She knew it was her from the first glance. But she couldn’t bring herself to tell Connor. Saying the name was enough to bring the past streaming back. Abby stood leaning at a wall as Connor flicked through the CDs that were neatly lined up in a rack just outside the used records shop. She hoped that he wouldn’t see her, that all those memories wouldn’t come flooding back. That wasn’t fair on her either. She’d just had the old Connor back. The smiles, the jokes - as annoying as they were- she’d missed them all. Every small detail of Connor were, one-by-one, returning.
“This one?” Connor asked holding a CD in the air. Abby remained oblivious which band it was so she nodded. “Really? You do know which band it is, right?”
“’Course, it’s…” Connor covered the band’s title. “Connor! That’s not fair.”
“I knew it!” he laughed. “Liar.”
She was. But it was all to protect him. Caroline was walking alone down the street towards them, curiously lifting her head over the crowds and glancing into the shops she passed as if she had no time to have a small peek of the items the shops had to offer.
“Are you going to buy that Connor?” her eyes meeting his for a second until hers soared to the direction of her. “Do you want it?”
“Yeah. But what about the other two? Three for a tenner,” he pointed at a hand made sign above the stacks. “I’m sure you can wait a few more seconds.” He buried his head back into the cover of the CDs.
If she was to pass now, while he was occupied with the stupid CDs that he’d nagged about for weeks, the two would be none the wiser. It’s not like Caroline was planning to stop by and say hi. After all, everything was over between them, right? Even though at the funeral, Stephen’s funeral, she had the face to hint another date with Connor. Abby kept running her words through her mind, did they mean something?
Connor? I just wanted to say…sorry. I was thinking that…well you- you - have my- my number.
“Abby? Hello?” She’d totally blanked him out until he was nearly bouncing on the balls of his feet in front of her.
“What?” It came out colder than she meant with the thought of Caroline still lingering in her mind.
“I was thinking you might want a CD. I mean, there’s nothing else I like. I mean, there’s The Muse that you like there, and The Cranberries. I mean, grab one if you want one.”
“Okay, get The Muse.” she answered hastily never removing her eyes off of the women that marched towards them, getting closer with each second they both delayed. “We can pay now Connor, come on.”
He smiled happily with all three CDs in his hand and skipped into the shop. She glanced over her shoulder as she followed him and saw a big afro of brown hair bobbing up and down behind other shoppers. She was still headed this way.
“Who’s this, Conn?” Abby asked trying to delay the payment at least until Caroline was out of their view and them of hers.
“It says on the cover.” Connor answered plainly rushing to the counter to pay.
“Are they a good band?” Abby was still looking through the window as she picked a random CD up from the stack.
“I don’t know, let me see.” He turned to face her; again she was oblivious to this. “Abs? Abby? Hello, do you want me to give you my opinion?”
“Sorry. Uh…yeah, here.” She passed the CD to him.
“Nah, ain’t that good. I mean they’ve got all the acoustics wrong… But I guess, if you want it I could buy it for you.”
She turned at the comment to face him. “Really? You’d do that?” Abby stood on her tiptoes to try and ensure that Connor didn’t see through the window. He nodded, looking sheepishly at her.
“Come on then.” She didn’t even know the name of the band but yet again she was letting him buy it for her. She thought it was probably because of Caroline, she wanted to delay him even longer, but it was also the gesture. He was going to pay for the CD… for her. Okay so it wasn’t exactly the biggest present like a necklace she’d seen in the Argos catalogue the other day but it was the thought that counts.
“Never knew you liked ’em. Very, sort of, over punkyish for you.” Connor explained as he grabbed his wallet out of his ridiculous man bag that hung loosely by his side.
“I heard them somewhere. On the radio I think.” she still faced the window, her back towards the counter. “I forget what they were called…” she didn’t want to lie to him.
“£19.50 please.” The man said in a brusque voice opening his hand, expecting Connor to give him the money at the speed of light.
“Keep the change mate!” Connor said happily as he handed over a twenty pound note.
“Thanks.” The man grumbled.
Abby turned to face Connor, as if to say, ‘why did you just give away fifty pence?’. He smiled sweetly at her and turned on his heels. At that the shop bell rang to notify a customer entering. Abby had an internal gut feeling that she might’ve known who it was. Something turned, painfully inside her. A gut instinct she’d picked up at the ARC. As Connor’s face turned, ready to leave the shop she winced. Connor came to an abrupt pause.
“Connor…?” It was Caroline.
Abby finally opened her eyes and went to stand by Connor. They stood so close that as her skin brushed against his their hairs stood. She could still feel his hairs against hers; it was comforting almost, especially with Caroline there.
Connor stood, motionless, his eyes echoing his hate, his fear and his pain. It had all come rushing back, the one thing Abby had tried to avoid, and the one thing she couldn’t bare. She nudged him slightly as a gesture to get him moving but all he did was open his mouth slightly, let out a gasp of wind, and then closed it again.
Caroline’s eyes flicked to Abby.
“How are you both?” She could’ve hit the woman. Right there. But something stopped her and she didn’t notice until Caroline’s eyes weren’t on her anymore.
Connor’s fingers entwined with hers as they stood silently in front of Caroline. This is what had stopped her; this is what caught Caroline’s attention.
“Oh.” Caroline had read Abby’s mind. “So, you’re a couple now then?”
A pause. Too awkward for Abby to bear. She knew it was a cover up. A cover up to show Caroline he had moved on, forgotten about her. She was about to speak before…
“Yes.” Connor spoke calmly even though Abby knew the anger was there somewhere. “You haven’t got a problem with that have you?” There it was. The anger. It didn’t rush out. He’d said it slowly but there was a quiver in his voice that suggested both anger and…betrayal.
