Lewis Funeral Home, Navarre – Florida.
Monday November 25th 2013.
From her seat in the front row, Riley's sister stands and then walks up to the podium to speak the eulogy on her family's behalf. Though only 20 years of age, the maturity she has displayed during the process of the police investigation, autopsy, funeral and cremation arrangements has been nothing short of admirable. While her parents, James and Victoria, have fluctuated between despair, denial, confusion, anger, and numbness – Bree has picked up the pieces to give her brother a fitting final tribute. Setting her prompt cards on the podium, she adjusts the height of the microphone before speaking.
"'From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface, and he is free.' My big brother, Riley Adam Biers, was a great admirer of Jacques Cousteau, so I felt it was apropos to begin with one of his famous quotes.
"For those of us who knew Riley personally, he was a generous, kind, funny, talented, and free-spirited man who loved his life and the people in it. He loved his friends and family and was fiercely proud and protective of them. Fun-loving and outgoing, he lived each day to the fullest, and in turn, he made our lives that much richer.
"Those of you who had the opportunity to work with him professionally admired his analytical mind and ability to organise and inspire others. To have Riley on your team meant that you had your own cheering section or motivational coach. In fact, I recall that my mother once said that Ry could probably motivate a cat to bark like a dog, although when I was a teenager at high school, I would have called his style of motivation – incessant nagging."
At this remark, small chuckles can be heard from around the room. I remember how Riley had insisted that yoga and meditation would improve my life. He was always dragging me down to the floor and attempting to contort my body into weird – and initially painful – positions. Once I gave in, relaxed, and actually listened to what he was teaching me, I discovered he was right.
Bree continues. "He enjoyed accounting and succeeded in every career goal he set for himself, yet no one could ever accuse him of being just another boring accountant. Wherever he worked, he always brought along his sense of fun. Those of you who knew Ry through the sport of free-diving knew how much he enjoyed being in the water. In the water, he felt happy, free, and alive, and although it may sound cliché, it brings me peace to know he died doing something he loved."
Music begins to play, and The Beach Boys song 'Forever' can be heard as the montage I helped to edit appears on the large flat-screen. Snapshots from Riley's life fade in and out – his first baby pictures, first birthday, and the first day of school. As he ages, there are photos and video clips from various graduation ceremonies, proms, sporting and academic awards, music recitals, and family gatherings.
The majority of the images from the last two years of Riley's life show his achievements in free-diving. They start from the first competition, when he came in third, and end with last month's Deja Blue meet where he obtained the U.S. record in the Free Immersion discipline. There are also a few photos and videos of Riley and me; the two of us dancing at the 2011 Vertical Blue after-party, and the selfies we took on Blue Mountain Beach last April when we travelled to Florida. That was the first time I met his family, and we had celebrated his 30th birthday with a bonfire party on the beach. There's footage from the surprise 27th birthday party he arranged for me, which resulted in both of us getting covered in cake when we started a food fight. Then there are the candid shots – photos of him doing yoga, strumming his old acoustic guitar, relaxing on the couch playing X-box, and just driving in the car.
I'm trying to be strong, but the final lyrics of the song – they make it impossible. I thought I was all cried out, but apparently I was wrong. My lower lip begins to quiver, and I feel the dam burst. Tears are streaming down my cheeks, no doubt washing away what little make-up I have on my face. I lean forward to reach for a tissue, but before my hand comes in contact with my purse, Victoria passes me a clean handkerchief. I accept it from her gratefully, and then wipe the lavender-scented cotton across my cheeks. She wraps a comforting arm around my shoulder, and together, we weep uncontrollably.
Volturi Image Professionals Media Studios – Queen Anne – Seattle.
Monday December 2nd 2013.
"I trust you all had a good Thanksgiving break," Aro says offhandedly to the assembled members of staff as he takes his seat at the head of the conference table.
There are some murmurs of agreement from Marcus, Demetri, Caius, and Heidi – Aro's little band of sycophants – but the rest of us remain silent, preferring to focus on the sheet of paper before us that summarises the agenda for today's lunch meeting.
