STANDING BY THE BED WITH A SUITCASE BESIDE HER, DONNA WAITED IMPATIENTLY FOR EVAN TO COME AND PICK HER UP.
When he came, Doctor Reynolds was with him, all smiles.
‘Well then Donna, I see you’re ready.’
‘It’s been a long hard journey for you – and no one is more pleased than me that you’ve managed to come through your problems. I did have my doubts about you at one time, but I’m so glad you’ve proved me wrong.’
‘So long as I don’t have a relapse.’ There were tears in her eyes.
‘Why should you? You’re staying with a wonderful family. If you don’t make it with them, there’s no justice.’
Donna gave the tiny doctor a big hug, and when they parted saw ‘the doc’ was close to tears herself.
‘Don’t forget you still have to come and see me every Friday at three o’clock. In the meantime whatever you do don’t reduce your tablets any further without reference to me, even if you continue to feel better. And if you’re not well just call me straightaway.’
‘Ok I will.’
‘And remember your parents will want you to keep in touch too. I’ve informed them of the arrangements at Mrs Lacey’s house and given them the telephone number, with Evan’s mum’s permission. I’d advise you to visit them as soon as you can.’
Donna shrugged her shoulders in reply saying, ‘Well I don’t know about that. I’ll see you on Friday. Thanks for everything.’
Evan picked up the suitcase and looked to her for the go ahead to leave. She nodded, had a quick glance at the room that had been her home for so long, and then was on her way. She’d never been so glad to get out of a place, apart from when she lived with her parents.
‘So how are you Donna?’ he asked as they walked together down the corridor.
‘Ok, a bit jittery – that’s all.’
‘That’s to be expected. It’ll go once you’ve settled down with us.’
She smiled and hoped this was the case, but realised that this arrangement wouldn’t last forever. At some stage she’d have to go back to her parents or find a flat of her own.
Evan drove them the short distance to his house. After parking the car they took the luggage from the boot and turning round saw the front door open. Mrs Lacey and Theresa came rushing out to greet them.
‘Donna!’ Theresa exclaimed, a warm smile coming across her disfigured face. She held out her arms for Donna to go into. They hugged and then it was Mrs Lacey’s turn. Donna was touched by this show of affection. Treating her almost like a long lost daughter.
Inside, Evan took the luggage upstairs to Cole’s bedroom, placing it on the bed. Theresa was right behind Donna, having volunteered to help Donna unpack.
‘All right girls, I’ll leave you to it, shall I?’ Evan said, walking to the door.
But the ‘girls’ were too engrossed to see him leave.
Theresa looked admiringly at the expensive dresses and tops as they were hung up, obviously wishing she could try some of them on.
‘I’m so pleased you’re staying with us Donna. You’re my very best friend – you know that?’
‘I do. And you’re my very best friend as well.’ She laughed.
‘So what are you up to afterwards? If you’re doing nothing special, I’d love to play for you. I want to go over what I intend playing at the concert, if that’s all right.’
‘Theresa, I’d be so honoured if you would. I like listening to all kinds of stuff, although I can’t say I have much of an idea about proper music or the mechanics of it.’
‘You don’t need to. Who in the audience will know anything about how I’m playing the notes. And it’s the public at large that counts – not highbrow critics writing for their posh magazines.’ Said in such a convincing tone of voice she seemed almost unfazed by the forthcoming concert.
‘In that case, I’m just the type of person you’re looking for.’
Donna knew Theresa held her in high regard, but would she still think the same if she found out about the suicide attempts? The family were aware Donna was a patient at the hospital, and therefore had psychological problems, but Evan wouldn’t be allowed to tell them the full extent of her troubles. Did he know what had happened to her previously when she’d been raped? She doubted it, or he’d have said something.
The two girls came downstairs shortly afterwards. They sat around the television watching an old film. Evan yawned, turning to Donna who was talking to his mother about what she was making for tea.
‘Hey Donna, want to go to the cinema tonight after tea?’ he asked tapping her on the shoulder.
‘What, oh er…’ she said, not wanting to turn him down, yet remembering what she’d already told Theresa. Then she glanced at Theresa, who seemed aware of her dilemma.
