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The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

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Story Title: The Boy with the thorn in his side

Story description: Looking at morality, religion, abuse. Starts from the newspaper article belle is involved in about Aden, and when Annie is uncertain about religion.

Type of story: hopefully long fic but short chapters

Main Characters: Aden, Belle, Annie

BTTB rating: see official ratings guidance rated T for now, may change later

Does story include spoilers: erm.... yes for UK viewers.

Is story being proof read: No

Any warnings: some sexual references, some mild swearing, some violence possible to occur

Summary: Started off as 'another aden fic' but i've got into a bigger theme now i'm writing it. it's about characters trying to deal with religious/moral issues.

I've been reading a lot of Aden/Belle fan fics and thought it was time I contributed my own. I've never done this type of thing before. It starts from when Irene hands Aden the newspaper article and goes on from there. I may change events slightly to how I imagine them. Some events are the same but just told from how I percieve them. Hope you enjoy! Constructive criticism/ideas welcome. I want to make it as enjoyable as possible.

First chapter is a short taster.

Chapter 1

He let the flames burn his face, burn away the tears that were about to erupt from his body in a great crashing crescendo at any moment. The burning distracted his mind, stopped it from wondering into hidden vaults locked away years ago. He felt like Bluebeard’s wife. He knew something terrible lurked down in those hidden chambers but he couldn’t stop himself from delving inside when no-one was around. He hated being alone for this exact reason. He didn’t really like a lot of people, but he was comforted and distracted by their presence. Right now though, the one time he hadn’t done anything wrong, no-one wanted to be anywhere near him. Even now they knew they were wrong, they continued to hate him. They despised him for highlighting the human flaws that lie in even the most Christian of people. They loathed him for smudging their black and white world into the murky grey of his. But mainly they didn’t like him because they couldn’t understand him; for not feeling the way they felt, for not being the way they could be. He didn’t like a lot of people and he didn’t care if a lot of people didn’t like him, but to be hated the way he was hated right now, to be accused and suspected of such a disgusting act, to be thought capable, he couldn’t bare it. He wanted to scream out to them, to make them understand, but he couldn’t, because he couldn’t go down there. If he went down there Bluebeard would dice him up.

He could live with this small victory though. It was enough. When Irene had apologised it had been a means to an end, and none of it was heartfelt. But Aden didn’t need to be liked, he just needed to be cleared. It kept the restless anger that roared within him at bay. And now in some sick twist of fate, his victory was swept out from under him. He smirked bitterly thinking how Irene would be smiling from ear to ear had she known the pain she had just inflicted upon him. He stared at his grandfather’s face through the flames and laughed hysterically at the cruel joke that had been played upon him, all through his own doing, his own determination to win. He watched till the paper turned to ash, but still the image of his grandfather’s smile remained with him. It was the same smile that waited for him, in the darkest corners of the night, the same smiling demon that he twisted and turned away from in his bed, and woke him in a cold sweat in the early half light. Today that smile had been placed against his own for the whole of Summer Bay to see. His actions had been compared to this monster. As Irene handed him the paper the two images together had turned his stomach. To be proclaimed innocent; a ‘hero’ like his grandfather, it was a bitter irony that made his mouth taste of metal.

The flame was dwindling now, and he could feel his face again, he put a hand up to touch his cheek, red hot and streaked with tears. He wiped his face roughly with his sleeve and levered himself up from a crouching position using the wall behind him. He clumsily gathered his crutches and limped back towards his house, trying not to wake his dad from his drunken slumber as he crossed the living room towards his bedroom. He had been silent for hours now, but as he rested on his bed he had no escape from his screaming insides.

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Chapter 2 (I think this is how you continue on...) I'm not sure about the end to this chapter, may edit later.

Chapter 2

Belle threw the paper across the room

“Hey! Watch it!” cried Annie as the paper, narrowly missing her head, dropped by her feet. She scooped it up and ventured further into the house, where a petite brunette was pacing back and forth.

“I just can’t believe that he PRINTED THIS!” Ignoring Annie’s pleas, Belle continued to shout – to no-one in-particular, as she threw herself back into the sofa behind her. Shoulders hunched and arms folded, she glared at the space in front of her, seething with rage at the shameless journalism her photos had come to represent.

Annie, unaffected by Belle’s varying mood swings by now, planted herself on the seat next to Belle and angled her body towards her

“Belle, do you really think it’s worth all this?”

Belle’s eyes remained focus on an imaginary target of hate, and Annie watched on as Belle had an internal argument with herself

“Belle, it’s not your fault how he uses the photos, the…”

But before Annie could utter another sound Belle’s fragile frame leapt up from the chair and darted back round to face her, eyes bulging

“It’s not JUST the pictures Annie!” She grabbed the paper from Annie’s child like hands “All of this was from me! I researched it, I practically created this whole story!” She pointed at the front page, but Annie remained calm. Frustrated by her inability to infuriate Annie, Belle raised her head to the sky, letting the paper fall to her feet, and let out a deeply needed sigh

“Oh I don’t know Annie, I know that work and my personal life are separate, and I know I need to do the horrible jobs before the dream… but I, I don’t know, I just never thought it would be like this…. I imagined the horrible days to be boring articles about church fetes and” belle looked at the unamused tone emanating from Annie’s face

“Sorry I just meant that, well, a church fete isn’t morally corrupt.”

Annie’s face softened into a smile at this

“It doesn’t involve promoting pig-headed, arrogant, RUDE, LYING ….”

As Belle’s voice got louder and her arm movements became more exaggerated Annie’s eyes welled up

“Belle, he wasn’t…”

Belle stopped mid-flail and looked at the weeping child before her. She suddenly became aware of how corrupt and self-engrossed she was becoming. For weeks now she had been throwing herself into being a ‘photographer’. She dressed different, she acted different, she had made herself toughen up and ‘be professional’. She thought it was only to further her career. It was only now, realising all the things she had failed to realise before, that Belle truly felt the difference within herself. Before she would have noticed Annie’s problems, before she had created this lie, before she had picked up that bottle and wound up in hospital, before Annie herself would have realised them. But she’d been too busy. She stared down at the paper. She’d been against the story on Aden for the awful things he had done to Annie. She was so busy focusing on her anger she had forgotten that she had nothing to be angry about anymore. Annie admitted the truth, he was innocent. Belle’s anger melted into a guilty blob inside of her as recognition dawned; Maybe she had been focusing her anger on Aden to stop being angry at herself for neglecting Annie all these weeks. After Drew had left she’d been a mess. The photography was a means to escape, to build herself back up. Instead she had built a new self entirely. Her new self put Annie’s dissent from the church down to teen angst, along with the drinking. Her new self had blocked out the tears she had heard at night after Pops had died, the ones she heard as she sat up late at night – working to meet a deadline.