Aro loves nothing more than to listen to the sound of his own voice, and he never refers to anyone (apart from his select group of minions) by their first name. As the proceedings drag on and on, I swirl my fork with disinterest around a bowl containing an unappetising pre-packaged chicken salad. The same-old issues that seem to crop up at every monthly meeting are rehashed: next year's winter games in Sochi, equipment purchases and repairs, travel expenditure blow-outs, over-runs in production, and excessive sick and personal leave. It seems that Aro's veiled barbs regarding that particular complaint are aimed in my direction since I apparently had the audacity to take two weeks off after Riley's death.
"Now for new business," Aro announces, an hour into the meeting. "I would like to address a recent issue that is deeply disturbing to me." Confused and curious, I look up from my poor excuse for food and note that he's glaring at Lauren. "Ms. Mallory; you were the DoP on the recent Vertical Blue shoot, were you not?" Mid-chew, Lauren appears to blanch, but nods slowly. "The memory cards you forwarded for editing; it wasn't the complete set, was it?"
"What do you mean?" she asks warily after swallowing her mouthful of food.
"Don't pretend to play dumb, Ms. Mallory. It's unbecoming of you. I'm talking about the missing footage showing the final dive; the dive that caused the cancellation of the competition."
A small gasp escapes my throat as I realise Aro is talking about Riley's dive and subsequent death. I can't believe he'd be so callous as to use the footage in any capacity.
"Those memory cards were given to the Bahamian authorities as part of their investigation," Lauren announces. "I don't have them anymore."
"Bullshit!" Aro yells, spittle flying out of his mouth. "Gustavo told me that copies were made and given to the police, but the originals remained in your possession."
I look at Gustavo who appears contrite. I doubt he purposely intended for Lauren to get into trouble; he's not one of Aro's butt-kissing cronies. Aro probably asked him what happened to the memory cards, and Gustavo, not thinking twice about it, told him what he knew.
"Why do you want them?" Lauren asks calmly in the face of Aro's anger.
"Not that it's any of your business, Ms. Mallory, but last time I checked, VIP is my company – not yours! I want the memory cards because they are mine to do whatever I wish. If you check your contract, you'll recall that all images captured on VIP's equipment during VIP shoots belongs to VIP. What belongs to me has been stolen, and I want it back!"
I feel anger boiling up inside my chest. Arse Vulture is being an utter prick. No one needs to see Riley dying. Death is not entertainment. I can only imagine the devastation Riley's friends and family will endure if that footage is put out there in the public domain.
"Leave her alone!" I snap, coming to Lauren's defence. If she did purposely withhold the memory cards, I'll be the first in line to commend her for having the foresight and the balls to do it, considering the way Aro is going on and on about them.
"Miss Swan. How nice of you to join the meeting. I'd hazard a guess that this is partly your fault," he says in a somewhat lilting and condescending tone. Aro, although appearing calm, smiles menacingly and then tents his fingers. More than ever he resembles the stinking predator we non-butt-kissers jokingly describe him to be behind his back.
I blink once in disbelief before responding. I have an idea where his accusation is leading, and he'd better not go there. "I beg your pardon?" I say sternly.
"Don't be stupid, Miss Swan. I'm sure Ms. Mallory stole the footage on your behalf due to your relationship with Riley Biers."
"I wasn't asking for clarification; I was actually giving you an opportunity to apologise for accusing me of something I had no part of." I'm convinced that the courage I'm displaying as I justify myself to my boss is solely due to the righteous indignation that is flowing through my veins.
"Right," he says with a snort. "Like you and Riley Biers weren't fucking…"
My jaw drops in astonishment. I can't believe he just said that – in front of everyone. I manage to suppress the angry tears that are threatening to escape by channelling the emotional energy into my words.
In a clear and steady voice that belies my inner breakdown, I respond with venom. "Not that it's any business of yours, Mister Volturi, but last time I checked, whom I do and don't fuck on my own time is of no consequence to VIP, and it is of no consequence in this matter!"
Leaning back in his high-backed leather chair, Aro smirks in satisfaction and casually crosses one leg over the other. "Ms. Mallory, you have one hour to deliver the missing memory cards with the footage intact, or you'll be fired for breach of contract."
"What?!" I exclaim, along with several other people around the table.
"Don't hold your breath waiting, Mister Volturi," Lauren announces while skilfully twirling her pen around her thumb. Then she pauses. "Actually, on second thoughts, please do," she implores, placing the pen down with a smug smile, "because you'll never get that footage."
