Jane's Melody: A Novelby Ryan Winfield
What boundaries would you cross for true love?
That's the question a grieving mother must answer when she takes in a young street musician she believes can shed light on her daughter's death—only to find herself falling for him. A sexy but touching love story that will leave you both tantalized and in tears, Jane's Melody follows/i>/i>/b>… See more details below
What boundaries would you cross for true love?
That's the question a grieving mother must answer when she takes in a young street musician she believes can shed light on her daughter's death—only to find herself falling for him. A sexy but touching love story that will leave you both tantalized and in tears, Jane's Melody follows a forty-year-old woman on a romantic journey of rediscovery after years of struggling alone.
Sometimes our greatest gifts come from our greatest pain. And now Jane must decide if it's too late for her to start over, or if true love really knows no limits.
Read an Excerpt
The car behind Jane’s honked its horn.
She shifted into drive and drove onto the ferry. She was in the front of a vehicle lane, behind a group of dripping cyclists clad in yellow rain gear making their workday commute. They looked miserable but determined as they stowed their bikes and filed past her car on their way up to the onboard cafeteria, their clip-on bike shoes clacking loudly on the metal stairs. A ferry worker came around and blocked her tires, the corners of his bearded mouth half attempting a smile, but giving it up when he saw the hopeless expression on her face.
For everyone else it was just another day.
With the ferry under way, Jane sat in her car and watched the dark rain clouds drift across Elliott Bay. The ferry vibrated under the thrust of its engines and her pine-tree air freshener bounced on its string from the mirror where it was hung. She watched as a seagull flew in front of the ferry, riding the wake of air thrown from its bow. Jane hadn’t been to the city in a long time. Too long, she thought. If only she’d gone looking for her daughter, offered her more help, maybe Melody would still be alive. She knew Grace would remind her that she’d done all she could, all anyone could—that she’d paid for five treatment centers and given Melody all the support possible, until it was time to release her with love.
She remembered what the counselor at the last treatment center had said: “You can throw her a rope, but you’ve got to make her climb up it herself.” And she had thrown her a rope, hadn’t she? She had offered to take Melody home, with only one ironclad rule: she had to stay clean and sober. But Melody had turned the offer down and slipped away once more to be wasted with that junk she sought night in and night out, surfing the city from couch to couch.
The ferry blew its foghorn, startling Jane back from her thoughts. She hit her wipers to clear a spray of rain that had been driven by wind onto the ferry deck, and she watched as the Seattle skyline developed on the canvas of white fog ahead. She had lived in the city herself when she was young, attending the University of Washington, working toward a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies. But then she had met Bruce and fallen in love, or so she had thought. She was five months pregnant when Bruce took off, leaving her alone to prepare for her new baby, just another college dropout cliché. She had thought Bainbridge Island would be the perfect place to raise Melody—quiet and peaceful, a small-town island with great schools. And it was, for a while. But it seemed no place was immune from the influence of teenage drinking and drugs, especially when you were born predisposed to abuse them. Alcoholism surely ran in Jane’s family. She suspected it ran in Melody’s father’s family too.
The ferry docked and the bikers mounted up and pedaled away into the rain. Jane followed them off and drove through town up toward Capitol Hill.
As she passed familiar places, she wondered if her daughter had discovered them as well. Maybe Melody had even felt her ghost there in the old café, her head bent over schoolbooks. Or perhaps her daughter had seen her fingerprints on a shelf in the neighborhood bookstore that hadn’t changed or likely even been dusted since Melody was born. Or had their eyes met across twenty years’ worth of wax on the bar in the Steampipe Lounge, where a cute girl could always hustle a Friday night drink or two if she had a fake ID? God, was I young and stupid, Jane thought. But she had to admit that it had been fun too.
When she arrived at the apartment building, she double-checked the address, just to be sure. It was an old, rundown, three-story craftsman that had been converted long ago into walk-up apartments. But despite the peeling paint and sagging roofline, the address numbers on the curb were freshly painted and clear. So this was where her daughter had lived. This was where her daughter had died.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and Jane sat in her car and looked out the water-specked window, letting her eyes walk up the exterior stairs to the red third-floor door that her daughter had entered for the last time just ten days before. Had she known? Jane wondered. Had she stopped to drink in one last view of the city? Had the clouds cleared to present one final sunset to see her off ? Had she had second thoughts? Or was she bent on getting inside for her fix, seeing nothing but the waiting oblivion she so craved? Jane only half wished she could understand.
They were the hardest climb Jane had ever had to make.
She knocked on the door and waited.
She knocked again.
“Keep your damn panties on,” a female voice yelled from inside. “I’m coming, already.”
Soon a series of locks unlatched, and the door opened six inches on its chain, revealing a girl’s pale face pressed to the narrow opening.