“Annie stop, ok?” Belle swooped down beside the teary eyed teen and hugged her

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise what was going on. I should have been here for you, and I wasn’t.”

“I’ve done something so awful!” Annie sobbed into Belle’s shoulder, desperately clinging to her.

Belle cooed and shushed her as Irene had done for her so many times before. What with Kirsty and Kane Irene was so caught up, and had entrusted Belle to look after Annie and Geoff as Irene had done for her – because there was no-one else.

As the reality of who she had become dawned on her, Belle let her tears flow freely, washing away the hate she had felt for her boss and for Aden. She decided if there was anyone to be angry at it was only herself.

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Chapter 3 WARNING: contains some reference to abuse.

I read through what i'd posted and so far its all been highly depressing. I promise I will try to make it a bit chirpier at some point. Right now its kind of necessary to the story to be dark though.

lemme know what you think etc etc.

Oh and thanks for all the nice comments, its really encouraging.

Oh and also, I know this isn't the exact same narrative structure as the programme. Miles comes in differently, and events with Aden, Belle, Annie etc are all structured differently. Sorry if that annoys anyone, but it was to make it fit with what i wanted.

Chapter 3

C’mon, wake up

The worst nightmares were the ones he was aware of. He knew they were nightmares, but his eyes refused to open, refused to rescue him from the memories stored up in the recesses of his mind, which replayed his deepest secrets over and over again throughout the night. It was as if segments of time from the past were teleported into the now and happening again in front of him, and he became split into two people. He was both the 17 year old watching on in anger and the terrified child who couldn’t escape.

Just focus on being awake, I’m awake I’m awake, I’m awake

The footsteps kept getting louder and louder. He could feel the vibrations of feet touching floorboard; he could hear his breath quickening. He was 6 years old; he was clinging to the edge of the mattress, holding the duvet tightly over his head. But still the footsteps got louder...

NO! This is not happening! Let me wake up now!

He is 17 years old, watching his child self trying desperately to merge into the mattress, to become a part of the furniture and just disappear. He is frustrated that the 6 year old him is not screaming for his father, is not running away, is not fighting back.

A presence looms above him. How old is he now? Is he 6 or 17? He is both, he tries to lie still but it grabs him, his breath stops short.

“Aden!” Its dad’s voice, I am safe, all I need to do is wake up; he is calling me, just wake up and end this”

“Aden!" A different voice – equally familiar. A whisper. Breath tickling his ear, hands, arms, a body, larger than his own, pressing down on him.

I’m not a child now, get off of me!

“Aden!” Dad’s voice again. If I call out he’ll come and save me, wouldn’t he? Why am I not calling for him?

“Aden!” Dad, please wake me up, Granddad’s voice is calling me, but I know it’s not real. Just pull me out of this and he’ll go away.


He bolted up, so alert and yet so dazed. He felt a cold sweat drench his back. He looked down and sighed with relief, it was daylight; he was awake, at last.

“Aden! You’re late! Why aren’t you at school?” Aden connected the voice to the arm that gripped his shoulder.

“Dad?” He was so pleased to see his dad; he’d saved him from the dream.

“You’re turning out just like your brothers. You’re repeating your HSC, and here you are, lying in! You need to put more effort in!”

The relief morphed into frustration. He wanted to explain to him that he couldn’t wake up. He had tried so hard, he knew he was asleep, but the demons had trapped him in again. He wanted to tell him how he tried to avoid them for days, by staying awake, staying busy, but when his eyelids inevitably failed him, they snuck up and claimed him for hours, making him relive every sordid detail.

He wishes his dad wasn’t yelling at him. He wants to tell him it’s not his fault, but the yelling has clouded his mind and now he’s angry, and tired. He’s always so tired.

“Can you just get out so I can get dressed dad?” He doesn’t tell him, just like he didn’t cry out. Those demons, they’re gone now, banished into the night. His demons were like vampires, he used the sun to ward them off. So long as there was sun they couldn’t come for him.

His dad shook his head, and trundled out of the room to get ready for work. Aden raised himself from the sweat covered sheets and began to dress for the day. He would sort out the remnants of last night later, when school was finished and dad was at work; Change the sheets, catch up on whatever it was he’d missed this morning, and then clear up the bottles his dad had strewn across the living room floor. Aden hadn’t been in there since last night, after he’d last tidied it. But the gruff manner his dad had been in this morning suggested a clean up was probably necessary.


On his trek to school Aden tried to block out the events of yesterday and this morning. He knew there would be a few comments on the paper, and was thinking of the most efficient way to handle the situation when he bumped into Mr Bartlett.

“Mr Jeffries and what time do you make this?” He tried to muster an apology, but his feelings for the man who stood before him took over the controls in his brain. Aden saw the way he looked down upon him, the man needed to feel in control, anyone who appeared a threat to that was an enemy to be attacked, but not obviously. No Mr Bartlett needed to weed out the enemy without appearing to have a vendetta. His exterior was pristine; the image he tried to convey, but inside his mind whirred around with devious thoughts. Aden had worked himself into a rage and before he knew what he was was doing the words tumbled from his mouth like diahorrea

“Time for you’re secret mid morning McDonald’s brunch break” He paused slightly before adding sarcastically “Sir?”, he examined the watch on his wrist for added effect, before glancing up to watch the colour spread across the chubby man’s face.

“Aden, you arrive 2 hours late to class, no valid excuse, hurling insults at the head of school the day after brandishing some mockery of a tale of your ‘heroic’ family in the local newspaper! This, my son, is more than an after school detention we’re talking about here!” Bartlett’s voice was rising in waves, as the humiliation of yesterday’s news story caught up with him. Mr Bartlett did not like his authority to be questioned.

Aden’s mood shifted, he couldn’t tell Bartlett, of all people, that he was just as unhappy about the story as he was, he also couldn’t defend it. And he definitely could not apologise.

“You gonna suspend me Sir?” His voice was calm, his eyes locked into Mr Bartlett’s, before he continued “That’ll look good for the school” He was pushing it now, but he might as well go for broke "Dispatching the cripple" he braved a cocky smile and shifted about with his crutches to calm his nerves. He knew he was playing with fire here.

Mr Bartlett retained the stare, but was clearly faltering. He knew suspending Aden would severely damage the school’s reputation. He was already receiving complaints from parents, the governors… he was a wanted man.

“5 Saturday detentions Mr Jeffries, you will spend them educating yourself in horticulture” Bartlett smiled; he was going to give the boy just enough rope to hang himself. There was no way someone as untamed as Aden Jeffries could survive 5 Saturdays with him. He would make sure of that.

