Miranda Dickinson's new novel Searching for a Silver Lining is a funny, warm and life-affirming story of lost friends, forgotten secrets and second chances. We've got an exclusive extract for you to read right now.
Chapter Seventeen: Life Could Be a Dream . . .
By the time they arrived back at the hotel, Mattie was exhausted. Tommy certainly hadn’t given Reenie an easy time, and Mattie and Gil had watched in stunned silence as he had told her exactly how The Silver Five had crumbled in the wake of her departure. The picture Tommy painted wasn’t pretty.
‘We’d all been so excited about that gig. You remember the hours we chatted about it beforehand, don’t you? Or maybe you don’t. Maybe all you were thinking of was yourself.’
‘No, it wasn’t like that.’
‘Wasn’t it? Then why never speak to June again, or Alys? Why refuse every invitation I ever sent you to meet up? I know Chuck saw you later – and that was another mess muggins here had to sort. But if you were happy with your decision, why shut us all out afterwards? I think you were embarrassed. I think you knew you’d made a mistake. But you were too proud to own up to it. Pride’s always been your problem, girl.’
‘I do regret it. That’s why I want to get us together now.’ ‘And you think they’ll listen?’
Reenie had swallowed hard, and Mattie had found herself clenching her fists in her lap to resist going to her friend’s aid. ‘I – I don’t know . . .’
‘We didn’t just split up that night. We imploded. It was just so sad. And Rico dropped us like a bunch of hot rocks. So much for a supportive manager.’
‘I thought he would look after you all. I really did.’
‘Then you’re dafter than I thought. You were destined for a glittering career, Reen. What use did he have for us?’ ‘He promised he would . . .’
‘Rico’s promises weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Like our contract that vanished because you weren’t part of the group. Did you know that? The small print said Rico was only responsible for us as a five-piece. You leaving negated the whole thing.’
‘I didn’t know that . . .’
Tommy had rubbed his eyes as if the memory exhausted him. ‘But that aside, what hurt most was that you lied – to me. You promised me Rico was just an associate. And you want to know the worst of it? I knew you were lying. We all did. I was as hurt as they were, but I stuck up for you. I took your side, the night of that concert, when June and Alys and Chuck were screaming blue murder about you. I told them I believed you, even though I knew you’d lied.’
The colour had drained from Reenie’s face. ‘Oh, kid, I never knew. What can I say?’
Tommy had shaken his head. Without his smile he looked ten years older, the dark lines around his eyes and across his brow deeper. ‘There’s nothing to say, love. It’s over, done with. Why do you think I’ve kept in touch all these years, hmm? Why I’ve tried every Christmas for fifty-nine years to get you to join us for our get-togethers? Because deep down I believed you were a good person, with a good heart. The business turns your head, we all know that. But I knew, beneath it all, you were still Irene Silverman from Woodbine Street, Liverpool. The girl I met backstage at the Ted Farnsworth gig who helped me tie my necktie. The girl who gave me a slug of good-luck brandy from that daft hipflask you nicked from a lorry driver hitchhiking to London. She’s more money now – and fancier glad-rags – but I still see her, sitting here.’
‘Oh Tommy . . .’ Reenie had looked up at Tommy, tears running down her cheeks, leaving darker trails in the powder. ‘Oh, love . . . I’m so very sorry.’
As they watched Reenie walking slowly to the hotel bar, Gil whispered to Mattie, ‘That was brutal. Is every meeting on this trip going to be like that?’
‘I hope not,’ she replied, willing the sinking feeling to leave her.
At dinner, all traces of Reenie’s discomfort over the meeting with Tommy were gone. She was on top form, her stories of gigs gone by flowing as freely as the wine.
