I wake once again in immense comfort, though there is a slight twinge in my back still. As the room around me comes into focus, the first thing I notice is the warmth in my hand, which turns out to be Abi’s. She has her head on the mattress, not asleep, but resting with her eyes firmly open. The room is now dark, only the moonlight allowing me to see the fading shadows on the ceiling.
Turning my head to the right, I am able to see another figure in the room. They are sat, hunched over, on a chair, hidden in the shadows. I can’t tell who it is, but I guess it’s Ellie, tired of waiting for me to wake.
My movement alerts Abi to my consciousness, she lifts her head and smiles, though obviously tired.
“Are you alright, V?” she asks, slurring slightly as she fights against her fatigue.
“I th-thin-nk so,” I reply, though this is almost completely a lie. My spine still sparks with pain every time I move my head and I feel my grimace every time it does. I can tell that Abi can see it to, as she gives me a half-hearted sceptical look.
“Really? You look like you’re still hurting,” she says slowly.
“It’s n-not as bad as it looks,” I say. She doesn’t buy it, but knows I’m not going to admit to lying. Instead she shuffles a little closer and smiles more brightly, biting her lip before leaning closer till.
“I love you,” she whispers in my ear. The words take me completely by surprise, I refuse to believe them. Maybe she means them, but that doesn’t mean she will stick to them. No one has ever managed to fulfil that kind of promise; I don’t see why she should be able to. But, something in me tells me to go along with it; it tells me that this time is different. I know that she cares about me, despite my stutter, despite my hand. Should I let myself do the same? Is it worth the risk? Every bone in my body tells me ‘no’, but my heart disagrees. My head? Well my head hasn’t decided yet, and I think it has the casting vote. The smile that spreads voluntarily across my lips tells me all I need to know.
“I love you too,” I whisper back, to Abi’s delight.
She lets out a muted squeal, hugging me suddenly and kissing my cheek. I accept the gesture, but my back complains. I laugh at her excitement, but she can hear the painful undertones beneath my happiness. Releasing me, she apologises quickly, looking away and biting her lip as always. I smile and turn her face gently back towards me with my left hand, already reclaimed by hers.
“Don-n-n’t worry about me so much,” I say with a grin, “An-nd n-never apologise f-f-for hugging me.”
She is comforted by my shaky words, though I’m not sure of them myself. Despite this, she still seems uncertain, as if she’s both ashamed and thrilled at the same time. I squeeze her hand a little to try and persuade her that she didn’t do anything wrong. I look at her for a moment, letting her eyes’ beauty consume me.
A quiet cough from the other side of the room reminds me that we are not alone. The cough is deep, much deeper than Ellie’s voice, proving my earlier assumption incorrect. He stands slowly and walks stiffly towards us. By now, I have twisted around to watch his approach.
I recognise his stance, dread instantly fills my body as I realise it is Finn. He kneels next to the bed, resting his elbows on the mattress and supporting his head in one of his hands. I can see faint bruising on one of his knuckles, a little grazing here and there, but otherwise no one would know he was involved.
Unexpectedly, Abi seems to tense as well as me, though I’m not sure if it’s in response to me or her own fear. Is she afraid of him? Maybe, there’s no reason why he would behave any differently with her than with Ellie. Perhaps she knows what he’s like, but is trying to hide it from me, just as I am from her. Or maybe she realises that I am afraid and is tensing in sympathy.
Whatever the reason, we both half-jump when he opens his mouth to speak in his gravelly American accent.
“Abi, could you give us a minute?” he asks. Abi shakes her head, not willing to let go of my hand. Now that I can see his eyes, I am less worried, I can tell he wants to apologise, or at least acknowledge responsibility. So I relax, I nod to Abi to tell her to leave as he says, which she does, after hesitating a little.
As the door closes behind her, Finn clears his throat. He runs his fingers through his hair, which is a mess of dark brown, overgrown and out of control. I keep trying to catch his eye, but to no avail.
“Listen, Volani, is that right?” he asks, I nod gently, not wanting to hurt my neck any more. “OK, Volani, I’m sorry, truly, I got really mad yesterday and it definitely wasn’t your fault. I’m guessing Ellie told you to come, otherwise you wouldn’t have known to hide. I don’t know how much Ellie told you, or how much you saw, but I just want you to understand that this is not me.” He gestures at me, I guess referring to his attack.
“Who is it th-then?” I ask, realising only afterwards how dangerous my question is. His face changes instantly, sterner and somehow stronger than before.
“I don’t know, but do you really think Ellie would stay with me if I was like that all the time?” he says, a little more forcefully. I notice his hand gripping at his other wrist, betraying his sudden increase in irritation.
I shake my head, careful again to not hurt myself, though the pain seems to be going away now. He nods, breathing deeply, evidently trying to calm down. I know very little about him, but one thing I do know is how short-tempered he is. The slightest thing can send him into this rage-filled tense state, and I think he knows it.
He does seem to feel remorse, though he could be acting for all I know. I don’t know him well enough to work out the difference. When my Dad realises what he’s done, I can tell straight away whether or not he cares. With Finn, I suppose I’ll have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Damn. Since when was I so charitable?