“I-I… I don’t have a problem…no.” Caroline stuttered, this time not making eye contact with any of them, not even looking at the two’s hands that stayed laced together, as if it were meant to be.
Connor pulled Abby slightly as he walked passed Caroline, leaving her quite shocked by the stand of, as Connor had called it, ‘punkyish’ CDs.
Outside of the shop the two stood silently, hand still holding the others. The sun shone over the tedious buildings and stung their eyes. But neither of them let go. Abby had a sudden urge to. To let go of his hand before it causes them both the embarrassment. But she didn’t. And neither did he.
Connor turned to face her. His eyes seem old. Not in age, but in time. These are the eyes she saw everyday after Stephen’s funeral, after Caroline’s betrayal. She definitely couldn’t let go of his hand now. He had just confronted Caroline, again. She looked deeply into his eyes, hoping to find that Connor that had entered the shop but he wasn’t there anymore. She squeezed his hand as he started to loosen his grip. He squeezed hers back.
“Is there no escape?” he whispered as if Caroline could hear him.
“There is now.” Abby said softly. She felt like she was talking to a child, taking cautious steps in her mind before saying the next sentence. “Let’s go home, yeah, Conn? We’ll listen to your CDs, how about that?” She smiled, expecting one back. Only she didn’t get one.
He let go of her hand and walked the opposite way from the car.
“Connor? The car’s this way.” Abby giggled nervously, thinking - hoping - he was joking.
“I know. You go; I’ll see you at home.”
She started to worry, her heart thumping, painfully. “Connor?!” She yelled of the subdued conversation of shoppers.
He waved her off as if to warn her not to follow him. So she didn’t. “I’ll see you later, then, yeah? At home?” No answer as he walked further away from her, leaving her stranded between thoughts.
Where was he off to?
Should she follow him?
She stood just outside the CD shop watching him disappear into the cluster of people in the street. She had another of those churning gut instincts that she should’ve followed him, that he was, somehow, going to get into trouble.
Why had he let go of her so hastily? It’s not like she had said anything to offend him, or had she? Was it the fact that she spoke too soft. That he thought she was treating him as a child? She shook her head, hoping the thoughts would somehow, magically, disappear though her ears and scramble down the drain next to the pavement.
Abby started to walk, slowly towards the car. She was hoping that she’d hear those distinctive footsteps of his rushing towards her, coming back, joining her. She didn’t. Then another wish, another hope as she entered the parking lot. She wished, she hoped he was at the car, waiting, that annoying little childish smile on his face. He wasn’t.
He strode around the street not knowing where to go but knowing that home wasn’t an option, not yet. People gave him weird looks as the tears slid down his face. He wasn’t sure why, but they seemed uncontrollable. He spotted an empty alley way leading from a quiet street and took a few steps inside, away from all the people to try and control the tears he’s kept back for a long time.
As he rubbed his eyes roughly trying to get a hold of himself he heard footsteps from where he’d come from.
If this is Abby…
It wasn’t, and he’d do anything for it to be Abby instead of…
“So this is what you do on your day off.” she said coldly looking around the alley. “I saw little Cinderella running off earlier.” she had a mean smile one her face, cold, nasty.
“What do you want Helen?” Connor was getting fed up of bumping into people he dreaded and hated to see. “Can’t I have one, one, weekend without a bloody interference? Is that asking too much?” his anger rose, swooping up and down.
“I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. If you agree without a struggle, maybe.” She’d lost him.
“I never got you Helen, now that hole’s getting deeper.”
“I’ve been wandering, shall we call it wandering? Yes, wandering, unless stalking suites it better. Well, I’ve been wandering around the ARC lately, watching everyone’s movement and so forth.”
“So? That’s probably normal in your books.” he couldn’t help but smile, and to be honest it didn’t really help his situation.
“Well I spotted Nick…and you. He seems to be very close to you Connor.”
“We’re all close at the ARC, we have to be.”
“You weren’t that close to Stephen. Were you? Were you jealous of him? Jealous because Abby fancied him and not you? He was the mach one while you were the…God knows what… helpless?”
“Don’t bring Abby to the conversation. Nor Stephen at that note.” he turned serious again.
“Oh, I would never be doing it without the must Connor, I’m sure you understand. I mean it seems you and Nick, Abby and Jenny seem inseparable now, wouldn’t you say so? It’s as if you’ve forgotten Stephen.”
He stepped forward, towards her, temper flaring. “It’s because of Stephen, don’t you see?”
“Oh, yes. What’s the saying, death brings everyone closer? Probably won’t be the line they’d use for you.”
“What’re you talking about?” His voice now panic stricken as he played nervously with the buttons on his coat.
“Well, we were talking. And I thought to myself what does Nick care about most? 1. Jenny. 2. You. 3. Abby.”
At that three figures emerged into the darkness. One of them wore a platinum-blonde bob on their head.
“Let her go Helen.” Connor pleaded taking a step forward until she stopped him.
“Let me finish.” she put her hand into her jacket pocket, rummaging for something. “Right, Connor. I was going to explain why I had chosen you two.” She pulled a knife out of her pocket.
His eyes flicked from the knife, to Abby, and back to Helen.
“Look…I…she-she’s done nothing. I-I, don’t hurt her.” He stuttered, tripping over his tongue. Kicking himself for doing so. Why now? He didn’t mind tripping over his tongue when he was talking to Lester, it was quite amusing to see his irritation. But here, now.
Abby’s head was down, looking at the floor as two men stood behind her. It took a while for Connor to recognise one of them. It somehow got darker in the dim alleyway. He was right…
The CD man.
