Silence. Darkness. Faded to grey, sounds reappeared. Voices. Made no sense at first. Pains in both my arms. Mixed up with my dream. Someone was kicking me. I wasn’t sure where I was.
‘Fuck off, Big.’
>Hey Declan, you live. Stop moving, the lovely Suzanne try to take your blood pressure.
I opened my eyes. Two faces bent over me. Nico and a nurse. My brain attempted to make sense of it, but failed.
*Hello Declan. Just need to take your blood pressure. Both your arms are pretty knocked about, but I’m using your left so we can leave the operation site alone. Does it hurt?
‘Mm. Where’s Big?’
>What is big?
‘He was just here.’
>Only just me and Suzanne. You wake up from operation on your arm. You are confusing.
*I’ll give you some oxygen, that’ll help you think better.
The nurse put a mask over my face, and I felt a cold gas enter my lungs. A few breaths later, and things were a lot less foggy.
*That looks better, more colour in your cheeks. Blood pressure’s fine. Stay here for a bit, then we can take you back to your room. You’ll feel tired and want to sleep for a while, but try to get moving as soon as you can. Eat something too, and have a drink.
I felt the mattress move underneath me as the bed sat me up.
*Is your arm hurting? Do you need painkillers?
*Here you go, then, some meds for the pain and some water. Can you hold the cup?
My right arm was in a sling, so I tried to take it with my left hand, hooked my fingers in the handle, did my best, but spilt a lot, so the nurse got a straw and I managed to swallow the tablets.
I looked at Nico.
‘Thanks for coming.’
>Is no problem for me. I talk to the beautiful Suzanne while you sleep. She tell me your operation go very well, and now your arm is very good. I must call Rose and Lis to say you are awake. Suzanne, I use my phone?
*Not in here, sorry. Best go outside.
>OK. Declan, I must do this, I am not long.
‘No worries. Say hi.’
My throat was dry and I was really thirsty, and I managed to drink two mugs of water. This reawakened my appetite – it was getting on for a whole day since I last ate anything. My stomach growled.
*Hungry, are you?
*You can go back to your room when your friend gets back, they’ll bring you some dinner. You must be ravenous.
*The food in here is great, you’ll have a feast. Just need to take your temperature – pop the thermometer in your mouth for me.
Just as she took the thermometer out, Nico came back.
>Rose, she is very relieved. I think she worry all day. She want to visit, I say is OK.
*You can take Declan to his room now, if you’re OK with the wheelchair. You’ll be able to use your mobile there if you want to.
>Thank you, Suzanne. Declan, I have to ring Don and Jaime to say you are OK, we can wait until we are in your room. Maybe you talk to them?
Once back in my room, Nico phoned Don and Jay and told them everything had gone well. I spoke briefly to both, but was still groggy and knew less than Nico, so didn’t have that much to say.
Just as I rang off from Jay, my dinner arrived. As Suzanne had predicted, it was a feast, and I ate the lot.
>You are hungry, my friend. Is good I have big lunch.
‘Sorry, I was starving. Nothing since midnight.’
>Ha, I know this.
Nico’s phone pinged. He looked at the screen.
>Ha, Lis say you must stand up, get blood to move. She boss you from my phone. You stand up now.
>You remember your list from Don, this is one thing. Suzanne she say also. You move to keep blood going, OK?
I grumbled a bit, as my large meal had made me feel sleepy, but swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up. It was so much easier without the cast getting in the way, and without the constant pain of the broken collar bone. Even though my arm hurt, and was stiff and sore, and the scars themselves covered in dressings, I managed so much better, and it lifted my spirits.
‘How far should I go?’
>Ha, you ask me? OK … there is drink machine in the corridor, go there, get me coffee!
I set off out of the door, looked left, saw the coffee machine at the end of the corridor. Got all the way there, realised I had no money. Walked back. Nico was waiting with a huge grin on his face.
>Your head still not work right. You have no coins, eh?
‘Yeah, very funny. You can get your own fucking coffee.
:Well this must be Declan’s room, I can hear the language from the corridor.
:Hello, love, it’s good to see you up and about. Come here.
She folded me up in one of her huge hugs, being very careful of my right arm.
:Oh, love, that’s better. I’ve been so worried all day, soft aren’t I?
‘It’s nice to be worried about.’
