“Merry Christmas everybody!” Dr Greene claps his hands together, trying to get every-bodies attention back from the small stockings the staff had put on our chairs. I smile as I bite into one of the chocolate bars, savoring the sweetness I’d missed for the last few weeks. Next to me Bryan unpeeled the small satsuma which we’d all been given, filling the air with citrus. “So today I just want to spend some time talking about how we spent our Christmas last year.” The chocolate suddenly feels like it wants to escape back out of my mouth. I try to swallow, gulping from my water bottle to get rid of the remainder.
Last Christmas was four weeks since Dylan’s funeral. I had spent most of the day in his car crying. Inside my parents had spent the day looking at old photographs and crying. They had tried to get me to go to his grave with them, but knowing there wasn’t even a head stone there yet made it feel even more surreal.
As Dr Greene goes round the room I can feel myself start to panic. My hands start to sweat. My heart starts to palpitate. My lungs don’t seem to be able to get enough air into them. Lights start to dance in front of my eyes. Dr Greene looks over at me as the girl to the right of me talks about her family vacation to Paris for last Christmas. He pauses when she finally finishes. Then he calls on Bryan to speak. I gulp, and try to let him know how thankful I am through my eyes. Bryan seems a bit pissed that I didn’t have to speak, but begrudgingly tells us all that he spent last Christmas in bed recovering from a really bad hangover before going out again that night. “My mom was unthrilled.” He chuckles, running his fingers through his hair, shaking out the length.
“Well, thanks guys and gals. Enjoy your presents, and we’ll see you all at one for lunch!” Dr Greene stands, pushing his chair back. The room fills with the sound of people excitedly talking, and chairs being scraped across the linoleum. He fixes his eyes on me, but before he can make his way across the room to me, Bryan leans over.
“You wanna maybe hang out for a bit?” I bite my lip and nod my head. I glance up at Dr Greene, and he shakes his head a little before walking off in the direction of his office.
“I..uh..I just need to go do something first. Maybe meet in my room in like half an hour?”
“Yeah, ok. No problem.” He shrugs and wanders off.
I raise my hand to knock on Dr Greene’s door but he pulls it open before I make contact so I end up striking his chest.
“Sorry!” I giggle, and he sighs.
“I’m not going to always be this lenient on you Rosa-Lee. You need to start talking in group. Although it looks like you might have made a friend?” He raises an eyebrow and shakes his head slightly. “Have fun, but be good.”
“Now how am I supposed to have fun and be good?” I giggle again as he frowns.
Bryan is already sat on the floor in front of the tv in my room when I get back.
“No way! You have Moonwalker on Megadrive!” He looks up at me excitedly. “This game is fucking awesome.”
I’ve spent nearly every day since Christmas hanging out with Bryan. He’s so funny, and easy to talk to. He spends most of his time showing off, trying to get people to laugh at the stupid things he’s doing or saying. It’s like he’s bouncing off the walls most of the time.
Most of the time.
Today he is lying in bed in the dark.
For the second day in a row.
I sit on the end of his bed with crossed legs trying to get him to talk to me. He just grunts in response to anything I say. I eventually get pissed off and stomp out of his room.
Fuck him then.
When group starts I am surprised to see him actually sitting there on the faded green plastic chair. He scowls at me as I walk into the room, so I sit next to Dr Greene, a few people filling the space between us.
“Good afternoon guys.” Dr Greene takes a slurp of his coffee, setting the mug down under his chair. “Who feels like sharing with us today, hmm?” He looks round at everyone with a smile. “No takers? Ok then. Today I think Bryan should share with us. Bryan?”
All eyes turn towards the glowering teenager.
“Do I even have a fucking choice.” He spits.
“Of course you do. But I think you are having a bad couple of days and I think talking might help.” Dr Greene patiently replies.
“Fine.” Bryan huffs, and squirms in his chair. “I’m having a manic episode because I didn’t take my meds.” I think I gasp a little, and find myself leaning forward in my chair so I can see his face properly.
“Why did you stop taking your meds?” A painfully thin girl sitting the other side of Dr Greene asks.
“Because I hate not feeling anything.” Bryan sinks in his chair a little, leaning his head on the back of it. “But feeling everything fucking sucks too.”
“Well if you’re not getting on with the dosage of the current tablets you should have come and spoken to me and we can change your treatment.” Dr Greene clicks his tongue.
“Yeah. I guess.” Bryan shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders.
The skinny girl starts talking about how she managed to eat a whole meal yesterday without thinking about the calories. I tune her out and keep looking at Bryan.
I’d never seen him not wearing a long sleeved top, and now he’d pushed the sleeves up on the Nirvana top he was wearing today and was rubbing his forearms. Even from this distance I could see the pale scars which ran up the insides of both his arms. He catches me staring and quickly pulls them back down, sitting forward in his chair to glare at me again. I lower my eyes to the floor, feeling my cheeks getting warm under his hateful gaze.
I avoid him for the next few days, which is easy to do as he doesn’t show up to group for the rest of the week.
I am lying on my stomach on the bed, trying to study for my high school equivalency exam, listening once again to Nine Inch Nails, when I hear a knock on my door. I look over my shoulder and see Bryan standing awkwardly in the doorway. His hair is pulled back into a ponytail, showing his undercut which he’s dyed bright red since the last time I saw him.
“Um. Yeah. Thanks.” He rubs the back of his neck. “Can I come in?”
“Sure.” I push my books onto the floor and shuffle up the bed so there’s room for him to sit down. He kicks off his boots and crosses his legs. “How are you feeling now?”
“Better. Greene has changed my meds so...” He trials off, seemingly engrossed in the sleeves of his hoodie. “Look. I’m sorry about before. I just...it’s hard when I crash.”
I shrug, trying to look like I understand what he’s talking about. He looks up at me, and for a moment I loose myself in his chocolate colored eyes.
“I’m all kindsa fucked up, Lee.” He quirks up the side of his mouth a little.
“Me too.” I almost whisper. He puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me in for a slightly awkward hug.
“What the fuck is an alligator operator?!” We both snigger.
It’s almost three in the morning, and we’ve been snuggled together on my bed watching tv and talking for so long that we’re now left with the shitty tv job adverts which run after the regular programming has finished.
“S’up Lee?” He moves the hair back from my eyes, tucking it behind my ear.
“Why are you in here?”
He sighs and sits up, leaning against the bedhead.
“I’ve got manic depression, and after I tried to kill myself my folks sent me here.” He rolls his sleeves up, and I can see the scars better, and runs his thumbs up them, from his wrists up to the inside of his elbows. “I drink too much to try and drown out the thoughts, but I feel like I’m stuck in a room with no doors or windows most of the time.” He wipes away the tears which have escaped my eyes. “Why are you in here?”
“My....my brother was killed last year.” He snakes his hand into mine, and squeezes my fingers slightly. “I didn’t cope very well, and spent the last year in a haze of drink and drugs. Trying to drown out the thoughts too I guess. I overdosed on heroin on my birthday and, well, here I am.”
“Fuck. How did you afford to get that wasted for a whole year?”
“I met people....they were happy to take um, other forms of payment...” I trail off, swallowing the rising bile at the thoughts of the sinful things I’d done in order to get drugs. I’d always thought my first time would be with a nice guy after a date or something, not with a forty year old man with dirty fingernails and greasy hair, in an alleyway behind a night club, for a couple of pills. I shudder, and Bryan pulls me closer, wrapping one of arms around me and taking my hand in his other one.
As I intertwine our fingers together I notice how big his hand looks compared to mine.
For the first time since Dylan died I feel protected.
I almost feel happy.