Mum begins to stir not long after Rory is gone. She tries to say something, but her voice comes out as a croak. “It’s okay mum, I’m here,” I reassure her, “You don’t need to say anything.”
Her fingers squeeze mine. There are deep lines around her mouth and dark circles under her teary eyes. I’m reminded of her actions in one mad rush and thinking back to it, forms an uncomfortable pressure behind my eyelids.
“You’re in the hospital,” I tell her, watching as her eyes widen at this information. Her head rolls to the left and the small movement seems to cause her some pain. “The doctors had to put you on a drip.”
She glances down at the needle in her hand, continuing to take shallow breaths. “I – I’m so…” she gulps and I can see how much pain she is in. It’s still good to hear her voice again though. “I’m so sorry,” she manages to say, her bottom lip wobbling.
Heat flushes through me and I divert my eyes to another part of the room. “Why did you do it?” I ask, my mouth burning at the effort.
We sit in silence for another moment, looking at each other. Her lips are dry and her hair is knotted in thick waves.
“I – I’d had enough I suppose,” her voice trembles.
I take in a shuddery breath, not satisfied with her response. I try to remain as calm as I can. It’s difficult.
“I thought I’d lost you mum,” my own voice sounds thick and choked with emotion. “Do you have any idea what losing you could have meant for me? You’re all I have!”
“I’m sorry Skye. I…” she covers her face with both hands as she bursts into heavy sobs. My anger suddenly evaporates and is replaced with a whole lot of sympathy. “It’s not like I wanted this to happen. I’ve been trying so hard to change, trying to be there for you. But the truth is, it’s all been a lie. I’ve been lying to myself – to you. I’m not coping."
"And then when you discovered that letter, I was so scared I’d pushed you too far. You didn’t talk to me for days and I thought that you were done with me, which was understandable. I still haven’t forgiven myself for keeping that information from you.”
“You have to believe that I didn’t intentionally plan to take all of those pills. My thoughts were irrational, persuading, evil that day… I couldn’t think straight.”
Her clear eyes are pleading with me to try and understand and I’m trapped. “I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, so I took more pills than necessary. I’ll admit that when I was taking them, I knew that the dosage was larger than usual and for a split second, I didn’t care if that was the end for me.”
I’m glad to hear her confession spoken out loud, for my own peace of mind. On the other hand, it’s hard to listen to her talk like this – like she’s lost the will to fight.
“Did you have any thoughts telling you to stop?” I ask, unable to breathe properly through my mouth and nose. I’m suffocating. The room is getting hotter by the second.
“At one point, I remember regretting my decision. But it was too late by then, because the pills were already starting to kick in and I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t move or scream for help. I couldn’t do anything.”
“I wish you had phoned me or told me how you were feeling. We could have dealt with this together.”
“I know that I am a disappointment to you. I thought it would be easier on everyone if I wasn’t here. I’ve never been a good mother. I have let you down so many times Skye.” Tears glisten at the base of mum’s eyelashes, running quickly down her freckled cheeks.
“No,” I say, “You don’t get to erase yourself from a situation like that! Start giving yourself some credit. You don’t realize your worth and what you mean to me. I need you! Of course I need you! No matter what you might have said or done or how many mistakes you’ve made, I don’t blame you for it – for any of it! You’re my mother and I forgive you regardless."
"It killed me to come home to find you lifeless on the floor. It kills me that you were ready to give up and that you don’t realize how special you are. A lot of people care about you. A lot of people would have been devastated to have lost you if the circumstances were different.”
I’m not finished yet. “Don’t you think that I’ve thought about it – ending my own life? You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve dreamt of being somewhere else or how many times I’ve had to use my imagination to picture what life would be like if I hadn’t been born into it. I have felt just as lonely and afraid. But I would never leave you, ever.”
I’m a sobbing mess now, unable to talk without shuddering. “What hurts the most, is that you were prepared to leave me. Do I not mean anything to you? Or was having me your biggest mistake?”