Aro's calm composure dissolves. Clenching his jaw, his face reddens, and a bulging vein appears in the middle of his forehead. "If that is the case, you have fifteen minutes to clean out your desk." Pushing a button on the intercom system, he says, "Felix. Get in here!"
"You prick," I mutter. To my left, I feel Joham kick my ankle under the table, and I turn to look at him. He's begging me with his eyes to shut up.
"What was that, Miss Swan?" Aro asks, cocking his head to the side.
"You heard me; I called you a prick, you heartless bastard! There's no reason for anyone, apart from the appropriate authorities, to watch that morbid piece of footage, so I don't see why you feel justified in firing Lauren over it. Be a human for once and have some bloody consideration. Riley had a lot of friends and family. How do you think they'd feel if Riley's death was put out there for public viewing? It's just another example of this company producing something controversial for the sake of publicity."
"FELIX!" Aro roars into the intercom again.
The door opens, and Aro's brother-in-law ducks his head slightly to get through the doorway. At six-feet and nine-inches tall, Felix the security guard, dwarfs everyone in the room.
"You called?" Felix asks.
"Please escort both Ms. Mallory and Miss Swan back to their offices. Watch them closely as they clean out their desks and make sure they don't steal anything that doesn't belong to them; not even a pen, or piece of paper with the company logo."
"What the Hell?" I protest.
"What's the problem, Miss Swan? You don't seem to appreciate the artistic direction of this company, so I assumed you'd like to leave, but if that's not the case, and I was mistaken, I'm cancelling your contract anyway."
I stand and pick up my barely-eaten chicken salad. Briefly, I consider the logistics; calculating whether I can move fast enough to tip the container over Aro's head, but a hand gently grips onto the underside of my upper arm. Almost lifting me off the ground, Felix starts to guide me towards the door, abruptly halting my fantasies of seeing wilted strands of lettuce hanging comically from Aro's beaked nose.
"Let go of me, Lurch!" I snarl, struggling out of Felix's grasp. "I'm perfectly capable of walking on my own two feet." Straightening my shirt, I pivot on my heel and head for the door with Felix and Lauren in tow.
"A word from the wise, Miss Swan…" Aro says just as I pass through the doorway. I turn, confronting him as he continues. "If you ever hope to make it in this line of work, my recommendation is that you don't get personally involved with your subjects. Sentimentality and emotions just get in the way, and they are best left to the likes of Pixar and Disney."
Not bothering to dignify his unsolicited advice with a retort about how massively successful both of those companies are, I turn and walk away.
Behind me, Aro continues to address the meeting. "Now, before we go on... if anyone else is feeling dissatisfied with the way we do things around here, feel free to leave; the door is that way."
Lauren and I are standing outside the studio on the footpath, and I watch as she blows Felix a kiss. In response, he waves at us through the glass doors with a look of regret on his face. On Aro's orders, we weren't even permitted to remain inside the building long enough to wait out the rain. Struggling to carry the heavy cardboard box containing my personal belongings, I adjust my grip and balance it against my hip, allowing me to hold my umbrella over both of our heads.
Lauren, who is carrying her own box of belongings against her body, tips her wrist to look at her watch. "Tyler said he can't get off work until two to pick me up. You wanna keep me company and then get a ride home with us instead of getting a cab?"
I shrug. "All right. Where shall we wait in the meantime?"
"La Palma's is open," she suggests, indicating to our left with a sideways nod at the Mexican restaurant across the street. As we start walking towards the restaurant, Lauren asks, "Can I buy you a drink and some Super Nachos? That catered lunch back at VIP was disgusting."
"Sure. It's the least you can do since you just lost me my job," I joke offhandedly.
She stops at the kerb and turns to look at me in incredulity. "Please, say to me that you would have done the same thing if you had been the DoP that day. You can't honestly tell me that you'd let Aro have the final footage of Riley?"
Realising she took my joke the wrong way; I'm quick to reassure her. "Hey, I'm just kidding. I'm not upset about losing my job. Of course I would've done the same as you. You did the right thing. Aro's a sick fucker. The way things are heading at VIP, the next thing you know, they'll start making snuff films."
"You had me worried for a sec." She sighs in relief, and we begin to cross the road.
