A/N: This chapter is a bit text heavy (at least the first part), but I hope you guys enjoy it anyway! :) There’s a bit of swearing in this one.
Edit: Oops, I forgot to mention!! Travis Rain belongs to the wonderful orangeplumbob! Sorry, I forgot to add that before. XD
The memories are vague now, like trying to keep water in cupped hands. They slip through my fingers like sand, but I struggle to hold them firm in my mind, to get them down on the page. I must write down everything that passed, otherwise nothing will ever be right again. It’s the goal I’ve set myself.
When I was younger, I set myself many goals. If I cleaned the dishes by five, my father wouldn’t drink that night. If I ran up and down the stairs from the lobby ten times, he would remember my birthday. If I stayed up past midnight, he would still be alive. I never let myself win though; I never let myself beat my goal. If I lost, I couldn’t be disappointed when the things I’d promised myself didn’t happen.
But this time – this time I will meet my goal.
If I tell the truth, Susie will forgive me.
This time, things will be right again.
As the sound of the gunshot faded away, I expected to feel pain. I expected to be knocked off my feet, to lie bleeding on the cold concrete until someone came to check my body. I expected to die.
But none of those things happened, and I slowly came to realise that no one had shot at me. The unnatural silence of the night in the wake of the gunshot sent a shiver through me as the knowledge I was desperately trying to keep out slowly seeped in.
The gunshot had come from inside the house.
My family were in danger.
Without stopping to think, I ran towards the house. The door banged in the wind. I skidded to a halt before the threshold, fully expecting to come face to face with the cold muzzle of a gun.
I took a deep breath and stepped into my house.
The first thing I saw was Susie, curled on the ground with her arms yanked and lashed behind her back. Her mouth was covered with duct tape, her cheeks stained with fresh tears. I made a movement towards her, but stopped myself, my heart pounding.
Susie saw me. Her eyes widened and she made a slight jerking movement with her head.
Get out of here.
I shook my head in return. I couldn’t – wouldn’t – leave, even if it was the most sensible thing to do.
“Don’t even think about moving,” a calm, smooth voice said suddenly, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. “I have men outside, and they will shoot to kill.”
I had the feeling he was bluffing, but, if he wasn’t… well, I was no use to anyone dead.
I slid my eyes across and saw Jamie – thankfully still alive! – huddled on the floor with his head in his hands. Two smoking bullet holes had appeared in the wall either side of his head. His thin frame shook violently.
The man was pointing the gun at him, his finger poised on the trigger.
“Now where were we?” He paused. “Oh, yes… We were deciding which part of you I was going to shoot first.”
“Just kill me, you bastard!” Jamie spat out, but his voice trembled.
I could see the tears and sweat glistening on his skin. Anger pulsed through me. I wanted to run and knock the gun out of the man’s hand, but my feet were frozen to the floorboards. Despite the anger, I was too frightened to move. I was too frightened to even breathe.
The man chuckled.
“Oh, I don’t think so, Jamie. You still have a lot of debt to pay.”
Suddenly, his identity fell into place in my mind, a figure from Jamie’s past sprung to life from the pages of my diary.
“Claude,” I whispered. The men he had threatened were stationed outside were starting to seem less and less like a bluff.
The man twitched slightly at the sound of his name, but he continued on as though I hadn’t spoken.
“I’m going to fuck you raw before I even think of killing you. What do you think, slut?”
At that moment, the door slammed shut with a loud bang. Everyone jumped and Claude’s finger tightened reflexively on the trigger. A second later, Jamie let out a long, loud wail of pain and I felt my heart turn to ice.
There was a breath of silence, and then a slow bead of blood trickled down Jamie’s face like a tear.
“Only a graze,” Claude muttered. “Good.”
Sudden relief washed through me and, riding on the adrenaline high, I could take it no longer.
“Leave my son alone.”
Claude smiled and turned to face me.