‘It’s all right Donna, you carry on, I can always play for you some other time.’ A trace of disappointment was evident in her voice.
There was a bewildered expression on Evan’s face.
‘No, no. I’m sorry Evan, but I promised Theresa I’d listen to her play the full concert programme tonight - and I never break my promises.’
‘Ok, that’s fine,’ he said holding out his hands, not looking in the least bit put out. ‘In fact if you want I’ll come and listen too.’
‘Yes, but you always say I’m good, brother, no matter how I play. Donna’s promised to give me an honest opinion, and that’s what I value most.’
‘But I can still listen, can’t I? And I’ll tell you what, I’ll keep my thoughts to myself. How would that be?’
‘Can I listen as well?’ their mother asked butting in. ‘And I’ll keep my thoughts to myself as well.’
Theresa pulled a face. ‘I’m going to hold you both to that,’ she warned pointing a finger at them.
After tea, they all went up to Theresa’s room. Evan and Donna sat on the bed while her mother sat on a chair Evan had brought in for her. Theresa looked a little embarrassed; and blushed as she sat down in front of her keyboard.
‘Ready when you are, sis.’
‘Keep quiet will you? I’m just going over it in my mind,’ she said staring into space, moving her head from one side to the other, mouthing to herself exactly how and what she was going to play. And then after a few seconds hesitation she began.
For almost an hour without a single break, Theresa had her audience, of three, mesmerised. Donna recognised some of the music from bits she’d played for the television programme, and others, presumably new songs, had been written by her since. But she was taking an almighty gamble as no one would have heard any of these compositions before. Yet in this rehearsal, it had worked perfectly. The emotion and beauty of the melodies were breath-taking. They all seemed transfixed by it.
At the end of the dummy run, Theresa looked exhausted. As she closed her eyes, and slumped back in her chair she began to cough and splutter, and sneezed again and again. Donna and Evan went to her side at once, and handed her handkerchiefs and tissues. She sneezed once more, and they were shocked to see blood gushing down her nose. Instinctively she tilted her head back in an effort to stop the flow. Donna thought this practice session had gone on far too long.
‘Oh my God, my head hurts,’ Theresa complained touching both sides of her face.
‘We’ll get you one of your pain killers Theresa,’ her mother said. ‘Evan, they’re in her top draw over there. And Donna would you fetch her a glass of water? There should be a glass on the window sill in the bathroom.’
Theresa took the tablet with some water, and after lying down for a few minutes, the bleeding subsided. By breathing in deeply, she gradually seemed to recover. Donna was glad to see her smiling at them again.
‘I’m all right now. The pain’s gone and I don’t feel sick any more. Let’s just forget about it shall we? My music is more important than a silly nose bleed.’
But they were all very concerned for her, especially having seen all the blood. It was so upsetting to see this talented young girl in such a bad state of health.
An expression of exasperation came on Theresa’s face as she lay there. ‘Stop worrying about me everyone. I get these spasms every so often. They’ve been happening for ages. I used to worry, but not anymore – and neither should you.’
‘Listen sis, these bouts are worse than before, you have to admit that yourself. And you’ve never lost so much blood either. That’s rather worrying. You need to tell the doctor what’s going on - maybe he can help.’
Theresa glared at him as if he was crazy. ‘Don’t be stupid Evan. You know what he’ll say - and there’s no way I’m going through that. What’s the point of having any treatment? It won’t help much anyway, and if I do I’ll never be fit enough to play my music, or compose it? The outcome will be the same no matter what I do.’
‘Won’t you at least make an appointment just to make sure there’s nothing else he can do? You losing all that blood is worrying me to death,’ he replied with moist eyes.
‘Stop going on at me, will you? It’s up to me what I do. All right, so I’m dying and who knows how long I have left. But while I still can, I intend making the most of it, and I don’t care what anyone else says – do you hear?’ There was passion and determination in her voice and in the redness on her face.
‘No one’s trying to stop you. You’ll do this for sure, and we’ll be right behind you.’
‘I know you will, Donna.’
As Theresa got up to pack away her keyboard Evan raised his hand to her saying, ‘I’ll do that sis, you’ve done more than enough for one night.’