As I said it, I realised how good it felt that someone was thinking about me, and how much pressure it took off me.
:I suppose so, love.
>Rose you have a chair. I go to get coffee from machine, as Declan fail. You want?
:Tea if they’ve got it, ta, love.
I sat on the edge of the bed and swung my legs back in.
:That looks so much better, love. That big cast just got in your way. Is it sore?
‘Lots of painkillers. Will be sore tomorrow.’
I could feel my energy slipping away; I was finding it hard to speak.
:Not long and you can have a shower, I imagine you’ll have to be careful of those dressings for a while. Maybe you can stick your arm out the shower curtain or something?
I was feeling very sleepy, couldn’t keep my eyes open. Tried to listen to Rose, but everything faded.
: … sure he’s going to be alright?
> … fine, is normal to sleep …
: … how long I should stay …
> … go home soon, he look out for the night …
: … night Nico, love. No, I won’t stay much longer …
: … night Declan, love, I’m going home, I’ll see you in the morning …
Woke up with a start a lot later. It was dark in the room, there was no sign of Rose or Nico. I assumed they had gone home. I had had more strange half-dreams about Big and someone else, wearing brown boots, who was stamping on my phone. I kept trying to make the other person become DivDav, but his face wouldn’t stay there. I seemed to wake up regularly, in a panic, then drop off to sleep only for the same thing to happen again.
By the time morning came, I was shattered, and my arm was starting to throb. A nurse came in before long and gave me some painkillers, which calmed my arm a bit.
I managed to doze without dreaming for a while before the doctor came to check on me, shone a light in my eyes, signed a form and said I could go home in the afternoon. I also had an early morning visit from Don, Pete the physio and one of the conditioning coaches. They wanted to check my arm and make some plans for my restart in the New Year. I hoped they didn’t expect me to remember any of the conversation, which mostly carried on over my head, and was a detailed discussion about muscle fibres and recovery rates. I think it was decided that my arm might need a week or two before the stitches were out, and then I would be back on the treadmill, getting fit again. That was fine by me; a large part of me couldn’t wait to get back to training and feel a proper part of Raiders once more.
-See you on the sixth, then, Declan.
£You might need to write it down, Don. He’s not going to remember his own name for a while. Better still, tell someone else.
-Right you are. You’re doing well, son. Have a good Christmas.
‘Thanks. You too.’
I slept again, after a good breakfast, until Rose appeared.
:Alright, love? I’m glad you’re awake, hardly saw you yesterday before you were out of it. Had to go back home in the end. How did you sleep?
‘Not too good. Weird dreams, kept waking up.’
:So you’ve been knocked out on the table but kept awake half the night after, you poor love. How are you now?
:Have a snooze then. I won’t tell. I brought some magazines, look. I’ll be here when you wake up.
So I did. My eyelids were drooping anyway, and I drifted off quickly.
Dreaming. Although it feels real. I was in the car park at Raiders, had my phone out to call Rose. It was dark, my head was down, looking at the screen on the phone, and I was heading over towards where DivDav’s car should have been, although neither he nor his car were anywhere to be seen.
I heard footsteps behind me. Turned, half expecting it to be DivDav. Caught sight of movement, then something hit the back of my head. Heard it smash. Glass cascaded around me. I staggered, stunned. Dropped my phone.
Felt blows, slashes, to my face. Bent forwards, hands over my head, trying to protect myself. More blows hit my body, and I fell to the ground. Feet all round me, kicking me, grinding bits of glass through my clothes and into my skin, stamping on my phone, stamping on my arm, sharp peaks of agony overtaking all my senses. Looked up, tried to see who it was.
Blond hair, tall … familiar. And then brown hair, tall, stocky, Big. They redoubled their efforts to kick the shit out of me. By looking up I’d left my face vulnerable, and I lay there helplessly as a brown boot headed towards my face, crashing into my nose with a blast of pain. Seeing stars didn’t begin to describe it, whole universes flashed in my head. I tried to cover my face again, but I was nearly unconscious and I couldn’t move my arms. More blasts of pain burst over me and I fell into the black.
:Declan. It’s alright, love, you’re dreaming. Come on, wake up, now. You’re OK, I’m here. Shush now.
Someone’s hand smoothing the hair away from my forehead. For a confused second, my heart soared.
