“I thought I’d find you here.”
Eden looked up and smiled at the girl who walked softly across the floor in the almost reverential way that almost everyone adopted in that room. Eden had spent too much time there to feel that way anymore. “Where else?” he said returning her smile. Then he turned away to gently stroke the hair and cheek of the boy who lay sleeping in the bed beside which he sat. “It’s his birthday. He’s twenty one today.”
“Twenty one?” the girl exclaimed. “Has it really been three years?”
“Almost exactly. It was three days after his birthday, just before Christmas, three years ago. I spent the whole of Christmas and New Year here.”
“And almost every day since,” she commented sadly.
Eden smiled tightly. “Hardly. I’ve not been here much recently.”
Suzi’s lips compressed. “Eden; it’s been three years. It’s right that you should move on.”
“Move on?” he asked genuinely confused.
“Move on from here, from him. Stop spending so much time here and get on with your life. Go and make a future for yourself.”
Eden smiled and ran his fingers over the boy’s marble–still face, before running them through the soft–as–silk, white hair that framed it. The electromagnetic field crackled, and tiny sparks glittered across his hand.
“Eden…there’s no life here anymore. You can’t spend the rest of yours in this room, living in the past and waiting for something that’s never going to happen. There’s a wonderful future waiting for you out there.”
“For us, Suzi,” he corrected softly.
Suzi sighed. “Isn’t it about time you faced the fact there is no future for him? Let him go Eden. Let him go and move on.”
Eden smiled gently, and shook his head. Suzi sighed again. “The last thing Summer would want is for you to waste your life because of him.”
This time, Eden laughed. “I’m not wasting my life, Suzi. I’m waiting for him. No, I’m waiting with him. There’s nowhere else I want to be.”
“Well,” Suzi said in exasperation, “at least you’ve finally gone to university. That’s a start.”
Eden’s face darkened for the first time. “That was a mistake. It’s too long away from him. I miss him, and he misses me.””
“He doesn’t miss you Eden. He doesn’t know if you’re here or not.”
“He knows,” Eden said with such a degree of certainty Suzi shook her head and sighed for the thousandth time, but didn’t say anything; there was no point. Instead she watched Eden take one of Summer’s pale hands, that lay lifeless on the covers, and lift it to his lips. The magnetic field sparked madly but Eden barely noticed.
RAISING HER EYES, Suzi gazed at the boy who was the focus of Eden’s world. There was no denying he was beautiful; mesmerizingly beautiful; all the more so because it was an entirely natural beauty which needed no enhancement at all. The most striking thing about him was his hair. It was mostly a rich burnished chestnut, thick and lustrous, but there were two wide stripes at the front that were so white that in the right light they looked like metallic silver. That, too. was entirely natural.
With a pang of deep regret, Suzy remembered the emerald green of his eyes, and the way they twinkled and crinkled slightly in the corners when he smiled. Summer was always smiling and laughing at everything, including himself. He had an infectious lust for life that made him fun to be with. Everyone around him was infected with his overwhelming delight in simple pleasures – the moon on a puddle, a walk through the leaves in the autumn, or snow in winter, the petals of a flower, or the sound of rain. He loved rain and stood for hours on the doorstep watching it fall. At least he’d used to.
Christmas was Summer’s favourite time of year. He started preparing months before and got wildly excited to the point where his friends were ready to strangle him by the last few days. On the first weekend after his birthday, which was on the 15th, he almost religiously dragged Eden and Suzi to a nearby forestry park to skate on the lake and cut down a tree for decorating. Most people now had artificial trees, but not Summer, not even the ones that were so realistic birds tried to nest in them. No, Summer was all for the natural.
They’d been on their trip when ‘it’ happened. Suzi had always been wary of the journey. It always snowed and the roads were icy and dangerous, but Summer would not be dissuaded. That year was particularly bad, with heavy snow and freezing conditions, but Summer still would not be deterred.
Summer had been excited by the falling snow and couldn’t wait to get to the park. Suzi’d had her eyes closed for the whole journey, but her relief when they reached the car park had been short lived when the car hit a patch of ice just inside the gate and skidded. Somehow, Summer had managed to keep control but the car spun in almost a complete circle before the tyres bit tarmac and he guided it into the nearest parking space.
Eden and Suzi had been shaken, but not Summer; he’d thought it great fun and was all for doing it again. They’d filed out of the car, slipping and sliding, with Summer and Eden playing like children in the snow as they crossed the car park towards the path which led through the trees to the lake.
As they’d reached the treeline Summer realised he’d forgotten his skates, which was pretty typical for him and had headed back towards the car, while the others waited near the trees.
Suzi and Eden had been laughing and chatting together when they’d heard the teeth–clenching sound of screaming brakes as a car, coming into car park way too fast, hit the same patch of ice that had troubled them. Unlike Summer, the driver had completely lost control and the car spun madly.
Summer never had a chance. By the time he’d heard the screech and looked up the car was on him. Suzi never forgot the sickening sound of car hitting flesh. It haunted her in nightmares and she hadn’t been able to drive for months.
They’d both been certain Summer was dead as they ran across the space, slipping and sliding on the ice and snow, falling but not caring.
The driver had remained in the car in complete shock and Suzi was so glad of that because if he’d been within reach of Eden’s hands it would not have gone well with him.
Eden had slid to a halt next to Summer, too frightened to touch him. Summer had lain like a broken doll, feet from the car. He’d rolled over and over across the ice and was lying half on his side, face down with his limbs at odd angles.
