FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE SHE COULD REMEMBER, DONNA FELT SOMETHING RESEMBLING NORMALITY. Her desire to hurt herself, fatally or otherwise had gradually receded. She told Doctor Reynolds this at one of their sessions, and guessed the doctor would relay this to her parents, who had so far remained discreetly in the background. Donna was glad they weren’t around, because if there were, her relationship with them would soon become strained, along with her own state of mind. Despite them paying for her stay in hospital, she found it difficult to forget the pressure they’d placed her under in the past, and the miserable existence she’d endured during her early and teen years.
She knew, perhaps thanks to Doctor Reynolds initially, that Evan and his family had made a big difference to her life, and now looked forward to being in his company. While continuing to keep him at arm’s length, she considered him a good friend, as were the rest of the family, who’d made her feel welcome, without probing into her past. They’d treated her like one of the family. How she wished her own parents had been more like them.
Two weeks later, Evan and Donna were just about to drive over to the Derndale Hills for a hike, when, as they walked to the car, Evan said, ‘Hey, you’ll never guess what?’
‘You won’t believe this in a million years. You know I sent a tape of Theresa to the local TV station –’
‘Well, mum told me before I came to pick you up. It seems someone from the TV Company phoned, wanting to send a TV crew round to talk to Theresa, and listen to her play as well.’
‘Oh Evan, that’s fantastic news!’ Donna clapped her hands with glee. ‘What does Theresa think about it?’
‘She’s over the moon, but frightened she’ll be extremely nervous. I reckon she’ll be all right, but she’s bound to worry over what people will say about her when she’s pushed into the spotlight. Everyone will be shocked when they see her – but hopefully they’ll have the sense to see beyond her disfigurement.’
‘I agree it’s going to be difficult to bear, but knowing how brave she is, I’m sure she’ll pull it off.’
‘Hope you’re right.’ He scratched the back of his head, then seemed deep in thought. ‘Er…would you object to being present when the TV guys show up? Theresa wants you with her; she says she feels more secure when you’re there.’
Donna was surprised Theresa had asked her to be there, but was also fearful as she had an aversion to anyone from the media, remembering what had happened in the past. But, she couldn’t let Theresa down; that was unthinkable.
‘Of course Evan, I’d consider it an honour.’ Was her answer.
It was three o’clock at 23 Harvest Road. They were all sitting waiting, when the doorbell rang for what seemed like forever. Donna got the impression they wanted her to get up first and answer the door. So reluctantly she did. Standing there before her was Toby Morton, who she recognised from local television, and a crew of three who would presumably film Theresa.
‘Hallo there,’ Toby, a tall grey haired man with a sickly smile said to Donna, as he looked her up and down.
‘I take it you’ve come to meet Theresa?’
‘We have. Pity you’re not her, but obviously you’re not.’ Toby grinned at his companions.
‘Well, if I was, there wouldn’t be a story, would there?’ Was her sharp reply, raising her eyebrows with disapproval. ‘You’d better come in.’
Donna felt a little uncomfortable as she led these typical media type people through into the living room, where Theresa, her mother and Evan were sitting on the sofa together.
Theresa wore a flowered blouse over her jeans. Her long brown hair had been freshly washed and worn loose, perhaps a futile attempt to hide her deformity.
‘This is Theresa,’ Donna said holding out a hand to introduce her friend, thinking how extremely beautiful she must have been before her illness.
There was a split second expression of shock, then a look of pity appeared on Toby’s face.
‘Hallo Theresa, it’s great to meet you.’ He offered her his hand, which she shook delicately. ‘Your brother wrote in, telling us all about you, your condition and your gift for music. The tape he sent was so beautiful, we had to ask for an interview. So I’m here to talk to you and hear your wonderful music for myself. This is a great human interest story, so are you willing to speak to us, perhaps even play as well?’
Theresa nodded unable to meet Toby’s gaze.
It was a hive of activity as Toby and his gang set up their equipment, placing the cameras and microphones in readiness. Of course any audience Theresa played to, would at some point see her deformity, but Donna hoped and prayed the filming would be sympathetic to her condition.
In the weeks she’d known Theresa, Donna had developed a deep compassion towards her and the last thing she wanted was for her friend to be traumatised by this experience. So she would keep a close eye on the proceedings and intervene if she felt it necessary.
Toby sat next to Theresa on the sofa to discuss what she felt comfortable talking about in front of the cameras. Donna, Evan and his mother got up and stood behind to listen and give support if need be. Finally at Toby’s signal the interview began thus, ‘Obviously we’d here to talk about your music Theresa, but anyone seeing you can’t help but notice of your condition. Would you like to tell us a bit about it?’ His face was expressionless.