“You want me to be your gardener?” Aden was still suffering slight shock, his last comment had been his only lifeline, and he hadn’t expected it to actually work.

“No Aden. I don’t.” Mr Bartlett said menacingly, he turned to walk away, calling back over his shoulder

“See you bright and early on Saturday, Mr Jeffries”

It was a trap. Mr Bartlett wanted him to crack, to throw himself under the tracks. Yes Mr Bartlett didn’t play to the same rules as everyone else. But then neither did he.

"See you there Mr Bartlett"


Aden reflected on the conversation that had just ensued. He cursed inwardly to himself 'Why didn't I just say sorry?' But he soon retracted that thought, this was Mr Bartlett, sorry wouldn't have been enough. If Bartlett sniffed even a hint of weakness in him he could kiss his HSC goodbye right now. No with Bartlett you had to play the game through to the end. He would endure it. All of it. He had spent the better part of two years trying to finish this HSC, if he gave it up now he would have nothing. It’s not like he had football to fall back on anymore. He couldn’t let Mr Bartlett ruin everything. Aden readjusted the position of his backpack before walking into the classroom behind him; he mumbled an apology at Miles Copeland before retreating to the row of chairs at the back. Aden didn’t dislike Miles, which he found troubling. Miles never forced him to follow convention, which in some freakish reverse psychology tactic made Aden feel obligated to do just that. It was like in football. Miles pretended to shoot one way then go the other, leaving aden running in the wrong direction. But it wasn't a ball, it was something else that Aden couldn't put his finger on, and knowing about it didn't stop it from working. He had tried to hate Miles ever since he arrived in summer bay 3 weeks ago, but the guy was so goddamned likeable. He wasn’t nice, he didn’t suck up to Aden the way other teacher’s had tried to, and he didn’t try to avoid him like the other teachers either. He just tried to teach him. Aden leaned forward, his elbows on the desk, and tried to tune in to the voices around him, he heard Miles usher for quiet. It was only then that he noticed Cassie standing nervously at the front of the classroom, her eyes darting around the room. There was a deadly silence and slowly Cassie’s trembling voice crept into it.

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Chapter 4 another short one, sorry.

Chapter 4

“Belle, c’mon, you need to de-sensitise yourself to this sort of thing if you ever want to get anywhere.” She watched him impatiently as he span back and froth on the swivel chair. It irritated Belle that he said it so casually. She was taking a moral stand here, but he refused to acknowledge it, he regarded her as overly sensitive; a drama queen.

She pushed herself up off her chair so that she was standing over him, her hands resting on the wooden desk that separated them

“My problem is how de-sensitised I’ve already become without even knowing it! Looking at things from behind the lens, it doesn’t make them less real.” She knew that now.

His calm brown eyes studied her for a few seconds. He continued to swivel about on his chair, his chin resting in the palm of his hand. He knew when he’d lost a battle, but Belle had talent, and he needed to at least make an attempt to change her mind. He wedged his foot under the desk to steady his chair before standing to meet her gaze,

“Belle…” He raised a hand to brush an imaginary hair from her face before letting it fall onto her shoulder. He continued, “Stick this out, and the opportunities this business can offer someone with your talent…”

Belle cut him off, calmly grabbing his wrist and removing the contact that his body had with hers.

“Are not worth it”

She spun away from him, reaching for the door handle, angry that a little part of her really wanted to stay, to live the dream. She knew the moment she walked out of this door the dream was over, photography would always be a hobby from now on.

“Belle…”his voice had softened, and had trailed slightly at the end. Belle recognised something in it, understanding maybe? Defeat definitely. She turned back to face him, the one man who had taken a chance on her, had tried to explain the reality to her even when she really hadn’t wanted to believe him. She owed him more than a door in the face,

“Look I’m not angry with you” She said, a bit more aggressively than she was going for.

The smartly dressed man shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He flashed a knowing smile and placed his hands on his hips, awaiting words that were more believable.

Belle smiled then too, although she was trying her hardest not to. What this guy did was wrong, morally wrong. He wrote for the highest bidder, regardless of what was at stake; he twisted and manipulated every piece of research she had given him. Yes he was very talented, and no doubt would do great things, but right now his talent was rotting away his soul and she didn’t want that to happen to her.

“Ok” her arms flailed up again in defeat. She swore sometimes they had a life of their own “I was angry...” he interrupted with a cough – deliberate, “I am angry with you, but I’m trying not to be. I really wanted this, but not enough. It’s not for me. That’s all.” His face relaxed and became more serious.

“I get it belle” She stared into his eyes and suddenly realised that he really did get it. He’d made the same choice; he’d just gone the other way. A part of Belle couldn’t fathom why he’d gone down that road, why he’d risk losing himself to a fantasy that might never pan out, whilst the other part of her understood only too well.

She went to turn out the door again, grabbing the handle, she was afraid if she stayed too long she might change her mind, convince herself it wasn’t that bad. She understood him; he wasn’t the monster she’d painted him as. Suddenly she knew she was about to do something she’d curse about later, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. She turned back slightly to add, “I hope you get the dream someday”, she said it softly, and she had meant it. She then proceeded to storm out, slamming the door behind her, leaving her last bit of anger for him with it. On the other side the suavely dressed press reporter leaned back in his chair, and smiled, he deserved that.

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Chapter 5 WARNING: some quite violent images in this one.

sorry this is a pretty dark chapter. next one i plan to make lighter to balance it out a bit. as usual constructive criticism/ideas greatly appreciated. thanks for the comments and reading. xx

IMPORTANT: I read this chapter over and NO I do not think Cassie is to blame here but it is through her perspective. So please don't be offended by this chapter, its from character perspectives and not my own. thanks!

‘See people think you can get it through kissing, but you can’t.’ Cassie was relaxing into it now. The rowdy bunch of teenagers she had feared a moment ago now faced her with eager curiosity. There was no malice, no jokes, no remarks about her character, only genuine interest, and questions – A LOT of questions. She paced the front of the classroom, feeling that finally, in a warped sense, her own unfortunate circumstances had some sort of benefit to them. There was a thinly veiled silver lining appearing. She could provide the answers for them, maybe stop them from landing the same ugly fate. She also felt this huge dead weight roll off her back, she had an audience. She was talking about everything she had bottled up, without pity or judgment being cast upon her. It was therapeutic.

“You can only get HIV through sexual intercourse or through blood contact.” Another dozen hands flew to the air, and Cassie began answering each one.