“I-I let you keep fifty pence. Wasn’t that enough?” Helen smiled coldly as Connor tried to make himself as comfortable as possible in the circumstances.
Abby looked up towards him, her mascara ran down her face. He wanted to get to her, to wipe her face. To comfort her as, now he realised, he should’ve after Stephen’s death instead of closing himself upon himself.
“Did they do anything to you Abby?” Connor yelled.
She blinked, not saying a word. Another blink, harder yet. She was trying to say something, he knew it. What was that childhood game, Blink Murder? Not that. One blink for yes, two for no… was that what she was using?
He stepped towards Abby, “If you’ve done anything to her…”
A man stepped towards him blocking his way.
“Move.” Connor ordered, the anger inside of him making him feel indestructible. How wrong he was.
The man kicked him to the floor. Connor landed hard on the damp concrete, yelping as he did so. He heard Abby scream, the sound floating harshly through his ears. He tried to get up, tried to get to Abby but the man kicked him again, harder. Another kick. Abby was mumbling, as he tried to look at her he could see the CD man with his hand over her mouth.
“Abb-” Another kick to his ribcage.
He swallowed hard, trying to think of nice things, things that weren’t painful. That had always been a trick that worked, thinking that things could be worse. But could they? Another kick, another crack. Connor tried to shout, but nothing escaped his lips, he was winded. His vision started fading, getting blurry. The alley was getting darker.
He was going to die. This was it. Working at the ARC for over two years he’d never thought he’d die in a cold and tedious alleyway but a feast for some prehistoric creature, or maybe even catching some kind of disease from the infected waters of the Jurassic. He managed a smile at that thought.
Everything turned black. The last thing he heard was a scream, and it wasn’t Abby.
They all turned to face her. The two men, Helen and Abby. She saw Connor on the floor, blood covering his motionless body. She screamed again, this time a little shorter but a lot more shrilling. A man let go of Abby and came marching towards her, his arms looking out of place for his body. They were too long, too big, too strong.
“Run Caroline!” Abby screamed.
A crowd of people started to run in her direction, mobile phones in their hands. The man noticed this, looking back at Helen. She shrugged.
“He’s probably dead anyway, come on.” She walked out of the alleyway, the two men following her.
Caroline stepped out of their way.
“Stop them!” Abby yelled as she rushed towards Connor. “Don’t let them get away with this Caroline.”
He felt cold as she held him in her arms. Coldness didn’t mean anything, right? It was how he always felt. But his hand had been so warm earlier on, so warm. She held it now, coldness. She brushed his blood matted hair from his face, trying to shake him awake.
“Phone for an ambulance!” She shouted harshly at the spectators. “Hurry!”
She looked in the crowds, Caroline wasn’t there anymore.
Another sob as she failed to find a pulse. She couldn’t find it. Not because there wasn’t there but because her fingers kept slipping. Because of her nerves, yes, but because of the blood. She shivered inhaling deeply, trying to get a grip of herself. She was going to have to stay strong.
“Connor?” It was more a whimper than a whisper.
There was nothing.
She was going to have to talk to him, let him know she was still there. “Conn? I’m here, yeah? Everything’s going to be okay.”
She stroked his forehead, more blood on her hand.
“We’re still going to listen to that CD, you know, even if you don’t like ’em. You hear? Please hear…” She pleaded, rocking his slightly in her arms. “You can’t leave now, not now. Not like this.”
“I’ve called an ambulance.” An older woman’s voice trembled as she knelt beside the two.
“Thank you.” Abby sobbed.
“Is he…” The lady paused. “Is there a pulse.” That was a better way of putting the question of death.
Abby shrugged, looking back down, back at Connor. His eyes were closed. Peaceful it seemed. She looked back up at the crowd of people who was standing around, whispering. Unbelievable. They were so selfish, so heartless that they’d left a woman of her late-sixties to come and check on the two. What was happening to their world?
Abby could hear the siren in the background as she swayed softly with Connor.
“They’ll be here now Conn.” She promised him.
The men came rushing towards her with a stretcher. Gently, they pulled Connor off of her and placed him on the stretcher.
“How did this happen?” One asked as they all rushed towards the parked ambulance.
“Kicked…they kicked him to…” He had to be alive, he wasn’t dead. This wasn’t death. “Am I allowed to…?” She pointed towards the back of the ambulance.
The old woman grabbed her arm. “You let me know what happens, I own that little book shop there. Bargain Books. You let me know…” A pause.
“Abby. My name’s Abby.”
“Abby. Please, let me know.”
Abby smiled politely and nodded, joining an ambulance crew member and Connor in the back of the ambulance. The driver closed the door one them. Abby just sat and watched as - she looked at his badge - as Kevin treated Connor. Oxygen. That wasn’t good. Of all the stupid TV programmes she watched an ambulance crew member forcing oxygen into the patient was never good. Never ever. It meant he wasn’t able to take it in himself.
“Is he…?” She couldn’t bring herself to say the word, it was too hard.
The man looked at her. His brown eyes identical to Connor’s which made her sob. The man held the look too long, it had to bad news.
“He’s alive…but he might not…” It was even hard for Kevin to say it. “He might not make it.”
There it was. The one thing she didn’t want, didn’t need. She nodded, her eyes travelling back down to Connor. She could see his chest move now, just a bit. He was so helpless, so innocent.
“We’ll do the best we can for him.” Kevin said, smiling kindly.
How many people have you said that to in the past and they’ve lost a loved one? Abby asked herself, not taking her eyes off Connor’s bloody face.