’About five years ago I noticed the left side of my face had swelled up with a type of hard tissue. It didn’t hurt at first, but when it started to get bigger I got worried. Mum came with me to see a doctor, who after examining me, sent me straight to hospital. They took skin samples of the growth and eventually I was diagnosed as having malignant facial cancer. Although slow growing, it was inoperable, and they said I had between one to three years to live.
‘It’s become more painful in the last few months, but they’ve given me something to help ease this. However, apart from a few dizzy spells, I’ve been able to live a relatively normal life.’
‘It must have been so distressing for you. How did you manage to cope?’
‘That’s a good question - I’ve had to I suppose. At first, I was so self-conscious. I used to hide myself away from people, but I soon realised that was the wrong thing to do. I’ve got to be positive, after all I can still function as a human being and do most of the things other people can do. Although I can’t work anymore now, I thought with the time I’ve got left, I’d pursue a lifetime’s ambition of mine - to write and play music. So that’s what I’ve been doing.’
‘I’m told you play the keyboard, piano, and guitar. Having listened to your tape, all the office commented on how beautiful it is. Any chance of giving us a live sample of your work?’ He asked politely which seemed to impress Theresa.
Donna watched a hint of a shy smile come on Theresa’s face, then she went to the back of the room, to help Evan move the keyboard forward. After a few minute’s hesitation, Theresa began to play. It was one of her own compositions starting slowly with a delicate melody gradually building to a crescendo which left her audience in awe of the beauty of the piece.
‘Theresa, that was truly wonderful. Incredible that someone so young has such an ear for music. Is there anything else you’d like to play for us?’ Toby asked.
‘Yes, I can play a selection of my favourite tunes, which you will no doubt recognise, and then a few more of my own compositions.’ Her confidence was growing.
She played a few classical tracks and music from popular modern pieces. Then came more of her own melodies, sounding as good if not better than the well-known tunes. The music went on for over half an hour.
By the end of it, she had everyone clapping and cheering with emotion on their faces; especially Evan and his mother.
‘Theresa, I’d like to thank you so much for allowing us to hear you play. It was delightful. My sincerest best wishes for your future. Once our viewers have seen this, they’ll realise you have a great talent,’ Toby said.
Off camera, Toby turned to Theresa and her family.
‘Thanks for your time. Obviously, we have to edit all this footage down to about four to five minutes. I’m sure you’ll captivate the people in this area. I’ve been thinking - it might be an idea to set up a Web Site for you, on which we could make lots of your music available to everybody. Hope you’ll be able to enjoy whatever success comes your way. And I can say without a shadow of doubt that everyone will adore you.’
The television people left shortly afterwards; Toby told the family Theresa’s story would be shown as an item on the regional news the following Friday. None of them could wait to see it.
There was great excitement as the day drew nearer; Donna had even persuaded Doctor Reynolds to allow her to go to the Lacey household to watch the television with them.
When the time came there was total silence in the room when the news programme began. Theresa’s name was mentioned by the announcer almost straight away. Tension mounted as they had to wait right until the end when Theresa’s little segment came on.
Donna felt for Theresa when the camera showed her deformity, as in reality it was distressing, but as soon as the music began, her talent shone through, putting everything else firmly into the background. The piece only lasted four minutes but anyone watching would have been enthralled even in that short amount of time.
As the programme finished there were tears of joy and sadness in Mrs Lacey’s eyes, Evan too appeared emotional, and they gathered round Theresa to congratulate her.
Donna, as always, was inspired by Theresa’s courage, as well as for her God given gift for music. She envied her for being so strong in the face of such an awful illness. And although Donna was responding well to her treatment, she felt guilty and ashamed of the way she’d dealt with her problems, and was truly humbled in Theresa’s company.
‘What did you think Donna? Were you happy with the way I was portrayed?’
‘Sure, it was tastefully done, and it did concentrate on your music.’
‘I’m a little worried about what people thought when they saw me. Would they have viewed me as a freak in a horror show?’
‘Of course they wouldn’t.’ Donna put her arm around Theresa’s shoulders. ‘They’ll see you as an incredibly talented musician who’s tragically been stricken with a terrible illness. But remember whatever success you get will be through your talent and not because people feel sorry for you.’
Theresa smiled, moving across to kiss her on the cheek. ‘Am I doing the right thing?’
Donna looked her straight in the eye, finding herself glad to have met Theresa and to have had the privilege of getting to know her. ‘Most definitely.’
