Dancing to a New Beat 80

CHAPTER 80
She announced her return with a series of groans, a flutter of eyelashes, and unfortunately a grab for something, anything, to catch the few drops of vomit she brought up. Shan was quicker than me, taking one of the papier-mâché bowls from the side cabinet and holding it to Charlie’s mouth until she was finished.

“Diane?”

“Yes, Shan?”

“Buzz the nurse? She got something for me”

Two of the staff were in the room five minutes later, bustling around Charlie as they did their various medical duties, and one of them nodded to Shan.

“Yeah, I think she can, love. Back in a minute”

On her return, she had a small bowl, crockery rather than recycled pulp, and from it she produced an ice cube, which she slipped into Charlie’s mouth. Her eyebrows raised.

“Iss lemon…”

Shan grinned at me, before turning back to what now seemed to be her patient, pulling something else from her pannier: a rag doll.

“Yeah, my friend. Annie’s, she is. She’s called Tabby, and she don’t let people not get better. Ice cube thing was Eric’s idea, originally. Did it for Annie, when she had her bits sorted. Not like drinking, and taste gets rid of… hang on, girl”

The cardboard bowl again, then another of the ice cubes from the crockery one, which seemed to settle Charlie a little more.

“Di?”

“Yes, love?”

“Is it all done? All sorted?”

I reached across for her hand, as Shan waved a very pink phone at me and trotted out of the room.

“Nurse said yes, love. All sorted, yes”

The tears were slow to start, but swift to build, but they came with a smile, so I left her to her emotion. We needed no words. She found her balance eventually, and just asked, voice as soft as I had ever heard it, if I could ring Deb.

“In a sec, love. Wait till Shan gets back? Don’t want you on your own, do I?”

She indicated Tabby, and I took her point, but Chantelle was back before I could rise.

“Mum Kate says she’ll come over later, and Mum Ginny says I have to say ‘Convagilations!’ so, yeah. Convagilations, Charlie!”

I left them to their silliness and made my outside for some fresh air and a few tears of my own that I wanted to keep away from Charlie’s sight. The phone was picked up before it could ring twice.

“Can I help you?”

“Deb?”

“Di? How is she? Any problems? Is it all done? Is she out of theatre—”

“DEB! Pause. Breathe. Everything is fine. She’s awake, and a friend is with her, and Charlie asked me to ring you. I was going to do it anyway, but she asked me to, which shows she’s awake, she’s fine, and she has her priorities sorted. OK?”

“Ok… Di?”

“Yeah?”

“Sorry. Just been so worried, all of us. What’s the plan now?”

“I have to come home, Deb, but I’ll stay with her till she’s out of dock. You got my friends’ address? Where they’ll be putting her up?”

"Yeah. It’s pinned up in the main room, so the girls know where she is. You’ve got very, very generous friends, Di”

“Not the right words, Deb. Just got very good friends, in both senses, isn’t it? Good friends to me, good people to have as friends. I have been very lucky in life”

There was a short silence at the other end before she spoke again.

“Yeah. You have that. Got a question, OK? Would they welcome a visitor or two?”

So much love in that woman.

“I’ll ask, love, but to be honest I think we both know what the answer will be. Now, I am heading back in. Any messages?”

“Ah, just tell her we all send our love”

“She knows that already, Deb”

“Then tell her no dancing till next month, and we will all see her at the wedding. Oh, and Paul and Paula have set a date. This November. She’s a bridesmaid, if she wants”

I found myself tearing up, just a little. We said our goodbyes, and I headed back to the little room. Very lucky indeed.

Charlie slowly eased back into the world as the afternoon turned into evening, but she was still in some pain, which was hardly surprising. Kate was round at six o’clock, and at seven her wife appeared, with a repeat of that neologism (university had left some traces on me, it seemed) and a little jacket for the rag doll that looked rather like a nurse’s tunic top.

“Yeah, Tabby does nursing all the time, woman. She’s a healer, so we can haz uniforms!”

