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Look to the Future


Red Ranger 1

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Next chapter! Which should answer some of your questions about Olivia and maybe about other subjects...

CHAPTER ELEVEN

“Harrington?”John blurted out as Shandi explained her plans to him,“You’re going out on a date with Harrington?”

  “Tomorrow night, yeah,”Shandi confirmed airily.

  “Well, that’s nice, isn’t it?”Marilyn noted, perhaps more cheerily than the situation called for,“Chris is a lovely boy and you’ve always liked him, haven’t you, John?”

  John shot her a look.“In small doses, yeah.”

  “Well, I’ll make sure he doesn’t stay long when he picks me up,”Shandi offered.

  John’s smile was paper thin.“Yeah, cos that makes everything better,”he replied before disappearing off in the direction of his room.

  Marilyn came forward and spoke conspiratorially.“Don’t worry about your dad, he just needs to let off a bit of steam at times.”

  “I’ve got that impression, yeah.”Shandi looked at her stepmother with something approaching fondness. “You know, I was wrong about you.I didn’t think you and Dad were suited but you’re good for him.The two of you seem very…married.”

  Marilyn smiled.“Why, thank you, Shandi, it’s very nice of you to say so.”

***

Billie had rejoined Irene at the hospital after her shift.The two of them were sitting there again, waiting for news.Whatever operation was taking place was clearly taking a long time.Billie glanced over at Irene. “What are you thinking about?”

  Irene sighed.“I was thinking about Olivia’s mum, Chloe.She was in a car crash, about eleven years ago. We thought she was okay, we were all worrying about Roo’s daughter Martha and Kim, a lad who was living with me at the time.And then suddenly she dropped dead, just like that.Just like Hannah did from what Chris tells me.”

  Billie gripped her hand.“That doesn’t mean that’s going to happen to Olivia.”

  Irene managed a smile.“No, you’re right, love.Just me being silly.”

  At that moment, Nate and Tori approached and the two women stood up.“What is it?”Irene asked,“Is there any news?”

  Nate smiled reassuringly.“It’s okay, Irene.Olivia’s out of surgery, they’ve controlled the bleeding and she’s stable.”

  Irene let out a cry of relief, before hugging Billie.She turned to Nate.“Is it okay if I hug you when you’re on duty?”

  “I think it would be okay just once,”Nate told her, before being enveloped in another of Irene’s hugs.

  “Why did the operation take so long?”Billie asked.

  “She had other injuries besides the bleeding,”Tori explained,“They were trying to repair everything.You can go in and wait for her to come round if you want.”

  Irene hurried off in the direction indicated.Feeling a bit like she was intruding, Billie followed her.

***

It was a few minutes later, when Irene and Billie were sat by Olivia’s bedside, that Olivia started to come round.As she became aware of her surroundings, she began to look anxious.“Irene?Where am I?”

  Irene gave her a comforting smile.“You’re in hospital, love.You were hit by a car, do you remember?”

  Olivia thought back.“I remember…I was going round Hunter’s…”

  Irene winced inwardly at the news she had to impart.“Love…Hunter was driving.”

  “Hunter?”Olivia asked incredulously,“But Hunter doesn’t drive!”

  “It seems he was trying to get away.”

  “Apparently he robbed the Diner last year,”Billie supplied,“The police were on to him.”

  “So where’s Hunter now?”Olivia asked anxiously.

  “The police have got him in custody,”Irene explained trying to keep her tone as soothing as possible.

  “What?Then I’ve got to get to him!”Olivia struggled into a sitting position, throwing aside the covers. Irene was poised to stop her but instead she stopped by herself, a look of pure horror on her face. “Reenie…I can’t move my legs!”

  Billie hurried to the door.“Nate, Tori, quickly!”

  Nate and Tori came in.“I can’t move my legs!”Olivia repeated.

  “Don’t worry, we thought this might happen,”Nate explained.

  Irene looked at him angrily.“And you didn’t think to tell us?”

  “Olivia, there was some damage to your spine,”Tori explained gently,“They pinned it back together in surgery but we’re not sure what the damage is yet.Just try not to worry.”

***

It was the following morning when Matt found Evelyn sitting in her usual thinking spot on the beach.He cautiously wandered over.“How’s Leah?”he asked,“I was thinking of heading down the hospital to check in on her…”

  “They say she’ll be discharged this morning,”Evelyn explained.

  “Right.That’s good.”Matt paused before cautiously asking,“Is there something bothering you?”

  Evelyn sighed.“Did you hear about Hunter?”

  “Ah.That.”

  “It just seems like every time I think I’ve got my head around what happened to Denny, or Oscar and Hannah, something new comes up.”

  Matt sat down next to her.“Well…it was still Charlotte.That hasn’t changed.”

  “Yeah but I keep thinking…what if Hunter had gone to the police back then.What if he hadn’t let Charlotte cover for him.What if he’d never robbed the Diner in the first place.Maybe Denny would still be alive.”She sighed.“Not that I can really judge him for keeping quiet.If it was someone I loved in trouble, I’d cover for them.”

  “Life’s complicated, isn’t it?”

  “Yeah.It is.”

***

Chris coughed loudly and beckoned Brody over to their table.“I think the lady needs her wine glass filling.”

  Brody looked over at Shandi.“Do you?”

  “If you don’t mind.”

  “Of course.I’ll have another bottle brought over to your table.”

  Chris waited until he’d gone before smiling broadly.“Man, I love doing that.”

  “What?”Shandi asked,“Ordering restaurant staff about?”

  “Only the posh ones.Wait and see his reaction when I mispronounce one of the dishes.”

  Shandi shook her head and smiled ruefully.“I’m beginning to see why my dad warned me about you.”

  “John did that?I’m impressed.I’m not sure if anyone’s ever warned their daughter about me before.”

  “I find that hard to believe.”Shandi became serious for a moment.“How’s Olivia, by the way?”

  “Yeah, Irene called, said she’s doing fine.”Chris looked at her cautiously.“Just so we’re clear, is this sympathy dating?Because if it is, then that’s fine, I’ve nothing against good-looking women taking me out for dinner because they feel sorry for me.I’d just like to know in advance.”

  Shandi considered this.“I wouldn’t call it that.I think it’s more…I’m going to be in town for a bit and I might as well spend it with someone that I remember was good company.”

  Chris mulled the point over.“Okay, I’ll take that.”

***

Billie let herself be searched by the prison guards and then shown through into the visitors’ room.She scanned the room and picked out Phoebe sat at one of the tables, dressed rather incongruously in the standard issue green jumper.With an awkward smile, she went over to the table and sat down opposite her.“How are you doing?”she asked.

  Phoebe shrugged.“Well, I’m getting used to what’s going to be my home for the next few years.The girls in my cell aren’t too bad.One of them’s in for arson, burnt her school down.Says it was an accident.One’s in for shoplifting.There’s an older woman who punched the woman her husband was cheating on her with.Five times.Communal showers take a bit of getting used to and there’s no mix desk, but I stayed in bigger dives on tour.”

  “For this long?”Billie pressed,“Are you sure you can cope with this?”

  “Five years, parole in two?Could have been worse.”Phoebe looked nervous, as though not sure how to broach the next subject.“What’s happened to Kyle?”

  “No-one’s told you?”

  “Being in prison and writing to someone else who’s in prison turns out to be harder than I thought.”

  “The armed robbery conviction got overturned but he got three years for obstructing an investigation.His lawyer argued for them including time served, so he could get parole in six months.”

  Phoebe nodded.“I’ll take that.But I get that you’re not here to ask me about prison conditions.”

  “No…I moved in with Irene after you left.And I’m watching her and…she’s great.Olivia’s in hospital at the moment and Irene really cares about her…”

  “Hold up.Olivia’s in hospital?”

  “Yeah.Hunter run her over.Turns out he was the one that robbed the Diner last year and that was why Charlotte killed Denny.”

  Phoebe looked bemused.“I really am out of the loop.Okay, so what’s the problem?It sounds like things are going great for you.”

  Billie took a deep breath.“You were right.”

  “About what?”

  “About the baby.It’s not VJ’s.It’s Irene’s son’s.”

  Phoebe let out a whistle.“Woah.Okay.Hearing you confirming it, it’s…yeah.”

  “I just…I feel like Irene deserves to know, but if VJ finds out the truth it will hurt him.Or I’ll lose him.Or both.”

  “He’ll find out eventually though, right?”

  “Maybe.”Billie’s face hardened slightly.“Maybe not.”

***

Nate noticed Tori standing by the admin area looking tired.“Long day?”he asked.

  Tori nodded.She glanced over at the room where Olivia was still lying.“What do you make of her chances?I mean, it’s been two days.”

  “Come on, we both know a patient can go weeks with no feeling in their legs and then make a complete recovery.”

  “I know but…I’ve got a bad feeling.”

  Mason came over with a file.“Um, CT got the latest scan through.They asked me to bring it to you.”He handed the scan over and waited while they examined it.“Does it say what I think it says?”

  Nate and Tori both looked at it and sighed.“I’m afraid it does, yes,”Tori noted,“It’s okay, Nate and I can handle this.”

  “Actually, I’d kind of like to go in with you if that’s okay.I have to do it some time.”

  Tori smiled at her brother gently.“Yeah, course you do.Come on.”

***

“So how’s your mum?”Olivia asked VJ.He and Irene were visiting her.

  “Yeah, she’s getting better,”VJ confirmed,“Confined to bed rest, got Zac waiting on her.”

  Olivia smirked slightly.“It might not be rest she’s getting in bed.”

  “Yeah, thanks for that.”

  Olivia became serious again.“And…I’m sorry.I already knew it was Hunter that did the robbery.He told me at the same time he told me about the fire.”

  “Oh, love!”Irene scolded.

  “Sorry.”

  VJ smiled at her.“It’s okay.None of us knew Hunter was going to do this.”

  They were interrupted by the entrance of Nate, Tori and Mason.“Well, this looks serious,”Irene noted.

  Nate didn’t smile.“I’m afraid it is.We’ve got Olivia’s latest scan.The swelling around your spine has gone down so we can assess the damage at last.”

  “And?”Irene prompted.

  Tori carried on.“And we can see for the first time that when your spine was cracked, probably when you fell onto your back, the spinal cord was severed.Irreparably.”

  “I’m sorry, Olivia,”Nate sighed,“but you’ll never walk again.”

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So here I am in the early hours of the morning again.May regret it because I'm not sure when I'm going to get the chance to write anything else but here you go!

CHAPTER TWELVE

Olivia was crying.A constant stream of tears and sobs.Irene held her close, making soothing noises as Olivia cried into her chest.

  Billie had made her way past the hospital staff in the corridor and found VJ standing in the doorway.She stared hard at the scene.“What’s going on?”she asked quietly.

  VJ drew her out into the corridor.“Olivia’s just been told she won’t walk again.”

  Billie gave a gasp of shock.She glanced back into the room, looking at a girl younger than her whose life had just been changed forever.“I can’t imagine having to deal with that.”

  “I just keep thinking…what if there’s something I could have done?I mean, I was there when it happened.If only...”

  “Hey, don’t think like that,”Billie told him gently,“She’s lucky to have a friend like you.She needs you more than ever now.”

  A few yards away, Irene continued to cradle Olivia.“I don’t know if I can deal with this,”Olivia sobbed.