:Oh love, it’s Rose. You’re OK, you were having a dream. Calling out, fighting you were. It’s alright now. You remember where you are?
I opened my eyes groggily as I crashed back to earth. The sun had made its way into my room and was shining on the floor. I tried to get my thoughts working. My heart was pounding, and I was panting like I’d been for a run. I pushed away the brief instant when I’d thought Mum was here, and made myself focus on what I’d been dreaming – no, not dreaming. Remembering. It was big. It was …
:What’s that, love?
:Sorry, you’ve lost me.
‘Not a dream. I remember. Being kicked. Not DivDav. It was Big and someone else, I knew him, but it wasn’t Dav. They hit me with a bottle.’
It started to bring it all back again, felt like I was there again. I closed my eyes.
‘Shit. Big. No way.’
:What do you mean, love? A big bottle?
Exasperated that I would have to explain myself, I sighed and tried to gather my thoughts into something comprehensible.
‘Big’s … he was my mate. It’s a nickname. His name’s Ben.’
I waited for the penny to drop.
:Ah, I see. And so this friend of yours has been hitting you with bottles in your dreams?
‘No, I told you, it wasn’t a dream. I remember it.
:Are you sure, love? You’re pretty dosed up at the moment, your mind can play all sort of tricks. You and Nico were certain it was this Dav fellow the other day.
‘It was real. Memory, not a dream. Can’t explain – I know the difference.’
:Well if you’re really convinced, we need to contact the police, but we’re not going to do it now, it can wait till you get home. Any idea when they’re letting you out?
‘This afternoon. You don’t have to wait.’
:Course I don’t love, but I’m going to, I hardly saw you yesterday before you dozed off again. You’ve gone a very funny colour, I think I’ll get a nurse.
But she had bustled off in search of someone. I tried not to go over my newly uncovered memories, but my brain was on a single track. Once again I was hit by the bottle, once again I saw my phone smashed, once again I looked up and saw Big and … who the fuck was it? I knew him … and once again the brown boot smashed into my face. In my head I lay on the ground in the car park, powerless to do anything about it.
Big. He’d been the only one who’d been nice to me, had gone out of his way to talk to me, been for a drink with me. What had that been all about? Surely he wasn’t the one who trashed my flat? He did know where I lived though, and as far as I knew, DivDav didn’t. He’d come to see me in hospital, twice. As I remembered this, and Big standing over me looking stunned when I’d fallen out of bed, I also remembered something he said when he visited with DivDav:
°Probably have to wait till his phone’s back in commission.
How had he known about my phone, unless he’d been there when it was broken? Hardly anyone knew. With a sinking heart, I started to put some of it together. His friendliness seemed the biggest sham now, designed to – what? – get information out of me? Keep me on the back foot? And once the outcome of the points deduction was known, that was it, payback. I remembered DI Johnson’s question about the ‘Payback’ text. Rose was right, I was going to have to contact the police as soon as I felt a bit more alert.
Rose returned with a nurse in tow.
:He’s just had a bit of a shock, that’s all, he lost his memory when he was attacked, and it’s all come back while he was asleep.
*Well let’s have a look then. Are you in any pain, Declan?
‘Bit of a headache, arm’s a bit sore.’
*Alright, then, let’s see what we can do.
She took my temperature, pulse and blood pressure. Offered me some more tablets.
‘I don’t want to go to sleep again.’
*Well, I can understand that, but these will make you a bit drowsy. You’ll doze on and off for a while. You are going to have someone with you when you go home, aren’t you?
:He’s staying at mine.
*Oh good, nice to have your mum looking after you, eh?
Neither of us contradicted her.
The rest of the morning and afternoon passed slowly, me trying and failing not to fall asleep, waking with a start every time my head dropped forwards, and Rose checking her watch every five minutes. I had another great meal at lunchtime, but shared it with Rose, who wasn’t included in the free fabulous food offer at the private hospital. I told her it wasn’t a patch on her cooking, but we both knew I wasn’t being completely honest.
I was finally given the all clear to leave, and we made our way to the car park, where Rose had parked as close to the main entrance as she could. My legs wobbled alarmingly, but I made it to the car. I was panting a bit by the time I got there, and I considered ruefully how much conditioning work I was going to have to do just to regain my fitness, let alone get back to a state in which I could play a game of rugby. Big and his mate had certainly had some payback in the form of the amount of my life they had taken from me.