"Do you really have the memory cards?" I ask as we walk up the steps towards the restaurant door, but she doesn't answer. Lauren pulls on the door, and as we enter, the rush of warm air that I feel on my face is welcomed.
A waitress greets us and leads us to a table in the corner by the window where we can watch out for Lauren's husband. After giving our orders, Lauren begins to rummage around in her bag. She pulls out her Samsung tablet and presses some buttons.
"I wanted to show you this earlier," she says, passing me the device. A video is cued up to play, and Riley's face is frozen on the screen. His hair is short and his face clean-shaven.
"Lauren?" Feeling apprehensive, I have to ask, "Is this…"
"No. That's gone; deleted forever. I didn't even watch that part when I made copies for the police."
Trusting that she's telling the truth, I tap the screen.
It's a short, three-minute video that Lauren had taken of Riley before he walked out to meet me on the sand – the morning of that fateful day when he had died from what the coroner had ruled was as a result of immersion pulmonary oedema. While watching the footage, I learn that he loved me, and he was planning on asking me to be his girlfriend. I'm devastated all over again because I wish I had the opportunity to go back in time and tell him that I loved him too.
My condo – Magnolia - Seattle.
Monday December16th 2013.
I pull into the garage of my condo after attending yet another pointless interview. Aro seems to have friends all over the place, and I've come to learn that his references have been less than glowing. I park the car and walk back down the driveway to bring the empty garbage and recycling bins in from the roadside, and then I collect the mail that has been shoved haphazardly into my letter box.
Once inside, I sort the catalogues from the letters, placing the envelopes addressed to Riley on the small pile next to the fishbowl. His family will pick them up on Saturday when they come to take away his belongings. I take a moment to feed Panda and Fanta, the goldfish that Riley and I purchased on a whim shortly after he moved in, and then take the remaining letters into the kitchen with me.
As I wait for the kettle to boil, I open the mail. The first letter is from the bank, telling me when my credit card payment is due. The second letter is a bill from the electricity company. The address on the next envelope is hand-written, and there's no postage stamp. On opening the envelope, I discover it's a letter from the landlord. It says that as of the first of next month, the yearly lease on the condo is up for renewal, and should I continue to stay on, the rent will increase. I sigh in frustration. Without a job, I can barely afford my bills and rent now, never mind the next month when the price goes up.
Turning over the last envelope, I see that it's from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. In confusion, I start to open it, but before I can read the letter, the kettle starts to whistle. I make myself a cup of tea and then head to the couch with the letter in my hand.
I finish reading the letter, sit with my head in my hands, and cry. Arse Vulture, that rat bastard, must have contacted Immigration and informed them that I'm no longer employed at VIP. My working visa is dependent on an employer verifying me. Without employment in my particular field, I'll have to leave the country.
Saturday December 21st 2013.
The sound of the doorbell jars me from my nap on the couch. I look at the clock, and it tells me it's 1.00pm. Shuffling past the front window on my way towards the staircase, I can see a cab reversing out of the driveway. On opening the front door, Victoria and Bree are standing there huddled together under my tiny porch to stay out of the rain.
"I never quite understood why Ry wanted to move here from Florida," Victoria says with a small grimace. "The weather is always awful compared to home."
"I think we both know the real reason why he moved, and she's standing right here," Bree says, stepping past her mother in order to give me a hug. "Hey, how are you, Bella?"
"So-so," I reply, squeezing Bree tightly. "And you?"
"Yeah, so-so. Good days and bad days."
"Where's James?" I ask, looking over Bree's shoulder and beyond Victoria.
"We dropped him off on 15th Avenue. He's hiring a cargo van from U-haul," Bree explains.
Victoria takes Bree's place as soon as she releases me. "Hi, Victoria, it's good to see you." Pulling out of the hug after a minute, I usher them further into the entrance and close the front door. "Come on upstairs. Sorry about the chaos. I've got boxes of stuff all over the place."
I lead them up the staircase towards the living room, and then head to the kitchen to put the kettle on. They'd probably appreciate a cup of coffee to warm up before they begin boxing Riley's possessions – a task I haven't been able to attend to. Every time I opened his wardrobe, to begin packing his life away into cardboard containers, his scent washed over me, followed by the memories, and then I had to leave the room and cry.
"So how was your flight?" I ask conversationally from the kitchen.
