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Lanterns

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Chapter 7

Ruby

I rubbed my left eye with the heel of my left hand and squinted at the orderly lines of black text that marched their way across the screen of my laptop. One of the only downsides to TAFE was that even as a part-time student, I still had homework that needed to be done. Right now I was up to my metaphorical elbows in my homework for my Friday afternoon class, and it was giving me one hell of a headache. That the Hanson fandom was currently in turmoil wasn’t helping matters. The last time I’d ventured onto the forums at Hanson.net, a full third of the new threads I’d seen had been almost nothing but panic over the rumours that Hanson were on the verge of breaking up. About half of the remaining new threads served only to make fun of the fandom’s all-too-common panic merchants. All it really did, aside from making my headache worse, was remind me that while I loved Hanson with all that I was, most of the fans just pissed me off.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” I mumbled. There was no real point in continuing with my homework, not when my head was pounding as much as it was. I had to get ready for TAFE anyway – a glance at the clock in my computer’s taskbar revealed the time as 10:35, which gave me just under two hours to have a shower, get dressed and shove everything I needed into my backpack. Considering that on Wednesdays I was only in class for two hours it was a ridiculous amount of effort, and I was seriously considering taking the day off. Especially as I wasn’t back to what I considered normal.

Almost as soon as I had left my caravan to head up to the amenities block with everything I needed for my shower, my phone and the keys to the ladies’ and my caravan in hand, the decision of whether or not I should blow off TAFE was made for me. A dizzy spell hit me just as I was locking my front screen door, and my feet very nearly went out from under me. The only reason I didn’t fall right on my backside was because I had one hand holding onto the steel grating over the flyscreen in the door.

“Jesus Christ, not again,” I groaned as I hauled myself back upright. The dizzy spells were beginning to happen a lot more frequently than they had previously – before now I averaged one every six months, if that. This was my second in as many weeks. One thing was for sure – I wasn’t going to TAFE today, and possibly not even the rest of the week. My dizzy spells tended to lay me out for a few days, and last Wednesday’s had been no exception. There was no doubt in my mind that today’s would be exactly the same.

“You all right, Ruby?”

I risked looking over to my right, at the owner of that voice – one of my next door neighbours from site 160, Trent. He was looking at me with the sort of concern he usually reserved for his wife and daughters, and judging from the surfboard he had propped up against the exterior of his family’s caravan he was heading off for a surf.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” I replied. “I just…” I bit back a sigh. “Can you help me get back inside? I don’t think I can move without falling over.”

“Yeah, of course,” Trent said, and he came over to where I was still clinging to my front door. He slipped an arm around my back to hold me up. “You can let go now, okay? I’ve got you.” I let go of the door with a sigh of relief – my hand had started to cramp up from the sheer effort of supporting my entire weight with just my fingers. “Give me your keys and I’ll let us in.”

In almost no time at all Trent had my front screen and glass doors unlocked and opened, and had guided me back inside to sit on the lounge in my caravan’s annexe. I immediately shifted onto my back and tipped my head back against one of the lounge’s armrests. “Is there anyone you want me to call for you?” Trent asked after he’d ducked back outside to collect the bits and pieces I had dropped on the ground.

“Yeah, my mum,” I replied without looking away from the ceiling. “Her number’s under ‘Mum’ in my phone.”

“On it,” Trent said, and soon I was hearing his side of a phone call I always dreaded having to make. “Hi Mrs. McCormick, my name’s Trent Fowler – I’m one of Ruby’s neighbours…she’s fine, but she had a bit of a dizzy spell this morning. I thought I should let you know…yeah, of course. I’ll let her know.” He hung up and handed my phone to me. “Your mum will be over in a little while,” he said.

“Thanks, Trent,” I said quietly. I would have spoken at my normal volume, but right then I felt as if the world would shatter if I didn’t keep my voice down.

“Will you be okay on your own?” Trent asked from somewhere behind me.

“I’ll be fine so long as I don’t have to sit up anytime soon,” I replied. “Thanks, Trent.”

“No worries, Ruby.” Trent’s hand brushed across my hair, and soon I heard my front doors slide open and closed.

The first thing I did as soon as I was alone was send Lisbeth a text message. Not coming to tafe today. Had a dizzy spell when i was going to have a shower and i think it would be better if i stayed home.

A few minutes after I’d sent the text, my phone rang in my hand – according to my caller ID, Lisbeth was on the phone. “Hey Lis,” I said to answer my phone.

