Cold Water
Author: AnnmarieM

Chapter 2
Desperate times call for desperate measures

 

It is annoying how ridiculously weak and reliant on sleep my body has become. I barely manage to keep my eyes open for another ten minutes after I have finished the phone call before the darkness once again consumes me. I don’t like sleeping. I never have, not since the nightmares started and I can function well enough on a minimum of five hours of sleep a night. I don’t think I have ever slept for more than eight hours at one time. Someone once joked that I have insomnia; I disagree, it is sheer will power that allows me to stay awake.

To be completely honest, I am pleasantly surprised when I next wake up and realise that I had had a dreamless sleep. For me, that phenomenon is very unusual. My momentary good mood however is abruptly ended when I blink up at the ceiling blearily, realise that the small scorch mark which had defined the ceiling of my room for so long is missing and then finally remember my current situation. That in itself is enough to make me regret ever waking up in the first place. And with that endearing thought, my headache returns full force once more. Joy.

 I wait for five, long minutes for my mind to slow down and process thoughts at a sensible rate, for that stupid headache to stop throbbing and for the rest of my body to stop aching dully. When nothing changes after that time, I resort to groping at the bedside table on my left and eventually I find what I am looking for. Aspirins: drugs: perfect. It seems someone has left a glass of water for me. I swallow the small pill along with the water and wait for the effects to kick in. Would taking two aspirin be an overdose? It’s a long time before the painkiller finally starts to take effect. By the time the headache and aching has subsided slightly, fifteen minutes have already past. I feel restless. I rip the blanket off of me, ignoring the cold air and then force myself to sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed. I feel dizzy from the sudden movement. I blink slowly, wait until I can only see one chair again and not two, before proceeding to carefully stand up, testing the strength of my body.

I leave the room once I am satisfied and I have discovered a dressing gown in one of the closets, making sure to walk slowly. The clock on the wall outside the room shows that it is nearly ten in the morning. I do not like the squeaking sound my bare feet make on the carpet as I slowly make my way downstairs, gripping the banister tightly. But it’s a nice house, I find myself thinking absently. The carpets are clean, it appears uncluttered and everything feels...homely. There are pictures on the walls. Some of them are paintings of landscape and others are proper photos of real people, namely pictures of the boy – Ash I suddenly remember – and a smiling woman with similar brown eyes that I guess must be his mother. All of the photos in my house have been packed away in boxes and stored in the attic to provide homes for stray dust bunnies.

The house is surprisingly modern; uncluttered with shiny sinks and a stark white ceiling. I can hear low murmuring from the room on the right – apparently the kitchen. I suppose they must be having breakfast. For a few moments I stand still, deliberating on my best course of action. In the end, I decide on an ordinary entrance. Walk in, say good morning and fake a smile. Yes. That would be normal enough. Taking in a deep breath and forcing my mouth into a smile (to me it seems more like an upward grimace) I compel my aching legs forward and through the door.

All conversation stops as soon as I enter. I wonder briefly whether it is because they had been talking about me, because they had simply been surprised or if it had been a combination of both. I have a distinct feeling of stage fright as I stand in the doorway, feet rooted to the ground, eyes locked on the two figures sitting at the table. The one on the right I recognise – it is the boy I had woken up too. Opposite him, subconsciously clutching a mug of tea is an older woman with mousy, chestnut hair, the same eyes, losing her battle against weight gain. She is the first one to react to my appearance.

“Good morning,” she greets in a cheerful and slightly bemused voice. “Come and sit down.” She pulls out a chair and pats it. I suppose she must be Jenny. I nod mutely and limp forwards, sitting down in my allocated seat. “How are you feeling?” she inquires.

I nod shyly. “Fine, thank you,” I say.

She looks unsure as she passes me a plate of toast. “Are you sure?” she presses. “You had a bit of a fever last night,” she frowns, peering at me intently. “If you have a headache at all, you should stay in bed and-,”

“Mum,” Ash interrupts, saving me. “She said she’s fine.”

I nod in agreement and take a large bite of the toast to prove my point. “Thank you for your concern,” I murmur politely. “And for letting me stay here.”

She simply blinks, as if not expecting this, while Ash snickers. “You don’t have to be so polite,” he comments.

“He’s right dear,” she smiles. “And you can call me Jenny.” She extends her hand and I shake it.

“Hope,” I say in reply. For a few moments after that it is silent. I absently nibble on the toast a little more while the other two people in the room continue their breakfasts. It is an awkward silence. Then, Jenny starts up conversation again.

