Grayson goes home after our second break and for once, we leave on good terms. He may not be my favourite person in the world, but we were able to work together, which is progress. I’ve learned more about him in that one sitting, than all the previous times we met up for our Q & A sessions.
It’s nearing eight o’ clock and I ask Maggie if she can drop me at the hospital. She waves me off as I head into the building.
I follow the twisting staircase and stop when I reach the ward room. I’ve realized that as much as I want to stay mad at my mother, I can’t hold a grudge against her.
I push down on the handle and walk inside, catching mum’s attention as a ray of light floods the dark space. “Skye—” mum uses her elbows to sit herself up.
“I – I’m still struggling to accept what you did,” I force out. “But I’m not angry anymore. I just need you to promise me something.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“You have to promise that you won’t ever try to hurt yourself again. You have to promise that you will try harder – that you will continue to fight. You have to promise me that when the thoughts get unbearably difficult, you will call me or someone you trust.”
A tear rolls down mum’s face. She swipes it away with her free hand. “I promise. I’m so sorry baby girl. It won’t happen again.”
I rush into her arms. She holds me for what seems like an eternity and I know that I’m finally home.
The doctor visits early hours the following morning and mum is told that she’s free to go whenever she likes. They’ve arranged for her to see a therapist every week.
I waver for a moment, as we stand on the doorstep of our house. Mum is turning the key in the door and disappears inside. No matter how hard I try to push down the feeling, I think I felt a lot better knowing mum was at the hospital where the nurses and doctors could keep an eye on her at all times.
Now that she’s home, she has the potential to do anything and I’m the one in charge of making sure that doesn’t happen.
I practically have to drag my legs behind me as I step into the hallway. I kick off my shoes and find mum in her bedroom, face down on the mattress.
“Oh God! I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed sleeping in this bed!”
She starts snoring within a matter of seconds and I roll her over, so she doesn’t smother to death.
My mobile pings in my back pocket and I scowl when I realize who the new message is from.
Rory - How’s your mum doing?
Rory - Sorry I couldn’t talk on the phone the other day. I was caught up in something important.
Pft. Yeah, like sleeping with another girl. I heard her loud and clear. I switch my phone to silent and curl in next to my mother.
The next few days consist of my mum sleeping and recovering from recent events, while I try to piece together the college project in as much detail as I can manage. The only time mum comes out of her room is when she’s in need of a drink, a tablet for her headaches or has to pee. I check on her every chance I get and since I can’t risk going into college, I decide to work from home instead.
I wait for my laptop to load. It’s an old model that doesn’t like co-operating. I’m just logging in when I hear my mother’s voice from behind me.
“What are you doing Skye?” Mum is leaning over my shoulder, her lips parted as she stares at me. I expect to find her dressed in her nightgown, but she’s wearing a pair of dark denim jeans and a pink flowery top. She looks too dolled up to be staying home for the day.
I stay silent for a long moment, not knowing how to react. “Uh, I’m working on the project – just typing up some notes,” I state, a little sceptical about the fresh makeup she’s applied and the waft of perfume emanating from her skin. She is definitely going somewhere.
Mum smiles at me sweetly. “Shouldn’t you be in college?”
Is she trying to get rid of me? It feels like it. “We have an inset day,” I lie.
Mum nods and then her eyes flood with emotion. “Skye, I don’t want you to feel responsible for looking after me. I’m okay… honest.” She sounds genuine, but I can’t believe her.
“Where did the flowers come from?” she asks, diverting her eyes to the table. The flowers Ted bought are still sitting there. The petals have started to wilt a little. I totally forget that they were there.
“I forgot to tell you. Ted brought them over when you were in hospital.”
“Oh, well that was nice of him,” she says, “I’ll have to buy a vase to put them in.”
She reaches for her purse and makes for the door. I quickly get up to follow her.
“Where are you going?”
“To meet Michelle,” she says, shoving on a coat. “We’re going for a coffee.”
I scan her eyes for any indication that she might be lying, but I don’t find anything. I let her get past, stepping to the side so she has access to the door.
“I’ll be fine Skye.”
I chew on my lip ferociously. “Okay.”
She’s with Michelle. What’s the worst that could happen?
I give up on studying halfway into writing about Grayson’s disinterest in drinking. I can’t seem to pinpoint what I’m trying to say about him. So far, it is not going in the direction I had in mind. We’ve still got so much more work to do, but if I don’t start writing something now, I never will.
I keep glancing at the clock on the wall, adding up the hour’s mum has been gone. I know I shouldn’t be worrying. It’s not like she’s with a criminal or stranger. Michelle is her friend. She wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen.
I take a long shower, dry my hair, clean my room, watch some more reality shows and change into my pyjamas. Mum still isn’t back by the time I return to my laptop screen. I send her a quick message, asking if she’s okay and then I press my fingers lightly to the keyboard.
Before I even get the chance to type something, the door knocks.
I leap to my feet and crack the door open slowly. My eyes flash up towards the intruder. It’s Rory.
Without thinking, I shut the door in his face and lean my back against it. He taps at the wood again, more urgently this time.
“Skye, please can we talk?” his voice is desperate and as much I want to ignore him and his persistent knocking, I can’t.
I pull at the door in one sharp movement and Rory backtracks, his face full of surprise. He scratches the back of his head for a few moments, as though he’s figuring out what to say next.
“My mother’s going to be back any minute, so—”
“She’s home?” he gently cuts in. “Since when?”
“Since the doctors gave her the all clear a few days ago,” I tell him.
He appears hurt by this. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I don’t have to tell you everything. And, you didn’t exactly have time for me on the phone the other day.”
Rory stares at me in silence. Then he shakes his head and runs a damp hand through his hair as he breathes, “You don’t know anything alright?”
“No, clearly I don’t!”
