"Are you really sure about this? It's a hell of a responsibility."
"No, I'm not sure, but it's done now and there's no going back."
"Yes there is; you could always..."
"He's my son, Mary: I've let him down once and I have no intention of doing it again."
"You didn't let him down, Helen. You didn't know... how could you have known?"
"I wasn't there. I wasn't there with him. I couldn't protect him."
"Now that's just ridiculous. How could you have been there? You didn't know this was going to happen."
"But I should have. I should have listened to him. I should never have driven him away."
"Stop it. Stop it right now. This was NOT your fault. You did what you felt you had to do; what you thought was right."
"But I didn't." Helen turned to meet her friend's eyes, which were dark with concern. "I didn't do what I thought was right. I let Robert do what HE thought was right. He's never liked Ryden. There's always been bad feeling between them and I knew at the time that he wasn't thinking of Ryden; only of himself. I should have stood up for him. I should never have sent him out there alone."
"Helen... you can't... What happened was not your fault. It was an accident: pure and simple. It was just an accident."
"Was it? I'm not so sure about that."
"What do you mean? Surely you can't think that..."
"Why not? Look at him, Mary. The doctors have no explanation for why he is as he is. He's not in a coma any more. He's responsive; he's even conscious sometimes. He's aware, knows who we are; where he is but he just won't wake up. The best explanation they can give is that it's psychological. He doesn't want to come back to us... why? If it was just an accident then why...?"
"You don't think he... that he...?"
"No! No; not that. Ryden's... he wouldn't do that. He wouldn't take his own life. When he left he was angry; really angry but... he wasn't desperate or depressed. He was determined to ... to show us that he could be make it on his own. He wouldn't have..."
"Then what? Do you think that someone else... that someone pushed him?"
"I don't know."
"But who...? Who would do something like that? Ryden's a popular boy. He's got lots of friends and okay that makes enemies too but there's no one who would go as far as that. That's... that's a huge thing, Helen-- to push someone over a cliff. That's..."
"I know. I know. It just... it doesn't feel right. Ryden's been walking that path since he was ten years old. Why now? Why would he fall now?"
"I can't give you answers, Mary. I can't give you anything."
Helen smiled warmly. "You give me an ear, Mary; you give me a shoulder to cry on. That's... so much."
"Still... I come back to my first question; are you really sure about this? He need so much care."
"The nurses at the hospital have been wonderful. They've shown me what I need to do and the district nurse is coming round twice a day to help get him up, and settle him down for the night. I know it isn't going to be easy; I never expected it to be easy but this is... The doctors have tried everything, and they think maybe being here in familiar surroundings, with people coming and going and his friends back and forth... That's why we've brought his bed downstairs."
"That's another thing.. Shouldn't you have a hospital bed at least? And what about all the equipment. Surely there should me—more. He looks so vulnerable."
"They wouldn't have sent him home if they weren't sure he'd be okay. Physically, he's as stable as he's going to be. I wouldn't know how to use the equipment if I had it. I can barely manage the IV and the catheter. It's a struggle sometimes to get him to drink those energy shakes they gave me, but that's the worst... well... apart from seeing him like this."
She turned and tenderly brushed strands of bright golden hair out of her son's face. He sighed and his lips twitched as long pale lashes fluttered and lifted over startling blue eyes. For a moment he mirrored his mother's smile and then, with another sigh the lashes lowered and he drifted away again. Helen stroked his cheek and turned away, with tears in his eyes.
"Nothing is too much, Mary. He's my son. If this doesn't work... I don't want him to go to a long term care facility. They're terrible places. It's where they put people to exist until they die. I can't... I just can't let that happen."
Mary pulled her friend into her arms. "Oh Helen I'm so sorry; I'm so sorry this had to happen to you. You don't deserve this. None of you deserve this."
For a moment Helen rested her head on her friend's shoulder, then she pushed away and drew herself up. "Life's not fair. We just have to make the best we can of it. I'm determined to do this; to make a difference for him. Everyone's been wonderful. Once he's settled in, his friends are going to come round to visit. We're going to play his music; put his favourite DVD's on. Something has to get through to him. Something..."
"I'll help you in any way I can; you know that."
"Yes, I know."
"What about Luke?"
"What?" Mary wondered why her friend looked so startled. "What about him?"