“Hey, you all right?” Lisbeth asked.

“Aside from feeling like my head’s going to fall off if I try and sit up, I’m fine,” I replied, rubbing at my eyes with my free hand as I spoke. “I’m going to try and come in tomorrow but I’m not going to promise anything.”

For a few moments Lisbeth didn’t say a word, and I was almost certain the line had dropped out. “I’m going to skip this afternoon’s class,” she said at last.

“Lis, don’t-” I started.

“It’s a bludge class Ruby, Ian won’t care if I don’t turn up. I want to talk to you anyway.”

“About what?” I asked, my tone unintentionally suspicious.

“Taylor was asking about you last Thursday, that’s all. I think he was kind of worried and a little disappointed that you weren’t at lunch.”

“He was?” I asked.

“Yeah. See, I told you he likes you.”

“We’re friends Lis, of course he’s going to be worried. And anyway it’s too early for you or anyone else to say if he likes me or not.”

“You do like him, though,” Lisbeth said slyly.

“I do not!” Even as I denied this, though, I could feel my face heating up. “Lis just fucking quit it already, okay?”

“Okay, okay, jeez. But we are going to have a chat about it this afternoon, all right?”

“Oh fine. See you this arvo.”

“Atta girl. See ya.” And with that she hung up. I listened to the end-of-call tone for a few moments before hanging up.

I had been staring at the ceiling from my spot on the lounge for roughly half an hour after Lisbeth’s phone call, counting the little glow-in-the-dark stars that a previous tenant had stuck up there, when someone knocked on the screen door and called out my name – Mum. “It’s open,” I called back.

“You are going to be the death of me someday, Ruby,” Mum said as she walked past where I lay on the lounge, over to my desk to fetch my computer chair. “What happened exactly?” she asked as she dragged the chair over so she could sit level with me.

“I was going to have a shower,” I replied. “Fucking dizzy spell hit me right as I was locking up.” I closed my eyes briefly. “I had one last week as well but at least that one decided to hit before I went outside.”

“Are you feeling any better?”

I risked a nod, and felt more than a little relieved when the room didn’t start spinning again. “A little bit. Dizziness is mostly gone now. My head just hurts.”

“Do you think you’ll be up to going to TAFE tomorrow?” Mum asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know, to be completely honest with you. I probably won’t decide until tomorrow morning.”

“Well, if you do decide to go, can you promise me a few things?”

“I suppose so,” I said warily.

Mum seemed to ignore my tone. “Get a lift with Lisbeth,” she said. “I really don’t think you should be driving anywhere at the moment. And take Sadie with you.”

“I don’t have class until the afternoon, though,” I protested. “Lis gets there at like eight-thirty, and my classes don’t start until twelve-thirty. I’d just be wasting my time hanging around.”

“Your TAFE has a library, does it not? You can do your homework until you go to class – I’m sure you have something due soon, you’re doing your Diploma after all. And I want you to go and see your doctor again soon.” Mum reached down to my head and tucked a few locks of hair behind my right ear. “I know you hate all of this, Ruby. Really, I do. I’m only looking out for your wellbeing.”

“I know, Mum. I just hate feeling like an invalid.”

Mum gave me a smile and got up from her seat. “You sit tight. I’m going to make you a cup of tea.”

I returned her smile. “Thanks, Mum.”

While Mum was up in the caravan, I decided it was worth risking sitting up and hopping back on my laptop for a little while. I was going to have to sit up anyway once Mum had made my tea and brought it into the annexe. The first thing I did once it had loaded onto my desktop and connected to the caravan park’s wireless network was open up Firefox and click on my bookmark for Hanson.net. There was no way I was going to poke around in the forums again any time soon – all I’d get out of that was ten fewer IQ points and an even worse headache than I already had – so instead I loaded up the site blog. Its newest entry was a band effort, posted just a few hours earlier.

Last week, a newspaper in Sydney that we are not going to name posted on their website that one of us had started attending TAFE. In the wake of all the rumours that are currently floating around on the Web, we have only the following to say:

Yes, Taylor is currently attending a TAFE college somewhere in New South Wales. We had hoped to keep this under wraps for as long as possible, preferably until the end of the course he is studying, but unfortunately it seems this wasn’t to be. The rumours that are being spread are not true – we are not going to be breaking up anytime soon. We have made plans to tour in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and New Zealand this year, along with Tasmania, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Southeast Asia in 2014. We are also planning to begin recording our sixth album sometime during the next twelve months. We would not be planning any of this if we were about to split up. The three of us are wholly committed to our careers as musicians and to the band. Walking away from nearly twenty-one years as musicians is not a decision that we would make lightly, and it is a decision we hope that we never have to make.

