I saw the women get their phones out. They were hard to miss since they’d been staring at the man at the bar and whispering behind their hands ever since they’d followed him in. Now they were about to interrupt him for a picture.
I didn’t really know the man they had followed. I knew who he was, of course, I’d seen some of his movies, I loved how he came across in interviews, and my heart skipped a beat each time he came in, but I wasn’t his friend. Other than taking his drink order for the past two weeks, I hadn’t spoken a word to him. I owed him nothing.
Except that when I’d first got to this village almost three years ago, it was his mother, Diane, who had first made me feel welcome here, as if I might be able to call this place home. That made me feel protective of my friend’s boy, even if he was technically older than me.
The women were becoming bolder so I came around the bar and after collecting some empties, I approached their table.
“We have a strict no picture rule,” I told them, which was usually enough to shame fans and stop them imposing on the resident celebrity.
“What? No you don’t!” the girl looked disbelieving.
I turned and pointed to a sign behind the bar which proclaimed ‘No Photographs’.
To be fair, it had been bought because it was a vintage sign, not because we genuinely had such a rule, but we did have that rule now because I don’t want Tom being disturbed every day.
“That’s ridiculous!” the second girl chimed in. “We only want a quick selfie with Tom!”
Both women looked to be in their early 20s, certainly old enough to know better.
“This is a bar, not a photography studio,” I said as politely as I could. I’m not really used to patrons arguing with me. “If you want to take selfies, there are plenty of tourist attractions for you to visit.”
“This is the twenty-first fucking century, you can’t stop us taking pictures! It’s against our human rights,” the first girl was becoming irate.
I’d had enough though. I put the glasses I held down and lowered my voice as I leaned over the table.
“What about his human right to have a beer in peace while he’s recovering and not be bothered by idiots like you, who think your right to a picture with a total stranger is more important than his right to peace and quiet? If you want to wait outside and pounce on him the moment he leaves, I can’t stop you but in here, you don’t have a right to harass other patrons and,” I pointed at another vintage sign that actually was a bar rule. “We have the right to refuse service to anyone. I don’t want to throw you out but if you don’t put the phones away, I will.”
I picked up the empty glasses and walked back behind the bar, keeping an eye on the women and for the millionth time, I wondered why I could stand up for other people but not for myself.
The girls were clearly upset with me but I didn’t care as long as their phones stayed on the table.
I glanced over at Tom, my only other customer at the moment, but he didn’t need a refill yet. He offered me a small smile, the corner of his mouth quirking up sadly. I nodded in reply and he went back to contemplating the beer in his glass.
I worked the lunch shift four times a week, 11am to 5pm, but after the lunch time rush the place is very quiet, especially as the school summer holidays had ended and most of the tourists had left. For the past few weeks I usually had no more than four tables in the afternoon, if that.
That allowed me to catch up and leave things tidy for the evening shift and I went back to polishing the glasses that the dishwasher had cleaned.
Allborough was an odd village for a young woman to choose to live in, I mused as I worked. With a thriving artist community, it mostly attracted retirement age people, here to live out their golden years. There were young people, of course, mostly families who grew up here, but young people moving here were unusual. I’d liked the laid back atmosphere, the charm of living amongst artists and if I was honest, the slow pace of life felt safe.
“Excuse me?” My celebrity guest pulled me from my reverie and held his glass up.
Two beers. Every day he came in and ordered two beers. I plucked a new bottle from the fridge, got him a fresh glass and poured some of the amber liquid in.
He didn’t really look like himself right now, at least not the polished version I was used to seeing on TV and in the movies. His hair needed a trim and the ends were starting to curl; clearly he just washed and let it dry these days, no styling products. He also had one or two weeks’ worth of beard scruff and every day he wore sweatpants or loose cargo pants, a t-shirt and a hoodie.
Movement caught my eye and I looked up in time to see the couple snapping some stealthy pictures of Tom, who was watching them in one of the mirrors behind the bar and looking none too pleased about it.
People were idiots. ‘Hey, I love you so much, please allow me to prove it by invading your privacy, taking your picture without permission and upsetting you.’
I handed Tom his beer, leaving the bottle since it still had some in, and collected his empty glass up. My next stop was going to be the fangirls to give them their marching orders, but they had evidently decided that discretion was the better part of valor and were leaving anyway.
“Thanks for trying,” Tom said once they had gone.
