Peter looked over the takeaway foils at Leanne, who was still starring at him – her eyes hard and angry. It was an anger he knew was directed at him – she didn't believe him that he hadn't manipulated Simon into testifying. It hurt him that she would blame him if anything happened to their son. No man was perfect – and Peter knew his list of failures was longer than most people's – but he would die to protect Simon, and he couldn't believe that she wouldn't realise that. He would take Simon's place in a heartbeat if he could – but this was not something he could protect him from having to do. Peter had seen more than his fair share of the inside of a courtroom, and it was not something he'd ever have wanted for his son. Sometimes he felt as though he was fighting a losing battle against a reputation he'd built up for himself by his past misdeeds – and it was exhausting, having to prove himself to people time and time again.
"Leanne." He sighed, folding his arms and leaning across the table towards her – this seemed to make her uncomfortable enough to break eye contact with him, and she looked away. "I could have died today." He told her. "It's only by the grace of God that they shot me with a paint gun and not a real one, so don't for a moment think I don't know the type of people we're dealing with here. I raced in without thinking, I admit, it was a stupid thing to do – but the only thing I could think of when I saw the gun was that I was glad that it was me trapped outside, with nowhere to run, and not Simon."
Leanne looked back up at him as he said this – as though she'd forgotten that Peter hadn't escaped completely unscathed from his encounter with Tyler – the large welt he was still sporting beneath his shirt a testament to the sacrifice he might have made.
"I love my son Leanne," He told her, "and I know what's at stake, but I will do everything within my power as his father to protect him – and I do mean everything. I would never make Simon feel as though he had to do something he didn't want to do. I would support him completely in every decision he made – but I'm proud of him for wanting to make a stand."
He held her gaze and he could feel her eyes boring into him, but seeing only sincerity on his face the corners of her mouth turned in the beginnings of a smile. She nodded, and he reached out to squeeze her hand.
"I'm sorry." She apologised. "I know you love Simon. I know you'd do anything to protect him. I'm just scared – I want to know when this is all going to end."
"I know you do." Peter sighed. "I want it all to end too, but hopefully this time tomorrow it'll all be over."
"How are you feeling?" She asked him, noticing that he looked a little pale. He hadn't shown any interest in food all afternoon, and she noticed as he subconsciously pushed away the takeaway in front of him.
He grimaced as he leaned back in his chair – rubbing at his chest as he acknowledged his throbbing side for the first time since he'd been shot. He hadn't allowed himself to think about what had happened to him – it scared him too much, and making sure that Simon was alright had been his first priority. Making sure his son was safe had been more important than tending to his own injuries at the time – but now he'd paused to think about it he realised just how much it was hurting him.
"Oh, I'm alright." He forced a smile. "A little shaken if I'm honest… do you want a cup of tea?" He offered her, suddenly changing the subject. Leanne frowned, she could tell that he was deliberately deflecting the line of conversation. She could understand if he wasn't yet ready to talk about what had happened, but ignoring the reality wasn't going to make it go away.
"It's alright I'll get it." She offered, but Peter was already on his feet.
"No, no, I'll get it…" He insisted, before something seemed to halt him mid-step. He stumbled, his hand immediately reaching up to grasp the side of his head and he made a grab for the edge of the table for support.
"Peter?" Leanne asked him, immediately getting to her feet and she hurried to catch him as his legs gave way from under him. She caught him under one elbow but rather than helping him back into his seat she assisted him over to the couch on the other side of the room, where she could lie him down.
"It's alright Lee." He told her, leaning on her slightly for support. "I'm just a little dizzy. It's OK, I'll be alright in a minute. I must have just got up a little too quickly that's all."
"Yeah well, just lie there for a minute." She told him, plumping a cushion and gently placing it beneath his head. He was breathing slightly heavily, and Leanne immediately began to unbutton his shirt to take a look at his chest. She hadn't managed to get a proper look at his injuries earlier, but she was quite sure it hadn't been anywhere near as nasty as it appeared now, otherwise Ken and Carla would have surely insisted that he get himself checked over at the medical centre. The small bruise was now large and black, and looked extremely painful. Peter flinched as Leanne's hand brushed lightly against it, and she felt his abdominal muscles tense beneath her fingers. It was beginning to look more like someone had beaten him up rather than he'd been hit with a pellet of paint – but as she understood it, he had been shot at point blank range.
"Peter, why didn't you say something?" She exclaimed.
"I didn't want to upset Simon." He told her.
"Does this hurt?" She asked him, as she gently pressed his ribs on his right-hand side, checking for any cracks or fractures which might have been missed earlier in the day, but Peter shook his head.
"Right, well I'm going to give the medical centre a call, see if Ali can pop round after surgery and take a look at you." She said.
"Really Leanne, there's no need for that." He protested, holding his side as he immediately tried to sit up.
"Hey, hey, hey!" She scolded him. "Don't you dare even think about moving from that sofa." He opened his mouth as though he was going to protest further, but she quickly intercepted him before he could say anything. "I mean it Peter!" She said. "I've had enough drama for today. You stay right where you are!"
Peter looked at her, defiant for only a moment – the steely glint had returned to her eyes, and she was staring at him as though daring him to challenge her. He sighed, thinking better of saying or doing anything which might provoke another row, and flopped back down against the cushions, immediately regretting it as pain shot through his side and he grimaced.
Leanne's expression softened when she observed the pain in his eyes, and she reached out to squeeze him gently on the shoulder as she passed him on her way into the hall to make the phone call. As she did his hand reached up to meet hers, and she smiled down at him as he made eye contact with her. He looked exhausted.
