THAT NIGHT DONNA LAY AWAKE THINKING ABOUT HER DAY WITH EVAN. It had been so pleasant, but having to meet his family at his house afterwards had been something of an ordeal. Of course it was Evan’s sister, Theresa, who had left a lasting mark on her. At first, like everyone, she’d been shaken by the sight of Theresa, but once they got talking, her opinion changed completely.
The time spent with this lovely family had made Donna’s own troubles seem insignificant and forced her to pause for thought. Maybe this was what Evan in conjunction with Doctor Reynolds had intended – but whatever their intention, it had certainly helped, and now whenever she felt low she’d think about Theresa’s plight.
The following morning, at their next session, Doctor Reynolds seemed keen to find out how Donna’s first outing had gone, and looking at her over gold-rimmed spectacles, asked, ‘So how did you get on?’
‘Oh, all right. Not too bad at all.’
‘Good, glad to hear it, my dear.’ There was a hint of a smile on her heavily wrinkled face. ‘If you wish, and young Evan is willing, I see no reason why he can’t take you out again, so long as he stays with you at all times, and keeps us informed about your movements.’
‘Thanks doctor. I’ll bear that in mind. I suppose you know all about Theresa, his sister?’ Donna couldn’t stop herself from mentioning.
‘Yes, it’s terrible for that happen to such a lovely girl. But I can’t help but admire her spirit. And from what I hear she never complains or feels sorry for herself. She’s an example to us all.’
Donna smiled still feeling a little guilty over her behaviour during these last few months, but nevertheless she believed any woman would have been severally traumatised in some way or another.
‘Mind you, Evan’s family have had a lot to contend with over the past few years. Not only has Theresa suffered, but Evan himself has had his fair share of problems. He was a very talented footballer, but then he had a bad injury breaking his ankle in several places. He was on crutches for over a year, and even now, you may have noticed he walks with a limp. Unsurprisingly, it finished his career.’
‘He told me about his accident, but not much else.’ Donna stared at the Doctor pointedly.
‘Perhaps that’s why he took it upon himself to help you like he did.’
‘I might not be here now if it hadn’t been for him. I was at the end of my tether and still am at times.’
‘Yes, I know you are, my dear. But that’s not all Evan has had to contend with. For a long time, his father suffered dreadfully with stomach cancer, then died about two years ago. And I seem to remember there may have been some trouble with his brother as well, but I can’t go into the details.’ She nodded as if to bring home the point.
‘How come you know all this about him and his family? And why are you telling me all of these things anyway?’ Donna asked eyeing the doctor suspiciously.
‘I’ve told you because I thought you might be interested. I wanted you to see that you’re not on your own – lots of people have gone through worse than you and still come out the other side.’
‘Doctor, I’m not stupid. Maybe it’s not such a good idea that I make friends with Evan and his folks after all, not with my track record. Ok, he’s a nice guy but now you’ve told me those things about him and his family, I’m not sure I want to add to their problems.’
Doctor Reynolds tutted. ‘Donna, you wouldn’t be, but I gather you enjoyed your time out with him.’
At that, Donna’s anger heightened, and she leaned over onto the desk. ‘Trying to act as a matchmaker, are you doctor? As well as being a shrink of many talents.’
‘You should know it’s not appropriate for a nurse to have a relationship with a patient. I’m just doing my job the same as anybody else, but I can only help people who genuinely want to be helped. If they don’t, there’s nothing anyone can do. I was hoping with Evan’s help, I might get you to see that you have much to live for.’
‘Oh spare me all the clap-trap. You don’t have a clue, do you? You and your devious little tricks. I bet you thought you’d seen through me, well you haven’t. I don’t want to speak to you anymore. Or anyone else.’ She suddenly jumped up from her seat. ‘I can’t turn my feelings on and off like a tap.’
‘I know you can’t. Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not scheming or playing tricks. It’s obvious you’re genuinely ill – that’s why I intend seeing this case through no matter what it takes. Your parents are paying me a lot of money to help you and by God that’s what I’m going to do.’
‘Doctor Reynolds, I’d like to be taken to my room now please. I have nothing more to say to you.’
‘Of course, if that’s what you want,’ the doctor said without showing any emotion.
In the confinement of her room, she sensed the familiar feelings of anxiety and panic starting to kick in. The urge to hurt herself once more was strong, but remembering her time with Theresa, she resisted the temptation, and slowly returned to normal. As she calmed down, she worried that she’d been too hard on the doctor and should apologise - perhaps tomorrow, if the chance arose. In the meantime, trying to put it to the back of her mind she switched on the television, and watched a ridiculous quiz show. It didn’t really interest her, but it certainly beat staring at four grey walls.