Ignoring the blood starting to pool under Summer’s head, Eden had tenderly pushed away his hair to see his face. The snow under his cheek had turned pink, but as they’d later learned, had probably saved his life by lowering his body temperature and slowing the bleeding.
Incredibly, Summer had not only been alive but conscious and had even tried to smile at Eden. He’d looked demonic with blood staining his lips and running from his nose, but when he’d smiled he couldn’t have been anything but an angel.
“I’m sorry,” he’d whispered, his words muffled and gurgling. “Shoulda... should... be... caref...” He’d coughed and blood had splattered the snow, and Eden, who’d ignored it. For a moment Summer had frowned, a puzzled expression on his face, then he’d taken a breath and smiled. “Don’t... worry... home... Christmas.” Releasing the breath in a long sigh, Summer had closed his eyes and drifted away. That was the last time they’d heard his voice or seen his eyes in three long years.
By some miracle, he hadn’t died there in the snow. Neither had he let go in the following hours and days when his life hung in the balance. Through hours of surgery and regeneration he’d somehow kept breathing.
Medical science had improved so much in the last fifty years and things which would have been fatal to their grandparents or even their parents were no longer beyond the abilities of doctors. And so they had managed to knit his broken bones, regenerate muscles, tissue and ligaments and even the surgical scars had been erased. Within ten days of the accident his body had been healed and whole.
However, what they couldn’t do; what no doctor had ever been able to do since the beginning, was to understand the complexities of the brain. No one could tell them why, but Summer had never woken up.
It happened. After a catastrophic head injury it happened often and it was one thing that medicine had been able to neither fathom nor prevent. Some remained in a coma for only a few days, some for months or years, and some never woke at all.
The way coma patients were treated had radically improved. Many of the invasive methods of treatment and maintenance were no longer necessary and for the most part entirely automated. Nutrition was provided by absorption and ionised metal bands around the upper arms, wrists, waist, neck, thighs and ankles provided all required data from body temperature to blood pressure, and were used, along with an ionised electrical field which surrounded the body to regulate them all as well as preventing contact sores, muscle atrophy etc.
The data collected by the bands and field was fed into a computer which displayed it on screens behind the bed and, with minimal human input regulated the functions of the body automatically with the only invasion necessary being two IV lines to carry drugs and fluids into the body.
In many ways Summer had simply slept through three years. Suzi watched him sleep, his perfect face perfectly at peace. His chest rose and fell gently and he was relaxed and serene. It was almost painful to remember that even though he looked as if he might wake at any moment, with a smile on his lips, there was every chance he would sleep until he died.
Although the mechanics would keep him in inertia for as long as necessary, he would still get old and was still as susceptible to illness and disease as anyone else. He didn’t have the strength or immune system of a healthy person, and had already fought off pneumonia twice.
They had almost lost him so many times but he’d been more stable this last year which was why they had been able to persuade Eden to leave his side for long enough to start his Degree course. However, despite the stabilization of his general condition, there had never been the slightest indication that Summer’s coma was lightening in any way and no one, not even his medical team, had any illusions about his chances of recovery.
Although not vanished forever, after three years with no improvement, hope had faded to a distant dream. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Summer’s parents were extremely rich and able to pay for private care, he would probably have been dead by now, for although the technology existed it was beyond the reach of all but the very wealthy.
Suzi sat down opposite Eden and thoughtfully stroked Summer’s hand. It was warm and soft. Little sparks danced over both sets of fingers. Sliding her hand under his, she curled her fingers around it. It was completely lifeless, just like the rest of him. Holding on tightly she closed her eyes.
“Eden, you know that he’s not coming back don’t you?”
Eden looked up and smiled. “Don't be silly, Suzi, of course he’s coming back.”
“It’s been three years, Eden, three years. Don’t you remember what the said at the beginning? Most improvements happen in the first twelve months. After that––”
Eden shook his head stubbornly. “Have faith Suzi. He’s going to be okay.”
“Okay? Open your eyes, Eden. He’s in a coma. He’s been in a coma for three years. He’s not coming back.”
“You don’t understand,” he said patiently. “He promised.”
“What do you mean ‘he promised’?” she asked.
“We both promised, a long time ago, that if we ever got separated we’d always find a way back to each other. So that’s what he’s doing; he’s finding a way back to me.” He turned again to gaze adoringly at his sleeping beauty, apparently unable to stop himself from touching his face. “They say he dreams sometimes, but he’s not dreaming. I know what he’s doing. He’s trying to find his way home.”
“You’re fooling yourself. What’s the point in doing a Degree, then wasting it by sitting here for the next three years – or thirty?”
“You’re right,” he said, and for a moment she hoped. Then he smiled again, his eyes consuming every inch of his lover’s face. Distantly, he said “It’s killed me these last couple of months. I won’t do it anymore. I won’t leave him again.”
“You’re going to give up?”
“No, that’s the point – I’m not going to give up.”
“Eden, you’re insane. What do your parents say?”
“The same as yours: Summer’s too. They’ve all tried to force me, persuade me, threaten me, beg me but I haven’t listened to anyone.”
“You never do.”
“No, I never do.”
“Will you at least spend Christmas with me?”
He looked up and gently shook his head. She could see only a shadow now, of the bright, happy boy he used to be. A part of him had died that day in the park. She was afraid it would take a miracle to see it live again.
“You know I won’t, Suzi. I can’t imagine spending Christmas without him. It’s our time.”
“Eden, it’s not healthy; spending Christmas here all alone.”