‘. . . this stage manager in Rotherham kept giving baby Alys the eye and trying to get her on her own. Dirty beggar! Mind you, back then many of them were. Thought us girls were fair game. He told her she was needed in the back for a costume check, thinking the rest of us hadn’t heard him. So we all pretended to go out, only we switched places backstage. When old Wandering Fingers snuck into mine and Alys’s dressing room he found Tommy and Chuck waiting for him, dressed in our costumes! We never worked at that theatre again and Rico was furious, but none of us minded. Pass us that bottle of white, Gil, there’s a love.’
Gil folded his arms. ‘I think you’ve had enough for tonight.’
‘Oh, you do, do you? Well, I’ve had a bit of a day, sun- shine, so hand over the vino . . .’
‘Maybe we should all have a coffee?’ Mattie suggested, relieved that Gil had broached the subject she’d wanted to mention for the last hour, but not wanting another stand-off between her companions. ‘It’s getting late. Early start tomorrow.’
‘Pfft, lightweights, the pair of you! We’re celebrating. One singer signed up, three to go.’
‘All the same . . .’
Reenie glared at Mattie like a recently grounded teen. ‘You two are no fun. I’ll see you in the morning.’ She wiped her hands on a napkin and left the table.
‘That’s us told,’ Gil grinned.
‘You did the right thing. I saw the bag of medication she had to bring with her. It was scary.’
‘I hope I can put them away as well as that when I’m eighty-four.’
They laughed, Mattie finally allowing herself to relax a little. Today had been an emotional marathon she hadn’t trained for, and she felt exhausted.
‘I think Tommy might just have saved us today.’
‘I reckon so. What was Reenie thinking, not checking ahead?’
Mattie stretched out a little in her chair. ‘I suppose she assumed it would be easier that way. I think Tommy shocked that out of her, though.’
‘He’s a good bloke. I feel a lot happier knowing he’s phoned ahead of us.’ He finished the last of his wine. ‘So, how are you doing?’
The question seemed to come from nowhere, and Mattie found herself smiling at him. ‘I’m good, thanks. Tired now, but glad we’ve made a start.’
‘You’re good with her. She doesn’t strike me as the easiest person to be with.’
‘She’s lovely. You two just haven’t clicked yet. But you will. I think she’s amazing. I’ve never met anyone like her. Her self-assurance is off the scale and she refuses to let anyone or anything slow her down. That’s inspirational. And I’m so proud of her for doing this. It can’t be easy, facing up to mistakes you made over half a lifetime ago.’
Gil considered this for a while, and Mattie was struck by the change in him since Reenie’s departure from the table. Gone was the professional coolness, in its place a warmth she hadn’t seen before. Even his posture seemed different, more relaxed and open. She liked this version of him. ‘Maybe we should get together like this every night of the tour,’ he said, as if the suggestion had been carefully carved from the amiable silence. ‘Have some time to go over everything, without Miss Silver’s intervention.
‘I’d like that.’
‘Good.’ He flushed a little, and checked his watch. ‘It’s getting late. I probably should let you get some sleep.’
‘Probably.’ Rising from the table with him, Mattie smiled back, surprised to feel a little disappointment. She reached for her room key card, and noticed another one half-hidden by Reenie’s discarded linen napkin. ‘Oh, hang on: Reenie isn’t going to get far without this, is she?’
‘Crazy woman. We’d better head her off at the pass.’ They hurried back to the hotel rooms in the far end of the building. With any luck, Mattie thought, Reenie’s troublesome hip and the effects of alcohol would have slowed her progress and they might catch her before she reached her room.
The corridor on the second floor was empty, but when they arrived at Reenie’s room they could hear muted music coming from inside. Of course Reenie wouldn’t have let a lost key stop her doing what she wanted!
‘Better just check she’s okay,’ Mattie smiled, knocking on the door,
The door opened, and a startled-looking Eastern European woman peered out at her. ‘Good evening,’ she rushed, her pale face reddening. ‘Turn-down service. Two minutes, please?’
‘No problem. I’ve come to see Miss Silver.’
The woman’s expression clouded. ‘Guest is not here. Just me.’
