I was lying in a hospital bed with clean white sheets and thin yellow blankets. The walls were bare, but the curtains were brightly coloured. Blue and green tones were added to bring some light to the room. I was looking at a picture with words written in stylish handwritten black letters on yellowed paper. Brown and pink-coloured circles stained the page from all the spilt drinks and dust the paper had absorbed.
People will always find their way back to you, even when you think they are gone forever. Surely, there will be heartache, tears and bitter moments, but you never know what will happen if you just enjoy life, make choices and never forget those you have loved and will hold forever in your heart.
I don’t cry easily, but these words hit me every time I read them.
These words are what have kept me going for a long time. Someone very dear to me wrote them down in the first diary that I ever bought when I was still in school. It was filled with poetry and short stories that I enjoyed writing in class or when I had finished my homework, and there were little drawings of hearts with arrows saying W. Loves N. beside secret messages I wrote that no one could figure out, not even Nick. Even though I told him everything from the moment I met him.
Nobody but me was allowed to write in this book, but Nick was never a person who followed the rules. He had secretly written these words down on the day we broke up, probably when I was taking a shower, before he broke the news to me.
The diary itself is now in a storage box somewhere in the attic that I rarely visit, but I have kept a photograph of the page close to me, every day.
Now, years later, the words have a different meaning. There was heartache just as Nick had written, and he had found a way back to me. It wasn’t something we planned. At least not on my side. I didn’t think that Nick knew that I was at the same spot in Dublin where he was at that moment. At least it seemed like a casual meeting there on the streets of Dublin.
In that split second as we stood there on O’Connell Street, I looked into his green-brown eyes and noticed there were lines between his nose and his cheeks that showed signs of both ageing and some kind of hardship. That different look stirred up all sorts of feelings that I thought were history, but apparently, they were just hidden somewhere in the back of my mind.
I closed my eyes, put away the picture just behind the cover in the book that was lying on my lap. I went back to that moment long ago in my bedroom at my parent’s house listening to cool rock music - just before he broke the news to me.
“Wanda. We need to talk.” He stood up. I walked over to him and tried to hold his hands. He was scaring me. “I can’t see you anymore, Wanda. I need to leave.” He held my head cupped in his hands and gave me a trembling kiss with his soft lips, wet with tears both from his and my eyes.
“But, Nick….” He let go. Held my hands in his hands and smiled at me. His green-brown eyes were very red and puffy from the crying that he did while I was in the shower.
“Never forget I love you, Wanda.” He kissed my hands and stormed out of the door.
Usually, he would climb out of the window to leave, but I guess it didn’t matter now. What we had was gone in the minute he spoke those words, and it didn’t matter if he was caught by my parents.
My mum wasn’t too fond of Nick and his family. She would make that very clear to him. Before he broke up with me, he seemed to accept the sneers and the suspicious looks that my mum used to give him. He would climb up to my bedroom window to be with me, avoiding my mother, using a ladder that he hid on the other side of the garden fence where his aunt lived. It was sweet. Like Romeo and Juliet only without the tragic ending.
Nick’s uncle had passed away over the years, but his aunt was still living there today, as was I. I was living in the same house that I grew up in. After a terrible divorce, my mother had remarried. She met a businessman who divided his time between Asia and Dublin. She moved in with him, and I stayed in the house where I grew up. It didn’t cost my mother anything; the mortgage expired years ago when my grandparents had lived there, and I paid for all the other expenses.
My stepfather balanced his time between Asia and Dublin and then started to lengthen his stays in Asia until we rarely ever saw him. My mother lived in the big upper-class mansion with Anna, my youngest sister. Even though my stepfather provided for us with property and with trust funds, he had reduced my mother to little more than a paid caretaker for his house.
Nick lived with his aunt most of the time when we were together because he couldn’t concentrate on his schoolwork. At home, he lived in a small trailer with his parents, his brother Jason and his little brother Michael just outside of Mulhuddart close to the Navan Road where the air was filled with car fumes, and the horizon was filled with the sights of concrete and a spot of green now and again.
He shared a room with his brothers and the trailer was too small for the whole family. His parents agreed to him moving to his Aunt Clementine’s house in Dublin 8.
Nick and I went to the same school. He was in his last year when he transferred to my school, which normally wasn’t very sensible, but because of the move to his Aunt Clementine’s house and some disciplinary issues at his previous school, it actually made sense that he should start over again.
