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Clawing at Your Broken Back


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Okay, so this is the next part of my own take on Evie's storyline back in 2016. This is I guess a sequel to Even Love's got to have it's Limits, and shows what happens with her next. Basically, in this timeline, Evie doesn't forgive Josh for what he did, and he turns himself in for Charlotte's murder instead of Andy covering for him. However, unfortunately Andy still breaks him out after his trial, I'd prefer otherwise, but it was necessary for the story, sorry. Anyway, what this story will focus on is Evie's depression and her struggle to cope with everything that happened, which the show should have given more prominence and attention to. Other characters will also have different story changes as well, which will be addressed in later chapters. 

PLEASE READ: So warnings ahead, this story will be dwelling deep into depression, self-hatred and mental health. I'm not planning it to be very graphic (but just in case I will add additional warnings to the chapter when necessary), but  if you do find these details uncomfortable or distressing, firstly I apologise, and suggest that you would avoid this, and I will make aware of any warnings when necessary.  Do not take any of these warnings lightly. I do feel this is important to write, as I really feel, especially regarding current or recent storylines, that they could have taken Evie somewhere near the direction I'm going to take her, and it would have been done (hopefully) really well. So I'm approaching this with a lot of care and a lot of sensitivity towards a very important topic, especially now. So I really hope that I'm doing this right, and greatly appreciate feedback to what you all think. I hope you enjoy reading this (Despite being very heavy material), and please be aware. Also warning to Josh fans, this fic is not friendly towards him, at all. 

Title: Clawing at Your Broken Back,

Type of Fic: Medium/Long fic.

BTTB Rating: T/A.

Main Characters: Evie, Zac, Leah, Matt, Maddy, Billie, Chris, Alf, Mason and other main characters. 

Genre: Angst, Family/Friendship, Drama

Does it contain spoilers: No. 

Any warnings: Detail into mental depression (though nothing graphic, at least at first, but some may find it uncomfortable to read), Adult Themes, Violence and mentions of Character Death. Additional Warnings will be added if necessary and when appropriate. 

Summary: This takes place back in 2016, where her grief and heartbreak has taken a toll on Evie. As she falls deeper into a back hole of depression and self-doubt, can her remaining family and friends notice in time to pull her out? And will she be able to reach out for help?  

Chapter 1:

Zac drummed his fingers against the wheel as he drove back to the house. Silence covered the car like a tattered, rough blanket that was almost suffocating both of them, yet Zac hadn't the slightest idea of how to break through it. It was clear as he looked over to his passenger, his niece, that she didn't know how either. 

Zac felt immensely worried for her. Of course, he'd been worried about her for months now, with one terrible thing after another terrible thing came tumbling down upon them and others, but now his concern reached new heights, which he wasn't sure was possible. It felt like only a couple of weeks ago when Evie spoke to him privately in the morning, before anyone else was awake, telling him that Josh had turned himself in for killing Charlotte. Zac was left completely shocked by the news, news he hadn't expect at all, but he barely had time to comprehend it because then Evie just broke down into his arms, sobbing her heart out and all Zac could do was hold her to his chest and hugged her back, offering her comfort that neither really knew would actually work. The news made him angry, angry that Josh had done this, had let Zac go to prison for something he did, left Hunter (Despite his faults) without a mother, and ultimately would result in the destruction of his family, but what made him most angry inside was that this news seemed like another crushing blow against Evie, who had too much to already cope with. It was as if it was the worst that things could get right now.

Or at least, that was until Josh made a completely idiotic escape attempt with that brother of his, another person whom Zac would not be giving a chance to beforehand, just after sentencing today. Both are on the run now, leaving their trail of heartbreak and chaos behind them. Zac remained angry, but he had something more important now to consider about: how this was concerning Evie. 

They had just came back from the cop station at Yabbie Creek. The whole place was in uproar, with city detectives arriving to investigate the matter and fingers being pointed as to how two fugitives, one who was already in police custody, were able to escape. They had some questions for Evie regarding where she could think they may have gone, or if she even knew beforehand about the attempt, which was so ridiculous that it made Zac wanted to shout at every officer there for making Evie go through it. Evie made it clear to Zac and Leah when they asked her that she was done with Josh, she had no interest in waiting for him,and she was so heartfully earnest about it that neither really had the courage to ask more about it. She didn't even visit him once before his trial and she certainly wasn't going to visit Andy to hatch some scheme, anyone could could tell them that! Thankfully though, it became clear she had no idea regarding the escape attempt so they didn't question her for long, and frankly, Zac believed that the detectives in charge weren't eager to confront an innocent woman about it, especially with the Dylan Carter fiasco still fresh on people's minds. They certainly didn't want to appear to be throwing another innocent person under the bus just to close a case, let alone the niece of a man that Carter had bribed a judge to be locked up. Kat, for example, seemed on edge the entire time at the station. But thankfully, they didn't focus much on her suspected participation, and just asked her questions regarding if she knew where Josh and Andy would go to hide before being let go with no charges or continuing investigation. Zac was grateful for that at least, but his concern for Evie only grew in response. 

