By the time the 'party' wound down, she'd composed herself again and welcomed the polite knock on the door with a smile. Neither Lucy nor Cory was smiling.
"What is it? Is everything alright?"
"Oh yes, yes it's fine. He was... good. He said 'Happy Birthday' to me and... I don't know if it was alright but he had a few sips of wine."
"Of course it was alright. Did he enjoy it?"
"I think so. He smiled. How else would we know? Oh... oh, I'm sorry, I..."
"That's alright, sweetheart. I know how it is."
"It's just so unfair. It's not right: it's not right he should be like that. I can't... I'm sorry; I'm so sorry but... I can't stand it. He's so... and..."
Helen took Lucy into her arms and hugged her close as she cried. It was easier to hold herself together when she was being strong for someone else. After a while, she gently pried Lucy off and put her hands either side of her face. "It's going to be alright Lucy. He's going to get better."
"I... I thought when he came home that... I thought that..."
"It's going to take time, sweetheart. He needs encouragement and people around him who do exactly what you've been doing this afternoon; bringing some normality to him. It's all about familiar surroundings and people. We want to bring him back into his life and you're all doing exactly the right thing."
"We're trying, but it's hard. I know it's crazy but I think it would be better if he was asleep all the time. When he... when he tries it's... hard."
"I know and I'm so grateful to you. You've been good friends."
"He doesn't want us," Cory said quietly
Helen looked up in surprise. Until now he hadn't said a word. "He doesn't?"
"He wants Luke."
"Oh... yes. I know. That's why I asked you to talk to him. I know that he wants to see Luke more than anyone. I don't understand why he hasn't come."
"He doesn't think he's wanted here. I mean after... after..."
"Cory, you have to make him understand. Whatever we might have thought or felt before— it's not the same now. I just want my son to be well and happy. If Luke can make him happy then... then he will always be welcome here."
"Okay, we'll tell him but..."
"I don't know if he'll come. It's hurt him; really hurt him and he's determined to leave. If he comes I don't think he would be able to leave, and he..."
"Please... please try to talk him into it. Ryden needs him; he really needs him."
"As long as you don't hurt him again." Cory almost snapped and Helen wondered what on earth had happened. What was it she'd done that had hurt Luke so much? Oh, well— he obviously blamed her for what happened to Ryden. Ryden must have phoned him and told him about the argument.
"I won't hurt him, Cory. I promise I won't hurt him. If he can help Ryden, I'll do anything for him."
After seeing the two out she went to sit with Ryden. The music was still playing and she sat back in the chair, closing her eyes and listening. Automatically she reached for his hand and laced their fingers together. She was lost in thought when he squeezed.
"I'm here, darling. Did you have a good afternoon? Lucy said you've been drinking some wine."
"Mmm. Was... was her birth...day."
"Yes. It was nice of them to come and share it with you."
He blinked at her, looking confused and sad.
"What's wrong, sweetheart?"
"Luke. He didn't come. I thought..."
"Are you missing him?"
"Where is he? Why hasn't he come to see me? I... I really want... I'm sorry."
"Sorry? Why are you sorry?" Her stomach was twisting. It was the longest, most cohesive thing he'd said so far. He seemed more 'together.'
"I know that you... that... Me and Luke... I know you don't like it but..."
"Darling. It's your life and all I want is for you to be well and happy. I never had a problem with Luke. It was a stupid argument. It would've blown over. You know we would've supported you."
He watched her through half closed eyes and she thought he was going to fall asleep again, but he just watched and then sighed and opened them again. "But he hasn't come."
"No," she said softly, "he hasn't. I asked Cory and Lucy to speak to him. They think he felt he wouldn't be welcome."
Ryden squeezed her hand tightly and she was shocked to see the raw pain in his eyes. "Do you...? Do...do you... really...? I... was... scared."
"Scared? What were you scared of?"
"I...I thought..." He looked away, unable to look her in the eye, even now. "I thought he didn't love me."
"Oh my darling; how could anyone not love you? You're so beautiful."
"No. Only with him."
Sitting down on the bed facing him, she laid her hand against his cheek and turned his head so he had to look at her. "I understand Ryden. I understand."
He searched her eyes and tentatively smiled. She stroked his face and hair. "You're my baby and I don't care what you say; you are beautiful. I'm sure that Luke loves you."
