m going to call her.

“I’m so sorry!” Susie says breathlessly when she finally answers. “I’m on my way! I’m just running a bit late.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in Neal Street. I’ve found the best shoe shop! They’ve got leopard-print thigh boots and everything!”

“Never mind the boots, Susie. How long until you get here?”

Susie pauses, torn between trying on the boots and meeting me sometime this week. “Err, maybe half an hour? Size four, please. Oh, yes, can I try the purple ones too?”

“Are you trying shoes on while I’m sitting here like a lemon, waiting for you?”

“I’m multitasking,” Susie says quickly. “You should approve, Cleo. You were only telling me yesterday to be more organised.”

“I meant you should keep your purse, Oyster Card and door keys in the same place, not buy multiple pairs of shoes! Susie Maxwell! What are you like?”

“A disaster,” she says cheerfully. “I just can’t be as anal as you, Cleo Rose Carpenter!”

“I’m not anal!” I protest.

“Babes, you write lists about what lists you need to write! I’d say that makes you pretty anal.”

“Rubbish! I’d say that makes me
organised
. And at least being on time means
I’m
warm and dry in the coffee shop,
whereas you’re going to get soaked now traipsing around trying to get here.”

“But will you have leopard-skin thigh boots?” she counters.

I start to laugh in spite of myself. “No, we can safely say I won’t have a pair of those!”

When she rings off, promising faithfully to be with me in half an hour, I’m still smiling. Susie drives me nuts but I can never be cross with her for long, because she’s like a small blonde sunbeam – or rather, a pink-haired one, now that she’s discovered dye. We may be very different but there’s nothing like being misfits in a posh girls’ school to bond two opposites. We were the class weirdos: the skinny, speccy ginger girl and the short, plump blonde. It was bad enough being called Cleopatra without having a passion for all things ancient Egypt, but luckily for me Susie always had a reply as sharp as a samurai sword for any bitchy comment slung at us. Before long, the other students learned to leave us alone rather than risk her scathing putdowns. I left the verbal battles to Susie and did her homework, which seemed to me more than a fair exchange for being left in peace. Nearly twenty years on we’re still friends, and when I returned to England sharing a London flat seemed like a good idea.

At least, it did until I discovered just how messy she could be…

Deciding I may as well make good use of the time while I wait, I delve into my satchel, fish out a folder and settle down to read through the first few thousand words of my notes on Aamon. Or rather, I try to read but I’m being deafened by Christmas music.

When once I had an angel’s kiss

Never knew love could hurt like this

How depressing are the lyrics of this Christmas song they’re playing now? Add as many sleigh bells as you want; it’s still utterly miserable. Come back George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley: all is forgiven. At least Pepsi and Shirley looked like they were having fun playing snowballs and wearing earmuffs.

On my own, out in the cold

No one to love, no one to hold

I put my hands over my ears. The words remind me of a chance meeting, one long-ago Christmas Eve that had been the worst of my life.

I close my eyes and let the memories wash over me. I’d taken a last-minute flight from Cairo and then journeyed to my home village in Buckinghamshire, in a desperate race against time to see Mum. It had been truly awful. The single carriage that posed for a train had deposited me on the platform with my luggage and then trundled away into the night, taking with it all light and life. For a moment I’d stood dazed, numb with grief and the cold alike, before managing to gather my wits about me sufficiently to drag my case towards a bench. There I’d shivered and wept while the snow whirled down and distant church bells pealed, summoning the faithful to worship.

“May I join you?” a voice had asked, out of the whiteness.

The flurry of needle-sharp wind and swirling snow had snatched my breath way. Or maybe what took my breath was the sight of him, silhouetted against the night sky; a tall figure with a guitar slung across his back and violet eyes set above sharp, jutting cheekbones. It was as though he’d walked straight off the cover of one of the trashy romances that Susie devoured. I’d looked away, firstly because I couldn’t trust myself to meet those eyes and secondly because I never liked anyone to see me crying.

“Hey,” he’d said, sitting down beside me and shaking the snowflakes from his dark curls, “you’re sad. Nobody should be sad at Christmas.”

I’d dabbed my eyes with the back of my gloved hand and tried to paste a smile onto my face, but I’d seen from the concern in his eyes that I was failing miserably. For a moment I’d teetered on the brink of pretending to be polite, being the usual Cleo Carpenter who just got on with everything and took all life’s blows in her stride – but there was something about the tenderness in his face that had pulled me back. It was late and I was jetlagged, half frozen and worried sick. Uncharacteristically, I’d found myself pouring out my heart and telling him everything: how Dad’s frantic phone call to Cairo, where I was doing my field studies, had sent me tearing across time zones in the desperate hope that I might make it back in time; how I knew in my heart that Mum wouldn’t last through Christmas; how I should never have gone so far away; how I couldn’t believe my father hadn’t called me home earlier. Before I’d even known it, I’d been sobbing in earnest, with the arms of the compassionate traveller holding me close. It should have felt wrong – he’d been a total stranger, after all – but it hadn’t felt that way at all.

BOOK: Dead Romantic
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