"He's Ryden's best friend isn't he? And he hasn't been to visit; not since the very beginning. Are you going to be able to persuade him to come here?"
Helen let her head drop. "I don't know. I don't know what he's thinking, why he's stayed away. Maybe he couldn't cope. Maybe..."
"It's alright, Helen," she said slowly and carefully. "You don't have to put up defences with me. If you can't trust your best friend, then who?"
Helen raised her head and looked into her friend's eyes. All she saw was concern and sympathy. "You know?"
"A lot longer than you have."
"They needed a safe place to go; somewhere they could be themselves. Cory supplied it. No one ever told me; not officially, but I knew and they all knew I knew."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"It wasn't my place, Helen. They hadn't told me and, for whatever reason, they didn't feel they could tell you so I didn't think it was right for me to do it either."
Helen nodded slowly, relief creeping through her like a soothing balm. At least now she had someone to talk to.
"Do you think anyone else knows?"
"Possibly. Not from me or Cory, that's for sure. There may be others Ry and Luke trusted, but I don't know."
Slowly Helen nodded then glanced at her son. "If only he'd told me sooner. Before Robert..."
"You didn't throw him out did you?" Mary asked, her voice sharper than she had intended
"No, of course not. I think Robert might have but it's not his choice, not his house. He's more concerned about his image than anything else— that and the fact he's always hated Ry. And don't try to say he hasn't..."
"I'm not going to say that, Helen."
She nodded and continued. "There was a huge row. Things were said, terrible things— by everyone. He... he said that if we didn't accept him for who and what he is then he didn't want to live with us anymore. He stormed out and Robert wouldn't let me go after him. He said it'd do us all good to have time to settle down. At the time, I agreed with him."
"He was heading for Luke's I presume."
"It looks like it. If only I'd been less judgemental: if I hadn't been so quick to side with Robert..."
"This world is full of 'if only's', Helen. None of them are productive. There's no point in raking over the past. You have to look to the future... make it the best you can."
"What do you think Mary? Do you think it's going to work? Do you think he's going to get better?"
Mary looked down at her best friend's son. She'd known Ryden all his life. He was the same age as her son, Cory, and they'd always been friends. The three of them had been inseparable since the day they met. The three musketeers: Cory, Ryden and Luke. She knew every inch of his face, his smile, his brightness. He looked like an angel; his pretty face relaxed in sleep and his golden hair curling slightly around his shoulders. A faint smile tugged at the corners of his lips and his eyelids were fluttering as he dreamed. She wondered what he was dreaming about.
Lifting her eyes to her friend, Mary shrugged. "Who knows? I really hope so."
After three days Helen was searching desperately for signs of improvement. Maybe he was conscious for a little longer; maybe there was a little more colour in his cheeks; maybe he was a little stronger. Maybe...
"It's early days, Helen. You shouldn't put so much pressure on yourself."
With a sigh, she looked up and smiled. Sam, the district nurse was a friend; well, an acquaintance. They'd been school friends, but had drifted apart, like people do.
"I know but..."
"You know the score. One day at a time."
Helen nodded and smiled faintly as she continued brushing Ryden's hair. Sam gathered together the damp towels and took them into the bathroom. When she came back to collect the bowl of water and flannels she caught the look that Helen was giving her son. He seemed to enjoy having his body washed and his hair brushed. He often woke and actively participated for a few minutes before drifting away again.
She'd never seen anything like it before. In her time working in hospitals she'd cared for comatose patients and those who, because of the drugs they were being given, were hovering on the verges of consciousness. Ryden was neither. In the short periods he was awake he was lucid; could exchange a few words; knew where he was and who was with him. It didn't make sense; but then, the human mind often didn't.
There was no question that he'd been seriously injured when he fell from the cliff on that fateful day. He'd broken his back in three places, suffered a serious head injury and internal injuries, all of which had healed during the eight weeks he was in a coma. Everyone had been delighted when he woke... except that he hadn't; not really.
He was awake now; smiling up at his mother with his beautiful eyes, an equally beautiful expression shining out of them.
His response was a smile.
She stroked his cheek. "Are you comfortable?"
"Do you think you could drink some milkshake for me? You haven't had any today; you must be hungry."
