When I got in I dumped the laundry in our bedroom, I thought I could make my bed up with fresh sheets and put everything away later. There were voices talking in the lounge and I recognised Mark, so I wanted to go and say hello.
The first person who collared me as I walked in was Josh. “You haven’t forgotten my dad is coming over this afternoon?”
“No Josh,” I replied. “I haven’t forgotten.”
Mark stopped talking to Aaron and turned to face me. “Hey Mikey, good to see you.”
I nodded, “You too.”
“I was just saying to Aaron that now you got the apart you should throw a party. You know, enjoy the freedom a bit. What d’ya think?”
Josh joined in, “I think we should, like he says, no point living here away from home if we can’t enjoy ourselves.”
“Well I guess that leaves you Aaron?” I looked over posing the question.
“I’m in,” he answered. “And if we can get the girls over it would be great.”
By the girls he meant, Alesha, Sammy and Mandy, the three of them have been together since primary school and we’ve known them nearly as long.
“Just one thing though,” I added.
“What’s that?” Aaron asked.
“Well as it was Mark’s idea I think it’s only fair he should stay to clear up after.”
Everybody smiled and Mark said he would so we arranged it for next Saturday night and Josh would contact Ali, that’s what we called Alesha, to invite them. If Ali agreed to come, then the others would be there too. I think Aaron looked pleased, because Ali and Josh were always pretty tight and so he knew Josh had the best chance of persuading them.
That sorted, or getting sorted, Mark told me he would come with us to see Roland, because he knew we had to talk things through about what happened at the end of school party which led to the accident.
* * * * * *
The drive to the trauma rehab centre was uneventful, me, Mark and Aaron were squeezed in the back and didn’t say much, Josh was up front next to his dad. The conversation, if you can call it that, was mostly Josh’s dad telling him how well his brother was doing and that he would have to seriously think what career he was going for and get down to studying next year.
A year off is just that, his father said. Afterwards you need to work towards your future, building a career starts with solid foundations and you will need that in place before you even think about getting married, like your brother.
Josh looked really uncomfortable, although I could only see the back of his head, he fidgeted about in his seat and said hardly a word in reply. I should tell you Josh has an older brother, five years older to be exact. Samuel, that’s his name, graduated with a law degree and is engaged to Dolores, I don’t know either of them very well, only met them once or twice. I know Josh calls her Dolly, only behind her back though, because she hates that name, and he told me he calls her that because she’s always made up like a doll.
We pulled into the large car park which had quite a few cars in it for a Sunday, but I’m sure they were mostly visitors like us. The first thing you notice about the place is the grand old house surrounded by neatly cut lawn interspersed with enormous pine trees. Actually I know they have a name those very tall, years old pines, Sequoia, I think that’s it. Anyway, it’s a beautiful setting may be just spoiled a tad by the modern building that houses the rehab centre. I know the architect probably thought it would blend into the environment with one wooden cladded wall and lots of glass curving around, but for me it doesn’t quite do it.
Josh’s dad led the way to Roland’s room. “It’s going to be a bit of a surprise, he’s not expecting you, although his dad probably told him I would call in.” At the door, Josh’s dad knocked and stepped in. “I’ve got some visitors for you Roland,” he annouced. And with that he opened the door and we all bundled in.
I registered the surprise on Roland’s face and the big smile that greeted us. Josh and Aaron were the first up to his bed to shake his hand and say hello. They then sat down in the only two chairs in the room, which they pulled up close to his bedside. Mark and I went over and said hello, Mark shook Roland’s hand, I just rested my hand on his shoulder.
Josh’s dad excused himself saying he was leaving us to catch up and would pop back later. I was reluctant to sit on the bed with all the contraptions, he had his left leg held up in the air off the bed and it was plastered almost the whole length, plus there was a sort of metal frame screwed to his leg, across the top, above and behind, and further down. It didn’t look good. Mark and I moved over to the big glass window and leaned against the small shelf running underneath at waist height.
Once the initial greetings were over there was a terrible silence. It was as if each of us had taken measure of the scene with Roland lying crippled, centre stage, and no one knew what to say or how to start, but everyone knew the accident had to be confronted. Do you even call it an accident if you feel responsible for it, if you feel like you did it to him, you caused this.
“How long will you have to stay like this?” Aaron asked, breaking that dreadful silence.
“It’s been nearly two months already.” Roland answered without really answering. I looked at my feet, I was embarrassed that we hadn’t been to see him before.
Nobody said anything. I didn’t want another dreadful silence, so I took a deep breath, looked up and across to him in the bed. “I’m truly sorry I didn’t come to see you before.” He looked straight into my eyes, this was tough. “I think we all are, I think we all feel guilty about what happened and…” I trailed off. There was something very sad in his eyes.