"Despite what people may think I do care about what happens to you Peter." She told him, leaving the door open so that she could continue to keep an eye on him. She could hear Simon playing on his games console in the bedroom. The volume was turned all the way up, and despite the noise she was somewhat grateful that it must have masked most of what had just happened – she didn't want him worried any more than he already was.
When she'd made the call to the medical centre she decided to call Ken. She knew that Peter's pride wouldn't allow him to admit it, but they'd all been seriously shaken by the afternoon's events, and just as Simon needed Peter, she realised that he too probably needed the comforting presence of his own father. It didn't take the man more than a couple of rings to pick up, and he'd only gone a few doors down to 'The Rovers'.
"Hi Ken, it's Leanne… no Simon's fine, it's nothing like that… yeah he's in his room… look Ken I think you'd better get back here… it's Peter… no, he's still here… no he hasn't done anything like that… just listen to me, I think he might be more hurt than we first thought… yeah, he just nearly passed out. He's lying down now, but I've given Ali a call and he's going to pop round after evening surgery to take a look at him… I just thought you aught to know… plus, if I'm honest I think he could really do with his dad right now… I think the stress of everything is just getting to him… well, you know Peter but he doesn't look well to me… I'm a little worried about him… Right, thanks Ken, I'll see you soon… bye."
She didn't think it was possible given what they'd all been through that day but when she returned into the living room Peter appeared to have fallen asleep. This concerned her slightly and she approached him with a frown upon her face – but as he heard her Peter opened his eyes again. He was looking distinctly uncomfortable but he smiled as he observed her looking down at him, and she returned the gesture sadly. She hated what Tyler and his gang had done to her family – and whatever she might have sometimes thought of him Peter was a part of that family. For all the time she'd spent hating him she still cared about him too, and deep down she knew she always would.
"I'll put the kettle on." She told him, at a loss as to what else she could do. The untouched take away food was now cold, and would probably need throwing away. Ken arrived home within a matter of minutes, and Ali came around about an hour later. As soon as Ken laid eyes on his son he could tell that something was wrong. He'd seen him looking unwell before – usually the morning after a drinking binge. He'd seen him tired, and drawn, and clearly hungover, but this time was different. Peter's condition had clearly deteriorated since that afternoon, and although he couldn't understand why he could tell that something was causing him to feel quite unwell.
"Thank you for coming Ali." Ken smiled as he stood aside to let the doctor in. "Peter's just through here." He said, indicating the main living area as he closed the door behind him, and followed the doctor in. Peter was still on the sofa, but had managed to convince Leanne to let him sit up as lying down was making the pain in his side worse, and Simon was sitting next to him.
"Is this my fault?" His son was asking him.
"No of course not." Peter shook his head. "I couldn't be more proud of you Simon." He smiled, and Ali noticed as the hand he'd had pressed up against his side came up to ruffle his son's hair playfully.
"Hi Peter," He smiled as he entered, placing his bag down on the dining table, "I hear you've been in a bit of a scrape."
"I'll be in my room." Simon said, getting to his feet and immediately withdrawing from the room – barely acknowledging the doctor. Ali didn't mind, he was still young enough to remember what it was like to be a moody teenager himself, and the lad certainly had more than most other boys his age to contend with. He couldn't blame him for being anti-social and not being in the mood to talk tonight. The reminder of the day's events was probably unwelcome too.
"Right Peter, lets take a look at you." He smiled, opening his bag. He didn't think it was anything too serious – paint balls rarely caused serious injury – but Peter was definitely feeling uncomfortable, and at the very least he would probably need something to help with the pain.
His first priority though was to make sure that he didn't have any broken bones, and then he checked his heart and lungs, blood pressure and temperature.
"Does this hurt?" He asked him, as he palpated his chest and abdomen to check for any internal injuries – but he found no sign of an internal bleed. Peter shook his head.
He wouldn't admit to it but his expression during the examination – the deep lines in his forehead, and the strange angle at which he held himself – showed him that the man was hurting.
"Peter," He told him once he'd completed his examination, "The good news is that you don't seem to have sustained any serious injuries. There's no sign of any internal bleeding, but I'm afraid I don't believe you when you say you're not hurting mate, so I'm going to give you an injection to help with the pain."
Peter nodded – the grateful expression upon his face didn't escape anyone's notice though, and he watched as the doctor prepared the hypodermic without protest. Once he'd given Peter the injection Ken and Leanne pulled him aside as he was packing away his things.
"Look, he's fine." Ali did his best to reassure them both. "Nothing's broken, but his blood pressure is a little on the high side, which is probably the most likely cause of his dizziness. It isn't unexpected given what you've all been through today, but given the family history with you Ken I'm going to give him something to help bring it down, and some extra painkillers and anti-inflammatories to help with the bruising and pain over the next few days."
"So he'll be alright then?" Ken asked.
"Yeah, he'll be fine." Ali smiled. "Paintball injuries can hurt, but because he was shot at point blank range and he wasn't wearing any protection he'll probably be feeling it for another few days. It's important that he takes it easy though, he's not in any danger but any heavy lifting or over exerting himself could make the pain worse, and he seems quite tired. The injection I've just given him though could also make him feel a little sleepy, so might help him rest easier."
"Will he be alright to come with us to court tomorrow?" Leanne asked. She knew that even if the doctor advised against it, nothing would prevent Peter from being there for Simon – but it might help to know that he wouldn't be doing himself any serious harm by being there.
Ali smiled. "I see no reason why he shouldn't be able to." He told her. "As I say, his ribs are structurely sound, and nothing seems to be cracked or broken so it's really just going to be a case of pain management for the next few days. Beyond that there's really not much more I can do. He got off lightly, if it had have been a real gun with the location of the injury it very well might have killed him."