Eden laughed. “Alone? Are you crazy? People are in and out all day. They feed me until I feel sick and insist on talking, and playing games, and watching TV; when all I really want to do is sit and talk to Summer. It’s our special time and I like to lie down next to him and tell him everything that’s been going on all year. I save up all the best bits. It’s the only time I get that close.
“The first year, that time with him was the only thing that kept me going: to lie there and touch him and talk to him. I don’t know if I could have got through if not for that. I’ve done it every year since and it still gives me hope. Even thinking about it gives me hope.”
“But it’s not healthy Eden; it’s not right. You bring in all the Christmas presents you bought each other and put them under a tree you get from the park and then you lie down and hold him and hope for... what? That he’ll wake up and hold you back? It’s not going to happen Eden; it’s never going to happen.”
“Don’t say that!” Eden snapped, losing his cool for the first time. “I’m sick and tired to people telling me that. What makes you all think you know what’s best for me? I’m sick of being told what to do and what not to do. It’s my life, Suzi and if I want to ‘waste’ it here I will. I thought you at least were a good enough friend to accept that and support me.”
“I... Eden, of course I’ll support you. I’ll support you in whatever you want to do. It’s just that it’s hard for me to see you wasting away here when... I know you believe, Eden, I know you do and I think it’s wonderful that you’ve kept your faith in him all this time but... You’re not...” She sighed and shook her head. “I’m sorry Eden. You’re right; it’s your life to spend as you want. If you want to spend it here I’ll support you. I’ll come and keep you company on Christmas morning and chase everyone away to give you the afternoon.”
The smile she received made her feel warm and guilty at the same time.
THEY WERE interrupted by a nurse in a crisp white uniform, pushing a trolley which bore a large bowl of hot water, sponges, scented oils and huge fluffy towels. Although the electric field could heal and sustain the body it could not clean it and, although Summer didn’t get dirty as such, the energy field made him hot and sweaty.
Bathing Summer was Eden’s favourite occupation. He had long since taken over from the nurses, and when he’d been away he’d spent nights dreaming of it, tormented by stabs of jealousy when he thought of nurses touching Summer’s beautiful body. He’d almost abandoned the Degree and come home the very first time.
“I think I’d better go and leave you to it. Are we going to the park on Saturday?”
“You know I am. If you want to come it would be great, but don’t feel you have to.”
“Of course I have to.”
Getting to her feet Suzi bent and kissed Summer gently on the forehead and then walked round to give Eden a hug and more robust kiss. She paused to look down at Summer, with her arm around Eden. “I wish I had your faith Eden. I miss him so much. My life feels empty and....”
Eden put his arm around her waist and briefly rested his head against her hip. “I trust him. I know he’s going to come back to me but....” He paused and turned his face towards her, rubbing it against the rough material of her jeans. “Sometimes it’s almost unbearable.”
She kissed him on the top of his head “I know, hun.”
“I hate to see him like this, Suzi. It’s not right.”
Anyone who’d known Summer, and the energy he used to project would have understood exactly what he meant. “I know hun,” Suzi said. “I don’t know what to say. I can’t tell you it’s going to be alright because I don’t think it is. I respect your belief but...”
Suzi’s gaze wandered down to where Eden was holding Summer’s hand, his thumb skating absently over Summer’s soft skin. He didn’t know quite what she actually saw, because she gave a little hiccup and fled.
As soon as Suzi left, the nurse helped Eden manoeuvre a waterproof sheet under Summer, turned off the magnetic field and then left him to it. There was something so intensely personal about washing Summer’s face and body that it made Eden feel closer to him than he ever had been and even more certain that sometime soon they would be wholly together again.
Carefully rubbing soap into Summer’s naked body, Eden closed his eyes relishing the silky softness of the skin. But today, somehow the excitement he usually felt when running his hands over the curves of his lover’s body was gone, or at least muted. He didn’t feel the usual thrill, the tingle through his fingers when he stroked Summer. There was something missing and it scared him.
Summer was so still. There was nothing there; no energy, no life, no twitch or tremble. He might as well have been touching a doll, or a lump of clay. He’d never felt that before and the more he tried to find the closeness, to get back the intensity, the more it seemed to be slipping away. In the end he sank down on the seat, laid his head on the bed and wept.
THE NURSE found him there half an hour later and gently moved the exhausted boy to the sofa while she finished bathing and wiping Summer. She felt desperately sorry for them both. She’d been working with Summer for about eighteen months and had developed a strong admiration for the devoted boy who spent so much time at his side.
The love between the two boys was undeniable. Eden shone with it and seemed only to be alive when looking into Summer’s face. And as for Summer, even deeply unconscious there were subtle changes in the reactions of his body to Eden’s presence that made it obvious there was a deep connection between them. Not only that but they were really cute together and there was something about the way that Eden was with Summer that touched her.
Carefully arranging Summer’s arms at his sides and smoothing out the bedclothes she caught herself looking into his face and wondering what he was like. He must be something special to have elicited such devotion from his family and friends. He looked like a sweet boy but unconscious it was impossible to tell. Taking a comb from her pocket she combed his hair smooth and straight.
The white streaks were shining silver and she let them run through her fingers. It was getting long now and Eden refused to even consider cutting it. It had been shaved off for the surgeries on his head after the accident, but over three years it had grown back thick and glossy. It was as beautiful as he was. Smoothing the last strands into place she turned and pushed the trolley out of the room.
THREE DAYS LATER Suzi drove Eden to the park to collect the tree. They didn’t skate anymore, that would have been too much as there were just too many memories there. As it was, Eden started crying before they even reached the car park and was sobbing so much as they cut down the tree that Suzi took the axe out of his hand.