At the back of the classroom Aden’s mind was buzzing. Little balls of electricity seemed to have come loose in his mind, and were buzzing and bouncing all over the place, making him feel dizzy. He brushed a shaky hand through his hair and stared down at the blank table in front of him. ‘blood to blood’ His mind flashed back to that car crash, his leg was pouring out with blood, and Cassie had leant over him, tying a ripped bit of his shirt round to try and stop the bleed.

He remembered looking frantically around the car, and the blood. The mass of blood. He remembered how he had freaked out at the time. The crash had jolted him back to his mother’s death. He had looked up from in the back seat and seen blood cover the cracked windshield, his mother’s body jangled in a heap against it. In the car with Cassie she had tried to calm him, she had promised him they wouldn’t die, that he was ok.

He wasn’t ok, he needed to get out of there. He staggered up, falling slightly to the other table because he had forgot to use his crutches. He didn’t go back for them now, he half ran, half limped out of the classroom as fast as his body would allow. Thoughts of the crash racing through his mind…

It was a moment neither of them had spoken about since due to their mutual dislike for each other, but in the crash their nerves had shaken them out of their comfort zones, and she had held him, her bloody head had dripped down onto him but he hadn’t cared, because she said everything would be alright. Afterwards they had gone back to their mutual dislike, with an unwritten rule of silence. He knew she disliked him, that she had hated him for a good while when she believed what happened with Annie…. but did she really think he deserved this?

Cassie heard the scraping of a chair and looked about in confusion, her eyes stopping at the back of the class, where she saw Aden stumble out of his chair. Everyone had been so silent and intrigued by her talk that she was surprised by the noise. She watched Aden stumble about in a frenzy towards the door, and then felt this terrible weight sink to the bottom of her stomach as she remembered the crash. She looked at these eager students, her eyes filling with tears, and realised she had fooled herself. Some small questions that made her feel important would not make up for this. How many lives had her own carelessness ruined? Hers? Her unborn baby’s? Now Aden’s? Se ran out after him, determined to… to do what? What could she say to make it any better? She had hated the world when she found out, but to be told like that, she thought to herself, he won’t just be hating the world, he’ll think the world hates him right back. She pulled herself out of her own guilt, she needed to be realistic now. She saw Aden, leaning against the corridor wall and moved towards him. She had to think now only of what she could do.

“Aden, I’m so sorry” She went to touch his arm but he flinched from her, and turned to look her in the eye, his face as hard as steel,

“Get away from me” It was a deep, calm anger that emanated through his words. He did not shout them, but rather placed them in front of her, loud and deliberate.

“Aden” she persisted “I forgot all about the crash, you have to believe me, I would never have told you like this, I didn’t..” He glared at her now, anger etched into every crevice of his face “Yeah, of course you did!” Now he was shouting. He had tried to remain calm, but he didn’t have a say anymore. He was standing on the sidelines watching his mouth and body malfunctioning “Saint Cassie! Here to save the poor children of Summer Bay from becoming plagued like her!” he spat them out at her, daring a retaliation

Cassie fought off his angry words, she needed to remain calm, to remember what it was like to be so terrified.

“Aden, you might not even have it, you need to…”

“Yeah right!” he cut in, trying to heave his weight from off the wall, “You bled all over me in that crash! You hate me, and this is Saint Cassie’s sick revenge. But for what hey? I didn’t even DO anything to you!”

Tears fell down her face watching the pain through his eyes, this pain she’d created

“It’s not, I swear, Aden, I don’t hate you”

She watched on hopelessly as he limped away from her. She resisted the urge to call out and run after him, knowing that he would reject her, that right now was merely a waiting game.

He limped down the corridor and felt that crazy person he had just watched merge back into himself as the rage transformed into fear. He felt the tears begin to sting his eyes. He limped away from her, Cassie, Bartlett, Annie. They all acted like such upstanding members of society, but he knew. He had known the truth about them before, he’d seen it before, in his grandfather. They had all used these innocent facades to hurt him. His grandfather, he felt a lump in his throat. Well if Cassie hadn’t done the job properly he could rest assured his grandfather’s nightly visits had long before now. The tears threatened to stream down his face but he held them back. He just needed to know. He would deal with the tears and the hate afterwards, for now he just needed to know for sure.

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Chapter 6

I haven't read this through properly so may edit later.

IMPORTANT: The themes surrounding religion are not in any way meant to offend. I'm sorry if they do so. The views expressed are hypothetical of characters and not intended as preachy or anti-religion. Please just enjoy the story for what it is.

and lemme know what you think. thanks for the comments xxxx

Chapter 6

Irene was darting around the house hurriedly, carefully searching every crack and crevice she could find. She began to delve through a chest of drawers behind the sofa, where Annie and Geoff sat talking. Although she sensed the dangerous turn the conversation had taken. She had heard Annie mention Aden, and felt a massive lecture about to ensue from Geoff. She began to rifle frantically through each drawer, sighing as she did so, that poor girl had been dictated to her entire life, by the church, by her Pops, and now it seemed by her older brother as well. Whats more, she didn't have the time to stop and intervene.

“Annie trust me, you do not need to apologise to him.” Geoff’s voice was sulky but determined.

“And why is that Geoff?” Annie was annoyed, her brother, who proclaimed his Christianity at every available opportunity, was allowing his own stubborn feelings to get in the way of what was morally right.

“Because, everything’s alright now. You’ve done your bit, you told the truth, and you’re…” He gestured to her with his arm “you’re OK again”

Geoff knew this wasn’t very Christian of him, but he was willing to compromise his beliefs to protect his sister. She’d been through so much, her faith had been shaken, and he knew how dangerous Aden could be.

Annie stood there in shock; her brother was so selfish sometimes.

“I’m OK so that makes everything OK? Is that what you really think? Telling the truth doesn’t make up for what I did Geoff, I should have done that in the first place. I LIED Geoff. Aden almost went to prison; all he tried to do was help me…”

She was throwing gestures around in a style reminiscent of Belle. She suddenly realised what a fiery person Belle must be to get this worked up so often.

“OK OK Annie. Aden may not have been wrong this time. But he’s done a lot of terrible things; it was understandable you’d want to get back at him. HE KNOWS THAT! That’s enough, now just – what the? Irene?” Geoff looked confusedly at Irene, who had pushed him forward as she rummaged behind the sofa cushion he was leaning on “What are you doing?”

Irene didn’t stop, only moved her search to Annie’s side of the sofa, from which Annie obediently removed herself from

“Oh sorry darl, you haven’t seen my keys have you? I’m late to see Kirsty and Kane at the police station.” The siblings shook their heads in unison before Annie continued to argue with her brother,

“For weeks now you’ve been preaching to me about forgiveness, and now I am OK again you’re preaching that I shouldn’t apologise.”

“Not to Aden, No.” He folded his arms to solidify his words.