Trembling, she pushed the last pound coin into the payphone. She dialled Cutter’s number, repeating the number in her head as she did so.
“Hello?” Cutter’s voice offered her comfort, safety.
“Cutter?” Abby sobbed. “It’s me, it’s Abby.” That didn’t need explaining.
“Abby? Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“I’m fine. I’m - we’re - at the hospital. I don’t have time to explain, just please… please come over as soon as you can. Please.” She pleaded, wiping another escaping tear off her cheek.
“Okay. Okay, me and Jenny will come now.” The line went quiet. “Okay?”
“Okay. Thank you.” She hung up.
It was back to sitting down in the uncomfortable chair that was provided in the waiting area. The plastic ones that made your bum numb. She sat forward, her head in her hands. How long were they going to take? Just how long?
The footsteps echoed through her ears as the scene in the alley played back in her mind. The man had kicked Connor because he tried to protect Abby. To make sure she was okay. This was her fault. He was in the state he was because of her. He could die because of her.
She started to tremble, it had finally hit her. The reality of the incident, the crisis had finally leaked into her brain and she’d worked it out. He could die and there was more of a possibility he would die. At that she jolted off her chair and through a double door towards the nearest toilet.
Abby barged through the door of the rest room and collapsed to her knees in one of the cubicles. The dinner she’d had with Connor that afternoon came rushing through her mouth as she knelt by the toilet.
The chips, the scampi. The chocolate gateau that Connor insisted she eat.
Coughing the last of it up she searched with a hand for the tissue. Left. Right a bit, she got it. Tearing a piece for herself she sat against the cubicle wall. She wasn’t any better. If anything it had made her worse. That nausea was still inside her, making her heave.
Abby dragged herself out of the cubicle and towards the sink. Using all the energy she had left she pulled herself up with the help of the sink’s edges. Looking in the mirror she felt pitiless over herself. Shaking her head she slammed her hand down on the tap, rinsing her mouth, and then wiping the residual mascara that stained her face. And the blood. His blood. Connor’s blood.
She turned to leave, throwing the ball of tissue into the toilet and flushing it before she left.
When she reached the waiting area she saw an auburn haired man. She’d recognise that scruffy mane any day. He was pacing up and down the room as Jenny, who sat on the exact chair where Abby had earlier, was talking to him.
Slowly, she walked towards them.
“Abby!” Jenny leaped from the chair her black hair bouncing. “What’s happened?”
Cutter looked passed Abby as if he was expecting Connor to come through the door. Of course, he didn’t.
“Where’s Connor?” Cutter asked.
Abby sat down, ignoring Cutter’s question. She wasn’t ready. He couldn’t tell him, she didn’t know. That was the truth.
“I…” she started. “We were shopping. He left me; he didn’t head home with me. He wanted time alone or something. Then when I was at the car these two men came towards me with guns. I followed them and they took me towards…” she paused. “Connor and…” Another pause. “Helen.”
“Helen?!” It was Jenny. Cutter stood with his mouth gaping.
“She was talking to Connor, but he wasn’t listening. He was angry, we’d seen Caroline, and the past had… come back.” she sniffed. “The next thing I know he was on the floor, a man kicking him, hurting him. There was nothing I could do… I-I…”
“It’s okay now Abby, we’re here.” Jenny sat next to her, placing her arm around Abby’s shoulder.
“Where’s Connor?” Cutter asked again.
“They won’t let me see him.” Abby explained placing her head in her hands.
A few minutes passed by, Cutter was still pacing up and down the room, and Jenny still had her arm around Abby. A woman dressed in white came through the door and scanned the room.
“Ms Maitland?” The nurse called.
Abby jumped from her chair, feeling the pain in her bum as it stung with numbness. “That’s me.”
The woman looked down at her clipboard. “Ms Maitland, Mr Temple entered the hospital with fatal injuries to his head and his upper half. We have skilled staff at this hospital Ms Maitland but there was nothing we could do for him…he passed away.”
“No!” Abby collapsed to her knees, identically to the way she did earlier with the toilet, only this time she had nothing to hold on to, nothing she could lean on so she placed her head on the cold floor.
Jenny knelt beside her, rubbing her back rhythmically as Cutter stood as bewildered as the two women were. Connor was… dead.
She woke up, sweating. She looked across the room to find Cutter and Jenny at the farthest end, whispering to each other. On the bed where she’d placed her head lay Connor. The horrible tube thing in his mouth with wires coming in and out of his body. He was still alive. That was something to be thankful for, that was something she was thankful for. Abby grabbed his hand, it was still cold, and it was limp.
Jenny stood up and came walking towards her, the heels of her shoes tapping quietly against the clean floor.
“Abby?” Jenny seemed cautious. “You’re awake. That’s good. Me and Nick have been talking, we think you should go home.”
Abby’s head jolted up. “I’m not leaving him.” she warned. “I’ve had some sleep.”
“Yes, indeed you have. But is that how it’s going to be now until he wakes up? Sleeping in a hospital chair?” Jenny spoke softly which angered Abby.
“Jenny, he needs me. I can’t just leave him, what if he wakes up and there’s no one here, imagine how he’d feel. It’s Connor we’re talking about.”
“Abby, you need a shower and some proper sleep.”
“I’ve seen this part somewhere before.” she paused. “Oh, yeah, Casualty. What happened? The man died and she didn’t get a chance to say goodbye because she was at home, sleeping.”
“Life isn’t a television programme Abby.” Jenny’s toned changed. It wasn’t harsh and it wasn’t kind.
“It is though. Our life is. The most science-fiction TV programme ever is our life. That’s our life. His,” she pointed at Connor, “life.”