"Bellaaaaaaa," I hear Bree call out from Riley's room.
Reluctantly, I stand from the couch and head towards her voice. "Yeah?"
"Look at these," Victoria says, pointing to a small pile of colourfully wrapped parcels on the corner of the bed as soon as I appear in the doorway of what used to be Riley's room. His wardrobe is bare, and the artwork and photos have been removed from the walls leaving behind a series of barren hooks. The bedding has been stripped, and several taped up boxes line the walls. I find it easier to enter the room now that it's unrecognisable. Without Riley's things, it's devoid of his lingering presence.
"We found them under the bed," Bree explains from her kneeling position on the floor.
"Are they Christmas presents?" I ask.
Bree smiles. "Yeah. Typical Riley; he was always so organised."
"There are presents here for all of us, and we've decided we should open them now," James says, patting a space between him and Victoria on the bed, "you know, since we won't get to see you Christmas Day..."
Before Riley's death, we had plans to travel to Florida for Christmas, but now I'm going to spend Christmas with my dad and Gran. While speaking with Dad last Monday evening, we decided the best option for me is to return to England. Without a job, I can't afford rent or legally stay in the country, plus Gran is starting chemo after Christmas. Dad also needs my support because Mum's being a horrid bitch during the divorce settlement. Although my last minute ticket is costing Dad an arm and a leg, I'm flying out on Monday and should arrive in London on Christmas Eve. With Lauren's help, most of my belongings will be freighted back to the UK sometime in the New Year.
I take a seat on the bed between Riley's parents. Playing Santa, James picks up each gift and reads out the names. Starting off with my name, he passes me a small, rectangular shaped box that is held together with a red ribbon.
After pulling off the ribbon, I open the lid of the box. Inside, there is a silver and blue pendant, and when I pick it up, I recognise the symbols depicting a fictional language. It's Gallifreyan – a series of elegant circles and lines within a circle that are reminiscent of the mechanical movement inside of a pocket watch. At a first glance, I don't know what it means, but when I turn the pendant over, I chuckle.
"Don't forget to feed the fish," I whisper, the words barely able to pass through the emotional stricture I feel building up inside my throat.
"I don't get it," Victoria says, taking the pendant from me to have a closer look. After a moment, she passes the pendant to James, who then passes it to Bree.
"I think it's something from Doctor Who. You know, that British TV series they were both addicted to," James explains.
"Bella? What's wrong? Don't you like it?" Bree asks, looking at me with concern.
I shake my head and hold up my hand to beg for a moment so I can gather my emotions. Riley shared my love for Doctor Who after I'd convinced him to watch my DVDs. Thanks to a downloadable computer program, he used to make me laugh by leaving printed messages on the refrigerator such as, 'Sorry, we're out of milk' and ''Don't forget to feed the fish,' in Gallifreyan with the translations written on the back. I loved those silly messages. God how I wish he was here so I could say 'thank you'. It's the best gift anyone has ever given to me.
"I love it; in fact, I'll never take it off," I finally say, now that I'm able to find the strength in my voice. "It's just that things like this make me miss him all the more."
Bree nods in understanding as she hands the pendant back to me, and then Victoria gives me a hug.
Westbury Railway Station – Westbury – Wiltshire.
Tuesday December 24th 2013.
Stepping from the train, I immediately see the smiling face of my dad. He takes long strides towards me, and I lower my bags to the platform so I can reciprocate his bear hug.
"It's so good to have you home," he says with a sigh, squeezing me so tightly that the breath is forced from my lungs.
"Hi, Dad," I reply and then kiss his whiskery cheek. Normally, he only has a moustache, but with time off to help take care of Gran, it seems he doesn't shave as often. These days, there appears to be a lot more salt than pepper in his beard.
"How was your trip?" he asks, pulling out of our hug. He reaches down to pick up both of my suitcases, and bats my hand away when I attempt to grab the handle of the smaller case.
"Sorry I couldn't get you from the airport. Even with a live-in carer around, I don't like to be away from your grandma for too long."
"It's okay. How is she?"
"She's in denial. She thinks the chemo and radiation therapy are going to cure her."
"Won't it?" I ask in alarm.
Dad sighs. "No. It's stage four lung cancer. The treatment is for palliative purposes – to help ease her breathlessness. Some days she really struggles."