“Yeah how very Christian of you. You know Geoff you’re such a hypocrite!”

“Found them” Irene stood proudly in the centre of the room, twirling the keys from her index finger. Her declaration went unacknowledged by the two teens in front of her.

Geoff stood up to level himself with Annie, copying her wild hand gestures

“I was talking about you forgiving God Annie!” He cringed at himself. That wasn’t how he meant it to sound. Although it was what he had meant at the time. He was so worried for her, how depressed she’d been recently, and all these lies. Couldn’t she see she needed to concentrate on herself right now, and her faith? His firm belief in the Bible had held him through all of this, and he would do anything it took to lead her back to it, and back to the old Annie again. His Annie.

She emitted a short half laugh in disbelief. Geoff had been telling her for weeks now that she needed to get past her grief and forgive. She had assumed he had meant all the things that Pop had done as well as God’s actions in suddenly taking him away. What he’d really meant was that she should just forgive God. And suddenly she realised what a false shell she’d been parading herself in. She didn’t believe in this stuff. It had just been easier to. Sure she believed in something, but the strict religious codes she’d followed throughout her life were more like family rules to her, not a choice that she had made, not something she believed for herself. Now she realised Geoff had been talking about forgiveness not to help her over her grief as such, but to help her back into his belief. She knew deep down he meant well, he wanted them to hide in these fables and bind themselves into these moral codes as a means of protection. To him it was a safety net and all he could see right now was his sister, about to let go of it, whilst a crocodile waited beneath her with sharp teeth. She knew how Geoff’s mind worked, and it was different to her own. He couldn’t begin to grasp how she was feeling. She knew she needed to help him understand her, but right now she was so mad at him. He wasn’t protecting her inside this net, he was trapping her; she felt imprisoned by him.

Irene sensed the tension “Now c’mon we’ve been through this before. We know it comes to no good for either of ya’s, so lets leave it be” She placed a hand on each of their shoulders, but Annie couldn’t let it lie. She was too enraged.

“Geoff you are a complete jerk! How can you expect to lure me back to the church when everything that comes out of your mouth is so completely out of sync with what you claim to believe” Annie turned to walk away

Irene made a shrug gesture. What more could she do? A LOT. She thought to herself, but once again other matters beckoned for her attention, and she was going to have to leave them to it.

“Annie” he pleaded, grabbing her arm

“Geoff!” she said it with an authoritative air. Geoff seemed to understand and let go of her arm, with wounded eyes.

She looked at him and saw his love for her in his eyes. He had a pure, child like innocence to him; he loved unconditionally and devotedly and without reason. And he believed. He truly believed with a child’s unfaltering belief. But then, she looked into his eyes a second too long and realised the intensity of it. She began to realise that just like a child he was also selfish, stubborn, and determined to get his own way. Her anger rose up, and she was determined to make him see the error of his ways, determined for him to grow up

“Geoff, Irene can’t stand Aden and she apologised to him!” Annie turned to Irene, who was halfway out the door, but had turned back at the sound of her name

“Yeah but she didn’t mean it!” Geoff stated, almost proudly.

Irene realised she needed to clear her name in a bid to end all of this. She couldn’t leave on that remark. She placed her things on the side and strode back inside

“Woah, hold it right there mister” her presence dominated the room as she stepped back into it.

“And you can stop there too missy” she raised a hand at Annie’s smirking face that was ready to let rip into her brother

“Now Gawd knows Aden rubs me up the wrong way” Geoff was about to pipe up but was quietened as Irene’s spare hand made a halting gesture in front of his own face

“But” she paused to survey them both “I know I was wrong for what I did to him. And once I knew the truth, I wished with all my heart I hadn’t done it. And if Roman hadn’t been so goddamned persistent, and if the diner hadn’t been under threat then, no, I probably wouldn’t have apologised.” Irene looked at Annie’s heartbroken face. The child looked up to her, and her truthful words had let her down

“But, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t sorry. I should’ve apologised anyway, but I’m human, and sometimes my PRIDE” She emphasised the word as she stared Geoff’s eyes down till they looked shamefully looked at the floor “get in the way. Now, I have got to go. So do you two promise not to kill each other until I get back?” She was cross examining both of them again now. Geoff continued to look shamefully at the floor, giving only a mild nod, whilst Annie beamed at her, the huge smile that spread across her face said it all.

“Right, well I’m off then….” Irene’s voice trailed off at the end, she turned to and fro frantically, “Now, where in Gawd’s name did I put my keys?”

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Chapter 7

The diner was deserted, it had been ever since they had opened the new building last week. Roman hoped the word of their re-opening was just taking its sweet time to spread and not because people than feared the ceiling caving in or that the building might set fire, or even worse, that they might get assaulted by a feisty red haired lady on their way in. He stared over at Irene, who was twiddling with her keys behind the counter, she’d just come back from the police station.

Roman and Irene hadn’t had the best of starts together, what with her immediate resentment of him. Not for who he was, but for what he stood for; the end of Leah’s time in Summer Bay. Then there was the incident with Aden. Roman had believed the boy was innocent, and as much as he could understand Irene’s anger for what she believed to have happened, he was appalled by her behaviour in the diner and the carelessness of what was, after all, partly his business. However, they had warmed to each other over the past couple of days and Roman had begun to see a pattern in Irene’s careless behaviour, he realised now that it was one of the symptoms of having an overly big heart. Still, the latest revelation that she had aided and abetted a wanted man on the run? He was just too intrigued…

“So…” He began, edging his way into the conversation carefully. After all, he’d only known Irene for a few months, “what’s going to happen to Kirsty and the kid?” he began to wipe down a table, creating a casual setting for the delicate subject matter.

Irene stopped fiddling about with the keys in her hand, and stared at him from behind the counter, where she had stood ready to start work, “Well love, the cops have let her off free of charge. It seems she didn’t know anything about Kane’s criminal activities, and she has a small child to take care of, which of course swayed their judgement” She placed the keys on the side and began to cover some of the food displayed behind the counter, there was no way they were going to use it all today. That much was obvious.

“But weren’t they already on the run?” Roman asked confused.

“Yeah love, they were, but that was for a crime that Kane never committed in the first place. It was all a set up that – well, I best not even get into it now, it was a long time ago. The main thing is they’ve let her go.” Irene had praised the lord when she had found out the good news. She had been so worried for the little girl she once knew. Sure, now she was a feisty, loyal and determined woman, and just like herself she carried a big heart. But prison? She wasn’t sure she would have coped too well in there.

Irene’s face had furrowed into a frown. She was obviously lost deep in thought. Roman decided to offer her a life line. “You know Irene, if you’ve got stuff you need to sort out, I don’t mind holding the fort here…” he let the sentence hang in the air unfinished; Irene wasn’t paying him any attention.