As to what Taylor is studying and where, revealing that information is entirely up to him and nobody else. All that anybody needs to know is that everyone in the band or associated with us is fully supportive of his decision to continue his education.

In the words of Douglas Adams, DON’T PANIC.

- Isaac, Taylor and Zac

“‘Don’t panic’,” I muttered. “Yeah, like that’s going to do any good. Won’t stop everyone being panic merchants over the whole thing.”

“What are you grumbling about this time?” Mum asked as she came down the steps from the caravan, carrying two mugs of tea – she held my exploding TARDIS mug in her left hand, and in her right hand was the blue-and-yellow striped mug that I’d bought from one of the terrace shops on Collins Street during my last visit to Kiama. I took my TARDIS mug from her and wrapped my hands around it, relishing its warmth against my palms and fingers.

“Taylor Hanson goes to my TAFE,” I replied. “And some idiot decided they were going to tell The Daily Telegraph about it. Once the news got out all the really flighty twits in fandom freaked out that the band was going to break up, which of course they’re not.” I sipped my tea carefully so that I didn’t burn my mouth. “They wouldn’t be touring this year if they were going to break up.”

“Don’t call them twits,” Mum chided. “And how do you know he goes to Wollongong TAFE?”

“Aside from him being dobbed on in the Telegraph? I ran into him with my wheelchair first day of term. Told me he was doing Design while we were heading over to the uni for lunch.”

“I hope you apologised for that.”

“Of course I did. And anyway, he can’t have been all that broken up about it because we’re mates now.” I couldn’t help but grin when I said those last four words. Three weeks since we had finally met properly and I still couldn’t believe that I was actually one of Taylor Hanson’s friends. I knew it would sink in eventually, but for the moment I was going to revel in that particular little bit of knowledge.

Lisbeth, it seemed, was as good as her earlier word. No sooner had I finished my cup of tea that there was yet another knock at my front door, and Mum got to her feet. “Were you expecting anyone in particular to come over today?” she asked as she walked to the front door.

“Yeah, Lis called me earlier and said she was blowing off class, though she wasn’t actually supposed to drop around until this arvo. She said she wanted to talk to me about something.” I shifted forward a little and set my empty mug down on the coffee table. “Though why she couldn’t talk to me on the phone about it, I’m really not sure.” I looked over at the front door just in time to see Lisbeth walk inside. “I thought you weren’t coming until this arvo?”

“Hello to you too,” Lisbeth replied. “And Jen said we could leave for lunch early if we wanted to, so I did. I got Ella to let Ian know I won’t be there this arvo.” To my mother she said, “Hi Mrs. McCormick.”

“Hello Lisbeth. You do know you can call me Trish, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know. I just feel weird calling you that, though. Force of habit, I suppose.”

“That’s fair.” Mum glanced briefly back at me. “I might leave you girls to talk, then. Ruby, where do you keep your laundry basket?”

“Bathroom,” I replied. “Laundry key’s on the rack next to the front door.”

“Your mum still does your laundry?” Lisbeth asked in a low voice once she was sitting next to me on the lounge.

I shrugged. “Sometimes. I don’t expect her to do it, but she does it anyway. Usually only when I’m feeling a hell of a lot worse than usual. Rest of the time it’s my responsibility.” I settled back into the lounge and eyed Lisbeth. “So what did you want to talk to me about?”

“You need to tell him,” Lisbeth replied. “And you need to tell him soon.”

“Tell who about what?”

“Taylor. If anyone’s going to have even just the faintest idea of what you’ve been going through for the last eight and a half years, it’s him.”

“No he won’t.” My tone was almost resigned. “How could he?”

Lisbeth opened her mouth to say something before closing it with an audible click of her teeth. “You really do live under a rock, don’t you?” she asked, and I raised an eyebrow at her. “You don’t remember all the drama that went on in 2002? I’d have thought that you of all people would have paid attention to it all.”

“I was too busy trying to make it through Year 12 and the HSC with my sanity intact, Lis,” I reminded her. “I’m still not entirely sure I managed it, seeing as I’m still friends with you.” I raised an eyebrow after I said this, an indicator that I was joking.

Lisbeth shook her head in seeming disbelief. “One of these days Ruby, you and me are going to sit down and we are going to watch Strong Enough To Break together. Maybe then you’ll realise why Taylor would understand all too well what you’re going through.”

