THE NEXT DAY DONNA SAT OPPOSITE DOCTOR REYNOLDS IN HER OFFICE, DREADING WHAT WAS TO COME. It was inevitable.
‘I’m sorry Donna, but obviously you won’t be allowed to go on any more unsupervised trips for the time being.’
Her mouth dropped open. ‘What if I promise not to do anything like it again?’
Shaking her head the doctor replied, ‘That’s not good enough. You tried to hoodwink us once already, and it almost worked. From now on we’ll be watching you much more closely, and you’ll only be able to go out when you’re accompanied by someone else.’
Donna pulled a face. Maybe she’d made a mistake to attempt suicide on the roof of the building. Or then again perhaps she should have gone through with it. Damn Evan, she thought to herself. He’d convinced her there was always hope – but now she doubted his words as she realised the kind of life they’d force her to lead.
Back in her room, she spent the rest of the morning reading a book by Wilbur Smith, an African adventure and surprised herself by being able to stick with it. After lunch, she saw an old film on the television, a western starring Kirk Douglas.
Later, she had her usual hour-long therapy session with Doctor Reynolds, trying to lecture her on the meaning of life and ways of lifting her self-esteem. She understood the principles of positive thinking and of suppressing negative thoughts, but theory was all very well - putting this into practice was another thing altogether. Towards the end of their time Donna’s mind began to wonder, which the doctor seemed to pick up on, as she ended the interview prematurely much to her patient’s relief.
For the rest of the day, Donna couldn’t stop thinking about Evan. In fact she had to concede she found him attractive, and that frightened her. What if he liked her too? But surely that would never happen. He must be married with children, or have a steady girlfriend. It wouldn’t even cross his mind.
Suddenly while she lay on her bed trying to read, out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed someone standing in the doorway. It was Evan. He wore a long coat over jeans and blue tee shirt - obviously off duty. He was smiling and looked genuinely curious at what she was doing.
‘Hi-ya,’ he began. ‘Just thought I’d pay you a visit, see how you are.’
‘Oh, thanks,’ she said stiffened, feeling herself blush which was embarrassing and annoying.
‘All right if I come in for a couple of minutes?’
‘Yes, so long as it is only a few minutes. I’m tired and I need to rest. But sit down if you want.’ She pointed to the end of the bed.
He seemed uncomfortable as he sat there, looking tongue-tied. It appeared it would be up to her to break the ice.
‘Busy day?’ she asked him.
‘Yeah, a bit. You know what it’s like.’
‘Can’t be very pleasant having to deal with all the nut cases in here – people like me.’ Donna was unable to look him in the eye and wished her blushing would subside.
‘They’re not all nut cases. Just ordinary people like you and me, who are ill and need help. Mind you, it can be pretty scary at times, especially when they try to throw themselves off the top of a building.’ He took in a deep breath.
‘Talking about me again, are you?’
‘Sure I am. But you’re not the only one. It’s amazing what lengths some folks will go to. You never get used to it, you know. You grow hardened to it, but it doesn’t get any easier.’
‘I can well imagine.’ She visualised a scene of herself being in a room of mentally-ill people, but would never class herself as one of them. ‘I could never do what you do. Even the smell of disinfectant makes me feel sick.’
He laughed revealing a perfect set of white teeth. ‘You seem in better spirits than yesterday.’
‘Oh sure, a bundle of laughs, me. Especially as from now on it’s me and my shadow for the foreseeable future.’
‘Well, if you will try to jump off the roof, what do you expect?’ The corners of his mouth moved upwards and his eyes seemed to be laughing. ‘Seriously though, I’m at a loss to understand why someone like you should want to do that. You’re really pretty apart from that tomboy haircut of yours.’
Donna moved her pillow to stand it up behind her, so that she could get more comfortable. She touched her hair, which though styled short was slowly getting back to normal. ‘Self-inflicted, I’m afraid.’
‘Had a bit of a brainstorm. I wanted to see what I’d look like bald. Trying to outdo Britney Spears I think.’
‘It’s a good job it’s not permanent, or you’d be called a few names.’
‘What do I care? There’re worse things in life.’
‘Well, it’ll grow back in time,’ he smiled stroking his strong jaw as if he was contemplating something. ‘So, why don’t you tell me what all this is about?’
‘There’s nothing to tell.’ She turned away from him.
‘Come on Donna, who are you trying to kid?’
‘Perhaps I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Well, that’s your prerogative, but it usually helps if you share your problems with someone.’