“I told the lady on the phone I wasn’t agreeing to no damn inspection,” the pale face said. “Besides, I haven’t even had my kid since December, thanks to his asshole father.”
“I’m sorry,” Jane said. “I think you have me mixed up with someone else.”
The girl leaned closer to the opening and looked her over. “Oh, shit! You’re Melody’s mom. I’m sorry.”
“I thought I’d finally come by for her things.”
The girl’s face disappeared as she turned to look into the apartment. When she looked back, Jane assumed she’d unchain the door and invite her in, but she didn’t.
“Wait here,” she said instead. “I’ll get it together for you. It’ll just take a minute.”
Then she shut the door and locked it again.
Jane stood on the step and waited. She looked down on the street below and wondered what path her daughter had walked home that day and from where. The neighborhood reminded her of places she had lived herself once she had escaped her childhood home at seventeen and set out on her own. A tomcat pawed at the contents of an overturned garbage can; a kid kicked a soccer ball down an alley and back again, deftly dodging puddles; a lowered car cruised by with bass music pumping behind tinted glass; and a couple loudly argued in the open window of an apartment across the way.
Jane was about to head down to her car for a quick drag on a cigarette—just one to calm her nerves—when the door opened and the girl thrust a box into her arms.
“Is this all there is?” Jane asked, a little surprised.
The girl shrugged. She had run a comb through her hair and her breath smelled of cough drops when she spoke. “There was some other stuff, but we shared it. I’m sure you know how it is.”
Jane nodded, understanding what she meant.
“I was kinda surprised when you called,” the girl said, “because Melody never mentioned nothing about having any family around here.”
Jane felt tears well up in her eyes. She stood holding the box while one ran down her cheek.
“Shit,” the girl said. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry.”
“Was it you who found her?” Jane asked.
The girl shook her head. “Nah. I was at my boyfriend’s all weekend. Candace was the one who came by that morning.” She paused to look down and then added in a quiet voice, “Sometimes I wonder if I’d only been home, you know?”
Jane knew the feeling all too well, but she didn’t say so. Instead, she changed the subject.
“Is there anything you can tell me about her? I mean, what she was up to or how she was doing?”
The girl sighed and tossed up a hand. “I wish I could tell you something. But it’s not like we were close or nothing. She only moved in a few months ago.”
“Do you have any idea where she spent her time?”
“I dunno,” the girl said. “You might try the Devil’s Cup. They called and said they had a final check for her there.”
“Melody had a job?”
“Oh, yeah,” she replied. “She’d been at the Devil’s Cup on Pike since maybe a week after moving in here. Said she was gonna enroll in beauty school too, now that I think about it. Even had the forms all printed out. It wasn’t like you think. She just had a little setback, you know. Guess that’s all it takes sometimes, though. One bad day, one bad rig. Anyway, enough from my ass about that. I gotta run and get ready.”
Jane thanked her and turned to leave. She’d made it two steps down the stairs with her box when the girl called to her.
“Hey! I hate to mention it. You know. With everything. But Melody did owe me some rent.”
Jane stopped and set the box down on the step and fished through her purse for her checkbook. “How much did she owe you?”
“One fifty,” the girl said.
“Who should I make the check out to?”
“You don’t have any cash?”
Jane opened her wallet and counted her cash. “I’ve only got eighty-five dollars.”
“I’ll just take that and call it even,” the girl said.
Jane held the money out but stayed on the second step and made her come out into the light to get it. She saw the dark circles under her eyes, the red track marks on her arms, and she almost pulled the money back but didn’t. The girl snatched the bills, thanked her, then quickly retreated into the apartment again and shut the door and locked it.
Jane drove to the Devil’s Cup and circled the block three times until she found a parking spot near enough to walk. The coffee shop was small and tight, only a few stools surrounding a window counter, and filled with eclectic neighborhood kids with their faces buried in their iPhones. Jane got in line and listened as the people in front of her ordered their caffeine fixes to go—“caffè breve,” “short drip,” “latte macchiato.”
When it was her turn, the girl behind the register pulled a pink sucker from her mouth and asked, “What’ll it be, lady?”
She had red hair and a ring through her eyebrow. Face piercings must be in style, Jane thought, because her daughter had had a small diamond stud in her nose when she arrived at the mortuary. She still wondered sometimes if she had made the right decision to have them leave it in, despite her strong feelings otherwise. She guessed that she had.
“I’m Melody McKinney’s mother,” Jane said.
“I’m sure she’s very proud,” the girl replied, popping the sucker back into her mouth and talking with it in her cheek. “What can we craft you to drink today?”
“Did you know Melody?”
“Should I?” the girl asked.
“I was told she worked here.”