“Oh, you bite, do you? And you call yourself his father?” His eyes looked me slowly up and down. “Bit young, aren’t you? What are you, eighteen?”
“Nineteen,” I ground out between clenched teeth, acutely aware of Jamie’s ragged sobs.
Claude smiled as he reloaded his gun.
“Really? Well… unless you were a particularly fertile three year old, I don’t see how you could be his father.”
My chest felt tight, but I didn’t back down. Words tumbled over each other in my hurry to speak.
“He’s legally my son, and this is my house, so get out. Right now.”
Claude cocked his gun with a smile.
“Or you’ll do what? Unless you missed it, I’m the one with the gun.”
“I’ve called the police,” I lied, grasping at straws. “They’ll be here any minute now.”
Claude laughed and aimed the gun at my chest.
“Do you really think the police can help you? By the time anyone gets here, you and your little whore over there will be dead, and Jamie and myself will be long gone.”
I clenched my fists, hot rage boiling up in my stomach.
“Don’t talk about my wife like that.”
“Your wife? Well, that changes everything. Perhaps we should take her along for the ride, hm?”
I wanted to lunge at him, to wipe that self-satisfied smile right off his face, but the gun held me back. I would barely have time to take one step before he shot me, and then Susie and Jamie would be at his mercy.
For as long as I kept him talking, kept his attention on me, my family would be safe.
“Is this what gets you off, Claude?” I asked softly, my voice amazingly steady (inside I was shaking like a leaf). “Frightening people who can’t defend themselves?”
I flinched as Claude clicked the safety off on his gun.
“Do you really think it’s a good idea to be baiting me?” He laughed softly. “You’re watching, right, Jamie? You wouldn’t want to miss your father’s last breath.”
Now, Jamie hadn’t been completely idle whilst Claude was gloating. Despite the fact that the wound on his head was obviously bothering him and the fact he could barely control his shaking body, he had forced himself to his feet and was edging inch by trembling inch towards his bedroom door. I can only imagine that he was planning on barricading himself in there and phoning the police – he knew me well enough to know that I would never have done so.
Unfortunately, as his hand reached slowly towards the handle, I noticed his movement out of the corner of my eye and flicked my gaze towards him. Claude noticed the involuntary movement and suddenly his gun was pointed at Jamie again.
“Are you trying to escape, Mr Kelly?” Claude said, his tone evidently amused. “Tut tut, that will never do.”
I wondered, for a brief moment, if Claude actually had the balls to kill. He seemed to spend a lot of time talking about killing and, though he had fired his gun, it hadn’t been with the intention of murder. But then, being the only one actually armed and probably having realised I was bluffing about the police, he could afford to take his sweet time to toy with us, to exert his power.
Besides, if the bulge in his trousers was anything to go by, he was seriously getting off on how frightened Jamie was right then.
“You’re more trouble than you’re worth.”
At that moment, his whole stance changed. His arm steadied. His eyes morphed from faint amusement to steely determination.
“I can always fuck your corpse.”
Jamie shrank against the wall, blinking blood out of his eyes as he stared at the barrel of the gun. All the colour had drained from his face. His hands clutched the doorframe, as though he was desperately trying not to pass out. When he spoke, though, his voice was steady.
“Just do it, you coward.”
Claude smiled one last time.
“Goodbye, Jamie Kelly.”
I don’t remember moving. All of a sudden, my body was crashing into Jamie’s, and the momentum from my sprint across the room was knocking both of us to the floor.
We crashed to the floor a moment after the gunshot rang out. I felt the air rush out of Jamie’s body, underneath mine, and heard the air rush out of my own (or perhaps it was the other way around) and, for a moment at least, it seemed as though neither of us had been hurt. I could hear Susie’s muffled screaming from where I lay and tried to move, wanting to show her I was okay. But the moment I rolled off Jamie’s body, pain – hot coiling agony – ripped through my stomach. A cry of pain tore itself from my throat and I slowly became aware that my shirt was rapidly becoming warm and damp.
