Her eyes light up, I know she hates confrontation and she wants to put off going home for as long as possible.
“I’ll call the rest of them now, and tell them you’ll be taking over their shifts for a while. I won’t tell them anything specific, I’ll just say ‘family problems’, okay?”
“Thank you, thank you! I promise to take as good care of you as they did!” Then, the light suddenly dies from her eyes, “I only packed enough stuff for a weekend, I’ll have to go back to get more clothes.”
I shrug, getting up to brew myself a tea. “Wear my clothes, I’ve got plenty of them, and when you get bored of oversized jeans and baggy jumpers, we’ll go clothes shopping.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to be a pain.”
I chuckle, “It’s a bit late for that. Now, go rummage around in my wardrobe and see if anything fits you. I’ll bring you up a coffee in a bit.”
“Black. No sugars. Got it.”
After brewing my milky sweet tea and her bitterly black coffee, scalding myself multiple times in the process, I carefully make my way up the stairs, spilling drops of both drinks and staining the grey carpet.
“…Crap. I’m going to have to clean that up later.”
I hear a delicate voice yell from my room. “You’re going to what?”
I find myself yelling back. “Nothing! You better be decent, because I’m coming in!” That was a lie, because I’m only halfway up the stairs, but I don’t want to walk in on her with scalding liquid in both hands, and a punch in the face.
Once I finally ascend the stairs and headbutt my bedroom door softly as a way of knocking with both hands occupied, Pemma clicks the door open.
Strangely, she’s picked out my favourite tracksuit bottoms. I assume my baggy jeans would just look too stupid to wear, and you can get away with baggy jogging bottoms. They’re ridiculously long, as they reach past her feet, and she wears them as sort-of socks. She’s wearing my plain black jumper, which is rolled up at the sleeves, and has a blue polo shirt on underneath- it sticks out from underneath the jumper. Despite the amazing sucker-punch she can throw, or the dangerous roundhouse kick that can come from nowhere, she looks adorable. Her hair is pulled down, unbrushed and kinked from being in a bun, and she’s washed all her makeup off from yesterday. She looks so much younger without the black rimming her eyes, like a different person.
“Your clothes are huge,” she comments, reaching for her coffee in my hands, “you must be some kind of giant.”
“Or you’re some kind of midget.”
“Five foot is a perfectly acceptable height for a seventeen-year old, I’ll have you know.”
I can’t help it, as I burst into laughter. I have to put my tea down on my desk to stop myself from spilling it. I can’t stop laughing- like something set me off. Tears prick my eyes, and only when my giggles subside, so I try to look at Pemma with a straight face.
“…Sorry, but that was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Her face remains impassive.
“Your room isn’t at all like I expected it to be.”
“Wait, you’ve never seen my room?” Pemma’s been looking after me for weeks, and this is the first time she’s set foot in my room.
It’s nothing special. It has alternating grey and white walls, a simple double bed at one end, and a mirrored wardrobe at the other, with a large panelled window next to it. The floor is black carpet, and I have a few nerdy posters hanging up here and there- your typical teenage room.
“I thought it’d be more colourful, more messy, to be honest.”
“I have a lot of spare time, being partially immobile and all, so I try to tidy as best I can. As for the colour? I guess I just like grey.”
“You’re more boring than I thought. You’re also a nerd.”
What an observation. I have three large posters in my room, each in pristine condition and framed. A Star Wars one, a Naruto one, and a Game of Thrones one. I can see her staring at the latter.
“I’ve only watched the show.” I comment, sheepishly, like she’s trying to judge me.
“I’m reading the books at the moment. I could spoil the whole thing for you,” she turns around to me with a wicked grin, and sips the bitter liquid from her mug, “but I won’t. All I can say is that the books are way better.”
I breathe a visible sigh of relief, thinking she was going to spoil it. “Don’t scare me like that!”
She simply grins into her mug, the steam fogging up her glasses.
“You’re a little steamy there.”
“I know, dammit. That’s the problem with glasses.”
I simply smile in reply, and pick my mug up from my desk.
“Can I borrow the first book in the series?”
“Of Game of Thrones? Sure, if I ever go home.”
“When you go home.” I correct.
I make my way downstairs, sipping my lukewarm tea as I descend and Pemma follows me. It’s getting dark, the late Autumn light fading fast. I down the last of my tea, and leap onto the sofa from behind, earning a small gasp of shock from the girl behind me.
“You shouldn’t exert yourself like that! You’re still in recovery.”
“Hmm?” I say, flicking through the channels on the TV with the remote, “It’s not like I’m going to rip my stitches. Thankfully, that healed while I was fast asleep for the past year and a bit.”
I can’t see her behind me, but I can practically hear her eyes roll. “It’s not that, you just aren’t used to so much movement at once, so calm down. Also, do you want to try go for a run tomorrow?”
The unexpected question hits me suddenly- I haven’t been for a run in ya long time. Before the incident, I was quite fit, and enjoyed running and cycling. Now, I’m afraid I’ll never be as fit as I was.
As if reading my mind, Pemma comforts me, “You have to realise that you’re not going to be as fast as you were before all this, and it will take time. But you’ll get there, I promise.”
“Thanks, and you know what? I’ll take you up on that offer of a run tomorrow. Did you pack any running stuff?”
“I have some trainers and leggings, it’ll be fine.” She sets her mug aside mine on the coffee table, and places herself at the furthest end of the sofa from me, probably wary after last night.