  “Yes, you can,”Irene told her firmly, trying to hide the way her voice caught as her own eyes welled up with tears,“You’re strong, okay, Liv?You can deal with this.And you’ve got a lot of people around you that can help you.You’ll be okay.”

***

Zac’s face was ashen as he put the phone down.Leah looked at him with concern, while Alf watched them from the kitchen.“That was VJ,”Zac explained,“Olivia’s never going to walk again.”

  “Oh no,”Leah sighed.

  “I’ve no idea what I’m going to tell Hunter.”

  “Flaming mongrel,”Alf snarled,“I’d like to drag him down the hospital and make him look at what he’s done to that girl’s life.”

  “That’s still my son,”Zac snapped.

  Alf looked at the ferocity in Zac’s face and then nodded.“Yeah, I know what you mean.I’ve had my fair share of blues with Roo and Duncan over the years, had them do plenty of stuff I didn’t approve of, but they’re still your kids.It’s just…Denny meant the world to me and if he’d faced up to what he’d done she might still be here.And now young Olivia as well…”

  “He’s going to be devastated by this,”Leah concluded.

  “He didn’t mean to hurt Olivia,”Zac added.

  Leah nodded in agreement.“I guess we’ve got to hold onto that.”

  “A flaming waste is what it is,”Alf noted sadly.

  “I really thought he’d turned the corner,”Zac sighed,“Now he’s going to spend the next few years locked up.”

***

Irene sat at the breakfast table staring into space.Billie placed a bowl of muesli down in front of her and set a glass of juice next to it.“Is that okay?”she asked,“I wasn’t sure what you wanted.”

  Irene managed a smile.“Thanks, love.I’m not sure if I want anything at the moment though.”

  Billie considered pushing the matter but decided against it.“Are you heading back to the hospital to see Livvy?”

  “Yeah, first thing.Although what I’m going to say to the poor mite, I don’t know.I suggested she stay here because I thought I could keep her safe and now…”

  “You gave her a home,”Billie reminded her,“That’s something, isn’t it?”

  “Yeah.”Irene seemed to become more assertive.“Yeah and she’s still got a home.Whatever she needs, she’s going to have it.”

  They were interrupted by the door of Chris’ room entering.Chris emerged…and so did Shandi.She waved a hand awkwardly in greeting.“Hi.”

  “Breakfast?”Chris asked her cheerily.

  “No, I’d…better be getting back.Dad’s the sort to knock the door down looking for me if I don’t check in.”

  Chris walked her to the back door and they kissed softly.“Call you,”he promised and showed her out. Then he turned back to the table.“Okay, Irene, I know you’ve got rules on sleepovers without prior notification but we got home from a club around midnight.And it was wake you up or let Shandi walk home in the middle of the night or do the decent thing and offer to share my bed with her for the night.” Irene stared at him for a moment then got up, walked over to the couch and sat down.“Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite as gentlemanly as I made it sound,”Chris admitted,“But an opportunity presented itself and rather than kill the mood…”

  “Chris,”Billie interrupted, placing a hand on his arm to stop him,“We got bad news yesterday.The damage to Olivia’s spine…it’s not going to get any better.She’s like that for good.”

  Chris looked shocked.“Oh man…Irene, I’m so sorry, if I’d know…”

  Irene sighed.“It’s okay, love.You should enjoy yourself when you’ve got the chance.But, we’re all going to need to help Olivia now.”

***

Tori was hoping to avoid the usual barrage of questions when she got home…but instead Justin, Brody and Morgan were sat around the breakfast bar as usual, shooting her knowing looks.“I see someone’s been out all night again,”Brody commented.He glanced at the others.“I don’t think she had a night shift, did she?”

  “Not according to my rota,”Mason confirmed.

  “Guess she and Nate were playing doctors and doctors again,”Justin chortled.

  “Very funny, guys,”Tori said wearily,“Can we not do this now?”

  Brody noted her mood.“Something up?”

  Tori looked at Mason.“Oh, you didn’t think to fill them in on our fun day at work?”

  Mason looked embarrassed.“No, I didn’t say anything.”

  “Did something happen?”Justin asked.

  Tori sighed.“I had to tell a 16-year-old girl who’s been serving me coffees in the Diner for the last three months that she’s going to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.”

  “Olivia?”Brody checked.He glared at Mason.“You didn’t think that would interest us?”

  “I’m sorry,”Mason sighed,“I guess I’m still getting used to this.”

  “Well, get used to it,”Justin snapped,“We’re part of this community now.They helped us…and now one of them’s been hurt.That means we help out.”

***

Billie had wanted to stay with Irene but once again she’d been obliged to go into work.Kat was waiting for her when she got there and looked up sympathetically.“I heard about what happened to Olivia.If you need time off…”

  “Irene seemed to think that working might help me.She’s probably right.”

  Kat nodded.“Billie…I’ve got an idea I want to put to you.I want to offer sessions to young offenders.”

  Billie was more than a little bemused by this.“What, you want the guards to ship them out here for a session once a week?”

  “No, I’m not talking about the hardcore ones.I want to get in touch with the probation service, about teens who are on suspended sentences or good behaviour bonds, or community service.Ones with a lot of anger in them, who could use an outlet.”

  “It might have done Hunter some good,”Billie admitted,“Come to think of it, it might have done me some good a year or two ago.”

  “So you’d be onboard with it?”

  Billie thought hard.“Would I have to be alone with them?”

  “No, no.I can be there or the probation people or other staffmembers.”

  “Okay, then…I’m onboard.”

  Kat nodded gratefully.“I heard you went to see Phoebe.”

  “Just checking in.”

  “Seems things have worked out the way she wanted.I’m surprised Kyle went along with her story though.”

  “According to Ricky, it took a lot of persuading.But I guess making the wrong call with Isla convinced him to do it Phoebe’s way, say that she was the one he’d covered for.”Billie sighed.“I guess there are times when telling a little lie is the best thing for everyone.”

***

Mason still had Justin’s words ringing in his ears as he headed towards Olivia’s hospital room.He had no idea what he could do to help her but he had to try somehow.It was what he was training to do.“Hey, Olivia,”he greeted her, attempting to sound jovial,“You’ve got a visitor.”

  Chris followed him into the room.“Hi, Liv.Sorry I wasn’t here earlier.”

  “What, did you have an important date?”Olivia asked sarcastically.

  Chris grinned.“Yeah!Johnny Boy’s daughter turned up, did I ever tell you about her, she kind of had the hots for me a couple of years back when she was here for the wedding and…”He paused.“You don’t care about any of this, do you?”

  “Oh no, please, go on.Tell me all about how perfect your life is while I’m stuck in this bed and I’m never going to walk again.”

  “You’ll get out,”Chris told her,“You, well, you won’t exactly be back on your feet but you’ll be home and you’ll be able to get out and about and see your friends.”

  “I am never going to have any sort of life!”

  “That’s not true,”Mason protested,“People with your sort of disability can go on to have full and happy lives.”

  “Oh yeah, give me the party line.Don’t try and pretend that nothing’s changed.”

  “Er, ahem?”Everyone turned round to see a slight female form in the doorway.Skye.“Have I come at a bad time?”

***

Chris and Mason had left the two girls alone.But if the plan had been for them to talk it wasn’t working. Skye was sat by the bed in silence as Olivia refused to look at her.“Are you annoyed with me?”she asked at last.

  Olivia glared at her.“Annoyed with you?Why would that be?Maybe because you ran off with your psycho boyfriend without saying a word?You didn’t even come back and say goodbye to me like you did with John.”

  “Well, yes, I guess there is that,”Skye admitted,“But I’m here now, aren’t I?”

  “Why did you come anyway?”

  “I read what had happened in the paper.They didn’t mention names but it was obvious it was you and Hunter.”

  “Why?”

  “The mention of a robbery previously thought to have been committed by murder suspect turned murder victim Charlotte King kind of gave it away.”

  “And you still don’t think being with Tank is a dumb idea?”

  Skye looked slightly frustrated.“He’s changed.”

  “Yeah, that’s what I thought about Hunter.And then I ended up as a cripple.”

  Skye shrugged.“You’ve got to trust someone.Liv, I’m sorry I haven’t been here as a friend but I’m here now.And no-one thinks your life is over.”

  “Right, yeah, because I’m just gonna have guys flocking and job offers come rolling in.”

  “Olivia…look at you and look at me.Which of us is still the hottest?If I can find a boyfriend, then you won’t have any trouble.Even sitting down all the time.”

  Olivia looked at her and then smiled.“I have missed you.”

  Skye smiled back.“And here I am.”

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Sooo, without further ado, here's the next chapter! Hope you like!

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Shandi was aware of John’s gaze boring into her as she sat having coffee with him and Marilyn around the kitchen counter.“Something on your mind, Dad?”she asked.

  “Just wondering if you’re going to make use of the bed we provided for you tonight,”John muttered darkly.

  “Now, now, John,”Marilyn scolded,“It’s nice that Shandi’s found a friend.”

  John’s response was thankfully interrupted by a cautious voice from the doorway.“Er, John?”

  John’s head spun round at the voice and he looked at the person who’d entered in surprised delight. “Skye?”He rushed over and hugged her.“Why didn’t you tell us you were coming?Er, this is Marilyn and this is my daughter Shandi.”

  Skye gave a squeal of delight and ran to hug Marilyn.“I’ve heard so much about you!”

  It wasn’t often that Marilyn was thrown off balance by someone else’s enthusiasm but Skye had managed it.“Er, thank you, I’ve heard a lot about you as well.”

  “So what are you doing here?”John asked.

  “Well, when I heard about Olivia, I thought I had to come down and see her,”Skye explained,“I know it’s a lot to ask but is there a chance I can stay here?”

  John hesitated.“Well, we’d love to have you but with Shandi here…”

  “That’s okay,”Shandi said,“She can have my room.”

  “I don’t mean to force you out or anything,”Skye protested.

  “I was only meant to be down here for a few days anyway.”

  “Well, that’s settled then!”Marilyn declared with forced cheeriness,“Come on, Skye, we’ll put your things in your room.”She led the girl away.

  “Well, actually I didn’t have a chance to pack anything, it’s coming down later,”Skye could be heard saying as they disappeared down the corridor.

  John looked at Shandi with disappointment.“Are you sure?”

  “Don’t worry, Dad, it’s not a rejection.I’ve enjoyed catching up with you…and other old friends.This won’t be the last you see of me.”

***

Chris and Shandi were sharing a tender but rather lengthy goodbye kiss on the lawn.“Thanks for being the perfect holiday romance,”she told him.

  “Thanks for helping me get back on the horse,”he returned.

  They kissed again, just as John, Marilyn and Skye came out of the house.“All right, put her down, Harrington,”John instructed wearily.

  Shandi detached herself from Chris with a smile.“It was good seeing you again, Dad.”

  “Don’t leave it so long next time,”John told her as they hugged.

  “You too, Marilyn,”Shandi added, hugging her stepmother and then Skye,“Sorry I didn’t get to know you better.”

  “I’ll send you a Facebook request,”Skye replied.

  Shandi kissed Chris again as she passed him and he went to stand with the others as they waved her off. “Guess you’re not going to have me as a son-in-law after all, Johnny Boy,”Chris quipped.

  “Ain’t that a shame,”John muttered.

***

Mason cautiously re-entered Olivia’s hospital room.His visits there hadn’t been all that productive so far but he was hoping he could do something, make things better for her somehow.“Your physio said you wouldn’t co-operate,”he noted.