“Abby, we just thought it might be a good idea if we take it in turns to watch him.” Cutter spoke up.
“Like shifts.” Jenny added.
“You’re not going to give up, are you?” The two shook their heads, sympathetic smiles shone slightly on their faces. “Fine. An hour, I’ll get washed, a shower or something, I can sleep in this chair.” Abby got up and left the room.
“I actually need a key. Please.” Abby asked Jenny as she re-entered the room, slightly embarrassed.
“Here. The jeep’s in the second car park.”
Abby threw her coat onto the back of the sofa as she headed for her bedroom. Her footsteps echoed across the empty apartment as she rushed up the twisty metal staircase towards her bedroom. She stopped at the top as she noticed Connor’s bedroom door slightly open.
He’d left the light on. Again. She smiled to herself. It was just one of those things that Connor did, or forgot to do. His bedroom was an utter mess, clothes, books, comics, figurines all over the floor. If it wasn’t for the calendar of Hot Chicks that hung on the back of the door anyone would mistake his bedroom for an eight year olds.
She picked up a dictionary off the floor as it lay untidily on top of another waistcoat. As she sat down on his unsurprisingly cluttered bed she flicked it to the letter ‘C’. C for Coma. As temptation took over her before she did that she looked for the word ‘Connor’, expecting to see, ‘A common term used for stupidity, innocence and a joker.’. She didn’t, there was nothing so her fingers automatically flicked the pages in search for ‘Coma’. She didn’t know why, but if she somehow knew the actual meaning of the term maybe she’d feel a little better about the state Connor was in.
‘Deep and prolonged unconsciousness.’
Abby sighed, slamming the so-called pocket dictionary on the bed and headed out towards her room. In reverse to Connor’s room her room was moderately tidy. Everything was where it should’ve been. The clothes were stacked up and thrown into her drawers and her shoes were in a tidy line against the wall near her wardrobe.
She’d forgotten why she was here now, what did she want? Need?
What could she want? Need?
She collapsed onto her bed, her head buried under a feather pillow. It couldn’t get any worse than this. Any worse than the silence that lingered around the flat. Any worse than knowing there was only about a fifty percent chance that Connor was ever going to get up again. To see his smile, to hear his laugh, to hold his hand, to…
Her eyelids felt heavy even as they stung with tears. She couldn’t just give up on him. Never say never. He was going to get up again, she was counting on it. Counting on him.
The sun shone fiercely through her bedroom window and reflected on the mirror she had hanging on the opposite wall. She rubbed the sleep out of her newly open eyes. Everything came rushing back. She held her arm level to her eyes, letting them settle before reading the time.
She’d left him all night. The quick pop to her apartment, just for a shower had taken her all night.
She rushed down the stairs and clambered around looking for her jacket. It lay unscathed on the back of the sofa, where’d she left it. Grabbing the car keys off the table she made a run towards the jeep that was parked in the oblique parking place.
She hadn’t just left Connor at the hospital last night; she’d also abandoned Cutter and Jenny. With her using their jeep they had no way of arriving home. Public transport was out of the picture as a respectable woman such as Jenny wouldn’t want to be seen scuffling onto a bus. They were probably still at the hospital, sleeping where Abby planned to sleep. How could she have been so careless? So selfish?
‘Deep and prolonged unconsciousness.’ It ran through her mind again, thinking he could’ve woken up. He could’ve woken up and she wasn’t there. She was at home instead. At their apartment, sleeping inconsiderately.
Abby shook her head, sighing sadly.
The car park was emptier than it had been the night before so she parked as close as she could to the hospital.
Through the door window she could see Jenny sitting on the chair beside Connor’s bed. He was still unconscious. She could hear his pulse being monitored by the machine. It was slow. Rhythmically so. She didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing so she decided to ignore her thoughts and walk inside, into the grief, into the pain, into the unknown.
“Abby.” Jenny got to her feet, forcing a smile.
“Sorry, the time sort of…” Sort of what? “…passed by. I fell asleep, I didn’t notice, sorry.” She apologised sheepishly as she took the seat Jenny offered her. “Did he…?”
Jenny shook her head. She looked tired. Had she slept? After the long speech of why she should go home and have a shower and sleep, had she? Then she remembered she had kind of taken their only form of transport home with her.
“Deep and prolonged in unconsciousness.” Abby added.
“What?” Jenny looked down at her from her standing position, deep, dark bags under her eyes.
“I looked up ‘coma’ in a dictionary, that’s the meaning of it.” She sighed, placing her head in her hands. “Is he going to wake up Jenny?” Abby didn’t look at her, she looked at the floor. At the clean tiles, that some how reflected death off of their shiny surfaces.
“Abby…” She paused. “Connor, you know, he’s strong.”
“Is he?” Abby scoffed, sounding sympathetic as she did so. “He’s stubborn, sure, but is he strong?”
“Abby, that performance in the alley way, the way you described the men, I don’t think there was anyway that anyone could’ve beaten them. It’s not like Connor specialises in martial arts now is it?” Jenny laughed.
Abby grinned. “No.”
He hardly went to the gym let alone knew how to do a roundhouse kick. She smiled at the thought of Connor trying to perform the kick.
“Abby, you know they can’t promise anything but he’s strong, and I think he’ll make it through. He can probably hear us right now.”
“Hear us? He can?” Abby lifted her head and looked at Connor as he inhaled slowly. She took a slow, deep breath herself. “Connor?” She paused. What exactly was she supposed to say to him if he was able to hear her?
“Oh, don’t worry there’s a fifty percent chance you’ll live.” wasn’t exactly going to work it.
Another deep breath, another sigh.
