Yep, we're writing a tribute story, this week...
Regular readers to my blog will know that I went to see Boyzone this time last week and broke my heart crying over the gorgeous, lovely and ridiculously talented Stephen Gately, who tragically passed away in 2009 (and if you don't know, here's my review of the gig). I've been thinking a lot about Steo lately and the fact that he was, when I was 12 years old, one of my first loves. I wanted to pay tribute to him in my own small way and so this week's story is dedicated to his memory. Boyzone fans may recognise the odd little reference... In honour of Stephen's own children's book, The Tree of Seasons, I figured there had to be a tree in it somewhere and there had to be a boy called Stephen in this story. And of course, there had to be music...
Stephen And The Tree That Sang
It wasn't that Stephen didn't like school. It was more that Stephen was a dreamer. He loved nothing more than creating his own little worlds to live in, be it through stories or songs he'd sing to himself. Stephen's mind whirled with fantastical characters, beautiful melodies and unexplored places. Places he longed to bring to life, somehow.
The trouble was, Stephen was a little shy. When he sang, his voice was sweet and pure, but very few people ever heard him. When he wrote stories, they were full to the brim with his vivid imagination, but he rarely let anyone read them.
As the seconds ticked by, Stephen tapped his pencil on his school desk, creating a rhythm over which he could hum a tune to himself. He was so lost in his own thoughts, he barely heard his teacher's words as she spoke to the class. Before he knew it, the rest of the children were rushing to their feet and scurrying out of the room. Stephen offered his teacher a smile. "What did you say about homework, Miss?"
Miss Abbot shook her head. "Stephen, you really must come back to reality every now and then," she said, with a trace of humour in her soft voice. "I said that tomorrow is the deadline for audition songs. If you want to write your own song to be considered for the end of term concert, it'll need to be finished and sung tomorrow lunchtime, in Mrs Gibb's office. She'll choose the winning song and she'll announce the winner at home time tomorrow." She paused, eyeing her young student as he gazed up at her with hopeful eyes. "I think you'd be good at this," she told him. "Have a think about it."
Stephen sighed as he walked out of the school and into the bright sunshine. The fact was, he'd thought of little else for weeks.
Every year, his school held a Summer concert and the highlight of the show was an original song, composed by one of the Year 6 children, performed by the whole class. Stephen had watched the concert every year, dreaming of the day he'd reach Year 6 and be able to pen his own song for the show. Now, the time had finally come and he had nothing to show for himself. He'd spent most evenings up in his room, making up melodies and scrawling reams of lyrics onto scraps of paper, but none of it felt good enough. None of it was right.
Now, he only had one night left to come up with a song for the concert. It felt hopeless; there was no way he could make something up in such a short time.
When he arrived home, Stephen was quiet. His mother frowned. "Are you alright?"
Stephen nodded in reply, but his blue eyes were etched with an unspoken sadness.
His mother glanced out of the window, towards the dense woodland that stretched for miles beyond their back garden. She smiled and pointed to the little dog, sitting patiently at Stephen's feet. "Why don't you take Charlie for a walk in the woods?" She suggested. "That always cheers you up!"
Stephen smiled down at the dog. "Okay," he said, rushing to get Charlie's lead. His mother was right, he did love being outside, especially with Charlie in tow.
Stephen stepped outside into the garden, holding tightly to Charlie's lead. Together, they hurried towards the back gate, before stepping out into the woods. They walked along their usual path, surrounded by flowers of all colours, listening to the chirp of the birds. Sunlight streamed down through the branches of the tallest trees, creating shards of golden light all around. As he walked, Stephen hummed to himself, searching for a song that would win him the opportunity to perform in front of everyone at the concert. But still, nothing he came up with felt good enough.