  “Didn’t see the point,”Olivia fired back.

  Mason did his best to keep his tone gentle and reassuring.He sat down on the bed.“You don’t see the point in getting better?”

  “Oh, I’m going to walk again, am I?”

  “No,”Mason admitted,“but when you’re strong enough, we’ll show you how to use a wheelchair and you can go home.But we need to build up your upper body strength first, so we know you’ll be able to cope on your own.”

  “And that’s something to look forward to, is it?”Olivia asked bitterly,“You know, Hunter’s in court today.A few weeks ago, if that had happened, I’d have been so scared for him.But now, all I can think is that my life is never going to be the same again.So what’s the point?”

  “Do you think that’s never happened to anyone else?”Mason returned,“Justin and Tori and Brody and me…we saw our parents killed.We had to leave our home, our friends, everything we knew.And we’ve had to keep doing it, for years.Do you think we didn’t feel like giving up?But we had each other, just like you’ve got your family:Irene and Chris and Skye.”

  “And that’s supposed to impress me, is it?”Olivia retorted,“Well, try this:My dad died when I was a baby, my mum died when I was a kid.My uncle took me off to the other side of the world and one of his friends decided to abuse me.”

  Mason was silent for a moment.“And then you came here?”he asked.

  “Yeah, great plan that was.”

  “Livia…the point is you didn’t let all that beat you.So why let this beat you?”

  Olivia paused, looking at him, and despite herself she started to smile.She nodded to the two hanging gymnastics rings.“Give me those.”

  Mason looked uncertain.“I should really call someone else, I’m not supposed to do this on my own…”

  “Now or never, Mason.”

  With a reluctant smile, Mason handed her the rings and she began using them to pull herself back and forth.Both of their smiles got wider as she did so.

***

Hunter stood in the dock.He glanced over at the familiar faces in the gallery:Leah, Zac, VJ, Evelyn…and Irene.He wasn’t sure which of them were there to support him and which had just come to enjoy the show.

  The judge stared hard at Hunter.“Hunter King, you have pleaded guilty to all charges.Given the severity of the offences and your previous record, I feel I have no option but to give you a custodial sentence.For the crime of burglary, I sentence you to eighteen months.For the crime of endangering lives, I sentence you to six months.For the crime of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, I sentence you to two years. For the crime of causing injury through reckless driving, I sentence you to two years.In addition, with your previous suspended sentence, I am adding another two years.These sentences will be served consecutively.I therefore sentence you to a total of eight years, with a non-parole period of five years, this sentence to be served in juvenile detention until the age of eighteen after which you will be transferred to adult custody.Officers, take charge of the prisoner.”

***

Zac was shown by the guards into the room where Hunter was waiting for his transfer.He sat down opposite his son awkwardly.“How are you feeling?”

  Hunter shrugged.“I dunno.Kind of like I’ve been waiting for this to happen for the last year.My luck had to run out some time.I am sorry, Dad.”

  Zac looked at him levelly.“I know.”

  “About Leah and…about Olivia.How is she?”

  “She’s still pretty down but it sounds like she’s getting better.”

  “I just wish I could see her, tell her…I didn’t mean to hurt her.”Hunter sighed and rubbed his face with his hands.“I wish they’d put me in jail the first time, then she’d be okay.”

  Zac searched his mind for some words of wisdom that could make an impact on Hunter, make a change in his life.“Hunter, you need to pay attention this time.Not just to the fact you’re going to jail but to what happened to Olivia.You can’t say you’re going to stop reacting like this and then go out and do it again. You need to stop or…or sooner or later, you’ll end up hurting someone else.”

  Hunter nodded slowly, then gave an awkward smile.“Maybe juvie’ll have a good shrink.”

  A guard knocked on the door.“King?We’re ready for you.”

  Hunter got up and the guard handcuffed him.“Hunter…I’ll be in to see you soon,”Zac promised.

  Hunter nodded, grateful.Then they led him away.

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Thank you for the comments, hope you like this one!

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Skye was in the middle of dusting the Palmer house.It wasn’t expected of her, but despite assurances that she was still part of the family, she still felt like a guest of John and Marilyn so tried to do some tidying when they weren’t looking.She’d paid a few visits to Olivia, as had VJ, as well as Irene, Chris and even Billie, and her mood seemed to be improving.She still wanted to stick around for a bit though, just to make sure.

  Her reverie was disturbed when a pair of strong arms wrapped themselves around her waist from behind. She gave a slight yelp and turned round to be greeted by a kiss.“Tank!What are you doing here?”

  Tank gestured to the two bags he had with him.“Brought your stuff.”He looked her up and down, noticing her pink lycra top and miniskirt for the first time.“What the heck are you wearing?”

  “Marilyn took me shopping.She seemed to think it’s what young people wear.”Skye sighed.“Tank, you know John’s not going to be happy to see you here.”

  “I thought you said things were cool with you two…and this Marilyn.”

  “They are but…I’d rather not push it.”

  Tank looked slightly crestfallen.“I’ve missed you.”

  Skye bit her lip.She knew there were still a few people in town who hadn’t forgiven Tank:Not only for what he did to Josh and Evelyn but also for what had happened at the fundraiser.She wished they could look at him and see the sweet guy she did.“I’ve missed you too,”she admitted.She kissed him again, then gave a slight smile.“Marilyn bought me some new underwear too,”she revealed, trying to sound innocent.

  Tank raised an eyebrow.“I can’t wait to see it.”

***

Mason brought the wheelchair into Olivia’s room, Nate entering after him, and looked at her uncertainly. “Are you sure you want to do this now?Some people find it confronting the first time.”

  “I’ve got to do it eventually,”Olivia pointed out.

  “Yeah, but…knowing that it’s the rest of your life, that can be hard to deal with.”

  “I’ve already dealt with it.Now I just need to get on with it.”Olivia looked across at Nate.“And what are you doing here anyway?”

  Nate shifted uncomfortably.“He’s here to make sure I don’t do anything wrong,”Mason admitted.

  Olivia gave him an uncertain look.“Like?”

  “Like…let you fall and break something else.”

  Nate looked at him, bemused.“Remind me to focus on putting the patient at ease during our next discussion.”

  Mason looked at Olivia apologetically.“That’s unlikely to happen.”

  “Good to know.”

  Mason brought the wheelchair alongside the bed and put the brake on, then dismantled the chair arm nearest the bed.Olivia threw the covers back, then dragged herself to the edge of the bed and slid across into the chair, letting her legs dangle off the front of it.Mason put her feet on the rest and replaced the arm rest.“Do you want me to push you out into the garden?”he asked.

  “No, let me try.”Olivia put her hands on the wheels and pushed forward, smiling slightly as the wheelchair moved forward.Then she looked confused.“How do I steer it?”

  “Hold one wheel still and move the other one forwards.”

  With a bit of experimentation, Olivia managed to get the chair in line with the doorway and head out into the corridor.Nate gave Mason a look.“Better go with her to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble.”

***

VJ was keeping Billie company in the gym.“How are things at home?”she asked him.

  “Bit difficult,”VJ admitted,“Zac’s missing Hunter, I think he’s pretty much counting down the days until he can visit him.”

  “What about you?”

  “You know the weird thing?I kind of miss him too.I mean, once I’d have been glad to get rid of him but I keep thinking of the way we all pulled together when they thought Zac killed Charlotte and how he was a part of all that…I know what he did to Mum and Olivia but…I guess I feel sorry for him.”

  Billie nodded.“When Marty went to jail…I was so sure that he deserved it, that Dean was telling the truth but…he was my brother.”She shook her head, clearing the memory.“Anyway, shouldn’t you be going? Kat’ll be here with the first group soon.”

  “Yeah…I’m kind of not happy about you being involved in this, with you being pregnant.”

  Billie gave him a reproachful look.“What were we just talking about?Maybe if Hunter and Marty had had this they wouldn’t have got in so much trouble.”She sighed.“Me too.A year ago, I was looking at spending a lot of time in jail.I got lucky, maybe these others can too.”

  Before VJ could answer, Kat came in with a group of teenagers in sports gear.VJ was slightly surprised to see the group was mixed gender.“This is Billie,”Kat told the teens,“She’ll be helping out with the training.You were all recommended by your community support officer so I’m hoping you’ll get something out of it.”She paused.“VJ, what are you doing here?”

  “Gym’s still open to the public, isn’t it?”VJ asked defensively.

  “Fine.Well, we’re one short so you can partner up.Go with Jordan.”

  VJ glanced in the direction of a boy around his age and reluctantly went to stand with him as Kat and Billie handed out the gear for sparring.Something struck a chord in his memory.“Didn’t Zac and Hunter meet you?You were in the same community service group.”

  Jordan nodded.“Yeah, I heard he was inside.Hardcore.”

  VJ felt himself get slightly annoyed.“Did you hear he put his girlfriend in a wheelchair as well?”

  To his surprise, Jordan looked ashamed.“Doesn’t sound so much fun when you put it like that, does it?”

***

“I don’t know what Kat’s playing at,”John complained as he and Marilyn arrived home,“Letting all those young delinquents into the surf club.”

  “Didn’t you say the committee agreed to it?”Marilyn asked mildly.

  “Yeah, bunch of wowzers.”

  Marilyn sighed.“Really, John, there are times you remind me horribly of Mr.Stewart.”She picked up some of Skye’s clothes from the laundry pile and headed towards the girl’s room.

  “Well, at least we won’t have any of them turning up here,”John declared as Marilyn pushed the door open…to reveal Skye cuddled up in bed with Tank.Somewhere along the way, their clothes had ended up scattered about the room.The two youngsters jumped at the intrusion, covering themselves with the sheet as best as possible.

  Marilyn blocked the doorway just to make sure John didn’t go charging in.“Er, Skye dear, I think we need to have a bit of a chat.Could you and your…friend meet us in the living room in…five minutes?” Skye nodded silently.

  John lingered in the doorway for a moment as Marilyn slipped away.“Two minutes,”he declared before following his wife.

***

“Now remember to stay calm, John,”Marilyn said as Skye and Tank approached the front room.The two youngsters weren’t entirely sure whether they were meant to hear or not…but they did.They did their best to look sheepish as they came into view.Marilyn gave a very strained smile and held out her hand.“Hello, you must be Tank.”

  “Wayne,”Tank amended as he took the hand.

  “I don’t think we actually met when you were around before, I was in hospital when you started dating young Evie and then I had amnesia and then we were busy with the vow renewal and my going travelling, don’t you remember, John?”

  “What are you doing here?”John asked bluntly.

  Skye took her boyfriend’s hand.“He’s here to see me.”

  “And do you have to be in the bedroom for him to do that?”

  “John!”Marilyn scolded.

  “What?I’m staying calm.”John looked back at Tank.“Aren’t you meant to be living with your dad, anyway?”

  “Yeah,”Tank admitted,“But I only have to check in once a week.”

  “Can’t he stay, please?”Skye asked, putting on her best pleading face.

  “Not here,”John stated firmly.

  Skye looked hopefully at Marilyn but the older woman just looked contrite.“Well, I’m sorry but I have to agree with John here.It wouldn’t really be appropriate for you to be living under the same roof as each other when you’re dating.”

  “What do you think we do at Greg’s?”Skye protested.