The next thing I noticed was Jamie clinging tightly to my hand.
“Gabe! Gabe, no!”
I levered myself onto my elbow, gritting my teeth as a fresh wave of pain shot through me.
“It’s nothing,” I managed.
Even now I’m not sure why I said that. It certainly wasn’t nothing. In fact, at that moment, I remember thinking that none of us would get out of there alive.
That was certainly Claude’s intention.
“Last chance to say goodbye, Jamie.”
What happened next is hazy in my memory at best. But what I do remember is this.
Jamie, my brave, reckless Jamie, mustered his courage and jumped to his feet. He stumbled over my body and rushed towards Claude.
All that came after was a single gunshot.
After that, I remember sirens and being in Susie’s arms.
“Hold on, Gabe, Lucas – Gabriel! Please, Gabe… an ambulance is on its way. Don’t die on me.”
Her hand stroked my cheek, but I barely had the strength left to open my eyes. Everything felt cold, apart from the isolated areas where Susie’s body touched mine. Stupidly, all I could think of was telling her the truth.
“Let me die,” I mumbled. “I – I’m stupid…”
“No, no,” Susie whispered tearfully, still caressing my cheek, still trying to keep me awake. “You’re not stupid. All that stuff before… it doesn’t matter right now, Gabe. Just hold on.”
“N-no.” I couldn’t feel my legs, which was distracting, but I knew I had to tell Susie what had happened. I had to tell her before the moment passed and I lost all courage. Perhaps before I lost my life. “I… I slept with K-Kami.”
Susie’s hand froze on my cheek.
“Wh-what? What do you mean?”
“M-met her in town. She wore towel… wanted to – to forget…”
And then, I remember blackness.
This next part is included because it was so strange, so real, that leaving it out would feel like lying by omission. And I want to tell the whole truth, as strange as this part of it may be.
I woke up in an unfamiliar place, no longer in pain. Trees and green hills spread into the distance as far as the eye could see and, at this point, I was pretty sure I was dead.
At a loss of what else to do, I started to walk.
Presently, I came across a lake and large waterfall, where Jamie was fishing. But it wasn’t Jamie. I mean, it looked like Jamie, but he felt wrong. Different. He was wearing different clothes than I was used to, and the way he held himself was more confident. More… I don’t know, it’s hard to describe.
It was then I remembered that I was probably dead, and an odd thought floated across the surface of my mind.
Could this be… Arthur?
Not sure what else to do, I approached, step by cautious step.
“I was wondering when you’d show up,” he said, without taking his eyes off the lure floating out in the middle of the lake.
Jamie – or, rather, Arthur – gave me a smile.
“Fish with me.”
It was then I noticed that I was holding a fishing rod, when I had definitely not been holding one before. I was so startled that I almost dropped it, but, after gathering myself, I nodded and cast my line.
We stood in silence for what seemed like hours. Nothing bit or tugged on the line, though I could see plenty of fish swimming around just under the surface. It was peaceful, as though we had all the time in the world.
Perhaps we did.
Eventually, though, I remembered how I had ended up there (wherever it was) in the first place, and sudden questions rose up inside me like burning flames.
“Am I dead?”
He smiled and shook his head, his eyes fixed on the water in front of us.
“Are you… are you Arthur?”
“I’m the imprint Arthur left behind, or, at least, your perception of it.”
“Er… I have no idea what that means.”
He laughed at that, and I wished I was back home with Jamie, hearing him laugh.
“For all intents and purposes, I am Arthur.”
“You could have just said ‘yes’, you know… I didn’t finish school.”
“Doesn’t mean you’re stupid.”
“I feel stupid,” I admitted. When he didn’t reply, I looked around again – the sun hadn’t moved from where it hung in the sky. “What is this place?”
“I guess you could call it limbo.”
