I wish I could say that I hadn’t thought about Westmeadow or Holy Trinity Hospital in years, but that’s not true. It seeps back into me on an almost nightly basis. As the empty silence takes over every night, memories creep back in. The last time I was in that hospital, my Mum was laying in the bed. I was seven years old, a couple of weeks away from being eight. I blamed my Dad for her being there, but it probably wasn’t his fault. He used to hit her, but I don’t think he could have done that to her. I still want that to be the last time I step into Holy Trinity, but Casey says someone there will speak to me. Someone who asked for me. Someone I used to know. Someone I don’t want to meet. I don’t even know who it is and I know that I don’t want to meet them.
It’ll all come flooding back to me – as if it ever left. The beeping of the machines. The people talking in hushed voices. Being told to hug Mum even though I didn’t want to. Holding back tears, or at least trying. I don’t want to relive all of that. I don’t want to think about it at all, but now I have too. I owe her, Casey, a lot. She’s already paid me for the article. There’s a little bit of arm-bending to get me there, but it’s not the worst thing she could do to me. I completely flaked on the articles. As always, and she was there to pick up the pieces. Back in University it was the same. I would miss a deadline, and she would spend all night helping me make the extension. Pretty much writing it for me. She earned my 2:1 along with her first.
Straight out of Uni, she set up her blog. A passion project to get her writing out there. She let me write posts. Told me it was to have a more steady output to get more readers. That wasn’t true. It was to help me out and keep me focused. I was working as a dish-cleaner, and probably still would be if it wasn’t for her. I wasn’t writing anything. I hadn’t given up but I wasn’t doing it. I was just waiting for everything to come to me. The days slipped into weeks which charged into months, sprinting into years. I ignored her helping hand and tried it my way. She got me the crappy click-bait job. Told me it was a stepping stone. The only reason I wasn’t too proud to accept it was because she was already doing better than me. I resented her for a while because of it. Didn’t answer her calls, or said I had deadlines to meet. I didn’t. I can sprawl that crap out without thinking, barely needs proofing either. It’s the kind of bull that just flows out of me.
Her blog turned into a website and before long she was barely writing articles any more, she had a team of writers. I got that phone call, one day a few years back. Hey, don’t you wanna quit the crap and come and work for me. For you? I said. Never. We laughed and she told me to send anything I had to her and she would make sure it was put forward. It took me two years to send her anything. I almost thought she would have forgotten about me, but after sending her the email with the career starting story she replied within five minutes. Told me to have the full thing done as soon as and for once things started looking up.
I quit my job pretty much straight away, told myself I would stop drinking and start taking this seriously. But that didn’t happen. Days passed without a word written and before I knew it months passed. I’m twenty-nine and living in some dude’s, I found on the internet called Dave, spare room for cheap. I barely make rent most months, but he doesn’t seem to care as long as I get it to him at some point. The window that leads out to the garden is caked in dirt.. I should have some money waiting for me in the bank, I need to get it before I leave. I can’t buy any drink though, that’s the important thing. I’m not an alcoholic.
The light flickers on and brightens up my room, my whole life. A small unmade single bed with old sheets stuck on, peeling away at one corner. I haven’t slept in it in two days. A desk with a half decade old laptop sitting on top, I can’t move it without it turning off the battery needs to be on constant charge. The chair in front of the desk came with the room, and holds numerous unidentified stains that I don’t really want to think about. I don’t know where the remote for the TV is, not that I’m sure if the TV works in the first place. There are a few stacks of books scattered about, about half of them read. The rest of the room is made up with empty wrappers, cans and bottles.
With my phone in one pocket and my wallet in the other I’m ready to leave. I don’t really own much else. I should probably change clothes, but I don’t know where any clean alternatives are. If the money’s in the bank then I’ll buy some on the way. Not that any one would notice in Westmeadow that I hadn’t changed in a few days. I’m seriously not looking forward to getting back there. I never wanted to go back. I don’t have any contact with anyone. The second I was old enough, I left. That was it. I turned Eighteen and got a place in Uni, didn’t even tell my Dad when I was leaving, just left. Packed my things and got on the bus.
I wasn’t happy that day. I thought I would be in the weeks leading to the moment, but I wasn’t. Fear probably took over. I’m not sure. There was no way I was going to miss the place, not even my Dad. The only family I actually had left. He was still asleep as I left. Ten in the morning, he hadn’t even asked when I was planning on leaving. I don’t think he even remembers me telling him I got into Uni.