"Why hasn't he come? He would have come. Even if... even... He would have come."
"I don't know why he hasn't come but I'll find out. I'll make sure he comes. Don't worry."
"Why am I...? I can't... I... Why can't I...?"
"Ssh. It's alright. You're getting better sweetheart. You'll be better soon, I promise."
"It's so... so... I'm... Mam, I... don't... don't..." He was struggling and, for the first time seemed distressed. In the past he hadn't seemed to realise what was happening to him. He simply drifted in and out of sleep, naturally and peacefully. Now he was fighting it and it was hurting him.
"Ryden, I want you to get well. I want it more than anything. I want you to come back to me but not like this. I don't want you to hurt yourself, or make yourself ill again. It'll be alright. Go to sleep now, rest and it'll be alright."
"Ssh; rest now."
"I'll speak to Luke, I promise."
"Luke," he whispered before finally letting go.
Helen had never been so glad to see her son slip into sleep. She was shaken. She should have been pleased, delighted he'd been so much more awake and aware than he'd been in a long time, but she wasn't, even though she tried to be. It was hard for him; she could see that. It was hard to watch him struggle. It was all for Luke. Maybe if Luke came he'd fight in a different way. Maybe Luke could get through to him; break through whatever barrier was shutting him off in a different world.
She'd done what she could and now she could only wait.
At about eight o'clock there was a knock at the door. Helen got up to answer it but Robert put his hand on her shoulder. "Stay with him. I'll get it."
"Thank you, I... I'm a little worried: he's very restless."
"He'll be alright."
Robert opened the door and glared at the boy on the doorstep. "What are you doing here?"
Luke shook the straight, dark hair out of his face and scowled. "I was told I'd be welcome."
"You were told wrong. I thought I made that clear."
"I want to hear it from Ry. I don't believe he doesn't want to see me."
"Ry doesn't know what he wants and wouldn't be able to tell us if he did."
"He needs me."
"He NEEDS his family and not some little fuck like you screwing his life up."
"It wasn't me who screwed up his life. If it hadn't been for you this would never have happened."
"Whatever: just get the hell out of my son's life."
"It's not your decision."
"The day my son walks out of this house it ceases to be my decision. For as long as he lives here it is very much my decision. I only invite good people into this house not pieces of shit like you."
"I... I'll get hold of him somehow."
"Good luck with that. I don't know whether you've heard but Ryden isn't really with us at the moment."
"You're sick. You don't care about him."
"That's none of your business. Now get the hell away from my house or I'll call the police."
He was left standing on the doorstep, rain dripping off his hair and hiding the tears that slid down his face. Lowering his head, he turned and walked away.
"Who was it?"
"No one. Someone trying to sell me something."
"It's a bit late isn't it?"
"Seems like they never give up these days."
Helen sat up all night that night. Ryden was very restless and, more than once, woke up crying and calling for Luke. By morning he was almost feverish and Helen was getting worried.
She was relieved when Sam arrived.
"He's had a really bad night. I don't know what it was. He was restless and feverish and he woke up crying."
"Let me check him over."
Even as Sam was examining him, Ryden was twisting away from her, moaning and half waking, mumbling incoherently.
"Well, he doesn't have a temperature and physically he seems fine, but he's obviously disturbed about something. What happened?"
"Nothing. His friends came yesterday and he seemed to enjoy it. He was more awake than I've seen him but... He was upset."
"By his friends?"
"No. His friend... Luke... His... Someone he's very close to hasn't come to see him. He was very upset. He thought that... he thinks that Luke doesn't care; doesn't want to see him."
Sam gave her an odd look. "Have you spoken to Luke?"
"I've tried. I asked his friends to speak to him. I can only hope that they do and that he'll come."
"He seems exhausted. I think we'll leave him alone this morning. We changed the bedding yesterday and there's no real need to wash him. He needs to rest and that's more important than getting him up for the day. I'll come back this afternoon and check on him. If he's still the same it wouldn't be a bad idea to ask the doctor to come and take a look."
"It's wise not to take any chances, Helen. You don't need me to tell you that his condition is still serious and could go downhill very fast. It wouldn't take much of a slip to put him back in a coma and we really don't want that to happen."
"No. No I don't want that to happen. You don't think..."
"At this moment I don't want you to think anything. Take care of him and we'll see this afternoon."
