“Every time I do something worthwhile, you go and spoil it. Attention seeking, that’s what it is,” Ger hisses.
Chelsee blinks. She looks at her wrists. She frowns. “You can’t leave. Mum and Dad need you to help in the caff now the summer’s coming. I can’t do it any more.”
“Don’t be daft. I can’t afford to miss an opportunity like this. You’ll be right as rain, soon, you’ll see.” Ger’s fingers press hard into the arms of the bedside chair he’s seated in. That face, that impassive face. He knows she’s gloating behind the mask, trying to twist him like she always did when they were small. Do this or you’ll make me cry, then Mummy will smack you. The words are unsaid, but he sees her thoughts like wasps. “You take the tablets, same as always, and you’ll soon be back to normal, see. No more of that bloody nonsense. It doesn’t work any more. You can cut yourself to kingdom come for all I care now, see. It doesn’t work any more.”
“I can’t take the medication.” A contrived tear escapes down her face. “They have to sort me out something new. Therapy or something. Tablets is too dangerous, now.”
It’s a new strategy, Ger tells himself. The old one won’t work; bring out the next. “What’s wrong with tablets, then?” She’s winning because he has to ask, and he hates himself for asking.
“I can’t take them. Not now. Not this time. Because. Well, just because, OK.”
“No, it’s not OK. Tell me. So help me, I feel like slapping you.” Ger’s eyes flick round the ward. The bed next to them is empty just now, sheet and blanket rumpled. The nurses are all busy, and nobody has heard. Nobody but Chelsee.
“I’m pregnant so I can’t take the tablets, see. And it’s why you’ve got to stay and help Mum. Because I can’t. Not with a baby.”
Ger flops back into the armchair, mouth flopping open as the breath is yanked out of him. His eyes scan down over the scrawny ribs, down to the belly. Stick-like arms with one bandaged wrist move protectively over the bump. Ger looks back into Chelsee’s eyes set in sunken pits. “You’re lying. You’re lying to keep me chained to that bloody caff. You selfish cow.”
Chelsee says nothing, but stares back at him. Behind the sly power he sees something slinking like a cat: fear.
“Christ.” Ger stands so abruptly Chelsee flinches and seems to sink deeper into the mattress. “Who’s is it? I’ll smash his face in for him.”
“That’s why I’m not saying. And don’t you go telling anyone.”
“Can’t you get rid of it?”
Chelsee’s face is shuttered again, the fear-cat vanished, or trapped perhaps, behind those shutters. His audience is over.