Looking quickly at her now, Evie was staring listlessly at the passing road out the window, her eyes glistening but also absent, almost drained, her face was as white as a ghost. It was like that ever since they got news of Josh. There were no cries, no frantic questioning or panicking of what could happen to them. Evie just sat down, put her hands below her chin as if in a prayer and just stared into nothing, as if nothing could really shock her anymore. Zac knew that Evie didn't want anything to do with Josh anymore, but that reaction still surprised him. Still reeling with the news, neither him nor Leah knew how to deal with Evie's reaction, didn't knew how to snap her out of it. Even when McCarthy knocked on the door and informed her that they needed to ask her some questions, she didn't offer any complaints, and apart from some pointed stares at Kat, was completely cooperative while holding her own in proving her innocence, but there was something off about how distant she was. It was as if her whole emotional mind had shut down. Evie had been heartbroken with what happened with Josh, but somehow this was worse than her tears. At least with Josh arrested, she had some semblance to her life, something to try and work on with the chapter of her and Josh put behind her, but now with him in the wind, things became more twisted. Not that she wanted Josh back, but it was as if everything that she thought has become disorientated, the full weight of everything that has happened this year: finding Denny's body, Oscar and Hannah dead, all of it was building and building up until this final point where she could no longer find herself capable of thinking about it. Zac knew where that road could lead and was determined not to let Evie, the last of his family apart from Leah and VJ, not to go through that, not alone. 

Before Zac realised they made it home, they were pulling up through the driveway, the sun had already set down on a really bad day. Evie wasn't in any hurry to get out of the car so Zac decided to break through the silence and get her to open up. He reached out and took her hand into his. "You alright?"

For a moment Zac wanted to let go immediately upon seeing Evie's reaction. It was as if her entire body tensed up upon his touch, her eyes breaking out of her trance to squeeze shut, her hand suddenly trembling uncontrollably in his. But before he could let go, the tension suddenly eased, her hand slowly stilled and she opened her eyes again to turn towards him. "Yeah... it's not great, but I'll be okay." Zac continued to look at her unconvinced. For one thing, Evie wasn't really looking him in the eye, her gaze almost frantically turning left from right, as if searching for anything else to look at. Her voice came out as a hoarse whisper, quiet and almost reluctant to talk. It was clear she was far from okay from the start, Zac knew this, but he knew he had to try and get her talking. "Just still feeling tired", she explained further, hoping that it would be enough for him. Evie knew he didn't believe her, but she also knew she didn't want to be discuss something she was still trying to comprehend, even as she mentally kicking herself, insisting that she keep her face even and her breathing calm, or if she kept being questioned, she felt like she'll fall apart and that's the last thing anyone else wanted right now. 

Zac, far from discouraged however, continued. "They weren't hard on you were they?", a growing edge on his voice as he asked as fears circulated in his head. If these detectives did anything to make Evie uncomfortable, he would make them regret it.

Evie shook her head quickly, her eyes softening in an attempt to reassure him. "No, it wasn't like that at all, not really. They didn't really focus on whether I had anything to do with it for most of the interview."

Evie's voice didn't waver there and she was glad of it, because it was true. She didn't want him to be concerned about something like that. One of the two detectives was bordering on aggressive, jumping to conclusions before she even finished the answer, almost as if he was egging her into confessing, but McCarthy was there the whole time and kept him and the others in line, especially when it became clear to him that Evie had no knowledge of what Andy was going to do. To be honest, as much as she held her own in the investigation, Evie was so tired at that point that she wouldn't have really cared if they did grill her, she was just grateful that Kat wasn't brought in to question her. She hasn't spoken to Kat since she found out that the cop covered for Josh (despite desperate attempts from Kat to try and reach out) and wasn't really eager for any catch-up. 

