“Day six hundred and fifty seven!” I chirp, emerging from Glenn’s spare room, with an unusual spring in my step. This is the second day of our zoo, and I feel it’s given me and him a new purpose to life, at least for now.
I know Glenn wouldn’t be up as early as me, but I want to show him how to care for each of the animals first thing in the morning, so I go to wake him up.
My heart skips a beat. My hands get sweaty. My eyes frantically search the room for anywhere he could be. I’m panicking.
“GLENN?!” I shout as loud as I can, not bothering to hide the fear in my voice. He’s not here. Where is he? I don’t know when his sense of touch will go, but it should be soon. He shouldn’t be outside like that. After ringing Darcy and Colin, we conclude Glenn isn’t anywhere we know of. Where is he? Why did he leave? Was it the animals? Why now, of all times? Before I know it, tears are streaming down my face and I’m crying. Not picture-perfect movie crying, but real ugly heaving sobs with a twisted face kind of crying, but I don’t care. He had no right to leave.
Within an hour, me, Darcy, Colin , Eden and Joel are together and trying to piece this puzzle together. There’s no point in calling and worrying Glenn’s parents, they’re too far away to really do anything about it. We tried everywhere, my house, Darcy’s parents’ farm, even Adrienne’s house. Unfortunately, she now wants to join in the search party, but I have to bury the hatchet for now. There are bigger problems.
The overwhelming sounds of the city deafen me as I run down a dark alley, I have no idea where. It’s no longer raining, but the puddles that remain splash onto my jeans, soaking them. I should be freezing cold in this weather, I’m sure my feet have blisters, but I wouldn’t know. My heart is beating so fast I can hear it in my ears, but I don’t notice it hammering my ribcage. I can’t feel a thing.
It’s been three days, I think, since I left home. I’ve basically not stopped running since, but God, am I tired. The bleary lights of neon signs light my way through downtown, but downtown where? I have no idea. I took a bus, and told them to take me as far as my fare could get. So I ended up here. I stayed in a hostel for the first night, but slept rough last night, and will probably have to do the same again now. I know I can’t run forever but it’s worth a try. I really don’t have a plan but I’m on borrowed time, so nothing I do will matter anyway.
I do stop running, however, when I see a white cat blocking my way down a narrow street. It looks so out of place in this grimy area of town. It suddenly hits me what I’ve left behind. Pemma, Darcy, the bunnies, even Snarf the kitten. But it’s too late to go back now. I reach down to stroke the kitten, with a wide smile and kind eyes, but it narrows its pupils, snarls and swipes at me, leaving red lines oozing crimson liquid on my hand. Not that it bothers me anyway, I shrug and carry on my journey. That cat was a cruel reminder of what the world truly is- a monster covered in a beautiful façade, I understand where Pemma was coming from when we first met, now. I thought she saw the world through negative-tinted goggles, but suddenly I realise she had the right idea. No matter how hard I try to be a good person, it gets thrown back in my face. I’ve got a terminal illness, and for what? I never committed any crimes, what did I do to deserve this? I’m not a particularly religious person but if there was some kind of higher power watching over me right now, they must’ve been laughing.
Suddenly I stop. Not by choice, but because my body seizes up. Something must be wrong, but I don’t know what, because I can’t feel a thing. I strain to move my muscles, and they obey, only barely. They start shaking like mad. It’s like I’m being shaken vigorously from a million invisible hands. I grit my teeth and keep going, not caring what it does to my body, until I come to a huddle of people around a fire in a barrel, all wearing torn clothes with hopeless looks on their faces. The last thing I see before passing out is the way the strangers’ faces immediately shift from hopeless looks to those of concern.
Day six-hundred and sixty-three. It’s been almost a week since Glenn disappeared, and I haven’t slept properly since. From dusk till dawn, all of us are searching, making phone calls, anything we can do to find him. There’s only so much time until he loses his sense of touch, and when that happens we don’t know how long he will last outside. It might’ve already happened, but everyone is doing everything they can to find him. Darcy suggested that today I take a break to see my family, because I’ve been left countless voicemails and the only thing that stopped them from filing a missing person was the fact I texted to say I was okay.
After walking through the housing estate not too far from Glenn’s apartment, I sheepishly walk up to the house I once called my home. Knocking on the door, I’m terrified of who will be on the other side. If it’s my father, I don’t know how I’ll react, the last time I saw him I insulted him as much as I could and left.
I breathe a sigh of relief after waiting what seems like hours, as my brother opens the door, his icy blue eyes staring up at me. After a brief moment he registers the situation and leaps forward, latching onto me.
“Pem!” He squeals, and I know that despite how I left this house, I’ll always be welcome here, no matter what my father does.