“Eden, what’s wrong? What is it?”
“I just... just... I don’t know Suzi, something’s wrong. Something’s going on and I don’t know what it is.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what I mean. I don’t... I just have a horrible feeling that something terrible is about to happen and I’m scared.”
“I’m sorry,” she said putting her arm around him. “It’s my fault. I was so hard on you the other day. I didn’t mean to make you lose hope.”
“It isn't that, Suzi. I don’t know what it is. These last few days I’ve sat there looking at him and it’s... different. He’s different, and I don’t know what it is. I’m scared to death that he’s lost himself and he’s slipping away.”
“Please don’t, Suzi, don’t say it.”
“I’m here Eden. Whatever happens I’m here for you.”
He put his arm around her waist and squeezed her briefly before letting her go. “I know, hun. I know. Come on let’s get this tree back.”
They finished cutting down the tree and carried it back to the car. As they were lugging it across the car park they heard a cry as if someone was hurt. Turning, they caught a flash of colour at the edge of the trees, as someone ran out from the shadows beneath the branches. Two dark figures burst out behind them and bore them to the ground. The cry of a woman in pure terror rang out, and as one, Eden and Suzi dropped the tree and ran.
An old woman dressed in the colourful costume of a Romany was lying on the floor amid the scattered debris of what she had been carrying. Two young men were holding her down, laughing and mocking.
“Get off her you stupid arseholes.”
The boys looked up and narrowed their eyes.
“Fuck off pretty boy. This doesn’t concern you. Walk away right now or your girlfriend is going to be spending Christmas by your hospital bed.”
Eden glared at him and said coldly. “It does concern me when two twats who should be cleaning toilets somewhere are throwing their weight around and harassing defenceless women. Although from the look of you I would imagine that old women are all that you could manage.”
Both boys got to their feet and faced off with Eden, while Suzi hurried to help the old woman to her feet and to draw her away from what was inevitably about to turn into a fight. She put her arms around the narrow, shaking shoulders and held the shivering woman close.
Both of the boys were bigger and broader than Eden but he faced them squarely, completely relaxed. This seemed to put them on edge a little. Why was this boy not shaking in his shoes? Why was he not running from a confrontation where he was clearly outnumbered and outclassed? The answer was that he wasn’t outclassed. The boys had more bulk but he had more skill... way more.
Both Eden and Summer had spent many years training in martial arts, and Summer in particular had been all over the world as part of the British Karate team. Eden wasn’t just confident... he KNEW he could take these two boys, and there must have been something in the way he looked that made them sense that, as they were skittish and ill at ease.
“If you leave right now, I’ll let you go. I won’t come after you, and provided nothing’s broken or damaged beyond repair, I won't call the authorities. It’s your choice; your last chance.”
The larger of the two assailants laughed and turned as if to speak to his mate, then with lightning speed, clearly hopeing to catch Eden unawares, he spun, swinging his fist. Eden grabbed his wrist and continued its trajectory, while jamming his hand into the back of the boy’s shoulder. The boy screamed and fell to his knees as the blow dislocated his shoulder. His friend stood for a moment, staring at Eden with a mixture of terror and respect, and then turned to run.
“Wait!” Scuttling back a few steps the boy turned nervously. “I think you’ve forgotten something. You know the rules of the park – take your rubbish with you when you leave.”
Helping his sobbing and wailing friend to his feet, the boy helped him across the icy ground to a battered car which soon screamed out of the car park with a sound that made both Eden and Suzi turn pale.
Eden shook off the sense of doom and fell to his knees, scrabbling in the snow for the brightly coloured scraps of paper that lay scattered all over the ground. As he picked them up he realised they were cards.
When he’s retrieved all he could see. he stood and handed them to the woman who was still shivering in Suzi’s arms.
“Are you alright?” Eden asked with concern. “Can we take you somewhere?”
The woman shook her head. “We are camped down by the lake,” she said in a rich, accented voice, surprisingly strong considering her age and current predicament. “Please don’t bother yourselves. I’m alright. It was a shock, that’s all.”
“You are shiverin. Let us at least take you into the car for a while, to warm up.”
“No, no don’t bother yourself.”
“Come on. We’re not going to run away with you, I promise.” The woman looked up into Eden’s face and there was something in the electric blue eyes that made him shiver. He realised that, despite her white hair, the woman was not as old as he’d first thought.
“You’re a good boy. Both of you are kind to help a poor old woman in distress. But I would not impose on your kindness.” She shuffled the cards in her hands. “My pack is incomplete. If you would help me to find the missing card, I would be happy to go on my way and let you go on yours.”
Eyeing her doubtfully as she drew her colourful shawl closer around her shoulders, they both started to root around in the snow, trying to find the elusive card. They were cold and tired, their fingers growing numb, and they had both begun to regret ever agreeing to search when Eden brushed a tree branch out of the way and saw something bright, nestled in the toots of the tree to which it belonged.
At first he thought to ignore it, as it was impossible for the card to have found its way in there. However, the bright colours captured his attention and he was curious to see what it was.
When he picked it up, he found to his surprise that it was the missing card. The back bore the same pattern of suns and moons as all the other cards. Curious, he turned it over, as he withdrew from the tree and turned towards the woman.
It was a very beautiful picture, in pale etheric colours against a background of the night sky filled with stars. A naked woman stood with one foot in the water of a midnight blue river reflecting the diamond points from above, and the other on the mossy bank. She was half turned, her glorious red hair cascading in deep waves over her shoulders and back. In each hand, she held a silver goblet from which she poured water into the river and onto the bank. Above her head, a single brilliant star burned with cold fire.