‘God, you sound like Doctor Reynolds. What, has she sent you here to soften me up, get me to talk to you after I wouldn’t speak to her?’ She stared at him now to see how he’d react.
He just smiled, then got up from the bed. ‘If that’s what you think, perhaps I should go.’
‘No, wait,’ she said surprising herself by the speed of her reply.
‘All right, so are you going to tell me what’s bugging you – or not? Must have been rather drastic for you to shave your head, and then to try suicide... twice, isn’t it?’
She sighed and frowned, moving again to adjust her pillow.
‘I can see you must have been very distressed. But even with that short hair, anyone would have to be blind not to notice how beautiful you are. That gives you a head start on most other folks. I’ll bet you get loads of guys wanting to chat you up. So why on earth did you do it?’
‘That’s got nothing to do with you – and besides I don’t want lots of guys trying to chat me up.’
‘Come on. If I were in your shoes, I’d feel pretty damn good about myself.’
‘Oh shut up, will you?’ She rubbed her eyes with her hands, before continuing, ‘I’m sick of people saying that, and thinking I’ve got an advantage over everyone else. Change the bloody record Evan, or you can leave - right now.’
‘All right, all right.’ He held up his big hands in protest. ‘I’m sorry.’
After a few minutes, she looked up at him. There were tears trickling down her cheeks. He made to go to her, but she flinched, moving away from him, her eyes full of terror.
‘If I’ve offended you... I apologise. Anyway, perhaps you’re right, I’d better get going, I have to get home for my tea. Mum doesn’t like to be kept waiting, let me tell you.’
‘Good, you’ll be better off there, rather than stopping here talking to a sicko like me.’
‘You’re wrong about that, babe, and I would like to come and see you again, if you agree. Although I don’t suppose you’ll want me too now. But you will get well again and when you do it will make a big difference to me, having helped you in a small way.’ He moved over to stand by the door.
‘I’ll never get any better. And one of these days when somebody’s guard is down, I might just try to do it again and this time I will succeed.’ She sniffed, wiping the tears away with her fingers.
‘You don’t mean that. All right so you’re feeling low, but you won’t always be this bad – someday you’ll start to get well. And that’s when you can use what you have in abundance to… help … you...’ But as soon as he’d uttered the words he realised he’d said the wrong thing and swore under his breath.
She literally shook with anger. ‘I know what you’re insinuating. Right that’s it. Fuck off Evan. My parents used to keep saying that and it drove me mad. You’re no better than them. Don’t bother coming again because I won’t talk to you.’
She couldn’t look at him after that.
‘Listen Donna, I’m sorry if I put my foot in it again. I didn’t mean it like that...’
She covered her earsand closed my eyes, determined not to remove her hands until he’d gone. After several minutes she looked up to see if he was still there, and to her relief he had left her alone. Thank God.
The very idea he might see her in the same way as her parents made her blood boil. She even considered he was in league with them. She wouldn’t put it past them. Perhaps he’d stay away from now on – because he was only making matters worse.
Over the next few days there was no sign of him. But she grew annoyed with herself as a tiny part of her actually wished he had come to see her. Maybe he’d taken the hint. On reflection she admitted it would be nice to have someone care about her welfare - after all he’d already put himself in danger on her account. In her mind’s eye she saw him stumble on the edge of the roof – and shuddered.
It was lunchtime a week later, Donna was sitting on a bench in the grounds of the hospital with a nurse, when she caught sight of Evan walking across the road towards them. He wore the same black coat as before; it looked like he was just coming in to work. Thinking he would probably pass them by, she was amazed when he stopped in front of them. Donna bowed her head, and turned in the other direction, intent on ignoring him. When he spoke however, it wasn’t to her.
‘Tracey, mind if I take over for a while. I’ll bring Donna back to her room in say about half an hour.’
‘Something wrong? Or do you have a vested interest in her?’ Tracey asked, perhaps a little annoyed by Evan’s intervention.
‘Sort of. I’m the guy who prevented her from jumping off the top of the building - remember. So ever since then, I’ve tried to look out for her.’
‘Ah well, be my guest. I could do with a break anyway,’ Tracey said before departing from the scene.
Evan sat down, and keeping a little distance between them, turned to face her, looking worried and on edge. ‘Nice day, isn’t it Donna? Warm and sunny – too nice to be in a drab hospital like this eh?’
