Authors: Tabitha Suzuma
A Voice in the Distance
Also by Tabitha Suzuma:
A Note of Madness
From Where I Stand
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
A VOICE IN THE DISTANCE
A DEFINITIONS BOOK 978 1 862 30355 3
First published in Great Britain by Definitions,
an imprint of Random House Children's Books
A Random House Group Company
This edition published 2008
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Copyright © Tabitha Suzuma, 2008
The right of Tabitha Suzuma to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted
in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
Set in New Baskerville
Definitions are published by Random House Children's Books,
61–63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited
can be found at:
THE RANDOM HOUSE GROUP Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
For Tiggy, of course
I would like to express my deepest thanks to: Tansy
Suzuma for her help and encouragement, Thalia Suzuma
for never mincing her words, my mother for her time and
effort, Akiko Hart for her support and friendship,
Jonathan Middleton for his musical expertise, Adrian Vos
for his medical expertise, Linda Davis for her patience,
Tracey Paris for another superb cover, Sophie Nelson for
her eye for detail, Clare Argar for her hard work, Charlie
Sheppard for her edits and her friendship, and of course
Tiggy Suzuma for the music.
'Chuck me the tea towel, would you? Not that one, it's
wet. The one by the kettle. Thanks. Are you sure we've
got enough glasses?'
Harry shoots me an exasperated look as he grapples
with the bottle opener. 'D'you want me to count them
'No. I'll just put these ones out too. Oh God, they're
'Here, give them to me,' Harry says firmly. 'Now will
you just sit down and have a drink?'
'I can't get drunk till everything's sorted,' I protest.
'Otherwise dinner won't even happen. Where have you
put the cake?'
'On the table. We're short of three candles but I'm
sure Flynn won't be counting.'
I move across to the adjoining living room to
examine the table for the umpteenth time. Some of the
wineglasses look decidedly streaky and the tablecloth
badly needs ironing. The sideboard and a small table
have been pushed together to create one long table.
My mother would remark that the cutlery is in need of
a good polish. We had to borrow some extra plates from
the downstairs neighbour and two of them are decorated
with Beatrix Potter characters. The cake looks
positively lopsided and the icing seems to be turning
orange. I suddenly feel exhausted.
'Here.' Harry hands me a glass of red wine as I sink
down onto the sofa. 'It's going to be fine, Jen.'
I fiddle anxiously with the stem of my glass. 'What if
everyone's late? What if Flynn gets here first?'
'No one's going to be late,' Harry tries to reassure
me. 'Everyone knows it's a surprise party.'
I leave Harry to tend to the goulash and go into the
bedroom to get changed. As usual, the mess is not mine:
Flynn's jeans, T-shirts and hoodies are strewn over the
carpet, musical scores spilling off our shared desk. My
clothes land on top of the overflowing laundry basket
and I wriggle into a black dress I bought during the
summer holidays but never got round to wearing. Too
tight – oh, no. The blue dress instead? No time.
Stockings to hide pasty legs; high heels have disappeared,
only Flynn's trainers are under the bed. OK,
shoes last, move on to the bathroom. Soap in eyes, ouch.
Front of dress, soaked. Flyaway hair – up or down? Up.
Hairgrip won't grip. Now I look like I've been dragged
backwards through a bush. Hairgrip back out, start
'Jennah, we're short of two chairs!' Harry calls from
Can't talk, hairgrip in mouth. Grunt instead.
Spit out hairgrip. 'The swivel chair in the bedroom!'
Hair finally done, still too wispy – it'll have to do.
Make-up. Face not dry, mascara blots. The sound of
Harry dragging the chair down the corridor. 'We're still
'Piano stool,' I call back. Blusher or no blusher? No
need, already look like a stressed-out tomato. The
buzzer goes. Already? I find my shoes underneath
Flynn's music bag and shove them on, turning my ankle
as I attempt to run for the door.
When I finally limp back to the living room, Kate is
there, throwing streamers across the tablecloth. 'I
brought decorations,' she says. 'Oh wow, you look
stunning, Jen. Is that a new dress?'
'Newish.' I give Kate a quick kiss on the cheek. 'How
are you? I'm stressed.'
'Don't be stressed. The table looks beautiful and the
food smells great. Breathe!' Kate commands.
'Why are you hobbling?' Harry asks as I go over to the
stove to check on the goulash.
'I think I sprained my ankle.'
'Putting on my shoes.'
Harry and Kate start to laugh.
'Do you want me to cut up the bread?' Kate asks.