A strangled cry escapes mum’s throat. “Skye, you mean everything to me. You were never a mistake. If anything, you were a blessing. Without you, I don’t know what I would have done.”
I can’t look at her. We should have had this conversation years ago, not now, when she’s stuck in a hospital bed and neither of us are in the right frame of mind to be discussing this. I obviously wasn’t enough, because blessing or not, she still would have abandoned me… just like my father did.
The door creaks open, tearing mum and I from our intimate moment. The nurse walks in and hesitates by the door, eyes bouncing between us both. The tension is obvious. “Should I come back?”
I shake my head. “No, it’s okay, we’re done here.”
Mum’s eyes scan my face and her eyes follow me to the door. “What do you mean we’re done? You are coming back, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know. I need to think about all of this,” I announce, letting myself out of the ward room.
The first person I call is Rory. Even though it’s only been a few hours since we last saw each other, he’s the only one that knows the full situation.
I sit on a bench outside the hospital, holding my mobile close to my ear.
Rory picks up after the third dial and sounds out of breath. “Skye? Is everything okay?”
“Can I meet you somewhere?”
A girl’s voice echoes down the line. “Uh, I’m kind of busy right now,” he says, clearly trying to get me off the phone so he can return to whatever he’s doing or ‘whoever’ he’s doing.
“Never mind,” I snap, about to hang up on him.
“Skye wait, what’s wrong?”
“Forget it Rory. I shouldn’t have called.” I end the conversation there and sigh into my hands.
Nothing ever goes right.
What am I going to do?
I have never felt so alone.
My ringtone starts playing and Rory’s name appears on the screen. I press reject. It stops and rings again. I continue to ignore him. Eventually, when Rory has had enough of phoning, I let the silence engulf me.
I almost jump out of my skin, when my mobile vibrates on the bench.
Frustrated, I place the phone to my ear and shout, “Stop calling me!” into the receiver.
“Ouch! My ears!”
Wait, that doesn’t sound like Rory’s voice.
“Who is this?” I demand.
Grayson? “How do you have my number?”
“Harper gave it to me.” I’ll be having words with Harper when I get the chance.
“What do you want?”
“Harper told us about your mum being ill. I wanted to check in on you, see how you were doing.”
Wow. I’m shocked. I didn’t think that Grayson had a kind bone in his body.
“I’m not great,” I admit, “It’s looking like my mother will be out of the hospital soon though, so that’s positive.”
He clears his throat. “Ricky has expanded the deadline for the project to an extra week, just to let you know.”
“Don’t tell me he’s done that for my benefit?”
“No. Turns out hardly any of the class are close to finishing. We had a big lecture from him this morning. He didn’t hold back.”
“Well, thanks for the heads up.”
It goes quiet. “Are you doing anything right now?” I ask him.
“Do you fancy working on the project? You could come to my house.”
At first, I expect Grayson to laugh at the suggestion or turn me down, but he surprises me by saying, “Send over your address.”
I spend the next half an hour cleaning the house from top to bottom. I make sure there are no dirty dishes piled up on the sink, that the room smells fresh and liveable and that all the doors upstairs are tightly closed, so Grayson can’t go snooping.
I’m still worried that inviting him over was a bad idea, considering I was adamant that we weren’t going to follow Harper and Eddie’s approach, but here we are – here I am, waiting for him to arrive outside my house. I’m not equipped for studying, since my brain has reached an overload. But anything is better than wallowing in pity and troubling myself with thoughts of my mother.
I go to answer the door in my black jeans and lengthy blue t-shirt. Grayson stands in an awkward stance, as he surveys my outfit. He’s probably not used to seeing me with this much clothing on.
He folds his arms. “Are you going to invite me in then? It’s bloody freezing out here,” he chatters.
“No, I think I might leave you there a little while longer, for my own entertainment.” Grayson frowns and I end his misery by opening the door wider for him to get through. “I’m kidding. Come in.”
He shuts the door behind him and hangs up his expensive looking coat. He’s probably noticing every fault with the place. I bet he’s feeling relieved to be in such a wealthy position and that he doesn’t have to live in such poor conditions.