  “It’s okay, John’s right,”Tank conceded,“I do need to get back to Dad’s.”

  “But we could arrange something else,”Skye persisted.

  “I don’t actually have a lot of pull with the courts around here,”John pointed out.

  “No,”Marilyn agreed cautiously,“But we do know someone who does.”

***

“You want us to give a room to the guy that nearly killed Josh?”Ash asked.

  John seemed to mull the question over.“Yeah, pretty much.”

  “Why?”Kat asked.

  “Well, because you’re into all that airy fairy, second chances, he’s-a-good-kid-deep-down stuff.That’s what you told the surf club committee anyway.”

  “Why do you want him to stick around?”Ash asked.

  John sighed.“Because Skye’s got it into her head that she likes him, and if he can’t stay then I’m worried she won’t stay.And I’ve kind of liked having her around.”

  “Isn’t Tank still on parole?”Kat asked,“Isn’t he meant to stay with his dad?”John gave her a pointed look and she groaned.“Oh, John, no…”

  “Well, you’re a cop, or an ex-cop, what better person to keep an eye on him?”

  “I really don’t think I’m in that good stead with the parole board, I kind of left the police under a cloud.” Kat sighed and turned to Ash.“What do you think?”

  Ash shrugged.“Well…John’s got a point.I guess someone has to give everyone a chance and…”

  “Don’t tell me that this house always take in dodgy people.Please.”Kat looked back at John with a pained expression.“I will talk to his parole officer and if they agree to him staying with me temporarily then…yes, he’s got a room here.”

  John nodded, then raised his voice.“Kids!”Skye and Tank came in looking hopeful.John looked sternly at Skye.“Don’t be too late home,”he told her then walked out, leaving the other four alone.

  Ash glared at Tank.“You’re paying for tonight’s pizza.”

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Thanks for the comments, people, hope you like this one...

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Evelyn sat in the stalls at the courthouse with Matt, Ash and Kat.No-one else had been able to stomach it. A part of Evelyn wished she wasn’t there either.If seeing Hunter sentenced had brought mixed emotions, seeing Josh sentenced was going to be even worse.The prosecution service had finally decided to press extra charges over his escape, which had meant bringing him back to the jurisdiction where the offence had been committed.It was the closest Evelyn had been to him in months.The time when she’d thought he’d be her husband by that point seemed a long time ago.

  The authorities were obviously taking no chances this time.Josh was surrounded by four guards, two on either side.

  The judge waited until the court had quietened before making his announcement.“Joshua Barrett.Four months ago, this court sentenced you to twenty-five years for the manslaughter of Charlotte King.Your response to this sentence was to escape from custody, in the apparent belief that you are somehow above the law.The arrogance of this action underlines the determination of that hearing:That you feel little, if any, remorse for the human life you were responsible for ending, however accidentally.The only things in your favour are that you have pleaded guilty and that you have given evidence in the corruption case against Officer Mitchell.This court cannot send out the message that the course you chose is an acceptable alternative to recognising the punishments handed out by the law.I am therefore adding an extra three years onto your sentence, meaning you will be detained for twenty-eight years with a non-parole period of twenty-three.”

  Evelyn looked aghast at Matt who gave a snort of derision.“Probably wants to bring back hanging,”he muttered.

***

Evelyn was shown through into the holding area.Josh was sat on the other side of a table.Both his wrists were handcuffed to the chair arms, and a quick glance showed that his ankles were handcuffed to the legs.Two guards were present, one on either side.Evelyn looked at them.“Can you leave us alone?”

  One of the pair spoke without looking at her.“Orders are to watch the prisoner at all times.”

  Evelyn didn’t argue.She sat down opposite Josh and took both his hands in hers.“Josh, look at me,”she told him, trying to speak with a strength she didn’t feel.

  Josh glanced up at her.He looked beaten.“Twenty-eight years,”he said quietly.

  Evelyn shook her head.“It’s not a lifetime,”she insisted, even though she couldn’t even begin to grasp the figure herself,“You’re going to get out, you can’t forget that.And…and maybe it won’t be that long.I know they won’t let you appeal now but maybe in a few years, if you have a good record inside…maybe you could get moved to an open prison, that wouldn’t be as bad.And maybe you could get your sentence reduced.”

  “I just had it extended,”Josh pointed out,“And Andy…do you know what’s happened to him?”

  Evelyn bit her lip slightly.“He got thirty-seven years,”she replied,“Twenty for Jake, ten for the fundraiser, five for the escape and the false confession, two for the car thefts.”

  Josh’s eyes showed anger for a moment.“You went to the sentencing?What, to enjoy the show?”

  Evelyn looked back at him unflinching.“Do you blame me?”she asked.Their differing attitudes towards Andy since his involvement in the fundraiser explosion had been revealed was something they’d tended to avoid discussing.

  Josh sighed.“So I won’t have him.Casey’s dead…”

  “You’ll have me,”Evelyn insisted, gripping his hands tightly,“When you come out…”

  Josh shook his head.“Twenty-eight years, Evie?You’ll have moved on, got married.You could have children, you could have grandchildren…”

  “It doesn’t matter.However long it takes, ten years, twenty years, thirty years, when you get out of here, you find me.And I’ll make sure you’re okay, I’ll make sure you put your life back together.Promise me.”

  Josh nodded.She wasn’t sure if he believed it but he nodded.“I will.”

  “Time’s up, Barrett,”one of the guards announced.The two guards began removing his restraints, before cuffing his hands together.Evelyn left the room ahead of them but the guard stopped her, indicating where a female officer was waiting.“You’ll need to be searched before you’re let out.”

  “I was searched before I went in,”Evelyn protested.

  “We need to make sure the prisoner didn’t pass you anything.”

  Evelyn looked at him angrily.“His name’s Josh.”The guard didn’t answer.Or react.Evelyn shot one final look at Josh as he was led in the opposite direction before going with the officer.

***

“It’s just so frustrating!”Evelyn complained, once she and Matt were back at the house with Zac and Leah,“I can’t believe things are going to end like this.You know, I saw Tank with Skye on the way here.”

  “He’s a free man and Josh is put away for twenty years,”Matt noted bitterly,“Someone somewhere needs their head read.”

  “It’s not even that!I just think of everything Josh overcame after that, we thought he was going to die, then we thought he was going to be blind for good…and the very day that he got his life back, he went straight out and threw it away again.Not even just killing Charlotte, the way he covered it up, the way he let other people be blamed…you.”She nodded towards Zac.

  Zac shrugged.“He was scared of going to prison.I don’t blame him.”

  “Well, a lot of good it did him,”Evelyn retorted.

  “Twenty-three years if he behaves himself,”Matt observed,“Can’t say I envy him.”

  Leah gave him a warning look.“We just have to trust that Josh is strong enough to survive this.”

  “And what if he does?”Evelyn asked,“He’s going to have no qualifications, no references, nothing and no-one he can count on…”

  “It doesn’t have to be like that,”Zac suggested,“He could do his studies inside, get his qualifications that way.I’m not saying it would be easy, but I did used to do that sort of thing for a living, try and make sure that offenders had something to build on when they got out.Like I did.”

  Evelyn looked at him with renewed help.“Can you do that for Josh?Get someone to help him?”

  “Well, I’ve used up a lot of my favours asking people to keep an eye on Hunter.But yeah, I’ll mention his name to a few people, ask them to point him in the right direction.Then it’s up to him.”

***

VJ and Billie were walking along the beach.“So, I saw you getting on well with Jordan the other day,” Billie noted.

  VJ sighed.“Yes, okay, you’re right.They’re not all axe murderers.”

  Billie jostled him affectionately.“Remember to listen to me in future then!”VJ nudged her in return, putting an arm round her in a mock-wrestling style.Then her gaze drifted down the beach.“Is that Skye?” she asked.

  VJ’s expression darkened as he saw Skye standing by the water with Tank.“Yeah and look who’s with her.”

  “Remember the lesson you’ve just learned?”

  VJ sighed.“Yeah, okay.”They approached the pair.“Hi there,”VJ greeted them, unable to stop himself giving Tank a dark look.

  “Hey!”Skye responded, trying to ignore it,“Have you been to see Livvy today?”

  “No, not yet.But I hear she’s more positive now.”

  “Yeah, she was practically doing wheelchair races last time I saw her.”

  “Do you two want to go for a walk?”Billie suggested.

  VJ didn’t seem sure.“What about you?”

  “Oh, I’ll be fine hanging out with Wayne here.”

  “Yeah, sure,”Tank agreed.

  VJ didn’t seem convinced but nodded.He gave Billie a quick kiss goodbye, noticing Skye doing the same to Tank, then motioned for her to follow him down the beach.“So what’s it feel like being back here?”he asked.

  “Well, I wasn’t expecting things to have changed this much,”Skye admitted,“Livvy, Hunter…Marilyn. She offered to give me a tarot reading, you know.Thought I needed direction.”

  VJ smiled.“Yeah, Marilyn’s one of a kind.”

  “And I can’t believe you’re going to be a dad!”

  VJ glanced back at Billie.“It’s a bit unexpected but…”

  “But you really love her.I get it.”

  “You’re happy with Tank?”

  “Yeah, I am actually.Do you believe me?”

  VJ looked at her.“Well, you’ve got a bit of a glow so…yeah.I get what being in love’s like.”

  Skye nodded and then laughed.“Hey, do you remember when you used me to make her jealous?”

  VJ laughed back.“Well, you did say I wasn’t a bad kisser.And it was good to get the practise in.”

  “I’ll make sure I let her know you learnt everything from me.”

***

Tori plopped herself down on the sofa of Nate’s flat with a large sigh.“Who came up with the idea of double shifts?”

  Nate had picked up his post when they arrived and glanced over the top of it at her.“I think that would be the head of emergency medicine.”

  “Not fair!I didn’t invent them, I just…tell people to do them.”

  “Comforting.”

  Tori stopped her complaining and looked closely at Nate.She could sense something was bothering him, as he spoke to her in a distracted tone of voice.“Is there something wrong?”

  Nate was opening one of the envelopes.“There’s a letter here from the Department of Human Services.” He scanned the content and then looked up with a mixture of confusion and concern.“It’s about Casey.”

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Thank you for the comments and hope you like this one!

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

“She’s here, she’s here, she’s here!”Irene told Chris and Skye, possibly a few more times than she needed to.They both obliged by adopting their best welcoming expressions, moments before Mason pushed a smiling Olivia through the back door in her wheelchair.

  “Welcome back, wheels,”Chris greeted her with a grin.

  Skye gave her a quick hug.“I’m glad you’re okay.”

  “Thanks,”Olivia replied.Then she hesitated.“I’m not sure how I’m going to get up to my room though.”

  Irene felt suddenly awkward.“Well…we thought in the circumstances that it might be best for you and Chris to swap rooms.So we moved all his stuff upstairs and moved your stuff down into his old room.”

  “Makes sense,”Olivia agreed, trying to look happy about it.

  “And we’ve got a new addition,”Chris added, gesturing towards the step up to his old room which was now Olivia’s.

  Olivia glanced down.“You made me a ramp.”

  “Well, we had a bit of help,”Skye explained, looking at Mason.

  Olivia followed the gaze.“You?”

  “Justin and Brody mostly,”Mason admitted,“Justin’s idea.He felt maybe we should pay you all back for helping us out.”

  Olivia nodded.“Give me a hand up it?I’m still not too sure about going uphill.”