Zac nodded along with her words, relieved in that sense, but it didn't really shake off his anxiety for her. He could still see the unsettled look of hopelessness on her face, even if Evie was hiding it with a frantic attempt of reassurance and a small smile that felt mechanical than actually real. Even as he made a note to make sure later that she was telling him the truth, He recognised the irony that even as a teacher and as someone who worked in prison for rehabilitation, he was left uncertain of how to reach out to a clearly struggling Evie, even if he was going through grief himself. "Evie... I know what happened is terrible, what Josh did, but-"

"But I'm not gonna think about it anymore," Evie replied quickly, showing resolve, even if her eyes remained unfocused. She's been telling herself this ever since she heard the news. She didn't know if she should be feeling angry, or shock or anything other than the numbness that had been growing ever since the caravan explosion, but she knew what she was saying next at least. "Josh made his own choices, and... and I'm not letting his affect mine anymore. It's just... not really sure where to go from there, you know? I'm not sure what I'll do, but I'm not going to focus on it." Even then she felt a little bit better just by saying the words. If only keeping to it was as easy as saying it.

Zac nodded encouragingly, giving her a supportive smile. He got her feeling of directionless, but he was glad she shared it with him, to let him know that she wanted to move on from this, and he wanted to wrap his arms around her in a hug, to let her know of his love and support, but stopped himself, mindful of her early reaction. Maybe she was just shocked out of her state of paralysis by it, or else she didn't want Zac to prod to deep, not just after today. Or else there was something else, something that was dragging her down and made her frightened, maybe it had to do with Josh. He needed to find out, but the last thing he wanted was to push her. 

Silence fell again when it became clear that Evie wasn't going to talk anymore. Her face becomes calmer when Zac doesn't push for a deeper reason, while her hand lingered near the car door, as if she wanted to leave the conversation, and walk straight up to the house, but also unwilling to leave first. 

Zac broke the silence again. "Listen, if there's anything you need to talk about, I'm right here."

Evie didn't look at him while she nodded. "I know" she replied, as if almost reluctant. "I mean... I know with everything going on with you and Leah, and VJ and... all the rest, I don't want to make things even more difficult...". She trailed off, not sure what else to say other than difficult like before, and she didn't want to say that, not when she was trying to convince Zac she was alright, not while she herself was very confused as to why she felt so nervous about it. Or why she felt resigned when Zac shook his head. 

"That doesn't matter. Leah's still trying to help VJ's cope with everything with him and Billie, as well as making sense as to what it means for her too, but that doesn't mean you can't ever come to us. I know you're an adult now, grown into a brilliant young woman, but-"

"No, no, I know I can talk to you" Evie interrupted him, forcing a quick smile, nodding as if she was trying to persuade herself that she knew it. She was glad that Zac opened his car door and stepped out as he was nodding, allowing her to do the same. She felt guilty about it, but right now she needed to be alone. "I just need some sleep, but thank you."

------ 

Evie almost ran up the stairs, careful not to draw any attention, walked straight to the window in her room after closing her door and leaned on her hands against the window sill, her nails scratching against something solid. That helped a small bit, it helped her feel grounded. She attempted deep breaths through her nose to calm herself, to ease the aches she was feeling in her chest without knowing why they were there. It felt horrible, as if the tiredness and the numbness she was experiencing were building walls inside her to cut off her breath, to drown her, only for these walls to be battered by a surge of restless agitation that in it's own way was knocking her off her feet. She didn't know what was going on with her. She should be able to talk to her uncle, it would be good, he was one of the few people she had left. She felt he needed it as much as Evie probably did. Why, then, was she filled with such a crushing anxiety and a desire to just be left alone, even from him? She couldn't look Zac in the eye because she couldn't bare to see his sympathy, but what explained the way she tensed once he held her hand? Zac was trying to help her, she knew that, she didn't feel frightened by him, not at all, but the weight of his hand felt far more heavy than it had a right to be. It was as if Evie's body was reminding her that she didn't deserve his comfort, didn't deserve his help. Zac was the one who rescued her from her own father, gave her a life that she didn't knew then she wanted. They had their struggles, but he always tried to look after and cares for those he knows needs it, and Evie knew that. It's just now she was doubting if she ever deserved that care. 

Care. That was an easy word to say, with so much meaning behind it, and yet it can be such an easy promise to break. Josh should how much he cared when he decided to flee with Andy. Apparently those words of him wanting to make things right were as real as his promises he made ages ago that she won't lose him. 