“Would you like something to drink?” I ask him, desperate to leave the room whilst he’s in the middle of observing.
“A cup of tea would be lovely thanks,” he says, turning to the fireplace, which hasn’t worked in years. Great.
I slip into the kitchen and make us both a drink. I take my time, as Grayson comes to terms with his new work space in the other room. I can’t hide here forever, so I grab the cups and march towards him. He spins around instinctively and takes the cup from under my hand, muttering his thanks.
Grayson rubs his ear and I find myself tapping my cup, unable to keep still.
I wipe a lock of hair from my face and watch as he takes a large sip of his tea. I forgot to mention that our kettle has a habit of boiling the water at a million degrees. It’s best to leave it cool down before attempting to drink anything.
Before I can warn Grayson, he’s already made the decision to swallow a mouthful. His cheeks turn red and then he spits the tea out. It lands over my t-shirt and I shriek.
“I burnt my tongue!” he shouts, ignoring the fact that he has just spat all over me and I now have to change.
“You ruined my shirt!”
He grins widely. “Oops.”
“You’re not even sorry!”
“I didn’t mean to do it!”
“Stay here. I’m going to get a new top.”
“Well it’s not like I have anywhere else to go is it?” he mumbles, returning to his usual arrogant self. “Can I have a glass of water? I wasn’t lying when I said that I’ve burnt my tongue. Show some compassion at least.”
I stop halfway on the stairs, expressing my annoyance with an eye roll. “There’s a cup on the counter that you can use. Try not to run the tap for too long though, we like to save our water supply for special guests.”
Grayson mutters something under his breath, while turning his back to me, his face nothing but a rigid scowl.
Remind me again why I invited him over?
I get to my room and pull off the damp shirt, replacing it with a stripy jumper. I glance at my reflection. My face is makeup free, and It looks like I haven’t slept in weeks. I twirl my hair into a bun at the top of my head, so it’s out of my eyes and return downstairs, where Grayson is waiting. He’s setting his notes on the small coffee table.
My mind flashes back to that night, where I discovered my mother and the pills perched on that same table top.
Grayson pats the free seat next to him. I sit down, knees knocking together as I let him take the lead for a change. I notice his eyes travel to the oversized jumper I’m wearing and then flicker over the notes in front of us.
“This is what I’ve written down about you so far,” he starts, “You don’t like dogs, you don’t have any brothers or sisters, you’re most grateful for your mother and you enjoy going out on the weekends.”
When he puts it like that, my life doesn’t sound the most exciting.
I glance down at my own research. “What I’ve learned about you Grayson, is that you have a fear of death, you’re most grateful for the house you live in, your dog is called Ernie, your girlfriend’s name is Sophie, you don’t drink and you play golf every Sunday with your dad.”
He blinks hard, taking this in. “Wow, is that really the life I lead? It’s quite depressing.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Despite us meeting up throughout the week, we have only ever left with one or two extra facts about each other, which hasn’t taught us anything really has it?” It’s true. We’ve wasted time avoiding sensitive topics. That’s partly been my fault. He was ready to share his experiences, I wasn’t.
“What should we do then?”
“We need to dig deeper, as much as neither of us want to,” he says.
“Can you start?”
“Alright. Ask me anything you want.”
I’ve got the power and it feels pretty darn satisfying. “If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?”
His lips part and I wait for him to say ‘more money’ or ‘a fancier car.’
He squirms uncomfortably. This is definitely better than watching reality TV.
“I used to wish that I had a brother or sister,” he says, sending me into a coughing fit. “I guess if I could have anything, I would ask for a sibling. It’s not the same when you’re an only child. My parents would buy me whatever I wanted, which was great. But looking back, I remember feeling quite lonely. I may have had the best toys and the best clothes, but it was hard to distinguish who my real friends were."
"My parents were also a lot stricter and protective of me, especially my mother. Sometimes, I felt so much pressure to be the person they wanted me to be, that I lost my sense of direction.”
Grayson’s eyes pull away from mine as I stare at him open mouthed. I was not expecting that. I have never seen Grayson this serious in all the weeks I’ve known him.