He didn’t have time to examine it too carefully but there was a strange moment, just as he handed the card over, when he was not at all sure that the woman in the picture was a woman at all.
The gypsy took the card and glanced at it, then she smiled. Slotting the card back in amongst the others in her deck she slipped it into her pocket, then gazed up at Eden who had to force himself not to take a step backwards. There was an intense expression in the piercing blue eyes that almost frightened him.
“An interesting card... The Star. It symbolises the eternal cycle; life and death... one pouring into the other seamlessly in the never ending spiral of rebirth. The river flows and our brief existences do nothing more than dip a toe into the timeless stream of life. And yet the stars transcend and sometimes, just sometimes it’s possible to scoop their light right out of the stream to illuminate our lives, just for a little while, giving us a miracle.” Her voice had been distant and dreamy but then she seemed to pull herself together and smiled.
“The seasons are turning, as they always do, and the wheel comes full circle. It’s been a long hard winter for you, Eden and you’ve shut yourself away for so long, you don’t see the signs that spring is budding all around you. But The Star brings hope for redemption and renewal. Summer will come again, sooner than you think.”
Before he could say or do anything the woman raised herself on tiptoe and kissed him on the lips, then in a whirl of coloured skirts and silver white hair she spun around and was gone. It was as if she had simply vanished and for a long, stunned moment Eden and Suzi simply stared at each other in shock.
“Where did she go?”
“What did she mean?”
Eden shivered, a sick feeling settling in the pit of his stomach. There was something about that picture, as he’d glimpsed it when he handed it back that bothered him and her words were haunting. What had she been trying to tell him? Had she been trying to tell him anything at all? It was just the drama of the whole situation that was putting him on edge. She was just some old Romany, and they always spoke in riddles right? What did she know? What could she know?
“Eden... how did she know your name?”
“What?” he snapped, angry that she was voicing part of the fear that gnawed at him.
“Your name. She said... “It’s been a long, hard winter for you, Eden...” How did she know your name is Eden?”
“I.... I don’t.... You must have said it, told her.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”
“You must have,” he said firmly then strode across the car park, channelling his fear into a formless anger.
The drove in silence: Eden angry and Suzi wary. At last she had to say something or burst. “Why are you so angry? What did she say...?”
“I’m not angry,” he snapped.
“Shut up Suzi, just shut up.”
He sighed and buried his face in his hands. “I’m sorry Suzi, it’s just...”
Suzi was a very careful driver, even more so since Summer’s accident, but she braved taking one hand off the steering wheel to squeeze his arm.
“Eden, I know you. What the heck has got you so upset? Romani’s are strange but there wasn’t anything in what she said that was too freaky or scary. You weren’t upset by the fight were you?”
Eden snorted. “As if. No, it wasn’t that. It was just... just... Oh forget it, I’m just being stupid.”
“You often are but something’s really upset you, I can’t think of anything in what she said that might do that. I don’t understand.”
“It’s not... not just...” He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. “You’re going to think I’m insane.”
“I know you’re insane, Eden, haven’t I told you that often enough?”
“Yes, you have but this....”
“Come on Eden, ‘fess up. What’s going on in that crazy head of yours?”
Eden took a deep breath and had to force himself to speak, as if saying it out loud somehow made it real... but he couldn’t keep it inside any longer.
“It was just...that card...when I handed it back to her; for a moment it looked.... It’s crazy but it looked.... It looked like Summer.”
“It was a woman, Eden, even I could see that.”
“I know but...was it? It looked like a woman because it had long hair and I thought it was at first, but as she took it out of my hand.... I don’t know. And then she said... she said that... that Summer’s coming and––”
“Oh, Eden don’t. Please don’t. It’s all in your mind, baby. The picture wasn't Summer. Even if it wasn’t a woman, it wasn’t Summer. And she was talking about a season, Eden – Winter, Spring, Summer.”
“I know. Part of me knows. But it’s.... I don’t know, it’s as if it’s shaken something loose. For the past few days things have been feeling strange and...not right. Nothing’s been...right. It’s as if Summer’s drifting away from me and I was scared and now...now it’s….” He shook his head and sighed. “I don’t know what I’m talking about Suzi. I just feel...strange.”
“I understand that, hun, just don’t dwell on it; don’t get your hopes up.”
“My hopes have never been down.” He looked up and smiled. “It’s going to be alright.”
Fortunately the hospital staff was well used to Eden by now and no one turned a hair when he and Suzi manhandled the tree through the door and along the corridors. Once they got it into Summer’s room Eden abandoned it and wandered over to the bed.
Nothing had changed, except that something had. Nothing was different about Summer, who slept on in marble perfection, oblivious. It was something inside Eden, and he was afraid of what it might be and what it portended.
Would he still be here next year? Would either of them? For the first time the possibility that he wouldn’t was strong in him, and he was scared because he didn’t know why.
He jumped, startled, at the gentle touch on his arm and turned his head to encounter Suzi’s concerned eyes.
“Are you thinking about what that woman said again?”
“No... maybe.” Was he? Is that all it was? “I don’t know, Suzi. Something’s changed and I don’t know what it is. It’s scaring me.”
“Changed? What do you mean changed?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know and that’s what’s so scary.”
Suzi smiled. “You’re just spooked, that’s all. The whole thing was really odd. It scared the pants off me too.”
“Yeah, that’s it. That;s all.” He reached forward and touched Summer’s hand, then turned purposefully. “Come on, let’s get the tree up and decorated.”