That was the closest she could get to explaining how stunned Evie felt when she heard the news. She decided not to go to the courthouse, ignoring the ever-shrinking piece in her heart that protested that she should be there when she really shouldn't. So it came to Ash rushing from the courthouse to tell them what happened, that Andy had broken Josh out and were on the run. She wasn't shocked, in fact, she didn't have much reason to be. Her mind just shut off any desire to react, because she didn't know how else to react, not after all of this. She didn't feel anything with the news, other than a small slimmer of disappointment that Josh decided to run rather than face the consequences, but maybe she expected too much of him once again. She didn't want to think about Josh, he didn't deserve anymore of her attention, yet that voice, that voice lurking in her head, the one that taunted her every step, was provoking her to think about him, making her ask her if maybe she always demanded, rather than expected too much of him, maybe she had pushed Josh too far, leaving him alone which led to- 

Evie shook her head tightly, bringing her hands to her hair as if that way she was able to throw the thought by it's roots out of her head as she moved away and sat down on her bed. She's not Josh, she didn't make him shoot Charlotte, or beg him to cover it up. She wasn't responsible for his decisions. Zac and Leah and everyone else insisted that she wasn't to blame for what he did, and she stood her ground no matter many passers by with newspapers stared at her as she walked by, or when Hunter confronted her about it. She was telling herself that she couldn't hold herself responsible for what happened with Josh and she was almost able to believe it, but that didn't stop the parade of her own mistakes, her own choices, that kept her up at night. Her father, Granger, Tamara, Maddy, Tank... 

She laid back and curled up in the bed, wrapping her arms around her waist in an attempt to quench the growing, vacant hole in her stomach, aching and squeezing her with overwhelming, nauseating self-disgust and misery. She hated herself as much as she hated Josh right now, for thinking about him when she swore not to, for thinking about him when Oscar and Hannah were still dead while she was still here. Oscar, who had so much of life ahead of him and was the kindest, smartest, most wonderful person she had ever known, and Hannah, who took them in, was always a supporting shoulder, and was recovering so well with Chris, are dead and tears leak down Evie's face when she realises that she can't untangle their desolate obituaries on their tombstones from the living, breathing people that she couldn't imagine her life without. She raised her hand and tried to sweep the tears away, knowing she had no right to cry about it, not now.  Even though she realises that she's grieving for Oscar and Hannah, her family, rather than Josh, Evie also knows she's grieving for herself, for all the time she's lost with them, for the cutting of her closest connections she's ever had. And the hate reared and struck at her like a viper, telling her that her tears for herself were pathetic, that she had no right to cry when she was still here, when better people were gone. It all felt like a nightmare, everything tilted out of place and she can't do anything about it. There's no-one to wake her up from it, no-one to help her stop her limbs trembling in shaky movements, nothing to convince her that there's something ahead in life and this world other than this endless sorrow and agony. 

And Evie felt like she deserved it. She wanted to be there for Zac, and Leah, and Matt and Chris and Billie and VJ and everyone else she has left in her life, but she almost welcomed every bit of hate for herself that fills her if it didn't hurt so much, because she couldn't silent that convincing voice in her head that was persuading her she deserved it. And all else she could feel was complete terror of it. 

Okay, that's my first chapter done. This was really difficult to write, but it's important for the story. I hope I did a good job explaining poor Evie's headspace right now. She's not in a good place, and she's struggling to put a brave front, particularly when it comes to Josh, but It'll be a long road for her to tackle all of these negative feelings in a healthy way. Very sorry if this made you uncomfortable in any way again. I would appreciate your feedback. Thanks guys! 

Edited by D.B
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Okay, so this is the next part of my own take on Evie's storyline back in 2016. This is I guess a sequel to Even Love's got to have it's Limits, and shows what happens with her next. Basically, in thi

I forgot to comment before, but I'm loving this story so far and glad you decided to write it! I always wanted them to explore this in the show more. I feel like you've captured all the character

Glad you liked it and thank you! I did go back and skim the first couple of pages earlier and I was obviously enjoying writing Matt and Evie together, I'd forgotten how much there was of them! I

On 16/11/2020 at 18:13, Red Ranger 1 said:

Very well written again and good to get both their perspectives: Zac's helplessness and Evie's avalanche of self-hatred. Looking forward to more!

Thanks Red, really glad you liked it! I felt it was important to show how other characters are feeling and would be going through a lot at the same time, and that's going to continue in other chapters. Zac's lost a lot of people too, and so he's desperate to help Evie, but is very unsure how to, and that hurts him. He's also has to deal with the drama with Leah and VJ (As well as others that will be revealed soon), so that make things more difficult.