“The space between life and death. It’s where you come when you’re not ready to move on.”
“So… I am dead?”
“No, you still have a chance to turn back. In the real world, they’re trying to bring you back. You know, with all the fancy hospital equipment and hours in an operating theatre. You just have to let them.”
I thought of Susie, and how I had betrayed her. My stomach twisted painfully.
“What if I don’t want to go back?”
“Then you don’t go back. You move on, and you leave everyone behind.”
Something occured to me, then, and I realised Arthur’s smile wasn’t as genuine as it had first appeared.
“Why are you here? Why haven’t you moved on?”
“Jamie,” Arthur said simply.
Ah, of course.
“Come with me,” Arthur said after a moment, and I suddenly realised that he was no longer standing beside me, but in the middle of the lake.
“I can’t swim.”
“No need to swim, just walk.”
“Nuh uh, no way. That’s not natural.”
I may have been in limbo, but I was completely unprepared to believe that I could walk on water.
“This is the only way you’ll get home.”
At that moment, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go home. Would it be easier for everyone if I just… let go? Susie and Jamie would no longer have to deal with the consequences of my murder of James Frank, and Jamie would have a perfectly good life with Susie, who was now legally his stepmother. My contract with Doo Peas would never have to come to pass.
But, perhaps I wasn’t as selfless as all that.
Perhaps I was simply too afraid to go back and face the consequences of my night with Kami.
Was I just a coward?
It was with this in mind that I took my first few tentative steps out onto the water. It was the most bizarre experience, like walking on jelly, although my feet didn’t sink. Several times during those first few steps I wobbled perilously and it was a miracle that I didn’t fall over.
Arthur watched me struggle impassively and, when I finally managed to stand up straight and balance, he turned away from me.
Without waiting for a reply, Arthur turned and began walking away towards the huge waterfall that thundered into the lake below.
“Where are we going?” I called, as the sound of the waterfall began to get louder and louder.
“Don’t ask questions,” Arthur replied, tossing a grin over his shoulder. “You’ll see.”
I blinked, then, and suddenly, inexplicably, we were on a beach in the middle of nowhere.
At this point, I wasn’t sure how much more confusion my poor little brain could take. Can brains explode from confusion? I felt like mine could.
“What? What is this place? How did we get here? Where are the trees? The waterfall?” The questions poured out of me, tripping over themselves as they all vied for dominance in my mind.
“This is the border of limbo,” Arthur said behind me. “It’s where the restless spirits live, the ones that have unfinished business in the real world.”
“Why are we here?”
“Because this is the only way you can get back to the real world.”
“And how do I do that?”
Arthur moved closer to me, a smile on his face.
“You have to swim beyond the horizon.”
My stomach turned over at the thought.
“I already told you, I can’t swim.”
“That’s all right. When the tide comes rushing in, you’ll learn quickly enough. Besides, you can’t drown here.”
“What?! I can’t – I can’t do that!”
Drowning aside, there were sharks in the sea. And sea monsters. And kraken. And God only knows what else. Even if it was the magical sea of limbo, or whatever they called it around here.
“It’s the only way.”
“Then maybe I’ve changed my mind! Maybe I don’t want to go back!”
A change came over Arthur then. His anger at my words seemed palpable, as though it had become the heat of the sun, rolling off him in waves. It was an inconvenient time to remember that he wasn’t human, not any more.
Mental note: don’t piss off spirits.
“You’d seriously piss this chance away?” Arthur’s voice was low and angry. “I would give anything to be able to go back and be there for my brother, and you would just – you would just give up?”
“No, you don’t understand! I’m not just going to let you abandon him! He can’t lose anyone else! It’s not fair!”
“Please. You can’t do that to him.”
The more I thought about it, the more I knew that what Arthur said was true. I couldn’t do that to Jamie, nor could I leave Susie alone. Even if Susie hated me for the rest of her life, I couldn’t take that choice away from her by being selfish.