Rose settled me in her comfy armchair, then left me in front of the TV while she made some tea. She shouted through from the kitchen.
:Nico’s going to ring later. He said he won’t visit as you’ll be tired, but he’ll come and see you tomorrow morning. Beth rang this morning, she’s going to call you later, I had a chat with little Calum too. He told me you’ve spoken to Santa about an – oh what was it – Optimax something –
‘Optimus Prime. It’s all sorted. Me and Santa know what we’re doing.’
:Oh that’s good, then, love. Wouldn’t do to disappoint him, he seems very keen.
‘Yeah. I know. Need to keep my promises. Can’t wait to see him, though.’
:I think he feels the same, from the amount of questions he asked about you. He’s very interested in your operation scars.
‘He loves gore. The bloodier the better.’
:Oh, typical six year old then.
Rose came in with two mugs of tea, gave me one and settled down on the sofa. We passed the evening companionably, although she did keep making me move around and do the exercises the hospital had suggested to avoid blood clots.
I went to bed early, finding it much easier to undress without the plaster cast and painful collar bone, although as the operation sites had begun to throb, I took some painkillers just before I settled down. I fell asleep really quickly, but was woken up a couple of times by the phone ringing in the hallway. From the muffled conversations I overheard, it was firstly Nico and then Beth. Rose told them both I had gone to bed, but would ring them tomorrow, and I slept on again.
Dreaming. I am flying, with Mum. She wants to show me things, tell me the names of things, talk to me, but I want to see everything, and fly on ahead. I turn round and she has gone. I fly everywhere, but I can’t find her.
I woke the next morning, with tears on my face and a heavy sadness in my chest. I didn’t think about Mum very often, it was too painful. I’d only been thirteen when she’d died with Dad in the accident, and my subsequent experiences in various foster homes hadn’t lent themselves to introspection or dealing in any helpful way with grief. It had been more about survival, which didn’t include any kind of a softer side. By the time I’d got to Jay and Beth, I had shut Mum and Dad away somewhere virtually inaccessible. If I didn’t think about them, I didn’t have to deal with the loss of them. I’d dreamed about Mum a few times in the past few weeks, and it had unlocked that place. I tried now to push my sorrow back there, but it wouldn’t quite fit, leaving a part of me feeling exposed and vulnerable.
It took me a while to get out of bed that day, feeling down physically and emotionally. Rose spent a lot of time trying to gee me up, but she was working really hard for little reward. Nico and Beth phoned back, but I couldn’t find the energy for long conversations. Rose asked if I wanted to phone DI Johnson, but that felt a long way from possible.
I also had a phone call from Adam, the psychologist Don wanted me to see in the New Year. I made an appointment, he said he would send a letter confirming it, and that was another thing sorted, but another reminder of how much I had to do to get better.
After nearly a day of trying to get a response out of me, Rose had had enough, and took matters into her own hands. She called Nico and asked him to come over.
:I think he needs some cheering up, hardly had a word out of him all day.
Nico arrived half an hour later, full of chatter and charm, and raised my spirits a bit. He told a funny story about trying to buy a present for Lis in town that morning, he teased Rose mercilessly about her need for tea, he made fun of the TV programmes that were on in the background, and it was impossible not to be a bit swept up in his performance. I caught myself smiling, despite myself, and Nico noticed too.
>Ha, this is better. You seem very sad today, Rose tell me.
‘Had stuff on my mind.’
>You must say this stuff, or we cannot help.
I was silent. They couldn’t have helped, whatever I said, and I wasn’t going to tell them what was on my mind. I could barely acknowledge it myself, and talking about it would release a whole lot of shit I wasn’t ready to face.
>Huh, you are stubborn. OK, is up to you.
:Are you worried about this business with your friend, love?
I shook my head, frowned at her, didn’t want both of them going on at me.
Rose ignored my scowl.
:Declan thinks he’s remembered the assault. He thinks it was someone different to that Dav fellow you told the police about. I think he should call DI Johnson, but he’s not felt up to it today.
>Declan, you remember?
I was trying not to, but thinking about it now brought the flashbacks into my head; kicks and punches and slashes. I groaned and covered my face with my hands. Too much I was trying not to think about.