Unfortunately Evie's feelings of self-hatred is just the start of the depression she'll be feeling, and what makes it worse is that she feels as if she shouldn't reach out to anyone. She's trying not to think about Josh, but she can't help it, and she'll want to keep it bottled down, and more of this is going to be explored (as it should have been on the show...).

Next chapter will be up soon hopefully next week. 

Edited by D.B
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On 21/11/2020 at 13:23, pembie said:

Good start and well written but this might be bit to dark with the year I have had lol

Thanks Pembie. Yeah, this is not going to be light material, not at all. I myself am surprised that I'm going this dark with one of my favourite characters, but I felt as though I had to write it, just as a way of taking my mind off things and just to see where the show could have gone with something like this. So sorry if it made you feel uncomfortable though and I'm really sorry to hear this year's been hard on you, it's been hard on us all. If you don't want to continue with the story, I completely understand but thank you so much for commenting on it, it is greatly appreciated. 

Well, here's my second chapter. Thanks to Quiet Achiever, Red Ranger 1 and Pembie for your kind feedback.

WARNINGS: This chapter dwells more into mental anxiety and depression than the first chapter, so if you think any of these details would make you uncomfortable or distressed, I would greatly suggest you'd avoid this. I'm very sorry, and I hope you are well. This chapter also depicts what I experienced during my own depression a few years ago, what my therapist referred to as 'the critic': a voice in my head that had taunted me with every decision I made, and made me afraid to talk to anyone about, which only made things worse. This chapter depicts Evie dealing with her own critic, which has been the voice in her head mentioned in the previous chapter. This is important to highlight because I want to underline that she's just trying to cope with her own insecurities in this chapter which emerge from her own trauma, and that's what the voice represents. I didn't want to leave any impression that she's going crazy or being weak, which is not what's happening at all and would be rather offensive. So I hope you understand where I'm going with this, and that I'm trying to represent this side of mental health which as much respect as possible. Again, if you don't feel like you should read it, then I suggest you don't. Otherwise, please read carefully and I hope I did a good job writing it. 

Chapter 2:

The person Evie was looking at was unrecognisable. The tense shoulders that looked moments away from collapsing, the frazzled brunette curls poorly brushed that messily tumbled across those shoulders, strands stuck between her ears, and brown eyes that looked so withdrawn, so drained of colour, that they were close to mirroring the heavy, dark bags that lingered beneath, it was almost as if this wasn't her reflection in the mirror, as if all these desperate sad features belonged to another person, a stranger, who hadn't the slightest idea of how she got there. But it wasn't; she knew exactly who this was. 

And be honest with yourself, that inner thought that skulked and smirked inside her whispered. You knew how you got here, step by step. It's only now you're realising it. 

Evie sighed, moving away from the mirror after getting dressed. She didn't sleep at all last night. She'd been having trouble sleeping for a while now, but this is the first time she couldn't even close her eyes at all. She couldn't because she was afraid. Afraid of the same nightmare over and over again when she drifted off: Music and dancing cut short by a vast, grinding roar with flames so bright they could have come from the sun, blood glistening on the ground, a pale hand sticking from behind a white sheet- 

Evie's entire focus for hours was set on keeping herself from crying in the dark, or at the very least, keeping herself from crying too loudly to make noise. She scratched deeply into her arms with one hand (as if to keep pressure) while another covered her mouth, her teeth clamped shut to try and make sure no noise escaped other than shallow breaths. The last thing she wanted was to wake anyone up. Zac, who was busy keeping his family together and still trying to make a decision about Hunter where everyone else has already taken a side, didn't need it. Leah, who's anxiety for VJ's struggle with becoming a father and studying for school was mixed with her joy of the idea of having a grandchild, didn't need it. She knew they were concerned, but she didn't need to make their concern worse, no one needed to hear her problems because it was stupid. She was being stupid, she was lucky to get out of there alive, so why was she reliving the images of the worst day of her live over and over again? Was everyone else who was there that day experiencing that? Was Roo, was Matt? It wasn't the first time she dreamt of it, but it was the first time she did it alone. It started a few days after the funeral, and she woke up from it gasping, just seconds away from sobbing... with Josh beside her. Now all those memories of her in his warm, comforting arms, that used to be so sweet, now made her skin crawl at the memory of being so close with a liar, a killer. And she couldn't get those memories out of her head, like they were ironed into her head, her body. 

The first time she can ever remember waking up from a nightmare screaming was when she was, maybe six or five. She couldn't even remember what it was she was so scared about, but she remembered running as fast as she could towards her parents' room. Her dad was fast asleep, but her Mom didn't say a word as she woke to the tugging of her sleeve, and simply hugged Evie close and tightly, rocking her and telling her there was nothing to worry her head about, she was safe. And Evie could fall asleep again, knowing that as long as there was the four of them, it would be fine. 