He steps towards me. “The reason I wasn’t able to talk, was because I was dealing with a family crisis.” A wave of emotion captures his eyes. I can’t be sure what it is that’s troubling him, because already his eyes are narrowing again.
“I heard a girl’s voice,” I start, “I thought that you’d—” the words catch in my throat, as his stare intensifies.
“I was with a girl,” he clarifies, making me flinch. “My sister and her friend.” I’m not sure I heard him correctly. I’m blinking at him now, registering his words. Once again, I jumped to conclusions before hearing the full story.
Guilt wracks my brain.
“Can I come in? It’s kind of awkward standing in the doorway like this and I would rather speak to you without having the neighbour’s eyes clocking our movements from across the street.”
He’s not far off the mark. I have nosy neighbours. Guaranteed, one of them is likely to be watching from their window right now.
I step to the side as he gently shuts the door behind him. “You take two sugars, don’t you?”
“Uh, yeah,” Rory says, following me into the kitchen.
He places both hands firmly on the kitchen counter and leans his body against it, watching as I shuffle around to make the tea. Our fingers brush slightly as I hand him his cup.
I observe the way he holds it, careful not to spill anything. He’s staring directly at me. I feel my cheeks growing even hotter. I anxiously bite my lip and tilt my head to the side. I then remember that I’m wearing my thin pyjamas that barely cover anything.
“Where’s your mum now?” he asks, lowering his cup onto the surface of the counter. He looks confident as he waits for my reply. I’m the one that’s turning to mush. Maybe it’s because something has shifted between us and I can’t quite put my finger on what that is or what it could mean. Just when I think Rory has left my life for good, he comes running straight back.
“She went out with a friend from work,” I answer shortly. “She’s been gone for a couple of hours.”
“Are you okay with that?”
It’s pointless trying to lie to Rory. He seems to have me already figured out. “No. But I’ve got to trust that she’ll arrive back home in one piece. And Michelle is trustworthy enough.”
We bask in some more silence. “You don’t have to tell me by the way,” I break through the stillness.
His eyes narrow, as he struggles to understand what I’m referring to. “I mean you don’t have to talk about your family crisis… if you don’t want to.” I wouldn’t want him to feel pressured into admitting anything to me. It’s not my place to pry.
I watch Rory’s smile fade as he prepares to answer me. “I don’t like talking about it,” he admits, looking away. “It’s not something I discuss… with anyone.”
I wait patiently, giving him all the time he needs to compose himself. His breath is shaky as he starts from the beginning. “Years ago, my dad was caught drink driving. My mother was in the car with him when he lost control of the wheel.”
I stare at him in shock and I can’t help that my eyes fill with sympathy. I edge closer to him and place a delicate hand over his arm. His jaw tightens.
“He survived – she didn’t,” he finishes.
My mouth pops open. “Wow. I’m so sorry,” is the only thing I can say.
“I was six, my sister was about two,” he goes on to explain, keeping his eyes trained to the floor. “Dad was a heavy drinker - always in the pub. Couldn’t drag him away no matter how hard you tried.” He says this with so much distaste, it’s obvious he’s still angry with his father.
He stares out the window. “My father was a violent man. He hadn’t forgiven himself for what happened to my mother. That just made him even more bitter and aggressive.”
“He didn’t—” I hesitate and force myself to ask, “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
Rory’s eyes reopen slowly, and his reaction alone is enough to silence me. “Luckily, we weren’t with him long enough for it to get too far. It could have been a lot worse.”
I don’t want to ask just how far Rory’s dad went, because I know I won’t like what I hear.
My neck is tensing and I’m finding it hard to swallow. “When did it stop?”
Rory moves to the window, his back turned. “My grandmother came to visit one day, and she couldn’t believe the state the house was in. Dad wasn’t bothered at all. Gran took us in after that. She could see we weren’t being cared for properly.” I feel a surge of relief knowing that he no longer lives with his dad.
I thought my upbringing was difficult, but I’ve been living under a rock this whole time if this is what Rory and his sister have had to deal with. To lose your mother at such a young age, must’ve damaged them both unimaginably. And then to have an abusive father on top of that is hard to come to terms with.
“Do you see your dad anymore?” I ask, watching his back stiffen.
“He’s at a rehabilitation centre,” Rory spits, his voice adopting a harder tone. “I take my sister to visit him sometimes because for some unknown reason she wants to. I stay outside and wait until she’s done. That’s where we were when you called. I was trying to reason with her. I’m older than Jenny, so I remember more of what dad’s character was like back then. I think she forgets how awful he treated us.”
“Would you ever think about maybe seeing him again?”
Almost immediately, I regret asking him this. He pushes himself off the counter and marches away. I quickly follow from behind and nearly crash into his back as he comes to a stop in the middle of the living room.
He spins to me, furious. “Never. I’ll never associate myself with that man,” Rory snarls, his lips barely moving.
I’ve never seen him this angry before. I take slow steps towards him and cup his head in my hands. He tries to shake my grip away, but I won’t let him. “It’s okay to be angry,” I whisper, “You have every right to be mad. What your dad did was wrong… in more ways than one.”
“I can’t forgive him.”
I feel the exact same about my dad. There are always two choices. He chose to walk. I can’t compare my situation to Rory’s, but I do know how it feels to hate a person so much that it hurts.
“I’m messed up Skye,” Rory declares, staring down at me, eyes narrowed. “I don’t know how to do this… any of it.”
I stare back at him evenly. “You don’t have to figure it out on your own. The truth is, I’ve gotten used to having you around Rory and it would be a shame if you disappeared on me… again.”
Rory doesn’t say anything, mostly because I don’t think he knows how to. “And to be honest, I think we’re all a little messed up in our own ways. That’s what makes us perfectly human.”