That thought didn't bare thinking about.
"I'll show you out." Ken offered once the doctor had written up the script for Peter's medication – he only hoped he could find a chemist open at this time in the evening which had the drugs in stock. He hated to see his son in pain, even if his injuries were only superficial.
"Hey." Leanne smiled kindly, sitting down next to Peter once the doctor had gone. Ken had closed the door behind them on their way out and she could still hear the two of them talking in hushed voices in the hall. "How are you really feeling?" She asked him.
Peter sighed. "Don't tell Simon Lee," he pleaded with her, "but I do feel poorly." He confessed quietly – as though it was a difficult thing for him to admit to. The revelation caught her a little off guard too. She'd been so focused on Simon these past few weeks that it had been all too easy to let the bitterness and anger which still existed between them blinker her to the bigger picture.
She found it far too easy to make Peter out to be the bad guy – to forget that she had hurt him badly too, and that once they had both loved each other. She hadn't even stopped to think of the effect that the stress of the situation was having on his health.
"Well, you heard the doctor Peter." She smiled, wrapping one arm around his shoulders and hoping that the gesture would be construed as comforting. She felt him lean into her, and sensed that the injection Ali had given him was beginning to take effect as his eyelids drooped and his body started to go lax. It reminded her of what had made her fall in love with him all those years ago, and realise that although she didn't love him anymore, she did still have feelings for him. Perhaps it was impossible to ever truly fall out of love with someone you'd once loved so much. She knew that there would always be a part of her which would be angry with him for the way things had turned out between them, and she could never feel the way she once had about him – but she still cared for him in a way she couldn't explain, or was prepared to let herself acknowledge most of the time. "You need to rest. You're still in shock."
"It's not just that Lee… you saw the text message… next time it'll be a real bullet." He said, and as he spoke she thought she heard his voice break slightly, as though he was failing to contain the emotion that the words in the message stirred within him.
"I'm scared Lee. I could have died today… I know I should be able to forget… to count my blessings that it was only a paint gun, but I can't… you see he's got to me… up here," he said pointing to his head, "because there was a brief moment when I was lying on the cobbles out there, that my chest hurt so bad I thought I really had been shot… and all I could think about was Simon, and the fact that I wouldn't be around to protect him…"
"Shhh…" She coaxed him, unable to resist the urge to pull him closer to her, as she encouraged him to rest his head on her shoulder. It was an instinct that she couldn't explain, but she wasn't going to fight it – even if she would be left questioning it later, and wondering what it all meant.
By the time Ken returned a few minutes later Peter had already fallen asleep in Leanne's arms.
"You can get off if you like. I can see to him." He offered kindly, as he smiled down at his sleeping son, and wondered at the way Leanne was supporting him. It was nice to see the two of them putting their differences aside, and not at each other's throats for once. He'd always known they were still both capable of it.
"If it's all the same to you Ken, I think I'd like to stay here tonight?" She asked him.
"Of course," he nodded, "that's no problem at all. I can make up a bed for you in Tracey's old room."
"Oh no Ken, I can do that." She offered, gently unhooking herself from Peter and replacing her shoulder with a cushion to support his head as she got to her feet.
"In that case do you think you could hold the fort here whilst I go out and try and get this stuff for Peter?" He asked her. "I have a feeling he'll be needing it when he wakes up."
"Mum?" Simon asked, as he came out of his bedroom just after Ken had left. He sounded scared – his voice shaking slightly, just as Peter's had done. Simon had finally turned the games console off, and the house was silent with the exception of Peter's light breathing. Leanne appeared in the doorway and smiled at her son.
"I'm here Si." She reassured him.
"How's dad?" He asked as he approached her, his brow heavily lined. "What did the doctor say?"
"Your dad's fine." She said, wrapping her arm around his shoulders as she guided him into the main living area. As he turned and observed Peter on the sofa asleep, he looked back at Leanne – an expression of concern upon his face. "Ali gave him an injection to help with the pain." She explained, thinking that Peter was sleeping deeply, but as Simon gently sat down on the sofa beside him he opened his eyes. Leanne frowned as his hand immediately reached for his chest – the injection seemed to have helped a little, but he was still clearly hurting. It concerned her, she wasn't a doctor but even she could see that the pain he was in was out of proportion to the injury itself and she worried that it may be a sign that there was something more serious causing it. Simon also looked down at Peter, his brow furrowed by worry – he was concerned by his dad's pale complexion.
"Hey Si." Peter smiled, as he tried to sit up.
"How are you feeling?" Leanne asked, as she reached over to help him. He looked up at her for just a moment before answering, and she could tell that he wasn't being completely honest with her because Simon was present. She didn't like that – it made her think he had a reason for not telling her the truth.
"A little sore." He confessed. "But I think the injection has helped a little. I am tired though."
"Try to sleep then." Leanne smiled, looking down at him and running the palm of her hand soothingly through his hair, in the same way she might have done with Simon when he was small – and she had to resist the urge to bend down and kiss him gently on the top of his head. Peter's eyes fell closed again without much protest, and within a few minutes the pained tension had started to leave his body, and he'd looked a lot more relaxed, despite the slight grimace still etched into his forehead. By the time Ken returned with the medicine he was fast asleep.
Peter still wasn't feeling great the next day – and he'd also developed a bit of a stomach ache. He dressed in his best, like the rest of his family, but wearing a suit felt even more uncomfortable than usual, and his trousers pressed down on his stomach and made it even more sore. He skipped breakfast completely – unable to face food – but nobody seemed to notice as it appeared they weren't eating either.
