I know I should have gone after her, I should have apologised, but it was all true, in the end. It was her fault and I couldn’t keep ignoring it. She is the root of all my problems. She’s the reason I cry myself to sleep at night, knowing that my life will never be as good as it once was. She’s the reason I get pitying looks wherever I go, as they all know me as ‘the boy who was in a coma for years’. She’s the reason my body has wasted away. She’s the reason I have big, ugly scars on my body.
And what do I get for my unrelenting kindess towards her? A sucker-punch in the nose and a running buddy on cold days.
After letting myself calm down, making sure my fists have stopped shaking and the tears have stopped falling, I call Darcy. If there’s anyone Pemma would run to if she couldn’t go home, it was to hers.
“Heya, Darcy here.”
“I know. Is Pemma at yours?” It’s been long enough for Pemma to easily have run to the next town over and back again, so she must be somewhere.
“No, why? Do you need me to come and take over my Monday shift again?”
“No, but we had a fight and she ran off.”
Darcy whistles from over the line. “It must’ve been a pretty big fight, if she reacted at all.” Her voice then becomes angry, and protective. “What the hell did you say to her?!”
I sheepishly reply, “I kinda said it should have been her, in the coma. Not me.”
“Glenn, what the hell were you thinking?! How did you think that would make anything better?! That’s a sick thing to say to someone!”
“I know, and I didn’t have time to apologise.”
I can hear rustling of movement from the other end of the call. “I have to go and find her. She’s probably distraught by now! I hope you’re happy, Glenn.” And with that, she hangs up on me.
So, she’s not at Darcy’s. I call Eden, and pretty much get the same response, insults and all. The same for Colin and Joel, although I didn’t think she’d go to theirs anyway. Now, they’re all looking for her, a big search party. I know I should look for her too, but I have a feeling I’m the last person she wants to see right now.
I make sure my phone is on loud in case they find her and call me, and crash onto my sofa. Last night seemed like a world away, and as I drift into exhausted sleep, I wish Pemma was asleep beside me.
As my phone beeps loudly at me, snapping me out of my sleep, firstly I realise that it’s pitch black outside now. Secondly, the call I receive is not positive.
“She’s not back yet, we can’t find her. We even checked her house, even though you told us not to.” Eden is frantically screaming down the phone. “You have to come and help us look.”
I hang up immediately after that. As much as I don’t think she wants to see me, I do need to find her. Still in my running gear, I grab a coat and torch, stepping into the night.
The darkness envelopes me, and I make my way to the roads, where the streetlamps will be, before realising that Pemma would never be somewhere so obvious.
I can’t think of anywhere that would be of specific importance to Pemma, until I remember the pine woods near our school, on the outskirts of town. I’d mentioned the incident, and that’s the only place I can imagine that could relate to that. The same, dense woodland… I’m not sure, but it could hold wild animals too.
I run, despite my aching legs telling me not to do so. My lungs burn, but I ignore my body’s pleas. After what seems like an eternity, I leave the safety of the streetlamps and venture into the woods, my torch like a beacon.
The tall, thin trunks of the pines loom in front of me, and I feel shivers up my spine. I’ve watched far too many horror movies to know where this is headed. But I carry on, because I can just feel Pemma’s in here, somewhere. I hear swooping above me, which I hope is owls, and the crunch of fallen pine needles underfoot. In the daytime, this forest is beautifully picturesque- at night, it’s threatening and overwhelming.
I almost jump out of my skin when I see a rabbit leap in front of me, its eyes shining in the torchlight. I slightly avert it from the creature to avoid blinding it, aiming the light at the floor just to the side of it, where I see footprints. They look relatively fresh, because the needles are still heavily compressed, but my heart skips a beat when I see a second set of footprints next to them- animal ones.