So she lay back, her eyes bloodshot, her face suddenly pale. Donna surmised the amount of practice required was too much for her. It seemed to be taking its toll on their mother as well; as her eyes were full and she had very little to say. But what could Donna do? Theresa was determined to carry on whatever the cost.
They were all lost in thought until Evan broke the ice by saying ‘Shall I get us all a drink?’
‘Oh yes please,’ Theresa said lifting up her head. ‘Playing that keyboard for so long has given me a thirst.’
He was only a few minutes, returning with a tray containing four glasses of diluted orange squash, which he handed around to them.
‘So what will you do now you’re here, Donna?’ Theresa asked, looking to have recovered from her marathon session. ‘I don’t suppose you’ll want to keep me company every day of the week.’
‘Course I would. I’d love to stay here with you, but soon I have to go back into the big bad world and do something with my own life.’
‘Are you thinking about doing some more modelling?’ Theresa asked, her face seemingly alive with excitement at the prospect of this.
‘Definitely not. To be honest, as I’ve said before, while there might be lots of money and prestige out there on the catwalk, I hate prancing around like an idiot in those stupid clothes nobody ever wears. No, it’ll be something else, but what, I haven’t decided yet.’
‘What did you do before your illness, dear?’ Mrs Lacey asked with interest.
‘Well, I used to be a Statistical Analyst. I’ve always been quite good at maths, you see. And my job involved analysing data, forecasting trends and making predictions based on the data,’ she explained.
‘Wow, that sounds really important,’ Theresa giggled. ‘You must have done well at school.’
‘I did get a first class honours degree in maths,’ Donna said, trying not to sound as if she was boasting.
‘Hey, so you’ve got brains as well as beauty,’ Theresa said cupping her hands together. ‘What a wonderful combination. I never dreamed you were that clever. Hey, I bet you could predict how long I’ve got to live, couldn’t you?’
Donna didn’t like how this conversation was going. ‘Well no one can make a prediction based on a few figures, but it’s much too distressing to even think about. You must remember everyone is different, so it would be pointless anyway.’
‘Perhaps I shouldn’t dwell on what might or might not happen. Best take each day as it comes, live from day to day. That’s all I can do.’ She grabbed hold of Donna’s arm. Donna felt so sad for her, so she put her own hand over Theresa’s and squeezed it gently.
‘Hey, Evan, did you know your friend was a brain box?’ Theresa laughed.
‘Yes, she did mention it once. I knew she was very talented, so maybe she should use that talent.’
‘I can’t cope with a responsible job right now, I might as well face up to it, and I may never get back into that kind of work.’
‘What then?’ Evan asked.
‘If I can go to work, it’ll have to be something menial, anything to get into the swing of things again. Possibly catering. Like dishing out meals in a local supermarket restaurant, a job that won’t tax my brains, or stress me out.’
‘But that’ll never satisfy you, will it Donna?’ Theresa said shaking her head.
‘Maybe not, but if it gets me on my feet again, it’s a start. It’ll help boost my confidence, and then once I get that back, there’ll be no stopping me.’ She was trying her best to sound upbeat.
‘From little acorns mighty oaks grow.’
‘Yes, Theresa, something like that.’
Soon afterwards, they went downstairs to watch television. Theresa sat in the middle of her mother and Donna on the sofa. Evan sat on the armchair.
‘Your playing was beautiful tonight. Can’t wait for this concert of yours, even though I’m still very nervous about it. You’ll make your old mum so proud.’
Theresa looked happy but also a little embarrassed by this praise.
Donna prayed she would be fit for the concert, although from what she’d seen, she was sure her friend would find the courage to pull it off, no matter what she suffered as a result.
‘How do you like living with us? Do you think you’ll settle down ok?’ Mrs Lacey asked, glancing across at her.
‘I’m loving it already.’ Donna’s eyes moved to Evan, who had a warm grin on his face. ‘You’ve all been so kind; how will I ever repay you.’
‘Repay us by keeping yourself well from now on, eh my dear. I imagine you’ve been through a lot, although my son here, isn’t allowed to tell us much about it. Hopefully this will be a turning point for you. A girl like you shouldn’t have horrible things happening to her. I don’t know what the future holds for you, but I’m sure you’re destined for a great career.’
