My heart thundered against my chest, sending vibrations across my ribcage. A bead of sweat trickled down the nape of my neck, its cold temperature severely contrasting with my warm skin. My slender fingers intertwined with one another repeatedly, my body doing so unconsciously.
There was a dryness in my throat but it was far too late to grab a glass of ice, cold water. I felt tongue-tied, not a single word able to escape my mouth. I bit my glossed lips harshly, the action showcasing my prominent nerves.
8, 7, 6.
The seconds were counting down faster now, causing a quick rise in panic to bubble in my chest. The emotion of fear was present as well, my face draining of all colour. I gritted my teeth, causing my jaw to be tense and secured in place. Tears threatened to escape my tear ducts, requiring just a little bit more of a push to be set free. I took in deep breaths to distract myself from the intense flurry of emotions, the attempt fruitless.
Hesitation began to seep in. Thoughts of doubt clouded my judgement, encouraging me to run off and go in hiding rather than stay put and face my destiny. I shook the idea away, my head swaying side to side. My eyes were shut tight, my anxiety reaching its brim. I gripped the microphone tightly, my knuckles turning stark white.
The sound of my name booming across the concert hall echoed in my ears, causing a ringing to appear. The earlier thoughts of cowardly behaviour flew out the window, my body seemingly shifting to auto-pilot as I walked gracefully onto the stage, a wide smile on my lips. I could hear chants of my name across the room, accompanied by the ecstatic clapping of the audience members, the combined melody giving me a boost of confidence.
As I came to a stop on the stage, the room fell silent. Everyone looked at me with beady eyes, expectation lurking behind their irises. I took in a long breath as the lights dimmed down, a single spotlight shining above me. The feeling of excitement and tension was palpable in the air, the sheer intensity of it almost overpowering. Once I began singing, my mind drifted away to the single memory that brought me to where I was in this exact moment.
Guitars laid casually against the wooden desk, their strings polished to utmost perfection. A bass rested adjacent to them, its neon red colour brightening the room with its luminescence. Records were framed against the patterned walls, signatures of the artists barely visible after decades of ageing. A soft tune was playing in the background, the sound of a saxophone and keyboard meddling together in synchrony providing the atmosphere with a sense of tranquility.
My small hands reached out towards the forgotten drum sticks strewn on the carpeted floor, my fingers gently tracing the rough wooden material. My eyes lit up as I grazed over the scratched surface, my father’s initials worn out but still observable. I hummed in recollection, a smile taking over my features.
“Kay? Are you in there?” his voice called out, as if he knew I was just thinking of him.
“Yep!” I responded, my voice high and squeaky.
My father’s face peeked into the room, an amused expression on display. Once his gaze caught the sticks that were in my hands, a longing sigh escaped his lips. His shoulder slumped slightly as he approached me, taking the sticks away. He stared at them for a full minute, seemingly deep in thought.
“Dad?” I asked, poking his leg with my finger. The action brought him back to reality, his eyes losing its distant look. With another sigh, he sat on the chair, running his fingers through his perfectly combed hair.
“Yes?” he mumbled, the earlier giddiness in his tone long gone.
I tilted my head to the side, squinting my eyes at him as I tried to understand his sudden change in demeanour. I placed my hand on his thigh, our eyes locking with one another.
“Are you alright?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer to that question. He was evidently disturbed, for what reason, I didn’t know, but I planned to find out. A quick flash of hesitation fell across his face, leaving as quickly as it came. He pressed his lips into a thin line, unsure on how to answer my question.
Finally, he spoke up, his tone filled with defeat.
“To be honest, no, I am not. But it doesn’t mean I’m sad, I’m just …”
“Feeling nostalgic?” I suggested, a look of surprise taking over his face.
“Nostalgic?” he chuckled, the crinkles by his eyes making a guest appearance. “Isn’t that a big word for a 10-year-old?”
I pouted in fake offence, crossing my arms across my chest in exaggeration. He laughed harder at my reaction, slapping his knee in sheer delight.
“I’m just joking, kiddo,” he assured me with a wide grin on his face. “I’m just shocked that you knew the word, and that you knew its meaning because, you’re completely right. I am feeling nostalgic.” His fingers fiddled with the drumsticks, spinning it around in circles. The action seemed to have stemmed from habit rather than conscious thoughts.
“Do you miss being out in the road, constantly touring and performing in many cities?” I inquired, genuinely interested in the story. He rarely ever talked about his life before he met Mom, before our family came to be. Every time he did, he would shut me down, sending me to my room or telling me to do some measly task just to distract me from asking him anymore questions. However, it seemed like this time was different than all the other times I’ve approached him on his topic. It seemed like, for the first time, he would actually answer my endless amount of questions. The thought excited me to the core.
