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Sweet as cherry wine

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Scripps grinned triumphantly as he eased himself along, the clopping of clutches ringing out on the paved slabs outside the hospital.

“You look pleased with yourself,” his mother chuckled. “Looking forwards to home,”

“Looking forwards to David,” he smiled back.

She rolled her eyes, tutting.

“I don’t want you two hanging about too much. His parents aren’t big fans of ours, or yours, and you’ve too much work to catch up on,”

“I want to see him!”

“And you will, so get in that car before I kick you up the bum, we’ve traffic to beat!”

“You can’t threaten me like that, Mum, I’ve been stabbed. Bloody wounded soldier, I am!” he snorted, hopping further towards the battered five seater with a cheeky smile.

She sighed as she walked slowly along beside him, a protective arm draped cautiously near his waist.

“Don’t,” she replied. “I’ve enough dirty looks from all the mothers back in Sheffield. My God, Angela Scripps, how on earth has your parenting failed enough that you couldn’t control the son that lives one hundred miles away and goes gallivanting around getting stabbed!”

Guilt fiercely edged its way into Scripps’ elation and he bit his lip, hanging his head slightly.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “I didn’t really think before I-,”

“Don’t be silly, love,” his mother cut him off mid-sentence, swinging the door of the old car open. “Get in, your little brother’s dying to see you again and we need to make it home for him to be back from school,”

Scripps grinned at the thought of his younger brother, his face pressed eagerly to the window as he waited for the tyres of his bike to screech up the street. How he would run down the path to greet him after school, clinging to his legs as he frantically recounted the events of the day at incredible pace before Scripps retreated upstairs to finish his work. He’d felt so guilty during his first week at Oxford, revelling in the new experiences of university while knowing he was missing Jack’s birthday. He’d been devastated when he left – Don was the sibling he was closest to, the one who always made time to join in with his games between essays. He’d even had to accompany him to a parents evening once when both their parents were busy. 16 years old and standing awkwardly among the crowds of concerned parents, clutching to his little brother’s sweaty hand as he jubilantly waved to all his friends.

His mother coughed pointedly and tried to shuffle him towards the slightly rusted family car. He turned his head and raised his eyebrows at her.

“Really? The back seat still? I’m not 12!”

“Don, just get in the car,”

He sighed and gripped onto the roof as he gently lowered himself onto the worn black seats. A slight twinge of pain shot through his gut, causing him to grimace as he pulled his seatbelt over him and adjusted the crutches next to him. His hand landed in a gritty, powdery mixture.

“Oh God!” he groaned. “Mum, it’s full of bloody crumbs!”

“Rebecca was eating Wotsits back there, you’ll survive,” Angela Scripps muttered absent-mindedly, fixing the mirror and attaching her seatbelt.

“Delightful,” he replied with disdain, admiring the cheesy dust that now decorated his fingers.

“You can stick the radio on or take a nap, love, we’ll be home in a few hours,”

“Great,” Scripps sighed, his head slumping back against the rest as he let his eyes slip close.

***

Angela Scripps adjusted her rear view mirror slightly as grey skies began to hover over them, the gravelly streets disappearing behind her as she drove back into Sheffield. Steel motorway guards were slowly replaced by concrete estates and suburban red brick estates, a mixture of overgrown and excruciatingly neat gardens fronting them. Towering blocks of flats obscured the remnants of blue sky from view. Eventually, she turned left onto the familiar street, the pavements coated in thick cherry blossom from the trees lining the road. Uniform houses stood stiffly in perfect rows, curving around the corner like a grimace.

She pulled up next to the pavement and quietly turned off the engine, feeling the car judder to a halt beneath her. Looking up into the mirror, she gazed silently at her son slumped against the back seat, his chest fluttering in a peaceful slumber. A sharp stab of pain twisted in her heart as she stared. This was her son. Her little boy, though not so little anymore, with a pair of crutches resting next to him and…

Don was always a clumsy child. No other boy came home with as many bumps, scrapes or bruises as he did. She would spend whole evenings gently daubing them in warm water and antiseptic, sighing over yet another pair of ripped school trousers. But no other boy came home with the same beaming smile that her son did each day, clasping another story about the day’s adventures and his resulting injuries. So somewhere in her conscious, Angela Scripps was prepared for Don to get hurt.

She wasn’t prepared for this, though.

She tried not to think about what was underneath his faded t-shirt, underneath the layers of bandages wrapped around his torso. Every night that she’d fallen asleep, whether it was in a lumpy hotel bed or in a hospital cot, she’d relived it. The fear coursing through her veins, the phone call. Her knuckles white against the steering wheel as she drove to see him. Don’s shallow breathing as he lay there in a hospital bed, face obscured with the equipment he needed to breathe. Thinking about if she needed to call his siblings, wondering if they needed to prepare a final goodbye. And the constant, nagging thought at the back of her mind.

Would it have happened if she was a better mother?

Another glance into the mirror and she saw the slight film of tears coating her eyes. She shook her head firmly and let out a deep sigh, before turning round and reaching out an arm to gently shake him awake.

“Donny, darling,” she whispered as he stirred slightly. “We’re home,”