Updated: Nov 15
Discussion of suicide attempt.
Drug of Choice
They’d saved him.
The doctors and nurses never said it like that, but that was the end result.
His heart still thudded along in his chest, and his lungs still inflated and deflated.
John couldn’t remember what they’d done, but his throat ached, his chest burned, and his stomach throbbed. He gritted his teeth through the pain and curled his fist into the sheet.
An array of people came and went into his hospital room.
They asked him questions.
So many questions.
Police Officer Amy asked.
Where was his mother?
How long had she been gone?
How did he survive on his own?
John didn’t answer.
Even when she blocked his view of the window, he kept his gaze low, and his lips pressed together.
She left, and John fell back to sleep, only to wake at the whoosh of air that signalled the door opening.
A woman sat on the chair beside his bed with a clipboard in her hand. She flipped over the page, tracking her eyes back and forth against a checklist of questions before giving John her full attention.
Her name was Katie.
It was her third attempt at getting him to open up, but she stuck to the same questions.
Did he want to talk about what happened?
How did he feel now?
Would anything make him feel better?
John didn’t answer her either, but she still jotted notes down on the clipboard, and despite his refusal to speak, she continued to shoot small smiles his way, and always said goodbye with cheer in her voice.
Doctor Bunday also asked questions, not about John, he had his own doctors and nurses that did that, but about Alex.
When was your brother born?
Where was he born?
Were there any…difficulties when he was born?
John didn’t answer, but the mention of Alex swept ice through him.
When Doctor Bunday asked if he wanted to see Alex, John answered with a shake of his head.
He'd failed to look after Alex, then failed to set him free.
Scott was his big brother now.
The three visitors came every day, and he told them nothing.
John squeezed his eyes shut, and the next time he was aware of someone in the room, he opened them a crack to scope out the questioner.
Scott’s mum didn’t block out the window.
Sally stood on the other side of John with a weary smile.
She didn’t ask questions, instead, she told John things, mainly about Alex. She’d been taking care of him, just how John knew she would. He’d been in the hospital for seven days, and his liver and kidneys were responding to treatment.
Sally reminded him about the call button dangling from one of the machines, and to press it if he needed pain relief.
She didn’t ask any questions, and neither did Scott.
He sat in the chair on the right side of the bed, but John didn’t mind him blocking out the window, he liked the light around Scott’s silhouette.
It lit up the stray strands of his hair he hadn’t managed to tame.
There were more and more stray hairs every time he visited
Scott told him things instead of demanding answers, but there were questions in his eyes.
John didn’t want him to know the answers.
They shamed him and made his stomach churn.
They were supposed to take Alex, look after him, and never find out.
Scott hadn’t asked any questions, but John needed to ask him one. His lips twitched, and he parted them from his vow of silence, wetting them with his tongue to help with speech.
“Why did you lie to me?”
Scott jolted upright and shuffled his chair closer to John. For a moment John thought Scott would ask him to repeat the question, but then he frowned.
John wetted his lips again. “You told me Mr Andrews gave you a detention. That was a lie.”
Scott pressed back into his chair. His brow folded, and he bit his lip. “You did this because of that?”
John didn’t answer him. He wasn’t answering any questions. He wanted answers.
“I walked over to the pavilion. I…saw.” He couldn’t look at Scott. “I knew you liked her. Why wouldn’t you just tell me the truth?”
“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I thought you’d think I’d…”
“Traded me in for someone else.” John twisted the sheet, creating a pinwheel effect. “That hurts, but you lying to me hurts even more. All I’ve ever been told are lies. I didn’t want to hear them from you.”
“I’m sorry,” Scott whispered. “I didn’t think…I wasn’t thinking. John...look at me.”
He looked at the sun again, and it hurt.
Fuck it hurt.
More than his aching body and the hollow feeling in his chest.
It had been so dark without him, so endless and pointless.
“I won’t lie to you again.”
“Well, I won’t. I won’t to you. Anything. Ask me anything from here on out and I’ll tell you the truth. But please, don’t do that again.”
“I didn’t do this because of you.”
John shook his head. The answer was so obvious, but everyone seemed to miss it. “I just…didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
Scott eased out a breath. His lips shook, and his chin wobbled.
“That answer upsets you?”
“I hate that you feel like that. I don’t want you to feel like that.”
“I’ve spent most of my life feeling like that. This was the first time I did something about it.”
“Jesus John.” Scott scrunched his eyes shut. He wiped his cheeks on the sleeves of his sweatshirt. “You scared me. You’re still scaring me…do you still feel like that now?”
“I don’t know,” John admitted. “I’ve been thinking about it for days and I still don’t know.”
“You said that was the first time you did something about it?”
“Yes.” John nodded, studying Scott. He lifted his head and met John’s gaze, there was something urgent in the depths of his blue eyes.
