I get a taxi back. They pay for it, which is quite nice I suppose, but then again I wouldn't have had to be getting it at all if they hadn't come to get me in the first place. Not that I grudge that they did. It was a good thing, even though going through that was stressful. I have a feeling that what comes next is going to be a little worse.

On the way back, I call Ryan to let him know I'm on my way and I can hear mum clattering through dishes in the background, even though there can't be anything to wash up. We'd cleared up breakfast before I left. If they had lunch there would only be plates for two of them.

Conversation is kept stunted, like Ryan doesn't want to say too much and I just know that things are going to be awful when I get home.

"You ok then?"

"Yeah. It... wasn't so bad once I got started." It hadn't been, not after the initial reaction. Helping had turned it into a task and I guess I got distracted by the mechanics of it enough to be able to detach from the memories and associations. That was good. I don't know what I'd have done if everything was still so vibrant.

Ryan's voice drops low, like he's covering the mouthpiece over to stop my mum from seeing his lips move. I can practically see him looking over his shoulder to check she's not watching. "Good, 'cause your mum's cleaning the entire house. You really need to tell her what's going on."

My eyes slide closed briefly and I sink my head against the window glass of the car, smiling dully. There's no getting away from it now. "I know. I will."

"Hey? D-Man? Things'll be fine. "

"Yeah, I know."

Inside, home again, mum did a good of a job distracting from the real problem as I could ever have hoped to do. I guess she's where I get it from – the ability to plaster on a smile and get on with looking after everybody else. Only, it doesn't really work when you know the signs, and I guess everybody close enough knows the signs, so maybe it would just be better if we both started being brave enough to face the truth.

"Oh, you look chilled through. In you come, sit down. I was just putting the kettle on, wasn't I Ryan? I just said, I'm sure David will want a nice cup of tea when he comes in. There we go, take your coat off. And a biscuit. Ryan, would you like anything luv? I know I'm having something. What about a slice of the Christmas cake? It needs eating up."


"Yes dear? Careful now, it's hot. You don't take sugar do you pet?"

"Mum. Stop a minute."

She drops into a kitchen chair heavily and her smile gives a final stutter before it crumples and the worry in her eyes takes over. Her hand covers her mouth and her eyes pool up. And, oh Lordy, I don't know how to do this. I don't want to make my mother cry.

Ryan looks at me and nods his support. His eyes are a little intense, but in a good way. All I can see is love behind them. Maybe seeing that e-fit and putting down exactly what I remember him looking like is a good thing for more than the obvious reasons. It enforces the fact that Ryan's nothing at all like him.

"Um. When Ryan – when he said that I dropped out at London because of... because of some guy. That," my fingers work deep into my forehead, rubbing away tension that isn't quite there yet, before I let my hands drop to cradle around my hot mug. "That was right."

I cringe a little. These words feel so physical and I'm choking on them just a bit more than the sight of that picture. I can't look mum in the eye. I just don't know how to start telling her.

"Oh, David!"

My hands are holding onto a shake; mum's tears are spilling over.

"And the police – you're in trouble with the police!"

Ryan's eyebrows knit into an anguished expression; I can tell he hates the confusion she's going through as much as I do. "No, Mrs G – Linda. No. Davey's cool. He's not in trouble."

I shake my head earnestly as well, though my throat has begun to close over too much for me to have proper control over my voice. "No, I'm not. Promise."

Tears bead, matching hers and I hate that I'm doing this. I hate that I'm hurting her, because I never, never meant to do that.

"Mum, I'm fine now. I really am. I love Ryan and he – he's helped me through so much stuff I was trying to ignore..."

Her lips purse and her hands form into tight fists that she doesn't quite let slam against the table. "Tell me what happened. I'm your mother. I'll decide whether you're fine or not."

Tears crumple my expression and all I want in the world is a hug - from Ryan, from my mum, from anybody, and I want to go back to ignoring this. But I can't. She needs to know.

"The man... we were out at this... place and he... he took my keys and he... um." I can't say it. The words jam solid in my throat hard enough to gag me. I've said it to Ryan, but this is my mother. I feel green around the gills and I'm breathing so eratically.