“Okay, okay… I know you’re right. I just… I just panicked.”
Arthur nodded after a moment, and his calm expression trembled for a moment as I looked at him.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
Then, looking around nervously, he took my hand and leant up on tiptoes to whisper in my ear.
“There’s another spirit here who has unfinished business with you, Gabriel. You ought to watch your back.”
I froze, chest constricting, heart pounding… but Arthur merely pulled back, as though he hadn’t said a word.
Were those dreams of James Frank really dreams at all?
Or was this a mere dream too?
“Take care of my brother, all right?” Arthur said softly, and I nodded and promised that I would.
“So… do I swim now?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll wait until the tide comes in. It’ll be easier.”
We lapsed into silence again and fished once more. Thoughts and worries were chasing each other around and around in my mind. Logically, I knew that this couldn’t be real, that it was just a dream and, therefore, the lingering threat of James Frank couldn’t be real either.
But it certainly felt real.
And what if it was?
The ocean swallowed me up and I sank back down into the abyss.
I woke slowly, wrapped in white starched sheets.
Everything ached and my head felt fuzzy, as though it had been filled with cotton wool. As I woke up more and more, the ache in my stomach intensified; it was like someone had taken a sledgehammer to my body, and been none too gentle about it either.
“Ah,” a voice said. “You’re awake. No, don’t try to move – you’ll rip out all of your stitches.”
“What happened?” I asked with a voice that sounded weak and scratchy. My mouth was horribly dry and I attempted to wet my lips. “Water?”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible right now,” the voice said. “Your digestive system has been severely compromised by the bullet. In fact, you’re lucky to be alive right now, Mr Nesaren. The surgeons performed a miracle on you.”
I tried to let that sink in, but it was hard to wrap my head around. The voice explained that I was currently being fed through a bag and there were other bags that were being used to collect my bodily waste. I was kind of relieved when he told me this, as I really didn’t think I would be able to muster the strength to move if nature came calling. He told me that I was on strong pain killers which would make me rather drowsy. Even as he said the words, I felt tired.
Despite how grim everything sounded right then, the voice was confident I would make a full recovery. I wasn’t out of the danger zone yet, not by a long shot, but I had survived surgery.
And that, he said, was the first step.
“Excuse me,” I mumbled, after I had caught him at a pause in his reel of medical jargon (most of which was going straight over my head – I was just happy to be alive). “But… who are you?”
“Ah, yes… of course. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Dr Rain, and I’ve been assigned your case. You’ll be seeing a lot more of me over the next few weeks.”
I nodded politely, but my attention had wandered again. Where was Jamie? And Susie?
“Have I had any visitors?” I asked softly. Even as I asked the question, I felt my eyelids getting heavy again. I knew I didn’t have much longer before the drugs Dr Rain had described somewhere in his speech put me back under.
His words were the last think I heard before the drugs carried me back off into the blackness.
The next time I woke up, Jamie was there. He had fallen asleep on the rather uncomfortable looking hospital bench at the end of my bed. I was thankful to see that he was all right – there had been a part of me, when that last gunshot had gone off, that had assumed Jamie had died.
As though he could tell I was watching him, Jamie opened his eyes.
He raised himself slowly up on his arm.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like an elephant stepped on me,” I admitted, and he managed a shadow of a smile.
It hurt to see him so despondant, so I asked him, “How’s home? How is Susie?”
Jamie looked down at the pattern on the sofa for a long moment, before peeking up at me through his fringe. My heart flip-flopped with anxiety; were things really that bad at home?
“I haven’t been home,” Jamie said softly after a moment. “I… I came straight here after… after the police released me.”
I tried to sit up, but a sudden stabbing pain in my stomach thwarted that attempt.
“Come over here,” I forced out, breathless from pain. “Talk to me.”
When Jamie had settled in the chair beside my bed, I asked softly, “What happened?”