'Yes please. Thank you. God, the table looks like a
'I told you we didn't need all these glasses,' Harry
'But some of them are bound to get broken,' I point
'Jennah the eternal optimist!' Harry teases.
The buzzer goes again and the small flat begins to
fill. Harry and Kate are doing the drinks. I return to the
relative calm of the kitchen to taste my goulash, burning
my mouth. I wonder, not for the first time today, what
will happen if all the food turns out to be inedible. I
suppose, as Harry kindly pointed out earlier, that there
is always bread and cheese. In the room next door, the
stereo bursts into life and it sounds as if the evening is
underway. I check my watch. All we need now is the
birthday boy. And if he has any inkling of what is in store
for him, he is likely to do a no-show.
I think I have done a pretty good job of keeping
things under wraps. I did the shopping in the morning
and then dropped it off at Harry's so as not to give the
game away with a fully-stocked fridge. As arranged, a
mate from uni, André, swung by in the early evening to
take Flynn out for a birthday drink. As soon as the coast
was clear I called Harry, who drove round with a car-load
of extra stools and chairs, some tablecloths from his
mum's linen closet and five bulging supermarket bags.
The last two hours have been a cooking frenzy
and now I feel wiped out and the party hasn't even
Harry comes in backwards through the swing doors
that separate the kitchen from the living room carrying
three bottles of wine. 'More booze,' he says. 'I'll put
these ones in the fridge.'
'Are there enough thingies out there?' I ask him,
rapidly peeling some potatoes.
'You need to be more specific, Jen.'
'Is everyone here?'
'Yes. And André's just texted to say they're on their
way. You couldn't have timed it better. People are here,
food is ready' – he stirs the goulash, prods the meat and
turns down the heat – 'now all we need is the hostess.'
He grabs me round the waist and pulls me firmly away
from the stove. Before we reach the swing doors, I stop
him, laughing suddenly. 'Are we crazy or what?'
'Flynn's never going to forgive us,' Harry agrees with
As we go out into the living room, the buzzer goes.
Kate answers. She gestures frantically at everyone to
hush. Someone turns off the music and everyone stops
talking. The overheated room vibrates with silent,
repressed energy. Kate leaves the front door ajar and
retreats quickly to the back of the room, out of the line
of fire. There are voices from the stairwell outside. The
room collectively holds its breath . . .
Flynn looks as if he has been punched in the
stomach. Hard. Oh God, please smile. There is a
deafening silence as we all wait for his look of shock to
turn to one of joy. It doesn't happen. Harry bounds
to the rescue. 'Happy birthday, old man!' He gives Flynn
a hearty slap on the back and hands him a drink.
'Jesus,' Flynn says softly, accepting his drink, and
manages something that could pass for a smile. The
tension breaks as people come forward to greet him:
André is talking about how he nearly gave the game
away and everyone starts chatting again and the music is
switched back on. I allow myself to breathe. Caught in a
group with André and Harry and a couple of uni
people, Flynn begins to look a fraction less horrified
and my heart rate starts to drop. Relieved, I gulp at my
drink and am able to laugh with Kate.
'I wasn't sure who he looked ready to kill first, you or
Harry!' she is saying.
'I'm going to say it was all Harry's idea!'
'Watch out,' Kate warns. 'Harry will be blaming it all
I laugh and serve up the goulash, and top up people's
drinks and take the second batch of sausage rolls out of
the oven and mop up the contents of an overturned
wineglass. I am introduced to somebody's girlfriend and
to somebody's brother, then an annoying trombonist
called Andy starts talking to me about perfect syncopations.
I watch Flynn covertly from across the room.
He looks as if he is smiling through gritted teeth. He is
talking to an organist – Holly something – who keeps
flicking her long plume of hair into his face, causing
him to nervously jerk his head back each time. I am
amused because rumour has it that Holly fancies Flynn,
even though he is blissfully unaware. A lot of girls at the
Royal College fancy Flynn, especially now that he has
begun to make a name for himself on the competition
circuit. He was known as 'that crazy Finnish pianist' for
a while after news got round about his bipolar disorder,
but that has faded from most people's minds now.
When I eventually manage to extract myself from
Andy, I dive back into the kitchen to open some
more bottles of wine and meet Harry over the kitchen
'All right? Less stressed now? The food's going down
well,' he says.
I manage a smile. 'Yeah, it's going OK, isn't it? Has
Flynn got over the shock?'
'A few more drinks and he'll be fine.' Harry grins.