‘I remember being punched and kicked, glass smashing on my head. It was Big. Ben Hearne. And someone else – I think I know him, but it wasn’t DivDav.’
>Declan, you must tell the police.
‘Rose thinks it was a dream.’
:Well it did happen while you were asleep, love.
‘I know the difference.’
>OK, is importante. If you are sure, we tell the police the wrong name before. We must tell them.
‘I’m sure I remember.’
>Then I call, like last time.
Nico made the call, I was relieved to have it taken out of my hands. It was a short conversation.
>He say he come this evening to talk to you. I say yes. I stay or go, which you want.
‘Stay, please. When’s he coming?’
>Ha, I forget to ask. Rose, I am here all evening, feed me please!
:You’ve got a cheek on you. Alright, I’ll get cracking on tea.
>I call Lis to say I stay longer.
DI Johnson eventually arrived about eight thirty. He asked me to go over what I remembered, and was particularly interested in how I knew it was Big, and what I could recall of the other man. I described what I could remember: blond hair, brown boots, nondescript clothing. I couldn’t see how any of it could help, it was all too vague. He asked the question I had been expecting.
ϙWhat made you remember?
‘I woke up after a dream, and I just remembered.’
ϙHow can you be sure it wasn’t part of the dream?
‘Because it’s a memory. I can’t explain it any better. It’s like when I remembered Dav texting me on Saturday. I just know. I’ve remembered something else though, not something from my sleep. When I was in hospital the first time, Big and Dav came to see me. Big said something about my phone being out of commission. I don’t know how he would have known that unless he’d had something to do with smashing it.’
ϙInteresting. When you gave us David Allsop’s name we did some checking on his phone records, and he tried to contact you by text and phone on three occasions between twenty and thirty minutes after your phone was destroyed. Although it’s not impossible, it seems unlikely that he would have done this if he had known your phone was broken. You’re sure this other man wasn’t David Allsop?
‘I’m sure. Dav’s got dark brown hair, this man was blond, and could have been taller. I’m sure I know him from somewhere.’
>Do you know yet the anonymous numbers?
ϙWe’re still working on it. Lots of red tape. Thank you very much, Declan. We’ll be in touch. Can we get hold of you here over Christmas?
‘No, I’m away.’
I smiled to myself as I thought about going up to Jay and Beth’s.
‘Rose, have you got Jay’s number?’
Rose wrote out a number for DI Johnson, then showed him out.
>Huh. Ben Hearne. You are sure?
>Are you OK? He is your friend, he never hurt you in training, he seem OK.
‘I know. No, I’m not OK really. He’s kind of fucked up my life for the next few months. I thought he was a good mate, we went out for a drink when no one else would talk to me. Don’t know what to think about that now. Don’t feel like I can trust anyone.
>You know you can trust me and Rose and Jaime. Start with us. We look after you now. We are Three Musketeers. Four if you count Lis. No, six with Beth and Cal. We are Six Musketeers. Were there six? There should be six, what good is three?
:You do talk some nonsense, lad.
>Ha, I say what is in my head. Sometimes is much nonsense, sometimes is much clever. Is luck which one. I go now, Lis she make special dinner.
:But you’ve had your dinner.
>She don’t know this.
He winked at Rose and stood up to go.
>Declan, I hope you OK, I try to cheer you up, you are sad still, yes?
‘A bit, I’ll be OK. Thanks for coming.’
He left and it was just Rose and me again.
And so the days ticked on to Christmas. I was more aware of it than I might have been because Cal was so excited – he had an advent calendar in my room, as well as one elsewhere in the house, and he came in every morning to open the cardboard door and eat the chocolate and tell me how many sleeps until Santa.
He told me earnestly how he’d asked Dec about some Transformer toy, and how Dec was going to talk to Santa about it. I hoped Dec wasn’t just bullshitting, and wasn’t going to let Cal down. I tried to talk to Beth about getting some presents for Cal, but she just waved me away and said that Santa was bringing enough more than enough, and there wouldn’t be any names on anything, and to save my strength. I wasn’t quite sure what I was saving it for, as there didn’t seem to be a marathon or even a walk to the toilet in my immediate future, but it was the end of the subject.