Theresa seemed happier than ever. The joy seemed to glow out of her.
However, on the way back to the hospital, Donna began to have doubts over what had gone on. Suddenly she felt responsible and feared if it went wrong she’d be blamed. Evan glanced across at her while he drove and realised she had something on her mind.
‘All right babe?’
‘Yes...’ She scratched her brow. ‘But...I’m just not sure we’ve done the right thing by Theresa. Just how would she cope in front of an audience if it came to it? And what if they reacted adversely to her?’
‘Don’t worry. I’ve had the same thoughts myself, but I’ve put them out of my head. It’s only natural for people to be a little dismayed when they first see her. Although we’re assuming someone will promote her and offer to present her to the public via a concert. But that hasn’t happened yet and if it does I’m sure any audience are bound to realise there’s much more to her - she’s such a brilliant musician and composer. I’m positive the music will take over completely.’
‘Hope you’re right.’
‘I am, believe me.’
A week later Donna was in the doctor’s office for their usual meeting, but for once she didn’t mind talking to her. Doctor Reynolds seemed to pick up on it and commented ‘You seem in a much brighter mood than normal.’
‘I’m not too bad.’ She tried not to appear too positive.
‘Very glad to hear it. No thoughts of self-harm or suicide lately then?’
‘None at all. I’ve quite surprised myself.’
‘Wonderful. That couldn’t be down to a certain young male nurse, could it?’
She blushed; an awkward look came on her face, and she said, ‘No, not totally, although he has helped. It’s the whole family really. They’ve been through so much together. But it’s Theresa who I really admire. When you first look at her face, you want to cry, and then when you hear her play music, you want to cry your eyes out even more. And now through one television appearance it’s amazing just how many people want to listen to her music. The number of hits she’d had on her website – and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing – it’s unbelievable. And from that she’s been invited to appear in front of an audience for the first time. In a few weeks she’ll be performing at Dexford Town Hall on her own with only a few musicians for support. I’ve a great admiration for her – she’s so brave and nothing seems to faze her.’ She stopped there and then added, ‘There are times when I wish I could be like her, anything rather than like me, a poor excuse for a human being.’
Looking at her gravely, and shaking her head as if she didn’t agree with how bitter Donna felt, the doctor said, ‘It’s wonderful how Theresa’s music has taken off, but I guess she’d trade it all in to be cured of cancer. Theresa is a special person, but don’t be so hard on yourself. You are special too, if only you’d realise it.’
’Oh sure I am – ’Donna said screwing up her face in misery.
‘You can be anything you want, Donna. If Theresa can do it with what she’s got, then so should you. You think about it. Oh and by the way, I’ve been monitoring your progress. Maybe it’s about time we reduced your medication. Think you could handle that?’
Donna was quite taken aback, and the thought of it frightened her. Did she want to? That was the question. Maybe this time she did.
‘All right...I’ll try my best, so long as I have your support to go back on a higher dose if it doesn’t work.’
‘Of course. Any ill effects, come and see me at once. Now then, since you’ve done so well recently, in return I’m willing to relax certain rules for you. From now on, although you’ll remain at the Hospital for the time being, I’ll allow you a limited amount of freedom. You can come and go as you please, and as long as you return here by six o’clock every evening, that privilege will continue. And you’ll be allowed to visit your parents, or anyone else for that matter. All being well, we’ll soon have you back living with mum and dad again - although that will be a gradual process. But it’s certainly something to work towards – isn’t it?’
Donna shuddered uncontrollably, as if someone had just told her she was going to die. ‘I won’t go back to them. Never ever – I don’t care what you say.’
Doctor Reynolds didn’t look surprised at this. ‘I was half expecting as much. I told your parents the same thing, but they would insist you’d want to live with them. They’ll be very disappointed. Isn’t there any way you could patch it up with them? They love you dearly if only you’d give them a chance.’
Donna shook her head vigorously; annoyed that Doctor Reynolds should even suggest such a thing. ‘They’ve had more chances than they deserve already. I can’t face being in the same room as them let alone in their house.’
‘But – ’
She got up from her seat, as her face filled with anguish. Doctor Reynolds lifted a hand for her to stop.
‘All right, no one’s forcing you to go back to them. But you have to live somewhere. Any suggestions? A place of your own perhaps?’
‘Haven’t given it much thought – I never imagined I’d ever leave here. But I’d rather stay here than live with my folks.’