Josh surprised me then, I mean it just wasn’t Josh, not the usual shy Josh, but he took up where I had faltered. “We all feel guilty Roland. We feel guilty because we caused you to be here. The accident was our fault and there’s no getting away from it.”
Roland had turned his attention to Josh who was in the chair closest to him, nobody else said anything. “Do you know what actually happened at the end of that party, before you left, got on your motorbike and wrapped yourself round a tree?”
“No Josh,” he answered. “I only know some of what happened, but I don’t blame anyone of you for the accident. I got on my bike and went to drive home.”
Mark’s turn now, he had been quiet up to this point. “Maybe, you, don’t blame us, but we should have, could have, stopped you going.”
“Yes, perhaps,” Roland replied. “But that still doesn’t make you responsible for what happened. No, no way, I did it all on my own.”
“But” Mark wanted to say more only Roland held up his hand.
“Listen,” he continued. “The only thing that pissed me off is that no one came to see me until today.”
“Roland,” now it was my turn again. “What you don’t know about the end of that party is that a couple of drinks got spiked.” Now all eyes were on me, this was the moment of truth. No turning back now, after this Roland might hate me, hate all of us, never be my friend again and who could blame him?
“I don’t know who’s stupid idea that was, but I do know that one of those drinks was handed to me by Steve and I gave it to you. What’s important here is I knew someone put something in the drink, Steve told me. I didn’t know what, but instead of throwing it away, I gave it to you. That’s why I feel guilty and so does everyone else. That’s what caused your accident, I know it, Steve knows it. He could have chucked it away, but didn’t, and that spiked drink caused you to hit a tree and end up here.”
There was silence again until I spoke up once more, because I had to tell him exactly who to blame, ME.
“Aaron, Mark and Josh had nothing to do with any of this and Steve not really either, he just gave the drink to me, but he told me it was spiked with something.”
Josh interrupted. “That’s not the whole picture,” he said. “I knew the drink was spiked as well. I was there when Steve and Alesha got a drink each and someone, I don’t know the guy, dropped a pill in each cup.”
“I knew as well,” Mark said. “I was there, saw it happen and watched the drink handed off to Mikey.”
“So you see,” I carried on. “Everyone, except Aaron, knew it at the time, but it was me who gave the drink to you. So I am 100% responsible for putting you in that bed, probably ruining your life.”
I felt tears welling up in the corner of my eyes, I wasn’t sure I could stay. The thought came into my head that I should just walk out the door and disappear. There was no way to make any of this right.
“That’s why everyone feels guilty, holding in our terrible secret.” My voice cracked, my bottom lip started to tremble involuntarily. I couldn’t speak anymore.
For the third time that afternoon a dreadful silence invaded the room. How long it lasted, I don’t know, an eternity for me. I was waiting for Roland.
“Wow… that’s heavy Mikey.” Finally Roland was speaking. “Now I understand why nobody wanted to come and see me. You all had this huge guilt trip because you all felt responsible and you all kept the fucking thing secret.”
I wanted to apologise, to say sorry a hundred times over, but it wouldn’t do any good, he was angry and had every right to be.
” You are all a bunch of assholes and Mikey you’re the worst.”
I felt my cheeks getting hot, just like earlier this morning, but this time for a wholly different reason, this time for something dreadful I had done to a friend.
“I am not pissed with you for anything that happened at that party.” No, no way, I thought nobody can forgive something that bad.
“I’m pissed you kept it secret, because you’ve only hurt yourselves.” What was he saying?
“Josh knew about the spiked drinks, Mark saw it too. Steve knew and passed the drink to Mikey. Mikey…” Roland looked straight at me. “Mikey, you knew and passed the drink to me. But… what none of you knew is that I knew the bloody drink was spiked because Sammy told me what happened before the drink got to me and she also told me only to drink something I poured myself.”
Silence, shock, amazement, I don’t know how to describe the feeling, the atmosphere. Everyone had been so wrapped up in themselves, especially me, we couldn’t see beyond. “What are you saying?” I asked Roland. I had to get this absolutely clear, it was something I had been carrying around for the best part of two months.
“What I’m saying, Mikey, is I never drank the cup you gave me, I emptied it down the kitchen sink.”
I can’t tell you much about the rest of the afternoon with Roland, it went by in a blur. Certainly the atmosphere changed, everything was much lighter, but I only remember looking out the car window on the way home and admiring the magnificent red sunset.
next – there’s Zack and there’s Colin!