Helen took a bottle from the bedside table and held the straw to his lips. Obediently they parted and he drank.
After a while he stopped drinking and Helen put the bottle down and smiled at him again. "That was good, darling; really good. You drank almost a whole one. Does that feel better?"
He smiled and his eyes slid past her to wander the room. "Luke," he whispered. Helen hung her head and raised his hand to her lips. His fingers curled gently around hers and his eyes wandered back to her.
"He's not here right now sweetheart: maybe later."
"Oh." He frowned, blinking.
"Don't go to sleep, sweetheart; not yet...please. Just a little while. Please try. Won't you talk to me?"
Ryden smiled sleepily and nodded. He licked his lips and grunted softly, frowning as if he was surprised by what had come out. He tried again. "Luke."
Helen swallowed heavily and forced herself to smile. "Would you like to see Luke? Should I ask him to come and see you?"
"He'll come soon, sweetheart. Would you like to listen to some music? Or watch a film?"
"What would you like to do?"
"I..." A fleeting frown passed over his face then he sighed. "I..." Before he finished his fingers went slack in her hand and he fell asleep again.
"Oh, Ry. Why? I just want..."
She jumped at the touch of a hand on her shoulder. She'd forgotten about Sam.
"It will come, Helen. Have faith. He's a strong boy and he's trying."
"Is he? Sometimes I wonder."
"Has Luke been to see him yet?"
"No. I thought... I don't know why."
"Maybe he's not sure he'd be welcome."
"I don't know, but I got the feeling... It felt as if Robert doesn't like him."
"Robert doesn't like anyone."
Sam laughed. "I know. It's always surprised me that you two ended up together."
"Tell me about it."
"Trouble in paradise?"
"No, not really. It's just sometimes... Never mind. I'm sorry Sam, I'm keeping you."
"Not at all. It's always a pleasure. Ryden's a beautiful boy."
"Yes, yes he is. I'm very proud of him."
"Would you like me to change the bags while I'm here? The doctor wants me to increase the medication in the IV; just to see."
"Does that mean...?"
"It means that the doctor wants me to increase the medication— just a little."
Helen smiled and nodded. "Thank you."
When Sam left Helen stood for a while, looking down at Ryden. He was restless. It was happening a lot lately. At first she'd thought it was a good sign, but now she wasn't so sure. Sometimes, he cried out or silently wept. Sometimes, when he woke his eyes were so sad.
She stroked his hair and murmured reassurances to him. After a while, he settled and she was rewarded when he opened his eyes and blinked at her.
"I' m here, baby."
"What is it?"
"Are you in pain sweetheart? Do you want some painkillers?"
He shook his head and took a deep breath. "I... fell."
"Yes... yes you did. You fell a long way." Helen's heart was racing. This was the first time he'd ever mentioned what happened to him. She thought he hadn't remembered.
"Yes; it did. I know it did." Gently she stroked his cheek with the backs of her fingers.
"You were scared? When you fell?"
He didn't answer and his eyes were flickering again. "Oh baby, I wish..."
With a great effort he forced his eyes open. "Mam," he whispered weakly. "I... don't... want..."
"I know. I know you don't. I know you try. I know you try so hard. I want you back with me, Ry and I know you're trying. I know."
He tried to smile but his eyes rolled and there was nothing he could do to stop himself slipping away.
Helen bent her head to rest on his chest and wept.
Eventually, she took a deep breath and sat up, determination strengthening her resolved. She picked up the phone and dialled.
"Hello?" a pleasant voice asked.
"It's Helen, Helen Baker. I'm Ryden's mother."
"I know who you are." The voice had turned cold and it shocked her.
"I... I was wondering if Luke..."
"Luke's not here; not for you."
"But, but I..."
"Look. Tt's not my place to say but you and your family have done enough to him. You have NO idea how much all this has hurt him. If you really want to destroy him then do your best, but it will be over my dead body and if you even try to hurt him again, I'll see you in hell."
Helen was left staring at the phone which had been abruptly disconnected. What the hell...?
She was still staring at it when the door opened a few minutes later. "Robert."
"I've hardly seen you these last few days." She could have sworn the look he sent to Ryden was resentful.
"I've been busy," she said coldly.
Robert smiled, somewhat falsely she thought, and bent to kiss her. He left his hand on her shoulder as he stood and gazed at Ryden.
