New Year's Eve was good. Tomo called and invited us to the party he usually has and even though we didn't know so many people, it was nice to go together. The awkwardness around Ryan had mostly disappeared from the people who mattered. The pair of us ignored the rest of them.
And it was important to go, because Mum was hovering with worries asking whether I'd be alright, which is exactly what I never wanted her to do. She doesn't need to now, because I might not have been, but I am fine now (or getting there at least) and a party with friends is no threat when I've already had to go out to bars and pubs and those places are more similar to the packed club where things went wrong.
Pretending nothing was wrong at least made me face places that I would have taken a lot longer to go on my own, if I hadn't been pretending so hard. That's something that my stubborn will to ignore everything bad has got me at least.
Before New Year I called the police station again and asked if they could pass my number on to the new victim, in case he wanted to talk. I got WPC Maconahay on the line, and she was polite and everything, but I did get the impression that she didn't think I should hold my breath waiting.
"Is he... Alright? I mean, apart from..." The obvious.
I came out of it rather battered, with a couple of cracked ribs, but I didn't fight back. That might have meant I got off lightly.
"I'm sorry Mr Gale, I can't go into details."
"Oh, no of course not. Sorry – I just – I wanted to... let him know it gets better. Eventually. That's all." Oh Lordy, as if I'd have wanted some guy telling me that.
"I'll pass that on," she promised, but no one called before we went back up for term.
Ryan said that the important bit was that I'd bothered – that it didn't matter if he ever called at all, because at least I'd wanted to help. But I get to thinking all kinds of things, like maybe he's not out of hospital yet, or maybe he took it worse than I did and everything's a nightmare. And I wonder whether, if I'd given a better description – if I'd faced up to doing the e-fit better the first time, if I'd given them something more than the brand of his trainers and the colour of his eyes, then maybe no one else would have had to go through it.
But I couldn't, because I was too much of a coward and I didn't even think about what he might do to other people.
Ryan and my mum had pulled out details of about a million councillors who work around the university area from who knows where, like they expect me to choose one and make an appointment and go. Like it's that simple. I know it should be, but it isn't.
"We'll find one you get on with, alright D-Man?"
They can't be tied to my hospital so that rules out a good number straight away. I'm not having everyone on my course knowing I'm seeing a head doctor. This isn't the States – seeing a shrink is a big deal over here. It means you're crazy, or seriously messed up, or both and I don't want to be that guy. I just want to get on with my course and get on with my life. But I know it won't happen unless I start making changes for myself.
I fidgeted the whole way up on the train, just like I had done on the way down, but it was a different set of nerves this time, and Ryan left me to my thinking, plugged into his music while he did the same.
His parents hadn't contacted him at all except for a phone call on Christmas Day, but I think that was because he didn't tell them where he was, beyond staying with me. He didn't give them an address – didn't put it on the cards or the presents he sent.
When we arrive back at our halls, our mailbox is full and there's a note saying Ryan's got a package waiting in reception. We pick it up before trudging along to our room, weighed down with all the post and his package as well as our bags.
"Second Christmas," he jokes as he nudges in through the door and heaves his bag from his lap onto his mattress with a broad smile. Post gets chucked into a pile on his desk and I rifle through the letters for anything addressed to me, separating out cards and more boring looking post. There's a thin letter addressed to him with the university stamp near the post mark and 'urgent' inked onto the outside of the envelope.
He makes a face and snatches it off me, tearing the envelope off me. "Bet they're telling me I've got to swap units because they've scheduled the lectures in places I can't-"
Ryan stops talking, face numbing over as he scans down the short letter. "Shit."
Disgusted, he drops the letter in his lap and for a moment he doesn't do anything. His scowl mangles his face into an ugly mask and sudden, strong hands on his wheels ram him against the bed frame violently, letting off steam. "Fucking hell!"
My heart rate jumps and a tight feeling is closing my throat over. "What?" I don't want to ask, I really don't want to know and my voice won't come out loudly enough to actually be heard.
Ryan has his elbows on his knees and his fingers gripping at his velvet scalp. I can see his jaw flexing, clenching and releasing and every breath he takes is obvious. His mouth is downturned and the sight of him blinking a little too quickly makes my stomach turn over.
He looks scared when he sits up again, fist clenching and unclenching; I've never seen him look that way and I don't know what to do.
"My rent. My parents pay my rent. Termly."
My throat contracts. He almost laughs, but it turns into something else half way through. His shoulders sag and he slumps against the back of his chair. "Not this term."
Oh Lordy. I suck in a breath, refusing to give in to the panic building in my stomach at the thought of Ryan being pulled away from me. They can't do that. They can't. His eyes catch mine and I know that after everything he said – those worries about waking up one day and finding nothing had changed – being wrenched away would be worse. I feel hollow, pale.
"How... how much are you short?" Practicalities have to come first. I'm already walking to my desk chair, pulling out a pad of paper and a pen because Ryan moving out is not an option. "When do they want paying? You can talk to them – they're not going to evict you. They can't." They could. We both know they could – it's in the contract, but they're reasonable people, I'm sure of it. Student Loans get delayed and rent is always impacted by that. This is really no different.
Ryan blinks hard, eyes closed for a long slow moment until he draws himself up with a shuddery breath and pushes over next to me. "It's £850 this term, £850 next. I've got... a couple of hundred before my next loan instalment comes through."
I jot figures down as he mentions them. Tuition's paid directly from the loan company, I know that well enough. His parents can't meddle with that and I doubt they would anyway. It's only me that they want out of their son's life.
"Overdraft or actual money? How much is your loan?"
"Uh," his face crumples into concentration, summoning figures from a distant part of his brain through all the distraction and shock. "£750, I think. Something like that. No, not overdraft - it's positive balance."
Ryan's hands have a shake to them and the paper of the letter flutters in his fingers as he reads over it again and again.
"They want it by the end of the week. I need to call them." With a frown, he pulls back on his wheel, shifting his chair to angle for the phone and I grab his arm gently.
"Ry, it's after six. They won't be there. We'll just make sure it's do-able before you give them everything you own."
His eyes harden on mine. "It's not not do-able, David." I realise how truly angry he is then. To him this isn't even the power game I can see it is, they've just cut him off because for some stupid reason walking out on me wasn't ever an option. He curbs his anger with another ragged breath and I know he didn't mean to snap at me. "My Disability comes through weekly. It pays for most stuff I need. So it's just food. The rent wipes out the loan, but I've got an unused overdraft. It's fine. I'll manage."
My smile is reluctant, but I don't disbelieve him. These aren't my kind of protests – he's talking about financially, practically. Not once has he said that it doesn't matter, or that it doesn't hurt. His eyes are fixed on the middle distance and right now I don't know any way of reaching him.
I wonder what it was that made them do this. Maybe the book Ryan sent didn't go down well. The package sitting on the bed is no doubt full of presents, but they must have been sent before the direct debit was cancelled.
Ryan presses the heels of his hands against his eyes and draws in another deep lungful of air. "Fuck them. Who needs them, right?" But his smile's not there and his eyes don't have their usual gleam.
"I need a shower or something." The weary way he says it, I know he means alone. Apology bleeds into his eyes. "Can you get rid of that parcel? Do it a return to sender label and get it out of here."
I want it gone as well. Whatever's in there – whatever they bought him – couldn't make up for doing this. They might have meant to force him back home, which in itself is despicable, but making Ryan feel so disowned is unforgivable.
"No problem." There's nothing much else I can say. What kind of people do that to their son? What kind of people do that to someone as wonderful as Ryan?