He sat through court, trying to ignore the increasing ache in his gut, watching his son testify. For all of his teenage bravado he looked so small standing in the dock and Peter caught a glimpse of Tyler on a couple of occasions starring menacingly at Simon. The courtroom was uncomfortably hot and as the judge slapped a suspended sentence on the unruly teenager Peter tugged at his tie, trying to loosen it. He could feel the sweat running down the back of his neck, but Leanne didn't appear to notice as she shot him an angry look. He saw it in her eyes in that moment that she was blaming him all over again. He was the one who had stood by Simon's decision to testify – who'd told him that it was the right thing to do. The fact that the court hadn't ruled in their favour wasn't his fault but that wouldn't stop her from blaming him anyway. She was on the defensive, ready to do anything to defend and protect her son and suddenly all of the concern she'd shown towards him the evening before seemed to evaporate in a cloud of resentment.
Simon refused to speak to him as they exited the court and climbed into the taxi which awaited them outside. Peter tore off his tie and undid the top two buttons of his shirt in a desperate attempt to stop himself from overheating. The sweat was pouring off him now and his shirt clung uncomfortably to his damp skin. His stomach was by now extremely painful – the ache like fire in his belly – and he felt the vaguest twinges of nausea. As soon as they arrived home he stripped off another layer, throwing his jacket over his shoulder in the vague hope of appearing casual, but the effect wasn't quite realised due to his generally dishevelled appearance. If anyone had really been paying attention to him then they would probably have realised just how unwell he looked, but even Carla and his brother Daniel didn't seem to notice as they accosted the three of them on the doorstep of number one.
Whilst Leanne and Simon headed off in the direction of 'Roy's Rolls' for their dinner Peter settled instead on a shower and a change of clothes, hoping that the warm water might aid in soothing the pain of his aching body, but it did little to relieve his symptoms – in fact the heat of the water as it washed over his bruised ribs and stomach only seemed to make the internal ache worse, and drive it even deeper. By the time Leanne and Simon returned home later that afternoon he felt positively awful, but was doing he best to conceal it. He let them in, concealing a pained grimace as he showed them into the sitting room, and stood and listened as they relayed the story of Tyler's arrest, chuckling as they showed him the video he'd posted to his 'Friends Connect' page.
Peter kept up this charade as best he could for the next few days, painting a very good impression of normality. If his family suspected that something wasn't quite right it wasn't enough for them to let on that they were concerned, and this was just the way he wanted it to be – but ultimately Peter couldn't keep up the pretence forever, and he couldn't prevent his own body from betraying him.
A few days later he was carrying out a stock check during his lunchbreak in one of the store rooms at the back of the factory when a sudden and searing pain in his abdomen caused him to double over in pain, provoking a small whimper. One hand clutched at his throbbing stomach, whilst the other reached out instinctively to lean upon the small pile of boxes he'd been inspecting for support – but it wasn't enough, and another wave of pain seemed to quite literally pull the ground out from under him. His legs turned to jelly and as the pile of boxes he was leaning on toppled he collapsed to the floor. The impact hurt – he felt it jar his whole body but he just didn't seem to have the energy to get back up.
He lost track of how long he lay there, frighteningly weak and drifting in and out of semi-consciousness – but it was here that his son found him.
"Dad? Dad?" Simon exclaimed as he walked into the store room at the back of the factory, and discovered Peter lying on the floor. He ran over and knelt down beside him, relieved to discover that he wasn't completely unconscious because he was groaning intermittently – but Simon noticed the hand clutched to his stomach, and he was unresponsive when he tried to rouse him.
"Carla! Carla!" He shouted out to her, his voice cracking with a note of desperation and panic he couldn't hide, and he heard the sound of her heals clicking on the factory floor as she came running. She froze in the doorway as she laid eyes on Peter's prostrate form.
"Oh my God!" She exclaimed. "What happened?"
"Call an ambulance!" Simon cried – looking at her with fresh tears in his eyes – he blinked and they started cascading down his cheeks. The young man was consumed with fear, and she realised that she was going to have to keep a lid on her own emotions if she was going to take charge of the situation. She heard the sound of the workforce outside returning from lunch and hurried to intercept them all, sending Gina to the medical centre to fetch Ali, before retuning to the office to ring for an ambulance. In her haste she hadn't had time to explain to everyone what was going on – not being completely sure herself – but had instead offered them all an extra hours paid lunch break. Some had taken full advantage of this by returning home, or heading back to the Rover's or Roy's Rolls – but at the mention of the doctor having been called for a few had remained loitering in the courtyard outside the locked factory.
Gina retuned with the doctor just a few minutes later. He hurried up the path, bag in hand whilst some of the workers including Sinaid and Beth looked on in concern as Carla let him in – showing the young man into the back room where she found Simon still leaning over his dad.
"Hello Peter, how're you feeling mate?" Ali asked him as he knelt down on the floor beside him. As he did so he noticed the sweat glistening against his brow and he put a hand to his forehead to check for any sign of a fever. His skin was very hot.
"Not great." Peter groaned. His voice was so weak his words were barely perceptible.
"Not great." Ali acknowledged with a nod – repeating his words back to him so that Peter would know that he had heard what he'd said. "Well it's alright mate, I'm just going to take a look at you and then we can have a look at making you a bit more comfortable. Can you tell me how you feel?" He asked him, opening his bag and taking out a stethoscope, before unbuttoning the top few buttons of Peter's shirt and having a listen to his chest. He then proceeded to take out a small digital thermometer, replacing the disposable earpiece with a new one before sliding it into Peter's ear canal and waiting for it to beep.