  Mason stepped forward and pushed Olivia up the ramp.“Do you need a hand..?”

  “I’m fine,”Olivia snapped, manouevring herself in through the bedroom door and closing it behind her.

  “Is she all right?”Irene asked Mason.

  Mason shrugged.“She seemed fine in the car on the way over.Maybe it just got too much?”

  “Let me deal,”Skye offered.No-one objected, so she went over to Olivia’s room, knocked on the door, paused and then went inside.

  Olivia was crying softly, a hand pressed to her face.Skye closed the door behind her, then went over and crouched by her chair.“What’s the matter?”

  Olivia wiped away her tears.“It just struck me that…this is it.I’ve been focusing so hard on getting better but now I am better.I’m back home and nothing else is going to happen, I’m not going to start walking again.I’m going to be…sticking to ground floors and needing a ramp up to my room and…this is as good as it gets for me.”

  “Could be worse?”Skye suggested tentatively.

  Olivia sniffed but managed a brief smile.“You suck at pep talks.”

  Skye gave a look of mock outrage.“I am a genius at pep talks.”Her expression became serious again. “Look, I’m going to meet Tank down the beach.Why don’t you come with me?”

  Olivia looked slightly suspicious.“Tank…”

  “It’ll give you a chance to get to know him.And I am not taking no for an answer.”

***

“So do you know what this is about?”Tori asked Nate as they approached the Social Services office.

  “No idea,”Nate admitted,“I had been hoping to stay out of this Braxton drama from now on.”He pushed open the door.

  “Hey, Doc,”Heath greeted him.He and Bianca were waiting in the office already.

  “Hey, Heath,”Nate echoed, trying to hide his grimace.He glanced at Tori.“This is Heath, Casey’s uncle, and his wife Bianca.”

  “Hey,”Tori greeted them awkwardly.

  The woman behind the desk looked over the group.“We’re all here then?”

  “Yes, what’s all this about Casey?”Nate asked as he and Tori took their seats.

  “My name’s Mary Keen, I represent the local branch of DoCS.Casey’s currently in our care.”

  “Has something happened to Brax and Ricky?”Bianca asked.

  “They’re not able to look after him at present.”Mary looked awkward.“You’re aware that Darryl was recently cleared of a murder conviction?Well, the PPS looked over the case to see what other related charges could be laid.”

  Bianca winced.“And they found a lot?”

  “A number, ranging from absconding from custody to handling stolen goods.When the police went to arrest him, Ricky attempted to stall them while Darryl left the premises, even tripped one officer up, and was charged with aiding and abetting.They both pleaded guilty:Darryl was given three years, Ricky, in light of her record, was given three months.”Mary looked at Heath.“We contacted your mother but she said something about not getting paid enough to feed another mouth full-time.”

  “Sounds like Mum,”Heath admitted.

  “Which makes you Casey’s next nearest relative.”She turned to Nate.“However, we’re aware that you are still legally married to Ricky and that Casey was living with you until a few months ago, so you also have a strong connection to him.We would like to place him with one of you.”

  Nate looked across at Heath.“I’ve accepted that I’m no longer part of Casey’s life.You should take him.”

  Heath glanced at Bianca, who nodded, then looked back at Mary.“Yeah, we’ll look after him.”

  Mary smiled.“Then I just need you to sign a few papers.”

  “We’ll leave you to it,”Nate decided as he and Tori got up.

  “Are you sure about this?”Tori asked as they left.

  “It’s time to move on,”Nate replied…yet something in his tone left her thinking he was talking about more than Casey.

***

“You didn’t want to stick around and see Olivia then?”VJ asked as he and Billie walked along the beach.

  Billie shook her head.“I didn’t want to crowd her, you know?Too many people.And I don’t really know her that well.”

  “You’ll have to see her eventually,”VJ pointed out.He paused, staring ahead.“Mainly because she’s right over there.”

  Billie followed where he was looking and took in the incongruous sight:Olivia was in her wheelchair near the sea, with Skye and Tank standing behind her.“You think we should join them?”

  “It’d be rude not to.”VJ took his girlfriend’s hand and led her over.

  Olivia glanced round at their approach and managed a smile.“Welcome to the party.”

  “Welcome back, Liv,”VJ responded.

  Billie gave her housemate a quick hug.“Good to see you.”

  “How did you get the chair down here?”VJ asked.

  Skye winced slightly.“With difficulty.”

  “It was a bit of a slog,”Olivia confirmed.She nodded towards Tank.“Wayne helped.”

  VJ looked awkwardly at Tank.“Thanks.”

  “No problem.”

  Olivia sighed.“So I’ve just been looking out to sea and thinking about all the things I’m not going to do anymore.Can’t exactly swim without my legs.Might as well chuck all my bikinis away.”

  “You could still lie on the beach in one, soak up the rays,”VJ suggested,“People would appreciate that.”Billie slapped his arm in annoyance.“What?I was being supportive.”

  Skye gave an animated expression of realisation.“We could carry you out into the water and let you float!That’d be fun.”

  “Let me get back to you on that.”Olivia looked over Skye, VJ and Billie.“Why don’t you go and get the drinks?I’ll stay here with Wayne.”The others nodded and headed towards the surf club, VJ seeming more reluctant than the others.Olivia began manoeuvring her chair with difficulty on the sand.Tank stretched out a hand to help her but she slapped it away.“Leave it!”She managed to bring the chair round to face him, then looked him in the eye.“So.Wayne, or Tank, or whatever you call yourself.Skye thinks I should get to know you, find out what you’re really like.”Her face softened slightly.“She obviously cares about you.”

  “I care about her too,”Tank replied calmly,“She’s a great kid.Smart, kind.I don’t know if I’d have coped this year without her.”

  “I believe you.But I dated a guy with ‘issues’.One that I cared about and who cared about me.And the result was me being in this.So…you hurt her and I will run you down.”

***

Roo was in the middle of cleaning the kitchen, wondering how Matt managed to get milk anywhere but the bowl, when she heard a tentative female voice from the doorway.“Anyone home?”

  Roo turned round and gave a slight gasp at the young blonde woman she saw standing there.“Lottie?” She hurried over and hugged her one-time stepdaughter.“What are you doing here?”

  “Well, I’m a medical student now.I’ve got a placement at Northern Districts so…thought I might come and stay in the old town.”

  “Following in your mum’s footsteps, eh?How are your parents anyway?”

  “Well, Mum’s still working in the city, she seems more settled now.And I got a postcard from Dad from Puerto Rico a few weeks back.”

  Roo sensed the trace of unhappiness in Lottie’s voice.“How long since you’ve seen him?”

  “In person?About two years.But we Skype a lot and he’s doing what makes him happy…”

  “So where are you staying?You could stay here!”Roo went on without giving Lottie a chance to answer. “I’m sure Matt wouldn’t mind sleeping on the sofa.Or I could call Dad, there’s plenty of room up at the house.”

  “Actually…I’m going to be living with my boyfriend.”Lottie glanced down the stairs leading up to the flat.

  A moment later, Dexter stepped into view alongside her.He raised a hand awkwardly in greeting.“Hi, Roo.”

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So I have a day off tomorrow.Do I take advantage of the opportunity to have extra time in bed or do I stay up to the early hours of the morning posting another chapter?Answer below.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Roo brought drinks over to where Dexter and Lottie were sitting on the couch, doing her best to be a good host despite her confusion and worry.“So, er, how did you two meet up again?”she asked.

  “Through our training,”Lottie explained,“I had a placement at a clinic in the city and turns out Dexter was working there as a nurse.”

  “I’m fully qualified now,”Dexter confirmed,“I managed to pick things up again after I got back from Paris.Then I ran into Lottie and…”

  “…we kind of picked up where we left off as well,”Lottie offered.

  “Yeah, I asked her out for a coffee and we kind of went from there.”

  “And then this placement came up and Dex decided to transfer with me…”

  “…and I spoke to Dad and he said that the farm house was free so we’re going to move in there.”Dexter lapsed into silence for a moment.“Maddy sends her love, by the way.”

  Roo was slightly thrown by the change of subject.“You’ve seen Maddy?”

  “Yeah, I was working at the clinic where she is.I asked her not to tell anyone I was there.You know she’s leaving tomorrow?”

  “Yeah, I’m hoping to speak to her on the phone before she goes.”Roo looked awkwardly at Lottie.“Can I speak to Dexter alone for a moment?”

  Lottie glanced at Dexter, who nodded.“Okay, I’ll just pop downstairs and say hi to Irene and Marilyn.” She gave Dexter a quick kiss before leaving them alone.

  “Why do I get the feeling I’m about to get grilled?”Dexter sighed.

  “Well, do you blame me?”Roo demanded,“You left here all loved up with April, newly married, and suddenly you’re back here with Lottie?Because I can remember you choosing April over her and her being pretty cut up about it, so I don’t want that happening again.”

  Dexter sighed.“Have you ever got married to someone and thought it was forever, and then down the line you realise you just want completely different things out of life?”

  Roo stared at him, not quite sure if she was being sent up or not.“It’s happened to me a couple of times,” she admitted at last.

  “April loved Paris.She really came out of herself, she blossomed in a way I’ve never seen her do.She was attending all these protest groups and dragging me along to demonstrations.Meanwhile, I’m trying to get French newsagents to subscribe to magazines they’ve never heard of and wandering the streets not knowing what anyone’s saying.We lasted a year and then I came back here.And…I do love Lottie, really.I get that you were her stepmother but you were kind of mine too, when you were living with Dad, so…can you just trust that I’m not going to hurt her?”

  Roo sighed and then smiled.“Okay.You’ve got my blessing.”

***

Tori was in the admin area of the hospital when Nate came up, a broad smile on his face.“You look pleased with yourself,”she commented.

  Nate placed an envelope on the desk.“My resignation.”

  It was safe to say that that was not what Tori had been expecting.She stared at it in confusion.“What?”

  “I got a job at a hospital in the city.Head of emergency medicine.”

  Tori struggled to get her head round what he was saying.“So…you’re not just leaving the hospital, you’re leaving the Bay.”

  “Well, it’s been an interesting few years but yeah, I think it’s time to move on.”

  Tori stared hard at him.It was as if he’d forgotten she was his girlfriend as well as his superior.“What about us?”

  That seemed to stop Nate in his tracks, as if he’d realised for the first time the insensitivity of what he was doing.“We weren’t serious, right?”He waited for her to confirm it.She said nothing.“You could come with me?”He seemed to realise as soon as he said it that it wasn’t going to happen.He stared at her in silence for a moment.“Well, I start next week so…guess I’ll see you before I go.”He hurried away.

  A moment later, Mason approached the desk and instantly noticed his sister’s mood.“Tor?What’s wrong?”

  Tori turned away.She couldn’t deal with sympathy at that moment.“Nothing important.”

***

Dexter stood in the doorway of the farmhouse, Lottie at his side.“Looks exactly the same.”

  “I remember,”Lottie agreed.

  “I’m kind of expecting Dad to ask me to take the bins out or Indi to be making out with her boyfriend on the sofa or Sasha to be complaining about someone using her shampoo.”

  Lottie smiled.“Yeah, being back here feels strange.We were such different people back then.”

  Dexter looked at her in confusion.“Were we?”

  “Well…we were younger.”Lottie nodded to the door nearest the entrance.“This is the main bedroom, right?”

