"Are you happy to be home Ryden? Is it better here than at the hospital."
"Hospital? I... yes... home is good."
"Are you comfortable? Do you need anything?"
"No. I... I mean...I..."
"I'm sorry, I confused you. Is there anything you need; anything you want?"
"I... yes, I...I..." he sighed and shook his head. "No." There was a definite frown on his face until it was wiped away when he fell asleep again.
Sam got up smiling, although Helen still looked grim. "Smile, Helen. What more do you want for goodness sake? He's doing well. Whatever was bothering him last night seems to have worked itself out. He's lucid; knows who he is and where he is. He wasn't awake for long but he never is. I've spoken to him for longer but with the stress of the move and whatever was going on last night it wasn't bad. You've nothing to be worried about."
Helen smiled, but it was a false one. "Thank you."
Despite Sam's reassurances, she was still uneasy. There was something wrong, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. After she'd seen Sam out, she sat down on the bed and looked at Ryden. There didn't seem to be anything amiss. As Sam had said, he seemed to be calm and focussed again. Maybe it was just that she'd been badly scared when she'd thought he'd lost himself and it wouldn't quite release her.
"Oh baby, I wish I knew what to do to help you. I'm doing everything I can think of but none of it's enough, is it? I don't care what anyone says, I know it." Gently she brushed the hair out of his face. He looked pale and... "You're not getting better, are you? I can't fool myself any more. You're not getting better at all."
Ryden murmured something and she kept on stroking his hair.
"What can I do, Ry. Tell me what to do."
With a huge sigh he opened his eyes and frowned at her. "Mam, I... Please... I..."
"Were you listening to me, baby? I never know how much you hear; how often you're listening."
"Don't be sad."
"I'm not sad, darling. I'm so happy to have you home with us. I love you and I want to help you. I want to make you well again... but I don't know how."
Ryden sighed and met her eyes with a very direct look. "It's hard. I'm tired."
Helen's heart jumped. What was he saying? "I know it's hard; I know it is. I know you don't understand what's happening to you, and that you really are trying to break through whatever it is that's keeping you away from us but..." She ran strands of his hair through her fingers, searching for something to say; something that would make a difference; something he'd understand. "You can rest; you can sleep. You don't have to be tired. You don't have to exhaust yourself."
She tried to smile warmly at him but something behind his eyes winced. "I don't know what was hurting you so much last night, but it's exhausted you. You're unsettled and tired. Rest and tomorrow you'll feel better again.
"I...don't..." He shook his head and sighed. He blinked slowly and she thought he was drifting away again. She couldn't stop the tears stinging her eyes. "I don't want to hurt you."
"You're not hurting me. It's not you; it was never you. It's... it's just that I hate to see you like this. I want my beautiful, bright, happy boy back. I'm sorry I let you down. I should have protected you. I should have..."
"No... no you... you did. I... I..." He closed his eyes and swallowed hard, fighting to keep focus, but not like before; not desperately...more... "I was...angry. I didn't... It wasn't... I thought... I thought that... that he... I thought... he loved me." He ran out of steam and with a sigh closed his eyes so that the tears squeezed out of the corners.
"Ryden... It doesn't mean anything - that he hasn't come. He does love you; I'm sure he does."
Even though he didn't open his eyes, the corners of his lips twisted ruefully. "Don't care," he murmured. "Too tired."
She could tell. The moment he let go and sank she could tell... she'd always been able to tell. In the past it had made her sad. This time it made her frightened.
"Ryden... please... please don't give up. He'll come. I'll make him come. I know he loves you; I just know it. Please... just don't give up. Don't give up."
He was sleeping sweetly; his lips slightly parted, his breathing deep and even but his lashes sparkled with tears and there was something... just something.
To say that Helen panicked was not entirely true, but she was disquieted. Determinedly she got to her feet and picked up the phone.
Mary had spent time with her every day and she'd tried to keep her fear, her struggles out of their conversations. She felt that Mary had never had any confidence that this was going to do Ryden any good and was convinced it was certainly not doing Helen any good. In some ways the forced cheerful optimism did her good but she didn't have it in her today.
"Helen, what's wrong? You sound dreadful."
"I'm worried, Mary. I'm really worried. I need to get hold of Luke. I need to speak to him myself."
