“Luv, get up. We’re here.”
I force my eyelids open. I lift my head and realize I fell asleep on John’s shoulder. I wipe my eyes to wake up.
John has a tranquil smile on his face as the plane lands. We retrieve our luggage and have a taxi take us to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Wielding a suitcase, my purse, and a small carry-on, I follow John, carrying a suitcase of his own, through the doors.
The place is extremely busy. We walk to the receptionist’s desk and ask for Pam’s room. She looks at our suitcases.
“Moving in, are you?” she laughs. She stops as she catches John’s face.
“Pamela Barrett, please,” John says.
“Pamela Barrett?” The secretary chews on the tip of her pen. “Let me look.” She sifts through papers strewn all over her desk. “Ah, here. Room 122. Visiting hours are over in a few minutes.” She sighs. “Possibly we could sneak you in, though,” she says glancing at John. “All right then, up the elevator and to the right. You’ll find it right at the end of the hall.” She pauses. “You’re one of Peter’s friends, aren’t you? I’m sure he’ll get you in.”
We take the elevator and find the door. It’s closed. We receive a few stray looks from passing nurses and doctors as John knocks.
The door opens to reveal a middle-aged woman decked with blue eye shadow to her eyebrows and pearls from her ears to her rather well displayed cleavage.
“Julia!” she trills, collecting me in a tight hug. “Dear, I haven’t seen you for years! I’m so glad you could come.” She notices John. “And who is this? You brought your boyfriend along?” She looks him over. “He is cute,” she mumbles rather audibly through the side of her mouth.
Maybe Pam was right about her mother after all.
“No. He’s a friend of ours. Pam and me.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Barrett’s mouth tightens. “Well then.”
“John, this is Mrs. Barrett. Mrs. Barrett, John.”
He gives her a rather forced smile, the type that would make you think he had just been handed a cookie from a kindly old woman but in the process of biting into it, discovers that she had substituted salt for sugar.
“Can we see Pam?” he asks.
She seems annoyed that we don’t share in the enthusiasm of meeting her. “Yes, quite. Through here, please.” We enter. “Visiting hours just ended but I’m sure Peter can fix that. Right Peter?”
Sure enough, there he was, sitting crouched over in fold out chair staring at a sleeping Pam. Same beautiful hair, same gorgeously deceptive eyes.
“Oh yes, of course.” He says automatically, but as he stands he freezes towards us. He seems taken aback. “Julia.”
“Hello Peter.” Mrs. Barrett raises an eyebrow at me. I ignore it. I walk quickly towards Pam for some sign that she’s alive and well. “How is she?” I ask.
He sighs. “Seems she’ll be fine. Right as rain. God knows if she’ll be able to have children again after this.” He pauses. “I just wish she had told me before.”
“Yes-yes,” Mrs. Barrett says. “I believe now that you are here, my job is done and I’ll be on my way.” She turns to Peter. “Let me know how it goes. If anything is wrong, just call me. Ta!” she walks out.
I look at John. He hasn’t taken his eyes off Pam.
Peter glares at him. “Welcome back, John.” He turns to me. “You really left me for him? This bloody bastard who gets girls preggers and leaves them flat?”
John breathes fire. “I wouldn’t call ‘flat’ having an endless supply of money in the bank.” He seems as if he is trying to justify his actions to himself more than to Peter or myself. “I didn’t know she was pregnant.”
“Sure. Bloody sure,” Peter retorts. “You do it all the time, don’t you? You worthless piece of shit. Take innocent girls, seduce them, and force them to get bloody illegal abortions.”
He’s taking it a bit too far. Pam is far from innocent.
“Peter, he didn’t know. Leave it at that. Please. I just want to know how she is. The past is insignificant at the moment and you’re the last person who should be talking.”
“OH? Miss High and Mighty? Going off screwing rock stars and then dumping me. REAL pitiable.”
“Peter, you were the one who was screwing another girl in the car. I can’t help it that Pam rammed into it and so I was able to find out.”
Peter and John look ready to kill each other.
Peter catches my questioning gaze. “She’s all right. Sleeping, but all right.”
“Fucking sleeping? I’m not.” Pam says dully. Her voice is weak but she still carries her usual venom.
We all stare.
“I was wondering how you’d all act under pressure. Damn fools. All of you,” she continues.
I look at her. “How are you?”
Her laughter trickles but a pain deep within her silences her voice. She takes a deep breath. “I’ll be all right. That’s what he said, isn’t it?”
“Yes, he did. But how are you feeling?” I ask.
“How do you bloody think I feel Julia? Non-existent friend, superficial mother filled with bloody guilt, same as bloody John. I feel like pretty bloody shit.”
How on earth am I supposed to answer her?
“Honestly, Pam. This situation isn’t easy for any of us but the fact is we came because we care. I mean, we haven’t seen each other for months—“
“Oh, and that’s my fault?” she says in a breathy voice.
I say nothing. I feel awkward with everyone standing near us. She looks weak, but knowing Pam, she’ll do anything to act as if she isn’t.
John breaks the silence. “Can I have a moment alone with Pam?”
Pam appears to brace herself from the pain she knows John is carrying with him.
“All right,” I say.
Peter refuses to move.
“Peter? Are you coming?”
He stands and shoots a cutthroat stare towards John. We wait outside the door. We hear mumbling inside but the voices are barely above a whisper. I know if Pam had her strength, the silent whispers would be replaced with dramatic screaming.