“No worries. I'm sorry they were a bother.”
That was the longest non-beer related conversation we’ve ever had.
Tom wasn’t much of a talker right now and I couldn’t really blame him. About two and a half months ago he’d been injured while filming a movie and he’d been laid up in the hospital for some time. His mum, Diane, had told me he had pins in his leg and some burn injuries.
Diane had been distraught when she found out and I’d helped her book her flights. She and Tom had finally returned home two weeks ago. He looked healthy enough but it was clear that he had trouble walking. Diane had told me he had come to recuperate away from the spotlight but of course, the spotlight had followed him here. The first week there were about six photographers trying to snap photos of him but most of them seemed to have left by now. I guess there’s only so many pictures you can take of a man walking on a beach before they stop selling.
He stopped in here every day on his way back home, it was both his reward for doing the exercise and a rest before he had to face the town steps, which led back to his mother’s house. They weren’t terrible, but the village was built on a hill before cars became the norm, and the town steps were the central thoroughfare. They consisted of about 40 steps, broken up into groups of 10, but that must feel like Everest when you had a dodgy leg.
“Can I get you anything to eat?” I asked.
“Not today, thanks.”
I don’t know why I offered, it wasn’t like he needed feeding up. Maybe it was because he always looked a little sad and I wanted to offer him some comfort.
His phone rang then, so I made my way into the kitchen to give him some privacy. I could still see out into the bar area so I’d know if anyone came in and needed serving.
I checked the dishwashers and unloaded the full one, then I wiped everything down. I could hear Tom talking, sounding terse, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Terse was a good way to describe him actually. He was never rude or unkind but he was very different to the impression I used to have of him. I'd heard a couple of locals moan that he wasn’t the friendly guy they remembered, they thought Hollywood had gone to his head, but I knew better.
He was recovering, and I knew from personal experience that recovery came with all sorts of hurdles, including emotional. From everything Diane had told me, he used to be very athletic, running at least 5 miles a day and doing his own stunts where he could. Now he limped around and carried a folding cane everywhere for the times when his leg became tired and prone to give out.
In the same circumstances, I would probably be more than terse.
I popped into the bar but when I saw Tom still on the phone, I took the condiments tray back into the kitchen to refill. He didn’t look happy and I wondered what he was hearing. I hoped it wasn’t bad news.
Shouting pulled me from my task and I froze, my eyes fixed on the hatch through to the bar as I anticipated trouble, but it never came. Tom hung up and a few seconds later I saw him limping out.
It was irrational but I waited until I heard the door close before I breathed out.
Three fucking years and a raised voice still terrified me.
“One day,” I promised myself. One day I wouldn’t freeze. Wouldn’t flinch, wouldn’t cower, wouldn’t hide.
I took my condiments tray back into the bar and saw that Tom had hardly touched his second beer and he’d left a £20 note under the glass as usual, although he normally handed it to me telling me to keep the change.
Dumping the contents of the glass out and loading it into the washer, I wondered who or what had upset him.
Tom came in the next day and took his regular seat at the far end of the bar.
“The usual?” I asked.
“Please,” he found a small smile for me.
I brought him the beer and he opened his mouth so I paused, although he didn’t speak.
“Something else?” He looked sad today and my desire to look after him was greater than usual.
“Whisky chaser,” he finally decided.
I tried not to show my surprise and got him one of our nicer whiskeys because, despite dressing like a hobo, his cut glass accent said that he clearly wasn’t a Bell’s man.
“If you want any food, let me know,” I said as I pushed the glass towards him.
Normally I popped in to see Diane a couple of mornings a week but since Tom had been back I’d been meeting his mum in a local tea room on Fridays, my day off, rather than her house, so that Tom could have his privacy. We were due to meet again tomorrow so she might tell me what troubled him, I knew she’d been worried about him recently.
I’d long since proved myself trustworthy because although Diane loved to talk about her children, including Tom, nothing she’d told me had ever made it into the press. I think she might have tested me back in the beginning because some of his projects didn’t seem to come to anything, but when I asked she would just say, ‘Oh, that didn’t pan out’.
Another table came in and I took their drink orders, gave them a snack menu and when I returned with their drinks, I took their food order. Tom waved his whiskey glass so I poured him a second shot before I went to prepare the food.
They’d ordered chili and chicken wings, so I prepared those dishes and I also made a plate of beef nachos. Once I delivered the table’s order I took the nachos to Tom.