“I will tell him, Lis. Just not yet. He’ll find out when I’m ready to tell him.”

But as I soon discovered, just because I wasn’t ready for certain people to find out certain things about me didn’t mean that the universe wanted to wait for me to be ready.

The next morning I was feeling a lot better than I normally did after one of my dizzy spells, something I hoped had a lot to do with the fact that after Mum and Lisbeth had left the previous afternoon, I had taken my laptop and Sadie up into the caravan and gone back to bed. I could only assume I looked better as well, for that was the first thing that Lisbeth commented on when she picked me up on her way to TAFE.

“You look a lot better,” she said as I climbed into the front passenger seat of her car after letting Sadie into the backseat. Normally I wouldn’t have listened to my mother when she asked me to do something, but I did have to concede that she had a point in asking me to get a lift with Lisbeth. “How’re you feeling?”

“Much better,” I replied as I did up my seatbelt. “Definitely not as shaky or dizzy as yesterday, that’s for sure. I’m still going to take it easy this morning, though – I’ll probably hang out in the library until lunch time.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” Lisbeth agreed. She put her car into reverse and backed out into the carpark. “Wouldn’t want you keeling over right in the middle of campus in front of everyone.”

“No, definitely not.”

The three hours between arriving at TAFE and heading up to the canteen for lunch passed by mostly without incident. I sat in the library’s lounge area with my Kindle, crutches close at hand and Sadie curled up at my feet, and worked my way through the first ten or so chapters of A Game Of Thrones. All morning since arriving at TAFE I’d had a mild headache building up behind my eyes, but I was putting that down to not having eaten much for breakfast that morning. I usually did end up with the mother of all headaches if I didn’t eat properly. And being as it wasn’t all that irritating yet, I persevered in my reading until just before noon. Only then did I mark my place in my book, slip my Kindle into its case and from there into my backpack, and haul myself to my feet. “Come on Sadie,” I said, slipping my arms into the cuffs at the top of my crutches and curling my fingers around the handgrips.

Lisbeth and Ella met up with me as I left the library, Sadie trotting along beside me. “You’re here early,” Ella said as the two of them fell into step on either side of me, Lisbeth being careful to give Sadie enough space.

“I got a lift with Lis this morning,” I replied. “Mum kinda insisted, she didn’t want me driving after yesterday. Anthony not here today?”

“Nope,” Lisbeth replied. “That brother of his dragged him off to go surfing up at Byron Bay for the weekend. Two days early, mind you.”

“Of course he did. He’s going to have Kath coming down on him like a tonne of bricks next Friday arvo if he isn’t careful.”

Taylor was waiting for the three of us in the canteen at what had become our little group’s regular table, typing away on a Bluetooth keyboard set up in front of what I figured was his iPad. “You want anything from the canteen Ruby?” Ella asked as I sat down next to Taylor, propping my crutches up against the table next to me.

“Yeah, Hawaiian pizza if they have any.” I dug my wallet out of my backpack and took a five dollar note out, handing it to Ella. “If they don’t can you get me some hot chips?”

“Yeah, no worries. Anyone else want anything?” Ella asked, and when Taylor and Lisbeth both shook their heads she wandered off to get lunch for me and herself.

“So what’re you doing?” I asked Taylor, seeing that he was still typing away.

“Tour stuff,” he replied without looking up. “We’re going down to Victoria during autumn break so I’m sorting out where we might end up playing shows.”

“Where in Victoria?” Lisbeth asked.

“So far I’ve got Ballarat, Shepparton, Geelong, Bendigo and Mildura. It’d be a hell of a lot easier if the wireless here wasn’t complete bullshit and I hadn’t left my modem at home.”

It wasn’t until Ella came back to the table with my pizza and a sandwich for herself that it happened. I had just ripped open the plastic wrapper around my lunch when I started to feel very light-headed, spots of light popping up in my vision. “Hey, you okay Ruby?” Lisbeth asked, though I could barely hear her over the buzzing in my ears. It sounded almost as if a couple of very angry bees had taken up residence there. “You look really pale.”

“I-I think so,” I replied, cursing my voice for shaking so much. Liar, the little voice that lived in the back of my head said.

“You definitely are not okay,” Taylor decided. Out of the corner of my right eye I could see him studying me. “Right now you look almost exactly the same as I did nearly eleven years ago.”