I run frantically, following the footprints in front of me- the trees approach me at unnerving speeds, and it takes most of my energy to dodge them. I don’t stop running until I come across another beam of light- belonging to the search party. Everyone but Darcy…
“Glenn,” they greet me, as Joel speaks out, “We found Pemma, in a bad way. She was curled up against a tree on the far edge of the woods by the river. She looked a total wreck. You must’ve done a real number on her, because she wouldn’t stop shaking and would only talk to Darcy. She wouldn’t stop apologising, too. Anyway, Darce took her to the hospital to check her over because we thought she had hypothermia or something, and her arm was bleeding.”
“What happened to her arm?”
“We don’t know, like I said, she wouldn’t talk to anyone but Darcy. You guys should come back to mine, and we’ll call Darce to see what’s happening.”
A wave of horror hits me, as I realise that this is all my fault. Everything she’s done, it’s been because of the things I said. I never asked her about her feelings after the incident, after all.
Joel has a surprisingly big house. He lives with his family, but they’re on holiday while he’s supposed to be ‘studying’. The family are all ginger, all nine of them, hence the huge house. When we all huddle up in Joel’s room, we call Darcy to see what’s going on. It’s on loudspeaker as we ring, and all eyes are on me. Colin looks angry, Eden looks worried, and Joel remains impassive. I never know what that guy’s thinking.
We hear a click as the phone is picked up. “Hey, Joel is that you?” Darcy seems relieved, hopefully Pemma’s okay.
“Hey, its actually the whole group here. How’s Pemma doing?” Joel replies, cautiously.
Her voice suddenly turns cold. “Glenn needs to go home. I don’t want to talk to him, and nobody else should for that matter.”
A room full of eyes looks at me, and I don’t doubt their loyalty, but when Darcy says something seriously, you’d better obey.
Obviously I take my leave, sort of. I want to know Pemma’s okay, so I close Joel’s door behind me and hover outside, my ear to the door. I’ve technically left, so what’s the harm?
I hear muffled voices on the other side. “…She’s okay. It’s mild hypothermia, but it can be cured easily, and she’s getting her arm stitched up as we speak.
“What happened to her arm?”, a worried Eden queries.
“She won’t specify, I think she’s in shock. But the doctors think its some sort of a large animal bite.”
What kind of stunt did she try to pull? Did she mean for that to happen? Did she want to put herself in the situation I was in? The thought makes the pit of my stomach turn, my face involuntarily twists into a grotesque shape.
“What the hell did Glenn do to her?!”It’s Colin this time, emotional as usual. He seems to have adopted Pemma as a sort of daughter figure- like she needs to be protected. He, of all people, should know that she didn’t need that. Now, I’m not so sure.
Darcy’s voice grows quieter. “She won’t say the exact words, but basically Glenn told her that his coma was all her fault, and that it should have been her that was attacked, not him.”
I hear sobs from the next room. Eden, assumingly.
“Why would he say something like that?!” Joel turns angry, now. This isn’t looking good for me.
“Does it matter? He’s ruined Pemma. Her confidence is shattered, her arm’s stitched, and it’s all his fault. I love Pemma like a sister and I don’t know if I can forgive him for this.”
I’ve really, really messed up. Why can’t it go back to yesterday? As much as I’m glad to hear that my friends are so concerned about Pemma, they’ve turned against me. I can tell Pemma is trying to defend me, but it won’t be enough. Unfortunately, I’ve befriended a group of very strong-minded people, and they’ll turn against me like that. It’s not that they’re disloyal, but they know when someone is in the wrong. And I’m as far in the wrong as someone can get.
I don’t want to hear anymore. I run down the stairs, not caring if they hear me, and straight to my apartment. Tears streaming down my face, I fall onto the sofa. My jumper is still laid on the cushions, and when I bring it closer, it smells of Pemma. Her frizzy hair, her earthy perfume. It chokes me- because I really hurt this girl, even though she’s done so much for me.
It’s been four days since the incident, and I haven’t left my apartment. Nobody’s tried to call or text, and I guess I don’t blame them either.
I sit down to an assortment of groceries from the fridge for breakfast- I’m too miserable to cook. Then, the doorbell makes an unexpected appearance.