“I misread my pad and made nachos by mistake, do you want them? Free of charge.” His eyes narrowed slightly and I wondered if he saw through my story. “They’ll just go in the bin otherwise.”
“Sure,” he nodded. “Why not.”
“Another?” I pointed to the whiskey glass.
Tom hesitated for a moment then shook his head. “Maybe later.”
I took the glass away and began wiping down the bar.
Tom ordered a second beer as usual and although he didn’t order a chaser this time, he did order a third beer and it was nearing the end of my shift by the time he was finishing that.
I couldn’t help but worry about him. Not necessarily about why he was drinking; that was his business. And sure, five units of alcohol over nearly three hours wasn’t enough to make most people falling-down drunk, but then most people didn’t have a dodgy leg and take pain medication.
I approached as he got his wallet out. “Ready to go?”
He fished some notes out. “I hope that covers the extra spirits, the food and still leaves you a tip?” He handed me thirty today.
“You don’t need to pay for the food, honestly, it was an over order, it would have gone to waste otherwise.”
His expression asked if I thought he was born yesterday. “I saw you put the nachos through the till about an hour ago.”
“I’m sorry, I just-” I flustered.
“No need to apologize, you were right, I shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach. Thank you for looking after me.”
“No worries,” I smiled. I wanted to offer to walk home with him but I still had 10 minutes until my shift ended and I couldn’t really caution him to go the long way around without admitting I’d seen him struggling before. “Take care,” I said as he turned away.
“I will.” He seemed amused by me, which was embarrassing but what the hell.
I turned my back so I didn’t appear to be too stalkerish and busied myself below the bar while he left.
I didn’t tell Diane about Tom’s extra drinks, that felt a little too much like telling tales on him, but I did mention the phone call that upset him. I hadn’t heard any specifics so that didn’t feel like betraying a confidence.
“It was about his ‘girlfriend’,” Diane scoffed. “I didn’t meet her until after the accident, they were casual, Tom had told me.”
“You don’t sound as if you liked her?” I noted, sipping my tea.
We were sitting in Missy’s, who sold the best coffee cake this side of London.
“I don’t, but I admit, she’d stepped up and was there for him every step of the way. I began to think I might be wrong about her.”
“What changed your mind?”
“First she kicked up a fuss when Tom wanted to come back here to finish recuperating; she didn’t want to leave LA. She probably would have returned to London with him, but I think Tom just wanted to come home for a while.”
“There’s nothing like Mum when you’re unwell,” I said.
“Exactly.” Diane smiled. “Anyway, she made some excuses about work commitments and whatnot and promised to visit when she could.”
“But she dumped him instead,” I guessed.
“Oh no,” Diane said with a wry laugh. “She’s been selling information about him to the tabloids. We knew someone was leaking information, we thought it was at the hospital or maybe someone in the insurance company who were paying for his treatment. Turns out it was Evelyn.”
“Ouch,” I winced in sympathy. “So injured and single; that’s a lot of bad luck.” Despite my sympathy for his plight, I felt a little flutter in my heart, which I quickly stamped down on. Nope, not going there again, not even if Brad Pitt asked me!
“No, he hasn’t broken up with her.”
My fluttering heart sank like a stone. Stupid thing.
“Really?” was the only coherent response I could think of that didn’t imply that her beloved son was a pathetic sap.
“Well she’s not here to bother him, the most he has to do is send her a few texts, a phone call every other day, so I reminded him that he didn’t always have to tell her the truth.”
It took a few moments for me to twig.
“Diane!” I smirked. “You’re going to feed her fake information and humiliate her, aren’t you?”
She just shrugged.
“I had no idea you could be so evil!” I laughed.
“No one messes with mine,” she smiled sweetly.
I raised my tea cup and we clinked in an imitation of a toast.
“I am worried about him though,” she admitted once our smiles faded. “He’s not himself.”
“He’s had a trauma, it’s possible he’ll never be quite the same,” I said kindly.
“Oh I know,” she assured me. “He needs time and space and freedom to recover, physically and mentally, but it’s...hard to watch your children go through something like that and not be able to help.”
I understood a little how she felt, I didn’t even know him and I wanted to help!
At first glance Diane and I look more like mother and daughter than friends, especially since we both had our hair bobbed, although hers was shorter than mine. She had a warm expression and was always immaculately turned out.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I’m hosting a get together on Sunday, just a few people Tom knows, hoping to raise his spirits a little. I thought we’d have salads, cold meats, lovely fresh bread, very Mediterranean.”