I was, however, slowly, infinitesimally, feeling things get better. There were days when I could sit in the chair in my room for a few minutes – not many days, but it happened, and it was something I used to chart my progress. I could sometimes even get myself out of bed and into the chair myself, although these occasions were few and far between, and I couldn’t get myself back again.
There were also days when my lungs decided they were going to try to expel all the foul deposits left in their depths, and I would cough uncontrollably, and Jay and Beth would sit with me trying to help me get it under control as I choked, their fingers poised on the nine on the phone. Those days left me weak and feeble for a long time, exhausted with the effort and sore from the overused chest muscles. I tried not to notice the fear in their eyes when it happened, but it was hard not to, and I knew I wasn’t truly out of it yet, it could still take me. The upshot of all the coughing was that I was the proud recipient of a baby monitor. It was switched on whenever there was no one in the room with me, so at the slightest sign of dying, someone could be with me in an instant to stop me. Bastards. I hated the fucker, it just made me feel more like an infant. But it was another thing I put up with because, at the end of the day, they were terrified and they had given up everything so I could be here and not in some shitty care home.
I only had a few more days of school, and then it was the Christmas holidays. I couldn’t remember ever being more excited than I was that year. I spent a lot of time in Uncle Matty’s room, playing with my toys and talking to Uncle Matty, who seemed to be able to talk and play for longer, and slept less, than when he first came to live with us. Sometimes all four of us would be in there, and we’d watch Uncle Matty’s TV, and Mum, Dad and Uncle Matty would talk, or maybe Uncle Matty would be asleep, but we’d all still be there.
Like any good six-year-old, I was counting the days to Christmas, but I was also counting the days until Dec arrived, which was going to be two days before Christmas.
I had talked to Dec on the phone a lot, although Dec didn’t talk for long, and we didn’t make any plans about what we were going to do while he was here.
Mum said that we needed to see how Dec felt, and not try to make him do a lot of playing and games, but me and Dec had always done a lot of playing and games, and I wasn’t sure what Dec would do if we weren’t doing that. Mum said Dec had been sad, and hurt from his cuts and broken arm, and that we needed to give him loves like we did to Uncle Matty, but Dec wasn’t going to be asleep in his bed all day like Uncle Matty, and I was pretty sure he’d want to play football, or cars, or Jenga, or any of the things that we always did.
I spent the weekend focussing on doing the physio exercises Pete had given me, determined I was going to be as fit as I could when I returned to the club in January. I needed less and less help generally from Rose as my arm got used to its new operational status. My mood lifted as I did more for myself, I tried to concentrate on being busy rather than thinking, using Rose’s ‘don’t prod it’ theory, and managed to push things down far enough that I couldn’t feel them.
Lis visited a couple of times, Nico had an away Raiders game on Saturday, so I didn’t see much of him. Beth rang, I spoke to her and Jay and confirmed arrangements for Tuesday. That helped to cheer me up as much as anything. I was really looking forward to going up there, although Matt, Jay’s brother, was now living with them and very poorly, and Jay’s mum was going to be staying at the same time as me, and I was nervous about how everything was going to work out with us all. Couldn’t wait to see them all though, see them properly without being on medication, or in huge amounts of pain, or unable to talk without a six year old translator. Really needed to see how it was all going to work out.
On Monday, after a trip to my GP to have various stitches removed and to be told I no longer needed the sling, which I hadn’t been wearing much anyway, I borrowed a holdall from Rose, packed it with all the clothes Lisa had bought me, and put the presents I was taking up into another bag.
Now the stitches were out from my face and scalp, I could wash my hair. I still couldn’t have a shower, though, and had to ask Rose to help me using her shower hose over the bath so I could avoid soaking the dressings on my arm. It was such a relief to have clean hair, I almost didn’t mind Rose having to do it for me. It must have been washed when I was first admitted to hospital, to get the blood out, but I hadn’t been able to wash it since. It felt like another step towards recovering, getting back on my feet.
I hadn’t looked in the mirror much since I’d been out of hospital; seeing myself in the mirror on the ward had shaken me, and the odd glimpse out of the corner of my eye was all I’d been able to cope with. However, now the stitches were out, I risked an in-depth study, keeping it exploratory and fact-finding, and not thinking about how all the marks actually found their way onto my skin in the first place.
