Dear World, I sleep and sleep, and for once they all just let me. They all just leave me alone. I sleep the rest of the day away, wake up mid-evening and stagger to the toilet, and then find myself back in bed, and sinking quickly back into yet more sleep. I can sense my mother hovering anxiously on the sidelines, pausing in the doorway, sighing and catching her breath. I know she must be worrying about meals, and what I have and have not eaten. But she leaves me be.
When I finally wake up properly it is half way through the next day, and I arise from bed with a sense of panic drumming in my veins. I get washed and dressed, and whip back the curtains to reveal the day outside. Joe. I am panicked about Joe. What if something has happened? What if something has changed, and I wasn’t there? What if he is gone? What if he left me and I missed it? Fuck! I hurry down the stairs, hoping my mum can give me a lift to the hospital, and wondering why the hell they didn’t wake me up sooner.
“It’s all right!” she tells me at once, as I fly into view. She is drinking coffee at the table. “There’s no change. Joe is still the same. I would have woken you if I needed to. Don’t panic.”
I breathe out. I wonder how scared I must have looked. My mother smiles warmly at me. “I’ll take you as soon as you’ve had something to eat,” she reassures me. I sit down, nodding okay. She gets up and starts to make me a sandwich. I try to remember the last time I went for a run, and I can’t. I start to feel a little creeping guilt crawling up from my belly. I wonder if my waistband feels a little tighter. A bizarre and twisted part of my mind tells me that when Joe wakes up, if he had wanted to kiss me before, he certainly wouldn’t now. Travis must be wrong, I think. Why would someone like Joe want to bother with someone as messed up as me? He knows all about me, I remind myself rather viciously. He knows what a mess I really am. I tell myself to shut the fuck up but I do not listen. I play strange scenarios out in my mind. Such as Joe opening his eyes dramatically, and finding me the only one there, me looking fresh faced and beautiful. Ha! What the hell is wrong with me? “Marianne is back home,” mum tells me, as she slides a plate with a ham sandwich on it under my nose. I pick it up and take a bite. She watches with her hands on her hips. “Funny girl that one. And I still can’t believe Leon was the one that saved her.” She smiles at my widening eyes. “Lorraine told me, of course. News travels fast round here! I think, to be honest, it’s made her feel better, that he did that. She coming to terms with her son being some kind of monster, but now she can have some hope for him too. I mean, if he did something like that? Oh I don’t know. I still can’t understand any of it.”
“The other thing is, he’s in custody now.”
I stare at her. “What? When?”
“Last night. Apparently he just walked into the police station and handed himself in.”
I am speechless. “What?”
“I know,” my mum nods in amazement. “I can’t fathom it. Just walked in. Just gave himself up.” She walks past me to get her shoes and bag. “I don’t know what to make of any of it,” she adds brightly.
“Neither do I,” I tell her.
I walk with my mother into the hospital, which is now starting to feel like an old friend. We know the way; we don’t have to ask for directions. I walk along, listening to my mother complain about the smell of hospitals, but it is not the smell that I notice. It is the heat. You walk in and feel like peeling off a layer almost immediately, which I do, slipping off my cardigan and tying it around my waist. My mum herds me along, one hand on my back. “You know you were all born in here,” she tells me distractedly. I do know. She has told me this a hundred million times. That is how she met Lorraine. On the labour ward, with Sara and Leon. Through fretting and chatting about new motherhood, they discovered they lived around from the corner from each other, and the rest, as they say, is history.
When we get to Intensive care, we have to buzz the button and wait to be let in. “You’re quiet,” my mum says to me as I yawn.
It is Mick that lets us in. He grabs my mum by the arm and pulls her through, and I immediately sense his urgency, and my heart hammers into action, and I break out into a horrible cold sweat. “What is it?” my mum calls to him, as he starts to pull her down the corridor.
“Joe?” I cry out.
“Come on!” he yells at the two of us. “Quickly!”
“Mum?” I look at her for help. I find her sleeve and cling onto it. Mick rushes towards Joe’s door, just as Lorraine appears through it, blinking and shaking her head, and her face a picture of trailing tears and disbelief.