  “Right.”Dexter didn’t make any attempt to move towards it.

  Lottie was silent for a moment.“You lived here with April, didn’t you?”

  Dexter nodded.“Yeah, she moved in after Dad left.Only way I could convince Indi to give me the big bedroom.”He sighed.“Same room, different girl.Did not expect that to be my life.”

  “Well…we don’t have to take that room.Your old room’s still free.”

  “Yeah, because nothing ever happened in that one.”Dexter suddenly realised that if the situation was awkward for him it must be even more awkward for her.“Sorry.”

  She attempted a smile.“That’s okay.”

  He kissed her quickly, looked at her for a moment…and then kissed her again.She wrapped her arms round him and he held her tight, their desire for each other growing.He pushed the door to the master bedroom open and they practically fell into the room.

***

Ash reached out a hand from underneath the dinghy he was fixing.“Give me a 9mm.”

  Tank scanned the box, found the spanner Ash was looking for, and placed it in his hand.“9mm.”

  Ash finished the adjustment and then slid out.The two of them were in the equipment bay of the surf club, where Tank had been roped into acting as an assistant.“So where’s Skye?”Ash asked.

  Tank nodded towards the main building.“Just in there.She and Marilyn went to a gym session together.”

  “You didn’t fancy going?”

  “Thought I might as well make myself useful while I’m here.”

  Ash nodded.“When are you two planning on heading back to the city then?”

  “Soon.Skye just wants to make sure Olivia’s all right.”

  “You think you’re pushing your luck with the parole?”

  “Yeah, that’s part of it.”Tank considered for a moment.“Truth is…I miss my dad.I spent all those years hating him, thinking he was worthless but…I guess he’s kind of grown on me.Feels good.”

  Ash watched him closely.“Got to say…you’re not how I was expecting.”

  Tank shrugged.“Second chance.Got to make the most of it.”

  At that moment, Marilyn and Skye appeared, wearing identical gym outfits.“How’s the male bonding going?”Skye asked.

  Ash cast a rueful look in Tank’s direction.“We’re getting there.”

  “Aww, it’s so sweet how we’re all getting along,”Marilyn remarked,“I’m really really going to miss you.”

  Skye gave a brief smile.“I’ll try and stay in touch this time.”

***

Dexter and Lottie were cuddled up in bed together, a feeling of contentment resting on them.“So, have we exorcised the spirit of the ex-wife?”Lottie asked.

  “Well, I’m definitely getting there,”Dexter confirmed.He noticed a flash of something in Lottie’s expression.“Something up?”

  “Just…remembering that you’ve got a lot of history that I haven’t.”Lottie shrugged awkwardly.“You’re the only guy I’ve ever been with, after all.”

  “Well, I haven’t exactly got a lot of notches on this bedpost.”

  “You remember when I’d fallen out with Mum and I was sleeping on the couch here?”Lottie asked. Dexter nodded.“Well…there were a couple of times when I thought about sneaking into your room.”

  Dexter considered this.“You realise I’d probably have had a panic attack?”

  Lottie raised her eyebrows.“You?”

  “Trust me, it took a lot of effort for me to be able to handle beautiful girls coming on to me.”Dexter’s expression became serious as he looked her in the eye.“I think…this, us, has happened at the right time.”

  Lottie gave a ghost of a smile.“Am I sensing that you need a bit more exorcising?”

  “Just a bit more,”Dexter confirmed as they kissed.

***

Maddy was heading through the corridors of the rehab clinic.She’d eaten a last dinner with the other patients, preparing herself to take her leave.They’d done all they could for her.Now it was time to start living.

  She had her mobile to her ear, aware of the fact she now had to hold it in her right hand rather than her missing left.“Yes, Spence, I haven’t forgotten.I’ll make sure to check in with you and Rosie before I leave.How about breakfast tomorrow?”She reached the door to her rooms and paused, debating whether to try and open the door with her prosthetic hand or wait until her own hand was free.“Okay, how about lunch?”she continued,“Right, see you then.”She ended the call, put the phone back in her pocket and opened the door.

  Oscar was standing in the middle of the room.“It will probably help me to stay under cover if you don’t scream right now,”he suggested.

  Somehow, Maddy’s brain managed to stay coherent enough to come into the room and close the door behind her.She didn’t turn the light on, the only illumination coming through the frosted windows from the corridor.“I visited your grave,”she said slowly,“Evie…she told me she’d seen your body.”

  “She did.In the sense that that was me, not in the sense that I was dead.I was unconscious.And I’m not in the grave.Obviously.”

  “Hannah?”

  “She…actually is dead.”

  Maddy was feeling an unnatural calm that suggested at one point she was going to break down in hysterics.She hoped she’d manage to avoid that.“How…how can you be alive?Why does everyone think you’re dead?Why would you, or anyone, do this?”Her voice was starting to rise and she struggled to keep it under control, to think.“Are you in witness protection?”she asked at last.

  Oscar looked confused.“Why would I be in witness protection?”

  “Roo told me about this family in the Bay…Never mind.What happened then?”

  Oscar paused, as though trying to work out what to tell her.“Do you remember I applied for that physics course?”

  Maddy nodded.“You got rejected.”

  “Well, it turns out I was accepted to something else.Something secret.Very secret.So secret that you pretty much have to be dead to know about it.There were people watching me.When the explosion at the fundraiser happened, they gave me a drug that made it look like I was dead.That’s what everyone thought when they found me.I was unconscious for days, that was when Evie saw me.Then they took me away, woke me up.It’s important work we’re doing, Mad, it could help a lot of people.”

  “But you have to give up your life for it?”

  Oscar sighed.“Better to die saving lives than live with taking them.That’s what I was born into.”Maddy gave him a strange look.“They arranged a private screening of the new Star Trek film,”Oscar explained sheepishly.Maddy nodded in understanding.“I’ll swear I saw the bloke that played Captain Kirk’s dad in the Bay once.Must have been someone that looked like him…”

  “Oscar, why are you here?”Maddy asked,“If this is so secret…”

  Oscar cleared his throat.“Once I’ve been through all the security checks…I’m allowed to tell one person that I’m still alive.”

  “And you chose me?Not Evie?”

  “If you had a big secret and you could tell one person and you’d have to trust them never to let it slip, would you tell Evie?”

  Maddy gave a slight smile.“Fair point.”

  “She needs to have a life of her own, I don’t want her sharing mine.”

  Maddy paused.“Is that what you want me to do?”

  “If you agree…you can come back to the project with me.”

  “Will I have to die too?I mean, will everyone think I’m dead?”

  Oscar shook his head.“They’ll arrange a cover story for you.You won’t be a prisoner, you’ll be able to come and go from the project.You can still go travelling like you planned, you can study nursing…You will be under surveillance when you’re outside the project though.And…if you say no, you won’t remember this conversation.”

  Maddy swallowed hard.“They’ll make me forget somehow?I’ll go back to thinking you’re dead?”

  “Yes.”

  Maddy looked around, as though wondering if there were security cameras everywhere.“Are we under surveillance now?”

  “They…know when to be discreet.”

  Maddy crossed over to him, placing her hand around his neck, and kissed him softly.The kiss broke and they rested their foreheads against each other.“Thinking you were dead, thinking you weren’t going to be in my life anymore…It hurt a lot more than I thought it would.You left a big hole.If I can fill it again, then yes.I’ll keep your secret and I’ll go with you.I want to be part of your life.”

  They kissed again, with growing intensity.Oscar placed a hand on the sleeve covering her prosthetic. “Does, um, this come off?”

  Maddy looked confused.“The shirt?”

  “The arm.”

  “Oh, right, yeah, you have to twist it…”Maddy disconnected the prosthetic and laid it down on a table. She looked at Oscar nervously.“I’ve, um, never slept with anyone since losing it.”

  “You and Matt..?”

  “I was in hospital, then when I was discharged I came here not long after.We shared a bed a couple of times but…”

  Oscar nodded.“We’ll work it out.”He kissed her again and they moved towards the bed.

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Tori was sat at the kitchen counter looking glum when Justin came in.He watched her carefully for a moment.The touchy-feely stuff wasn’t exactly his forte but there didn’t seem to be anyone else around. He approached her cautiously.“Nate get off okay?”

  Tori scowled slightly.“Oh yeah.We had a farewell drinks for him after work.”

  “He say anything special to you?”

  “I think he was trying to avoid me.”

  Justin walked round and leaned on the opposite side of the counter to her.“He’s a dope.And a drip.And a rat.And you deserve better.”

  “Thanks for the endorsement.”Tori sighed.“It’s just…it’s frustrating.I spent all that time dodging getting close to Nate because of the witness protection.And then when I finally get my life back…”

  “It turns out real life has its problems too?”

  “Exactly.So much for a fresh start.”

  “Well you don’t need a dork of a casanova doctor type to be happy.Do the whole Thelma and Louise thing.Female liberation.Girls night out.”

  “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I don’t have that many girl friends.”

  “Then…make some.I dunno, ask some of the women from work.We’ll even put on a special evening at Salt for them.”

  Tori smiled slightly.“And you know the worst thing?That might just work.”

***

“Do you need any more help, Irene?”Billie asked as she came through from the Diner kitchen to the counter.

  “No, that’s all right, love,”Irene confirmed,“Anyway, I told you, you should be putting your feet up.” She gave VJ an accusing look.

  “Hey, I tried!”VJ protested, putting his hands up,“She wants to be independent.”

  Billie came round the counter, giving him a quick hug and kiss.“And I appreciate you for letting me.”

  Irene turned to Alf and Roo, who were at the counter.“Have you heard back from Maddy yet?”

  “Yeah, I spoke to her on the phone last night,”Roo confirmed,“Her flight out’s next week.”

  “Why on earth did she go to flaming Canberra first?”Alf asked.

  “I don’t know, it seemed a bit last minute.Apparently she’s signed up to do her nursing training there once she gets back.”

  Irene glanced round as Dexter and Lottie entered, arms round each other.“Well, there’s a sight I wasn’t expecting to see again.”

  “Hope you still remember how I like my coffee though,”Dexter suggested.

  “Don’t worry, darl, I haven’t gone senile yet.”

  “Where have you two been the last few days anyway?”Roo asked.

  “We were just…settling in at the farm,”Lottie offered.

  “Yeah and the rest,”Alf muttered before giving her a hug,“Good to see you again, love.”

  Dexter suddenly seemed to notice the other person present at the counter.“VJ?”

  “You’ve got me there, Dex.”

  Dexter hugged the younger boy.“Wow, you’ve…definitely grown.”

  “You’ve been gone a while.”VJ looked at Billie.“This guy protected me from bullies when I first started at Summer Bay High.”

  Dexter felt quizzical gazes on him.“I protected him by letting them beat me up instead,”he admitted.

  “That sounds more like you,”Lottie agreed.

  “And this is my girlfriend Billie,”VJ continued.

  Dexter briefly shook hands with her.“Can’t quite get my head around the fact that you’re going to be a dad before me.”

  “Like I said, you’ve been gone a while.Want me to show you Salt?”

  “Right, yeah, the new new place to dine at the surf club.”

  “Well, I need to go to the hospital and check in,”Lottie noted.

  “And I need to be at the gym,”Billie added.She saw Irene’s look.“I’m just supervising.”

