It was the milkman.
The little electric cart turned the corner to start its early morning round and its sudden appearance stopped George in his track.
With one last bout of strength, Ryan lifted himself on his hands and knees; behind him, a side path ran by back gardens and garage blocks and, as the milk cart went past him, momentarily sheltering him from view, Ryan crawled away from the road. He leaned against the wall, stood up and forced himself to walk down the dark alleyway, stopping to catch his breath every few paces, biting his lips to refrain from crying out in pain. A skip had been left by a fence and Ryan hid behind it, sweat dripping from his forehead, shivers shaking his whole body.
He sat and waited for a noise, a car door slamming, footsteps, a voice calling, a hand seizing him.
He will come. He will come for me again. He’s obsessed. He’s mental.
But there was no noise and no one came.
Slowly Ryan started to calm down. His heartbeat decreased, his brain was able to think again.
Somehow he had got away.
There was a light at the other end of the path, an exit to another street.
Sitting there, getting colder and more desperate was not going to make his situation any better. His legs seemed able to carry him farther, for now, and he felt he should keep moving while he still could, find a phone box, call Lola… or someone… anyone…
He wasn’t sure how he had managed to cover the distance that separated him from the street ahead. Perhaps the aches had become so intense that they were nullifying each other or the cravings for heroin were now strong enough to drown the pain of a few broken bones and for his brain to become detached from his body.
He found himself back under the street lights and realised he had reached the seafront. He crossed the road to the promenade and then leaned against the rail, looking over the deserted shingle beach opening in front of him.
The dark sea still blended with the night, but to the east the sky was already turning grey. The silence of dawn was gently broken by the waves washing the shore and for the first time that night Ryan had the impression he could finally breathe.
He was still shaking, partly for the withdrawal symptoms, partly from a strange mixture of fear and relief. He knew where he was. A fifteen minutes walk would take him home. He held his hands together to stop them from trembling.
I’ve made it, Hailey, I’ve survived another night.
Once more, she was with him.
He had promised her that he would make it through, the last night they had spent together.
They had talked, as always, about escaping that miserable life; methadone programs, college, jobs, renting a flat.
But they were just fantasies.
“Of course you know tomorrow we’ll have forgotten all this, don’t you?” She had sighed at the end, as he held her in his arms.
“Yeah, I know. Maybe not tomorrow.” He caressed her hair. “But one day, we will.”
“You really think so?”
“Yes, I do.”
Her lips had stroked his chest.
“You will, Ryan,” she’d murmured. “You will get out of this. I just have to stay with you. I’m not as strong as you.”
She was dead less than twenty –four hours later and his promise had rung empty and useless. Her faith in him had proved misplaced. He hadn’t been able to save her and since her death, had just kept falling.
And yet, every time he had managed to get through his hellish nights, cheated Death, survived his nightmares to see another day, her words had come back to him, you will get out of this. They seemed to echo in the rhythmic breaking of the waves, now, lulling his tired, heavy head. And like the tide, emotions swept through him, now that the fears of that night were behind and the emptiness of the new day lay before him.
He held his head and cried.
You will get out of this.
He had tried and failed before, just kept sinking, and the climb was getting harder and harder.
And he was alone.
He wiped the tears with the palm of his hand, with a new spasm shaking his battered body, something that ached more than his fractured ribs and bruised face, something that right at that moment he longed for more than drugs.
He desperately needed a voice. Not George’s twisted, sick desire, or the pity and compassion Lola showed him, but real love.
He started to walk again, feeling his strength was fading fast. He had to reach home before he would be too weak to move another step.
The pale light of the cold winter dawn was slowly colouring the night and the red phone box appeared bright in front of him as if out of nowhere.
He quickened his pace and almost threw himself inside the box, trying to steady his shaking hand as he picked up and held the receiver. His memory searched for a number he hadn’t dialled in a long time and was surprised by the rapidity in which it came to him.
The ringing tone sent his heart to his throat, while he waited for someone to accept the reversed call and reply.
Ryan opened his mouth a couple of times, but could not speak.
The voice at the other end came through again, less sleepy and more irritated. “Hello? Who is it?”
Tears filled Ryan’s eyes and he held the receiver closer to his mouth. There was too much he needed to say and he couldn’t find the courage, the right words.
“Please.” His voice was broken and feeble. “Please, help me.”
He paused to listen, holding back the sobs that pressed at his lips.
Again he wiped his eyes and steadied himself, then took a deep breath.
“Yes, it’s me.” He finally managed to answer. “It’s Ryan.”
Continues in Part Six