Three years. It took three years for all of that, all of them, to be taken away, and she was left, and it's wasn't fine. 

Evie remained standing in the center of her room, catching her breath and steadying her face, preparing herself before anyone can take a look at her. She looked a mess, but she had to try and downplay it as much as she could. She knew it would be easy just to sneak up to the hospital, ask Nate for something to help her sleep, but she didn't want to. Firstly, Evie wasn't sure if she could trust Nate not to tell Zac about it. Even if she spoke to that new doctor Tori, she couldn't take the risk of Nate or anyone else finding out. Secondly, and maybe it was incredibly petty of her, but Evie didn't want to be dependent on sleeping pills. She just couldn't. It was one thing to have to rely on people who were better off without her, quite another to rely on something like that.  

She finished her deep breathes, and then opened up the door, keeping her pretense of calm to keep the storm of anxiety and guilt deep down while the storm was trying to push it's way up her throat. She wasn't a little kid anymore, she was an adult now. She could take care of herself, she had to. She's not okay, but she's still here and she's got to remember that. If she was able to convince everyone else that she was coping, they would be happy, and that would make things more bearable. 

------- 

As Evie made her way down the stairs, she was aware how silence fell and everyone's eyes, eyes that were brimming with concern turned to her: Zac and Leah sitting at the table, and VJ at the counter. She shouldn't be surprised, she guessed, not after yesterday, but she still felt uncomfortably self-conscious, like she wanted nothing more than to jump out of her own skin. "Morning", Evie murmured, giving them a small, tired smile as she walked in, keeping it up under their gaze. 

"Hey sweetie," Leah got up, her sympathy clear on her face as she watched the exhausted young woman attempt a smile. Evie looked like a haunted ghost, and that made Leah's sympathy grew, even as Evie moved away to the kitchen, where VJ was already handing her a cup of tea. "You okay? How did you sleep?"

Evie shrugged, that same tired smile on her face. "Just had trouble sleeping, but I guess I should have expected that." Her throat still felt raw, even when she drank, but she was just glad she was awake enough to avoid the first question. Because, maybe she was able to accept that Josh is gone, after what he did, it may be easier than she thought, but apparently accepting that didn't magically make things better or make her feel better. Again, something she should have expected too, but that didn't change anything. So how was she suppose to answer a question like that without lying to them? Quickly and as unsubtle as you can get, Evie turned to VJ to change topic. "So VJ, how's Billie doing?"

Despite Leah's eyes remaining on her with an inkling of wariness, the morning continued, with VJ telling her about Billie's first ultrasound coming up soon, though Evie could detect some tension between him and Leah when he mentioned about getting more shifts with John. Evie just listened through it all, her smiling feeling more genuine at how excited VJ was by it all, while well aware of how Zac and Leah both turned careful glances at her. A bit of irritation rose within her, as if they were expecting her to crack at any second, but Evie kept it down. She did break down before, but it was something no one could afford again, neither could they afford any anger from her when neither Zac nor Leah did anything wrong. She just continued eating, though every bite she took of her breakfast felt slow, felt sluggish, like something she had to just do to get past the day. 

VJ eventually left to school, Leah looking back at him with more worry. "How's he handling things?" Evie softly asked her. 

Leah sighed as she shook her head. "He's excited, and I'm glad for him and Billie, and that he's seriously considering the future... but he's got school to think about, and Ash's been on his case as well. I just want him to have the right balance for everything important right now." 

Evie nodded along. "He'll figure it out. I bet he's just still getting his head around it, but he'll be fine. You did a good job with him," she reassured the older woman with a smile.

Leah nodded with a smile that didn't deter the worry in her eyes. Evie ducked her head down to finish her breakfast, her moment of ease disappearing as she's remembered that the worry in Leah's eyes were for more than just VJ. Silence fell in the kitchen, silence that lasted for at least 2 minutes as Leah read the newspaper and Zac and Evie finished their breakfast, but it was silence that felt like it lasted for 2 years. Evie had finished her breakfast when she sighed, hopeful that frustration wasn't heard in it, as she looked up to see both of them staring at her in a concentrated stare. "Is there anything else you want to talk about?", Evie asked tensely, before wincing at the edge in her voice. So much for not saying the wrong thing, the voice lurked ever so softly. She felt even worse when instead of anger or reprimand, it was still only concern on Zac and Leah's face, that would have warmed her heart if it didn't also increase the weight of guilt. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that, I should-"