I guess Ellie showed me how wrong I can be, I don’t want to make the same mistake again. Equally, I can’t afford to be too trusting; with someone like Finn I don’t doubt that he could kill me if he wanted to. It’s remarkable I don’t feel worse than this already, I know my head hit the pavement at least a couple of times. Or was it three? I can’t quite remember, which is worrying.
He seems a little restless, swapping his hands over every now and again so they can take turns holding his head. What is he waiting for? I suppose he wants me to break the silence, but I don’t want to make him mad again. The creaking of a floorboard reminds me that Abi is still outside, waiting.
“Can Abi come back now?” I ask, trying to get him to leave as kindly as possible. He looks hurt, but stands and opens the door, letting Abi back in and walking out.
As soon as the door closes behind him, Abi rushes over to me and grabs my hand. All the pain now seems to have gone; I sit up and open my arms to welcome her embrace. She is hesitant, but soon forgets her concern, pulling me so close I can hear every subtle breath that leaves her lips. I decide to stop worrying about how long her love will last, instead choosing to focus on here and now. I tilt my head slightly to kiss her cheek, as she did for me not long ago.
Instead of meeting her skin, I find her lips touching mine, sending shockwaves through my whole body. We must have turned at the same time, though I don’t believe it was accidental. The feeling is completely alien to me; I never dared to imagine anything like this happening to me at all. Eventually, she breaks away, sparing us both from suffocation. I’m not sure what to do next, but I see Abi laughing and join in.
Then I find myself crying, I’m not sure why, but tears begin to fall down my cheeks. As soon as she notices, I am in Abi’s arms again. She stops laughing, though she still breathes a little erratically.
“What’s wrong V? Are you alright?” she asks.
“It’s just,” I pause, trying to gather my thoughts before relaying them to her. “It’s just th-th-that I kn-now you won-n’t wan-nt to stay with-th me when-n you meet my Dad.”
She laughs and releases me so she can look right in my eyes, suddenly serious.
“I don’t care what the hell your life is like outside of school, it’s not going to change how I feel about you,” she says. I believe her, but it’s not how she feels about me that matters, it’s whether or not she will cope with the abuse.
“It will make a diff–ʺ I try, but I can’t get my tongue around the ‘f’. Abi already knows what I’m saying though, so there is little need to struggle over it.
“Not enough to drive me away,” she says with certainty.
“You haven-n’t met him yet,” I reply, just as convinced.
“Do I really need to? If you think it will scare me off, then he doesn’t need to know does he?” she seems set on the idea of avoiding him. I don’t want to have to hide her from him though, I don’t think I can cope with pretending not to miss her.
“I th-thin-nk you sh-should meet him,” I say. She looks at me, confused, obviously not expecting me to argue.
“Why?” she asks, quite reasonably.
“I want you to see what my life is really like,” I say, unusually fluent and confident.
I only tell her half of my reason; I suppose to seem a little less weak than I feel. Of course, she is fully aware of how weak I am already, the number of times I’ve fainted must leave her under no illusion. Still, I find it hard to be completely honest; I’ve been lying to everyone for years, pretending that I’m fine. Honesty is a skill that takes time to learn and even longer to relearn once you forget it.
“OK,” she says with a smile. “But I promise I won’t leave you because of him.”
I nod, not wanting to start another argument.
“After school tomorrow?” she asks, again I nod, making a mental note to remind her at lunch if I can find her. I don’t want her to forget like last time, I prefer not to be outside quite as late as I was.
She checks her watch, pressing a button to light up the screen. I stare, imagining how much more simple things would be if I could just have one of those. No more getting up incredibly early or going to sleep too late, I wouldn’t run to school only to find that I’m an hour early. Knowing the time, such a basic thing, that I would give anything for. Of course, I have nothing to give, which is the root of the problem.
She seems to decide that it is too late, planting a kiss on my forehead and making me lie back on the bed. She lets her lips stay in contact with my skin for as long as she can, before standing up.
“You need to get some rest if you are going tomorrow,” she yawns, then grins. “It looks like I need to get some rest too; I’ll see you in the morning.”
With that, she turns and leaves the room, closing the door gently behind her. I stare at where she was just a moment before, wishing I could have managed to say something before she left. I’m not sure what, but I feel like I didn’t really say goodnight at all.
How can I sleep? How can I even begin to get my head around what’s happened over the last few days? I’ve been attacked by someone I didn’t know but who turns out to be the brother of someone I’m apparently in love with, but I’m not quite sure if I am or not. I want to be, of course, but I don’t know if I can open my heart enough to truly love someone anymore. I don’t know if I can forgive Finn for this, but then, what is there to forgive? I’m no longer in any pain and it seems that being in such a pitiful state was enough for Abi to reveal her true feelings. Maybe I should be grateful.
None of this makes sense.
I have no idea what to think anymore, but I do know that my life seems to be getting better, albeit, very slowly. That is the thought swimming through my mind as my vision begins closing.