"How is he?" For the first time she realised that his voice, when he spoke to or of Ryden, had very little emotion.
"It doesn't seem as if this plan is working."
"As long as it takes," she snapped and Robert gave her a look that was somewhere between anger and shock.
"Of course; of course."
He walked over to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a whisky.
"I've just had a strange conversation with Luke's mother."
"What do you mean 'strange'?"
"She was quite hostile. She seemed to think we've hurt Luke."
"We haven't seen hide nor hair of Luke."
"Don't you think that's strange?"
"I thought he would have cared a bit more, yes. He seemed to, in the beginning."
"Yes. It's strange how he suddenly just stopped coming."
"Perhaps he found it too painful. Ryden was in a mess at the beginning."
"Maybe. But why not now? Why hasn't he come now? He knows Ryden's better. Surely he'd know..."
"Helen, we can speculate 'til kingdom come but there's only one way to know. Maybe you need to speak to the boy himself."
"I don't know how I can. His mother seems determined not to allow me anywhere near him."
"Why not ask some of his friends to speak to him; ask him to call round."
Helen beamed up at him. "You're a genius. Of course. Thank you so much, darling."
He raised her to her feet and kissed her. Happily she put her arms around him and rested her head on his chest. Robert put his drink down and pushed her off a little so that he could look down into her eyes.
"I know I haven't always been the best father I could have been to him. He's so stubborn and wayward. I handled it badly. I tried to start off by asserting authority and he fought me from the very beginning. I was wrong: I know it now. He's a good boy, Helen: maybe I only realised that since the accident but I have always loved him. I'd do anything to see him well again. Whatever it takes."
"Oh Robert." She brought his head down and kissed him more tenderly. "That means such a lot to me."
"I know," he said stroking her back.
Later that day some of Ryden's friends called round, as they did every day. They took it in turns to make sure that someone spent at least an hour with him every day. Helen was so grateful. She hadn't realised how popular he was; how much his friends cared about him. It made her proud.
Today it was Cory, Mary's son and Ryden's closest friend, besides Luke. With him was Lucy, his girlfriend and also a good friend of Ryden and Luke. Helen remembered what Mary had said about Cory providing a safe place for them and hugged him warmly. Cory flushed, surprised and embarrassed.
"Um... yeah... thanks Mrs Baker."
"Your mother told me about your kindness to Luke and Ryden. It means a lot to me."
Cory's eyes widened. "You know?"
"Yes; which is why I'm very surprised Luke hasn't been to see Ryden since he's been home. Everyone else had been so kind but..."
Cory and Lucy exchanged embarrassed looks. "Umm."
"If you know, please tell me. The only thing I care about is my son. He's asked for Luke so many times and I really think that seeing him would help. Please tell him that; ask him to come, please."
"I think... I think he feels he wouldn't be welcome here... given the circumstances."
"He'll always be welcome here, Cory; for what he means to Ryden, if nothing else."
"We'll tell him," Lucy said when Cory was too embarrassed to speak, "although he's thinking of going away."
"Going away? Where? I though... I thought he was going to work in the museum. He's already started hasn't he?"
"He did but when... when... After the accident he couldn't focus and he left and then... Well I don't know why but he... he's been applying for jobs in London and Manchester. I don't know if he's got anything lined up yet, but he was in London over the weekend. He's back today."
"Oh no. No. Ryden will be devastated. He... I thought..." She took a deep breath, realising what she was doing. These young people didn't deserve to be burdened with her fears. "I would be very grateful if you could speak to him and ask him to come as soon as he can. Tell him he'll be more than welcome."
Wide eyed, they both nodded.
"Can I get you something to drink?"
"No thank you. I hope you don't mind, but we brought some wine. It's Lu's birthday and we're going out tonight so we thought we'd have a little party here with Ry this afternoon."
"That would be wonderful. I'm sure he'll like that."
Helen sat in the kitchen and heard the young voices laughing in the other room. Music was playing and she wondered if Ryden knew. For the first time, the full weight of the situation crashed down on her. She'd been so glad to have Ryden home. She'd convinced herself that it meant he was going to get better. She'd fooled herself even more; every time she looked into his eyes; every time he whispered a word or two. But the fact was that there was no real sign he was getting better at all.