Irene mind was jolted back into the diner, “Sorry darl, I was miles away”

“Something on your mind?” Roman queried, sliding back round behind the counter

“I was just worrying about Annie and Geoff”

Roman raised his eyebrows in confusion. She was sure it would be about Kane being in prison, and his abandoned wife and child. He realised just how much of other people’s baggage Irene always carried around with her. No wonder she was always flustering about.

“Well Geoff and Annie are both good, smart kids Irene, I’m sure they understand what you’ve been going through recently”

“Oh it’s not that darl” Although now he mentioned it Irene was slightly panicked that her absence may have been a contributing factor “It was just this morning when I left they were arguing about God again”

Roman felt his chest tighten. He found that almost any argument could be resolved, no matter how bad things were. But when it came to religion, there was always more to it. “Ah I see, I take it Annie and Geoff aren’t seeing eye to eye on the matter still?” He was aware of Annie’s issues with her religion recently, and understood how she felt. After all the casualties and fighting and unnecessary war he’d seen the army, he had his own qualms about religion too.

“Well, it was actually about whether Annie should apologise to Aden for what happened.”

Roman’s ears pricked up. “What does Annie want to do?”

“Well, she wants to apologise, but Geoff is against the idea.”

“What do you think she should do?” Roman knew Irene had struggled with her own apology to Aden, and had suspected from her demeanour throughout the whole ordeal that it was her pride that had battled against her. Still, he wanted to ensure that now she knew the truth she truly was sorry.

“Well of course I do love, but, Annie’s so sensitive, and Aden, well…” She thought back to the smarmy look on his face as she’d mumbled out an apology on his doorstep. She knew he’d meant no real harm to her, he just wanted revenge. But what Annie had done to him was so much worse, and he wasn’t one to make it easy for her.

Roman sensed Irene’s hesitance and it annoyed him slightly. He knew she wanted what was best for Annie. But he also knew the signs of an overbearing parent when he saw them, and what Irene saw as protectiveness he feared was mollycoddling. The sound of footsteps approaching the counter was a welcome distraction to the conversation.

“Hey there Cassie” He noticed the prominent red of the blood vessels in her eyes but decided it wasn’t his place to pry. Irene, on the other hand, had never been one for subtlety.

“My God Cas, love! What’s wrong?” Irene swooped round the counter to embrace the girl in a mothering hug, and Cassie fell into it, welcoming the comfort it gave her. It dawned on Roman that Cassie had probably come here deliberately; eager to not to have to ask for the support she craved; seeking out Irene's loving manner.

Cassie clung to Irene like a child “It’s Aden” she mumbled into the space between them. Irene’s face grew stern. She was livid. She had fought with herself all day about Annie’s situation, and had slowly convinced herself that he deserved an apology. That he had actually helped Annie, and maybe wasn’t all that bad. But before she could even get her head around it here was another young kid, sobbing into her arms over Aden Jeffries.

She held the girl at arm’s length so she could look her in the eyes “What has he done now?” Roman sighed, kissing goodbye any thoughts he had of Annie’s apology and the good it would do for Aden.

“He didn’t do anything to me Irene. It’s all my fault!” Irene’s brow wrinkled in confusion.

“What happened?” interjected Roman. He didn’t know Cassie that well, but his curiosity had caught him off guard and the question had tumbled out before his brain had received it.

However Cassie answered, unfazed or possibly unaware of the social faux par, “I went to the school to talk about HIV, but I completely forgot about the car crash. Irene! I never told him about my HIV, I completely forgot he could be infected. It was so awful! He flew into a rage; he thinks I did it to get back at him.” Cassie’s swollen eyes were filled with fresh tears as she took her mind back to the school corridor. “I didn’t even DO anything to you!” His screams rang fresh in her ear.

Irene, for once, was speechless, and pulled the girl into her arms once again, rubbing her back in a circular motion, like she did with newborn babies when they wouldn’t stop crying. Roman watched on for a few moments. The frustration he felt towards Irene had evaporated. Irene didn’t have a vendetta against Aden Jeffries. She just had a big, clumsy heart, and sometimes it meant that she did the silliest and strangest of things. He felt a pang of guilt rush through him as he thought about his own daughter, hundreds of miles away. He barely even knew her, and she was flesh and blood. Irene was mother to an entire community here, and he couldn’t even be bothered with one person. The shame rose up within him, and he realised what he needed to do.

“Irene, I’ll be back as soon as I can OK?”

Irene nodded at him, keeping her attention focused on the distraught teen in her arms. Roman fled the diner, thinking of places to search. His daughter may be hundreds of miles away, but Aden Jeffries was right here, and he needed somebody. Why shouldn’t it be him?

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Chapter 8

(If you're like me, and get really impatient with cliffhangers, then you'll probably hate this chapter. It's a short, scene setter)

Chapter 8

Aden stared out at the ocean. This little corner of rocks he had hidden away in created the most fantastic view. It allowed him to look out onto the world without being looked in upon. He felt safe here. He watched the waves rise and fall, and wondered what the force was behind them. What lay beneath them? He imagined the world underneath the water; he imagined himself gliding amongst the fish on the seabed, and staring up at the sky through the water; through the thousands of feet of water. He wandered what it was like to see the world from down there all the time, to not know that above on the surface all this life was buzzing around. He thought of all these different species on the land and below it that were living, breathing, fighting, dying and then reproducing new life that would do it all again. He wondered how far he could get to the bottom, to try it out, before he would run out of air. Would it be worth it? Just to have one glance of life on the other side?

He looked down at the plaster on the indent of his arm. He didn’t want to wait for them to test it. To be told by somebody he didn’t even know. He wished he could shrink down and just crawl through the pierced piece of skin in his arm, swim inside himself and be reassured that everything was OK. And if it wasn’t then he could fight it out, drag it out of his body with his own bare hands. He would shrink down and protect himself; a knight to his very own temple. He rubbed the plaster as if it were a magic lamp. Maybe a genie will appear and wish him out of this mess. Wish him a new life, away from here.

He felt so tired, like he’d been running away from everything, and now there was all these obstacles slowing him down, and the past was caving in on him. It had begun with the crash. It was like those movies he’d seen. There was a massive impact of some kind; an earthquake or something, and suddenly the time-space continuum was off key. That’s what had happened to him. The car had jolted him back to the crash with his mother, and with it had brought back all these awful memories. Since the crash the past had been breathing over his shoulder, looming around every corner, ready to pounce.