‘Honestly, I’m no different from anyone else. It’s how people treat me that’s the key. If I’m treated normally like you have there’s not a problem. But I have to get a job soon because I need an income. Although I’m not sure I can go back to a responsible analytical job at present anyway.’
‘You can’t do anything about what people think of you, or what they think you should do with your future. Just do what’s best for you. Ignore the comments about how to make lots of money.’
‘It’s a pity everyone doesn’t see life as you do. All I really want is to be ordinary, and to lead a normal life.’
‘But you’ve already achieved so much,’ Theresa said. ‘Getting that degree must have been such hard work. You did that by yourself – and you should be proud. Just as I will be if people like my music at the concert.’
‘Yes, but you are so much braver than me. I wish I could be like that.’
Theresa smiled. She obviously didn’t consider herself as courageous. ‘I’m not brave. If you could see me inside, you’d have a shock, I’m so frightened of dying, and scared out of my wits over the concert. I’m dreading how people will react when I’m up there on stage. Maybe it would be better if I could go to sleep and never wake up.’
Donna could have cried as she witnessed the scene in front of her – Theresa being comforted by her mother, their eyes brimming with tears.
‘You’ll be fine, and don’t forget we’ll all be there spurring you on,’ Donna said.
‘I hope that’s what will get me through it.’
For the rest of the evening they all concentrated on the television. Donna noticed Theresa was dozing, which was probably the effect of the strong pain killers. A loud noise suddenly jolted her awake and as she opened her eyes and yawned said ‘Think I’ll go to bed now.’ And noticing they were all staring at her added, ‘Before I bring the house down.’
They all smiled at this.
Donna wasn’t far behind her. As she slipped between the sheets of her new bed, she hoped to feel relaxed in this new environment. But various distressing thoughts went through her mind, and she found it difficult to sleep. Although she had her freedom, she still had her worries; one of which was what would become of Theresa as her illness progressed. And now she had a strong desire to be by her side for as long as she was needed. Also she wondered what would happen when Cole came back; something which hadn’t been discussed.
As the night wore on Donna did finally fall asleep, but it was anything but restful, filled instead with dreams of her time in that horrible room in the hospital. And then the smiling face of Evan appeared to float over her, looking at her in a way no other man had. This terrified her, almost as much as the man who’d raped her. As the dream went on, she kept seeing Evan coming towards her, again and again, trying to take hold of her hand but when she wouldn’t let him, his face gradually disappeared into the distance. She woke up with a start and as usual, had no one’s arms to fall into.
She lay awake remembering how nice he was. And if he felt the same way... well anything might happen. They certainly enjoyed each other’s company, and he’d always acted the perfect gentleman with her. But if she hadn’t the ability to return any affection he might give her, eventually he’d get hurt and that may spoil everything.
Monday came and off she went to Dexford Job Centre, where she had a lengthy discussion with an advisor about her situation. She showed him a Statement for Fitness to Work which her own GP had issued, declaring her fit to do an unskilled part-time job. From the information supplied the advisor realised she’d be best suited to a job without responsibility, low paid but at least it would be the first step to getting back to work properly.
Perhaps a job working as a waitress or a kitchen assistant may be suitable the advisor suggested, and Donna agreed she might be able to manage that type of work. There were several vacancies in this criteria and she applied for the three which interested her most.
After filling in all the appropriate forms she left the Job Centre in the knowledge she could claim Job Seekers Allowance. This would be the first bit of money she’d handled since being in hospital and would give her a measure of independence. It would also enable her to give Mrs Lacey enough money to cover her living costs.
Theresa was downstairs practising on her keyboard again, when she got back and seemed so pleased to see her.
‘How’d you get on?’ she asked pausing from her music for a few minutes.
‘All right. It’ll be nice to have my own money again even if it is just dole money, but even nicer if I can get a job. Shame I can’t do what I did before. But it’s best to take this gradually, start from the bottom and work myself up – if that’s at all possible.’