I remember the first time we met. I was sitting at the administration office all by myself because I couldn’t join my class for gym lessons, and I had to get a note to be excused. Nick walked in to the administration lounge, accompanied by a social worker and the principal of our school. I overheard things like “.... will give him a new chance to prove himself,” and, from the principal. “I am sure this boy will fit right in. Some change of scenery from that dreadful area up north will do him good.”
We locked eyes. I felt my cheeks blush and tried to focus on my book. When I looked up again a minute later, Nick was still looking at me and smiling.
More memories of Nick seemed to be the main thing on my mind these last couple of hours. Meeting him again after so many years reignited something that was dormant for many years. His face was the last thing I saw before everything went black and the first thing I saw when I woke up in this hospital bed. It felt unreal that, out of all the people in this world, Nick was the person who called the ambulance and had been waiting in the hospital by my side until I woke up.
The memories of the accident are very vague. The doctors said that I don’t remember anything because of the trauma to my head. That my brain automatically fell back into a safe mode and blurred the images. Nick told me I tried to stop a bus with my head using my ultra-cool superpowers. He always made jokes like that but laughing hurts too much right now. I have two broken ribs, a concussion, many scars and bruises. Thank God, I am still alive.
The door opened. I saw Nick’s face peeking around the door. With a smile he said,
“There you are! I was looking all over for you. How are you feeling today?” His fashion hadn’t changed much throughout the years: worn out jeans, a flannel shirt and his leather jacket to finish it all off. In his hand he held a black beanie which he threw on the little wooden side table next to the window. He took off his jacket and threw it on the empty chair in the corner, which had a pile of my clothes on it.
“I feel like I could run a marathon.” I tried to sound optimistic. He came closer, sat down on the far end of my bed facing me. I still couldn’t believe how his face had changed. Of course, he was older now, but the lines showed grief, heartache, endurance. He must have seen me staring at him, and he smiled while he waved his hand in front of my eyes, which snapped me back instantly. I always liked his warm, kind smile, though it was a bit cheeky.
“Nick? Tell me again how we met yesterday.” I loved hearing that story. He had told me three times already.
“Well….” He coughed twice and sat up straight on the bed with an extra cushion behind his back, facing me. He rubbed his nose while he looked down and hid a smile.
“Alright! One more time. This is the last time.” He held his finger up in front of his face and placed it on his lips, signalling me to be quiet.
“I was walking down O’Connell Street when I noticed this girl wearing the most amazing yellow shoes with the most incredible high heels I had ever seen in my life. She was crossing the road and passing me right in the middle of the street, like it was meant to be.” He smiled and coughed a bit more loudly than was probably his intention.
“When I looked up, I saw she was holding a travel mug. I have to add that this girl was lovely, but not very smart, since she wasn’t paying attention to what was happening around her. Instead, she was busy typing away on her phone.” His tone was quite condescending, and he paused for a second, looking at me for a reaction before he continued. I sat there motionless. I’d already responded the first two times and didn’t feel like it a third time. Instead, I covered my nose with both hands.
He continued: “She crossed the road, still looking at her phone, when she bumped into me.” The word “bumped” was emphasised by slapping his jeans with his hand. He paused again for a more dramatic effect before continuing. “Her travel mug fell on the ground, and she finally looked up from her phone. Then I stared into these beautiful blue eyes that I knew I had seen before in a past lifetime.” His gaze was fixed on my toes and let the last words fade softly in the room.
“And then I knew it was you!” His eyes focused back on me. I sat there with my arms folded and a smile on my face, wiggling my toes because this story was so exciting.
“Tell me more!” He grabbed my right foot so I would stop wiggling. Only when I stopped wagging, I realised I must have looked like a happy puppy.
He continued: “I’m not finished” He let go of my foot and jumped up from the bed, walking the three steps from the far end closer to me, slowly, until he was only an arm’s length away.
“I held this girl in my arms because if I didn’t, she would have embarrassed herself.” He came closer, bent forward. He was now so close to me that I could feel the heat from his body radiate towards me. It gave me an uneasy contracting feeling in my stomach, and I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. My breathing intensified. He stayed this close, leaning on the bed with his hands.
“But then - disaster!” His voice was soft but ominous. “I let go of her, and I thought she could safely stand on her own two feet - or should I say incredible high heels? – but - alas.”
He shook his head slowly and looked down toward the blanket on my bed.
“A bus drives down the quays with quite some speed. Our pretty girl - did I mention that she was pretty? - couldn’t keep her balance and the bus caught her.”