“So,” she smiles warmly, obviously making an effort to break the awkwardness. “Where are you from, Hope?”

“Sunderland, it’s a city a few miles away from here.”

“And do your parents know that you’re here?”

I debate on how to answer that question for a moment, before nodding. “Actually I’m living with my older sisters at the moment,” I explain. “I called to let them know.”

Jenny nods approvingly. “At least they won’t worry then,” she says. I feel like snorting in contempt; I doubt they would worry about me. I shake away these thoughts as she continues. “Well,” she suggests. “Maybe you can call them again once you’re feeling better and you’re ready to go home.” I just nod mutely. It seems like going back to where I started. Back ‘home’ where I am no one.

In a way it is Cinderella and the evil step-sisters all over again, except without the ‘step’ part. Oh, and minus the happily ever after.

The rest of breakfast passes smoothly. The discussions are ordinary and the questions are simple enough. However afterwards, once her son has left the table and has proceeded to retreat back upstairs, Jenny asks me to stay behind. It’s obvious really what she wants to talk about, what she wants to ask me. I see the apprehension flash in her eyes as she places her arms on the table pensively.

“Hope,” she starts, as predicted. She hesitates unsurely before continuing. “I’m happy to let you stay in this house until you’re better, or actually as long as you want. However there are some things I would like to know first.”

I reel in the sigh that had been threatening to escape, instead sending her a tired smile. I have to agree to this. I owe this woman that much at least. “Of course,” I finally murmur. “I’ll try and answer your questions as best I can.”

She offers me a reassuring smile. “Thank you, Hope,” she says sincerely. “Now, who are your current legal guardians?”

“My three sisters,” I reply stoically. “Well, technically Faith. She’s twenty six.”

“And she knows you’re safe?”

I nod. “I left an answer phone message.” I can tell that she wants to ask me why my elder sister is my guardian, why not my parents. However she must have guessed the reason and refrains from asking, discreetly biting her lip. I am grateful.

“Will they be coming to collect you?” she asks suddenly.

I falter. “We...haven’t worked out the details, yet,” I stare down at the floor, feeling slightly guilty. “I’ll try and call them again as soon as possible, though.”

Jenny’s face seems to soften slightly and the stern expression slips. “Don’t worry about that, dear,” she says. “You can stay here as long as you need, providing your sisters let you.”

I nod. “Thank you.”

For a few moments, there is a long, awkward pause. And then she asks one more question. “Why...did you run away?”

I’m not sure how to reply. Eventually, I answer with a twisted version of the truth. “We had an argument, that’s all,” I mutter, looking anywhere besides her face. “I was stupid and over-reacted. I shouldn’t have run off like that.”

She seems to consider my words for a moment. Then, she puts a warm, comforting hand on my shoulder. “You should go upstairs and rest now,” is all she says with an air of finality. I nod once and I am only too happy to oblige.


 

I lie there, on the bed, for a long time after my conversation with Jenny, unsure what to do. It annoys me how weak my body currently is and I try desperately to stay awake.  I suppose it’s stupid really, but I’ve already listed my flaws. I’m ridiculously stubborn. I don’t like to lose, especially to something as silly as sleep. I have already slept through a whole night, isn’t that enough? I refuse to let my eyes close and stare obstinately up at the patterned ceiling for half an hour.  

My mind wanders. I suppose it’s expected really, with everything that has happened in the last forty eight hours. I had never imagined that something like this would happen. I had run away...I had been going to drown myself in the rain and become a hermit. And then, when I had woken up, I had been saved by some strange, messy-haired boy who had just decided to go through the trouble of bringing me back to his house. I wonder why he did it. And I wonder if I am really grateful to him or not. If he had just left me there under that tree...would I really have died? Probably. I am disturbed when I realise that I would not have minded much either.

I exhale softly, letting out a small sigh. I would call my sisters in a few days and then everything could go back to being normal again. They would come and collect me. They would scowl and shout (most likely because of the cost of petrol) and then I would go home and hide in my room in a bid to stay out of their way. It is the summer holidays. I think of the small stack of homework that resides somewhere in my bedroom. Once I get home I will have to do something about that. Normal: Ordinary: Routine. It’s strange how I suddenly seem to hate those three words. I remember Ash’s offer from our first meeting which I can still remember vividly. He had said I could stay here. I find myself wondering what it would be like if I took him up on his offer.

It is nearly half an hour later when I am surprised to hear the slightly concerned voice of said boy invading my thoughts: “Are you okay?”

