My eyes spring open in the hopes of seeing Pemma- after all, her habit of counting the days matched. But when I look to my side, I see Adrienne. I try to open my mouth to speak, but she waves her hand at me.
She squeals, unsurprisingly. “I’m so glad you’re awake! I also noticed that Pemma used to count the days, which I thought was dead romantic, so I carried on where she left off! I can’t believe she left you, considering all she had to do was wait a few more days. How mean. Anyway, it means we can be friends now.” Ugh. I wake out of a coma, and all she can talk about is my current relationship status? This is ridiculous. All Pemma had to do was wait a little longer, and she’d still be in my life. Why the hell didn’t I wake up earlier?
As she leaves, I feel positively exhausted, but as the rest of my friends come bustling through the doors, I realise I can’t let the abyss take me back just yet.
Eden and Darcy embrace my fragile, malnourished body, as do a number of other partially-familiar girls, who contribute to my charade of popularity.
The guys come along after them, looking awkwardly. I smile warmly, straining to use my face muscles, especially looking at Colin and Joel. We exchange friendly glances, and after the countless gifts showered upon me, and the girls have stopped fussing over how thin I am, do I finally feel able to relax. Eden, Colin, Joel and Darcy remain; my closest friends.
I take in their appearances individually-
Eden’s cropped black hair is just past her ear-length now, she has a lot more ear piercings, and she generally looks a lot happier- the rumours about her and Colin must be true.
Darcy remains practically the same- same tall, looming height, same natural blonde hair, and same moles just below her eyes.
Colin has gotten extraordinarily taller- we always used to tease him about how short he was. His face is more angular, his dirty blonde hair almost as long as Eden’s, his heterochromia shining through as strong as I last remember- a piercing blue, and a dark brown.
Joel still looks like a lumberjack- his beard’s gotten thicker, but his hair stays the same- a shock of wild ginger. But he seems to have more creases around his eyes, even for a teenager… was that my fault?
I smile at them with as much energy as I can muster, before closing my eyes again.
Awoken once again by the sound of chatter- of that of my own mother, father, and…Pemma?
It physically pains me to see how much my parents have aged- both now have visible grey hair, and strained wrinkles beneath their eyes.
“Lenny! We’ve missed you so much.” My mother rushes towards me, arms open wide, cliché. I blush involuntarily as she uses my childhood nickname. Father simply stands by to supervise, but I know that action means he cares for me a lot, maybe even more than my mother.
Tear lines streak her face up close, and it makes my heart break to know I’ve put them through this.
As much as I hate to say it, I’m much more interested in the appearance of Pemma, I thought she would never come back?
I want to greet them, say how much I’ve missed both her and my parents, now that I have the energy and will to speak. But when I strain my throat, no noise comes out. I flash a panicked look at Pemma, before realising how much more beautiful she’s become. Her once auburn bob now cascades past her shoulders in rolling waves of gold, ginger and brown, and her sculpted freckled face now has thick brown rims framing her perfectly round hazel eyes.
“Don’t bother. You’ll need speech therapy after being in a coma for that long. I’m just glad you’re awake now, even if you really do piss me off. The doctors were going to turn all the machines off next weekend. I have to go, I shouldn’t even be here anymore.”
My mother interrupts my painful goodbye- at least this time I get to see Pemma leave. “You’ll be starting both speech and physical therapy next week, so get some rest. We’ve been visiting you for over a year, and we have to back to America soon. Your father’s job has a shortage of workers, and our pay leave runs out soon. We love you, and wanted to say goodbye before we left. Aaron and I promise to come see you again soon, to keep an eye on how you’re doing.”
Aaron, my father, steps forward. “We really don’t want to leave you, but we have no choice.” I nod my head to show I understand. My mother leaves the room, so we can chat privately, though I’m not sure why.
“Keep that Pemma girl- she’s visited you more times than the rest of us combined.”
And with that, he left.
That emotional outburst exhausted me, as I fall asleep again.
“Day four-hundred and eighty. Lenny? That’s a hilarious nickname. Today, I have to help you get better.” I groan internally, Adrienne again. She’s seriously becoming annoying. As much as I would enjoy anyone’s hospitality, hers is unnecessarily overbearing and pushy.
I glare at her. What the hell does she mean?
She understands my confusion. “You need to look in a mirror, and the nurses have said that you’d be most comfortable doing that with me, seeing as Pemma’s left now and your friends are away on a school trip.” Her whole face is beaming, a blush covering every square inch of it. On Pemma, it might’ve looked cute, as it would flush out her freckles, and it would be a rare sight. But Adrienne can blush at anything, can laugh at everything, and practically love anyone.
I violently shake my head, showing that I definitely don’t want her help. A nurse peers through the window to see how it’s going, which is to say, not very well.
She saunters in, in blue medical scrubs.
“What’s wrong? You need to get better, maybe there’s someone else you’d rather have help you with this?”