“That’s a good idea,” I agreed. “Make the most of the sun before autumn sets in.”
“I’m glad you agree because I wanted to ask if you could make those fancy salads.”
“Which ones did you have in mind?”
“I’ll let you choose but that Mexican bean one was lovely, and the avocado salad you did last year. Oh, and the quinoa salad you made a few months ago, delicious. The only time I’ve ever liked quinoa. Your potato salads are lovely too.”
“I’ll make them all if you think your guests will like them.” I offered shyly, pleased she asked.
“How could they not? But just pick two of your favorites,” she reassured me.
“Okay, so how many people are you inviting?” I needed to know how big to make them.
“I thought ten people, maybe 12.”
“Okay, I’ll bring them over Sunday morning.”
“Just bring them when you come, dear, there’s no rush.”
“Well of course ‘you’, Kelsey! I’d hardly ask you to bring food to a party and not invite you, would I?”
“I thought you were only inviting Tom’s friends.” I smiled sheepishly.
“Ah, well I need some people there for me, don’t I? Besides, I’m sure the two of you’ll be firm friends before long.”
I wasn’t so sure. He’d been coming into my bar every day for nearly two weeks and he didn’t even know my name.
Diane leaned over the table as if she wanted to whisper something, so I moved closer.
“Just don’t tell him about your penchant for photography,” she gestured to my bag which had my camera poking out of the top. “He might think you’re paparazzi and want nothing to do with you!”
“Maybe I should snap some stealthy shots of him,” I laughed. “At least I might sell something then!”
“You should let me put an exhibition on for you,” Diane offered again. “You just need some publicity, a few good reviews, and word of mouth will do the rest.”
“I’m kidding,” I assured her. “It’s still just a hobby, honestly.”
“Waste of talent if you ask me,” she shot me a peeved look but I knew she wasn’t really angry because we’d been having variations of this conversation for almost as long as I’d known her.
Part of me wanted to display my wares and proclaim, ‘Look what I can do!’ but the larger part of me likes living in the shadows and being anonymous. I do sell some of my pictures, but only online where my username obscures my identity.
We went our separate ways about half an hour later and I headed to the beach and along, past the mill, looking for people or places to photograph.
I opted to make a quinoa salad and a Mexican bean salad since they were a little unusual and I spent Sunday morning in my small kitchen preparing them. Once done I covered them and headed upstairs for a quick shower and change.
My house was a converted stables and it was, by any standards, tiny. Probably designed to be a holiday home for a couple, it had one bedroom, one reception room, a kitchen and a bathroom that was too small for a bath. It was more than enough for little old me however, and it had a lovely walled yard at the rear. It had been barren when I moved in, all wall and paving slabs but with the careful placement of wooden flower beds, a few climbers and creepers, with its third summer coming to an end, it was looking lovely, if I do say so myself. And it was low maintenance, which was another plus.
I was running late so I dried quickly and pulled my shoulder length bob out of its ponytail, lamenting that I hadn’t had time to wash and dry it. I ran a brush through it then pulled on a black maxi dress and a red cardigan, just in case it grew chilly.
As I ran down the stairs I considered how to get everything over there in one trip; I had two salad bowls, a bottle of wine, a six pack of lemonade and a box of chocolates for the host. A giant Ikea bag seemed like overkill but everything would fit in there, which would leave me with one hand free for doors and gates.
I grabbed one of the now iconic blue bags and opened it on the kitchen table, then I placed the bean salad in one end and grabbed the quinoa for the other end but as I turned back, I screamed as I saw an unexpected man silhouetted in the door to my back yard.
The bowl slipped from my hands and shattered against the tile floor.
“Fuck!” I exclaimed as salad went everywhere.
“My God, I’m so sorry!” I still couldn’t see his face but I’d know Tom’s rich voice anywhere.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed, my hand going to my heart as I breathed deeply to try and overcome the adrenalin that had flooded my system.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you. Mum said you might need a hand carrying things and when I didn’t get an answer at the front, I thought I’d try around back.”
“It’s not your fault, I just spook really easily,” I tried to reassure him, although my heart was still going a mile a minute. “I must have been in the shower when you knocked, I’m sorry.”
“My fault, honestly.”