Helen nodded. She was white as a sheet and terrified. "Helen, you need to calm down or Ryden will pick up on your feelings. You need to be calm so that he will be calm. There's no reason, at this point, to believe that there's anything wrong with him. He's been going very well and it was always made clear to you there were going to be ups and downs and this might not work."
"I know; it's just...".
Sam squeezed her arm "Keep going. It's not a lost cause, by any means. Take it as it comes but I don't want to take any chances."
"No... neither do I."
"Good. I'll change the bags and see you later."
Helen was highly nervous when Sam left. She felt vulnerable and afraid. Ryden was whimpering in his sleep, his lips trembling. She smoothed his hair and he started at her touch. "Mam?" There was a plaintive note in his cry, almost desperate.
"I'm here. It's alright. Just relax honey. I'm here; everything's alright."
"Where is he?"
She knew exactly who he was talking about. "I don't know. I'll try to find him today, I promise."
"He doesn't love me, Mam... he doesn't. He...he would have... He... hasn't..."
"Ry, you don't know that. You're not thinking clearly at the moment, darling. Don't work yourself up over this. It's going to be alright. Luke will come."
"Luke?" His eyes were unfocussed but bright with unshed tears. "Where are you? Luke?"
"He's not here, baby; not yet. He'll come, I promise. I'll find him; he'll come."
"Mam?" He blinked his eyes into focus and the tears escaped.
"I... I'm tired."
"I know you are. You've been working yourself up all night. You're going to make yourself ill if you don't rest. Try to get some sleep."
"No... no bad. I don't... I don't want... don't want to sleep. Find Luke. I want... I want... find Luke."
He tried to sit up but he had neither strength nor focus and he fell back, his head rolling from side to side on the pillow.
"Don't do that, Ry. You're not strong enough. Try to get some sleep."
"No... no, Luke. I must... must find... need... need..."
Again he was fighting to remain conscious and again it was hurting him; distressing him; stressing him.
"Please Ry, don't do this. Leave it to me. Let me find Luke. Give me a chance. Just relax and let me do this for you."
"What...? Where...? I don't... I feel..."
"I know... I know, it's alright..."
"Mam? Mam I... I... I..."
He was holding tight to her hand and the grip tightened as if he was trying desperately to hold on.
"Ssh... it's alright now. It's alright. I'm here. Go to sleep."
"No...no... I... I... scared... Don't make me... don't... Mam, I'm scared. I don't... I don't know... Mam, help me. I don't... know... Where am I?"
"Oh, baby." Weeping silently Helen gathered her son into her arms and rocked him until he let go and fell asleep. Even afterwards she held him tight. She was so frightened.
"What's going on?"
"I don't know. Oh Robert, I'm scared. He's been so restless and now... Sam said he could slip backwards; that he could go into a coma again. I didn't think... I thought he was getting better; that he was only going to go forwards but... Robert, he was scared. He was scared because he didn't know where he was. What's going to happen to him?"
"Calm down, Helen. It's going to be alright. Ry is going to be fine. You said yourself that he's been restless. He must be exhausted. Once he rests he'll be fine."
"He's not going to rest; not until I get Luke here."
"Why do you keep on about that boy?"
"Because that's who Ry wants. Stay with him. I'm going to see if I can find him; to talk to him."
"Face it, Helen. The boy's not interested."
"I need to hear him say that to my face."
"Give it up, Helen."
"I won't give up. I'll keep going until there is nowhere else to go. I'll go to the ends of the earth for him."
"Let me go."
"No. I appreciate it. I know you'd try hard but that's not good enough for me right now. I have to know I've done everything... everything."
Before he could say any more, she'd grabbed her bag and was gone. Robert sat down, looking at Ryden and frowning, tapping his lip.
"Seems like you're determined to hold on to that boy. Don't you see how bad he is for you? Even when he's not here, he's making you sick. Why can't you just give him up?"
Sensing someone was there, Ryden turned his head and his eyes fluttered open. His lips twitched but no sound came.
"Give him up, Ry. Luke's dead to you; I've made sure of that. He won't trust us again. He won't come Ry. Luke's not coming."
Vacantly Ryden frowned, his eyes unfocussed. Very slowly he blinked. "Give it up, Ryden. Let it go. Let him go. Let Luke go. He's not important. He's not good for you."