“I shot Claude. I mean… I don’t know if I meant to, or what happened, just… suddenly, the gun went off and he was… he was sprawled on the floor with half his head missing.”
I sucked in a sudden, involuntary breath, glad I hadn’t seen that, but sad that Jamie had.
“And the police arrested you?”
Jamie bobbed his head in a nod.
“The past few days… I wanted to visit you, Gabe, but they locked me up. Claude is – was – an influential man from a rich family. They didn’t want it to seem like they were just doing nothing.”
“But… it was an accident.”
“That doesn’t matter. Even if they had believed me, I’d have still been up for manslaughter at the very least.”
“But… they let you go?”
“Claude’s parents didn’t want the scandal, so they got the police to drop the charges. The official story is that Claude died in a hunting accident.”
I thought that strangely appropriate, but didn’t comment on it. It was not the moment for jokes.
“That’s good, right? We can forget about him?”
Jamie rested his head on his arms, hugging himself.
“I don’t know if I can ever forget, Gabe. His head…”
I wanted to reach out and comfort him, but my arm was held down by tubes. Instead, I twitched my fingers in sympathy, ineffectual though it was.
“It grows easier,” I said softer. “But, you’re right… it’ll never truly go away.”
Jamie hugged himself tighter and started to sob. I couldn’t comfort him, barely being able to move, and I didn’t know what to say to make his hurt go away.
“Jenna,” Jamie whispered tearfully after a moment. “Jenna will never want me now.”
At that, he broke down into a fresh wave of tears, and all I could do was watch him cry. I said nothing. There were no words I could offer him that didn’t feel fake and shallow.
We sat there in silence whilst he cried, and my heart slowly started to crumble. I knew nothing could ever be the same again.
During the few months I was in hospital, Susie didn’t visit.
There was one time where I thought she had, but I was deep in a violent fever at the time and any images were snatched as though from a half-remembered dream. I convinced myself after a while that it was only a blonde nurse, that my fevered mind had somehow morphed her into Susie in an attempt to soothe my heart. After a while, it became less painful to believe that she had never tried to visit me at all.
After all, if she had visited whilst I lay dying… what had she seen – what had she decided – that meant she never came back?
The time came when I was well enough to go home, though I was still hooked up to a food bag on Dr Rain’s orders. Though I was confined to my bed most of the time, I felt a lot more lucid than I had during my time at hospital. It was odd. I was, well… happy to be home. I wasn’t sure when I had begun to think of this house as my home, but I knew Susie and Jamie had a lot to do with it.
Now that I was home, I learnt that Susie had been living here with Jamie in my absence. Now that I was back, Susie moved out and in with her bandmate, Sugar. It hurt that she didn’t even come in to check how I was doing, or say goodbye, even, but I knew I deserved it.
She still came by to clean and make sure Jamie ate, though she gave the bedroom a wide berth. I’d hear her footsteps sometimes come all the way up to the door, as though she was debating coming in. But they would always pause, hesitate… and then turn and walk away.
“I just don’t know what to do, Jamie,” I heard her say one day.
Her voice, though muffled by the heavy wooden door that cut me off from the rest of the house, was the most amazing thing I had heard in a long time.
Jamie must have replied, because she added, “I don’t know. Some days I want to go in there and strangle him, others… others I just want to forgive him.”
My heart leapt a little at the thought she had even considered forgiving me.
“No, Jamie… I can’t face him just yet. It still hurts too much.”
“I know he’s hurting too, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Susie sounded weary, as though they had trodden this same conversation before. There was a slight pause, and I guessed that Jamie was speaking.
“Seriously, that cow had better be glad she decided not to show her face around here again. But he still did it. He’s still to blame, not just… her.”
I could bear it no longer.
“Jamie?” I called, making my voice sleepy as though I’d just woken up; I didn’t want them to know I’d been listening. “Jamie?”
The door opened and Jamie stepped in.