“I do,” he replied, now tapping the sticks against the arms of the chair. “I miss hearing the screams, feeling the excitement in the air. I miss being able to live out my dream without a single worry in the world. However, I wouldn't change what happened for anything. If I continued to live my dream after your mother came into my life, you may not even be here today. I may have had to give up my passion, but it was for a good cause.”
“Passion?” I quipped, my eyebrows raised. “What’s that?”
He snorted. “So you know the word ‘nostalgic’ but you don’t know the word ‘passion’?” he teased, placing the sticks aside.
I ignored his jab, rolling my eyes. “Is it like a hobby or something?”
He smiled, looking at me thoughtfully. “Passion is so much more than that, Kay. Passion gave life meaning. Passion made you want to get out of bed everyday just to pursue it. Passion fuelled happiness, bringing light into your world despite how dark it may be. Passion provides the very existence of mankind, which is not to just survive, but to feel alive. Passion is everything.”
My eyes were wide by the end of his passionate speech, my 10-year-old mind unsure how to understand it. My father noticed my look of confusion, offering me an understanding look.
“Don’t worry, you’ll—”
“Was music your passion?” I interrupted, my body leaning towards him out of eagerness.
“Yes, it was,” he answered instinctively. “It breathed life into me, giving me a sense of purpose. I’ve always wished I’d have someone to continue living out my dream, hoping I could live vicariously through them.”
My heart was unsettled by the disappointed look on his face. I never liked seeing my parents sad, especially my father. He was always there to cheer me up, able to bring a smile to my face just by being next to me. Suddenly, an idea popped into my mind.
“What about me?”
His head rose up abruptly. “You?” he asked bewilderedly as he furrowed his eyebrows.
“Yeah,” I responded enthusiastically. “What if I trained myself to sing, to be good in music? Maybe even learn an instrument or two. I could continue living your passion that you had to give up for Mom and I. Perhaps this way, I could finally repay you for the sacrifice you had to make!”
An uncontrollable smile fought its way to my father’s lips, the warmth reaching his blue eyes. “You mean it?” he asked, his voice thick with elation. “You want to learn music?”
I nodded fervently. “Yes!”
He grabbed me by the shoulders, looking deeply into my eyes. “Then let’s learn.”
A chorus of applause brought me out of my reverie as the last note of my song played on the speakers, my chest heaving up and down. I beamed, bowing down to the judges and all the screaming fans.
“Thank you!” I shouted into the mic, waving goodbye as I exited the stage. ‘
Once I arrived backstage, my exhilaration had done a somersault, transforming into worry instead. My ears perked up once I heard the MC return to stage, telling everyone how the winner of the competition will be announced in just mere minutes. I gulped, my body immobile, petrification seeming to have taken place.
I didn’t want to lose. I wanted to win; win not just for the grand prize, but also for the man responsible for who I was today: my father. I knew that he wouldn’t have minded if I were to lose today, but in honour of his memory, I wanted to claim the title. I wanted him to look down on me with a smile so wide it took up his entire face. I wanted to make him feel proud for all the hard work, for all the time we’ve spent in that room practicing just to make me better. He was the reason why I decided to pursue this passion in music. He was the person who gave me my voice, the very core of my existence. To win this, it would mean that everything we’ve worked for together, would be completely worth it.
“Ms. Summers,” a crew member spoke, nudging me towards the stage entrance. “The announcement will begin shortly.”
I nodded in response, not trusting my voice. The rush of emotions I felt before performing had returned for an encore, this time with twice the energy. I tapped my foot in quick succession, the repetitive action straining my leg muscles. I bit down on my tongue, tasting a metallic flavour, as I watched the MC return to stage with an envelope, its contents obvious.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've been waiting for. The winner of this competition,” the MC teased, the audience responding in cheers. He gingerly opened the package, revealing a thick card inside. From this distance, I could make out a single black line on the paper, the writing unclear.
“Drum roll please,” he trailed off, his request immediately fulfilled. He smiled, waiting for a few seconds before taking a deep breath.
I couldn’t believe it.
The arena went completely ballistic, the sound of tens of thousands roaring at the same time sending tremors throughout the structure. At first I couldn’t move, my mind simple incapable of wrapping itself around the fact that I had just won this competition. After I returned back to reality, I quickly dashed across the stage, euphorically hugging the MC.
Happy tears now filled my eyes, my heart thumping due to being overjoyed. My hands shook as I was given the trophy along with a check for a quarter of a million dollars. I attempted to thank the judges for choosing me, but alas, my voice betrayed me and shied away. Despite all the feelings I was experiencing concurrently, there was only one single thought that was playing on my mind.
Dad, I did it.