Her head tilting to one side, she leered at Charlie.

“I like a girlie in uniform! And out of one!”

Chantelle gave a loud sniff, just like Charlie’s signature, which caused the latter to giggle, then groan with an obvious stab of pain.

“Mun Ginny, we all know you talk crap sometimes!”

She turned to look at the patient.

“She says all that stuff, but the only girlie she likes in uniform, or not, is Mum Kate”

Kate smiled at that.

“Not quite true, Shan. My darling likes a lot of girlies, and one of them is you. Just, and I am taking notes, not in quite the same way. Am I correct, dearest sweety?”

The grin from the tall woman was spectacular.

“Busted! Let’s get Tabby dressed for work, OK?”

That set the pattern of the next few days, as I ate the breakfast at my hotel, wandered around odd. parts of the city, made my way over to the hospital for visiting duties, ate some crap or other on the way back, and spent hours on Skype with my men. Eventually, they allowed her out of bed, and then, finally, out of the hospital, with a solicitous enquiry as to whether she had the necessary circular cushion.

Naomi had volunteered as driver, so we sat quietly on a bench, cushioned in Charlie’s case, enjoying the Spring sunshine, with our bags at our feet and Tabitha sitting beside us.

“So nice to get out of dock, Di. That smell, hospital smell, it gets into your skin, yeah?”

“I know what you mean, love. Always… I had a few years when I couldn’t go near hospitals, Charlie. Too many associations. Too many memories”

She took my hand, squeezing it.

“Yeah, but that changes. That smell, now, for me, it’s going to be good memories, yeah? Making me what I should be. And you’ve got Rhod to think about, remember, with those smells to remind you. You are talking about those two bastard coppers, aren’t you?”

I just nodded, and she smiled back.

“Sisters, yeah? That Naomi there?”

“Yup! You OK standing up, or want a hand?”

Naomi was solicitous and ridiculously careful in her driving, which meant a slightly longer ride than would have been expected under normal circumstances, but in the end, we arrived at Woodruff Towers, as I found myself thinking of it, without incident. I helped Charlie out of her seat, Naomi pulling bags out of the boot as Geoff appeared from the garage, where I assumed he had been messing around with some bicycle or other.

“Steph’s in the kitchen, kettle on and ready to brew. Tea, girls, or coffee?”

Charlie waddled slowly towards the front door.

“Got any coke or something, Mr Woodruff?”

“Geoff, please, and yes. Di?”

“Oh, a latte, with goat’s milk, served in a crystal goblet with a side plate of amaretto biscuits?”

“Oh, sod off. You’re worse than Annie!”

“Tea, then, white, no sugar”

“In three. Got extra cushion on the sofa, plus Steph’s old one. I’ll dump these upstairs and then we can relax a bit”

‘Relaxing a bit’, of course, simply meant a steady procession of friends through the house and, ay Charlie’s request, a pizza delivery. What happened to having a decent curry? I thought about that one later, and I realised it actually would not have been the best of ideas after surgery on what my grandmother would have called ‘the lower body’.

Ouch.

Eventually, though, the day came when I would have to abandon her on favour of my own family, and after running her over to Annie’s house, I took my leave in ways that were more emotional than I had intended. It wasn’t just leaving Charlie; I found myself realising exactly how much Annie still meant to me.

It wasn’t that I fancied her, because there was never anything in me that swam that way, as Bridget had confirmed to her obvious regret, but it was real, and it was deep. Ashley Evans had robbed me of my teenaged years, had driven away friendships either directly, through my ‘reputation’ as soiled goods, or indirectly, via my own self-hate.

That was my takeaway from Charlie’s healing. It wasn’t a worry, though, because as I left her with Annie, Eric, Steph, Ginny, so many good people I was losing count, I finally understood emotionally the thing I had only grasped as a logic game, till then.

If people like this cared about me, I must be someone worth the caring.



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