"Cold." Peter confessed, which was already evident by the fact that he was shivering slightly – he made a mental note of the fact that he was running a high temperature. "Sick." He added. "Hurts."
"Dad, where does it hurt?" Simon asked him.
"My stomach." Peter replied, his voice weak.
When he said this, Ali – who was already in the process of inspecting the area of bruising on his chest – noticed a small patch of dermal inflammation, which looked a little different to the rest of the discolouration caused by the ruptured blood vessels. He placed his hand gently over it and noticed that it was warmer than the rest of the surrounding skin. He frowned.
"OK Peter, I'm just going to have a little feel of your tummy now." He told him. "You just tell me if it hurts at all alright?"
With his patient's permission Ali then started to gently palpate his abdomen, starting lower down with his appendix and bowel, before gradually moving upwards towards the warm, red welt. At every stage he asked Peter if it hurt, and the man shook his head. As soon as he pressed down on his stomach however Peter's response was immediate – leaving Ali with no doubt of where the problem lay, and the probable cause of the man's pain. Peter gasped, his face contorting in agony and he immediately tried to curl in on himself to get away from the doctor's gentle probing. As he did so Ali also felt a mass in his abdomen which hadn't been there when he'd examined him a few days before.
He sighed, leaning back on his haunches.
"Dad?" Simon asked him, his voice shaking considerably as he reached out to take Peter by the hand. He wanted to lean over and hug him – to hold him close – but he was too scared of hurting him even more than he already was. Peter opened his eyes and squeezed his teenage son's hand. It pained him to see the fear in his eyes.
He knew he hadn't always been the best dad he could, or the one Simon deserved. He loved him, more than he'd ever loved anyone in his life before or since – since the first time he'd held him in his arms, when he'd been barely more than a few seconds old. It wasn't a feeling he could ever explain, or even begin to put into words. It was something deep, instinctive and beautiful – but the alcohol had meant that he hadn't always been there for him in the way that he should have been. He hadn't always made the right decisions. His biggest regret was that Simon had paid in the past for his failures, but he'd picked himself up and pulled himself together. He was making a real effort to be the dad he knew his son needed and deserved, to give him some stability, and to show him he was loved instead of just saying it. He would die to protect him, he would take any sickness or pain away from him and multiply it one hundred fold if it meant he could shield him from it, he would go back in time and right every bad decision or mistake he'd ever made, he would turn away from that first swig of alcohol which had set off the chain of dependency, and he would put himself between Simon and Tyler's line of fire time and time and time again. The one thing life had taught him though was that he couldn't protect his son from the emotional pain of losing someone he loved, or having to witness them hurt – first his mother, then the tram crash, the breakdown of his relationship with Leanne, Deadrie's death, Ken's stroke, now this – he felt as though this was yet another failure to add to his ever growing list. All he wanted was to show his son that this wasn't like any of those other times, and to let him know that he was going to be alright.
"Peter, I think you've developed an abdominal hematoma as a result of the impact from the shooting the other day." Ali explained to him. "There's an ambulance on it's way, just lie still and try to relax. I'm going to give you an injection to try and make you feel a little more comfortable."
At that moment there was a commotion outside – the sound of the factory doors opening and closing. Ali prepared the injection and Peter flinched as he felt the doctor slip the needle under his skin and empty its contents into a vein. He'd have been lying if he'd said he wasn't scared, but he did his best to focus on Simon. Simon was the anchor he needed to reassure himself that everything was going to be alright – his son needed him, and that's how Peter knew he was going to get better, for the sake of his son.
The rest of the factory was silent – eerily so – and he suspected that Carla had locked the front doors to keep everybody else out. He was grateful to her for that, but he knew that keeping everyone away would do little to dispel the conjecture and gossip. He suspected that even now people were beginning to speculate what was going on, and he could just imagine them putting two and two together and coming up with five. It was only a matter of time before rumours started circulating about him drinking again, and he could just imagine the stories they would come up with – tales of him passing out drunk in the stockroom, and reports of alcohol poisoning.
They had no way of knowing that this wasn't any of his fault.
"Mum!" Simon exclaimed, as Leanne suddenly appeared in the doorway.
"Oh my God!" She gasped – taking in the sight of Peter, doubled over in pain and drenched in sweat, but she quickly composed herself for the sake of her son and began to make her way over. "Sinead came to get me." She explained. "She told me that Peter had been taken ill. Ali, what's the matter with him?" She asked, as she knelt down beside Simon, reaching out a hand to touch her ex-husband gently on the shoulder in an attempt to comfort him as he let out another moan of pain.
"Lee…" Peter groaned weakly, acknowledging her presence, but she let out a gentle 'shhhhh' to quieten him. Ali had noticed his complexion becoming increasingly paler, and he was beginning to sweat more profusely. He reached across and placed two fingers to the inside of his wrist to check his pulse, making a note of how fast it was. The pain medication didn't appear to be working as well as he'd hoped.
"I can't be completely sure until they get him to hospital." He explained, as honestly as he could under the circumstances – he'd only been able to perform a cursory examination, and without any detailed imaging equipment he wasn't able to see what was going on internally. "But I think he's developed a potentially serious complication of the shooting the other day."
"What do you mean complication? It was a paint gun." She exclaimed.
"Yes, but he was hit at point blank range, without protection." Ali told her, explaining the situation to her as gently as he could, without underplaying the seriousness of the situation. "It looks like he's developed an abdominal haematoma, possibly even an abscess."
"An abscess?" Leanne frowned.