While she did this, her thoughts returned to various incidents in her life and more especially over what the doctor had said. And how nice would it be, to be able to go wherever she liked. She wanted to get better, and hated the idea of remaining in hospital, but despite stopping her from making further suicide attempts, there was little they could do to take away the fear that remained inside her. The memory of the rape and the dread that one day her attacker would hurt her again were vivid and frightening.
She needed something to occupy her mind, and maybe going with Evan again might ease her fears, so long as he didn’t try to get involved with her. So when, a few days later, he paid her a visit she was quite pleased to see him. It was late evening, he had his coat on, obviously having just finished work.
‘Hi Donna. I’ve only come to see how you are and ask if you’d like to come out with me again.’ His lips were poised tentatively.
‘That might not be a good idea, Evan. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about me.’
‘Come on – I’m not likely to, am I? I’d never try to take advantage of a girl like you. No way. Besides, it wouldn’t be ethical, with you being a patient and me a nurse. All I want to do is to help you get better, and out of this place. Sure, it would be nice be your friend rather than your enemy - but that’s all, I promise you.’ As he said this he looked quite serious and earnest.
‘All right, I believe you. Ok, now we’ve got that cleared up, I’d be delighted to come.’
‘Brilliant.’ He was beaming all over his face. ‘So what about tomorrow? The weather’s supposed to be a bit cooler although still dry. How about a drive into the country? Bodwick Green is only about twenty miles away. If you’re game, we could cycle over the hills. I can still ride pretty well even with my bad leg. What do you reckon?’
‘All right. I’m not exactly fit and it’s been years since I rode a bike, but I could do with the exercise having been stuck in here for so long.’
’Great stuff. I’ll speak to ’the doc’, and fingers crossed I’ll come for you around nine o’clock sharp.’ And with that he left.
She saw how pleased with himself he’d looked before saying goodbye to her. Immediately she felt apprehensive again, sensing he might be attracted to her. But if he ever tried anything she would kick, scratch and scream if need be. Although perhaps she shouldn’t be so negative - there must be a few good people in the world, and after all he was a nurse, a person with responsibility. Maybe she should give him the benefit of the doubt and not jump to conclusions.
She was dressed and ready at the arranged time of nine o’clock, wearing faded denims and a light blue top. She’d put on trainers and had packed a thin grey blouson in a backpack in case the weather was cold.
He arrived suitably dressed for the outdoors and it seemed to her he was eyeing her up when he said ‘You really are very attractive, you know.’
‘You’re joking aren’t you? I’m wearing the oldest clothes I could find, and we’re only going bike riding, aren’t we?’ She felt uneasy with the amount of attention he was giving her.
‘You still look fantastic.’
She raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes, to show him how irritated she was by these compliments.
The journey to Bodwick Green, an area of outstanding natural beauty, took an hour by car. They had difficulty finding a suitable parking spot, as the car park was already almost full, and had to settle for a place quite a way from the park itself. Obviously it was a very popular place to visit.
At the edge of the car park was a small complex, consisting of a log cabin selling souvenirs and grocery, and next door a small shop displaying a sign ‘Cycles for Hire’. There were several people up ahead hiking, whilst others were simply taking their dogs for a walk.
Donna looked at the green hills and the rest of the terrain, feeling a little quiver of dread. There was no chance of her cycling up and down those hills. It would kill her. And when Evan suddenly smiled in that boyish way of his, she realised he’d noticed her reservations. ‘What you laughing at?’ She said.
‘You – getting a bit worried, are you? About all these hills. Listen, by the time I’m finished with you, you’ll have legs like a marathon runner.’
‘Don’t want legs like a marathon runner. I’m happy with the legs I’ve got – thank you very much. But seriously Evan, I’ll never make it up there.’
‘Me neither. Don’t worry; I know a few tracks around here that avoid the worst of these hills. It’s mostly flat, I promise.’
And as they walked towards the hut to hire the cycles she kept telling herself she had to trust him and would try to relax in his company.
After hiring the cycles for a nominal fee, they set off, but Donna kept worrying he’d exaggerated the bit about this flat cycle track that avoided the worst of the rugged terrain. Well, she’d find the truth soon enough.
The track began behind the two huts and to her relief one of the tracks skirted the bottom of the hills and was pleasant to ride on.
Donna viewed the scenery as they rode ever further, and found it breath-taking, indeed the area was unspoilt and even had hides for bird watchers to view rare species. Although enjoying herself, after a time, she began to worry about how they’d get back. Evan seemed to have the energy of a horse, and ignored her constant pleas to turn round.
