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  • Published: 18 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9781761046032
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $34.99

The Lyrebird Lake Ladies Choir



Thursday, 1 July 2004

Hannah stood in the wings, waiting for the actor on stage to finish his soliloquy. The poor guy was bombing, stumbling over his words, mixing up his lines, but as they were taught to do, he soldiered on.

‘Most of the time the audience won’t know if you make a mis­take,’ Miss Kincaid always said. ‘But they will notice if you stop and draw attention to it.’ The graduating students at The Kincaid School of Performing Arts had had this drummed into them since day one.

Hannah silently willed Billy to get through the next verse with­out a mistake, because while Miss Kincaid was probably right about a normal audience, tonight’s audience was anything but. There were agents sprinkled among the friends and family seated in the small theatre. Agents who had the power to turn dreams into reality from this one showcase evening.

Billy turned around, using a natural pause in the soliloquy to look her way, eyes pleading for support, hiding the moment with a bend of the knee and a fist to the forehead, his face turned from the audience, his Hamlet truly grappling with the question of whether to kill Claudius or not.

‘You’ve got this,’ she mouthed.

As the two oldest members of the graduating class – Hannah had recently hit thirty, Billy was in his forties – they’d formed a strong working relationship over the last few years, though studying part-time meant Hannah was at the school only two days a week.

Billy steadied himself, winked at her, and with the remnant grace of a trained dancer, rose and launched into a flawless perfor­mance of the remainder of the piece.

Hannah’s palms began to sweat, and she wiped them down her black bootleg jeans, then retied her white sequinned scarf around her hips. Breathe in. Breathe out.

She made exaggerated vowel shapes with her mouth to warm up silently. Her solo was the last performance of the night, and she knew it was an incredible show of faith from Miss Kincaid to be given the honour. This was where Hannah could shine. Her danc­ing and acting had most definitely improved since studying at the school, but her strength was still her vocals. And if she had any hope of ditching the pub gigs – even though they paid the rent – and of proving to herself, and others, that she’d made the right call changing career directions, she had to nail this song. She’d been paying her dues for five years now on the pub and club circuit. This had to be her moment.

Billy finished, took a deep bow to enthusiastic clapping, and ran off stage, embracing Hannah quickly on his way past. ‘Knock ’em dead,’ he whispered.

She twisted her hand in the scarf at her hips. Here goes. She stepped on stage and the spotlight caught her, blinding her to the audience. Which was probably just as well. If her mother wasn’t there – and that was more than likely – it would only upset Hannah.

And she didn’t need her throat constricting. The band began the introduction to ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, and Hannah planted her feet on either side of her marker, raised her chin, squared her shoul­ders and entered that sweet state of being where everything else slipped away – the expectations, the fear, the tiny voice of doubt, the past, the future – and all she could feel was the bliss that sing­ing brought her. The rasp, the soft fall and the soaring notes came to her without thought as she lost herself in the words and melody of the song.

As she hit the crescendo of the final phrasing, she held the high note – Fantine’s moment of surrender – and then closed her eyes briefly. With the theatre wrapped in stillness, she delivered the final lyrics with airy gentleness.

Silence filled the theatre and Hannah’s hands began to shake. Had she been so lost in her Zen that she’d stuffed up the song and not realised? Oh god. They hated her. What would she do? The spotlight was still on her.

Bravo! A familiar voice resonated through the dark as the spotlight turned to the audience and the house lights went on. The theatre rose as one with cheers and whoops and thunderous applause.

Hannah took her bow, relief washing over her. When she stood back, she searched the audience. There in the middle: her tall, floppy-haired oasis of calm. He wasn’t cheering, wasn’t clap­ping. He just stood there, still, his face full of pride, tears falling down his cheeks, the lopsided grin he shared only with her beam­ing up. The chair beside him was empty and when she looked back to him, he mouthed ‘I love you,’ righting her equilibrium again.

The whole class rushed on stage and hugged each other, burst­ing into ‘I Believe’ from the musical Honey. Hannah and the other singers moved to the side, and the dancers broke out in a mix of hip-hop and ballet, centre stage. The audience clapped in time with the music, and the celebrations continued.

Hannah moved through the throng of people mingling in the foyer – some trying to reach the bar, some chatting in small excited groups, some greeting everyone they could, whether they knew them or not. A shake of the hand here, a congratulatory pat on the back there. Air kisses. High fives.

‘Hannah, isn’t it?’ A man wearing jeans and a Jacquard vest stopped her in the middle of the crowd. ‘Gregory Hun.’ He extended a business card. Not that he needed to. Hannah knew who he was.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ She shook his hand.

‘You were fabulous tonight.’ He leaned in, the noise of the crowd making it difficult to be heard.

‘Thank you.’ She smiled, pushing down her excitement. Be professional.

‘Now’s not the time,’ he said, being jostled to the left by a fam­ily shoving past to reach their pride and joy. ‘But do call the agency on Monday.’ He moved towards the bar.

A pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist. ‘Oh, my, god, you were amazing,’ the deep, warm voice whispered in her ear, and she spun around. ‘I’m so proud of you.’ Noah’s bright blue eyes looked into hers. He kissed her, deeper than was prob­ably appropriate in public. Not that anyone around them would have noticed.

‘Was I okay?’ She forced herself to pull out of the kiss. ‘Really?’

‘You stole the show.’ He ran a finger down her cheek.

‘You have to say that. You’re my boyfriend.’

‘Which only goes to prove what impeccable taste I have.’ He gave her that crooked smile she’d loved since the moment they’d met.

‘Well, who am I to argue with that?’