“Oh,” the girl said, looking suddenly mortified. “You’re that Melody’s mother. Sorry. I’m filling in from our Belltown location. Hold on a sec.”
She disappeared into the back room and came out a minute later with an envelope.
“This is her final check,” she said. Then she looked down at the counter and quickly added, “Sorry. That sounded bad.”
Jane tucked the envelope into her purse.
“I was actually hoping that I might be able to talk with someone who worked with Melody. Someone who knew her.”
“You should come back during the week,” the girl said. “Lewis works then and he’d be the best person to talk to.”
“Yeah. He’s the manager. You can’t miss him. Looks like a cross between a My Little Pony and the Statue of Liberty.”
Jane stepped outside and took a deep breath of cool, damp air. She had felt the walls closing in on her in the small coffee shop, perhaps because she had kept picturing Melody standing behind the counter smiling at her instead of the rude redhead. If only she’d been here two weeks ago. It seemed a cruel lottery how some lives were cut short while others went on.
As she walked up the block toward her car, she heard a lonely guitar melody carried on the breeze, accompanied by an even lonelier voice. The song was nothing she had ever heard before, but it was beautiful, and it matched her mood.
She followed the music around the corner and found its source standing in a doorway. He was wearing a grungy ball cap and his head was bent over the guitar so that Jane couldn’t see his face. His guitar case was open on the sidewalk in front of him, sprinkled with a few dollar bills and a few coins. Jane was so moved by the song he was playing that she stopped to dig in her purse for something to leave him, but she had given the last of her money to Melody’s roommate. All she came up with was the silver dollar that the stranger had left on Melody’s grave, and she didn’t dare part with that.
She waited for the song to finish so she might ask the man how long he’d be there if she returned with a donation, but when he finally struck the last chord and raised his head, she was struck speechless by his eyes. It was him—the man from the cemetery, the stranger in the rain. The glimpse she’d had through her windshield had been seared into her mind. She would recognize those eyes anywhere, anytime.
Jane thought she saw a flash of recognition in his face too, but it quickly disappeared, replaced by a broad smile as he said, “Got any requests?”
“That was really good,” she said, deciding on the spot not to mention having seen him before. “I mean, really good.”
He dipped his chin.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Did you write it?”
“Well,” he said, suddenly looking shy, “I haven’t actually written it down anywhere yet, as I’m still working on it in my head, but the melody and the words are my own, if that’s what you mean.”
“That’s really amazing,” Jane said.
“I’m glad you like it. Usually folks prefer the old stuff that they know. Nostalgia, I guess. But as great a song as it is, I can only sing ‘Hallelujah’ so many times in a day.”
She studied his face while he spoke.
“If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”
He took off his ball cap and clawed his hand through his long dark hair. He sighed.
“Well, if they told me the truth about the day I was born, and if I don’t die, I’ll be twenty-five this July.”
“You’re not yet twenty-five and you wrote a song like that? Have you been writing music your whole life?”
“I couldn’t say for sure.” He shrugged. “I haven’t lived my whole life yet.” Then he smiled at her again and changed the subject. “Is there something you’d like to hear?”
Jane was so drawn by the fleck of green burning in his sad eyes that she leaned in to get a closer look.
“What’s your name?”
“Not to be rude, lady, but this is how I make my living. Now, is there a song you’d like to hear? ’Cause if not, I’ve got to be moving on.”
“But I want to talk with you.”
“You’ve got the wrong guy.”
He lifted his guitar over his head, squatted to scoop the change from its case, then closed the guitar up inside.
“I just want to ask you a few questions.”
“There must be fifty guys down on First and Pine who’ll talk your ear off for the price of a pint. I’m not one of them.”
He pinched the brim of his cap as if to say good-bye and picked up his case and walked off with it.
“I saw you at the cemetery,” Jane said to his back.
He stopped and slowly turned around.
“I was in the car watching you. Melody must have meant a lot to you, for you to show up in the rain like that.”
Jane opened her purse. “Here. You left this coin.”
“Was she your sister?” he asked.
“No, I’m her mother.”
A sad expression washed like a storm cloud across his face and his eyes flashed with grief. For a moment Jane thought he might cry. But he dropped his gaze to the sidewalk and said,“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Then he turned and walked away.
No explanation, no good-bye.
Jane stood and watched him go.
No sooner had he disappeared around the corner than a raindrop splashed on the sidewalk in front of her where he had stood, as if his shadow were still there crying.
Alone on the sidewalk, Jane felt her own tears come.
Then a curtain of rain fell at once and Jane slumped down in the covered doorway where he had been playing, wrapped her arms around her knees, and watched the drops beat against the pavement—his melody replaced by the lonesome splash of water beneath the tires of anonymous cars rolling past.
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