He kissed my forehead and sat back down on the bed near my feet, pinching both big toes. “I believe it is partly my fault that she hit that bus. I should have never let her go in the first place.” His eyes watered up, and he tried to hide his face from me by reaching the counter behind him to pour me a glass of water. I could hear him making sniffing noises, but I decided to ignore it since he was apparently trying to hide it from me.
Neither of us said anything until I broke the silence. “Could you also give me the book next to the tray, please? I want to read it later.” He handed me a glass of water, and jumped up from the bed to be able to reach for the book and put it on my nightstand.
“I still can’t believe that out of all the people in the world I bumped into you.” His eyes were slightly red and a bit puffy, but there were no tears, even though the slight tremor in his voice clearly betrayed his emotion.
I held the glass in my right hand and drank from it. Nick sat down on the chair next to the bed as if he wanted to create some distance between us.
“How long has it been? Seven? Eight? -Years since we’ve last seen each other?”
I couldn’t give him an answer because the door flew open. My mum walked in, holding a fruit basket. Behind her was my sister Anna who was, as always, pounding away like a teenager possessed on her smartphone. She has a lot of friends, only we never get to see them because they only seem to exist on her social media accounts. I couldn’t really blame her. I knew how obsessed mother was with friends and boyfriends. Anna had seen how mother treated Nick when we were still together, and I knew that Anna didn’t want anything like that to happen to her.
Mum walked over to me, gave the fruit basket to Nick for him to put it somewhere. She sat down on the exact same spot on the far end of the bed where Nick sat only a few minutes ago. Anna pulled up one of the chairs that were next to the side table and put her feet on the bed. She was about half my age and the perfect example of a challenging teenager.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t come sooner.” Anna waved at me without looking up from her phone. It was a casual wave that you give your friends at school, rather than to adults or at least people who were older than you.
Mum folded her hands and sat up straight. In every situation, she looked like a lady. With her hair in perfect condition. No crease could be detected in her silk blouse decorated with a brooch that her mother gave to her just before she passed away ten years ago. My mother had been wearing it every chance she got ever since.
My mother looked around the room and for the first time since she came in, she properly acknowledged the presence of Nick. The look on her face changed from a mild form of discontent to utter repulsion.
“What is he doing here?” Her question was directed towards me, but she made sure that he could perfectly well hear her.
“He saved me.” There was a smug expression on my face and a very broad smile that kind of hurt my cheeks. I didn’t want to give my mother the pleasure of bullying Nick any longer. I was an adult now. She couldn’t touch me anymore.
Her agitation was getting worse, and I wanted to give her just that little nudge so she would tip over to full frenzy mode. Unfortunately, she calmed down, closed her eyes, her mouth mumbling a few words, opened her eyes again. The fire was gone. Too bad. I would’ve loved for her to cause a scene.
“The new wellness treatment mum has been taking is something that actually helps this time.” Anna’s eyes were glued to her smartphone and she talked to nobody in particular, but I recognised my sister’s sarcastic tone and knew well that she had understood what I was trying to do to mum. Anna had looked up from her phone once during the conversation, to grab one of the chocolates from the side table on her side. Nick had bought them yesterday in the hospital gift shop. I couldn’t eat them yet. The concussion had made me so nauseous, I could barely eat a sandwich, let alone chocolate.
I snapped my finger. Anna knew this sound all too well. This is how I had trained my sister to do my bidding. Without any hesitation, she grabbed a piece of chocolate from the table and threw it to me. It landed on my lap. “Thanks, Anna.” A meagre smile was all I received in return.
“Thank you very much, Nick, for saving my daughter.” My mother briefly glanced at Nick, but only just enough so their looks crossed paths, and then she focused her eyes again in my direction. In her mind, he was still the villain.
“No problem, Mrs Daly.” He nodded politely, moving nervously in his chair, trying to sit up straight. His hands neatly folded, like a school boy on his first day. For a moment I thought I saw little pearls of sweat on his forehead, but that was probably just my imagination. Even after all these years, he still had this intense fear of my mother. Which was strange, since we were not together anymore.
“So, when can you leave this place?” my mother said, using her concerned, motherly voice. Before I could answer she thought of another question.
“Does Aidan know that you are here? What does he think of all of this? And that you are here with…him.” She stood up from the bed, straightened her skirt and walked over to the pantry where she poured herself a glass of water. Her back was turned to me. We watched her drinking the water sip by sip. I don’t think she was interested in the answers. She always had a tendency to think out loud and forget the world around her when she was intensely immersed in her own train of thought. It must be one of the downfalls of having a husband that was away as often as my stepfather was.