“I’m sorry I swore at you.”
I felt so flustered that I had to open a few cupboards before I found my dustpan and brush to clean up with.
As I swept the salad and bowl chips up, I wondered what I could replace the salad with. I had a big bowl of regular salad in my fridge, I could add some avocado, open a jar of palm hearts to decorate and posh it up, and if I worked lightning fast, I might still make it on time- I jumped and leaped back again as someone touched my shoulder unexpectedly.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed in surprise at my overreaction.
“Oh God, Tom, I’m so sorry!”
I’d been panicking and in my panic, I had totally forgotten Tom’s presence.
“Let me clean up, I feel responsible. Please?”
I took a few deep, calming breaths, telling myself it was okay if I was late, it was okay if I couldn’t provide two salads, it was okay to disappoint people.
But if Tom cleaned up, that would give me time to work on a replacement salad; just because I was allowed to let people down, didn’t mean I wanted to.
“Actually that would be great,” I smiled tremulously at Tom as I handed the pan and brush over, hoping he didn’t think I was too weird, then I got what I needed from the fridge, plus a beef tomato so I could decorate the top with slices of it.
“You must think I’m a total scaredy cat,” I said as I worked, making sure to take deep and even breaths and work slowly so I didn’t cut my finger off or something. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, no, I’m sure it’s perfectly normal when you find a stranger in your home,” he reassured me.
“Well, thank you.”
Once he’d swept up he offered to wash the floor, so I suggested he just wet a tea towel and use that, I’d wash it properly later, then I directed him to the other items I needed to take and asked him to put them in the bag.
I finished in about five minutes and had a salad I could feel happy presenting. The kitchen side was a mess but I forced myself to wait until later to clean up. I covered the new bowl and placed it in the bag.
“You’re very resourceful,” Tom complimented me, taking the handles of the bag.
“Oh, you don’t have to carry that.”
“It’s nothing,” he assured me. “You lock up while I do the heavy lifting.”
I saw the logic in his words and while he went through to the front door, I locked up the rear.
“Be back soon,” I told Buttons, my cat, bending to press a kiss to his head. “You can come visit us if you get lonely.” Buttons wasn’t like most cats, he’d let you do anything you wanted to him and as long as you were petting him, he didn’t care. He had a cat flap in the back door but he rarely used it. He was a homebody, a bit like me, really.
We were late, most people were already there but I refused to look at a clock and see how late.
Diane greeted me with a cheek kiss, accepted my gifts and furnished me with a nice glass of ice cold rosé wine. She had a much larger home than mine, probably 4 or 5 bedrooms. Her garden was equally large and unlike mine, had grass as well as flower beds. Her patio ran around the house in an L shape and she kept a table at both the side and rear. They had been moved to the side now, so they would be in the sun for longer.
It seemed to be mostly a crowd in their 40s with a few about Diane’s age and at 32 I was probably the youngest there. I was pleased to see that they were mostly couples because I really hate being hit on.
I either knew or recognized everyone here, it was hard to live in a village and not know most people, at least by sight, so I felt quite relaxed. I removed my cardigan and took a seat in the shade next to Bridget, a local sculptor who I ran into at many art shows, including her own.
Tom took the seat beside me, which was surprising, and I thanked him once again for his help earlier. Curiosity piqued, Bridget asked what had happened so Tom explained, making it all his fault and me the hero for saving the day with a second salad. I’m not going to lie, that endeared me to him a lot, especially since he hadn’t actually done anything wrong.
Bridget went off to get herself another gin and tonic and I looked to Tom to find him smiling at me.
“Mum’s been mentioning you in our conversations for ages now but I had no idea she was talking about you or I’d have introduced myself properly.”
I blushed at the idea his mother spoke about me. “Picturing someone a bit older?” I asked.
“Well…” He had the good grace to look abashed. “I’m surprised I haven’t met you on one of my visits before now.”
“I don’t like to intrude when she has family visiting.”
“What’s different this time?”
The wine had given me a little Dutch courage. “Ah, well, you’ve been here for over two weeks, you’re practically a local now.”
He laughed. “So how did you meet Mum?”
“Um, my first day here, actually. She came over to introduce herself and found me in a total mess, no furniture but a blow-up bed, no food, no fridge for the food I didn't have and I thought I’d be really smart and get a pot noodle for tea, only I didn’t have a kettle.”
I’d been sitting in the middle of my nearly empty kitchen, crying over how inept I was.