“I won’t make any moves on you, and I won’t bite.”
“You might not, but I do.”
“C’mon. It can’t be comfortable sitting that far.”
With a sigh, she slowly shuffles towards me in her oversized clothes. The light from the TV reflects off of her glasses, so I can see what we’re watching.
“Can’t we watch something other than the Travel Channel?” She suggests, and I realise that I’d not changed channels after I’d turned it on. We flick through the channels, with some exclamations from her as we skip her favourite programs, until we come to the movie channel, with Alien on. I wonder if Pemma’s even afraid of anything. I doubt it.
As the light from the window fades to pure darkness, and the film drones on, I’m conscious of Pemma sliding ever closer to me, until her crossed legs are leaning against my own.
The jump-scares in the movie make me flinch at times, and once I accidentally reach for her knee. She doesn’t look at me, and focuses on the screen. She’s not afraid of this movie, and if anything, I’m the scared one. I’m not sure if this is a good sign or not, so I ask,
“Is there anything you’re afraid of? And don’t tell me something like the abyss, or what happens after death. Something literal.”
She sniggers. “Like ghosts? Or in your case, xenomorphs?”
“Exactly like that.” I retort.
“Nope, nothing. I’m completely fearless. However, the same can’t be said for you.” And with this, she leaps at me, yelling, ‘Boo!’ This results in an unmanly shriek from me, and I curse myself for not predicting that would happen.
“That was possibly the highest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re like a human dog whistle.”
“Day six-hundred and forty-nine. We’re going for a run today.”
I look beside me and see a girl with ruffled hair and crinckled clothes, her glasses askew.
“Your glasses are wonky.”
“That’s because your shoulder bent them.” She looks angry.
“We fell asleep here last night?” I don’t remember falling asleep, and I don’t remember finishing the film. I certainly don’t remember Pemma leaning against my shoulder, much to my dismay.
“Yeah. Now get ready, morning runs are the best kind.”
After retrieving some old cycling shorts and a high-vis jacket, I find some trainers at the back of my wardrobe- and surprisingly, they still fit.
Pemma greets me at the doorway, clad in trainers of her own, one of my baggy t-shirts, and sports leggings. Her mussed up hair is tied back in a ponytail.
After a mild stretch, I step outside for the first time since I came home from the hospital. The weather is distinctly colder than I remember, my breath clouding in front of me. The crisp scent of Autumn is there, mingled with the intoxicating perfume belonging to Pemma.
“It’s cold.” She complains, rubbing her hands together.
“What are we waiting for, then?”
Within minutes of steady jogging, my muscles ache, and my lungs scream for air. Pemma always falls back to keep pace with me, and I assume she jogs as a hobby.
“Don’t wait for me, I’ll catch up.”
“The whole point of this is to build up you, not me, you idiot.”
The steady thud-thud of our feet on the tarmac reminds me to keep my breathing steady, so I count the seconds between my inhalations and exhalations to not wear myself out too much. I concentrate on moving forward, keeping pace with Pemma.
The scenery doesn’t change, as we run around the small town where we both live. Criss-crossing across narrow pavements and streets, through rabbit-warrens of housing estates, we gradually pick up the pace.
Just as her phone calls out the 2 mile mark, I stop, all the blood rushing to my head. I can feel my face burning, my muscles cramping.
“Let’s call it a day. You ran farther than I’d expected. Now stretch it out, before you get cramps.” I’m filled with disappointment. I know I should have run further than I did, because I should be fitter than I am. But I’m not. I can’t do the things I used to, because of the stupid incident. I feel rage boil inside of me, and frustration and not being better than I was. Pemma and I walk home in silence, and she doesn’t seem to mind. However, I trace back all of the problems I’ve been having. From not being as fit as I once was, to my now gaunt features, to the way I still occasionally lose control of my limbs. I trace these problems back to my coma, to the incident, which traces back to Pemma.
As soon as we get in the door of my apartment, tears of frustration form at the corners of my eyes.
“It’s your fault.” I say, in a low steady voice, fists balled.
“Hmm?” She absent-mindedly turns to me.
“This is all your fault.”
My repetition and seriousness makes her realise something’s wrong here. “What’s my fault?”
“My coma. The incident. The fact that I’ll always be a weaker version of who I once was. It’s all your fault.”
She stands there in the hallway, eyes wide, mouth pursed into a thin line.
I want to stop, I know I need to spare her feelings, but I lose control of what my brain is saying.
“You’re the reason I almost died. If you hadn’t let us off the track with your selfish rant, if I hadn’t stopped the dogs from eating you, I’d be fit and healthy, like I used to be. I’d still be optimistic and have the world at my feet. I’d be laughing with my friends right now, instead of learning how to run a goddamn mile again. It should’ve been you in that hospital bed, not me. I didn’t deserve any of it. You ruined my life.”
“You wait just a minute-“
“No, you wait. I only became interested in you because you were lonely, I pitied you. I was never interested in you as a person, more like a social experiment. Could I really befriend the most unfriendly person in school? Turns out, I could, and I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I never wanted to save you, to jump out in front of that dog for you. By body did it involuntarily. You really think I’d risk myself for someone like you, a loner who treats everyone else like they’re inferior?”
She doesn’t make any noise, and her face is now devoid of all emotion. Her eyes are glassed over, her mouth in a perfectly straight line. She simply looks at the door, and walks out, not turning back.