Chapter 15

Over the following few months Harry gradually became a lonely person. Jim had left for the States to pursue a career in another band and Mark had left for a study trip toIceland, so the only one he had to talk to occasionally was Alan. But even he did not come over to the pub as often as he used to in the old days of SMPDM, preferring to dedicate his time to his family.

As for Ash, Harry only knew she had gone to stay with her mother in the Czech lands; there was barely any chance of communicating with her. He would send her a text message or an e-mail every once in a while, however, he got no reply to most of them. This made him more unhappy than anything else, and he had a hard time justifying her attitude. Still he knew he had to forgive her. Her life was ruined far more than his, and it would take time to build it up again.

Each of these details contributed to his closing himself up in his shell. He only left his house when necessary and ceased to seek out conversations with his old acquaintances.

Then came a July evening when Harry could be seen in the pub “for the first time since the last blue moon,” as someone had pointed out. He sat down at the bar, ordered a beer and sipped it slowly all on his own. Ernie would shoot a look at him from time to time, and when he had no more customers to serve, he came over to talk to him.

“You don’t have to die with him, you know,” he started the conversation.

“Yeah, I know,” Harry sighed. “But somehow I have. They were my life – Colin, Ash, and the other chaps. I’m nothing without them.”

‘Rubbish. You can do better than that.”

“I can’t. It was the best way to be.”

“Sure, but the point is you have to move on, Harry, ‘cause you’re not getting it back, you know. Like it or not, you’re still alive. If you don’t want to be, go on and hang yourself from a tree somewhere, but for God’s sake, life’s for living.”

Harry smiled wearily. “Thanks, Ernie.”

The bartender nodded and wandered off to take care of his customers again. Harry sipped on his beer, until he realised that the pub had gone queerly silent. He lifted his head and saw Ernie gesturing him to turn around. He did, and surprise nearly knocked all breath from his body.

A pale girl stood at the door, her skinny figure clothed in a black dress which made her seem even thinner and paler than she really was.

“Ash!”

Harry jumped down from the stool and hurried towards her, taking her in his arms and holding her so tightly as though he was afraid she was going to vanish the moment he let go.

“Oh my God, Ash, I’ve missed you…”

“I missed you too, Harry,” she confessed.

“Well, you had a strange way of showing it.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I just didn’t feel up for it.”

“And now?”

She shrugged. “Well, I’m here, aren’t I.”

“For how long?”

“I honestly have no idea, Harry. I’ll just have to figure it out on the way.”

“Ok.”

“I’m not here just to say hello to you, though,” she admitted. “I need to ask you something.”

“To give you a lift to and from Tesco? I imagine you have nothing to eat in that house.”

“Always good at reading my mind. Could you do that for me, please?”

“Sure. But I can’t drive right now, I’ve had a beer. Not to worry, though, there’s always a way. How about you come over to my place, we have supper together and when I’ve sobered up, I can take you shopping? They won’t close tillmidnightanyway.”

“Thanks, Harry, I’d like that,” she agreed.

“Well, or you could drive,” Harry remembered another option, but Ash immediately shook her head.

“I don’t think I could.”

“Ok,” Harry shrugged. “Shall we go, then?”

“Sure,” she nodded and before leaving called a goodbye to Ernie.

 

“What are you doing?” he wondered as he watched her gradually take off her earrings and necklace while they walked up the hill.

“Not taking chances,” she answered simply.

“No offence, Ash, but even if there was silver in that stuff, it wouldn’t kill me.”

“How do you know?”

He shrugged. “I’m a persistent creature.”

“And that’s a very convincing reason,” she nodded.

“Fine, don’t wear the jewellery,” he shrugged again.

“I’ll go back to my gold,” she promised him.

Harry smiled.

“Listen,” she spoke after a while of silent walking by his side, “do you think all that fighting was worth it?”

“Fighting for what?”