“Was your moving van delayed?”
“Um, no, actually, I downsized quite a bit so I decided to buy all new.”
“Even a bed?” he seemed confused, which wasn’t surprising.
“Yep. Crazy as it sounds, I wanted a whole new start. My white goods were supposed to arrive on moving day but they were delayed, and I knew I’d have to wait for the bed so I had bought a blow-up bed and a beanbag from Amazon. I just,” I shrugged. “I wanted to start from scratch, you know, find furniture that really fitted the house.” In truth, I didn’t want anything that might remind me of Darren, my ex. I’d even bought new clothes.
“You’ll have to give me a tour sometime.”
“Sure.” My smile felt brittle and I moved the conversation on. “Anyway, I was on the verge of tears and feeling like a complete failure for thinking I could live alone, and she suggested we visit the fish and chip shop.”
I shook my head, still embarrassed by my stupidity that day, I’d just been so overwhelmed by the late deliveries and my failure to even buy something simple, like a kettle, that I couldn’t think clearly enough to remember that take away and takeout food existed.
“Anyway, Diane sort of took me under her wing after that, showed me around, helped me find furniture; she was really good to me.”
When I looked at him, Tom had a sort of half smile which made me blush and look away.
“More wine?” he asked.
I said yes although my glass was still half full.
Once Tom left, Bridget returned and she started telling me about her new pottery wheel that she was having trouble getting used to.
Now that he knew who I was and was being friendly, my attraction to Tom was making me feel vulnerable, so I mingled for awhile and only took my seat again when the meal was served. Tom didn’t single me out for conversation again and I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
By the time the sun was setting, someone had put some music on, the outdoor candles were lit, and we were all a little well oiled. Those who had to be up early the next day left but I wasn’t working until 11 so I was fine. Eventually only five of us were left so we grouped together around the same table.
I was content to listen to people, letting their conversations wash over me, but I have always been happier in the background. I took on the role of server, making sure people had drinks and snacks and getting coats from Diane’s front hall for those feeling chilly.
Taking an empty wine bottle in to fetch a fresh one, I found myself cleaning up, as I usually did. It drove Diane mad but it was my way of saying ‘thank you’ and that I appreciated the effort she’d gone to.
“I wondered where you’d got to,” Tom said as he came into the kitchen and for once, I didn’t jump.
“Sorry, do you need the wine?” I had topped everyone up before I came in, hence why the bottle was empty.
“No, we’re fine, just wondering where you’d slunk off to.”
“Just tidying,” I explained. I had filled the dishwasher to capacity and I was now handwashing the things that wouldn’t fit.
Strangely Tom didn’t try to stop me but picked up a tea towel and began to dry the dishes I had washed.
‘Imagine that,’ I thought, ‘a Hollywood star drying dishes.’
We worked in companionable silence until I felt it might be rude to ignore him any longer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
“How’s the leg?” I asked, then silently cringed at bringing up such a sensitive topic.
“The bone is healed, probably stronger than ever with all that titanium in there.” He paused and huffed in frustration. “The flesh is another matter entirely.”
“Flesh?” I hoped he wasn’t in pain from standing here with me for so long.
“The leg trapped in the car got doused with petrol. It’s healing but it will need skin grafts and right now, there’s a lot of scar tissue which is causing mobility issues.”
“And the pain?” I asked softly, as if I was afraid he’d stop talking if he realized what I was asking about.
“Most of the burned area is pain free,” he said with a bark of ironic laughter. “It’s the healthy tissue around it that hurts like a bitch.”
He looked at me and whatever he saw on my face suddenly made him look stricken.
“Oh god, I’m sorry, this stuff, it’s just hard to talk about and that means I don’t explain it very well.”
I nodded, too scared to say anything but not wanting him to think I was frightened of him. I wasn’t, this mousiness was a learned behavior. Darren opened up to me sometimes and when he made himself vulnerable was when he was at his most volatile and one wrong word could send him off on a tirade… or worse. I made a conscious effort to school my features into something serene and interested.
“The burn was deep enough to kill my nerve endings, so it’s only the surrounding tissue, that wasn’t so badly burned, that feels pain, and it feels a lot of pain. They’ve given me some strong pills and although the woozy feeling wears off after a few days, I sleep more than usual on them and I’m worried about getting addicted, so I try to have a day or two off each week. It’s getting better.”