For once, the reverential silence that usually cloaked the room was lifted and light banter and laughter filled the space, as two friends played, setting up the tree. Nurses passing outside smiled when they heard the laughter. They all knew Summer and they all knew and admired the strong, quiet boy who rarely strayed far from him.
When the tree was decorated to Suzi’s satisfaction, Eden became sober again as he carefully unpacked the presents and placed them underneath. They were dusty now, the paper torn in places, but he would not consider either opening them or re wrapping them. They were exactly as they had been when they had first been wrapped, and Eden’s fingers lingered over the ones that were from Summer; tracing his writing on the labels; smiling at the silly little messages he’d written. Tears brimmed in his eyes and rolled unnoticed down his cheeks.
“Eden,” Suzi said in a while, interrupting his thoughts. He was still on his knees in front of the tree, reliving Christmases past. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I have to go. Will you be okay here on your own?”
“I’m not on my own, Suzi,” he said softly with a faint smile. She hugged him and took his face between her hands.
“Eden, it’s going to be okay. Whatever happens I promise it’s going to be okay. I’m here for you.”
“Thanks, Suzi. I know that and I’m grateful.”
When she’d gone he took up his usual seat and stared at Summer. It was early evening and the nurses would bring a meal soon. Of course, it wasn’t for Summer, it was for him. He pretty much always ate here. Today he wasn't hungry because when he looked into Summer’s sleeping face it was different and the fact that he didn’t know why or how made him feel sick.
When the nurse came she commented on how he wasn’t his usual self, but he just smiled and shrugged.
When she’d laid out the food, she did her usual checks of Summer, her fingers flying over the keypad with practiced ease. The only time she ever touched Summer was to ensure the IV lines were still sited correctly and not becoming infected. She didn’t do that today, instead she spent some time staring at the screens and then, without a word to Eden, hurried out
Eden didn’t really notice, as he was too busy brooding and trying to find the appetite to eat. The food was well presented and appetising but held no interest at all. He set it aside and drew Summer’s hand into his. It felt cold which surprised him, as he was used to Summer being kept at a consistent temperature.
The fact alarmed him a little and he gazed up at the screens. As usual, they meant absolutely nothing to him. Was there something different today? Was there? And why had the nurse run out so fast? His heart started racing and he struggled to calm it, feeling almost foolish. There was absolutely nothing to cause him to panic like this. Just because Summer’s hand was cold and the nurse was busy. He was spooking over nothing.
Taking a deep breath, Eden tried to steady himself but try as he might he could not stop his heart’s frantic thumping and he leaped out of his skin when the door practically burst open and a doctor strode in. Eden hadn’t seen a doctor for some time. He didn’t come often, at least not when Summer was stable. Why was he here now? What was going on?”
Before he knew it, the nurse had steered him to his feet and out of the room. He’d had no time to argue or question and it was only when the door closed behind him that he came to life and tried to get back in again. The door wouldn’t budge. Panicking he hammered on it but no one came.
He was too lost in the incredible suffocating fear to hear footsteps running down the corridor. The first he knew that anyone was there was when arms were thrown around him and he was enveloped.
“What is it Eden? What’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” he cried in complete panic. “They threw me out and I don’t know why. Why did they lock the door? Why won’t they let me in?”
“Hush now, Eden. I’m sure there is a good reason.”
“But what if something’s really wrong? What if he...?”
“This is not the time for ‘what if’s’,” Summer’s father said severely while his mother tightened her embrace and Eden found himself pressed against an ample bosom. It was however Mr Worthington’s tone that got through to him. From someone who never raised his voice it was as good as a shout and completely out of character.
“I’m sorry,” Eden mumbled. “I just.... I feel....”
“Calm down, Eden,” Mr Worthington said more gently, as the edge of hysteria in Eden’s voice faded.
“I knew something was wrong,” Eden said in a less panic stricken voice as Mrs Worthington let him go, “but I didn’t know what it was. It was just a feeling, something indefinable. And then... and then his hand was cold.”
“I’m sure it’s alright.”
“But if it’s alright why did they throw me out?”
No one had an answer to that and all three spent a tense ten minutes lost in their own fears.
When at last the door opened everyone’s eyes snapped to it, their hearts pounding.
“The doctor would like to speak to you,” the nurse said kindly. They tried desperately to read her body language. She was smiling, but what did that mean? Was she trying to calm them, to prepare for bad news?
They practically pushed her aside as they stampeded into the room. The doctor was standing at the side of the bed, tapping at the keyboard and occasionally glancing up at the screens.
“I’m glad you’re all here,” he said. “It couldn’t have been better timing. Now you can all hear the news together.”
“What news?” Eden broke in, his heart in his mouth.
The doctor smiled at him with a look that was both reassuring and annoyed. “If you let me speak then I’ll be able to tell you.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so tense, I... Oh. Please just....”
“I understand,” the doctor said and patted him on the arm encouragingly. “As you know, for the past few years Summer’s condition has been entirely unchanging. Apart from the occasional problem he’s been absolutely stable, although he has shown no signs of recovering consciousness. A short while ago things changed quite dramatically, and he’s become very unstable indeed.”
Three faces blanched and the eyes which regarded him so intensely were wide and frightened.
“Please, bear with me,” the doctor said, waving a hand as if to dismiss their concern. Easy for him Eden thought. “At first we were very concerned but after further examination it appears that he...”
Eden didn’t hear the rest of the words because he’d been utterly distracted by a sound that, deep in his heart, he’d feared he would never hear again. Summer sighed deeply and gave a little moan, turning his head on the pillow.