“I’m fine,” I said stubbornly, and I made a half-hearted attempt at standing up. Unfortunately that was right about the time that my body decided it was going to betray me, and instead of falling back into my seat I fell on the hard linoleum floor, landing squarely on my backside. “Ow!”

“Yeah, you’re definitely not okay,” Ella said. “I think you need to go home – you don’t look well at all.”

“Ella, I’m fine,” I started to say, just as my head started spinning. I quickly shut my eyes so that I couldn’t see the canteen revolving around me. “Oh for fuck’s sake, not again,” I groaned, now realising that this was yet another of my dizzy spells. “I knew I should have stayed home again today…”

“Easy there, I’ve got you,” I heard Taylor say through the buzzing in my ears. I could feel someone wrapping an arm around my shoulders and helping me back to my feet as he spoke. “I can drop you home if you like – Ella’s right, you should be at home right now.”

“You don’t mind?” I asked. “I mean, you’ve got class this afternoon – I don’t want you to miss it.”

“I don’t mind a bit,” he assured me. “My teacher won’t mind either, and I can email her later on to explain why I wasn’t in class.” I cracked one eye open right in time to see him smirking at me. “And hell, you can finally tell people you had Taylor Hanson sitting in your lounge room.”

“I should probably come as well,” Lisbeth said. “If I know Ruby as well as I should by now, she’s in no mood or state to play navigator. And it can be tricky to find her place, it’s a little out of the way.”

“I am here, you know,” I said irritably as I slipped my arms back into the cuffs of my crutches.

“Yes Ruby, we know,” Lisbeth said. She picked up my backpack by its handle with one hand, carrying her own backpack over one shoulder, and took Sadie’s leash into her other. “Where are you parked, Taylor?”

“Lysaght Street carpark. Bit of a hike but I was running late this morning.” He shrugged. “Lost track of time while I was out having a surf.”

The walk from the canteen to the Lysaght Street carpark was a slow one, mostly because I knew without much doubt that I would fall over if I walked too quickly. As the three of us walked Lisbeth and Taylor talked with one another, their voices barely louder than the sounds of Wollongong TAFE and its surrounds on a Thursday – classes in the various blocks we walked past, birds flying overhead and perched in the trees around campus, students in the playground of Keira High School, and cars driving along the nearby Princes Highway. When we finally made it to Taylor’s car, parked near the Lysaght Street campus entrance in the shade of a tree, I did a double take.

That’s your car?” I asked, instantly recognising it. Taylor’s car was a dark blue Mitsubishi Lancer with customised Sydney Roosters numberplates and a sticker reading Hanson: better than your band since 1992 on the rear bumper. In other words, it was the same car that I had parked beside at the very beginning of term.

“Yep,” Taylor replied. “What, not what you expected?”

“It’s not that – I parked beside it on orientation day.” I let out a quiet laugh. “I would never have expected you to have a Hanson sticker on your car, that’s for sure. I bet it throws people right off.”

“That’s the whole point.” Taylor grinned and unlocked his car. “Come on. You can have a lie down in the back if you like, Ruby.”

I didn’t end up lying down during the drive up to Bellambi, but I did keep my eyes closed the whole way. I had gone via this particular route so many times that I didn’t even need to listen to Lisbeth playing navigator – I could tell what streets she was telling Taylor to drive down based solely on the turns he made. Left onto the Princes Highway from Lysaght Street, drive around the roundabout at Mount Ousley Road, keep going on the Princes Highway until Towradgi Road and hang a right, hang a left onto the Northern Distributor, hang another right onto Rothery Street, and lastly turn onto Bott Drive. I could tell that we had arrived at the Village when Taylor slowed down to drive over the speed bump in the caravan park’s driveway.

“Here we are,” Lisbeth said. “Ruby, is your keycard in your wallet?”

“Yep,” I replied without opening my eyes. “Front pocket of my backpack.”

I didn’t open my eyes again until the car had stopped outside my caravan. “Keys are in the same pocket as my wallet,” I said as I popped open the left passenger door and swivelled myself around so that I could get out of the car. One thing was for sure – there was no way in hell that I was getting out of bed for anything short of a cyclone over the next few days. Going to TAFE today had been a very bad idea.

The very first thing I did as soon as I was inside the annexe was sit down on the lounge, letting out a sigh of relief the second I was off my feet. Sadie for her part had lain down on the floor next to my feet, and I reached down to unclip her leash from her collar. “Thanks for the lift home, Taylor,” I said.