“I haven’t spoken to Aidan yet because he is in Africa on a mission. I can’t just call him up, you know.” My voice was terribly defensive, even though I didn’t want it to be. I looked at Nick too. We hadn’t had the chance to discuss any new people in our lives. So far it had only been the two of us in our hospital room bubble.
My mother turned around. “Don’t they have phones in Africa?” Now she was talking directly to me. I could tell by the piercing eyes and the firm posture.
“I guess so. But he is busy, and I don’t want to disturb him when it is not an emergency.” Again, the defensive tone. Why do I always feel the need to defend my choices to my mother? I am an adult now. She doesn’t have power over me anymore.
“And this isn’t an emergency?! In case you haven’t noticed, you are in the hospital after an accident. if that isn’t an emergency, then I don’t know what is.” Mum’s arms were in the air for a second like she was trying to touch heaven, holding her back straight. Her upper body still faced the wall sideways, but her gaze was frozen in my direction.
“I feel fine, Mum! The doctors say I can go home tomorrow.” I looked at Nick. The information must’ve confused him since he was looking down to his shoes and wholly absorbed in his own thoughts. He looked like he wasn’t listening, but I knew for a fact that he was.
“The doctors told me I can go home today or tomorrow, but I have to stay at home from work for at least another week.” She walked over to me, and the muscles in her face relaxed. I could even detect a faint smile.
“Well, that’s good news!” She clapped her hands once, holding her hands together, then said abruptly, “Alright. I need to be off. It was lovely seeing you my darling. Take care, will you?” She didn’t look at me once during that sentence. She was scanning the room for her purse. “Nick?” She turned around, so she faced him. “Could you walk me out since you are here anyway.” Nick jumped up. “No problem, Mrs Daly.”
They both left. Anna stayed behind for a second to talk to me. She hadn’t wanted to discuss her private life when Mum was in the room. Mum always made insignificant comments about unrelated details and we would all end up getting more and more agitated until we left the room to distance ourselves from her. It wasn’t pretty.
Anna put her phone away in one of the pockets of her acid washed jeans, hopped on the bed beside me and laid her head on my shoulder. After ten minutes of intensive talking and hugging, I began to feel a little dizzy and had to get some rest. She kissed my cheek and waved as she walked out of the door. I sat up straight and suddenly felt Anna’s phone under my hand. I jumped up from the bed, paused a few seconds to let the stars in front of my eyes subside and limped out the door to stop her in the hallway. When I went through the first electric doors, I saw my mum and Nick talking beside the candy machine. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it appeared she was talking rationally and calmly to him. Well, that was a first.
Nick held his head down and nodded a few times and on occasion said something to her, without looking at her. When Anna appeared from the bathroom, they both stopped talking. Nick straightened his posture, smiled politely at my mother and nodded at Anna.
I came through the last doors. My leg was still quite sore. I wasn’t supposed to be walking this far and at this speed yet, but as always, stubborn was my middle name. I yelled out to Anna and handed her the phone. Kissed her and my mum goodbye and sat down in the chair next to the reading table in the corner just before the elevator to catch my breath. Nick squatted down and took my hand. The elevator doors opened. I waved until the doors closed and limped back to my room supported by Nick.
“What was that all about with my mum?” It took a huge effort to walk and talk at the same time.
“Nothing really. She wanted to know if any of my cousins were good carpenters.” I looked at him. This time the pearls of sweat were most definitely present on his forehead.
“Are you alright?” I asked him in a concerned voice. He laughed and looked me up and down. “I can ask you the same thing, beautiful.” We walked back in slow motion and I crawled back into my bed, making a few primal noises because my body was quite sore. Nick observed me and held his hand in front of his mouth while his other hand was on my pillow next to my head.
“How are you going to survive at home if you can’t even walk down the hall?” I could hear he was concerned for me. I pulled him on the bed. “I don’t know, and I don’t want to think about it today. Ask me again tomorrow when I feel better.”
I felt sleepy and dizzy from these busy events. Put my head on Nick’s shoulder and fell asleep. It was as if he had never left and we were still in my room, listening to Nirvana and Metallica. Dreaming about better days to come when we grew up and could be together forever. But we were not teenagers anymore.
I have to let him go soon. Sooner or later I had to tell him I had finally been able to move on from the heartache. I was with Aidan now and being with Nick was a painful reminder that I didn’t need.