Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

To celebrate THE FUNERAL SINGER’s September 24 release, I’m posting a few excerpts as teasers. You can find the first one (Mel’s first kiss with love interest Zed Logan) here.

The next scene I’d like to share is what writers and editors call the “inciting incident.” Mel is at a burial ceremony for local rock star Mick Nolan, keyboardist for The Grime. His band was supposed to play a song during the ceremony, but they are nowhere to be found. So Mel (literally) steps outside of her comfort zone:

Dad read a few verses from Psalm 23 and signaled a pair of cemetery workers to step forward. Dad’s eyes searched the crowd, and he turned to my mom. “Where’s Bruno? Where’s the band?”

Mom shook her head. “I haven’t seen them.”

“Their car pulled in ahead of mine. I know they’re here somewhere.”

Mick’s grandmother stepped forward and stared at my dad expectantly.

“We can’t keep her waiting,” he muttered. “We’ll need to go ahead without the music.” He nodded to the cemetery workers. As the vault slowly descended, Mick’s grandmother dropped the roses onto it, one by one.

The Stiletto Chicks stood a few feet behind her, scrolling through their photos and giggling. Next to me, a cell phone rang, and a guy answered, practically shouting into it, “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?” A group of guys halfway down the hill cracked open a cooler and began passing around beers.

Meanwhile, Mick’s grandmother stood tiny and alone, the bouquet growing smaller and smaller.

This was all wrong. Mick’s “Celebration of Life” had been perfect for me and the rest of his fans, but what about her? The whole service was so loud, so irreverent, so … untraditional.

I stepped up onto the small stage and approached the mic. The crowd stretched out as far as I could see. Hundreds of people, maybe thousands. My legs shook so bad I thought I might collapse, and I grabbed the mic stand to steady myself. Everything suddenly seemed to grow still. I glanced over at my father, who gave me a questioning look but then offered a slow, solemn nod. I took a deep breath and began to sing.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

The nerves melted away. The song was easy, comfortable, and I slipped into it as though it were an old t-shirt. As I sang, a couple toward the back held their hands in the air and started swaying together, and soon all the people around them joined in, and the swaying spread and spread until it seemed as though the whole cemetery was one big wave of arms and bodies. A weird tingling spread through my chest. This was nothing like being perched up in the chapel balcony.

For the final verse, I turned toward Mick’s grandmother as she dropped the last of the roses. Instead of belting it out as I usually did, I brought it down and kept it pianissimo, soft.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.

As the last flower fell, the old woman straightened and turned toward me, her eyes brimming with tears. For a moment it was just the two of us. Everyone else faded into the scenery, like so many tombstones and trees. I watched as the first tear fell to her cheek, and then, just as quickly, the moment ended.

The crowd erupted in hoots and applause. Startled, I glanced over at Lana, who smiled and gave me a thumbs-up.

Dad placed his hand on my back. “That was lovely, Mel,” he said. “Thank you.”

A video of Mel’s brave, impromptu performance goes viral on YouTube, launching the story of THE FUNERAL SINGER. When is the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone? How did it turn out?

Thank you for reading!