“Day six-hundred and fifty-three.” My unexpected guess states. She looks tired and worn, different to her usual cherub-like features. I can see a lump under her jumper where the bandage on her arm must be. Her eyes are ringed black with old mascara.
I frantically try to find the words to bridge a gap between the hateful abyss I made between us. “Pemma- I don’t even know where to start. How do I start? I’m sorry? Yeah, I’m sorry. I should’ve never said what I did and it’s my fault that-”
“Ssh.” She interrupts me, calmly. “You had every right to say what you did. It’s fine. It’s not your fault. Don’t stress yourself out, you’re still recovering. My arm’s fine, so don’t worry about that either. My parents still don’t know about it and I’d like to keep it that way. You haven’t been worrying too much have you?!”
I breathe a huge sigh of relief. “Are you kidding me? I’ve been worried sick! Warn me before you want to go for a midnight woodland stroll again, will you?”
Tears of relief fill her eyes. “So you don’t hate me anymore?”
“No! I was mad at myself, and I took it out on you. Are we okay? Is this,” I sweep my hands between us, “okay?”
She smirks. “It’s just fine.”
Usually, I’d wake up in the morning to the smell of Pemma burning some kind of food from my cupboards in an attempt to make breakfast, but I smell nothing. Literally nothing. Not the faint smell of linen on the bedsheets, or my socks under my bed. I’m not worried- my senses are probably just taking a while to kick in today.
“Hey, Pemma.” I pick up the frazzled bacon sandwich and overcooked eggs from the counter. As I bite into it, with the yolk oozing into my mouth, nothing happens. I taste nothing.
“Day six-hundred and fifty-four.” She mumbles, too preoccupied in her breakfast to say anything else.
“…Pemma? You’ve really outdone yourself this time. Overcooked the food to the point that it’s lost all taste.”
“Hey! It’s not that bad. Mine has taste, try that.”
I do, and nothing happens. What’s going on? “Pemma. I can’t taste it. I can’t smell either.” Panic wells up inside of me.
She tries to reach out to me but I pull away. “I’m just trying to check your temperature, dumbass. Have you got a blocked nose, a cold at all?”
Turns out, the doctors didn’t realise that the effects of my coma would continue for as long as they have. Although my muscles have regained strength, apparently my brain was still recovering. With the stress of Pemma’s disappearance and basic everyday life, my brain has gone into overdrive. Excessive strain has caused it to try to reboot itself. Terminal. Pemma’s hand is clutching mine, her golden eyes shining with unfallen tears. In this hospital waiting room, I can remember what it smells like from when I was in rehabilitation before, but not now. Terminal. All I have are memories of scents, of summer pollen, Pemma’s burned cooking, her coconut scented hair. And my taste, too. I’ll never taste my favourite over-sweetened Early Grey, or Joel’s homemade orange cheesecake. None of it.
Her cautious voice snaps me out of my miserable reverie. Glenn? It’s okay. Smell and taste aren’t everything.” Terminal.
“Didn’t you hear the nurse? It won’t stop there. I’ll keep losing my senses until I’m nothing. I’ll keep fading away until my brain thinks it’s had enough and shuts down, because it thinks it’ll do the old ‘turn off and on again’ trick and be fine afterward. Doesn’t it know that you can’t turn a brain back on? Stupid damn thing.” My voice is loud and wobbly, fists balled. Terminal.
“We can’t be sure when that’ll happen. It may not happen for years.” Terminal.
“My lifespan will be much shorter than yours regardless of when it happens, Pemma.”
Darcy takes the news the worst.
“What do you mean, terminal? Surely your brain can’t do that. Can’t they stimulate it to wake it back up again?” She searches frantically for an answer.
I roll my eyes. “This isn’t a sci-fi movie, Darce. Once I’m dead, I’m dead. Dead as a dodo. Dead as a dormouse. Do people even use that last phrase anymore?” I try to lift the subject.
“You have the vocabulary of an eighty-year old. Nobody says that anymore.” She wipes unfallen tears from her eyes.
I hold her close- I need her and the people around me more than ever.
“I will make it through this.” I lie.