Peter and I both face the door.
“Did you love me?” he asks matter-of-factly.
I pause for a moment’s thought. “Not entirely. I told you that then.”
His laugh seems out of place. “Yeah, well I loved you,” he says.
“Did you?” I ask incredulously.
“I only cheated because you acted like such a prudish bitch.”
“We had only had two dates.”
“Yes, but I’m sure you’ve been much more willing with your shit-brained rock star friends.”
He makes me sick. I choose to ignore his words.
“Did you enjoy the tabloid charade? I felt it was jolly good fun. There’s something about handing truth to a thirsty public that makes me feel all tingly inside.”
If John wasn’t still in with Pam I’d walk out now.
“I do hope you’ll take better care of Pam than you did of me.”
His empty eyes sit quietly in their sockets. “I assure you I take better care of her than that ass.” He gestures towards the door with a snare.
“I mean it—“
“Don’t patronize me. I’m a grown man and I can deal with matters myself. Just as Pam is a grown woman who’s completely competent. It’s only fools like him who work to destroy things.”
Does he honestly believe Pam has been going out with him for him? Does he not understand he was being used as a potential cover-up? He may very well care for her but her feelings are undoubtedly questionable.
“If it wasn’t for bastards like him, we’d still be together. You know that?”
Then all I can say is, ‘Thank God for bastards like him!’
I say nothing.
He moves in closer, a weird sense of twisted excitement filling his eyes.
The door opens. John steps out. He pupils dart from my face to Peter’s. “Juli, I’m ready to leave now…”
“I’ll bet,” Peter mutters.
John ignores him. “…And so if you want to speak to Pam, you might as well do it now.”
I nod but worry about leaving the two of them together. “Yeah, all right.”
I enter and close the door.
Pam is propped up on two white, fluffy pillows. I see her close up for the first time, as I sit on the chair already positioned to face her. She looks drained.
I feel awful. She must have gone through some seriously painful moments. If it was only a few months prior, I could help her, try to comfort her.
A wall stands between us now. I can no longer can trust her and she sends me no warmth from her cool emerald eyes.
Five minutes go by and neither of us shares a word. A clock ticks on the wall facing me, painfully calculating the miles of separation between Pam and me. Each tick, another brick, another mile.
I force words from my lips. “Pam, I’m sorry everything’s happened the way it did.” My eyes are pulled from my lap to her face. “We were such good friends. It’s hard to be faced with this now.”
She takes a deep breath. “Yes, I suppose.” She refuses to look me in the eye. She just continues to stare dully before her.
“I came for you. I came to make sure you were all right. The thought of you being hurt scared me. Scared me, Pam. I don’t like to see you in pain.”
“Which is exactly why you live thousands of miles away in America. You don’t have to see me. You don’t have to hear about me. I don’t exist in America. But when a word of me is forced into your unwilling ears, it pangs you. You listen because you have to. You came here out of duty,” she pauses, finally grabbing my eyes. “Not care.”
Her words wound me. “That’s not true. You seemed in trouble and I wanted to make sure you were all right. You were put through a situation that was horrible. It wasn’t right. You deserved a safe, painless operation but you didn’t get it. I’m sorry for that.”
She holds a false sense of omniscience in her quiet words. “You can’t expect to return to a perfect friendship.”
“I don’t. That’s not why I came.”
“Fine,” she returns her gaze to the white wall. “Then leave. You’ve done your duty. ‘I’m glad you came’ and all that shit.”
“I said leave.” She faces me, tears filling her eyes. “Please. Leave.”
I force my weight onto my legs. My eyes search her questioningly. The wall remains. It’s too strong for either of us to attempt to drill even the tiniest hole through.
“Goodbye,” I say. Her gaze escorts me out.
My head pounds and I walk into the hallway. A heaviness tugs at my heart.
I feel I should stay and try to help her. She’s in pain. She needs someone. But that someone is no longer me. I only bring her more emotional baggage. More guilt. More upset. Her friend is Peter.
“You ready, luv?” John asks.
Peter and John stand as if in completely separate worlds. Neither seems to notice the other’s existence. I catch a glimpse of Peter, his eyes are diverted.
I take a deep breath. “Yes, I suppose.” I pause. “Peter, I guess it would be useful for us to give you a number to contact us. We’ll probably be staying in a hotel for at least tonight because it’s certainly too much to even consider travelling back to John’s.” I look at John, he seems to agree but refuses to speak. “Maybe it’d be better if you could give us a number to contact you at.”
I’d say that we could then give him our number, but how am I supposed to know he’s not about to go and send it off to the Daily Mirror as soon as he gets it?
I continue, “If anything is wrong, you can let us know. We’ll get here as soon as we can.”
That is, if Pam will accept us coming….
Peter waits before he speaks. “I think it’s better you don’t come around again. Either of you. You work to destroy her and I don’t think that’s what she needs at the moment. I think it’s best if you two just stay away from this point on.”
John moves towards him. “I’ll tell you what I think is best—“
“John.” I touch his arm. He stops.
Peter seems almost afraid of John. “All right, I’ll give you my number then. But I don’t think you’ll be having any occasion for returning.” He scribbles down his number and I place it in my bag. John and I pick up our luggage and get ready to find a place for the night.
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