“For a change. Thing is, people seem to be so busy these days, so unhappy and everything. I know you wanted hope even for them, but wasn’t it just wasting time? I mean I don’t think they even give a damn, they’re lucky if they can live their lives and avoid greater suffering; why should they care about someone they’ve never met?”

“Dunno. It did make sense when we wrote the albums…”

“And now?”

“I’m tired, too. But I suppose, in a way, we had a point. You must think globally these days, and I think we tried helping that.”

“Do you think all this would make the world suck less?”

“There are still happy people out there, Ash.”

“I know. But can’t I be selfish for a while? I’ve been to planet Earth and all I got was a diamond. A stone that used to be my husband.”

“At least he’s still with you.”

“Yeah, and how can I move on? How can I keep fond memories of the days I’d spent with him, when he’s here to remind me of his death all the time?”

“But you don’t have it, do you? The diamond?”

“Oh, I have it. I just never look at it.”

“Child, I wish there was a way I could help you…”

“I’m not a child anymore, Harry. My future’s like a cell in a marble castle.”

He took her by the hand, it was indeed cold, and his attempts at warming her whole life up seemed to be doing just the opposite. She could not bear it.

“Harry…”

She pulled her hand away, and he let her do that without a question or even a trace of surprise.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come…”

“Ash, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if it feels like I want to take advantage of the situation or something. I do love you, but that doesn’t mean I want to… I mean I just want to take care of you, make sure you’re at least a bit comfortable, be there for you if you need to talk to someone. Nothing else, I promise. I’m glad you’re back. I was going mad on my own.”

Quite unexpectedly, she smiled. “And you think you’ll be better off going mad with me?”

“Much better off,” he nodded.

 

Hours later she stepped into a dark room, memories overwhelmingly clouding her perception into believing she was on her own, while in fact Harry was standing right behind her. She switched on the light and looked round the bedroom. She did remember what had happened here, but the feeling was distant, as if it had taken place twenty years ago.

“Are you sure you want to sleep in here?” a quiet voice asked carefully. “There must be other bedrooms in this house…”

“I’m ok,” she shook her head, and proceeded deeper into the room to the chest of drawers. She opened one, and produced a small jewel box from it.

“Here,” she turned back towards Harry and opened the box. The ring was as perfect and shiny as when he had first seen it. The diamond sparkled in the sharp light of the chandelier.

“That’s sick,” professed Harry, taking his eyes of the ring and refusing to pay it another look.

“Finally,” she smiled bitterly.

“Why don’t you throw it away, then?”

“No!” she shook her head violently. “I know what I said earlier, but I can’t.”

“Bury it?” he suggested.

“Look, Harry, maybe it’s silly, but I don’t want to lose him again. Even though he’s no use to me like that,” she added, seeing he was preparing a protest. Harry shut his mouth again. “I’m perfectly sane,” she went on. “I’ll just never be the same. Do you think you can try to understand me?”

“I always have, Ash,” he remarked dryly. “I thought you’d have noticed by now.”

“I know, I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair. Although…”

“Although there were times I didn’t believe you were serious.”

“Exactly.”

“Good. Nice we cleared things up.”

“Sure,” she nodded.

“Put that thing away,” he told her then, his voice clearly indicating he wouldn’t yield to objections, and indeed, she obeyed and hid the ring in the drawer again.

“And now go to sleep, you must be exhausted.”

“I am,” she nodded.

She showed him his room, spent brief time in the bathroom, and half an hour later lay in her bed, wondering where all the urge to sleep had gone. Her head was buzzing with thoughts, at first so chaotic she could not make any particular one out, then clearing up a bit, only to render her miserable.

It felt too good to be back inEdinburgh, too comfortable to be with Harry again. His arms were a safe haven she had missed so much, nevertheless they were still not the arms she longed to be held in. And it was terribly unfair to him. She was sure all Harry wanted was to give himself away to her, something she was not exactly prepared to let him do. She might have needed care, might have needed a good friend, might have even needed him in particular, but how could she take so much from him and know she was unable to give anything in return? And even though she knew it would hardly matter to him, it was still…

“Oh God, what have I done?” she asked herself quietly. “And what do I do now?”