  “Looks like it’s a plan then.”Dexter gave Lottie a quick kiss goodbye, then linked arms with both VJ and Billie as they walked out.“So, tell me what other surprises there are…”

***

Marilyn followed Skye out of her room into the living area, Skye carrying her bags.“Now are you sure you’ve got everything?”Marilyn asked,“I mean, it doesn’t really matter if you haven’t, we can always send it on to you, or maybe you can come back for it, which you’re more than welcome to do…”

  Skye stopped her with a hug.“I promise I’ll be back for a visit some time.And I will call you and e-mail you and Facebook you to let you know we’ve arrived back in the city safely.”

  Marilyn gave a fond sigh, then stroked Skye’s hair wistfully.“Are you sure you don’t want me to style this for you?”

  “Maybe another time.”Skye turned to where John and Tank were waiting awkwardly together.“Goodbye. Again,”she said, giving John a hug.

  John held her tight for a moment.“Make sure you stay in touch this time.”He released her and turned to Tank, shaking his hand with a large amount of reluctance.“And you…make sure you look after her.”

  “I will, Mr.Palmer,”Tank promised.

  “Have you said goodbye to Olivia?”Marilyn asked.

  Skye nodded.“First thing.She’s got an appointment at the hospital.”She looked at them awkwardly for a moment.“Well, goodbye then,”she concluded before she and Tank headed out.

  Marilyn dabbed her eyes.“Awww, I’m really going to miss her.”

  “She’s definitely one of a kind,”John agreed.

***

Mason was by the counter at the hospital when a young woman came up to him and held out her hand. “Lottie Ryan, medical student.”

  Mason accepted the hand, slightly bemused.“Mason Morgan, medical student.”

  “Right.”Lottie considered this.“I guess you’re not who I should be talking to then.”

  “Well, my sister Tori’s in charge actually.But she called a couple of the female doctors into the staff room for a private meeting, so you’re better off waiting here.”

  Lottie nodded.“I will take that under advisement.”

  “So how did you end up here?”

  “Well, I used to live in Summer Bay, I’ve just moved back there.Sort of, anyway, I’m staying in the old farmhouse with my boyfriend.”

  “Really?Me too.Summer Bay, that is.Me and my family moved there a few months back.”

  “Yeah, it’s been a few years for me.There doesn’t seem to be that many of the old crowd around, they’ve all gone off to uni.”

  “Hi, Mason!”a voice called out as Olivia wheeled herself towards them.

  Mason smiled in response.“Hey, Liv.You here for your outpatients’ appointment?”

  “Yeah, just thought I’d roll by and say hello.See you later.”

  Lottie watched the interaction with bemusement until Olivia was out of earshot.“Looks like someone’s got a fan.”

  “Olivia?No, she’s just a friend.She lives with Irene.”

  “Oh, right.So, did you ever meet Sasha..?”

***

Dexter wound his way through the tables to where VJ was sitting and put his younger friend’s drink down in front of him.“Lemonade,”he said with more emphasis than was necessary,“Just to establish that while you may be the one who’s managed to procreate, I, my friend, am the one old enough to drink the beer.”

  VJ nodded.“Cheers, mate.”

  “So, you managed to bag yourself an older woman, huh?Never quite managed that one.Got close with Dallas though.”

  “She’s that single mum you were helping out, right?”

  Dexter nodded.“She seriously wanted me when we first met.”He sighed.“Then she got to know me and decided she liked me as a friend.”

  “Don’t you just hate it when that happens?”VJ noted sympathetically.

  “It kinda sucks,”Dexter agreed.

  Billie came up the stairs and over to their table.“You been keeping out of trouble?”she asked, standing next to VJ and putting an arm round him.

  “Trouble with this one?”VJ repeated,“Not something that happens very often.”

  “Oh, thanks,”Dexter retorted sarcastically.

  Billie looked at him.“So I hear you’re the one that’s moved into the farmhouse.Doctor Walker said he’d lined up some new tenants.”

  “That’s Dad for you.And I promise if I find anything of yours I’ll send it on.”

  While they were chatting, Tori entered the restaurant with two of her colleagues and headed for the bar. “And these are my brothers, Justin and Brody,”she told them,“Guys, this is Samantha and this is Anna.”

  Justin held out a hand to Samantha.“Charmed.”Samantha smiled back flirtatiously.

  “And we’re at your disposal all evening,”Brody added.He leaned in close to Justin.“I thought the idea was to give Tori a good night out, not you an opportunity to pick up.”

  “Two birds, one stone,”Justin replied quietly.

  Matt and Evelyn were clearing tables nearby.“Oh swell,”Matt complained,“A bunch of drunken middle-aged professional women.”

  “I thought that was your type,”Evelyn fired back.

  “Harsh but true.”

  Billie’s gaze had been fixed on Samantha Benson since she’d entered.VJ noted the interest.“Isn’t that..?”

  “Yes,”Billie agreed abruptly.She turned to Dexter, who was looking at her curiously.“It’s the doctor who told me I was prregnant.”

  “Do you want to go and say hello?”

  “Looks like she’s busy.Come on, let’s get out of here.”

***

It was the end of what seemed like a very long shift.Matt and Evelyn were putting bags of rubbish in the skip round the back of the surf club.“Okay, I’ll admit it,”Evelyn conceded,“A group of doctors letting their hair down can be a bit of a nightmare.”

  Matt gave a satisfied sigh.“At last you begin to appreciate my wisdom.”

  “Did you know Maddy’s off on her travels?”

  “If you mean have I been Facebook stalking her so I know her every move…then yes.And Sasha.”

  Evelyn looked at him ruefully.“Well I guess that’s one good thing about Josh.He’s not on Facebook much so I get a clean break.Even if I have got Zac giving me regular updates on him.”

  “Wow, we’re terrible at moving on, aren’t we?”

  “The worst.”

  “Who’d have thought we’d be the two left behind?”Matt looked at Evie and suddenly felt something, a kind of spark.Slowly they leaned forward and kissed, lightly caressing each other’s lips.

  “You two done out there?”Brody called.

  Matt and Evelyn parted, smiling awkwardly at each other.“Yes!”Matt called back.

  Brody came out to join them.“Did you see where Justin went to?”

***

Justin had Samantha pushed up against the wall in a storeroom, the two of them kissing frantically as they fumbled with each other’s clothes.“I want you to know, I don’t normally do this,”Samantha commented.

  “Me neither,”Justin agreed in a tone that wasn’t entirely sincere.

  “Just so I know you’ll respect me afterwards.”

  “I’m expecting to.”

  The conversation ended as they abruptly got down to business.

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

Billie was on her way to work, pushing memories of the sighting of Doctor Benson out of her mind.She knew she was being paranoid, of course.There was no way Samantha could remember the exact day she’d seen her and the records had all been altered.It had just thrown her, seeing someone who could possibly provide a clue to the truth that she’d so carefully buried and expose the whole lie that her life was built on.

  Then she stopped in her tracks.Samantha was walking across the grass towards her.Even stranger, she was involved in a flirtatious chat with Justin.

  Samantha gave Justin a kiss goodbye as he headed off in the direction of the wharf, then seemed to spot Billie and make a beeline for her.“Hey…Belinda isn’t it?From the gym?”

  Billie nodded awkwardly.“I didn’t know you knew Justin.”

  “I met him through his sister.”

  “And you’re…seeing each other?”

  “It’s early days but yeah.So I guess you’ll be seeing me around the Bay a bit more.”

  Billie tried to smile, even though it was the last thing she wanted.“Guess I will.”

  Samantha looked down at her baby bump.“You must be nearly there.”

  “Two or three months.Bet you can’t remember how I found out.”

  “Sure I can.There was some hostage situation with an ex-cop.You fainted and they thought you’d hit your head but turns out this one was causing it.”

  Billie winced.Of course.Samantha might not be able to remember the date but VJ would.Her last clash with Dylan had been straight after they’d first slept together…not long enough for her to show up as pregnant.“Yeah, that’s right.Sorry, I have to get to work.”

***

Inside the gym, Dexter was standing with punching pads on his hands as Lottie punched them.He sighed. “Okay, if you’re not hurting my arms, then you really aren’t hitting hard enough.I get a strain opening a jar of peanut butter.”

  Lottie punched again.“Keep talking, it’s increasing my aggression levels.”

  “Nice to know I can push your berserk button.”

  “It’s not that…”-Lottie delivered several more punches as she spoke-“…you’re just the perfect person to…bring out my…competitive streak!”

  Dexter did his best to stifle a yelp of agony.“Glad to be of service.”

  “Come on, I want to try out the treadmill!”

  As they moved off, Billie came in.Kat looked up from the counter.“You okay?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine,”Billie insisted, not breaking stride.

  “Are you sure?Because you look kind of preoccupied.”

  “I said I’m fine,”Billie repeated, trying her best not to sound irritated,“I’ll be in the office.”

***

VJ and Jordan closed their lockers.“This is it then,”VJ noted.

  Jordan nodded.“Start of finals.”

  “Good luck.”

  “You too.”

  Olivia wheeled her way in through the front door.It was the first time she’d been to school since the accident and her new status brought a number of stares which she did her best to ignore, plastering on a smile.“You made it then,”VJ commented.

  “Yep.Didn’t even need to break any speed limits.”She noticed VJ staring at her hard.“What’s the matter?”

  VJ wondered if he was being indelicate but he had to ask.“Is that school uniform a size up from what you used to wear?”

  Olivia winced.“Yes, it turns out that being in a wheelchair means the old one wasn’t as…modest as it used to be.”

  VJ gave a grimace of sympathy.“Ouch.”

  “All right, everyone, exam’s about to start,”Zac called out,“Make your way through.”He spoke quietly to Olivia.“I’ve spoken to the Department and they’ve agreed special dispensation for the work you’ve missed.”

  Olivia nodded.“Let’s get on with this then.”

***

Evelyn was at home when she heard the knock on the door.Looking round, she saw Matt standing in the doorway.“Hi,”he greeted her awkwardly.

  “Hey, Matt, come in,”she answered cheerily.

  Matt cautiously did as instructed.“So…are we going to talk about what happened?”He let the question hang in the air, expecting an answer.He didn’t get one.“We kissed,”he prompted.

  “We did,”Evelyn agreed with a smile.

  Matt waited for her to say more and realised she wasn’t going to.“Is that a problem?”

  “I thought it went quite well.”

  “Well…yeah.”

  Evelyn moved closer.“So..?”

  Matt smiled, understanding the invitation.“So.”

  They kissed again, with more passion this time.When the kiss broke, Evelyn took Matt’s hand. “Upstairs,”she said simply.Matt nodded and she led him up to her room.

***

Lottie cautiously approached the counter where Billie was leafing through files.Dexter had left some time earlier but her attention had been drawn to the gym worker that she’d only exchanged a few words with. She cleared her throat.“We don’t really know each other so you can tell me to get lost if you want but…is something bothering you?”

  Billie looked up.She stared at Lottie for a long moment, as if she’d almost forgotten who she was.But the urge to unburden herself won out.“You know how you can tell a lie.And you almost don’t mean to tell it, it just sort of comes out.And you convince yourself that you’re doing it for the right reasons, that it’s for the best.And it just kind of snowballs until suddenly…suddenly it’s your entire life.”

  Lottie paused.“Not precisely,”she said at last.Billie looked away and Lottie quickly continued, not wanting to lose the moment of honesty.“But I do know that my parents chose to keep a secret.They thought they were doing the right thing, keeping our family together.Instead they broke it apart.Destroyed it from the inside.”