‘Oh . . .’ Had Reenie gone back to the bar to find her key, or to Reception for a new one? ‘Thank you.’
The door closed, and Mattie turned to Gil. ‘We need to find her.’
‘Where could she be?’ he demanded, hurrying down the hotel corridor in her wake.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Where would an eighty-four-year-old woman go at this time of night? It’s an hour since we last saw her. Where is she?’
‘I said I don’t know,’ Mattie replied, wishing she’d gone to find Reenie by herself. But she was worried. Reenie had seemed so bullish at dinner, so full of confidence in their onward progress. She should have been tucked up in bed, or at least lounging in self-congratulatory splendour.
At the hotel reception, Mattie rang the bell. A young woman appeared.
‘Can I help?’
Mattie checked the receptionist’s name badge. ‘Gemma, hi. Yes, I hope so. Miss Silver – the old lady in our party – have you seen her leave the hotel this evening?’ Gemma frowned. ‘I don’t think so.’
Panic building in her throat, Mattie forced herself to breathe. ‘Okay. Is there anywhere she could possibly be in the hotel?’
‘The spa closed an hour ago. Is she not in the bar?’ ‘No, we’ve just come from there. She doesn’t have her room key.’
‘Wait a minute, how long is it since you last saw her?’ ‘About an hour?’
Gemma’s face lit up. ‘I was on my break then. Let me just get my colleague.’ She disappeared into the small office behind the reception desk and returned a moment later with a lanky young man. ‘Sam was on then. Did you see Miss Silver leave?’
He nodded. ‘She asked about nightlife in Alnwick. I suggested The Briar Rose over the road.’
‘A lot of our guests go over there on a Wednesday evening,’ Gemma explained, rolling her eyes. ‘Karaoke.’
Mattie and Gil looked at each other. ‘Karaoke!’
They left the bemused receptionists, and ran out of the hotel.
‘Do you think she’s in there?’ Gil asked, as they waited for a gap in the traffic.
‘If she isn’t, then we really do have a problem.’
‘She shouldn’t be left alone. The woman is a liability.’ ‘Gil, that’s hardly fair. I think Reenie’s more than capable of looking after herself. Stop panicking.’ ‘I’m not panicking.’
‘Well, you’re doing a rubbish job of being calm.’
They fell into a disgruntled silence as they crossed the road and headed up the path of the country pub. As soon as they reached the front door, they knew exactly where Reenie was.
Muted but unmistakable, the booming tones of an accomplished singer echoed down the slate-floored hallway to the pub lounge, although Mattie couldn’t quite marry Reenie’s voice with her chosen song.
‘Is that – “Teenage Dirtbag”?’ Gil asked, stopping as Mattie pulled open the door.
Inside the low-beamed pub, a stunned audience of drinkers was watching a spry pensioner stalking the stage, her sequinned cardigan drooping from one shoulder, cocktail glass sloshing as she gave what could only be described as a hearty performance of Wheatus’s seminal hit. Mattie ignored the vision on the stage and nodded at a shocked male barman.
‘How long has she been singing for?’
‘Feels like hours. Started with “New York, New York”, moved on to “Ring of Fire”, and then she hit the Nineties classics hard. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Feeder or Reef sung lounge-style before.’
Reenie’s vocal gymnastics would have made Dame Shirley Bassey envious, each phrase lustily delivered. Mattie wondered just how much of the performance was fuelled by a lifetime’s experience, and how much by alcohol. Whatever the motivator, she had to act quickly.
‘Right, as soon as the song ends, turn the PA off,’ she instructed the barman, who seemed grateful for the inter- vention. ‘We’ll get her down from the stage.’
‘We?’ Gil hissed.
‘Yes,’ Mattie replied firmly. Gil could complain about it all he wanted tomorrow. Now he needed to shut up and help.
‘And another!’ Reenie called out, jumping slightly when Mattie joined her on the stage. ‘Matilda! Let’s do a duet!’ Mattie leaned across to gently wrench the microphone from Reenie’s hand. ‘It’s been a great show, but we should be getting back.’