The commotion brings my mother to the door, and I can see the colour drain from her face before also joining in on the group hug. After a few moments and mumbling into my shoulder, mother pulls back with watery eyes and an uneasy smile.
“Hi, honey. Are you here to stay now?” She asks, with a hint of hope in her voice.
I hate to let her down so early, but I can’t leave Glenn’s side, especially not now. But I put on a brave face. “How about you guys let me in first?”
After sitting down and hugging my sister nearly to death, I ask mother about what happened to my father.
Her face briefly flashes to one of anger, then clears. “I made him leave. If you’d listened to all the voicemails I’d sent you, you’d know. As soon as you left and it was clear you weren’t coming back, I made him leave. I waited every day for you to come back to us, Pem.” Despite her being angry at my leaving I know she’s relieved to have me back. But I know I can’t stay long.
I make myself comfortable, then dropped the bad news.
“I can’t stay here, ma. I have a responsibility to Glenn, you know the boy in the coma? He’s got a terminal illness now and I’m looking after him for the time being. I hope you understand.” She smiles and nods understandingly. “I hate to leave you so early, but I’ll definitely visit more often okay? I just need to go get some extra clothes and stuff, I’m sick of living in Glenn’s clothes.” I joke, to try lift the mood, unsuccessfully.
“You’re a good girl Pemma, and I’m glad you’re looking after this boy. I’ve never met him before but he’s the reason you’ve made so many friends, so he must be worth something. Promise you’ll visit more often and actually reply to my calls okay?”
“Of course,” tears forming in my eyes, “I better go get my things ready.” I rush off before she can see how upset I am. It’s a mixture of leaving her again, and the fact that when I come back to stay here for good, it’ll be because Glenn is dead.
After grabbing some more clothes and a few home comforts, mother hands be a box of biscuits, even though I told her I’m well fed. Leah hands me her favourite bead bracelet, orange and blue, and Nathan gives me one of his Thundercats action figures, which reminds me.
“Hey, Nathan? Did you know, at Glenn’s we have a pet kitten and it’s called Snarf.” His eyes fill with admiration and tears, and his grin falters.
“Alright, you better be on your way, honey. Know you’re always welcome here and please be in touch more often! I don’t want you making Nathan cry again.” She jokes uneasily, also holding back tears. The only one not crying is my sister, who never cries anyway.
“Bye guys, I’ll call soon. I love you.” I wave goodbye with a duffel bag full of clothes and gifts, and I’m shoved back into the harsh world of Glenn’s absence.
However, when I get home, and by home I mean Glenn’s apartment, Joel is waiting at the door, worry etched on his freckled face. I feel physically sick. Have they found Glenn?
Joel looks into my eyes and replies as if he read my mind. “We found Glenn. A hospital a couple of cities over replied to the missing persons ad we put out, with a guy matching Glenn’s description. Eden, Darcy and Colin already left, but I stayed behind to make sure you got the news. Dump your bags and go there now. Hurry up.” Joel never seems affected by anything; he’s an emotionally stable rock that we all cling onto in hard times, but today he’s wavering.
It takes almost 2 hours to drive there, and all the time we sit in uneasily silence. We don’t know how to comfort each other, because we don’t know if Glenn is okay. The hospital brings back harsh memories of Glenn’s accident and his rehabilitation. I’ve lost count of the days, now. I stopped bothering after Glenn left. The jarring smells of cleaning products and medicine hits me, and I’m hit with a wave of nausea. I don’t want it to end like this. We check in, and rush to Glenn’s room, which is filled with our friends and nurses alike.
An elderly nurse with kind, grey eyes is the first to speak. “As we’ve told your friends here already, we know about Glenn’s current condition from hospital records. But what he suffered today was a seizure, most likely caused by very low blood sugar. Has he been living somewhere safe? A group of rough sleepers carried him to us, in the middle of the night.”
This shouldn’t have happened. We were supposed to find him before he got worse. We don’t even know how many senses he’s lost now. The stress of the seizure might’ve hurried up the process. This is all my fault, I should’ve noticed when he’d left. I was in charge of looking after him.
Darcy pipes up, as the rest of us can’t find the voices to ask. “When will he wake up? What will happen now?”
“After the seizure he passed out and we put him under for a bit longer to give him some rest, he’ll be awake in about an hour. As for what will happen, as his disease is terminal there’s not much we can do. We’ll run some tests when he wakes up, and hopefully he can be discharged as soon as possible, we don’t want to keep him in here much longer as we can’t do much more for him.”
I finally found my voice, although it was weak. “Thank you. We’ll be here when he wakes up.” Everyone nods in agreement.