Eventually, enough was enough, she had to stop. She put her feet down on the ground, allowing him to continue on his own. He turned his head back to her after only a few seconds.
‘Come on Donna, what’s the matter with you?’ he grinned, seeing she was out of breath, and had a sweat masked face.
‘Evan, it’s no good - I can’t carry on any longer. How am I going to make it back? It’ll take forever.’
He started laughing again.
‘What’s so funny now?’
‘The look on your face.’
‘Something wrong with the look on my face?’ she glared at him.
‘No, of course not. I’ll tell you what, come and cycle with me a little further and tell me what you see.’
She wasn’t convinced, but had no choice but to do what he said. Then sure enough there below in a valley was a small town, with lots of houses, a few shops and a park.
‘What difference does that make?’ She was puzzled, and a little irritated.
‘Well, that’s the town of Mosford. Very pretty, don’t you think? There just happens to be a train station there. We hop on the train with our bikes, get off at the second stop, Wydesley, then ride back to Bodwick Green, about a mile away from where we parked the car. Now do you get it?’
‘I suppose, but I’m warning you, if this is a wild goose chase there’ll be trouble.’ She wagged a finger at him.
He just smiled, then continued to cycle. She followed.
Forty five minutes later, after their short train journey from Mosford, they were stepping on to the platform at Wydesley. And as they walked through the village Donna felt a pang of hunger and decided she couldn’t take another step. ‘Evan, I’m famished, isn’t there anywhere to eat in this damned place?’
‘There’s a pub around the corner,’ he said pointing to his left.
‘Doesn’t that rather defeat the object?’
‘Yes, but at least we won’t put any weight on,’ he laughed as they approached the old half-timbered pub. There was a beer garden round the back, where they took their bikes. While Evan went inside the pub to order a meal and get them a drink, Donna found a table with a sun umbrella.
The garden was deserted and for a few fleeting seconds on her own in a place she hadn’t been to before, came a strong urge in the pit of her stomach to run away, as panic swept through her. The memories of her attacker came back vividly and even now feared he might be lurking in the undergrowth.
When Evan returned with the drinks, looking quite pleased with himself, Donna’s tension slowly melted away into the background.
‘Are you all right Donna, you seem a little flushed?’
‘Yes I’m fine, just thinking back to something that happened in my past.’
‘Well, whatever it was, try to forget it. Don’t let it spoil your day – eh?’
She gave him an uneasy smile, but once the meal came they both seemed to be more interested in eating their meal of steak, chips and peas. After that she began to relax in his company.
‘So how was your food?’ he asked her finally.
‘Very nice, I enjoyed it.’ The evidence of an empty plate was there in front of her.
‘Want to come back to my house again afterwards? Theresa keeps asking about you - she’d love to see you again. She really likes you, you know.’
Donna was taken aback. But was this just a ploy to get her to go to his house.
‘Maybe, but I am rather tired. My legs are killing me. And anyway I’m not sure I’m worthy of her friendship.’
‘Oh come on - don’t be so hard on yourself. A little bird told me you’re quite a brainbox, and you have a degree in Mathematics, first class I believe. That’s something to be proud of, isn’t it?’
‘And who’s told you that?’ It was as if this was a secret no one should know about.
‘It seems to me Doctor Reynolds is very good at revealing things about people. She’s even told me a thing or two about you.’ An ironic smile formed on her face.
‘Has she now? All right, so what did she say?’
When she told him, his eyes widened with surprise or was it shock – Donna couldn’t be sure.
’Well I never. In that case, maybe I should tell you the full story. Naturally, I was devastated when I learned I’d never play football again, so much so that I turned to drink and drugs, and almost killed myself one night in the process. Only the quick thinking of an off-duty police officer, who found me unconscious in a pub car park, saved my life.
‘It took me a long time to get back on the straight and narrow, but I through the job I have now, I’ve regained my self-respect. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself.’
‘I can see you’ve had quite a few troubles of your own – haven’t you?’
‘Not only my own troubles but dad dying and Cole’s problems as well. He was a tearaway when he was young and went off the rails in a big way. He couldn’t keep a job and kept getting into fights and had the police after him too. Luckily mum got him into the army, or he might have ended up in prison. In fact, even now when he comes home on leave, he goes on a bit of a bender. To let his hair down, he says.’
Donna raised her eyebrows.
‘I don’t suppose you’ll want me to take you out again now you know all this.’ Biting his top lip and stroking the back of his head, he waited nervously for a reply.
‘Evan, everybody’s human after all. It just proves you and your family are like the rest of us.’
