“There you go.” Mr Fletcher carefully swung Nick into the wheelchair. Barney shifted from foot to foot. He never knew whether he should offer to help when Mr Fletcher was getting Nick out of the car. He always wanted to do something. But it was clear that Mr Fletcher knew what he was doing.
“You can wheel him in if you like,” said Mr Fletcher.
“Oh no he can’t,” shouted Nick. He pulled the lever in the arm of the wheelchair and it whizzed forward. Barney went to open the front door. But he was too late. Nick somehow managed to drive straight at the door, so that it was flung open. Barney winced as it crashed back into the chair. Nick took no notice. He jiggled the controls again. He was frowning slightly and his tongue was poking out a little way between his teeth. Then the chair jerked forward so that it pushed the door again. He accelerated through.
“Come, on, what’s keeping you?” shouted Nick through the now closed door. Barney shook his head and grinned. Then he walked slowly in.
The wheelchair whirred along. Nick was already at the end of the long corridor when Barney got to the other side of the door. Barney watched his friend stop the chair and then jiggle the controls on the arm rest. The chair pivoted to face the door to Nick’s room, and then Nick did the trick with the door again. This time, though, the door stayed open. The magnet on the wall held it in place. Barney stood and stared for a moment. How did he manage it?
“Are you coming then?” shouted Nick. "Come on."
Barney shook his head and then made his way into Nick’s room. Nick was already nudging the edge of the drawers with his wheelchair.
“In there,” he said, nodding his head towards the top drawer. “Close the door will you? I don’t want anyone else to know.”
Barney opened the drawer. He took the sketch book out and the small tin of water colours.
“Get the water,” commanded Nick.
Barney pushed Nick up to his desk. He spread the plastic sheet out for him and arranged the latest picture so that Nick could get to it easily. He unscrewed the tube of white and then opened the lid of the tin.
“Hurry up with that water, man!” Nick’s face was going red. That always happened when he got frustrated.
Barney hurried over to the sink with the jar. He had just filled it and carried it back, when there was a knock on the door. Barney covered the picture with a sheet of kitchen paper. He opened the door. Mrs Fletcher was standing there with a tray of drinks and biscuits.
“Thank you, Barney,” she said.
“Mum. Do you mind? Barney and I have got things to do.”
“You need to drink, love,” Mrs Fletcher replied, quietly. “Barney, do you think …”
“Yes, it’s all right, Mrs Fletcher. Really.”
Mrs Fletcher nodded and smiled. Nick pulled a face. "I grew out of baby cups a long time ago," he said, pointing to the invalid cup.
Barney walked over to the tray and took the cup. "Don't let it get to you," he said.
Nick didn’t resist as Barney held the cup up to his lips. He even managed to lift his hand up so that it looked as if he was actually holding the cup. Barney tipped a little of the fluid into Nick’s mouth and then straightened the cup up as he waited to hear Nick’s laboured swallow. At last it came. Then he was able to tip a little more into Nick’s mouth. Slowly, slowly, the cup emptied. Barney took a few sips of his own drink to keep Nick company.
Then Nick seemed to be struggling. There was a strange rasping noise in his throat. He was trying to swallow and couldn’t. He rolled his head from side to side in frustration. Barney pushed him forward and thumped his back.
"Come on now," he shouted. "Swallow."
Barney’s heart started beating really fast. This was happening more and more often now. One day … No that didn’t bear thinking about. Then all at once, Nick hiccoughed and he was breathing freely again. He giggled.
“Stop doing that, you monkey,” said Barney, cuffing him on the arm.
Nick giggled again.
“Want a biscuit?” Barney asked.
Nick nodded. Barney broke a piece off one of the soft shortcakes.
“Here,” he said, placing it in Nick’s mouth. “Chew it properly.”
“Yeah,” mumbled Nick.
Barney moved the kitchen paper back from picture. He stared at the small boats which seemed to bob up and down in the wind swept harbour. How could someone like Nick do something as clever? In fact, how could anyone?
“Did you take the memory card out?” Nick asked.
“Yes, said Barney. “I’ll take it home and Photoshop the pictures for you. I’ll try to get them to you tomorrow?”
“Fine,” said Nick. “But make them high res.”