Twenty: Better

This chapter is dedicated to Kimmieh (supaNOODLE). :] ilykim<3x

Surprisingly, dinner isn’t as bad as I am expecting; not as many questions are asked as I’d anticipated. Instead a light, friendly chatter overtakes the meal and my life in America and my lack of contact aren’t mentioned.

Gerard has quite a few questions fired his way, and he answers them all politely and even cracks a few jokes. Mum and Giselle (Giselle especially) warm to him faster than Callum does, but he’s not exactly rude to Gerard either, just quiet.

“So, Gerard, how did you come to meet Layla?” Mum asks curiously as she serves our dessert.

“Oh, she came to one of our shows...” He begins, eagerly digging into his plate of cake. “And there was a small incident – very small – and from then on we just stayed in contact.”

“Shows?” Giselle echoed.

“Oh – yeah. I’m...In a band, My Chemical Romance and...”

Giselle’s face is blank; Mum’s face shows a slight recognition and Callum positively glows. “I love you!” he bursts out.

We all stare at him.

“Pardon?” I say.

“I mean...your band!” Callum mumbles, blushing. “I have both your albums and...” he trails off now.

“That’s why you were so quiet,” Giselle observed. “I’m sorry to say Gerard I’ve never heard of your band. Sorry.”

“Its okay,” Gerard smiles. “That’s actually quite refreshing.”

“He’s disappointed, really,” I tease, nudging Gerard with my elbow. He does this peculiar eye-rolling thing that he knows I absolutely detest him doing.

“Ew!” I shudder, turning my head away. “Ew. That’s really...disgusting.”

He just laughs. “I’m going to use that whenever I want you to shut up,” he announces. “It’s a useful trick.”

“Why would you want me to shut up?” I ask. I’m not that annoying.

“Like when you say you’re ugly,” he suggests.

I shake my head. “Moving swiftly on...”

When dinner’s over, we go to the living room. I know a big chat is coming up so I at least try and dictate what direction we go in.

“What’s Francesca’s problem?” I inquire.

“Oh, we’ve no idea,” Mum says vaguely. “She’s been very...difficult about everything...about you in general, ever since you went to America.”

“She’s really annoying me!” Giselle exploded. “She’s ... gargh!”

“Oh...I want to apologise for my lack of contact,” I add onto a short chat about Francesca’s moods, “it wasn’t me. My agent lied to you...I...I’m really, really sorry.”

Mum hugs me. “I know, pet. It weren’t your fault entirely, and Francesca needs to realise that.”

“If you ask me, Francesca needs a good kick up the arse,” Callum observes. Mum sighs and shakes her head at him.

Then, the conversation moves onto my attempted suicide.

My stomach drops as soon as Mum mentions it; I feel myself break out in sweat and I bite my lip and fumble with a loose thread on the black skirt I’m wearing. Then I feel Gerard’s hand squeeze mine.

“...I just wanted to know why...” for the first time since I arrived back, Mum’s voice sounds sad. I begin to feel really, really tired.

“I...I...” I struggle to answer. “It was a mixture...a mixture of things...”

Gerard’s hand squeezes again.

“It aunt’s death...not seeing you...the pressure of my job...this pressure to be something I’m not...a string of unsuccessful, meaningless was just...everything.”

This wasn’t as in-depth and explanation as the one I’d given Gerard but it’d do.

“Have you been to therapy?” Mum asks, concerned.

“No,” I inform her. “I was offered it a lot but I turned it all down. I saw no point...I still see no point. I just needed someone to talk to and...” shyly, I eye Gerard out of the corner of my eyes.

“You found that person,” Gerard observes in a low voice, sitting back in his seat and dropping my hand.

“Are you better now, or...?”

I consider this, give myself a few moments so I can actually say that I am better and mean it.

“Yes. Yes, I am; I’m better than I was twelve months ago by miles. My mind’s not so cluttered and I’m not focusing on my job as much because I have more to look forward to now. I’m starting to regain control of what I lost...I...I’m better. I’m not perfect, not yet, but I’m better.”

Giselle and Callum sit back, satisfied with my words, but Mum doesn’t look convinced.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m entirely sure. I feel stronger, happier. I’m more able to cope, I reckon...”

“How long are you staying in England?” Mum asks a few moments later after we sit in silence.

“I don’t know,” I answer. “I really don’t know.”

Then I yawn. “I’m really tired,” I announce softly. “Where shall we...?”

“Oh, you can have your old room,” Mum waves a hand.

“And Gerard?” I stand, and Gerard stands with me.

“You can have your room,” Mum repeats. “You know where the camp bed’s kept, Layla.”


“In the airing cupboard,” Mum sighs with a roll of her eyes. “The blankets and pillows are in there too. I’d come and get them myself but my legs aren’t what they used to be and –”

“What a lie,” Callum muttered. “Just because Coronation Street’s on in a minute!”

Mum whacks him across the head.

“It’s okay, Mum, really.” I kiss her on the cheek, and my two siblings. Then I go upstairs, Gerard following me.

“Now you’ve met my family,” I sigh, showing him into my room. It’s painted white; all the furniture is various shades of pink and painfully girly. “Sorry about the décor. When I was younger I never used to care about what my room looked like so I kept it how it was when I was about six.”

“No, don’t apologise. It’s nice,” Gerard lies. Then he sits on the bed as I leave the room to fetch the camping bed and some bedding for Gerard. He must have heard the commotion of me lugging everything out of the airing cupboard because he comes out of my room.

“Need some help?” he asks.

“Just a little bit,” I smile weakly at him. Without much help from me, he gets the camp bed into my room and I follow on with a quilt and a pillow.

“I’ll set the bed up while you wash and get changed,” I tell him, beginning to prepare the bed. He watches me for a moment then leaves the room; I hear him trot downstairs and come back up again before going into the bathroom. I hear the bathroom lock slide shut with a click and then running water and then...him, singing.

“Late dawns and early sunsets, just like my favourite scenes...”

I smile to myself and get busy making the bed. I listen to him belt out the whole song and my smile grows as the song goes on.

There’s something about that man that just makes me want to smile.