‘Now you can see I do have some idea of what you’re going through, having experienced something similar myself.’
She sat back in her chair, went quiet; unable to look at him straight in the eye. ‘I don’t think you do, Evan. You can’t begin to imagine – nobody can.’
‘Well, as I said before, if you want to tell me about it, I’m a very good listener.’
Donna shook her head vigorously. ‘I’d like to go now, please.’
He didn’t say much after that, wary it seemed, that to pursue the matter would only cause more trouble.
When they arrived back at Evan’s house later that afternoon, the weather had suddenly changed to torrential rain. Hurriedly, they ran towards the house. Donna was impressed when he gave her his coat to shelter under. He opened the door, allowing her to go in first.
There was music coming from the living room, a keyboard by the sounds of it, which could only belong to one person – Theresa. As Evan opened the door, they stood by the doorway, taking in the scene – Theresa at her keyboard playing a melodic tune, their mother sitting on the sofa enthralled. They were captivated by the beauty of the music.
Theresa’s face lit up when Donna entered the room, she smiled at her with affection, but carried on playing until the piece was finished, highly delighted with her audience.
At the end of it, they clapped and cheered loudly, their eyes and faces beaming with pleasure. When Donna told her how brilliant she was, Theresa looked thrilled to bits, and her eyes sparkled. She even blushed slightly.
Donna felt so sorry for her. If only someone had a magic potion to get rid of her terrible affliction.
‘Theresa, you are so talented. Has it always been that way?’
‘I’ve always had a deep interest in music, ever since I was a little girl. I remember having a keyboard when I was about five or six and I used to have lessons. Before long, I only had to hear a tune and I could play it. I stopped playing when dad was ill, and then after he died, I took it up again, to help me get over his death. And lately having had to give up work, I’ve got into it even more. I’d play all day and all night if that was possible. It’s amazing, but it’s only in the last year or so that these tunes have been popping into my head. I don’t know where they come from, but I’m glad they do.’
‘So why don’t you do something about it?’ Donna suggested, thinking what a shame this talent had only been heard by three people.
‘Like what?’ Theresa’s face was full of uncertainty.
‘How about making a tape or a CD and sending it out to someone? Like to a radio station or a record company or even television programme. We could also include some info on you. You never know what might happen.’
‘Hey, that’s a brilliant idea, so long as Theresa doesn’t mind being in the limelight,’ Evan agreed nodding, then looking at his mother said. ‘What do you reckon mum?’
‘That’s a difficult question.’ She looked strangely frightened by the suggestion. ‘I don’t want lots of people staring at my little girl.’
‘I don’t mind, honestly mum. Let them think what they want – I don’t care. It used to hurt me, but not anymore. I am what I am and if people can’t accept me, then I feel sorry for them. I promise you that deep down inside I have so much music in me. It makes me feel better, and if I can bring a little joy to somebody’s life, then it’ll be worth it – don’t you think?’ Theresa’s spirits seemed to be lifted by Donna’s suggestion.
‘Yes, I do. That’s if you’re game, sis? You have a special talent, so why don’t we arrange to make a demo tape of you and then see what happens.’
‘But first let’s make sure it’s what you really want to do. I don’t want you to feel you’re being pushed into it, like I always did.’ Donna was sure, from the way Theresa reacted to her suggestion, that this was what she’d wanted all along – it just needed someone to bring it out in her.
‘Are you sure this is a good idea mum?’ Evan said turning to her, but she was biting her lip, as if torn between the two options.
‘I’m mixed up inside. My heart says yes, but my head says to be very careful.’
Theresa face dropped slightly at her mother’s attitude. Which was understandable – it was natural for a mother to worry over her daughter, especially one in such a predicament.
‘Look, I know you all want to protect me, but I’m a big girl now. I can take what anybody throws at me. I’m no longer frightened of people staring at me. I know I’m going to die sooner rather than later, but while I’m still here, I’d like to leave my mark even if it is only a small one. I don’t want to die, but I accept it now, even though I hate the pain. As I see it, I’ll be going to a better place, my only regret is that I won’t be seeing any of you again.’
‘Please don’t talk like that, Theresa. It does no one any good to dwell on what might or might not happen in the future,’ their mother said, torment and hurt showing on her grey worn face.
Donna felt for Theresa, but at the same time admired her courage and wished she could acquire just an ounce of that. Perhaps she could draw on her bravery for inspiration. She really wanted to help and thereby regain a little self-respect.
As time wore on and after further deliberations, Evan said they should get back to the hospital, but just before leaving, Donna promised Theresa she’d visit again as soon as possible.