The bruises were still there, beginning to fade but still very noticeable, in every shade from deep green through canary yellow to dark browny purple; the stitches had been replaced by raised red lines which bracketed my face. I could still barely recognise myself.
I wondered how long the scars would last – I’d asked at the surgery when I had the stitches out, but they were non-committal, which I took to mean ‘a long time’. I really didn’t want to think of men in brown boots kicking me every time I looked at myself, so I was going to have to start covering all of those thoughts over with something else soon.
Two days before Christmas was the day set for Advent. Not the coming of the baby Jesus, but the coming of the juvenile rugby player. Dec was arriving that evening, and Cal rushed about excitedly all day, tidying his room up, drawing pictures, cleaning out his rabbit, so that everything would be ready. Because obviously the teenager wouldn’t have set foot through the door if the straw in the rabbit hutch wasn’t clean enough to see your face in. Fucksake.
Since they came back from Devon, Cal had talked a lot about Dec and his scars and bruises, seeming to find it all fascinating rather than horrifying, and I was looking forward to having a look for myself, nosy parker that I was. I knew Beth and Jay were nervous about him coming.
Jay felt that things hadn’t been properly sorted, and wanted to get to the bottom of everything. He wasn’t a fan of long conversations, but he seemed to have resigned himself to this particular one.
Beth just wanted everything to be lovely again. She’d been hurt more by Dec shutting himself off and not telling them about some pretty huge shit than she had about the actual huge shit, and wondered if things could ever be back the way they’d been.
It could be pretty handy, being a useless lump in a bed, who couldn’t talk much. People opened up, told you stuff. Of course, sometimes it meant you had to lie there while they fussed and went on at you as well, but the payoff was you sometimes got to hear the good shit, always provided you could a) remember it and b) not fall asleep at a crucial point.
Then Dec was here for Christmas. He was here for four days, and by the time he left, he’d changed things for me, and he was my mate, and part of my family. The End. What, you want details? My version of events? Blow-by-blow account? Oh alright then, if you insist.
So after what felt like years, it was at last the day that Dec was coming. I had tidied my room so that you could see the carpet and all my toys had been put away to leave room for Dec’s clothes and trainers and pants. I so wanted Dec to see my dinosaur bedroom; my old bedroom had Ben 10 curtains and blue walls, but my dinosaur bedroom was cool, and it was a big boy’s bedroom. And Dec hadn’t seen Percy, my rabbit, yet. Mum had never let me have a pet, because Tabitha, our cat wouldn’t like it. But Tabitha lived with Nico and Lis now, and I had Percy. Dec would love him.
Mum had a text from Lis to say that they were driving in Lis’s car, and that they should be at our house in a few hours. Mum had made some dinner, but we weren’t going to have it until Dec got here.
It was finally Tuesday, the day I was going to see Jay, Beth and Cal; the day, if it all went right, I was going to get my family back. Rose left in the morning, torn between wanting to be on her way to her sister’s and staying to fuss over me, but finally leaving me to it along with a long list of things I had to do and say, pots of jam to give to Beth, and a couple of her speciality huge hugs.
I wandered around restlessly, waiting for Lis to pick me up in the afternoon. I did some exercises, watched some of a Christmas film on TV, ate lunch, paced some more. Lis, of course, showed up dead on time.
The car journey was nearly as tortuous as the waiting had been. It should have taken about two and a half hours, but loads of other drivers seemed to be making an early Christmas getaway and the motorways were pretty busy. Being stuck in several traffic jams did nothing for my nerves. We got there in just over three and a half hours.
It got dark, and although I kept looking out of the window, I couldn’t see anything. Lots of cars went by, but I could only see their headlights, and none of them stopped. I took up a permanent position at the hall window, and pressed my face to the glass.
Finally, a car stopped outside, under the street-light, and a light went on inside the car. I saw Dec in the passenger seat, but he didn’t get out straight away. I jumped off the chair I’d been standing on and ran into the kitchen.
‘He’s here, Mummy, he’s here.’
It was early evening, dark and cold as Lis pulled up outside the house, following my directions via a map on her phone. I had managed to get us lost once, but we had found our way again and now we were here. My pulse rate rose with anticipation. I was finally here, I would find out if it really was all OK, if we could be together again, if things could be mended, or … not. I was excited and terrified.
Deep breath. I looked at Lisa, who gave me a reassuring smile.