“You didn’t want to be alive, so you took steps to make yourself not alive, right?”
His perplexed expression didn’t go unnoticed, Scott held up his hands. “Think of it like an equation. You thought the alive part held the solution, that’s where you were supposed to start, but what if you sped ahead, and missed the real problem? What if you could change the didn’t to a did?”
“I did want to be alive?”
“The second time you go at the problem, you focus on the didn’t…not the alive part. Together we…change the didn’t to a did and see if that gives you better results.”
“I was so sure you’d pass that maths test, guess I was wrong.”
Scott tipped his head back with a laugh.
The sound warmed John’s insides in a way painkillers couldn't.
“I passed, thanks to you, I passed.”
“How do I change the didn’t to a did?”
“Well, it’s not going to be easy. First, you have to start talking. You have to answer some uncomfortable questions, but once you’re past that bit, you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
John slid his head along the pillow, moving closer to Scott. “Then what?”
“You concentrate on getting better. Eating and drinking, and not denying yourself pain relief, and taking one day at a time.”
John flicked his eyes away, and whispered, “Then?”
“Mum’s working on bringing you home. It’s a lot more complicated than I thought, lots of paperwork, and interviews, but it’s not like we don’t have the space for you and Alex.”
“Your dad would never want me there.”
Scott shrugged. “He’s filling out the questions and signing the documents alongside mum. Fostering you has bonuses for him. It looks great, saving two kids from poverty and taking them on as his own,” Scott lifted his eyebrow. “Not that you were living in poverty.”
It wasn’t phrased as a question, but John still refused to comment.
He sighed, fiddling with the bedsheet. “Okay.”
“I’ll try it your way. I’ll try to turn the didn’t into a did.”
Scott’s face lit up. He took John’s hand and gave his fingers a gentle squeeze. “One step at a time, just how you taught me, I’ll…. I’ll tell someone.”
John missed the warmth of Scott’s hand the second he let go. He rushed from the room and returned thirty minutes later with Amy, Katie, and Doctor Bunday all in tow.
“I thought maybe you’d like to get it all done in one go.”
John shuffled up in the bed, eyeing the three people in front of him.
The three people he’d ignored since he’d woken up seven days ago.
“Or…not,” Scott said, bringing his arm across to usher them out.
“All in one go.” John pulled the sheet up to his middle and rested his hands on top. He stared at his hospital tag. His name and NHS number.
Scott gestured to the door. "I'll be outside."
"Only if you're sure."
"I can't do this without you."
Officer Amy strode forward and took the chair by the bed. John didn’t mind with Scott standing by his side.
“Where’s your mother?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her for over a year,” he glanced at Doctor Bunday. “I haven’t seen her since she gave birth to Alex. She had him in the kitchen. I…I helped. She said she was coming back, but she didn’t. She left us.”
“Why didn’t you call the police?” Amy asked.
“I knew Alex would be taken away. I thought she was coming back. She’s gone before, and she came back. I didn’t know this time would be any different.”
Doctor Bunday took a step forward. “You took care of him?”
“For the first few days, all Alex did was cry. He didn’t stop.” John touched his ear. “I still hear it, that constant cry that I couldn’t stop. That feeling that I was useless. It never went. I didn't understand why he hated me so much."
"He didn’t hate you," Bunday said softly. "I don’t know for certain, but I imagine there were reasons for the insistent crying."
“I bought formula and nappies with the little money I could find, but it wasn’t enough.”
He looked back at Amy.
“Have you been to the house?”
She nodded, solemnly.
“Then you know how I’ve been getting by.”
“I’d like you to explain it to me.”
John sighed and shot a glance at Scott. He nodded, giving John a small smile of encouragement.
“I hack into websites. If I can get into the code, I can find the customer's credit card details. It's easy really.”
Everyone stared, so he continued explaining to his toes fidgeting at the end of the bed.
“At first, I took large amounts, direct debiting them into my mum's old account, but that activity was deemed suspicious. I lost the account, but my mum had two. One under another name. Jane Klune. I took small amounts, so small you wouldn’t notice, and I manipulated the code so every purchase would charge these minuscule amounts. It would be added to the handling fee, and I'd take the money and send it to the account. All those small amounts added up to a lot.”
“Jesus John.” Everyone else’s face hung, but Scott’s lit up. His eyes bugged from his face. “I knew you were a genius, but damn.”
“We don’t condone this type of behaviour.” Amy snapped.
“I know, but woah. How much are we talking?”
“About two thousand a month.” John blurted, drinking in Scott’s reaction.
His jaw dropped open, and he laughed breathlessly.