He draped his arm over her shoulder. ‘A big star in the making, who’ll be demanding only blue M&Ms on her rider and will argue anything she wants.’

‘Ha ha. You know I only like the red ones.’

‘That’s true. And sparkling water fresh from a hidden spring in Hawaii.’

She laughed. ‘I don’t think sparkling comes from a spring . . .’

‘Or maybe we just haven’t found the right spring yet. I’d give you the world, if I could.’

‘You already do.’ She took his hand and kissed it. Staring into his eyes, she sighed. ‘She didn’t come?’

‘I rang, but . . .’

‘Hannah?’ Miss Kincaid pushed her way towards them. ‘There’s someone I’d like you to meet.’

Hannah turned to Noah.

‘Go.’ He pushed her into Miss Kincaid’s path. ‘Be brilliant.’


An hour later, Hannah had spoken to three agents and set up two meetings for the following week, and as some very tired, very drunk people started making their way home, she searched for Noah.

Standing at the door in his leather jacket, he pushed his hair out of his eyes when he saw her approach.

‘God, that must have been boring for you.’ She hugged him. ‘I’m sorry you had to wait so long.’

He helped her into her pink helmet, securing the strap beneath her chin. ‘You’re always worth the wait. But now I’ve got a sur­prise for you.’

‘A surprise? What?’

He pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow.

‘Okay, okay,’ she laughed and followed him to his bike, which he must have pulled round the front of the theatre while she was networking. ‘Can you at least tell me where we’re going?’

He shook his head. ‘Get on.’

Sitting behind him, she wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. It was nearly midnight and after such a big day, she should have been exhausted. But adrenaline, excitement, the leftover thrill of performing, were coursing through her veins as Noah took them over the Harbour Bridge and headed north.

As the tang of salt in the air filled Hannah’s lungs, she threw her arms out to the side and leaned back, imagining this was what it must feel like to fly.

‘Hang on,’ Noah called as they came to a bend, and she nestled back into him.

Eventually, he pulled the bike to a stop in a quiet street and Hannah looked around to get her bearings. She’d grown up in the inner west, but had become familiar with Noah’s childhood stamping ground over the last few years. He’d been renting an apartment in the city since she’d met him, but he often brought her to the Northern Beaches on weekends or for date nights.

She dismounted the bike and took off her helmet, shaking her long auburn curls free. The sound of waves crashing somewhere not far from them replaced the roar of the engine as Noah turned off the bike.

‘What are we doing here?’ She looked around at the houses all blanketed in dark.

‘I said I have a surprise. Follow me.’ He took her hand and pulled her up a driveway.

‘Are we about to break the law?’ Hannah laughed. ‘Sneak into someone’s pool for a midnight . . .’

‘Not that kind of surprise.’ Noah grinned, though the glint in his eyes suggested he’d actually be up for it if she was. ‘Come on.’ He looked at his watch.

She followed him a few steps. ‘Really?’ This wasn’t like him at all.

Ever since he’d approached her that night five years ago after one of her pub gigs, white business shirt unbuttoned at the neck, grey suit trousers hugging his strong legs just so, his goofy smile and floppy hair at odds with his earnest demeanour as he told Hannah her voice was like an angel’s, he’d been the sensible, logi­cal yang to her dreamy, creative yin. He worked hard in his IT job and encouraged her to follow her dream of singing on stage; he supported her, championed her.

‘What do you think?’ He stopped a few metres from a rundown-looking weatherboard house.

‘I think the owners are going to call the cops on us if they hear us out here.’

‘Nah, I won’t.’ He bumped her hip with his.

She turned to face him. ‘You won’t what?’

‘I won’t call the cops.’ Noah took her hands in his. ‘You said the owners would call the cops. I won’t.’

Realisation dawned on Hannah. ‘Are you saying you bought . . .’ She turned back to face the house.

‘It’ll need a lot of work. It’s pretty dire inside. But I figure we’ve got all the time in the world.’

‘We?’ She turned back to him.

‘This is ours.’ He spread his arms wide.

‘This must have cost . . . even in this state . . . and with renova­tions on top . . . we can’t afford . . .’

Noah grabbed the sequinned scarf at her hips and pulled her closer to him. ‘I’ve crunched the numbers. It’ll be tight, sure. But with my income and the money you bring in from your gigs, even if it takes a few years for your star to rise – and it will rise, by the way – we can do it. What do you say?’

Tears of happiness welled in Hannah’s eyes. ‘I . . . we . . . I mean . . . This wasn’t part of your five-year plan.’ Her grin spread wide.

‘I have a new plan now.’ He looked at his watch again and dropped to one knee, just as strings of fairy lights lit up the trees lining the driveway. ‘Hannah,’ he held a ring out in front of her, ‘love of my life, light of my life, will you marry me?’

Hannah threw herself into his arms, snapshots of a future they could have together flashing through her mind.

‘Yes. Of course, a million times yes!’

Rain started to fall, refracting the light from the trees in pretty yellow hues. Noah jumped up, grabbed Hannah’s hands and pulled her towards the house.

‘Come on. I’ve got the keys.’

As the rain fell heavier, splotching onto the gravel driveway beneath them, they dashed into their new home, stopping at the doorway for Noah to pick Hannah up and carry her across the threshold. Lightning flashed as they shut the door behind them.

The Lyrebird Lake Ladies Choir Sandie Docker

'A Sandie Docker book is like a cup of tea and a biscuit. It’s warm on the inside, snuggly, sweet and lots of fun. It touches the heart, and stimulates the brain.' Happy Valley Books Read

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