A few of you have voted (thank you!), leaving a comment on what they thought happened to Ryan at the end of the story. It was a close call, only one vote between the two possible scenarios, but this is the ending that got the most votes and so here it is, what happens next.
Who knows, this might not be the full story yet!
WARNING: contains strong language
The sun filtering through the vertical blinds drew patterns on the white wall by his bed, his packed sport bag lying next to him, ready to go.
Sitting on the edge, Ryan finished doing up his laces and then stared in the air ahead of him.
He had spent two weeks in hospital, since the day Vivienne had answered his call and ran to him.
He really thought he was dying that day, after a night from hell and a morning of sickness and pain, crying out for drugs, trying to hold together his broken ribs, coughing and burning with fever.
When peace had arrived, he had felt his heartbeat slowing down and once more thoughts of death had filled his mind. Hailey was with him. She had come to take him with her and he was ready. He had closed his eyes and waited.
But he hadn’t died.
He had fallen into a chasm of confused dreams and nightmares, until the voices in his head had started to echo outside him and he was aware of people talking in the room. Someone was at his side, asking him questions. He tried to answer, but only managed faint moans.
He had later realised it was paramedics he had tried to talk to and that his temperature had risen so much that he was only semi-conscious by then.
They had lifted him on a stretcher to take him to the ambulance and once again Vivienne had stayed at his side.
He had known then; he was not going to die.
Hailey was gone. She had come to him to repeat what she had told him the last time he had held her in his arms, you’ll get out of this.
And here he was, two weeks later.
They had treated him for pneumonia, mended his fractures and bruises and cleaned him up. He was heroin free, for now. How long he would last he wasn’t sure. Last time, it had taken him less than two days to go back to her. He knew she was still in his head and even in his system somewhere.
Now he was ready to go… Where? To What?
For two years he had lived a hellish life, but it was a life he knew, a life he had chosen, a life with purpose: get money, get a fix, stay alive.
Now he was suddenly empty and frightened, as he sat on the brink of a new start.
What was he going to live for?
The door of the room opened and Vivienne walked in.
“Hi.” She smiled. “Packed?”
“Yeah… all done.” He faintly smiled back.
She sat by him. “Are you scared?”
Ryan nodded. “Terrified.” He nervously laughed. “Aren’t you?”
“No, why should I be?”
“What if I disappoint you again?”
“But what if I do? How can you be so sure, when even I am not?”
Vivienne held his hand. “Remember when we were children and you had a nightmare?”
He nodded in silence.
“You used to run to me then,” she continued. “You jumped in my bed and hugged me. And I would hug you back and tell you a funny story or a joke to make you laugh.”
“You were good at that.” He squeezed her hand tighter. “Making me laugh.”
“This is where the nightmare ends. Now comes the part where I’ll make you laugh again.” She caressed his hair. “I won’t let you disappear this time, so don’t even think about it.”
“It’ll be hard, Viv.”
“I will fall at some point, I know I will. And it will test you.”
“I’m ready for that.”
“And the other thing…” Ryan looked down at his feet.
“We’ll go through it together.”
He lifted his eyes, pouring into hers his silent fears, and she wrapped her arms around him.
“You heard what the doctors said,” she tried to reassure him.
“Yes, I know.” He didn’t sound convinced. “HIV is not AIDS. There are medications, people can live longer.” He leaned his head over hers. “It’s still fucking scary, though.”
“I know. We’ll take one day at the time, with everything.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard.” Again Ryan gave a short, bitter laugh. “I’ve been living one day at the time for a long while.”
“I’ll be with you for as long as you need me.”
“What about Alex? I imagine he’s not too happy about having me in his home.”
“You’ll be in my home.”
“His too, and I know what he thinks of me.”
“He doesn’t think anything.”
“Don’t lie, Viv. He thinks I’m a waste of time and space. Why shouldn’t he? Even my parents think I’m not worth the effort.”
“That’s not true…”
“It fucking is! You know it better than I do.”
“They did their best, Ryan, they came to see you.”
Ryan moved away from her and walked to the window. “They could have saved themselves the trouble, really, for the good it did.”
Behind him Vivienne sighed. “They tried, Ryan. But mum is weak and dad is stubborn.”
“And ashamed of me.”
Ryan let his gaze wander beyond the glass, to the courtyard below.
His parents had come to visit a week after he had been admitted, finally persuaded by Vivienne. They had disowned him years before, so he wasn’t expecting tears and embraces. As it happened there were plenty of tears coming from his mother.
“I can’t even look at you.” She had sobbed. “What have you reduced yourself to? What have you done to us? You ruined us, Ryan, ruined us!”
His father did not speak. Just stood a few paces from him, darting his condemnation. I’m only here for your mother. You broke her, but she still wanted to see you. So I brought her here and that is all.
“And now you have AIDS too!” his mother had wailed.
“HIV, mum,” he had corrected her, not really sure why. She lived in her own world most of the time, made up of truths and realities she had built for herself. If she had it in her mind he was dying of AIDS, there wouldn’t be anything he could say to make her see differently.
“AIDS!” As expected his mother didn’t listen. “I can’t even begin to imagine the sordid life you must have led.”
Ryan batted his eyelids a couple of times to shake off the painful memory of that visit.
It was a fitting description of the abuses he had subjected himself to.
“I’m sordid,” he commented aloud, following his train of thoughts. He turned to Vivienne, a smirk creasing his lips. “I take some comfort in thinking that a certain fucker probably is too now,” he said.
“Please, don’t.” Vivienne interrupted him. “I don’t want to know what happened.”
“You don’t?” Ryan’s voice was cutting. “You say you’re ready for me, but are you? Do you know what I have become? How low I sank? How many fucked me? What they did to me? What I did to them? Do you want to know, Viv? I’m sordid. You have no idea how disgusting I am. And you want to take me home with you, think that it’s going to be like when we were children and everything was clean, but it’s not, Viv… it’s not…” He hid his face in his hands and broke down.
He heard her moving from the bed, once again felt her arms around him: his little big sister.
“It’ll be ok.” She held him. “It’ll be ok. It was just a nightmare, that’s all.”
Ryan hugged her back. “I can’t laugh anymore.”
“You will. I’ll make you.”
He nodded and cried, hiding his face in her hair.
“Come on.” She gently patted him. “Let’s go home, now.”