  Billie swallowed hard.“If this secret comes out…I could lose everything.”

  Lottie shrugged.“Guess you have to decide if keeping it would be even worse.”

***

Matt and Evelyn lay in bed looking at each other.“Well…that was unexpected,”Matt commented.

  Evelyn mulled the description over in her head.“Yeah, I’d go with that.”

  Matt tried to get his head round it and just ended up looking even more bewildered.“So…what was this? A one-off?Are we…friends with benefits?”

  Evelyn considered the question.“How about…exclusive?”

  Matt was surprised.“You’d want that?”

  Evelyn nodded.“I’m not saying I’m in love with you or that I think we’re going to get married…”

  “Guess we’ve both been burnt a few times there.”

  “But I think we should carry on seeing each other…”

  “…and only each other,”Matt clarified.

  Evelyn nodded in confirmation.“…and see how it goes.”

  Matt thought for a moment.“Sounds like a plan.”

  Evelyn gave him a quick kiss.“It’s a deal then, boyfriend.”

***

Lottie arrived back at the farm to find Dexter slouching on the sofa, a bowl of snacks in front of him.She raised an eyebrow.“Have you been there since you got back?”

  “It’s important to get the balance right in exercise.Afterwards you need to replenish…stuff.”He held out his arms and she accepted the invitation, sitting down next to him and snuggling up to him.He kissed her on the top of the head.“So, what have you been up to?”

  “I think I made a new friend.”

  “Good for you.Anyone I know?”

  “Billie, VJ’s girlfriend.It felt like she needed a friend, like she needed help.”

  “You think you helped her?”

  Lottie bit her lip nervously.“I’m not sure,”she admitted.

***

Billie sat nervously on the sofa at the beach house, hands folded over her lap as she prepared for one of the most difficult conversations of her life.A moment later, VJ came in.“I got your message, what’s going on?”

  “How did your exam go?”Billie asked.

  “Yeah, okay.”VJ looked at her, confused, waiting for her to go on.“Was that it?”

  Billie took a deep breath.“Sit down.”She waited for him to take a seat on the sofa while she remained in her chair.“VJ, you know I love you, all right?You’re one of the kindest people I’ve ever known and the two of us together, raising this baby…it’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”

  “Yeah, it’s what I want too,”VJ promised her.

  “It might not be when you hear this.”Billie steeled herself, waiting for it to all come crashing down.“The baby isn’t yours.”

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Hope you all enjoy!

CHAPTER TWENTY

“How could you do this to me?”VJ demanded, on his feet again and looking at Billie with fury.

  “I’m sorry,”Billie said quietly, struggling to hold back her tears, both at the hurt she’d caused him and the way he was looking at her, as if suddenly he hated her.“I really wish you were the father, there’s no-one whose baby I’d rather be carrying…”

  “Did you know all along?Did you only get together with me because you were pregnant, because you wanted to suck me into providing for you?”

  “No, no,”Billie insisted,“We were together before I found out I was pregnant.”She bit her lip slightly, her newfound commitment to honesty causing her to add “Sort of.I found out before the funeral.”

  She saw VJ casting his mind back.“You’re sure?”

  Billie nodded.“The dates…it must have happened two weeks before us.”

  “And you’ve known that since then?Since you found out you were pregnant?”

  “Yes.VJ, please, you’ve got to believe me, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you, you’re the last person in the world I’d want to hurt…”

  “Really?”There was a disbelieving tone to VJ’s words.“Billie, I loved you, I never would have done anything like this to you.If you’ve done it to me, then you’ve never cared about me at all.”And with that, he walked out.

***

Dexter and Lottie were standing on the beach, some way from the water, looking out to sea.“I’d kind of forgotten how much I liked this place,”Lottie admitted,“Just being here on the beach, taking in the sights, all the natural beauty…”She paused and glanced at Dexter.He seemed to be mostly focussing his gaze on a group of girls in bikinis surfing nearby.Lottie hit him on the arm.

  “Sorry,”Dexter replied, coming to,“I was just taking in the sights…natural beauty.Do you fancy investing in a bikini now we’re back here?”

  Lottie grimaced slightly.“I’m still not very good with water.”

  “No, right, of course.”Dexter was aware that Lottie had steered clear of the sea since her brother’s drowning.“Maybe just get one for lying around on the beach?”

  Lottie rolled her eyes.“Keep this up and I’ll think you’re just with me for my body.”

  “Would that be such a bad thing?”Dexter fell into step with her as they wandered up towards the headland.“So, you’ve already started giving the locals friendly advice then?”

  Lottie nodded.“I just hope it turned out okay.”

***

“I can’t believe she’d do this!”Leah’s fury almost matched VJ.It was just the two of them in the house. Zac, Evelyn and, for reasons she hadn’t quite grasped, Matt had been in the house when he’d turned up but Leah had convinced them to give them some space.It was obvious that something was upsetting VJ. Now she understood what.

  “Neither can I,”VJ agreed,“What did I do to her?”

  “Nothing,”Leah told him softly.She sat down on the couch next to him and put her arms round him.“She could see that you were a good kind boy, not like whoever it was that got her pregnant and then disappeared.Did she say who it was?”

  “No, I didn’t ask.Do you think it’s someone we know?”

  “Who knows?”Leah’s anger returned.“Honestly, we accepted her, we made her part of this family, we loved her and the baby and all the time she’s been lying to us.I’ve a good mind to go round there and tell her exactly what we think of her.”

  “Don’t.”VJ shook his head sadly.“It doesn’t matter.”

***

“Order for table three,”Irene announced.

  Olivia turned round in her chair and Irene passed her the tray, containing two drinks and two plates of food.Olivia placed it on her lap, making sure it was securely balanced, then turned round and wheeled herself over to the table where Mason and Lottie were sitting.“Two coffees, one burger with the lot, one moussaka.Hope you enjoy your meal!”

  Mason smiled fondly at her.“Life in the real world turning out to not be as bad as you thought it’d be?”

  Olivia smiled back.“I’m doing okay, thanks.”

  As Olivia wheeled herself away, clearing a nearby table and piling the plates on her tray, Lottie looked knowingly at Mason.“What?”he demanded.

  “That looked like more than professional interest.”

  Mason shrugged.“Small town, I guess everyone’s sort of a friend.”

  “Mmm.I’m starting to remember.”

  Leah came in, heading behind the counter and dumping her bag in the kitchen with an audible bang. “Well, someone’s not going to start their shift in a good mood,”Roo remarked.

  Leah glared at her.“Don’t, okay?Not today.”

  Roo looked at her, concerned.“What’s the matter?”

  “Oh, only that it turns out I’m not going to be a grandmother after all because Billie lied about VJ being the father all along.”

  Irene turned to her in shock.“What?!”

***

Billie knew that Irene knew the moment she came in the back door.There was a look of furious disappointment on her face that almost matched VJ’s.“Irene, please, let me explain.”

  “Well, I’d like to hear that,”Irene snapped angrily.She walked past Billie, heading for the stairs then turned back to face her.“Why, Billie?Why would you do that to a decent boy like VJ?What possible excuse could you have for not telling the truth?”She turned away.

  “It’s Mick’s,”Billie replied.Irene turned back, a look of shock on her face.She already knew, knew in that moment what had happened.“It’s your son’s.”Billie went on.“It was…a few days before the fundraiser.I was alone in the gym, I was closing up, and…a man with a mask on came in and grabbed me from behind.And…I didn’t want it, I didn’t…I couldn’t do anything about it.And I ended up pregnant.” There were tears in her eyes as she thought back to that time, to memories she’d tried to bury.

  Irene hugged her, holding her gently in her arms.“Are you sure it was Mick?”

  “There was a tattoo.On his left arm.It was like…I don’t know, like a dragon or something, with a long tail and two thick lines across the body…”

  “I saw it,”Irene confirmed.

  “I went to the hospital, after you were found, and I saw it.I didn’t say anything but…I knew who he was and he knew who I was.”

  Irene made soft comforting noises.“And VJ?”

  “VJ was everything that…that what happened to me in the gym wasn’t.Kind and gentle and loving.”She looked pained as the enormity of the deception hit her.“I can’t believe I did that to him.”

  Irene looked her in the eye.“It’s all right,”she promised,“It’ll be all right.”

***

Matt and Evelyn were walking along the beach.They were holding hands…which felt a bit strange but they were getting used to it.“So how long do we have to stay out of the house?”Matt wondered.

  “We could go to your flat,”Evelyn pointed out.

  “Hmm, better not.Roo walking in on me in a compromising position is an experience I only want to have once.”

  Evelyn raised an eyebrow.“Oh, you think we’re going to end up in a compromising position, do you?”

  “I’m going to choose not to answer that on the grounds that it’s not going to end well whatever I say.I do want to propose one thing though.”

  “Which is?”

  “That in our new, exclusive, boyfriend/girlfriend capacity, I invite you to join me for dinner this evening.”

  “At Salt?”

  Matt mulled this over.“Nah, Brody would just make us wait tables.What about the Eagle Boys in Yabbie Creek?”

  “Sounds like a plan.”

  Matt smiled and kissed her.

***

Olivia wheeled herself into the caravan park house.“VJ?”she called out.

  “Over here!”came a voice from the couch.

  She wheeled herself over until she could see him sitting there and then parked herself.“Your mum was in the Diner.She told us about the baby not being yours.I hope that’s okay.”

  VJ shrugged.“I guess everyone’s going to find out sooner or later.”

  “God, I always knew there was something about Billie.Guess I should have trusted my instincts.”

  “I don’t need you saying ‘I told you so’,”VJ snapped.

  “No, I…I’m sorry.”

  “Guess everyone was right in the first place.She was out of my league.”

  “No she wasn’t,”Olivia insisted,“She’s the one that didn’t deserve you, she should have been grateful to have you.”

  VJ was silent for a moment.“I told her I loved her,”he said at last.

  “We all do that.”

  “No, I mean, today, when she told me, I told her I loved her, as if I don’t anymore.But…I do.I still love her.”

  Olivia sighed.“We don’t always love people who are good for us.”

***

Irene sat in the visitors’ room, thinking that coming there could well be one of the worst ideas she’d ever had.But she couldn’t just let the matter drop, couldn’t hide away from it like she’d done after she was rescued.She needed to see him.

  Mick was shown into the area by a prison officer.When his eyes fell on her, she saw the unstable side to him that had frightened her so much but also an almost desperate pleasure that she’d come to see him.She tried to push the thought away, tried to ignore the fact that the child she’d nurtured inside her for nine months, dreamed of loving and bringing up, spent most of her life dreaming about and hoping she’d see one day, was right in front of her…and had caused so much damage to so many people.

  He slid into the seat opposite her.“You came…Mum.”He managed to smile at that.“I knew you would. You’ll get me out of here, right?You’ll get the charges dropped and then…and then we can be together.”

  Irene felt her sympathy towards him evaporate as she realised he really didn’t care about anything he’d done.“I’m not here to get you out,”she told him,“and I’m not here to help you.Maybe I could have done once, maybe you’re right to blame me.Maybe I could have tried harder to keep you, maybe I should have looked for you sooner.Maybe I could have stopped your life turning out like this.But I’m not here to talk about that.”And the smile on his face disappeared completely at her next words:“I’m here to talk about what you did to that girl.”

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