The only solution she could think of before finally falling asleep was too disturbing to even consider.

She woke up at seven the next morning, but for a long time just lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to make her mind up. And then, when she did, she got up and opened the drawer, put the ring on the middle finger of her left hand, got dressed and as quietly as she could went downstairs. In the morning silence of the house she wrote a short letter to Harry, and taking a last look around the house stepped into the cold world outside. It was drizzling unpleasantly, as if the weather reflected an exact image of her heart at the moment.

She walked toColinton Road, turning left when reaching it. It would have been a direction she had taken a thousand times before, had she not altered it halfway to the Easter Hailes Gate and (instead of continuing to the path along the river and the tunnel) gone to the road bridge over the tiny valley. There she stopped and leaned over the rail. The bridge was probably sufficiently high for the fall to kill her, but even if it failed to, she had a good chance to be knocked unconscious, and there was enough water in that shallow river to drown her.

“I asked you to take me rather than him,” she spoke softly, hoping the raindrops would deliver her message to the one meant to hear it, “but you wouldn’t listen. I won’t listen to you now. You’ll have me anyway. I know you want me. You always have.”

She climbed over the rail, closing her eyes for a moment to regain the courage for the final decision. But before she could jump, she felt a tight grip of someone’s hands on her forearms. She instinctively tried to free herself, but almost immediately realised it was useless.

“Don’t even think about that,” said a breathless voice.

“Harry…” She recognised him more by his emotional pattern than anything else. “Let me go, please, I have to…”

“It’s too late to try to convince me you’re a selfish bitch, Ashley, so spare yourself the trouble. I’m not losing you, too. Not now.”

“What do you want from me?” she demanded.

“Nothing, for god’s sake! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you all along! I don’t want anything, except you staying with me.”

“But I can’t! I’d die of shame if I was to receive without giving,” she tried to explain once more. Did he not read the letter?

“Good, why don’t you leave it to the shame to kill you then, instead of running away without even trying?”

“I don’t want to hurt you even more, you idiot.”

“Wonderful,” he nodded sarcastically. “Have you ever thought of what I’d do if you jumped down there?”

She looked him in the eyes. “What would you do?”

“I’d jump right after you.”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “Thanks for making it easier for me, Harry.”

“What do you expect, Ash? I’ve lost everything, every single reason for living except you. You’d better believe I’ll fight to the last drop of blood in my body not to lose you as well.”

“That I do believe, Harry. All I’m saying is that I don’t think I can ever love you back. Not like this.”

“I’m perfectly aware of that.”

“I don’t think you are.”

“Ok, so maybe I’m hoping, but you know how difficult it is to kill that feeling. Either way, I’ll still be better off if you stay than if you leave, so I’m begging you, come back to me, don’t go…”

She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth together. It was not going to be an easy decision, however good Harry’s arguments have been. Eventually, though, she nodded.

Relieved, Harry pulled her over the rail and, still holding her, collapsed onto the pavement. They sat there quietly for a minute or two, both almost breathless and on the verge of tears.

“I thought I wouldn’t make it,” he confessed eventually.

“I’m still not entirely convinced it’s a good thing that you did…” she whispered.

“It’s the best thing in the world,” he risked a smile.

“Ok,” she shrugged.

“Come here,” he said and took her in his arms again. They had been soaked to the bone by then, the drizzle having intensified into rain a while back, but his body radiated heat, and she could feel his heart beating under her hand. A heart that she knew was the reason she was still alive. In a way she felt slightly relieved, but still scared of the future.

“Will it work?” she asked him quietly.

“Wait and see,” he smiled encouragingly. “How about a nice breakfast to make it a promising start?”

All of a sudden, she started to laugh. Still smiling, he helped her stand up, took her by the hand and led her home. Despite the rain, the world looked much brighter than a moment ago. It wasn’t the end, after all.

 

 

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