I eagerly shake my head- bringing an unwanted wave of dizziness. As my eyes refocus, I’m handed a whiteboard and pen. I look up to Adrienne who looks really offended, but I shrug it off. She should know by now that there’s someone I’d much rather see.
My left hand struggles to hold the pen correctly, so I hold it primitively, like I used to when I was five. My wrist has limited flexibility, and I drop the pen numerous times as it rolls of the bed, and the nurse fetches it. All the while, Adrienne looks at me with inquisitive and partially jealous eyes.
I try my best to scrawl legible letters on the board. All I need is one P, one E, two M’s, and an A. No matter how hard I try, it remains illegible to me. However, when I hand the board to the nurse, she smiles and says, “Pemma? I should’ve guessed.” before gliding gracefully out of the room, leaving me and Adrienne in an awkward silence, caused by her insolence.
Her voice becomes hysterical, even higher than her usual ear-splitting voice. “Pemma? That girl left you when I stayed by your side! Sure, she visited more than I did, but she left you! And, what’s worse is that she punched me! I still have a mark on my face, you know!” Interested, I look up at her eyes. Sure enough, one of them is slightly darker than the other, the brow bone of her left eye bruised, even beneath all the makeup I know she has caked on. Without knowing, I grin to myself, earning a death stare from Adrienne.
“You know what? I’ll come back once you have some sense in you. This girl punched me, and all you can do is laugh?” Then, her expression drastically changes, and she becomes placid. “Sorry, I know you’re still trying to control your muscles and stuff, so you didn’t smile on purpose. But I won’t be back for a few days just in case that animal tries to punch me again. I’ll see you later, Lenny.” I cringe at the use of my pet name, before falling asleep again. I really hope Pemma helps me through this.
I’m awoken to muffled shouts and protests outside my room.
“Joel, what the hell? You said you were taking me to the supermarket to help your mum! This is not the supermarket, and I thought I’d made it pretty clear that I didn’t want anything to do with you or Glenn ever again?!”
A heavily accented voice tries to console her, “Yeah, yeah I know. You stopped talking to us all of a sudden, ignored us in the hallways, and blocked our numbers. We’re not stupid, Pemma. We know you stopped visiting Glenn and you didn’t want us asking questions. But he’s awake now, and he needs you. You’re the only one he wants to help him with this new development, and you have to take responsibility for that!” His voice rose in volume and passion towards the end of his speech.
A shameful Pemma replied, “…Fine. But once this is over, I’m leaving.”
A now pent-up Joel carried on, “No. He isn’t a strain on you anymore, remember, he’s awake! You can go back to hanging out with us; you can go back to talking to Glenn! We all miss you, and if you leave, it’s because you’re a selfish person who doesn’t want to be burdened with the promises of friendship.” Mellow Joel is the one I’ve known my whole life, and I can’t believe Pemma’s drawn out any other emotion from him.
Her voice is deadly calm now. “Fine, then. I’m selfish. Now go, I need to see Glenn and get this over with.”
“Only if you promise me one thing.”
Before I hear what he says, the door swishes open and a nurse comes to talk to me about what I’m about to do.
She looks thinner than the last time I saw her with my parents. Her gaunt features plastered onto a white, freckled face.
After an awkward silence between us, “Let’s get this over with.”
As I’m hoisted into an upright position by Pemma and the nurse, one under each arm, they drag me to a small waiting room, with a mirror and scales. I daren’t look at the mirror. The nurse leaves, giving me a reassuring look. Pemma holds me under one arm, as she pulls me over to the floor-length mirror. Tears prick my eyes.
From what I can see, my legs have wasted away, my knees like obscure round objects, my shins like sticks. My arms aren’t much better- there’s no muscle, no fat, just skin and bone. As my eyes drag themselves up towards the reflection of my face, I retch, dry heaving on the hard floor. Pemma harshly picks me up again, and points to the mirror, her voice emotionless.
“You have to come to terms with what you look like now, not what you used to look like.”
My features are gaunt, to say the least. My usually fleshed out face now has hollow cheeks, an unnaturally sharp nose and jawline, with cavernous eye sockets. My dark brown hair has fallen to below my shoulders, and it lies there, limply. I look like something from a horror movie.
I violently shake my head after my full evaluation, signalling that I want to go. Pemma obeys, dragging me back again. She immediately leaves, without saying a word. Knowing her, it’s probably supposed to be interpreted as an act of kindness- she’s giving me my own space to think about what just happened. But all I feel is loneliness, trapped in a body that I no longer know.
Speech therapy starts, and it’s actually really difficult. I try forming shapes with my mouth that I thought I’d never be able to do again, forcing my voice box to make any noise. After a few weeks, I can form simple sentences, like , ‘Hello, my name is Glenn. What is yours?’, and, ‘I like your coat, it’s very yellow’. It feels positively degrading to be reduced to this limit of speech, after what I could do before. I have vast oceans of untapped knowledge in my mind that I can’t express, unless in the simplest of ways.
However, my friends visit me every day, even now that I’ve woken up. Pemma promised to stay with me until I got better- where is she now?