"I didn't know it was that bad. If I'd known…"
"She didn't want to worry you. She's so proud of you, working in films and traveling all over the place."
"Yeah, well look at me now – back at home with my tail tucked between my legs."
"I'm sure you'll find something in no time," he says, walking towards his silver sedan parked on the opposite side of the street from the station.
"I can't believe you drove here. It's a less than ten-minute walk to Gran's."
"It was raining earlier," he says defensively as he opens the boot of the car and puts my cases inside.
Shaking my head, I open the passenger-side door and get in.
Gran's House - Westbury.
"Bella, this is Sue. She helps me look after your grandma. Sue this is my daughter," Dad says, introducing me to the carer.
"It's nice to meet you, Bella. Marie shows me your photos quite often." Sue is in her late forties and has an aura of calmness about her. She's also very attractive for a woman of her age, and though I can't see a wedding ring, I wonder if she's married. I also wonder if Mum knows. "Let me put the kettle on. Are you hungry?" she asks.
I shake my head. "I'm okay. I think I'd like to see Gran and then take a nap. I didn't get much sleep on the plane."
"She's asleep at the moment," Sue says. "Why don't you take a nap, and when she wakes up for dinner, one of us will come and get you?"
"Okay," I reply and then stifle a yawn with my hand.
Dad directs me to the back of the house to what was once a conservatory. It was remodelled during the 80's to make a fourth bedroom. As we pass through the kitchen, I notice the new pale, wooden laminate flooring, and the modern cabinetry and Velstone counter tops. They appear out of place compared to the rest of the house which is a mishmash of eras past. Most of the house is decorated in pink and peach tones with patterned carpets, and furniture and knickknacks harking back to the 60s and 70s.
One by one, Dad lifts my suitcases and places them on top of the bed. "Is there anything you need?"
"A glass of water would be good," I suggest, and he leaves the room to fetch it.
I pull off my jacket and boots and open my suitcase to find a pair of yoga pants to change into. Dad places a glass of water on the bedside table with a promise to wake me for dinner, and then he closes the door behind him when he leaves. As I search through the largest of my two suitcases, my hand brushes against my David Tennant bobble-head figurine. I take him out, check him for any signs of damage, and place him on the bedside table before unpacking the rest of my clothes.
Once the suitcases have been stowed away in the wardrobe, I close the curtains and slip beneath the cream-coloured waffle blanket. I reach my hand forward and press the little button to illuminate David's light-up sonic screwdriver, and then rest my head on the pillow. Before the toy's light even manages to turn itself off, after twenty seconds, I fall asleep.
51° 2'40.47"N 1°47'27.52"W
Salisbury District Hospital – Salisbury – Wiltshire.
Thursday February 13th 2014.
"Okay, Marie. I've got your blood results back, and the neutrophils – your white blood cells – have come up. Your kidney and liver function look good too," Doctor Snow, the Clinical Oncologist says. "Have you had any issues with numbness, tingling, or hearing problems since the previous cycle?" Gran shakes her head and taps on her chest. "Just the breathlessness…" he says interpreting her action, and Gran nods.
Some days – like the last two days – Gran finds it tiring to speak.
"Well, if you feel up to it, we can start the next cycle of Carbo/Taxol today if you want to continue the treatment."
Gran nods again and taps on the screen of my iPad. Using the text-to-speech app, she types in the words and hits the play icon. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second's voice says loud and clear, "Yes! I'm ready. Thank you, Doctor. You and your staff are so good to me."
Doctor Snow snickers and pats Gran gently on the back of the hand. "Oh, it's our pleasure, Your Highness. I'll have the pharmacist prepare your order. In the meantime, I'll send the nurse over to give you your pre-chemo medications." With a grin, he walks to the desk in the middle of the room and speaks with a young man in a nurse's uniform before handing over Gran's file.
A few minutes later, the man and another nurse approach with a portable trolley with lots of drawers. After checking off the various medications with the chart, and making sure they have the correct patient, they introduce themselves.
"Hello, Missus Higginbotham. My name is Liam, and I'll be looking after you," the male nurse says with an Irish lilt. "Katie normally takes care of you during your cycles, but she's away today."
Gran taps a message on the iPad and hits play. "Nice to meet you, Liam. Please call me Marie, and this sweet girl next to me is my grand-daughter, Bella."