"Luke? I'm sorry, Helen but I don't think you can."
"What do you mean?"
"He's leaving. Cory and Lucy have taken him to the station. I don't know where he's going but I don't think the kids are happy about it. In fact, I think there's something odd going on. Cory seems to be really mad about something and he practically grinds his teeth whenever Luke is mentioned.
"I wasn't going to tell you this but... he didn't want to come to see Ryden on Lucy's birthday. He was angry about the fact that she made him. When he came home he was a bit better and they went out together that night. When they came home, I heard them arguing on the doorstep. It was getting pretty heated. I heard Ry's name more than once; Luke's too.
"Today he was like hell over breakfast and came in lunchtime with a face like thunder, asking if he could use the car to take Luke to Cardiff with all his stuff. He said he's going to London but I don't know why. I think he's been talking about it before. To be honest, I haven't seen Luke for weeks."
"I don't... Look, I really, really need to talk to him. Ry needs him. I'm scared, Mary. I think he's giving up. He's... he seems to have given up on Luke and given up on himself. He had a terrible night last night, as if he was fighting something; fighting himself and today... today he's... I'm scared, Mary and I think it all comes down to Luke. Ry needs him and if he doesn't see him I think he's going to just let go and... and he's going to die."
"Helen, I think..."
"Please, Mary. Please give me Luke's number. Please."
"You might be better having Lucy's. I think she's your best chance." She read off a number which Helen wrote down. "Let me know how it goes."
"I will. Thank you, Mary."
Helen's fingers were trembling as she dialled. "Please let me not be too late." She looked towards the bed where Ryden was completely still and she stiffened her spine. She wouldn't be too late. No matter what, she would not be too late.
"Hello? Who's this?"
"It's me, Lucy; Ryden's mother."
"Look, I don't think..."
"Please Lucy, please listen. I'm frantic. You're my last chance. I have to speak to Luke. Please, I have to. I have to persuade him to come back. I don't think... Ryden needs him; he needs him more than I ever appreciated. If he doesn't... if he doesn't come I don't know what will happen. It's making him so ill, I..."
"I don't understand. If you want Luke there why do you keep sending him away?"
She heard voices in the background. "Just hang up, Lucy. I'm sick of playing stupid games. Hang up."
"Wait... please, wait. I... I don't understand. I don't know what you mean about sending him away. I would never send him away. I need him here— Ry needs him. Why would I send him away? Please, Lucy. I need to sort this out. I need him... please."
"Do you know he came last night?"
"Last night? No he didn't. No one came last night. I don't understand."
Helen was in hell in those few minutes the phone was muted. She paced and couldn't help the tears running down her cheeks. She almost hung up, but she kept looking at Ryden and she was more frightened of what might happen to him than what might happen to her. The most she was going to get was abuse. She prayed that the line would not be disconnected.
"No. It...it's Luke."
"Oh Luke, thank god; thank god. I'm so grateful to you for talking to me. Luke, I don't know what's been going on and I don't care. All I care about is my son and I know he needs you. Luke, he needs you more now than anyone ever has. I'm afraid, Luke. I'm afraid that he's given up; given up on you and... and everyone else. I don't know what I can say to you, Luke. I'm begging you. Please."
"I came last night."
"I don't understand. I swear, I don't understand."
"He said—he said I wasn't welcome. He's said it before. He said that if I came near him again he'd break my neck."
"Who said? Who said that?" Helen was totally shocked; so much so she found she was shaking.
"He did. Ry's dad. I came to the hospital and he told me it was my fault— what happened to Ry— because he was so upset... and because he was coming to me."
Until then, Luke's voice had been tense; accusatory, but then it cracked and he had to swallow hard to keep going.
"Luke... I'm so sorry. I had no idea. I swear I had no idea. If I'd known... Look sweetheart; I know you have no reason to believe me; to trust me... but I need you... Ryden needs you; more than you have ever been needed before. I know that. I know how important you are to him and there is nothing I want more than to give him everything he needs. I want him to get better and I don't think... Luke, I don't think he can do it without you."
"Let me speak to Ry."
"Luke, he can't..."
"I know... just let me speak to him."