"So, when the body receives a significant blunt force trauma injury any one of the surrounding organs or structures can become damaged. Blood can begin the pool at the sight of the injury." He explained. "This can lead to inflammation that can sometimes be missed upon initial examination because the main priority is to check for internal injuries. Bruising or perforation can occur, and if infection results this can lead to an abscess developing."
"Is it serious?" She asked him.
"It can be," he nodded, "depending on how close to the surface of the skin it is. If it is an abscess though I am concerned Peter's might be, because I suspect it's developed on the inside of his abdominal wall, and is pressing on his stomach causing significant pain and tenderness.
The priority will be to drain the fluid, and he'll be on antibiotics for a few days, but I suspect due to the severity and location they may want to do that surgically to make sure they completely clear the area of any infection."
"The ambulance is here." Carla informed them, suddenly appearing in the doorway. "How's he doing?" She asked Ali.
"You stay away from him!" Leanne warned Carla. "This is all your fault! If you hadn't left Simon on his own in the first place Tyler wouldn't have been able to get to him, and Peter wouldn't have got shot!"
"OK, OK…" Carla took a step back, hands raised in the air, showing that she presented no threat. Inwardly she was angry – angry with Leanne that she was still blaming her for what happened, but more angry with herself because she knew deep down that she was right. This was all her fault, and everything Leanne said was true – she couldn't refute the fact that her leaving Simon alone had made him a sitting target.
"Leanne, I'm sorry." She found herself apologising to the young woman, not for the first time in the past few days. "I made a mistake…"
"A mistake?" Leanne exclaimed angrily. "You call this a mistake?" She asked, indicating Peter lying on the floor in front of them.
"Lee…" Peter pleaded with her. He looked up at her weakly – his eyes imploring her to drop the subject. "This is not her fault." He told her.
At that moment there was a knocking sound, and a voice called out to them – the words indecipherable through the locked doors of the factory, but the tone was that of a woman. Leanne and Carla continued to hold each other's gaze for a moment – the two women locked in a bitter standoff from which neither seemed prepared to back down.
"Carla!" Ali looked up from where he was still kneeling beside Peter. "Go and unlock the door for the paramedics!" He ordered her.
This seemed to bring her back to her senses, and both women immediately broke their gaze. Carla nodded as Leanne knelt back down beside Peter as she hurried off to let the paramedics in and show them through to the store room. She returned with them in tow a few moments later.
"This is Peter Barlow." Ali started to explain as the paramedics took over. "Fifty three years old. He was shot in the chest with a paint gun a few days ago. Collapsed with stomach pains. His abdomen was tender on palpation. He has a temperature of thirty eight point five. Signs of a large abdominal haematoma and infection. He's been given 150mg of paracetamol for pain, but still hurting so will probably need something stronger."
The young woman with dark hair nodded as Ali then got to his feet, and she took his place at Peter's side, whilst her partner started readying the gurney to transport him to the hospital.
"Hello Peter," She smiled, as she knelt down beside him. "My name's Emma, I'm a paramedic. Can you tell me how bad the pain is on a scale on one to ten?"
"I don't know…" Peter groaned, "about a seven."
"OK darling," She looked down at him with kindly blue eyes, as she took him by the hand and gently started feeling for a vein. "Well we'll see what we can do to help you with that." She said. "I'm just going to get an IV into you and we can get you started on some fluids OK?"
"Will he be alright?" Simon asked her, as she set about preparing everything she needed to get an IV line into Peter, and the young man's attention was drawn to the sight of the needle in sterile packaging.
"This is Simon, Peter's son." Ali explained, as Emma looked up at him and she smiled kindly at the teenager. Throughout the course of her career she'd had a lot of experience comforting concerned family members, many of whom had been frightened children. She never lost sight of the fact that whilst this was all in a day's work for her, seeing a loved one in pain was never easy and she was aware of the fact that it could be a very frightening and unsettling experience. She saw it as much a part of her job to make sure that the family were ok, as it was to take care of her patients.
"Hello Simon." She said. "We're going to do everything we can for your dad alright?" She did her best to reassure him, as she reached out a hand and gently squeezed his elbow. He watched her as she inspected the back of Peter's hands and the creases of his elbows, looking for a vein. When she found one she gently cleaned the area before expertly sliding the needle underneath his skin, and taping the canula in place – hooking up the bag of saline. Whilst she did all this her young colleague pulled Ali aside to talk to him, and try and gain as much information as possible.
When she was finished she looked back up at Simon, who was staring at his father with tears glistening in his eyes. She'd noticed the young woman standing beside him, but hadn't paid her much attention until she put her arm around the young boy's shoulders.
"Who's this?" She asked him kindly.
"She's my mum." Simon explained.
Emma nodded, before turning to address Leanne.
"Can you tell me, does you husband have any medical conditions we aught to know about, any known allergies?" She asked her.
"Oh, no, we're not married." Leanne was quick correct her. "Peter is my ex-husband." She explained.
Despite her protests to the contrary that there wasn't anything romantic between them Emma could see the concern in the young woman's eyes, and she suspected that she wasn't there soley for the sake of her son.
"He's a recovering alcoholic though." Leanne told her. Emma smiled kindly and nodded.
She understood how something like this might be difficult for a family member to disclose – it could often feel as though they were betraying their loved one's confidence – but it wasn't any of her business to judge the people in her care for their misfortune. She'd seen enough of the best and the worst life had to offer to know that there were a million and one reasons why people found themselves in the throws of addiction.
Emma was only there to help, and information of this nature was really rather important. It would enable them to provide Peter with the best possible care once he was in hospital, and help the doctors and the surgeons who would be treating him to come up with the safest and most appropriate course of treatment.