"All right then, Marie it is." Liam grins. "And hello to you, Bella." Turning his head to speak with his colleague, he says, "Oh my. I heard a rumour from Doctor Snow that we might be in the presence of royalty. Looks like we're the lucky ones today."
The other nurse chuckles. "Hello, Marie; I'm Maggie. Not sure if you remember, but we met back in January during your first cycle. Today, I'll be helping Liam to care for you, too." From her voice, she sounds like a local girl.
Gran smiles, taps out another message, and presses play. "I remember you. You have such lovely red hair."
This is the first time I've accompanied Gran to the oncology day centre. The previous two cycles, Dad was with her, but now he's back at work, so I've stepped in to help. The hours that we'll spend here today will allow Sue to have a bit of a break. She said she was going to treat herself to a haircut and colour.
"Okay, let's have a look at your PICC line," Maggie says.
Gran rolls up her sleeve, and Maggie examines the intravenous device before inserting a syringe of saline to check it's still in working order.
"Just like the previous cycles, we're going to give you some pre-medications that will help to ease some of the side-effects of the chemotherapy," Liam explains while placing a blood pressure cuff on the opposite arm from the PICC line.
For the moment, Gran is left speechless as she is unable to use the iPad. From the look in her eye, I can tell she's just itching to say something – anything – to make up for the time lost when she's been without a voice. I came up with the idea of using the iPad yesterday, much to Gran's delight. Yesterday afternoon, we were watching the Winter Olympics on BBC Two, and she had me, Dad, and Sue in stitches as she commentated the conclusion of the pairs event in figure-skating – using Deepa – the female Indian-English voice. Sue was laughing so hard, she was crying.
Once the medication is up and running through the pump, Liam and Maggie leave with a promise to return soon.
Gran turns on the iPad and taps out a message. "Liam looks like a nice young man. You should ask him out," Her Majesty, QE2, announces at the top of her fake sounding voice.
Mortified, I grab the iPad and turn down the volume a bit. "Geez, Gran!" I hiss under my breath. "Just tell the whole room, why don't you?" I glance around the day centre, hoping like hell that Liam didn't hear Gran pimping him out.
Snatching the iPad back from me, she types away furiously. Before she can hit play, I take the device out of her hand and read the message. I'm just saying he looks like boyfriend material. He's handsome. Got a lovely accent. Steady, respectable job and no wedding ring.
I shake my head at her, and she gives me the 'why not?' look.
"I don't think I'm his type. I'm pretty sure he bats for the other team," I say quietly, passing the iPad back to her.
Gran types a new message. Before I can stop her, the words ring out. "What does playing cricket have to do with asking Liam on a date?" Sneaky old biddy. She must have turned up the bloody volume again.
"Could you play that any louder? I don't think they heard it in Switzerland! Are you sure the chemo hasn't affected your hearing?"
In response, Gran just shrugs before typing again. She passes me the iPad, thankfully without pressing play. You didn't answer my question!
"He's gay," I reply in a whisper.
She shows me another message. Why do you think that? He might not be. Not all male nurses are gay, you know. That's a stereotype.
Before I get a chance to tell Gran about the 'Love Is Love' rainbow-coloured tattoo that I noticed on his inner arm, the subject of our conversation approaches and begins to check on the IV lines.
"So how's your love life? Got any plans for Valentine's Day?" booms the voice of Her Majesty.
"Gran!" I hiss. "That's none of your business."
Unperturbed, Liam says in a hushed voice, "Pardon my attitude, Your Maj, but as far as I'm concerned, Valentine's Day this year can feck off."
I snicker at his answer.
Gran, ever the intermeddler, asks,"Why?"
"I just got out of a bad relationship."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Turns out that Eric, this eejit I dated for two months, was only with me because he wanted to get a job with my cousin's company. When he didn't get the job, he dumped me like yesterday's paper."
I turn, facing Gran and mouth, "I told you so," in triumph. In response, Gran glares at me.
Liam continues. "It's not like it was my fault that Em told him to bog off for bein' a waster. Eric was the one who ballsed-up the project and broke the camera."
At the word 'camera' my interest is piqued. "What sort of business does your cousin run?"
"He's the Managing Director of EMC Squared Films."