“Lorraine?” my mum seizes her. Lorraine grips her arms.
“Go and see!” she says to me, before collapsing on my mum. I am so confused. I cannot understand what is going on. I am too afraid to move. I look to Mick, and he nods at the door as he holds it open for me, and I force my feet to move, but they feel like concrete. He gives me a gentle push, and I am in. I am in the room.
Joe is still lying on the bed. Joe is staring at me.
My body reacts violently to the shock and the relief. I feel a massive shudder wringing through me, and my knees go weak. I put out one hand and find the end of the bed and hold onto it. He is staring back at me. His hazel eyes are like slits through all the bruising and swelling, but I can still see them. He does not have the mask or the tubes anymore. He looks confused, and so pale, but he smiles at me really slowly. “You motherfucking bastard!” I tell him, and burst into tears.
I hear them laughing outside the room. I wonder if they have their faces pressed up to the glass. I don’t care. I fall into the plastic chair, I shove it forward and I snatch up his hand. This time his fingers tighten on mine. They feel weak and fragile, but they move, he moves them. I squeeze them back and he winces.
“Ahh that hurts,” he says, and his voice is a hoarse whisper.
“You bastard,” I tell him again, shaking my head from side to side.
“Bitch,” he grins at me.
“How’s your head?”
“Are you gonna’ be okay? Are you brain damaged or anything?”
He snorts at me. “You wish.”
“You were brain damaged to start with,” I say to him, as the relief floods through me, warm and tingling, making my limbs fizz with excitement and energy. I want to grab that feeling in my hand, snatch it up and shove it in a bottle somewhere to keep, because to me right then, that feeling is life. Life. I hold his hand in mine, rubbing my thumb back and forth against his skin. I just stare at him for a few moments. I am smiling, and shaking, and I can’t take my eyes off his face, his eyes and his mouth. “Where were you?” I say eventually. “Do you remember anything?”
“Not really,” he croaks, moving his head a tiny bit. “It’s all a blur.”
“I’ve been sat here talking to you for days. Feels like years!”
“What are you sorry about retard? Tosspot. Dick brain!”
“Witch,” he grins at me, curling his fingers into mine. “Fuckwit. Reject.”
“You arsehole,” I tell him, laughing, wiping my eyes with the sleeve of my cardigan. “I’ve never been so scared in my entire life. Or so bored!”
“Sorry,” he says again, still smiling. “So do I get a kiss or what?”
I frown at him. I think I want to hit him. I want to wrap my arms around him and check he is real. Put my head against his heart and listen to it thumping. “Kiss? Are you insane? Why would I want to kiss you?”
“Because you missed me, because I scared you, because it’s the last fucking chance I’m gonna get!” I laugh out loud. I stand up and lean over him, as if threatening him. Fuck, I think, I have missed him. “You don’t deserve a kiss,” I tease him, coming closer. His smile is huge in his swollen face. “You look like the quasimodo or something,” I tell him. “You look like you’re wearing a Halloween mask.”
“You can’t insult a man on his death bed, whore.”
“One kiss,” I tell him. “And if your breath stinks, you’re for it!”
“Okay,” he grins, wriggling slightly under his blankets. I laugh out loud again. I feel like an idiot. I feel so, so happy. I wish again that I could grasp hold of this feeling that I have, I want to capture it and keep it, and be able to speak of it and explain it, because it is better and stronger than any other high there is. It does not even have a name, I think. Happy to be alive. Happy to embrace life. What the fuck? I don’t know! I am sixteen remember, I don’t know anything! I stop thinking and I lean down and press my lips upon his. I close my eyes. My hair slips down and covers his face. He kisses me back. It feels like coming home. It feels like a breath I have been waiting to take. I pull back and stare at him in triumph.
“About fucking time Carling,” he winks at me. I sit back down, I feel kind of giddy and sick, but I can’t stop smiling.
“You didn’t have to go to all this trouble just to get me to kiss you,” I tell him, jokingly.
“But it helps though.”
I look over my shoulder. I see Mum and Lorraine and Mick all at the window, eyes on us, all of them smiling sickly. I sigh and look back at Joe. “We’re so gonna’ regret this,” I tell him.
And I laugh.