“What’s happened?” I ask him. “Dad, what’s happened?” because he looks like he doesn’t know how to answer, he looks like he’s about to collapse without telling me what’s going on. And then I see his bike out in the porch, all dented, and there’s another bike there, mangled out of shape, but I can see what colour it was. It’s yellow, buttercup yellow, like Mum’s, only it’s spattered with blood.
They must have been hit. “Where’s Mum? Is she okay? Where is she?”
“She’s at the hospital,” he says. “In intensive care.” And then, as I feel my lip trembling and know I’m about to cry, half from panic and half from misery, he makes it a hundred times worse. He says, “Georgia, they’re doing their best, but…”
“But what? Is she okay?”
“They’re telling us to prepare for the worst,” he says. His voice is shaking. My dad’s about to cry again.
Mum’s going to die. Some stupid car hit her and she’s going to die because the hospital can’t do anything to save her. No.
I lead Dad by the hand into the kitchen and sit him down while I make another, stronger pot of tea. He doesn’t look up as I put the mug in front of him, so I start making lunch as noisily as possible to cover up the silence that’s fallen. Bread. Salad. Crisps. Whatever we’ll need to stay alive.
No. Mum’s going to be okay. “How long are they going to keep her in the hospital?”
“Georgia.” He’s warning me not to get my hopes up.
“How long until she comes home?” I’ve never been a pessimist. I didn’t get this far in ballet by believing that if I kept going I’d just get injured and have to stop.
“Not for a while. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Well, I’m crap at cooking and I never learned to drive. I won’t be able to give you any lifts.” It’s true. He’s not being hard on himself.
“I’ll cook,” I say. “When I’m not at ballet.” Getting the bus there and back every time is going to be a drag, but it’s not that far to the studio and I’ve had to do it before.
“You’re always at ballet. We’ll get ready-meals or something.”
“No.” That’s the one thing I’m firm about. “Do you have any idea how many calories those things have?” He rolls his eyes, almost back to normal again.
“You dancers,” he says, like he has so many times in the past. I pour myself a cup of the ridiculously strong tea, and sit down opposite him.
“I’ll get myself to and from ballet, and I’ll make sure we eat, and I’ll do my homework and stuff,” I promise him, even though I’m not sure I’ll get through my Chemistry work without Mum there to explain all the electrons and how they work. I still don’t get the whole bonding thing. How do they know if something is ionic or covalent? Seems to me scientists are guessing a whole lot, just so they can make us learn it.
“Thanks, Georgia,” he says, but I haven’t finished yet.
“And Mum is going to be all right.” I’m not hoping. I’m stating a fact. “She’s going to be fine. She’ll be out of the hospital in record time, okay?”
I don’t know what’s wrong with her, but she’s always been a fighter, no matter what her injuries were. I’ve never known her to take a sick day except when she literally couldn’t move. “We’ll carry on as normal. It’ll be okay.”
Normal. Which means – and I shiver – walking home in the dark from ballet three times during the week, when I’ve got late classes. I know it’s stupid to be afraid, with all the houses and street lights and other pedestrians, because the dark can’t hurt me. Even so, I don’t like it. I carry my pointe shoes as weapons and prepare to lash out at anyone who passes me. I’m a jumpy person. Age hasn’t changed that. It’s not the dark that frightens me, you see. It’s what’s in the dark. Or what could be in the dark. What could be hiding right around the corner, just out of sight.
I don’t tell Dad this. He’s still trembling after his shock, and I go to the cupboard to find his secret stash of dark chocolate. He’s going to need it.
“Do you want some coffee?” I ask, but he holds up his shaking hand as though to say, Do I look like I need coffee? I have to admit he probably knows best, so I just put the bar of chocolate down in front of him. “It’ll make you feel better,” I offer, and then I go up to my room and sit down on the bed and try not to think about the fact that Mum’s dying and I haven’t got anyone to confide in.
But I can’t. She’s inside my head, and I’m replaying the accident that no one has yet explained to me, the screech of her bike brakes which she never got around to oiling as she tries to avoid the car swerving too fast out of a side road, and the sickening crunch as they collide, and the way Dad’s screaming over the sound of the ambulance sirens, begging for her to be okay.
In the privacy of my own brain, I’m doing the same thing. Be okay, I’m thinking. Don’t die.
I’m only sixteen. Parents aren’t meant to die now. She can’t die now.
You hear me, Mum? You can’t die now. Don’t you dare die now.