"Luke's gone. You're safe here... with us. You're safe and you're better off without him."
Ryden was drifting, the frown still lodged firmly between his brows. "Luke... gone," he murmured.
"Yes Ryden, Luke's gone. Move on now; move on."
"You've had a bad night. Go to sleep now."
Robert smiled as Ryden's eyes closed. He hadn't been able to get through to the boy before; he was too strong and stubborn. In a way, the accident had been a godsend to him. Ryden couldn't fight anymore and he would get through to him...one way or another.
Helen was exhausted when she got back. She'd trudged around all the places she thought Luke might be, but no one had seen him; no one knew where he was... or at least if they did they weren't saying. She had the uncomfortable feeling that there was something they weren't telling her.
At least Ryden seemed to have got over whatever had been upsetting him, and was sleeping peacefully. Throwing down her bag, she sat on the bed and stroked his face.
"I don't know what else to do; I really don't. I've been everywhere; done everything I can think of. I think he's hiding from me and I don't know why."
Gently Ryden's eyes drifted open and he stared at her. She smiled and brushed his cheek with her fingers. "I will find him. I will get to the bottom of this. I will find him."
Ryden shook his head faintly. "Luke... gone," he breathed and managed a small, sad sigh before drifting away again.
Well, at least he seemed peaceful now, not so scared... and he wasn't confused about where he was... was he?
After lunch Helen tried to rouse Ryden to drink his shake. He opened his eyes and looked around sleepily, but there didn't seem to be much focus.
"You haven't had any of your shake today, sweetheart. You need to drink. Come on, I'll help you to sit up a little." Propping him up with pillows, she slid one arm under his shoulders and drew him against her, resting his head on her shoulder. At first, when she slid the straw between his lips he made no effort to drink.
"Come on, sweetheart. You were getting so good with this. You need to drink; to keep strong. You have to be strong to find your way home. You're doing so well. I'm trying so hard, Ryden; I don't know what else I can do. I don't know how to help you."
Ryden rolled his head on her arm and looked up with heavy lidded eyes. A trickle of milk ran from the corner of his mouth. She wiped it away with her thumb.
"Please try, Ry. I can't bear to see you like this. I'm scared that you're never going to come back. I'm doing everything I can to find a way. Please."
Very slowly he blinked and smiled a faint smile. "Mam," he murmured. She smiled back, forcing away tears.
"I love you baby."
"I... I... love..."
"I know." She leaned down and kissed his forehead. "Will you drink some more?"
"Will you drink some shake for me? Will you stay strong and just... just try Ryden. Please just try."
His response was to part his lips and, when she slipped the straw through he drank until he fell asleep.
Putting down the bottle she held him close, her cheek resting on his hair.
When Sam came he was still peaceful, still relaxed and at rest.
"That's better. It was just a bad night, Helen. Nothing to worry about. There will be nights like that. Has he drunk anything?"
"A bottle and a half."
"That's good, for him. You're not still upset are you? These things happen, Helen. He's much better now."
"What do you mean? Don't get despondent now. If you give up hope what does he have?"
"It's not that. I'll never give up hope, but..."
"Even when he was so distressed, when he was fighting everything... at least he was... focussed. He was more aware; he could speak. Now... it seems as if we're back to square one again."
"One day at a time, Helen. There'll be good days and bad days and sometimes it's not so easy to tell the difference. He seems fine now."
"I know, but..."
Smiling, Sam put her hand on Helen's arm and then went to sit on the bed. Softly calling Ryden's name she rubbed his hand and he sighed, moving his head and murmuring something.
"Come on, sweetheart, you've got everyone in a tizz here. Let's see how you're doing. Open those baby blues for me."
"Don't you 'Hmm' me, I know you can do better than that. Come on Ryden, open your eyes."
With a slight frown he licked his lips and blinked open his eyes.
"You see... I knew you could do it." She grinned at him and he gave her a small smile in return. "Do you know who I am?"
He looked confused for a moment then smiled and said, "Sam."
"Yay... we're on a roll. What about you? What's your name?" He blinked at her, more confused than ever.
"Ryden," he said as if he couldn't understand why she was asking him something so obvious. Sam smiled.
"That's great: we all know who we are. Do you know where you are?" He sighed and his eyes grew heavy. "No Ryden; it's not time to go to sleep yet. Just tell me where you are."