Shocked, to the core of his being Eden eagerly slipped his hand into Summer’s, which was warm again. He couldn’t help the little cry that flew from his lips when the fingers that had been so still and lifeless for so long, curled around his.
“Summer,” he said weakly.
At first there was no response, then Summer sighed again and murmured something Eden couldn’t understand.
“Easy, Eden.” The doctor’s voice sounded harsh and unwelcome, cutting into what had felt like such an intimate moment and Eden glared at him. “Give him a chance,” the doctor continued. “It won’t happen all at once and after all this time we don’t know how much capacity he’s retained. Don’t expect too much.”
“But he is waking up?” Eden asked anxiously.
“It seems so,” the doctor replied with a smile.
Oblivious to the arms around his shoulders he sank weakly onto the chair, holding on to Summer’s hand for dear life.
“Summer, baby can you hear me? It’d Eden. I’ve been here with you all along. You’ve been asleep for such a long time, please wake up now.”
“It may not happen today,” the doctor intervened. “It takes a lot of energy and he doesn’t have many reserves. Don’t expect too much all at once.”
But he did, he did expect it because suddenly a voice rang out so clearly that Eden glanced up to see if anyone else had heard it. ‘Summer will come again; sooner than you think’. He had been right; she had been talking about Summer.
“Summer, I know you’re there. I know you can hear me. I know you’re coming back. I trust you. I’ve always trusted you and you’re so close now.” His words were cut off in a strangled croak as Summer gripped his hand more tightly, sighed again and murmured something.
“Babe, I can’t hear you. What did you say?”
“Star,” he whispered so softly that Eden had to bend really close to hear. “Where?”
“I don’t understand,” Eden said urgently. “What do you mean?”
Again it was murmured very softly, so slurred it was almost impossible to make out the words.
“What’s he saying?” Summer’s mother asked anxiously.
“I don’t know,” Eden replied. “Something about a star.”
Hearing the word ‘star’ Summer groaned and frowned, shaking his head.
“Summer baby, please…. You’re not making any sense.”
“Star,” he repeated more clearly.
“What about a star?” Eden almost snapped in frustration. “I just don’t...” Again his words choked in his throat when he found himself staring at two chips of emerald. Summer’s eyes were glazed and seemed to look right through him.
Summer frowned again, more deeply and smacked his lips trying to moisten them but failing as they were too dry. He grimaced and tried again then gave up. “Where’s the bloody star?” He said quite clearly with an edge of irritation in his voice; then he blinked hard and looked at Eden with much clearer eyes. “Oh,” he said with surprise. “I’m here.” Then he closed his eyes with a smile on his lips and his hand released Eden’s, falling back onto the bed.
“Summer,” Eden called, alarmed.
“It’s alright,” the doctor said, comfortingly. “I told you it would be slow at first. It’s quite remarkable that he was able to be so focussed.
“So, is he going to be alright now?” Mrs Worthington asked anxiously.
“It’s a little early to say for sure but the fact that he was so lucid so quickly is a very good sign, very good indeed.”
Mrs Worthington dissolved into tears and buried her head in her husband’s shoulder. Mr Worthington had tears in his eyes too, but Eden didn’t. “I knew you’d find me,” he said softly and kissed Summer gently. Summer gave a small appreciative moan and settled back into sleep with a sigh and a smile.
OVER THE next few days Summer recovered remarkably quickly. At first, he was very weak and slept most of the time. Although his muscles had been kept toned, they were stiff and unused to bearing his weight, so at first he found it difficult to move and impossible to sit or stand unaided, but his strength returned quickly.
On the third day he was sitting up in bed supported by a mound of pillows, opening Christmas presents with Eden and Suzi. He’d insisted on opening the old ones so they could have new ones for this Christmas.
“I can’t believe you kept these all this time,” he remarked.
“What did you expect me to do with them?”
“Open them, you idiot. That’s what they were for.”
“I wanted you to be here when I did.” Summer stopped opening the present he had balanced on his knee and gazed at Eden.
“Well,” he said thoughtfully, “I did say I’d be back by Christmas.” He shrugged and grinned. “I just didn’t say which Christmas.”
“No, you didn’t,” Eden agreed in a subdued voice.
“I wouldn’t have blamed you if you’d moved on and left me behind. I wouldn’t have expected you to wait this long.”
“What kind of stupid thing is that to say? Of course I waited; I knew you’d come back.”
“I did try,” Summer said seriously. “I remembered the promise, but I got lost. I didn’t realise how long I was lost though.”
“What do you mean ‘lost’?”
This was the first Summer had spoken of the time when he was asleep. He’d been shocked to find it had been three years, but was very philosophical about it.
“Well – at first there wasn’t really anything; just kind of voices in darkness. I was – not really there, if you know what I mean.” Eden didn’t but said nothing, not wanting to disturb the flow and desperate to hear the full story. “Then there was kind of a – place. It wasn’t real. I knew it wasn't real but I also knew I needed to find a way through it; to find a way to get back to you. I didn’t want to break my promise so I wandered around for ages, but I couldn’t find anything to lead me back.
“I think I went around in circles a lot and I got very tired. In the end I sat down and I didn’t want to get up again. The longer I sat the more tired I got and the less I wanted to get up. I think that eventually I would have lain down and gone to sleep, and I don’t think I would ever have woken up. I think I would have died.” Summer was speaking very matter–of–factly, but at that point he stopped and shivered.
“What happened?” Suzi asked, eagerly. Eden was beyond speech.
“The star,” Summer said firmly.