Doctor Reynolds raised her eyebrows, dropping her eyelids slightly. For a moment, she seemed to ponder over it, and stroked her chin. ‘Actually, I do have an idea. I’ve already spoken to the person concerned, and she’s all for it. You can stay with her family until you get back on your feet again, since you’re so friendly with her son and daughter. I imagine you know who I’m talking about?’
Donna nodded but felt embarrassed. ‘Mrs Lacey?’
‘Exactly.’ The doctor grinned. ‘Apparently, although you may not be aware of it, they have a spare bedroom available. It used to be Cole’s, her eldest son’s room, but he’s in the army and abroad a lot. The room is empty right now because he’s on duty in Afghanistan. If you continue to improve, you’re more than welcome to the room, for as long as Cole is away. How do you feel about that?’
She couldn’t believe this was happening, was unsure at first; a lump came in her throat. Then a huge smile filled her face, which she tried to hide by looking to the floor. Although she hadn’t considered it, it seemed the obvious solution. ‘I don’t know. I get on great with them all; but are you sure they won’t mind? I wouldn’t want to get under their feet.’
‘Don’t worry, you wouldn’t be. I’ve spoken to Evan about you as well, and he says you’ve come on in leaps and bounds recently. He thinks it’ll help you with your recovery, and was going to talk to you about it, but he felt nervous about you taking it the wrong way. Anyway we agreed, if you didn’t want to move back in with your parents, I’d run the idea past you. You could leave, in say a fortnight’s time. How does that sound?’
‘Sounds fine.’ There was a wide smile all over her face, once again. They were like a second family to her. But she’d have it out with Evan when she saw him next - about why he’d been so frightened she’d take it the wrong way.
When Evan came for her the following morning, she noticed a glint in his eye, he looked pleased with himself for some reason. They walked through the Hospital grounds together, talking about Theresa and her forthcoming concert. Finally, they sat on a bench, set in a small alcove at the front of the building. Donna shivered as although it was sunny, the wind was strong cooling down the temperature.
Before long, he surprised her by bringing up the subject that was uppermost in their minds himself.
’Er, I gather ‘the doc’ has talked you into coming to live with us,’ he coughed apprehensively.
‘Yes, she has Evan.’
‘I’d have asked you myself, but I - ’
‘Doctor Reynolds told me. I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do – not if I’ve got to see your ugly mush at the breakfast table every morning.’
‘Oh, I never thought of that. Well, I admit I’m not at my best when I get up in the morning, that’s for sure. But you’ll get used to me. In fact, you won’t see that much of me, I have to leave for work at seven, and then I’m not back home until about six. So I’ll be out of your hair for most of the time.’
‘That’s a relief. Thank goodness Theresa will be there, or I might not come at all.’
‘Mind you, your mum’s nice too. Such a good cook, which always helps.’
He scratched the top of his head and seemed put out about it. Surely he realised she was joking. He was quiet for a few seconds, obviously not knowing what to say.
Suddenly she burst out laughing, but then when he saw what she was up to, he joined in. They were both giggling, tears of laughter rolled down her cheeks.
‘Got you going, then.’
‘You think so? Well, just for that I might ask mum if I can cook for you. Then you’d definitely have something to complain about. So there.’ He bobbed out his tongue at her.
She did the same back to him.
‘You’ll come then?’
‘Yes, as long as you’re sure I won’t be in the way.’
‘Course you won’t – silly. I’ll tell you what will irritate you the most, and that’s Theresa practising on her keyboard, day and night. I know she’s brilliant, but when it’s six to eight hours at a time - it’ll drive you mad. And she’s worse than normal at the moment, with that concert coming up. I can’t imagine where she gets the energy from.’
‘It’s in her blood, she wants it so much. You can’t blame her for that. This concert will be so special.’
‘You could be right.’
‘Sure your mum doesn’t mind me staying with you, Evan. I feel so guilty about it. I should be standing on my own two feet, getting a place of my own - I’ve got a degree in Mathematics for God’s sake.’ She lowered her head as if in shame.
‘Don’t be silly. You’ve been ill and now you need help to get yourself well again. We’re your friends, and that’s what we’re here for, so I don’t want to hear any more about it. Mum said you’re moving in a week on Friday - so we might get to spend the weekend together.’
She nodded. ‘You’ll come and fetch me, then?’
‘I suppose I’ll have to – and don’t keep me waiting, or else.’
‘Yes sir.’ She gave him a mock salute. ‘I’ll look forward to that.’
However, the more she thought about it the more she worried it could be the wrong move. She’d hate to fall out with any of them after how good they’d been to her. In her present state, that might have devastating consequences for her. Only time would tell.