Gene kneels by the bed, feeling foolish.
It doesn’t sit well with the man who is Sheriff, begging the Almighty for help, but he knows he has to do something. He just doesn’t know what; he’s tried everything he knows. He’s talked to Sam, shouted, laughed at him. Told him stories, asked him questions, kissed him, hugged him, smacked him. Cried over him.
So now he kneels by the bed, feeling foolish.
Nothing happens, so after a few moments, and feeling strangely nervous, he lets the words form in his head.
“Look, I don’t know how to do this - do I have to start with ‘Our Father’ or something? I suppose you know though. That I’m talking to you, I mean. Not like I’m going to be talking to anybody else, is it, down on my knees like a choirboy.” He stops for a moment, banishing the visions these words conjure up. “Haven’t really done this before; never been a God-botherer, always thought – well, Sunday school I suppose, didn’t have any choice about that – always thought I could handle everything by myself. Could, too. But not this.”
Gene shifts slightly, trying to get comfortable. Even when Sam is awake, going down on his knees isn’t something he does very often.
“He just lies there. Not a flicker. Been three weeks now and still nothing. Doc says there’s no reason he can’t wake up; they’ve relieved the swelling on his brain and everything.”
“I don’t know what to do.” He reflects for a moment then adds out loud, “Never thought I’d say that.” He waits, half-hoping for a lightning bolt, but nothing happens. Eventually he gets to his feet, somehow feeling better for the admission.
He sits down by the bed again and takes Sam’s cool hand, squeezing it lightly. “Don’t know what to say, Sammy. Told you all about the case. Blathered on about Cartwright’s little thing with the dog on the bus. Even told you about Carling and WPC Watmough; she just won’t take the hint.” He sighs. “I told you what the Doctor said, too, but I’ll tell you again, shall I? In case you weren’t listening the first time?”
He pauses for a moment, trying to find the right words.
“Listen to me, Sam: the Doctor says you can wake up if you want to, OK? I’m onto your game, you malingering git. Doc says there’s nothing wrong with you – well, nothing a lot more time and bed rest won’t put right.” He encircles Sam’s bony wrist with his finger and thumb, lifting it gently. “You’re wasting away, Sammy, disappearing in front of my eyes. Be nothing left of you soon.” He runs his other hand lightly down Sam’s leg, patting his knee briefly.
“I had an idea - don’t laugh, sarky bastard, you’re not the only one with a brain round here. What I reckon is, you’re feeling guilty. Not that you should: you did your job, got the information, found the stuff. Not your fault they came back early. If that’s what happened. For my two-pennorth, you’re feeling guilty about something. Well, you can stop that right now, it’s not helping, OK?”
He glances at the door then picks up Sam’s hand, pressing his lips to the back then sucking each fingertip gently into his mouth in turn. He leans forward so he can hold Sam’s hand against his face.
“Only thing you did wrong, Sam, was you forgot the first rule. My first rule, only one that matters. The one that says whatever you do, wherever you go, at the end of every day you come back to me. You’re mine, Sammy. That’s where you went wrong; you forgot to come back safe. You did your job but now you’ve got to come home. To me.”
Gene watches the unmoving face for a moment then reluctantly replaces Sam’s thin hand by his side, stroking it gently with a fingertip. He can’t decide whether Sam looks peaceful today or not. Sometimes he twitches and grimaces as if he’s arguing with himself. And sometimes he is so still that Gene can’t believe there’s anything left in there at all.
Today is an in-between day.
With a sigh, Gene stands up to go, looking down on the sleeping man. “Where are you, Sammy? Gone back to Hyde? Is it better there? Anything you think you could come back for?”
“You tell me what you want changing, Sam, and I’ll do it. Give up smoking, eat lettuce, you name it. ’Cos I’m here waiting, Sam, just waiting. Whole life on hold, just for you.” He takes a deep breath and stares at the passive figure. “Just want you back, OK?”
He bows his head for a moment, wiping away hope and fear, then turns away, picking up his car keys. Nothing outside this room means anything any more, but scum don’t catch themselves and Gene is still the Sheriff.