“No worries,” Taylor said. He was standing right in the middle of the annexe, looking around at everything in what passed for my lounge room – my TV, Blu-ray player and stereo on their long, low cabinet against the opposite wall (along with all my movies, TV show box sets, video games and my Wii console in the compartments underneath), the tall rack that held all of my CDs, the air conditioner up high on the wall, my other kitchen table with its mismatched chairs that usually only saw use when I had friends over, my desk with my laptop, wireless modem for my mobile broadband and all my TAFE notebooks in their folders set out on top, and my coffee table with books, a couple of DVD cases, coasters, a silver lantern that had a tealight candle inside and a clear glass vase that held four fake gerberas. “So this is your place then?”

“Yep,” I replied. “It’s not much, I know, but it’s home.” I reached up to the side of the caravan and banged on it. “My bedroom and kitchen are up in there.”

“I’m going to go for a wander up to the café,” Lisbeth said a little suddenly, and both Taylor and I looked at her. “You two need to have a talk.”

“Okay then,” Taylor said, sounding very uncertain. “And it’s not something we can talk about with you in the room, is that right?”

“Well, it’s something that Ruby won’t talk about if I’m in the room. She’ll make me explain it all.” Lisbeth rolled her eyes somewhat theatrically at this before looking at me meaningfully and raising an eyebrow. “I’ll probably be back in half an hour or so.”

Neither Taylor nor I said a word until Lisbeth had left for the Village’s café. All of a sudden I was feeling extremely nervous – the only other people who knew about this, I had known them for years already. I had known Taylor for all of three weeks. “So what do you need to talk to me about?” Taylor asked at last, and I looked up at him.

“Something I absolutely hate talking about unless I can’t get out of it,” I replied. “And Lisbeth is going to be very cross at me if I don’t tell you before she gets back. You might want to sit down – it’s a bit of a long story, but I’ll try and give you the abridged version.”

“Must be serious then,” Taylor commented as he sat down beside me.

“Yeah, that’s an understatement.” I picked at the right knee of my jeans. “I’m sick,” I said, deciding to come right out with it. “I have an illness called chronic fatigue syndrome – I was diagnosed about halfway through 2004.”

“Your second year of uni,” Taylor said. To me it sounded as if he was beginning to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. “I remember you said that on orientation day.”

“Damn you have a good memory. Yeah, it was my second year of uni. I got sick just after New Year’s 2004 though – one morning I just couldn’t get out of bed. It was mostly bone-deep exhaustion but all my joints were on fire as well. I kept falling asleep in my lectures and tutorials as well once uni went back. I eventually had to drop out because I just couldn’t concentrate, plus I was taking far too much time off to make it worth the effort. Of course there’s no specific test for CFS so my doctor had to test me for every single illness under the bloody sun just to narrow things down. I got tested for multiple sclerosis, lupus, the flu, even leukaemia.” As I said this last word I was almost certain I could feel Taylor stiffen up a little beside me. “It wasn’t any of those, though. It was one hell of a relief when she finally told me exactly what it was that I had.”

“I bet it was. I take it that’s why you have to use crutches or a wheelchair to get around.”

I nodded. “Pretty much, yeah. My walking stick as well, my left side is a little weak. I can’t really walk more than a few metres without any of them. It sucks, but I’m dealing with it as best I can. Lots of medication for one. That’s probably the worst part of it all – I can handle the exhaustion, the occasional dizzy spell and my left knee giving out on me all the time, but I’m practically a walking fucking pharmacy. Anytime I go away on holiday my handbag fucking rattles.” Taylor laughed at this, and I shot him a dirty look. “Hey, it’s not that funny!”

“It kinda is,” Taylor said, still snickering. “Remind me to tell you why later on.”

“Oh, I definitely will.” I glanced at him. “So you’re okay with all of this?”

“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just don’t tend to tell many people unless I know them particularly well, because I never know how they’ll react. Some people in the past just automatically assumed I was putting it on. Hell even Centrelink did at first when I was trying to get on the disability pension, the bastards. They changed their tune after I walked into the Wollongong office with Sadie and my crutches in tow.” I gave Sadie a scratch behind the ears with the toe of my right sneaker. “Sadie’s my assistance dog – helps me with things I can’t do easily on my own, especially when I’m stuck in bed. Gets my phone for me when it rings, lets me know if there’s someone at the door, that sort of thing. And she’s a complete sook as well, aren’t you Sadie?” I asked her, and she looked up at me before giving me her version of a grin.

“Thanks for telling me, Ruby.”

I smiled. “No worries, Taylor.”