“Okay… Connor, if you can hear me…its Abby. I just wanted you to know…” What? Know what? That he was in this condition because of her? “I’m here for you. We’re here for you.”
“I’ve got the…coffee.” It was Cutter.
He came marching into the room with two plastic cups full of strong smelling coffee. Cutter came to a halt as he saw the two women glaring at him. “Sorry.” he murmured, noticing that they were in a middle of something.
“Cutter, Connor can hear us…” Abby explained.
“He can?” He looked towards Jenny who nodded frantically. “Oh, right.” It was a white lie, well sort of. “Of course he can.” Cutter said as he juggled the coffees towards Jenny.
“It’s not weird or anything is it? You know, me talking to him while he’s…”
The other two shook their heads for her to carry on.
“Connor, the first time I saw you…well it was an odd situation!” A smile crept onto her lips. “I mean the anomalies. I thought you were a geek, well you were, but you know a stereotypical geek. You weren’t. I - we - miss you Connor. Please, please wake up.” A tear fell down her cheek.
“Abby…” Jenny came to stand by her and offered Abby her coffee. “Come on, you need something to eat.” She said softly.
“I’m not leaving him again,” Abby started, “I won’t.”
“He’s very unlikely to-”
Cutter was cut off by Jenny, “Cutter will let us know. The canteen’s only down the corridor. We’ll just get a snack or something, okay?”
“But I…” Abby sighed, annoyance mixed with worry. “Okay.”
Abby got to her feet and followed Jenny towards the door. She looked back towards Connor, bruises and cuts all over his body. HE looked like a panda. Two black eyes, one slightly darker than the other but they were still black, and painful surely.
“He’ll be fine.” Cutter assured as he noticed her worried stare.
Friday 13th. Three days had been since Connor’s alley incursion.
It hadn’t started all too well as they’d all had a call from the ARC.
They all stood around Connor’s bed. The three were talking about Helen and what would make her do all this to Connor. One by one their phones went off.
Cutter had received a call while Jenny and Abby received a text.
“Yep. Okay…uh-huh. Right we’ll be on our way…What? Here?…So, you’ll meet us there right?…I don’t think so…She’s here…Okay…Still unconscious…Okay…” Cutter hung up. “Lester says that there’s been an anomaly. It’s…”
“It’s?” Jenny asked impatiently.
“Well its here. Kind of.” Cutter explained. “Just in the park outside.”
“Can I…” Abby ventured. “Can I stay here with Connor?”
“Of course you can.” Jenny spoke first before Cutter had a chance.
“Call us…” Abby paused, spotting her mistake. “Call me if anything happens.”
“You the same. But we really shouldn’t since of the mobile phone ban in hospitals.” Jenny added pointing at a poster that was stuck untidily on the door.
Abby immediately turned her phone off, not wanting to cause any problems to the machines in the hospital, especially not Connor’s.
“We need to go Jenny.” Cutter placed his hands on the woman’s shoulder as he passed. “Come on, let’s go.”
“We’ll see you later Abby.” Jenny said softly.
“Bye.” Abby waved.
It’d been a good hour since the other two had gone and Abby still sat in the chair beside Connor’s bed. She held his hand in hers, cold skin against warm skin. She was about to go off to sleep before she felt Connor’s hand twitch in hers. She jolted up right.
A groan escaped his lips. She smiled. Out of the fifty/fifty chance of Connor surviving he’d pulled through. He’d actually pulled it through.
He squeezed Abby’s hand as he felt her presence. He hadn’t opened his eyes yet but knowing he knew she was there was enough for her. She still held his cold hand as he coughed. His throat sounded dry and painful.
“It’s okay.” She comforted him. “I’m here.”
He coughed again.
She rushed off the chair towards the water.
Connor struggled to open his eyes. He saw the roof at first, its depressing look. Then he scanned the room as his vision became better. He blinked as he tried to make his vision clearer. He saw a woman in front of him. She smiled at him as she held out a cup of water to his mouth.
He backed away, nearly to the edge of the bed. She didn’t have a nurse uniform on her.
“Connor?” the woman spoke softly to him as he scuffled nearer to the edge. “It’s Abby…”
His eyes thinned as he scanned the woman who stood in front of him, smiling. He hadn’t seen her before but yet she seemed to know her.
“I don’t -” he started.
“You have to drink Connor.”
“No…I mean I don’t know you…” he said coldly.
She glared at him pulling the cup away from his mouth. The blonde woman shook her head and the smile disappeared off her face. She seemed angry, upset.
“Of course you know me Conn. Don’t be an arse.”
She heard footsteps from behind her as Jenny and Cutter walked in. They were covered in mud and were sharing a quiet conversation. They came to a sudden halt as they saw Abby’s face. Tears streaming. They saw Connor, huddled to the corner of the bed. He was awake.
“Connor, you’re awake!” Cutter exclaimed happily taking a step closer willing to shake the younger man’s hand.
“Stay away from me.” Another cold remark from Connor.
“Connor, what’s wrong?” Jenny spoke up, standing just behind Cutter.
“Connor? Who the hell are you…I don’t know you.”
Abby sobbed, her head in her hands as the words escaped his lips. Then there was silence as the tears trickled out of her eyes. He couldn’t be saying these words, they just weren’t right. He was Connor and she was Abby and he should’ve remembered her, should’ve known who she was.
“I don’t know you.” Connor repeated, barely a whisper.
“Tell him to stop saying that!” Abby cried.
Cutter took a step closer to the bed. “Connor -”
“Stay away from me!”
Cutter turned to face Abby. This wasn’t going well. “Abby… Just leave it.” She shook her head but he carried on, hurriedly. “He just needs time.” Another shake of her head. “Abby, don’t make things worse.”