‘I haven’t even started . . .’
‘What is it you always say?’ Gil asked, appearing at the other side of Reenie and taking her elbow. ‘Leave ‘em wanting more.’
‘But I haven’t done my big number yet!’ Reenie made to escape their grip, her heel twisting as she lurched forward.
Mattie and Gil braced to take her weight, and between them, pulled her carefully from the stage. A round of applause met their actions, and Reenie raised a queenly hand to acknowledge it.
As soon as the chill of the night air hit Reenie she slumped between them, sniggering and muttering beneath her breath. Mattie and Gil didn’t speak as they hauled her across the road, through the hotel and up a flight of stairs to her room. Propping her up by the door, Mattie pulled the room key from her pocket.
Seeing tears beginning to roll from her friend’s eyes, she looked over at Gil. ‘I can take it from here. Thanks for your help.’
‘I think maybe we should both get her inside,’ he said, his eyes dark in the shadow of the hotel corridor.
‘I can manage.’ Mattie opened the door and wrapped her arm around Reenie. ‘See you in the morning.’
‘Nighty-night, sonny,’ Reenie called out, waving a hand vaguely in his direction. ‘Ah, Gilbert. Lovely, handsome Gilbert . . .’
‘It’s just Gil,’ he muttered, walking away.
Relieved he had gone, Mattie helped Reenie over to her bed, kneeling down to take off her shoes and pull the sequinned cardigan from her thin arms. Reenie had fallen silent, sullenly compliant as an overtired child being coaxed into bed.
It was only when she lay down that she spoke again. ‘That was a bit of fun, eh, kid? You stick with your Granny Reenie for a grand night out!’
‘You can’t do this, Reenie,’ Mattie said, suddenly real- ising how like her mother she sounded. She remembered how she and Joanna had been told off as kids for wandering off at a visiting fair, her mother’s initial relief turning into a torrent of frustration. Mattie shook the memory away – an argument would help nobody tonight. ‘I’m not telling you what to do. I wouldn’t dream of it. But you have to look after yourself. Drinking a lot when you’re taking as many pills as you are isn’t a good idea.’
Reenie sniggered drunkenly into the duvet tucked up to her chin. ‘Aww. Were you worried about me?’
‘Of course I was worried! I thought you’d done a moonlight flit.’
The mischief vanished from Reenie’s eyes. ‘You and the rest of the world.’
As Mattie straightened to leave, Reenie reached out and caught hold of her hand. The suddenness of the movement and Reenie’s surprising grip stunned Mattie into silence. She looked down and saw a frightened, frail old lady where a larger-than-life star had been moments before.
Reenie Silver was scared – something Mattie hadn’t thought possible until now – her pale grey eyes wide and searching for reassurance.
‘What if they say no?’ she whispered.
‘Them. The band. All of them. It wasn’t supposed to be difficult. An awkward conversation, a bit of a laugh, then everything back to how it was. Tommy should have been the easy one. But today . . .’ Her voice faltered as she swallowed back tears. ‘What if they laugh at me?’
Mattie sat gently on the bed, a rush of compassion flooding her heart. She placed her other hand over Reenie’s.
‘They won’t laugh. Really, they won’t. They might not make it easy, though. You should be prepared for that.’
Reenie blinked. ‘I know.’
‘Look at it like this: if you really didn’t matter to them, they wouldn’t have stayed angry with you for so long. They would have chalked you up to history, and moved on. You can’t hurt someone who doesn’t care about you.’
An image of Grandpa Joe flashed into her mind – the hurt and betrayal in his eyes the last time she’d seen him.
‘It’s hard. But what you’re trying to do is a really brave thing. Other people would have hidden away from it. Not you. You’re daring to believe that the past doesn’t have to dictate the future. Yes, it might fail. We might not convince everybody to come to the Palm Grove. But you have Tommy now, and Gil and I are here for you too. I’d say we have a fighting chance.’