Her heart pounding, Helen took the phone over to the bed and held it close to Ryden's ear. She couldn't hear what Luke was saying, although she could hear his voice. Clearly, Ryden could hear his voice too, because he moaned softly and turned his head towards the phone.
Carefully she laid her hand against her son's cheek and turned his head so that he could keep the phone pressed against his ear. Again he moaned and sighed. His fingers twitched, clutching the bedclothes and slowly his eyes flickered open. "Luke?"
"He's on the phone sweetheart. He wants to talk to you."
"Luke?" His voice was weak but hopeful and he seemed to be listening carefully, a smile playing on his lips. "Luke, I..." The voice on the other side went quiet and there was absolute silence. Helen stopped breathing and she thought that even her heart had stopped. "I... I... I... Please... please I... Luke..."
She could tell that it had been a real struggle for Ryden. The strength of emotion was too much for him... too strong to express. He was breathing fast and struggling hard to find words in a brain full of soup. "Please..."he whispered before losing the fight and falling.
Helen smiled through her tears and stroked Ryden's hai,r then lifted the phone back to her own ear.
"Ry...Ry..." Luke was calling, urgently.
"He's asleep, darling. It was a struggle for him, talking to you. He was... I haven't seen him so lit up for such a long time,, but it exhausted him. He can't stay with us for very long."
"He really wants me there?"
"He needs you Luke. Ask Cory and Lucy. When they were here... all he wanted was you. He's asked for you over and over. I... I promised him, and I tried. I had no idea. I swear I had no idea what Robert did. I won't let him do it again."
"Do you promise? If I come back, do you promise you won't send me away again; that I can see him."
She heard Cory's voice in the background, urging him not to put himself on the line to be hurt again. She heard Luke's answer. "It's Ry, dude." Then there was silence. "Ok... I'll be there in half an hour... but if you mess me about I'll disappear and never come back."
"I won't mess you around, Luke. Come straight to me. Don't listen to anyone else, just come to me."
"Thank you Luke. I'm so sorry about what's happened and I don't blame you but... thank you."
"Mrs B..." he said uncertainly. "Ry... Is he...? I...I'm kind of scared. Is he...? Will he know me?"
"Of course he will. I'm not going to lie to you, Luke; he's very ill. He almost died and he still... but he's getting better. He knows where he is and who we are but he can't... He doesn't stay awake for very long."
"Okay... thank you." There was no emotion in his voice. Then he hung up leaving Helen not knowing how to feel. She was confident that Luke would come and certain that Ryden would be so happy to see him. What she didn't know was whether it would make a difference. She also didn't know what the hell Robert had been playing at. In the beginning, maybe he'd thought he was doing the right thing but last night...? He knew how much Ryden needed to see Luke. He knew that he was struggling. He knew that she'd been trying desperately to get Luke to come. Why had he done that? Why had he turned him away?
She was sitting in the chair at the side of the bed when Robert came in, about ten minutes after her call to Luke. She couldn't look at him.
"How is he?"
"Good. What did Sam say?"
"She said not to worry."
"But you are still worrying, right?"
"Of course. I spoke to him and he was... I'm afraid that he's giving up. I don't know what happened but the way he was talking... I don't know... I don't know what's going to happen."
He came over and put his hand on her shoulder, a glass of whisky in his other hand. "He looks okay... peaceful."
"He is, now."
"I finally tracked Luke down and he's promised to come. He should be here soon."
She felt Robert stiffen. "Luke?"
"Yes. You know it's what he needs, Robert. You know Luke is everything to him."
"That's rubbish. Luke was a bad influence. Ryden's better off without him."
"Luke was not a bad influence, Robert. Luke was his boyfriend; his lover."
"Don't say that. I can't believe I would ever hear nonsense like that from your mouth."
"You'll hear a lot more than that from my mouth, Robert. Besides, it doesn't matter what I think or what I say, does it? Luke and Ryden love each other. Ryden needs him. That's all that matters to me."
"It's a load of crap. They don't love each other; they can't. It was some stupid game... a silly infatuation. They don't have real feeling for each other... it's nonsense. If it was true... if they... then my son would be... and he's not."
"You can't even bear to say it can you? Even now. Look at him Robert; look at our son. I thought he was our son. I thought that even after the arguments; after everything that's happened... I thought that you really did think of him as your son... but all you thought about was your image. Since the accident it's suited you to soak up the sympathy by playing the devastated father but were you? Were you really?"