At that moment Emma's young colleague approached – Ali had managed to establish that his name was Michael – and the young doctor helped the two paramedics load Peter onto the gurney. He groaned as Emma lifted him into a seated position, wrapping her arms gently around his chest before taking his right wrist within her left hand and his left within her right. Michael took Peter by the knees, whilst Ali held the bag of saline and between the three of them they managed to lift Peter onto the stretcher.
"Can I go with him?" Simon asked, tears in his eyes.
"Of course you can sweetheart." Emma smiled at him, as Michael took the bag from Ali and unlocked the breaks of the gurney ready to transport their patient to the awaiting ambulance. "I'm sure it'll help your dad to know that you're there."
"I'll come too." Leanne said as she wrapped her arms around Simon's shoulders. Emma noticed her quickly brush a stray tear away from her own cheek as she said this. Simon nodded, and smiled.
"Can I come too?" Carla, who'd remained a quiet observer, standing forgotten in the corner of the room since the paramedics had arrived, suddenly asked. Emma looked up. She hadn't paid much attention to the dark-haired women who'd let them in, but she observed that her complexion was a few shades paler than could be considered healthy and normal, and her eyes too were glistening with unshed tears. There was a worried expression upon her face which would suggest that she was more than just a casual onlooker, and from the way Leanne was now looking at her she suspected that there was something going on between the two women which was better left unaired at the moment.
She regarded her with an apologetic shake of her head.
"I'm sorry," She told her, "we only have room for two people to accompany Peter in the back of the ambulance, and because Simon is a minor he needs to be accompanied by a parent."
Carla nodded – she'd half expected this to be the case. She locked eyes with Leanne for a moment, appealingly, but the young woman's eyes remained hard and angry – unmoved by the sadness and concern on her face – and Carla turned away, concealing her hurt expression. She realised that Leanne had no legal president over her, but Simon did, and as his mother that automatically entitled her to accompany Peter to the hospital with her son.
She'd watched one of the paramedics – Emma – inject another painkiller into Peter's canula and they were now beginning to move him – she would need to unlock the front doors for them. She then needed to close the factory for the rest of the day and send the staff home early on full pay – only then would she be free to follow them to the hospital.
As Peter was wheeled past her Carla caught a glimpse of his pained expression – the hand in which the canula had been placed was gently cradling his painful stomach and there was a thin sheen of sweat on his face. They had also put him on some oxygen to help him breathe – the addition of the oxygen mask only serving to make him appear sicker – and she swiped a tear away helplessly. His eyes were closed but she could tell that he was still conscious because he was breathing hard – his chest rising and falling rapidly, probably as a result of the pain he was in – and he cracked his eyes open slightly to look at her as the gurney was wheeled past. She smiled down at him reassuringly and as she did so he reached out a hand weakly, his cold flesh gently skimming hers.
"Let my dad know?" He asked her, his words barely audible beneath the mask covering his mouth and nose. He made a move as if to take it off, but as he did so Ali took him gently by the hand to stop him. She glanced up briefly to look across at the young doctor, whose attentions were fully focused on his patient, before her eyes returned to Peter and she nodded – letting him know that she'd heard him. She'd completely forgotten about Ken until now – but of course he would have to be informed of what had happened.
She then followed the small group outside, holding open the factory doors for them and watching from a distance as they loaded Peter into the back of the ambulance. There was an audible gasp from some of the factory workers who were still standing around in the courtyard, as they watched Peter being wheeled out on a gurney and Leanne and Simon climbing into the ambulance behind him. She was aware of people calling out to her, asking her what had happened, as the ambulance pulled away – but their words were mercifully drowned out by the sound of sirens, and she slipped silently back into the factory without acknowledging or responding to their appeals for information – locking the doors behind her. They would of course all find out soon enough, but it was not her place to elaborate on the series of events which had led to Peter's current illness and she tried to think of what she was going to tell them, feeling the need to stress that his illness was not alcohol related. She didn't even realise that she was crying again, until she noticed that her cheeks and the front of her suit were wet with her own tears, as she made her way to the office to call Ken.
When she arrived at the hospital a couple of hours later her heart sank when she was initially told that as she was not an immediate member of the family they couldn't release any information to her regarding Peter's condition – as his ex-wife and business partner her relationship to him no longer carried any influence – but she placed a call to Ken who mercifully still had his phone switched on, and he sympathetically vouched for her with the nurses. As he met her at the reception desk and led her back to where they were all waiting for news in the relatives room he informed her that Peter had been taken through to surgery about an hour ago – he looked weary, deep worry lines carved into his forehead and Carla realised that he'd found himself in this position too many times before. Between the tram crash and Peter's alcoholism Ken was certainly no stranger to hospitals.
He explained to her that the doctor's had discovered a large amount of blood pooling at the site of the injury to Peter's chest, and there was indeed an abscess developing against his abdominal wall which was pressing on his stomach, and causing him a considerable amount of pain. Leanne, who was sitting on one of the small sofas with her arm around Simon on the far side of the small room, starred daggers at her as she entered but didn't say anything as she took a seat in an empty chair close to the door. Despite the fact that Ken had spoken up for her she still felt like an outsider, and preferred to keep herself on the periphery of the small group. Looking around the room she noticed the Styrofoam coffee cups – their contents untouched, congealed and cold – evidence of their anxious vigil. Simon sat beside Leanne, unmoving and staring blankly into space. There were tears in his eyes and every now and again he folded into his mother and cried onto her shoulder.
"This is all my fault…" He said, as Leanne wrapped her arms protectively around her son, cradling him close to her warm body, and doing her best to reassure him that it was not – helpless as she tried console the distraught youngster. There were tears in her eyes too, and she quickly wiped them away.