‘And if I can’t bring the others?’
Mattie hoped her smile concealed her own nerves. ‘You’re Reenie Silver. You deserve that stage, no matter who else is on it.’
Reenie planted a kiss on Mattie’s hand with trembling lips. ‘You’re a good girl. Thank you.’
‘My pleasure. Now, make sure you drink this bottle of water before you go to sleep, okay? It’ll help fend off the hangover.’
Mattie shook her head, loving the old lady despite her sarcasm. ‘‘Night, Reenie.’
In the bland anonymity of the corridor outside, the full weight of it all fell on Mattie. More than exhausted, she felt dog-tired, the emotional and physical exertions of the day sapping every last scrap of energy from her body. All she wanted now was to collapse into bed and sleep. Her room on the floor below suddenly seemed miles away. With a sigh, she began to walk.
At least the events of the evening made sense now. Reenie wasn’t trying to cause trouble; she was trying to escape from it. Alcohol and music: the ultimate hiding places for a lifelong performer. It proved two things: the road trip was likely to be harder work than they had anticipated, and, most surprisingly, Reenie’s confidence had shakier foundations than Mattie had realised. They would have to keep a careful eye on her from now on.
‘How is she?’
Startled, Mattie looked up to see a figure walking towards her. ‘Gil! You nearly gave me heart failure!’
‘I thought you’d gone to bed.’
‘I had. Well, I tried to. I just wanted to check how Reenie was.’ He looked a little ruffled, she thought as he approached, as if he had been lying down in his clothes.
‘She’ll be fine – apart from a humdinger of a hangover in the morning. Today shook her a little, that’s all.’
Gil fell into slow step beside her. ‘But is that really all that’s going on?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She’s pulled some fast ones on us since this tour began. Not actually telling anyone she was going to show up, for example.’
‘That was a mistake. But now Tommy’s helping us, I think we’ll be all right.’
Gil held open the door to the stairwell. ‘I hope so. We can’t afford any more episodes like tonight.’
Mattie felt her shoulders bristle as she walked past him. You didn’t see how scared she was, she wanted to say. Have you any idea what this trip means to her? ‘We won’t have any more.’
‘We’d better not. I’ve put my neck on the line for this gig. Promotion, press stuff, not to mention the cost of set dressing and bringing in a swing band. My brother thinks I’m nuts. If it doesn’t make money, the club could be in real trouble.’
At the bottom of the stairs, Mattie snapped. Had Gil even heard anything she’d said? ‘And that’s what matters, is it? Your club making money?’
Gil stared at her as if he’d been slapped. ‘No – that’s not what I meant . . .’
But Mattie had heard enough. She didn’t need to stand and justify Reenie to anyone, least of all him.
‘Look, Reenie will be okay. The tour is still on. Your precious investment is safe.’
‘Hey – I . . .’
‘I’m sorry, Gil. I’m tired and I really want to go to bed.’ ‘Of course. Forgive me.’ He ducked his head and let her
walk on. ‘Mattie?’
She paused in the doorway. ‘Yes?’
‘Just tell me one thing. What’s in this for you?’
‘I want to help Reenie.’ It was the truth, but it felt like it hid a mountain of other reasons.
Would he even understand if she tried to explain? For a moment, she was tempted to share it all. But weariness won. ‘It’s too late now. Can I tell you later?’
‘Sure. Um, goodnight. Sleep well.’
Miranda Dickinson's Searching for a Silver Lining is out now.
Matilda Bell is left heartbroken when she falls out with her beloved grandfather just before he dies. Haunted by regret, she makes a promise that will soon change everything . . .
When spirited former singing star Reenie Silver enters her life, Mattie seizes the opportunity to make amends. Together, Mattie and Reenie embark on an incredible journey that will find lost friends, uncover secrets from the glamorous 1950s and put right a sixty-year wrong.
Find out more
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