Lost in his own thoughts, Stephen barely noticed Charlie, straining at his lead, pulling him away from the path and deeper into the woods. Blinking as he came out of his daydreams, Stephen gasped. "Charlie, what are you doing?" He stumbled, hurrying over tree roots and prickly undergrowth as Charlie ran after something unseen. "Slow down," Stephen begged, to no avail.
Finally, with his heart banging in his chest, Stephen began to slow as Charlie came to a stop and stood, barking at the foot of the tallest tree in the woods. The tree was surrounded by strange looking red flowers, but Stephen was almost too tired to notice. "It's just a tree," he breathed, staring up at the high branches and the leaves swaying gently in the Summer breeze. But Charlie jumped up at the tree, yapping. Stephen placed a hand against the trunk and to his surprise, felt a strange heat that seemed to travel from the soft bark and into his skin. It was almost as though the whole tree was vibrating. Stephen pressed an ear to the trunk and his eyes widened as a soft humming began to echo in his mind. It couldn't be... Was the tree singing?
Stephen felt his way around the enormous tree trunk, his mouth hanging open in wonder. His fingers groped at the bark until suddenly, he found what seemed to be a doorknob. As Stephen pressed it gently, a secret door popped open. Inside, the tree was hollow, with plenty of room to sit comfortably. The floor was decorated with a bed of brightly coloured leaves. Stephen stepped inside, with Charlie close behind. The leaves he lowered himself onto weren't like those on other trees. They were an array of colours - red, gold, pink and blue - and they seemed to sparkle. As Stephen lay amongst the leaves, he listened to the tree's song. The crackle of the leaves, the whispers of the wind whistling through the tree's highest boughs, the gentle, constant thrum that seemed to travel up from the roots deep beneath the ground. Ancient words of the woodlands began to sing into Stephen's ears and the birds making nests in the tree above began to chirp a perfect melody. A smile started to play upon Stephen's lips, which soon became a grin and then a laugh. This was it! The tree was giving him his song!
Stephen closed his eyes, drinking in every note and memorising the music in his mind. Time passed and the song simply grew stronger. Then, suddenly, the secret door burst open and the music stopped. Stephen opened his eyes as the rush of air hit his cheeks. Scrambling amongst the leaves, he chose one, sparkling red leaf and stuffed it into his pocket as he hurried out into the woods with Charlie, still humming the tree's song to himself.
The next day, Stephen ran all the way to school. He could barely concentrate on his lessons and he kept taking out his magical red leaf and turning it over in his hands. By the time lunchtime came, all nerves had vanished as Stephen stood in Mrs Gibb's office and sang his heart out. He returned to his lessons after lunch, with hope in his chest. Sure enough, just before school ended for the day, Mrs Gibb walked into the class.
"I hope Miss Abbot doesn't mind me disturbing the end of her lesson," she said. "But I'm very pleased to announce that the person's whose song has been chosen to close the school's annual Summer concert is... Stephen Patrick!"
Stephen's face erupted into a beaming grin and his heart swelled with pride. As the bell rang for the end of the day, he rushed outside and ran all the way back home. He barely said hello to his mother or to Charlie as he hurried through the garden and out into the woods. Darting down the path, Stephen didn't stop until he saw the strange, red flowers far in the distance. He ran to the tallest tree in the woods and threw his arms around the trunk, breathing in its heady scent and listening once more to its secret melody. He fumbled for the secret door knob, but to his surprise, it was gone. No matter how hard he looked, or how closely he pressed his fingers against the bark, there was nothing to be found. Stephen stood back and looked up at the highest boughs, finally realising that he didn't need to find a way inside, anymore. Stepping back and watching the leaves and branches, seemingly stretching up to eternity, Stephen reached into his pocket. He gently pulled out the red leaf he'd kept for himself.
"Thank you," he whispered as he let the leaf go and watched it flutter away in the Summer breeze, rising higher and higher into the sky, shining in the sunlight, until it could no longer be seen. Stephen didn't feel sad. He was a dreamer whose dream had come true.
The tree had given him its song and that was his forever.