“Star?” Eden asked sharply, sitting up straighter. “That’s what you said when you were waking up. You know, most people would have said something like ‘Where am I?’ or ‘What happened?’ but you said ‘Where’s the bloody star?’”
Summer giggled.”Well I was pissed that it had suddenly disappeared. But when I realised I’d got back it didn’t matter.”
“So you followed a star?”
“Kind of – and I can tell you that if the three wise men travelled all that way following a star they were better navigators than I am. It’s not easy to follow a star, especially when it keeps moving. It must have been frustrating for them when day came and the star disappeared. Mine didn’t because it was always dark.”
“So then what?” Suzi asked impatiently.
“I followed the star for a while and then I got tired again and lay down. I was almost asleep when an angel woke me up.”
“An angel?” Suzi queried with scorn.
“Not exactly an angel. I mean she didn’t have a halo or wings or anything like that, but she shone and her eyes were golden, like she had gold contact lenses in that swirled and flickered. She gave me her hand and it was unbelievably hard to lift mine and take it. But when I did I felt better and I followed her.
“I kept getting tired and wanting to sit down and she kept pulling me on. I’m sure I never would have made it to the maze without her.”
“I’m getting to it,” he said impatiently. “I didn’t know it was a maze, not at first. It was just a door, but when I went through the door I was in a maze. It was very confusing but the angel led me through until I got the hang of it, then she left. I was really scared at first but she told me to follow the star and it would bring me back to you; so I did and it did.”
“Wow, that was some dream,” Suzi laughed. “Although I suppose it would be, lasting three years.”
Summer gave her a strange look. “A dream? I – yeah I suppose it was.”
Two days later, on the twenty second of December, Summer went home. His parents wanted him to go to their home but he point blank refused and insisted on going with Eden. Eden’s parents, of course agreed. Summer was like a son to them but they were less overprotective than his own parents, and although they made up a room next to Eden’s for him, they never expected him to stay there.
That night, lying in Summer’s arms after lovemaking that was slow and gentle, Eden finally let go of the fear and started to smile, a smile that began so deep within that by the time it got to the surface it was blinding.
“What are you smiling about?”
“What do you think? I’ve waited three years for this moment.”
“It’s nuts isn’t it? Three years. Fuck, I still can’t get my head around the fact that I slept for three years.”
“You were my sleeping beauty.” Eden smiled and gently stroked his cheek. Summer closed his eyes and sighed. “And I never got tired of looking into your beautiful face, not for a moment, not ever.”
Summer opened his eyes and smiled. “I love you Eden. I never forgot that, not for a minute. I felt it all around me all the time; that love. If it hadn’t been for that, for you, I would never have found my way back.”
Eden frowned. “Yes you would have. You’re strong, Summer, the strongest person I know. You would have found your way back somehow.”
“I’m not at all sure of that; but it doesn’t matter, because, for whatever reason, I did find my way back and now I’m here where I belong – with you.”
Snuggling in close Eden closed his eyes while Summer stroked his back and he fell asleep in utter contentment.
On Christmas Eve, Summer and Eden were Christmas shopping. Summer wasn't up to walking around town yet so Eden was pushing him in a chair. They had to stop every few minutes because it seemed that everyone wanted to say hello and find out how Summer was doing. The Worthingtons were a well–known family and well liked too, and Summer was universally adored for his sunny nature and quiet manners.
The constant interruptions and busy shops very quickly had Summer on the point of exhaustion. As quick and complete as his recovery had been, it had left him weak and it would take time to build up his strength. By the time Eden pushed him back to the car he was barely able to keep his eyes open.
Stiffly, he got out of the chair and leaned against the car while Eden stored it in the boot. Suddenly he cried out and Eden turned to see him flying across the snow. On the far side of the car park he saw a flash of red and blue and Eden was shocked to realise that Summer had thrown himself into the arms of a complete stranger.
Running across the snow–filled space Eden skidded to a halt as he heard Summer say:
“Thank you. Thank you so much. You saved me. You brought me home. You sent me the star didn’t you? You sent the star to me to guide me home and you helped me not give up. You’re my angel.”
“And what makes you think that?” a chillingly familiar female voice asked.
“Don’t even try to pretend,” Summer said, laughing. “I know you. I will never forget you.”
The woman’s laugh was rich and full. “It is such a pleasure to meet you and find that you are as beautiful on the outside as your soul is on the inside. It doesn’t happen very often.” The woman raised her hand to the side of his face and looked deep into his eyes, smiling. “You didn’t need me, you never needed me; you had all the means and motivation to make it on your own.” She glanced over at Eden, her blue eyes twinkling.
Summer blushed. “I tried. I tried to get back to him but...”
“You would have made it, Summer. You have a good man there; kind and strong. He would have brought you home.”
Summer gazed at Eden, his smile blinding. “Eden, this is the angel. She came to me. She saved me.”
“I know,” Eden said quietly, “we’ve met.”
“You have?” Summer remarked in surprise.
“Yes. She told me you were coming back to me, and I believed her.”
“You were kind to a helpless woman in distress, Eden. There is power in that; power that may not always be apparent but which never goes unnoticed or unrewarded. I didn’t send the star, you did.”
With a smile that encompassed both of them the woman, who suddenly didn’t seem very old after all, raised her arms and spun around in a swirl of red and blue skirts. A bright light seemed to burst from her and both boys turned away their heads, blinking in the glare. When they were able to look again the woman was gone. Lying on the floor where she had been was a small, brightly coloured piece of card. Eden picked it up and turned it over lying flat on the palm of his hand so that Summer could see it. There was no doubt now, the picture was most certainly Summer.
“The star,” he said.