“Are you okay?” he asked softly. “Do you need anything?”
I shook my head.
“Susie… is Susie here?”
Jamie looked pained at that, but shook his head quietly.
“No, she isn’t here. Go back to sleep, Gabe. You need to rest.”
I nodded wordlessly, my eyes stinging. Jamie grimaced and turned quickly away; I could tell that it hurt him to lie to me like that.
Luckily, I managed to wait until the door was shut once more before I began to cry.
Jamie still attended school, as well as tending to me, cooking meals and attempting to keep up with all the garden chores. At the same time, he was also drifting further and further away from me, withdrawing into himself and shutting himself in his room for hours on end. I knew that he was still hurting over Jenna, unable to contact her and find any kind of closure. On top of that, Claude was weighing heavily on his mind. I could see it in his eyes; he was reliving the man’s death over and over again in his head.
Nothing I could say to him could help. It was as though he had built a wall and I couldn’t knock it down, no matter how hard I tried.
At night, though, Jamie’s defences collapsed, and he would often crawl into bed with me. He never came under the covers (I think he was scared of rolling on me and hurting my wound), but he curled up on top of the duvet, often fully dressed. When the nights were cold, he would bring a blanket and huddle quietly under that.
“I miss her, Gabe,” he would tell me under the safety of darkness, when he could pretend I was asleep. “She was the only friend I’ve ever had.”
“I know,” I would whisper, but he would pretend he hadn’t heard.
One day, Isaac Dream came to visit.
And he wasn’t happy.
“I can’t believe you,” he said, his tone disgusted. “You had the most beautiful girl in the world, and then you pissed it all away for one night with some whore.”
I was taken aback by this sudden, blunt attack and, on reflex, tried to defend myself.
“I never meant for it to happen. I love Susie.”
Isaac continued as though I hadn’t spoken.
“You know what the really fucked up thing is? She still loves you.”
Hope flickered to life in my chest.
“She… she does?”
“Of course she does, you idiot.”
“I kissed her,” he said bluntly, glaring at me as though he dared me to say something about it – I didn’t. “After our last gig. But she pushed me away, told me she was still a married woman and that her heart still belonged to you.”
I shut up.
“How the fuck could you hurt her? Huh? What the hell were you thinking, when she loves you that much?”
I closed my eyes, feeling my face flush with shame.
“I… I wasn’t thinking.” My voice wobbled.
“You’re an idiot,” Isaac said, shaking his head. “But at least you know you’re an idiot.”
“Definitely,” I mumbled.
Isaac sighed, shutting his eyes for a moment before looking back at me.
“You get better, you hear me? You’d better not leave Susie all alone.”
“I won’t, I promise.”
Isaac gave me a brief, curt nod, and then turned to leave.
He turned and looked at me again.
I managed a smile.
“Thank you for coming to see me.”
He shook his head and flapped a hand at me, but I caught a glimpse of a smile on his lips before he walked out of the door. I settled back down, clutching the grain of hope he had given me close to my heart.
Susie still loved me.
Time passed. I didn’t even know the date any more. Each day was like the one that preceded it and the one that preceded that.
But then, one day, Jamie snapped.
“I can’t take it any more!” he shouted, startling me awake as he stalked into the room. “I’m not going to school ever again!”
“Hey, calm down.” I tried to raise myself up on my elbows, and sort of managed it. “Take a breath. What happened?”
“I’m not going! Do you know how hard it is to sit through classes when everyone thinks you’re a murderer?! I thought it’d get better after a few weeks, that they’d all just get bored- but they’re just getting worse!”
I suddenly felt rather cold.
“I thought the charges had been dropped.”
“They were, but not before everyone somehow found out. And they know they were only dropped to avoid scandal.”
“How do they know?”
“Some of them have dads in the police, and I guess… I don’t know, I guess their dads told them. The police didn’t seem to happy to let me go, anyway.”