He sighs. “You’d better start writing that down, because I’m not going to repeat myself.” There is no trace of warmth in his tone. I grip my pen and jot down everything I can remember, ensuring I don’t miss out any of the important details.
“You seem surprised with my answer,” he says, once I’ve written his confession on paper.
“That’s because I am surprised and also, what you said resonated with me.” I pause to take a breath. “Every Christmas I would wish for a younger sister or brother to come along. But then, that was selfish, because life was hard enough and my mother could barely look after herself. I wouldn’t have wanted someone else to go through what I had to.” We’ve reached uncharted territory and Grayson’s stare has hardened. “Anyway, it’s your turn to ask me a question.”
Grayson scratches the nape of his neck. “Oh yeah, um, do you have any regrets?”
“I regret some of my behaviour. When I was in High school, I would flirt with some of my friends’ boyfriends. This led most of them to turn against me, which is inevitably going to happen.”
Grayson writes this in his book. “Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know. I guess I was angry about my home situation and that my mum was bringing a different man home every night.” He gulps. “They weren’t good friends anyway, but that still doesn’t excuse what I did. I caused people to break up and argue. I wanted to inflict the pain I was feeling onto them in some way. Things only got worse after that.”
“What do you mean? How did it get worse?”
“I started sleeping with different boys. It’s like I was desperate to get away from the house, even for a little while. I lost control and self-respect for myself.” I remember that Grayson is the one listening to me say all of this and my senses kick in. “God, you must think I’m pathetic.”
“Trust me, I’ve heard worse,” he says.
A huge lump has lodged itself somewhere deep in my throat and I’m not sure I can say anything else. “Have you ever been in love Skye?”
Grayson examines my features under closer inspection. My cheeks flame an even more obvious shade of red. The urge to run away is growing stronger by the second. I’m completely exposed.
“Love is a curse in my eyes, it brings two people together only to destroy whatever it is they have.”
“So, are you saying you would rather be alone forever?” he provokes.
I inhale sharp breaths. “I would rather be alone, than risk getting my heart broken. What about you? I’m guessing you’ve had your fair share of relationships, am I right?”
“You’re not wrong.”
I knew it. He is the inventor of cheesy romance.
“But that doesn’t mean I’ve been in love with all the girls I’ve dated. I’ve only ever been in love with one person.”
“Yourself?” I guess.
He snorts and shakes his head. “An old girlfriend of mine. Kate.”
Oh. Now I’m intrigued. “Where is she now then?”
“She um…” he clears his throat. “She cheated on me with one of my best friends.”
Crap. Now I feel like the world’s biggest jerk.
“Sorry. I - I didn’t know.”
“Yeah well, now you do. I really believed that Kate loved me. She was the first girl I fell for, which didn’t help. She took advantage of the fact that I had money and she didn’t. She was from a poor background and I liked her because she was different - I let my guard down. But then, once she started making a name for herself, she threw it all back in my face. Kate basically used me for years.”
Pieces of the puzzle are slowly starting to come together. Grayson has always been aloof - he doesn’t give too much away all at once, and that’s what connects us… not that I’m saying me and Grayson Swain are similar in any shape or form.
But, neither of us are willing to let our guards down, unless we 100% trust a person. The fact that Grayson was cheated on, proves that he has trust issues. He’s worried that he’ll end up meeting another Kate most likely.
Is that why he was so hostile towards the Barnett students in the beginning?
Is it possible that we reminded him of Kate and what she lacked financially, which, in turn, made him bitter and resentful?
He didn’t give us much of a chance to prove ourselves.
“Grayson, not everybody is like Kate,” I tell him.
“I know that.”
“Should we take a break?” I suggest, feeling guilty for assuming I knew him when I obviously don’t know anything.
“Yeah, a break sounds good. I think we’ve both outdone ourselves for the night,” he echoes.
“Definitely. My brain hurts,” I say, chuckling.
“My tongue hurts.”
Our laughter builds, until we’re both hysterical.