It had also been the cause of his leg injury, which meant he couldn’t play football, and since then he’d felt like he no longer existed at home. Before he could rely on football as a means of conversation; his dad was proud of it, it stopped him being a failure, it meant he existed. His dad would watch him play and throw a supportive arm round his neck after matches. Since the crash, all that had gone. His father had no words for him, and pressed alcohol to his lips to distract himself from communicating with his failure of a son. His dad’s comatose state only made the memories more prominent. Now Aden sat at home, unable to walk because of his leg, and watched his father as he had when he was 6. Wishing he would wake up from his drunken slumber and talk to him. It meant he had no distraction from the memories that had begun to evade his dreams. Aden picked up a pebble in front of him and lobbed it into the roaring ocean.

Then this bible bashing hillbilly had strode into town and stole his place right out from under him. He came back to the team to discover Geoff in his position. The coach had made them share it, but he always favoured Geoff. Geoff didn’t need to turn up to practice all the time. He was the exception, it soured Aden’s guts. He seethed with rage every time he saw him. He heard him preaching in the corridors, about how forgiveness is the key. Geoff had once told him that God would love him too if he’d let him in. Aden had scoffed at that. He knew what it said in the bible, and God knew the things that had happened to him. God was against the things that outlined Aden’s world. God had no room for the likes of him and he knew it. Aden threw another pebble into the ocean. And now Cassie’s revelation made it clear. The car crash was the catalyst to the end. The end of hiding from the past, the end of any links to his father, and now what? The end to him?

A darkness encompassed him, a human shadow, he raised his head to meet the eyes he could feel peering down upon him.

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Chapter 9

She froze. She hadn’t expected anyone to be here. She used it as a place to escape from the world, to think things over when her head felt foggy. It had never occurred to her that someone else might use it for the same purpose, so she’d just strolled over, and now it was too late to pretend she hadn’t seen him or that this wasn’t her intended destination. She hovered above him for a few moments, unsure of what action to take next. As his eyes glanced up to meet hers she was shocked by the redness that outlined them.

“Are you alright?” She knew immediately that it was an idiotic thing to say, and the words fell out awkwardly and lay scattered between them. The silence lasted a beat too long before he broke it,

“What do you want Belle?” He had averted his eyes to the ground again now, his fingers playing with the sand in front of his feet. There was an offhand aggressiveness to his voice, like she’d come here for him, that provoked her temper. However the use of her name distracted her from it, it had sounded odd on his tongue. She’d never heard him use it before, which was when she realised that was because they’d never had an actual conversation before. She found it odd to think for the past week or so she had hated someone she had never had any real dealings with.

“I, I was just, what are you….?” She cursed herself. Her head was still clouded over from events that he had played a part in, and for that reason she didn’t know how to respond to him.

Of all the people he expected to be looking for him, Belle was not on the list. He hardly knew the girl. Well, he did know she didn’t like him. The only time they’d had any contact at all was through the dreaded newspaper article, where she’d made a few jibes at him, but even those were indirect. Still, he knew enough to know what a fiery person she was, which was why her sudden stuttering fit now was so suprising to him. He had expected a retaliation of some kind. He assumed she had come out of some loyalty to Cassie, to remind him of how horrible he had been to her. He shuddered, just thinking about how much she must hate made him feel frozen inside. He looked up at Belle's agitated face, her nervous shuffling. She hadn't come here for him.

“I’m done here, it’s all yours” He said indifferently, raising himself up with his hands. He grabbed his crutches from the wall and hobbled past her. As he did so his shoulder brushed hers and they locked eyes for a moment - and in that moment, so short that it was almost undetectable, a wave of mututal understanding passed between them, before he hobbled back into civilisation.

She watched him limp away, fighting the urge to call after him. What could she possibly say? She didn’t even know what was wrong with him or if she still hated him. Her mind was still so jumbled up. Sometimes when things became out of focus, she would take out her camera to gain some perspective. Often seeing things through the lens, capturing them and inspecting them more closely, well, it made life clearer, more certain. Right now though, the thought of taking a picture made her want to cry, knowing that what she dreamed would never be brought to fruition. All she wanted, ever since she was little, was for her pictures to mean something, to have an impact on the world. When she was younger she could never fathom why the world was so twisted, why people would write or represent things they didn’t believe in. But she’d got lost somewhere along the way, and now she had become one of those people. She slithered down against the rocks and lets her eyes fixate on the mesmerising movements of the ocean. Maybe if she sat here long enough, she thought, the tide would move in, the waves would grab hold of her and swallow her into the sea, they would cleanse her soul before throwing her back onto the land. Then she would be herself again.

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Chapter 10 the real deal this time

This is the most wordy chapter yet! I'm not sure I like it though. Let me know what you think and I might change it about if there is a general agreement!

Sorry if Annie seems a little out of character to how she is on screen. I just thought they should have taken her in a different direction, and it shows most in this chapter I think.

Thanks for all the comments! xxx

Chapter 10

Annie gazed down on her brother from her place on the stairs. He was sitting in the same position he had been when she’d left him – sulking. She took a deep breath before descending the rest of the stairs, realising she’d have to make the first move.

“Hey” She said brightly, coming to sit beside him, she casually picked up a magazine that lay on the table and began flicking through it.

Geoff looked at her confused. She had been so annoyed with him an hour ago.

“Hey” he reciprocated her friendly tone, but his folded arms and hunched shoulders told Annie he was still in a mood. She decided to bite the bullet and whacked his arm with the magazine

“Ow!” Geoff flinched back from her, surprised at the attack

“Will you stop this please?” She said in a playfully aggressive tone.

“Stop what Annie?” he said, rubbing his arm.

She mimicked his sulking demeanour before replying “Stop your sulking. So Irene didn’t agree with you. Get over it!”

“It’s not about Irene!” He said defensively.

She faltered slightly. She really didn’t want to go down this road with Geoff again; she knew no good would come of it. “Geoff please, let’s just leave it”

“How can I leave it Annie! This isn’t just about some apology is it? It’s about your entire faith! Your soul…” He was getting worked up again. He knew he was driving everyone crazy but he couldn’t just let it go. He was so worried about her. Annie was all he had left and he couldn’t watch her just fall over the edge.

“My soul is my responsibility Geoff. Not yours. And none of this” Her arms sprung to life again as she gestured to the space between them, “is going to change anything. So let’s just not talk about it.”

Geoff’s face was conflicted. She could see his mouth and his brain fighting against each other and sighed with relief as she realised he was about to give in. “Annie I’m sorry, I’m just worried that you don’t know what you’re doing”

She reached over, taking hold of his hand “Geoff I get it. But it’s not that simple. I can’t just do what you say on this one.” She saw his mouth twitching; it was ready to explode with another lecture. She jumped in on the conversation before it could happen “Isn’t the whole point about belief that you have to BELIEVE in it?”

