Leigh’s sister lay in the small cot-like bed, arms over the green-tinged covers, a thin tube feeding into the back of one pale hand, and her eyes closed.
“She’s comfortable,” the man in the white coat said. “And the prognosis is good. She couldn’t be in a better place.”
Leigh nodded, her eyes never leaving Robyn. They’d done something to her hair, but it looked wrong. It lacked body. It stretched over the pillow, falling away from her head. Like it was framing a corpse.
But Robyn wasn’t dead. Leigh clung to that thought.
“How long before she…” Leigh couldn’t finish the sentence.
The doctor—or medic, or nurse, or whatever he was—looked from Robyn, to the machines, and then to Leigh. He smiled, but all that did was make him look young. Barely out of training.
“How long before she wakes? There’s no way of knowing. Situations like this, so much is dependant on the patient themselves. We can stabilise the body, but healing comes from inside. The will of the patient is the one factor over which we have no control.”
That felt like a prepared speech, one his seniors had passed down. And, Leigh noted, he referred to her sister as ‘the patient’. He never said ‘Robyn’, or ‘Mrs Keppler’, or even ‘her’. To the flunky in the white coat, she was just another patient, just another part of the job.
Leigh found his lack of emotional attachment comforting.
“So how long?” she repeated. “Weeks? Months?”
“I really can’t say. But your sister’s a fighter. She’s not giving up.” He hesitated, then said, “Maybe you’d like some time alone with her. I’ll be just outside if you need anything.”
Leigh nodded, giving him the permission he needed to avoid any more awkward questions.
When the door closed behind him, she sat on the cheap plastic chair, her head closer to Robyn. Beneath the medicinal smell was something floral, maybe from the sheets or maybe from Robyn herself. It left Leigh feeling uncomfortable, aware how she must appear, her clothes still crumpled from the flight, her make-up old and tired, and the dried-in sweat of the too-long day clinging to her skin.
They’d waited a whole day. Her own sister lay unconscious, and they only sent a text when her plane touched down. Like she was an afterthought.
“Why did you do this to me?” she whispered. But Leigh knew the accident could have happened to anyone. It wasn’t like Robyn was trying to upstage her little sister’s deal, or the plans she’d made with Marc.
Of course, there was no way of making that announcement now, even though Marc was desperate to tell the world. She’d already called and told him to hold fire, hating herself for putting him through this.
Then the call to her father, blunt and emotionless as always. He filled her in on the facts, like he was reading one of his reports. He said Robyn looked peaceful, but Leigh didn’t see it that way. She lay too rigid, and the covers were smoothed down, like she’d been laid out. It wasn’t natural. Robyn should be curled up, the sheets a tangle around her body. She should have one foot poking from the covers, last night’s nail polish chipped and flaking. There should be books and a glass of water by her bed, and that stupid dancing flower thing she still clung to. There should be a mahogany dresser in the corner, and the bed covers should be that rich red satiny material she loved so much.
Strange how Leigh could picture Robyn’s room better than her own. Maybe because all of hers had been temporary. Robyn had chosen one house and made it her home. Even when Greg moved in.
And their parents had been so pleased at that, hadn’t they? Everyone had. With Greg’s promotion, and Robyn being head-hunted by a couple of big-name firms, things were near perfect. Only the patter of tiny feet would complete the picture.
Leigh’s exams were mentioned in passing. Only a second, not a first like her sister. And nobody mentioned Leigh’s friend, the one who’d overdosed and whose life Leigh had saved.
There were no children yet; Robyn still as stick-like as she’d always been. But Leigh knew her sister would be one of those radiant mums-to-be, and the extra weight would fall from her once their perfect baby was born.
Leigh thought of Marc’s son. He’d brought the child round to their family barbecue last summer—at Leigh’s house, obviously, because their parents’ garden was too small, and Leigh only had the flat. Danny was five, and Leigh loved how he ran to Marc, and how Marc lifted him up high, and how the little fellow squealed at the tickling. And Leigh’s parents smiled politely, then turned back to their conversations. Robyn talked to Danny, and everyone agreed how she’d make a wonderful mother one day. Greg ruffled the boy’s hair, and everyone nodded.
Nobody helped Leigh when she cleaned up after Danny was sick. Nobody but Marc.
Their plans for a child of their own, a sibling for Danny, would have to wait now.
“Don’t die,” she said, brushing away a tear. It probably made her eye-liner smear. Not that anyone would notice.
She grabbed Robyn’s hand, almost expecting it to be cold. “You can’t leave us.” If Robyn were to die, their parents would be distraught. The all-consuming grief would last for months, maybe years.
And Leigh would forever be in the shadow of her dead sister.
Leigh thought of Marc, and their plans. Then she leaned in close, her voice a cold whisper.
“Let me have just one moment.”
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