"EMC Squared? I can't say that I've heard of them. What sort of films do they produce?"
"All kinds of things, but mainly natural history documentaries. They're an independent production company, and they've worked on projects for BBC1 and 2, Channel 4 and 5, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel."
"What does EMC stand for?"
"Emmett and Eleazar McCarty. Em runs the company, but its offices are housed within EMC Tower, which is his father's building, so he called it EMC Squared."
"Emmett McCarty!" I exclaim excitedly. "Are you serious? I know him! I went to film school with Emmett."
"Well isn't it a small world," Liam says melodically.
"Wow. Emmett has done quite well for himself for someone of his age."
"Are you in the film industry, too then?"
This is the part that always depresses me; where I have to admit to being unemployed. I sigh before giving the condensed version of my sorry saga. "I was up until a few weeks ago. I worked in America for a couple of years, but I returned to England when my contract finished." Technically, it's not a lie. Arse Vulture ended my contract, and I came home.
Liam nods. "I'll have to ask Emmett if he remembers you the next time I speak with him."
"Oh, I wouldn't bother. He's probably forgotten all about me…"
Turning off my iPad, I yawn and stretch my arms in an attempt to restore some circulation. There's a feeling of muscle tightness across my upper back and neck from sitting and reading for too long. With both chemo medications infused, we're just waiting out the post-treatment observation period to make sure there are no serious side-effects before we can go home. Gran seems to be relaxed as she lies on the recliner chair while watching the luge team relay competition on the telly.
"My arse is numb. I'm going to stretch my legs for a bit and get some fresh air," I say to Gran. "Do you need anything before I go?"
Gran shakes her head and waves me off.
"I won't be too long." I leave my iPad with Gran in case she needs to communicate with the nursing staff while I'm gone. Grabbing my coat, I put it on and walk to the nurses' desk to speak with Maggie to let her know that I'll be gone for about fifteen minutes.
As soon as I step outside, I see Liam standing on the footpath, near the road. On a break, he appears to be smoking and talking on the phone. I lean against the cold, red brick façade of the building's entrance and breathe in deeply – fully appreciating the smell of the outdoors. The constant sickly scent of floor polish, disinfectant, and alcohol-based hand-gel, was beginning to overwhelm me.
Liam ends his call and places his phone and cigarette pack in the inner pockets of his coat, and then he walks towards me.
"Those things will kill you slowly, just ask my gran," I say.
Liam smirks. "I'm trying to be a good boy, and I'm in the process of quitting. What you saw was an E-cigarette, and I'm down to twice a day." He takes a seat on the step of the entryway and beckons me to sit with him. "Hey, guess who I was just on the phone with?"
"Emmett. He called, and I mentioned you were here with your gran. Apparently, he remembers you very well."
"Yeah. He asked what you were up to, and I told him how you'd been working in America up until recently. He said he'd like to catch up with you and told me to pass along his number." Liam takes his phone out of his pocket.
"I'd love that. It'd be nice to see him again after so many years. It'll be fun to swap stories." I reach into my own coat pockets for my phone, but discover it's not with me. "I must have left my phone inside. Can you text Emmett my number, and then he can call me later – if he wants..."
I recite my number to Liam, who texts it along with a short explanation. Within twenty seconds, Liam's phone chimes, and he reads the message out loud. "Ask B if she'll meet me for lunch in Chelsea on Saturday. I'll make it worth the trip. My shout." Liam looks at me with a raised eyebrow for a response.
"Tell him, 'yes.'" I'm pleasantly surprised that Emmett is offering to pay for a meal. I was just expecting a quick catch up in a local café over hot chocolate, the way we used to during film school when a group of us went out together. "Ask him where and what time?"
Liam sends another text, but Emmett's response doesn't come until Liam and I re-enter the hospital a few minutes later.
386 Kings Road, Chelsea. 12pm Saturday. Meet me inside. Looking forward to seeing you again B.
Thank you to all who took the time to read and review the last chapter.
A special thank you to my sister who patiently answered all my questions about what goes on in an oncology day centre. I hope I got it right. xoxo
Thank you also to Tarbecca who mentioned this story on 'A Different Forest' and to 'FicCentral' for announcing the updates on Twitter.
The Gallifreyan translator is available for free from the shermansplanet website.