"It's okay Evie," Leah stopped her rambling. "It's just that we're worried about you, we're worried about how you're dealing with everything with Josh, on top of everything else. No one can expect you to be alright again after just one night, but-"

Leah froze once she realised she had unconsciously seized Evie's hand while talking. She turned anxiously towards Zac, who looked just as worried. He told her about how tense Evie got when Zac touched her hand yesterday, as if she couldn't bear the idea of someone touching her. Maybe it was her still trying to cope with everything, but both agreed that they'd give her space in that regard. But now Evie was looking at her hand in Leah's like it was a rat, her eyes widening alarmingly while her Adam's apple began gulping. Before Leah could apologise, however, Evie reached out slowly with her other hand and covered Leah's. 

"I know," Evie replied, trying to ignore how fatigued her voice sounded, or how every nerve in her body that was screaming at the touch, or of every reminder of Josh touching her: She trusted Leah and Zac, and she needed them to know that. "But there's not much else I can do with it except... well, just trudge on, I guess. I still have coursework from college to deal with, and a lot of other things to keep me occupied. "And I know that you two have enough on your plates to keeping one eye on me: with Mr Stewart getting better, with VJ, with... with Hunter..." She trailed off, not wanting to reach that topic and felt like kicking herself for mentioning it. Underneath the hopelessness, she still held a ball of fury towards Hunter, and it was taking her all she could not to vent that frustration towards Zac, who rubbed his face as he sighed, a common occurrence whenever Hunter was mentioned nowadays.

Ever since news spread of Josh being arrested for killing Charlotte, Hunter seemed to have gained an attitude worse than when he first came to the Bay, which given how he made his entrance, was saying a lot. He was more angrier than Zac had even saw him. He used every opportunity to get into an argument with Evie (seeming to use her as his scapegoat with Josh behind bars) that would have lead to shouting matches or even something worse if Leah and Zac hadn't intervened and got Hunter to back off. Zac could get it, it was as if for the first time Hunter was mourning for the first time for Charlotte, but he took things too far. He blew off school work, bit VJ's or Olivia's head off too many times to count, and then had the bright idea of trying to confront Josh at the station, only to be turned away. So Hunter went after Andy in a confrontation that Zac had no idea what was about, but knew lead to an attack, as Hunter stabbed Andy in anger. If it hadn't been for Kat following Hunter from the station, who knew what would have happened next.

Hunter was then arrested and was facing a charge of aggravated assault (bordering on attempted murder) as well as arson. And that's when the real anvil dropped on all their heads: Hunter confessed randomly then that he was the one who stole the safe from the diner, causing Marilyn's injury. The same safe that was found next to Denny's corpse. 

It was at this point that any good will anyone in the bay kept for Hunter, with the exception of Olivia, quickly disappeared, especially from Evie and Alf. Hunter swore that he had no idea that Charlotte killed Denny for him, but even Zac had trouble believing that. The safe was found next to Denny's body, that was enough for anyone to be suspicious. The idea of Hunter letting his cousin's corpse lying there in the dirt, all the while appearing to want to make amends... was just too much for him to think about and accept that that was his son. Zac had difficulties talking to anyone else about it, even Leah, without feeling anger or regret. 

Zac shook his head and focused back on Evie.  "That doesn't mean we would never have time for you though, never, you're just as important to us," Zac soothed her. "We just want to make sure you're looking after yourself. You don't need me to tell you this, but stuff like this can't be bottled down." 

Evie kept her head down, concentrating on the table while letting her hair fall around her like a curtain, trying to make sure neither Leah nor Zac saw the tears glimmering in her eyes. Evie just kept nodding, with every muscle in her body working overtime to keep her body rigid. She knew she should be comforted at his words, comforted by the love behind it, but again, she just felt worse. Here was Zac again, always trying to make things better for people around him when apart from his wife and stepson, the last remaining members of his family was someone who was facing a long time in prison and the other didn't deserve his kindness, not when she's screwed up too many times and doesn't know how to make up for it. She didn't respond, but she hoped that would be enough to relax the pair. She then felt Leah rubbing her back with a gentle hand, and tried not to break down at the touch. "It's okay, Evie. It's okay."

It wasn't though. It really wasn't okay. But as long as they were convinced of so, she could pretend. 