“What? Worse than it already is?” She yelled, letting all of her emotions show. “He doesn’t remember us Cutter, he doesn’t remember any of us.”
Cuter placed his hands on her shoulders. “I know, I know. But think of Stephen. The same thing happened to him, remember? It just takes time, that’s all.”
“Stephen hadn’t forgotten us. Stephen hadn’t forgotten his own name.” Her eyes travelled towards Connor who was shivering violently. She wanted to hold him. “Look at him Cutter, he’s scared of us. Us. His best friends and he’s afraid.”
Cutter tried to usher Abby out of the room.
“I’m not leaving him!” she screamed, fighting free of Cutter’s grip.
“You’re not staying.” Connor said as he watched.
“Is everything all right in here?” A nurse had joined them. She entered the room and immediately noticed that Connor was awake.
“Everything’s fine.” Jenny assured.
Connor scoffed. “No it’s not. These - these - freaks…they’re mad.” Connor managed as he held his chest in pain.
“Freaks?!” Abby shouted as both, Cutter and Jenny lead her out of the room and into the corridor. “Let me back in.” she ordered Cutter as he shut the door.
“Abby…” Jenny started as she ushered Abby to a chair. “He’s just been in a coma, things like this are common.” she lied hoping it wouldn’t show in her voice.
“You’re lying.” so it did show. “Its not common. Comas aren’t common let alone memory loss. Ameisai…no, amnesau…”
“Amnesia.” Cutter corrected as he stood against the wall beside the door.
“Yeah. He’s forgotten everything. He’s forgotten -”
“Abby! Look, I know its hard for you to understand that it will take time. Just think of it as a wound. It will take time to heal. His memories will be back, he’ll remember.”
Jenny and Cutter exchanged looks as Abby asked the question. Unsure looks.
“He won’t…Will he?”
Those people had been in his dreams last night. A nightmare more like. They kept on calling him Connor, except for the tall one, the ‘boss’, who kept calling him an idiot. So his name was Connor? Was it? Who were those people in his room, in his dreams?
It had started with a weird looking building. A shell that had sunk into the ground. They had called it the ARC. So it had a name, just like him.
Inside he stood beside a large computer with that girl. The blonde one. Who was she? Who were they? He didn’t know. After what happened in the dream he didn’t want to, not really.
Then someone had shouted…his voice so familiar. “Bomb!” he’d yelled. “Everyone get out now!”
He’d followed the crowed, running towards the nearest exit but the man had called him back, called him to stay behind.
He lay on the ground counting the bomb down from under the van as the auburn-haired man played about with the battery at the front end.
He woke up, gasping and sweating. He was still at the hospital. The bomb hadn’t taken his life. He winced as the pain of his quick movements kicked in… so, the painkillers had stopped working. He fell back onto his pillow as he thought about the dream…the people…the girl.
Abby, he’d called her. He’d called her.
Another mug of coffee, another packet of tissues. All through the night it was the repeat of an hour earlier. She sat on the faded leather chair in the far corner of the apartment. She was planning on going to see him today. To see if he remembered something, anything would do. If it was his own name, it was a start.
Placing the cup of coffee down on the wooden floor she stood. Cracking each vertebrae one by one as she slid her hand down her back to stretch. She needed proof for him to believe her. That’s’ what she needed.
She ran around the apartment like a madwoman trying to find pictures of them all at the ARC and then pictures of just her and him. He’d have to believe her, have to trust her. She’d soon have her old Connor back.
She’d snuck past the reception as the three nurses were deep in conversation. Abby walked towards his room’s door and popped her head up to peep through the window. He was asleep.
Slowly she turned the door knob and entered the room as fast but as quietly as she could. Shutting the door, she winced hoping he didn’t hear her as she did so.
Abby turned to face his badly bruised body. Place the pictures down, turn, and go. That’s all she was going to do. She wasn’t going to stay, she didn’t want to scare him.
She put the pile of pictures on the bedside table and turned to leave.
“Abby.” she heard his hoarse voice. “That’s your name, isn’t it?”
She turned to face him, his eyes now wide open. Well, as wide as the black eyes would let him.
“Yeah.” she said softly, cautiously.
“I don’t remember.”
“It’s okay. It’ll take time.” she looked at the pile of photos and then back at him. His eyes were opening and closing, not blinking, he was falling in and out of consciousness.
“What’s the ARC?” he asked curiously.
“The ARC? You know the ARC?”
“Dreams. They seem to haunt me right now.” he explained, his hand on his chest as he wheezed a breath.
“The ARC is where you worked Connor. With me, with us.”
“It’s not a nice place.”
She winced. He loved that placed. He used to love that place. “I - uh - I don’t know how to explain it to you Connor.”
“Well, it looks like I’m not going anywhere.” he said, a small smile on his face.
“Are you sure? I mean you called me a…” Abby, stop! “freak yesterday.” She went to sit down on the chair beside his bed.
“I still label you as that,” there was no humour in his voice, “but I’ll give you a chance to explain. Not about the ARC just yet…” he paused. “About…about what happened.”
“What? About how you ended up here? Like this?”
“Uh-huh. I mean its not normal, is it?” Still no humour, he wasn’t Connor. He saw the look on her face. Connor carried on, “Were you there?”
“You saw it ’appening?”
“Are you going to nod all day or are you going to explain to me what ’appened?”
“It’s complicated. A long story.” she admitted, playing with her fingers nervously.
“I have all the time in the world in case you haven’t noticed!”
“Mr Temple, your dinner.” A nurse, another bloody nurse. “Oh. Isn’t this -”
“Abby.” Abby said coldly as she scanned the nurse.