With two bags I left that house, and I never looked back. Took a couople of buses to Northampton and then got the train to London. It was my first time in the capital. Once I’d been through the tube and got out onto the busy streets, whatever had stopped me from being happy before disappeared. I was there, couldn’t believe it in the slightest.
But here I am, getting ready to go back there, why would I want to do that? I bite my tongue, not wanting to shout at Casey, even if she isn’t there. I take a heavy breath and look around the room one last time. It’s a mess, but I don’t want to run away from this one. I’m not running away. If anything, I’m trying to keep this place together. I’m not going to tell Dave, he’ll tell me he wants some rent before I go.
I flick the light off and walk out of the room, hoping the air outside will mask my scent until I can grab some deodorant at the very least. The door leads into a dark hallway, where I turn right and jog down some stairs, through a door frame that’s missing a door and then through the front door onto the street.
“Hey, Christian Hopkins, as I live and breathe, walking around outside with the rest of us living people?”
“Case? What are you doing?”
“I couldn’t let you go all the way to Westmeadow without some help, that wouldn’t be fair. I can’t imagine job seekers will get you there, a hotel and everything else.”
“I have other means of income. Someone owes me, they should be giving me the money today.”
I’ve been hoping that money would be in my account every day for a week. A couple of weeks back, I lent Mark a hundred pounds to put on a fight he knew the outcome to. The plan was, he knew the outcome and I had the money. Simple, at worst I lose all the money I have in the world, at best? I get 50%. I haven’t heard from him since the fight went his way. I saw that on Facebook. I called Mark twice, and both times, straight to voicemail.
“And when that doesn’t work out?” Casey asked with a smile.
“It’ll work out, I’ll make it work out.”
“Just hear me out, alright? You don’t have to take my help.”
“You can take this car, and drive there.”
“Case you need your car.”
“No I don’t, it’s London. I can get everywhere on the tube. Also I’m giving you another advance. £2000. That should cover expenses on this article, since I really want this story. I also want three more articles after this. Click-bait if they have to be.”
“No, that’s too much. I already took enough of your money. I’ll get you this article and that’ll be the end of it. I don’t think I’m cut out for this kind of work. This is the end. I need to sort my life out and waiting for this job to happen isn’t working.”
“Chris. You’re a good writer. You just need to focus on actually writing. I’ve read your articles. They’re good, that’s why I want you to do this.”
“You don’t need to butter me up any more, I already agreed to help you. But this is the end of it. I don’t want to do this any more. I need to get a better job and actually start living.”
“Okay, just take this money. I’ve already sent it to your bank. Take the car as well. At least then you can get there quickly.”
“I can’t, Case. I’m not insured.”
“Don’t worry about it, I added you on the insurance for the week.”
“Jesus, Casey you don’t quit. That crap’s expensive. I can’t believe you did that.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing. I wanted you to get this story for me. It’s important. Only you can do this one, and I look after my writers, my friends.”
“What’s so important about this story? So what if there’s a suicide. There’s nothing else to go on.”
“There has to be something. It’s not just that there’s a suicide, there hasn’t been any reported crime there in a decade. No peep from the town. I can’t even find people who live there on the internet. Just this one guy, who works at Holy Trinity, who says they will only talk to you.”
“How did they know about me? Who are they?”
“You’re probably not going to like this. It’s Ryan Campbell. He read one of your articles.”
That’s a name I hadn’t heard in years. If I wasn’t already having second thoughts, I definitely was now after that bombshell. Little Campy’s brother. So many doors I didn’t want to reopen. My legs start shaking and turn to jelly. I can’t do this. Simple. That’s the end of it.
“No,” I whisper. “I can’t do this. Send someone else if you really think there’s a story. I just can’t do it.”
“Christian, please. You owe me. You think you can’t do this, but I know you can. I believe in you. I know you can do this. Trust me. It’ll do you good to go back there. Resolve some problems.”
“I don’t want to go back there, I never want to go back there. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Just get in the car, you can shout at me on the way. We need to get you some food, and God you stink. Then you can drop me off home, and make your way up there. You’re meeting Ryan at the hospital after his shift ends at eight. You can interview him then, and then make your way to Westmeadow. I didn’t organise you anywhere to stay, I thought you might have a preference. Come on, let’s go.”
To be continued…
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