He restrained himself, before eventually settling for a nod.

She persisted “So I need to believe it Geoff. You can’t do it for me.” She observed his face for a few seconds, letting it sink in

He squeezed her hand “Ok Annie. Just be careful.” He breathed the words at her slowly. This was hard, but he couldn’t control it.

She leant back to her previous position on the sofa, before turning to whack him on the arm again with the magazine.

“OW! What was that for?” he said, less grumpily than before.

“For your ridiculous argument this morning that I was only supposed to forgive God” She knew it was safe ground to laugh at, that he hadn’t meant it that way

He smirked slightly; glad that Annie knew he hadn’t meant it. He scratched his forehead as he cringed at the memory “Yeah ok that WAS pretty stupid.”

“mmmhmmm” she added

“mmmhmmm” he mimicked her, a smile creeping into the corners of his face. His body relaxed, it was still Annie. “That was very, very stupid” He said, lifting himself up slightly, “about as stupid as you hitting me again” he said casually, eyeing her with a wicked smile “cos now I’m going to have to retaliate” and before he had even finished the sentence he had lunged at her, tickling her sides until she cried out with laughter.

“Ah Geoff… stop!” she giggled helplessly, trying to bat him off with her arms.

They were both laughing and fighting each other on the sofa as Irene entered the kitchen, a teary eyed Cassie straggling behind her. “What in blazes is going on?” She exclaimed, but lightly. She was secretly relieved to see them behaving like brother and sister again. It had been too long.

The pair looked up at her with grins plastering there faces. There eyes then diverted to the slim frame behind her, and they suppressed their mood to accommodate the sombre tones that radiated into the room.

“I’ll put the kettle on, you take a seat love” Irene bustled Cassie into the living room and walked back over to the kitchen, where she busied herself with the kettle.

Cassie stood awkwardly at the back of the room for a few moments before Annie broke the silence “Hey Cassie, are you alright?”

Cassie looked at the innocent child gazing up at her, concern etched over her face, and she felt the tears threaten to surface once more. “Yeah, It’s just been a tough day that’s all” She forced a smile out of herself.

“Why what happened?” Annie enquired calmly.

Cassie raised her arm and held the back of her head, as if her hand would send her signals from her brain so she could to explain things properly. She looked at the child before her. Annie, she was so pure and had been through so much, she felt she needed to protect her from the tainted parts of life. It felt like she would be corrupting her if she were to reveal the truth.

“I forgot to tell somebody something that was very important to them, and now they hate me” It was as truthful as she could make it without revealing the circumstances behind it.

“I’m sure they don’t hate you Cassie. It’s not like you meant to do it.” Annie tried to reassure her, although she could sense there was more to it. Her answer had been vague, the sort of answer you provided to an inquisitive child. Annie noticed a lot of people did this to her, because they saw her as this little Christian girl, who couldn’t handle real pain. They forgot that she had experienced plenty of pain herself. She hated it. Surely the whole point of being a Christian was not to hide from things, but to stand up to them?

“I wish that were true. You see, we don’t really get along, so he thinks that I did mean it.” Cassie started to relax slightly, Annie was just curious. And more mature than perhaps Cassie gave her credit for. She glanced over at Geoff, who had finally latched on to what she was talking about.

“Aden?” He thought back to the class they’d just had at school, that had been cut short by Cassie running out after Aden. Miles had held it up for a while with questions but had then decided to let them go early. He’d heard a few people gossiping about what had happened. There were rumours circulating about when Aden had gone out with Cassie, years ago, and how his sudden departure meant that maybe they had done more than just go out a few times.

Cassie sighed before replying “Yeah, yeah Aden”

Annie was confused “What about him?”

She felt her chest tighten. It was like telling a 5 year old that Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, and every other mythical fantasy was just a sham, that they didn’t exist. “He might have HIV”

Annie had, surprisingly, heard of HIV. She didn’t understand it fully. She’d only ever heard that it was really bad, and that people died from it all the time.


Cassie looked at her, and then looked at an agitated Geoff.

“Well, there are many ways you can get it, but he might have got it off of me” She ignored the daggers coming from Geoff. She couldn’t just tell her half of the story, it wasn’t fair. If Annie was going to know about it she should have a clear picture. “You see months ago, we were involved in this car crash, and we were both bleeding next to each other.” The information hit Annie’s mind like a firework, Cassie had HIV? The firework exploded into a million questions, she didn’t know where to start, so she let her mouth take the lead.

“But I thought you could only get it if you committed a sin” Annie asked confusedly, she could hear the own naivety in her voice, and hated herself for it. Still, she had to know

Cassie was stopped by the shock of the statement. It had hurt, like a knife going through her. She didn’t believe it, not really. When she’d first found out she was positive she had believed it was her fault, something she had done. But she knew in her mind that wasn’t true. Still, the words hit her hard, and she struggled for a second to remember they weren’t meant that way

“Wait! From a crash? So you two didn’t…?” Geoff’s voice faltered as he realised what the next words would be, and how much he didn’t want to say them. He hadn’t meant to assume, but it was just what people had told him.

“No Annie” She said softly, ignoring Geoff’s comment. She knew what people would be saying about it. That was just something she’d have to deal with. “HIV doesn’t discriminate. You can get it through unprotected sex, or blood to blood contact. It doesn’t pick and choose; you can get it off of anyone, a lover, a friend, a stranger. It doesn’t make a difference”

Annie chewed over Cassie’s words, and the information soak into her mind. Geoff fidgeted with his hands and stared at the ground. He felt foolish over his last comment, and confused. HIV was something you got if you committed a sin. He couldn’t remember where exactly he’d heard it, he thought it was at church, but it may have been Pops. But a car crash? That wasn’t a sin that was circumstance. He knew that, logically. But then why did he not believe it? He bit his tongue, trying to keep the words from spilling out. He knew to unleash his opinion now was insensitive, would only create more hurt and confusion, would only drive Annie further away. So he kept quiet, hoping his opinion wasn’t called upon right now.

Irene had lingered with the tray of mugs at the counter, listening to Cassie answer these difficult questions. Her heart filled with pride as she watched her calmly explain the facts to the confused girl in front of her. She knew Cassie would make a great mum, and her heart longed for the baby to be OK. That they would get a fair go of things. She slid out from behind the counter and bustled into the room as though she hadn’t stopped moving “Here we go darl, get that down ya” she handed them each a mug of coffee, and joined them in the living room, beckoning for Cassie to come and sit down beside her.

Cassie obeyed, grateful of Irene’s supportive presence, and continued to answer the mountain of questions that rose up inside Annie’s forever curious mind.

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