"What?" Her eyes glisten and she's practically begging me for answers. "Did he beat you up? Did he threaten you? Was it hate crime? David, please!" Her imagination's spinning her all manner of horrors and I'm the only one who can lessen her misery, only, I know the answer isn't one she wants to hear.

I shake my head. "No. No, mum. He raped me."

The words end up coming out easily and the gasp that follows is like the first breath I ever took: hard and painful and full of tears.

My mother is silent, tears almost repressed, though they're flowing freely. Her hand is over her mouth again and her face is contorted into such a mangle I can't read it.

Ryan's as close as I need him, a hand rubbing at my thigh under the table and I knit my fingers with his, holding on tight enough to stop the shakes. I can't breathe right and it only gets worse.

"You told him before you told me."

I choke. Ryan's hand goes still and slack in my grasp. "What?"

"I'm your mother," anguish and pain, undiluted, open-mouthed and heart-wrenching and oh God I never meant it to be this way. "But you told him first."

My jaw falls slack. "I – I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't want to tell anyone – couldn't."

"Mrs G – really, he's wanted to tell you. He never meant to tell me – just blurted it out. It's doesn't mean-"

"I was going to explode with it and I couldn't tell you because you'd be so... so worried and you don't – don't need to be and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I let it happen."

"David," a low down, warning tone from Ryan; he doesn't approve of my phrasing.

My mother near on ignores him and I do too, even though I don't want to. "You changed so much. Do you think that didn't have me worried anyway? And not knowing what to ask, or how to get you to stop lying to me... that wasn't better than knowing this. I could have helped you."

My teeth press into the flesh of my lip hard enough to hurt, holding back the gasp that wants to hiccough out. "I didn't want you to know. S'disgusting and horrible, and I'm..."


My mother's face ripples just the same way Ryan's does. "No. No. You're my baby."

I feel so guilty. She thinks she's not the most important person in my life, and worse than that, even though it didn't start out being that way, it's the way it became. Because Ryan is now, but I never meant to shut her out like this.

His thumb rubs hard across the back of my palm and when I look at him he squeezes my hand tightly. "I'm sorry mum."

She shakes her head and Ryan gives a worn sigh. I know he's an inch away from telling me to shut up, but all he does is lean close enough to thumb away my tears. My mum sniffs a sob, shaking it away as I turn to her.

"So, what about this man? Have they locked him up and thrown away the key?" Her hands are shaking worse than mine. Her face is drained of colour.

I manage a snotty gasp of a laugh that shivers a little before it slumps wetly into the background of tears I've been crying. "They haven't caught him yet." I draw a steadying breath. "There was another attack though, so there's... um. More evidence to work with." I swallow hard. 'More evidence' sounds so clinical – what I really mean is that there's another life he's ruined. Another person out there just like me.

Ryan glances between the two of us. "How's the other guy doing?"

The question catches me sharply. I didn't think to ask. "I don't... know." I should have asked. I should have left my number – something to pass on to him - just to let him know that someone had already survived the darkest bits – that somehow life keeps going and things work out, even if they'll never be the same again – that the eyes fade and the nightmares get less vivid. That it's ok.

My mother's hand presses to her mouth again and she stands up sharply from the table, chair scraping back behind her. "Excuse me." She's all tears behind her glasses and shaky, hurried steps towards the door.


"I just... need a minute." But she doesn't reach further than the doorway before she crumbles completely, both palms covering her face and her small shoulders shaking. I hug her to my chest, wrapping my arms around her and for once I feel strong enough to take this.

"Mum, it's ok," I whisper, talking against the top of her head. "I'm fine. I promise, I'm fine now."

Ryan looks up, lips pressed tight and thin and he pulls back on his wheels slightly, shifting so he turns towards us. "He's getting counselling."

"Ryan..." I'm not. I didn't agree to that. I don't want to start lying to her all over again.

My mum peels her head up to look at him and her shaky breathing recedes as she nods. "Good. That's good."


"Shut up, Spazz. You need it and you're going."

My mother's shoulders shake, but this time it's from a damp chuckle running through her. Her smile is wet when she looks up at me and presses a kiss against my cheek, hugging me just as tightly as I'm holding her. "Listen to him; he loves you as much as I do."