Donna nodded, smoothed her hair, and looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
His clear blue eyes looked sad as he said, ‘I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted, so if you like me to take you back to your room, I will.’
She’d noticed the hurt in his voice. ‘No, it’s all right. I suppose I’ll have to put up with you, won’t I? Stopping in that blasted room is driving me nuts.’
He gave her a slight smile, then opened a packet of crisps and started crunching away, which irritated her. ‘Sorry I haven’t been to see you before now, but I’ve been off work the past week with the flu.’
‘Oh really, what a shame,’ she lied.
‘Listen, I wanted to give you something by way of an apology for upsetting you the other night.’ He cleared his throat, looking down to the ground.
Donna’s heart raced, hoping he hadn’t spent a lot of money on her. That would be so embarrassing. Her face reddened yet again.
She turned her head towards him, watching him rummaging about in his coat pocket. From that she guessed it had to be something small. Opening his hand she saw a little plastic bag embossed with a logo that looked to be from a High Street Jewellers shop. Her hands were shaking, but she took it from him anyway. When she opened the bag, she gasped, then looked up at him, almost lost for words, and pulled out a packet of wine gums. This astonished then angered her before suddenly she saw the funny side. She tried to suppress a grin by covering her mouth with the bag of sweets.
‘I suppose you think that’s funny?’
‘Well, everyone likes wine gums - don’t they?’ he said with an air of innocence on his face.
‘Yes, but –’
‘I don’t know what you were expecting, but I thought it best to get something small that you’ll like, rather than wasting money on something you might hate.’
‘As a matter of fact I do like them.’ She smiled, popping a yellow one into her mouth.
‘Well, at least I made you smile.’
‘Maybe you did, but it won’t work a second time.’ She grinned, offering him the bag of sweets. He took one from the bag.
‘We’ll see about that, Donna. So how have you been keeping since last we met?’
‘How do you think? And now you’ve turned up again like a bad penny, I feel even worse.’
‘Oh, sorry about that. I was trying to be friendly and get you to laugh.’ He looked hurt again.
‘Don’t worry, only joking.’ She shook her head as she popped another wine gum in her mouth.
’So what does ‘The doc’ say? I can see she’s put certain restrictions on you, which is quite understandable - so do you have someone watch you twenty-four hours a day?’
‘Looks like it. There’s not even a lock on the bathroom door. I did think about sticking my head down the toilet bowl and drowning myself, only I can’t squeeze it down because the bowl’s too small. Don’t worry though, I’ll think of something else. I’m a clever girl when I want to be.’
‘My doctor says it’ll be a while before I’m allowed out on my own again. I’ll just have to be patient - won’t I?’
‘Maybe that’s where I could help...’ he began, putting his hand to his chin as if deep in thought.
‘Well, unless you’ve got some influence over Doctor Reynolds, I’d say that’ll be rather difficult.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘We’ll see about that. What if I was to offer to take you out with me? I feel sure she’d agree. She’d trust me seeing as I’m the one that stopped you from jumping. Why don’t I give it a go? It’ll make your life a bit more bearable, if you can put up with me, that is.’
‘You’re joking, aren’t you? I’d rather stop in my room or walk around the grounds with Tracey.’ She gave him a slight smile.
‘Ok, suit yourself babe. No one can say I didn’t try.’ He shrugged his shoulders.
‘And besides, what’s in it for you?’
‘Nothing. Sure, I’d like to get to know you better, find out what makes you tick - but that’s only so I can help you get well.’
‘You really think I’d tell you anything?’
‘I don’t know. That’s up to you. But I’m a good listener.’
‘A nosy parker, more like,’ she said, smiling at him in a sarcastic way.
’Well think about it, and in the meantime I’ll have a word with ‘the doc’ – OK?’
‘Anyway, it’s time we got back. I’m due to start work now and the nurses will wonder where you are.’
They walked back into the hospital together, and Evan took her back to her room. The thought of going back sickened her, but there was nowhere else she was allowed to go.
‘I’ll be seeing you then, Donna.’
‘In your dreams Evan.’ She pulled a face, still not sure whether she wanted to go with him or not.
As she sat back on the bed, she couldn’t stop thinking about Evan’s suggestion. Could he do what he’d said, and even if he could, what was he really after? If it was anything more than friendship he’d be in for a nasty shock! Maybe he had saved her life, but in doing that, might he try to take advantage of her and meddle with her fragile feelings? Well, not if she could help it. Yet though she was wary of him, he was constantly on her mind.