“She was just explaining to me what happened, Clarissa.” Connor said with a smile. Bigger than she’d seen when he was with her.
“We’ve told you everything Mr Temple.” The nurse said ignoring Abby completely as she walked towards him with a tray of the basic, disgusting hospital food.
“Have you though?” he raised his voice a little. “You didn’t tell me she was there.” he pointed towards Abby.
“Must’ve slipped my mind.” She was now placing the tray on a table across Connor’s bed. “Anyway, here’s your food.”
“Thanks.” They shared a smile, another smile. He was acting as if he’d known her all his life. Well, for him, the now him it must’ve felt that way. That he had known her all his life, after all, he had forgotten his…past life.
“Look, I’m going to go.” Abby said as Clarissa gave her an evil smirk. “You enjoy your meal.”
“Wait…I have one more question.” he turned to face Clarissa. “Can I ask you to leave?”
She shrugged and left the room, closing the door after her.
“In the dreams, I’m sometimes in a house. An apartment. Big, you know, a nice one.” he sighed. “You’re always there. Did we…” another sigh, longer, deeper this time. “Were we…”
“Dating?” Abby offered.
“Yeah, you know, more than friends. Is that why you’re so…” he paused.
“No, we weren’t more than friends Connor.” She headed towards the door. “But I wish we were.” she whispered as she left.
He held his friend as he slipped away. As he died.
The dreams were getting more vicious and more haunting. More scary, more weird, more Abby. This time Tom and Duncan were there, his friends. Though Tom had been bitten by a dodo. A dodo. An extinct, thick, ugly dodo.
He’d laughed it off in the morning as he talked it through with John, a psychiatrist who’d said the dreams meant something. Unless it meant he was on the border between lunacy and well…weird they didn’t mean anything, except they helped him remember.
“Right so what happened next?” John asked as he jotted some notes down onto his notepad.
“Well, he just died.”
“Just like that? Any last words?”
“Well he said…”I’m a hero” or ’summat. He was a big fan of conspiracies and that.”
“Right. So, anymore of those lights?”
“Yeah. A load. There was a spaghetti junction of ’em this time.”
“Out of all my patients you have the weirdest dreams, I’ll give you that!” John laughed. He got up to his feet and was about to leave, “This Abby then?” He asked as he grabbed the pile of pictures off a cupboard.
“What?” Connor hadn’t seen these before.
“Were you -” John started.
“No! We weren’t. She must’ve left these. Let me see.” He snatched the pile from John, flicking through them.
Him and Abby. Abby and him. Him and Abby. The Cutter guy, him, Abby and that Stephen.
“You actually smiled back then!” John teased as he made a runner towards the door.
“Piss off.” Connor moaned as he stared at a picture of him and Abby. There had to be something that she hadn’t told him. All those lights meant something. The ARC, Tom’s death, the dodos. They were all liked together.
Next time she came, if she came, he was going to ask her…
“What’s the update on Temple?” Lester’s voice rang through her ears as she walked through the corridor and held the mobile to her ear.
“I’m off to see him now.”
“You spend more time at the hospital than you do at the ARC.” he said coldly.
“Without Connor there is no ARC, face it.”
“I already have but the ARC seems to be running smoothly without him. I don’t know why you’re making such a big fuss. He was forgetful anyway.”
“I making a big fuss because…” Breath Abby. “Look I’ve got to go.”
“Yeah, well telly him I send my love.”
“I sure will.”
She hung up as she reached his door. He lay in his bed, as always, flicking through the pictures Abby had left for him. He wasn’t flicking through them actually, he was looking at one. Staring at one.
She knocked slowly on the door.
“Can I come in?” she asked smiling as he hid the pictures.
“Sure. Sorry I thought you were Clar… doesn’t matter.” he held the picture up. “We were more than just friends, weren’t we?” A pause. “I had that dream.”
“The one on the cliff. You know, the one where I told you I…”
“Loved me.” Abby finished his sentence.
“Yeah. That one. I mean, they actually happened didn’t they? All these things in my dream, they actually exist.”
“Anomalies? Yeah, they do.”
“I worked it out.” he said smiling at her. Finally, a smile. “What ARC means. Well, I actually heard Cutter say it. Anomaly Research Centre.”
“And those lights, the holes in times are the anomalies. It’s how we met…then. I mean now well…”
“Yeah!” She laughed nervously.
“I used to be clever, huh?” he asked, another smile. “I can hardly write my own name now let alone put together an ADD.”
“I’ll teach you.” she said hurriedly.
“I’ll teach you to write. I mean, we can talk and we can write.”
“No point. They said I can leave tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Then she realised what he meant. “Where are you going to go?”
“I dunno. But it’s a big wide world out there, waiting for me.”
“So what, you just gonna leave when you can’t even write your own name?” she looked at him. Hoping to find a way in. There had to be a way to his heart. “Come back home Conn. It’s not too weird, I mean you’re starting to remember…”
“It would be too weird. I mean I can hardly do anything myself. I’ll be a hassle.”
“You were always a hassle Conn. I don’t care how hard it is right, we’re going to get the old Connor back.” She held his hand. “I promise you Connor that you’ll remember everything. Deal?”
“Abby I… Deal.”
Abby smiled, it was going to take some time, even she knew that but one way or another she was going to get him back.
“Right, you ready?” Abby asked marching into the room.
She saw Connor struggling to put a t-shirt on, on the edge of his bed. She smiled as he grunted, he was making himself angrier, he was mumbling to himself.
There was a big, thick lined own his back. She hadn’t noticed that before.
TO BE CONTINUED