We return to the other room and somebody cranks
up the music and a few people start to dance and I sink
onto the arm of the sofa, utterly spent. Someone trips
over my foot and someone else half falls into my lap and
the smell of hash mingles with the smell of cigarette
smoke and I try to have a conversation with Kate by
yelling in her ear. I am just relieved we had the foresight
to invite all the people in the building. Harry comes
over and squeezes onto the sofa. Kate snuggles up
against him and closes her eyes.
'Where's the birthday boy snuck off to then?' Nadim,
a percussionist, shouts to me over Harry's head.
I shrug and perform a quick scan of the room,
realizing I haven't seen Flynn for a while.
'Are you planning on getting up for orchestra
rehearsal tomorrow morning?' Harry yells in my ear.
'Hardly!' I yell back.
'Old Riley's going to have a fit when half the
members of the orchestra pull a sickie!' Harry laughs.
'Don't care, I've got my excuse!' I shout.
'What's that then?'
'Sore thumb.' I waggle it. My flute has been
gathering dust on the shelf for nearly a week now.
'Due to . . . ?'
'RSI – repetitive strain injury,' I reply. 'Otherwise
known as overwork. Not something you would know
much about, Harry,' I tease. Harry is known to practise
the cello for as little as two hours a day.
'Laugh as much as you want, but next year I'll be
making millions writing the score for the next James
Bond film, while you and Flynn tour the country as
I thump him, narrowly missing Kate. 'No way! You
got the place on the Music Tech MA?'
Harry grins. 'Yeah. The letter arrived this morning.'
'Harry, that's fantastic!'
Harry nods. 'Must admit it's a relief to know what I'll
be doing after finals.'
'Tell me about it. My mum's been going on at me all
year about applying for jobs.'
'Flynn hasn't managed to persuade you to
accompany him on his little jaunt round Europe then?'
Harry asks, referring to the concert bookings Flynn has
lined up for after we graduate.
I give a rueful smile. 'I have my life too, Harry.'
'Of course, of course. I just meant . . . he'll be lost
without you, Jen.' Harry gives me a wink.
'There are the holidays,' I point out. 'And if I
manage to save some money over the summer, I should
be able to fly out to a couple of his concerts.'
'Yeah, I'm definitely going to try and make the Berlin
one,' Harry said. 'Thank God for EasyJet.' He holds
Kate's head against his chest as he leans forwards to grab
a bottle of red from the coffee table. 'More wine, Jen?
Kate's out for the count. Maybe I should take her
'You can't go yet – we haven't even had the birthday
cake,' I protest, peeling myself off the sofa. 'I'll go and
light the candles.'
I borrow someone's lighter and steady myself against
the side of the table as I begin lighting the candles.
There seem to be hundreds of them all of a sudden. I
realize I'm drunk – thanks to Harry's top-ups and the fact
that I haven't got round to eating much today. I drop the
lighter onto the cake, then burn my little finger trying to
retrieve it. Ellen, a fellow flautist, kindly offers to help. I
hand her the lighter. 'Where the hell's Flynn?'
'He went off ages ago,' Ellen replies. 'We thought the
two of you had gone out somewhere.'
'No, I've been sitting here the whole time,' I protest,
suddenly annoyed. 'Oh, this is great! So now I'm
supposed to blow out the candles for him?' I move away
from Ellen, taking a bite of French bread to try and soak
up some of the alcohol, and hurry out into the corridor,
kicking off my tottery shoes as I go.
Somebody is throwing up in the bathroom. I leave
them to it and continue on down towards the bedroom.
I open the door and fumble for the light switch but
can't find it. I trip over a large pile of coats and bags
spilling off the end of the bed. Cursing, I pick myself up
off the floor. The curtains are open, revealing a tall pane
of black night. From the light coming in off the street, I
can make out a figure sitting against the wall.
'Flynn?' I take a step closer and nudge the figure with
'Yep?' His voice startles me. He sounds matter-of-fact,
conversational even, as if it is perfectly normal to be
sitting here, alone in the dark.
'What are you doing? Everyone's asking where you
I wait. He doesn't move. I can make out the contours
of his face. His eyes are bright in the darkness.
'Was this a stupid idea?' I ask quietly.
Flynn suddenly stands up and takes my hand. 'I love
you,' he whispers. 'Let's get out of here.'
'What?' I say stupidly. I don't know which throws me
more – Flynn telling me he loves me, or his suggestion
that we ditch the party we are hosting. 'What are you
talking about? We can't just walk out!'
'Yes we can,' Flynn answers. 'The fire escape.
Everyone else is too wasted to even notice.'