“Once I’d set up a programme to do it automatically, I didn’t have to think about it. The money paid all our bills. Alex never went wanting, and I bought online courses to teach myself. Clothes, food, medicine, toys, laptops, phones and books. It was easy.”
“What you were doing is illegal.” " Amy leaned into John’s face. "You know that?"
“I didn’t know how else to make the money. No one would give me a job and I couldn’t leave Alex home on his own. It was wrong, but not doing it seemed worse.”
Amy opened her mouth to ask another question, but Doctor Bunday got there first. “Your brother’s birth was never registered.”
John shook his head. “No.”
“Do you know his birthday?”
“The 3rd of March.”
“Do you know your birthday?”
Scott's gaze bore into him.
“No,” he whispered. His eyes stung at the admission. “I don’t even know how old I am.”
Doctor Bunday presented him with a pained smile. “You’re fifteen, John. Your birthday is the 29th of November. You were born in the Desree Hospital to an Abigale Wood. You stayed in the hospital for a week so the doctors could monitor you for opioid withdrawal. I can't say for certain, but I imagine Alex went through the same withdrawal from opioids you did. He didn't hate you, John, he was sick.” He sighed, “For the first twenty-eight days after you were born you and your mum were regularly checked on, and then she left with you.”
“And what? No one tried to find them?” Scott asked.
“It’s an unfortunate failing of this sector. There just aren’t enough people to keep tabs on everyone. John and his mother slipped through the net.”
“She did heroin a lot.” John’s throat tightened, changing the pitch of his voice. “Her…friends would be at the house too. She promised she would stop, and sometimes she did, for a month or two, but she was horrible on the drugs, and worse off them,” He slumped. “But she was my mum, and I needed her. I still do.”
“You don’t need her,” Scott growled. “She put drugs before you then abandoned you with a newborn baby.”
“I do need her. She’s the only one that can explain why I feel this way.”
Katie perked up. “And what way is that?”
“Cold…empty, like nothing. She must’ve felt that way too, that’s why she craved something that blocked it out. She was an addict, and I know, I know I’m going to be one too.”
“You’re not,” Scott said. "I won't let it happen."
Scott didn't understand, but how could he?
John wasn't referring to drugs, but addiction, and it had already started. Addiction had already sunk its claws into him, but they didn’t feel like claws yet, they felt like gentle hands pulling him close.
How could he tell Scott that despite the fierce look on his face, and his outright desire to protect, he’d be the one to lead John to ruin?
He'd damage him in the end, and John's biggest fear was he'd damage Scott in return.
It wasn’t Scott’s fault.
It was John's for not swallowing another mouthful of pills.
It was John's for not being strong enough to give him up for the second time.
The seven months without him had been cold and lonely.
One day he'd feel that again, but not while Scott stood at his side, with his fists shaking and his nostrils flaring, so certain he’d keep John from harm.
"I'm done talking," John said firmly.
He shut his eyes to block them out and didn’t take a proper breath until the door whooshed closed behind them.
Scott hadn't left.
He moved around the bed to get to the chair. Before he sat down, John lifted his hand to stop him.
"What is it?"
John took a deep breath and reopened his eyes. He pulled the sheet from his body and swung his legs off the bed.
"Hey, John, lay down."
The needle in his arm snagged, but the pinch of pain faded as he looked up into Scott's eyes.
"Stay right there."
Scott nodded. "Okay?"
John swayed when he got to his feet. He bumped into Scott’s firm chest before dropping his arse back down on the bed. His body throbbed in protest, and his vision swam in and out of focus.
"You should be laying down."
"I promise I will in a minute." He got back on his feet and managed to keep his balance.
John tipped his body towards Scott, leaning until their chests made contact, but he kept applying pressure, letting Scott take his weight.
He curled his free arm around Scott's back, pressed his forehead to the crook of his neck and hugged him.
Fifteen years old, his first hug and he spluttered tears into Scott's skin like a baby.
They were silent though.
Scott didn’t comment on the flood of them rushing down the side of his neck.
He wrapped his arms around John, gently at first, then he clung, and rubbed his hand up John’s spine.
"It's going to be okay.
John soaked up the warmth from Scott's skin. He breathed in the scent of him, pressed into his firm hold, and found comfort in Scott's stream of reassurance.
"Wait until we're home," Scott murmured. "I'm gonna be the best big brother to you and Alex. I promise. "
He'd never see Scott as a brother.
John knew that while pressing against his warm body.
He knew it when he pulled away and spared a glance at Scott's full lips.
He longed to taste and touch and breathe him into his lungs.
John didn’t know how to not want Scott.
He was an addict and the sun was his drug of choice.
This is the end of Part One collectively titled 'Friends to Brothers.'
Part two is to come with a time jump of a few years <3
Part 11: https://www.louisecollinswrites.com/post/the-sun-to-your-moon-11