It was another hour before a tall middle aged man in blue scrubs entered the small room.
"Peter Barlow's family?" He asked them – regarding the small group as Ken, Simon and Leanne immediately got to their feet and nervously made their way over. Carla too got to her feet and nodded – despite the realisation that she was not technically a member of the family.
"I'm his father." Ken explained. "How's he doing?"
"The surgery went well." The doctor told them all – and there was a collective sigh of relief, with the exception of Simon who, despite evidently being reassured by the doctor's words, still seemed very tense. "It took a little longer than expected. Due to the severity of the injuries he sustained and the amount of pain he was in we were worried that he may have sustained some damage to his spleen," the man explained, "but we've checked him out internally and I can confirm that we found no sign of any internal bleeding. He did however have a rather large abdominal haematoma and an abscess pressing on his stomach which we've managed to drain, and we'll be treating him with IV fluids and high strength anti-biotics for the infection for the next few days."
"Can we see him?" Ken asked him.
"Of course." The man nodded. "He's still in recovery at the moment, but I'll get one of the nurses to come and let you know as soon as he's been transferred back onto the ward. Only two people at a time though I'm afraid – I don't want him to wear himself out. He needs to rest." The doctor told them – and they all agreed not to overwhelm Peter, or let him overdo things, before he left the room.
Ali arrived to check on Peter later that evening. By that time Peter had already regained consciousness from the anaesthetic and was resting peacefully in a side room just off the main ward. Carla had gone home a few hours previously – without even seeing him – and when Ali entered the small room he found Leanne and Simon sitting at Peter's bedside, and Ken curled up in a chair in the far corner of the room. Simon was asleep with his head on his mum's shoulder – the events of the past few days having completely drained him – but Leanne was awake and he noticed her left hand clasped around Peter's. As he entered he instinctively reached for the chart at the end of the man's bed to read what his doctor's had written and Leanne looked up and smiled at him.
"Hey." He greeted her – returning the gesture. "I just thought I'd pop in and see how he's doing." He explained. As Peter shifted position uncomfortably in bed the blanket covering him slipped slightly – exposing the large bandage swathed around his abdomen. Ali knew that he would be on some pretty strong painkillers following the surgery, but he still looked uncomfortable. He'd regained a little bit of colour since he'd last seen him, but his eyes were dark and sunken and his cheeks were slightly flushed due to the infection and fever.
"Thanks Ali." Leanne nodded, gesturing for the doctor to take the empty hard plastic seat on the other side of Peter's bed – but he didn't intend to stay for long and much preferred to stand. There were a lot of chairs scattered around for such a small room, but Ali suspected that the empty chair had probably belonged to Ken before he'd relocated to the comfort of the small armchair in the corner – the man was in his eighties now and not in the best of health himself. All three of them looked exhausted. Leanne had obviously stayed to take care of Simon, but the expression of concern on her face and the look in her eyes as she regarded the man in the bed before her betrayed her own feelings for him.
Suddenly Peter stirred, and with a small groan which sounded pained he opened his eyes, blinking disorientatedly as he looked around him. Ali watched as it dawned on him where he was – realisation slowly registering on his face. Simon too had shifted position in his sleep, lifting his head from Leanne's shoulder and onto the back of the chair on which he was sitting, and she leaned forward, squeezing Peter's hand in a gesture of comfort.
"Hey." She smiled, as he looked at her – his eyes then drawn to Simon – before turning to look at Ali who was still standing at the foot of his bed.
"Hey mate," Ali looked down at him, "how're you feeling?" He asked.
"Sore… tired…" Peter frowned, rubbing his bandaged stomach gently – but despite his present discomfort he still felt better than he'd felt in the past few days. He'd been too out of it earlier when people had tried to explain to him what had happened. The paramedics had given him a sedative in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and whilst it hadn't knocked him out completely the last lucid memory he had was of lying on the store room floor, back at the factory, writhing in pain. He did however remember Ali being there, and everything he'd done to try and help him. He smiled up at the young doctor.
"Yeah, you'll be sore for a while I'm afraid." Ali told him sympathetically. "You developed an abdominal haematoma – a collection of blood in your abdominal cavity – as a result of the shooting the other day," He elaborated, "which resulted in an abscess forming. You've had surgery to fix the problem, but you'll be on IV antibiotics for the next few days for the infection."
Peter nodded in vague understanding. He still was still feeling slightly out of it though.
"Dad!" Simon suddenly exclaimed beside him, having woken up whilst the doctor had been explaining his surgery to him, and seeing that he was awake.
"Hey son." Peter craned his neck slowly to look at him and as he did so he reached out a hand to ruffle his son's hair affectionately in the way he had used to do when he was little. It was a gesture which would have caused the teenager to recoil away in embarrassment under normal circumstances, but he didn't appear to mind it on this occasion.
"I'll leave to you to it." The young doctor said, not wanting to intrude any longer on the small group.
"Thanks Ali," Peter said – smiling weakly up at him, "for everything. I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't been there."
"Don't mention it." Ali returned the gesture with a dismissive shake of his head, as he turned to leave the room. It had been a trying few months for the family, culminating in a particularly rough few days for Peter. It was no secret – the difficulty they'd had trying to control the tearaway teenager's increasingly volatile and anti-social behaviour – but as Simon carefully leaned over Peter and hugged him gently, and with a surprising amount of tenderness, the smile on Ali's face widened. All any of them could do was hope that the worst was finally behind them, and that what had happened had been the wake up call the boy had so desperately needed to finally turn his life around.