‘I’ll miss you when you’re back at work. You’re great company for me. I look up to you so much after what you achieved at Uni. If it hadn’t been for my illness, I might have studied something worthwhile like you did.’ As she said this Donna saw tears in the eyes of her best friend.
‘Well, I don’t know that I’m someone to look up to, after what’s happened to me. And neither can I say that I’ve done much to be proud of, apart from my degree.’
‘Don’t say that, silly.’
‘You’ve got more reason to be proud of than I have. Look what you’ve done through your music despite your illness.’
‘But you’re special. I’ve never met anyone as brainy and as pretty as you. Even Evan says so,’ Theresa revealed.
‘Oh really.’ Donna felt slightly embarrassed. ‘Well, he’s talking rubbish. There’s nothing special about me, never has been. My appearance doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. People aren’t how they look; you of all people should know that.’
‘Yes, but you’re as nice as you look,’ There was an admiring gaze on her face.
Donna felt uncomfortable about being held in such high regard, fearing she may not be able to live up to it.
Over the next couple of weeks Donna attended several interviews and to her surprise a few days later, as they sat at the breakfast table, Mrs Lacey came in with the post and handed Donna an official looking letter. She hurriedly opened it and exclaimed, ‘Hey, you never guess what!’
‘What is it?’ Evan beamed having seen how delighted Donna looked.
‘I’ve been offered a job at Dexford Road Primary School as a Catering Assistant. Twenty hours a week, mornings, and the pay isn’t too bad either. What do you think of that?’
‘Wow, that’s wonderful news,’ Mrs Lacey commented.
‘Brilliant, congratulations,’ Evan laughed, putting his arm round her and squeezing her shoulder.
‘Glad it’s only part-time,’ Theresa said in a sort of reserved disappointed way. ‘Maybe you can still keep me company in the afternoons.’
‘Of course I will. I’ll only be working from nine-thirty to one-thirty, so my afternoons are all yours.’ Donna widened her eyes.
‘Only, I need your feedback for my music.’
‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it.’ This seemed to hearten Theresa.
‘So when do you start love?’ Mrs Lacey asked.
‘Two weeks today.’
‘That’s only a week before my concert. Wish you could start after that.’
‘Theresa, I do too but I haven’t got any choice. Either I start then or I don’t get the job. But honestly, when I’m here, I’ll support you any way I can. Now stop fretting.’
‘Sorry. It’s just that I feel so much better when you’re around.’
‘But I’m not doing anything, except to encourage you, pet. Hey, I heard some of your music on a local radio station earlier. Can’t believe how well it’s all going. Everyone was praising it. You know, I reckon you could get yourself a record contract if you’ve a mind.’
‘You really think so?’
‘Wait until after the concert, the offers will come flooding in,’ Donna nodded to her.
‘Wouldn’t that be fantastic sis?’ Evan was obviously trying to imagine what it would be like. ‘Being number one in the charts would be awesome.’
Theresa seemed starry eyed, with her head in the clouds, hoping no doubt that success would be all she imagined it to be.
The Friday afternoon before the concert Donna had just returned from work.
‘Come and sit down, and tell me how your day’s been,’ Theresa said.
‘Still pretty nerve racking, but as the week’s gone on, I’ve felt a bit better. The kids have been fine, although they can be little devils when they want to be, make no mistake.’
‘Do you think you’ll like it there?’
‘It should be all right. The more I get into it, the more confident I’ll be. The teachers and kitchen staff have been so supportive - that’s what’s made the difference for me.’
‘I’m happy for you Donna, you deserve it.’
‘And how about you? Do you feel all right? Are you looking forward to the concert tomorrow night?’
Theresa shuffled uncomfortably on the sofa. It appeared she was experiencing a few jitters, but who could blame her?
‘I want to play my music to people but I feel so self-conscious and nervous. Oh God Donna, what if I freeze out there on the stage? That’s my biggest fear. I’ve got to tell myself I’ll be fine once I start to play. I’m so glad you, Evan, and mum will be out there at the front of the audience. If I keep looking at you, maybe I can pull it off.’
‘We’ll all be egging you on. You’ll be a sensation, I promise you,’ Donna said trying her best to encourage her.