"Of course I was. What are you suggesting? I've always thought of Ryden as my son. I was devastated by the accident; especially as it happened after that argument."
"But you still can't accept him for what he is. You can't bear even to think about the fact that he's gay--"
"He is not. It's just that boy turning his head and twisting his mind."
"No, Robert. It wasn't Luke; it was never Luke. The signs were always there; right from the start but you were too blind; too blinkered and you made me the same. I'll regret until the end of my days that you pulled me into that argument and that I took your side and not his."
"What? Where did this come from?"
"Did you speak to Luke last night?"
"Oh, so that's what this is about. What did the little shit tell you?"
"He told me that, after all my begging and pleading, he came to see Ryden last night and you turned him away."
"Did you? Did you talk to Luke last night and turn him away? Did you warn him off when Ryden was in hospital?"
"So what? He's a piece of crap. Even if... even if Ryden is... if his preferences lie... with boys... Luke is not the one for him. He's... he's too..."
"Too what? Too gay?"
"Too open. Everyone knows what he is. He'd drag Ryden down with him."
"Drag him down? Further than this?" She turned her head to look at her son. He was flushed, a smile on his face. He was an angel and she couldn't blame anyone for falling in love with him. But she could blame anyone who hurt him.
"You know what I mean, Helen."
"Yes, I know what you mean. I think you had better leave for a while. Until I have a chance to think about this."
"Leave? What do you mean leave?"
"Go away for a few days. A hotel... your sister; I don't care. I have enough to worry about with Ry without having to deal with this too. I need to think."
"Think? All you ever think about is him. There's no room for me in your life anymore. You live and breathe that boy. You're possessed by him."
Helen stared at him, her eyes wide with shock. "He needs me, Robert."
"I need you, Helen."
"Not like he does. He's ill, Robert; helpless. He could die."
"Or linger on like this for years, sucking a hole in our lives. Do you have any idea how much it's going to cost...?"
"Cost? Do you think I care about the cost?"
"Not just in money, Helen."
"I know what you meant." Her voice was cold and, when she stood up to face him, he recoiled at the expression in her eyes. "Let me tell you something. My son is worth every moment of my time, every iota of my energy, every second of my life... and I don't give a damn about the cost. He's everything to me and I'd give my life and soul to see him well again. You're right... he is possessing me and I don't have room for anyone else in my life right now. I really think you should leave before one of us says something we can never pull back from."
He glared at her for a moment then he downed his whisky in one swallow, slammed the glass on the table and strode out. She didn't cry.
Ryden was disturbed by the argument and Helen put all her focus into soothing him. She let her fingers run through his hair and linger on his face, as his eyelids fluttered. She wasn't sure if he was dreaming or trying to wake up.
"Take it easy, Ry. Rest now. He's on his way and you need your strength to speak to him."
Despite her words the fluttering increased and he gave a little grunt as his trembling lashes rose, with some effort over eyes that were still dreaming.
She smiled, thinking of how many times his first word was that name. "Not yet, sweetheart, but he's coming. He's on his way."
Ryden licked his lips and focussed his eyes on her."He... he does... love me?"
"Oh yes Ry—yes, he loves you very much."
"There was a terrible mistake. It's over now. There won't be any more mistakes. He won't be long. He's almost here."
"I... I heard... I th...thought I heard..."
"Yes, you did: you heard his voice on the phone. He wanted to speak to you before he agreed to come."
Ryden's eyes widened. "I...I... Did I...? Did...?"
"It's alright. You spoke to him. Just a little."
"I thought... I thought it was a dream."
"No, not a dream. You spoke to Luke and he's coming." She checked her watch. "He'll be here in about ten minutes. You should rest.
"But... but Luke... Luke... gone... dead... to me."
"Luke's not dead. Why did you think that?"
"Dead...to...me." His eyes widened but still looked asleep, as if he was sleepwalking or still dreaming.
"Ryden, listen to me... Listen." He stared at her but she had the impression he wasn't seeing her. "I don't know how you got these ideas into your head but it's nonsense. I've spoken to Luke and he's on his way. He's coming because he loves you."