“Oh, Jamie… why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“I wanted you to get better without worrying about me,” he said tearfully. “But… but now… they’re saying I’m the reason Jenna left. That she had to flee to get away from me. That I’d gone all psycho crazy stalker on her.”
I didn’t know what to say. I knew that kids could be cruel – hell, I grew up in an orphanage – but I was seriously shocked by what Jamie was saying.
“The – the worst part is – Jenna knows. Her friends sent her a bunch of texts as soon as someone mentioned that theory. She’s going to hate me forever, Gabe!”
“She might not believe her friends,” I said, trying to lift his spirits a little.
“What reason does she have not to?” he asked me, but, for that, I had no answer.
The day of my twentieth birthday dawned with little fanfare. Susie still had not visited me and I was fast starting to lose hope again, so I was in no mood for celebrating. Jamie presented me in the morning with a handmade card, before rushing off on the school bus. Despite his rant to me, he hadn’t stopped going to school. I would have quite happily pulled him out, but he decided, in the end, that he didn’t want Jenna’s tutoring of him to go to waste. He wanted to graduate, and I was proud of him.
Despite not wanting to celebrate, I did have one very unexpected visitor.
“You’re looking better than I expected,” Molly Moss told me as she let herself into the bedroom.
I could hear Susie bustling around cleaning outside, and I knew she had let her mother in.
“Mrs Moss! I… I’m sorry for everything.”
She brushed away my apology.
“Save it for my daughter. She’s the one that really needs to hear those words.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said softly. I just wished that Susie would give me the chance.
“Anyway, I’m not here about that,” she said, as she sat down on the chair next to my bed. Her blue eyes looked at me sharply. “Though, if you ever hurt my daughter again, I won’t stop my husband from coming in here and shooting you himself. Am I clear?”
“Yes,” I squeaked.
“Good. Now… what I’m here about… Susie told me about your mother.”
I nodded, but didn’t speak. Suddenly, I felt a rather horrible creeping dread.
“Well, Seeley tracked her down and told her about you getting shot. We thought she might want to see you one last time – this was before we knew you were going to live, of course.”
My mouth went dry.
“Wh-what did she say?”
“She told Seeley that she didn’t have a son, apart from the ones she has with her husband now.”
My heart sank. For a moment, I had dared to hope that my mother loved me, in her own way.
Just for one moment.
“So… although Seeley and I are very disappointed in you right now, Gabriel… I know you love our daughter, and you make her happy. On your wedding day… I hadn’t seen her smile that much for years. She loves you, and I think she’ll forgive you eventually. You’ll have to work hard, though.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” I told her, and I knew the words were the truth.
“Good to hear it. Now, listen, Gabriel… you and Jamie are part of the Moss family now, and we look after family. If there’s anything the two of you need, you let me know. All right?”
I was taken aback at her kind words. I had assumed that Mr and Mrs Moss would hate me forever for what I had done to their daughter.
“Thank you,” I mumbled. “Thank you so much.”
She waved away my thank you with a smile.
“Hey, meeting with your mother got even Seeley back in your corner. He was all ready to come down here and gut you before he had his little chat with her.”
“Oh, and I left a box of cookies on the side for Jamie. Hand baked.” She winked at me, and I couldn’t help but smile a little back.
After we had talked for a long while, just generally chatting about how I was and how Jamie was, and a little bit about how Susie was, Molly stood up to leave. Before she reached the door, she turned back and gave me a smile.
“Happy birthday, Gabriel.”
“Thank you,” I told her and, after she’d gone, my heart felt a little lighter.
It’s been a week since then, and I’ve finally caught up with myself. Susie still hasn’t visited me, but yesterday she slid a late birthday card under the door of my room. I’m finally allowed to eat again, though not too much and not too fast, and the distance I can walk is growing better every day.
I live in hope that one day soon, Susie will walk through the door and we can start again.
Because… if I don’t believe that, what do I have to believe in?