I’m startled, bolting upright which causes a wave of dizziness and my head to throb. I blink and wait until my vision clears. Finally, I see him- Ash, I need to remember his name- leaning in the doorway of the room. “Fine,” I mutter.

He cautiously enters the room, holding a small packet of what looks like jelly beans. “You’ve been staring at the ceiling for the past five minutes,” he notes, smirking in amusement. I eye him warily as he approaches.

“Were you...spying on me or something?”

He chuckles lightly, but shakes his head. “I just walked past and noticed,” he explains, popping one of the beans into his mouth and chewing. “If you want privacy, you really should close the door.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

He sits down casually in the chair beside my bed. “I thought you’d be tired,” he comments.

“I am.”

“You can tell me to go away if you want, you know,” he says.

I just shrug. “I know,” I reply lightly. “But I don’t want to sleep, anyway.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a waste of time, I’ve already slept too much and I have a lot of things on my mind.”

He nods in understanding. We are both quiet for a little while, enjoying the silence. Then, he has to go and ruin it. “Why did you run away?” he springs the question at me unexpectedly. Maybe he had been waiting for that moment, so he could have the element of surprise and startle me into answering. He asks the question so casually I only just manage to catch myself. He looks amused by my reaction, as if he can tell it’s all just a pretence. “Well?”

I quickly avert my eyes, hiding a scowl. “I’d prefer not to say,” I finally mutter, a polite way of saying ‘none of your business’. Yes, I decide subconsciously, this boy is definitely too nosy.

However he hardly seems disappointed by my answer. In fact, he seems indifferent, simply chewing on another of his jelly beans. “Ok,” he says simply. “You’ll tell me one day, anyway. I can wait.”

I raise an eyebrow. “What makes you so sure of that?”

He shrugs. “I’m not. It’s just a...premonition, I guess,” he laughs. “Intuition, even.”

I lean back into my pillow, fighting against the urge to raise my eyebrow higher. “You’re kind of odd,” I say simply, brow furrowed. He chuckles again, seeming completely at ease with his messy bangs half in his eyes.

“I’ve been told that before,” he grins. It is quiet for a little while after that. It is still morning outside, but the curtains are closed. Personally, I prefer the dark. He does not seem to share my opinion however. After a few thoughtful moments, he gets up and pulls the curtains back, exposing the sun. The sunlight dribbles through the clear windows, almost blinding me. I scowl slightly. “It’s a nice day,” I hear him murmur softly. He turns back to me, smiling that sunny smile again that seems too cheerful to be real. “Maybe tomorrow, when you’re feeling better, I can show you around.”

I desperately want to ask him why he is always so happy, but I force the urge back. Instead I just nod indifferently. “Yeah, sure, whatever,” I say evenly. It would be best not to get too attached, seeing as I will most likely be leaving in a few days.

“You don’t have to, you know,” he frowns slightly at my tone. “It’s an offer, not an obligation.”

“I know that,” I say nonchalantly. “But I’ll be leaving soon, anyway.”

“I know that,” he mimics me smugly. “We can do it before you leave, right?” He smiles again and I feel like asking him if he ever gets tired of smiling. “I thought we could be friends.”

I suppose I should have expected it, but I am surprised nevertheless. I frown up at him. “What?”

He seems slightly sheepish now. “Well, why can’t we be friends?”

And then my mouth opens and those words pour out before my common sense can catch up. “I never said we couldn't.” I bite back a grimace. Maybe, I muse, the rain water had affected me more than I realise.

However he, oblivious to the current state of my mental health, beams. I wonder if he is this happy all of the time. “Great!” he exclaims. “Tomorrow, then?”

I nod. “Fine.” When he leaps up energetically, jelly bean packet still clutched in one hand, I wonder briefly just what I have gotten myself into.

“Anyway, it’s been...interesting talking to you, Hope, but I’ll leave you to rest now,” he declares, then with a last cheerful smile he saunters out of the room, motioning his hand lazily in farewell and then closing the door behind him.

 I watch in bemusement and consider the likelihood of successfully faking a heart attack before tomorrow. Desperate times call for desperate measures, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A/N: So yes, just to clear things up, I don't like technicalities. In real life, Hope's sisters probably would have called the police or something, but for the sake of the story, they're satisfied with the phone message she left last chapter.

Thank you everyone who has commented/rated in the past, I know it's been like a year since I've been on WOP but I'm back now with two completed novels :)

Have a good day,

Annmarie

 

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