----

Water dripped from her hair and made impacts on the sand below. She just came back from a swim, walking towards where she left her towel in the sand, releasing herself into the cold waves that crashed into her as she swam through them. It felt almost as good as it used to, like the waves washed away everything she felt from her body, leaving just her, but the knowledge always came drifting back like the tide that it wasn't that simple, that it all remained clinging to her like a koala to a weary tree.

The problem was with her, Evie knew that. She wasn't the only one who suffered these past few months, she's well aware of that, but everyone else was able to find someway to get by, not forgetting, but getting by in a way that doesn't look like they're obviously seconds away from collapse. Matt, Chris, Irene, everyone else... they're still hurting, but they're finding ways past that hurt, ways of appreciating what they still had. So what was wrong with her that she couldn't? 

"Evie! Evie, wait up!"

She heard the voice, but once she recognised the person calling all she felt was more incentive to keep walking. Evie may not be very keen to talk with much people now, but the person chasing after her was definitely among those she'd avoid meeting at all costs. Her feet carried her towards the beach, but just as she picked up her towel with the intent of walking up to literally anywhere else to dry off, Kat had reached her. Evie looked up expectedly at the cop, waiting to hear her say when she really didn't want to. Kat apparently wanted a conversation, so Evie wasn't going to make things easy by starting it. 

"Evie, hey." Kat put her hands on her waist, looking incredibly awkward and didn't knew where to begin. She can't help but think again and again how much of a mess this all was. Covering for Josh was such a stupid mistake to make, she couldn't believe she compromised herself like that and for so long, even if Josh turned himself in, and now that Andy broke him out, Ash and the garage were looking at ruin. She felt embarrassed having to talk to Evie about it, but she wanted to know what she knew, what Josh could have told her. "I... I didn't want things to end as badly as they did at the station..." Evie didn't reply, just kept gazing at her, her gaze not giving Kat anything to go on as the shorter woman crossed her arms. "But you know, it was my job, and-"

"Really?" Evie interrupted bluntly, her gaze hardening. "I didn't realise you had to keep quiet about Josh, keep it from all of us, you two and.... your little secret, for your job, but my bad, I guess." If Evie was being honest, seeing Kat taken aback by her words, and the sharpness behind those words, felt gratifying, as if she was able to finally find someone other than herself that she deserved to be angry at, not like anyone else. A part of her was screaming for the satisfaction to keep talking, for once. What exactly did Kat expect from her as well, did she want Evie to say Hey, thanks for covering for my fiance's murder?

"Josh said he wanted to be there for you, I... I thought it was the best thing at the time," Kat defended herself while Evie scoffed and walked almost in a circle, as if fighting among herself to either keep listening to her or leave Kat rambling on the beach. Kat was relieved that Josh didn't mention her initial discovery during his confession, but by the silence she personally has been gotten from Evie recently, it was clear Josh spilled the beans to her. "I mean... Evie, you just lost your family, do you really think I was suppose to just dump that on you, just a day after Oscar and Hannah-"

Evie gave a short laugh at that, but with no joy like there should have been, as if Evie was astonished that she would actually use them as a justification. Just like Josh did, Kat guiltily realised . "I don't know the exact time you should have told, I just know you shouldn't have covered for him. But I'll just cut to the chase, and tell you what you really wanted to talk about- no, I didn't tell McCarthy what you knew. I felt like that should come from you, if you ever desire to."

Kat inwardly gave a sigh of relief despite Evie's scathing tone. Despite the waves of shame she's had ever since she confronted Josh, she was glad she didn't have to lose her job over it when she had the best intentions in hand. How exactly that justified things Kat couldn't really explain, but it had to count for something, didn't it? "Look," Kat tried again trying to express her gratitude, "Look, I get you're upset-"

"You haven't an idea of what I'm feeling," Evie really didn't want to hear anything she had to say, no matter how petty it might be, Kat had no right to talk to her about any of it. 

"No, I guess I can't, and I can't speak for Josh, but I just... I promised him I'd give you both time..."

"That's no excuse."

"You know, it wasn't just about him, I didn't want you to get more hurt-"

"No," Evie stepped forward, getting in Kat's space. She was only a fraction of Kat's height, but the frustration and grimness on her face made the cop step back.  "You don't get to turn me into your scapegoat for your decisions. Josh tried to pull the same thing with me before he left, Hunter tried to insist I was to blame for what he did, and you know what, I have enough to hold myself responsible for without you adding to it, when I never asked for it. You had no obligation to so, just as I've got no obligation to accept it." Evie kept her anger up, not caring how Kat took that, not caring how the voice who implanted itself in the forefront of her mind, insisting that the anger that she was spewing towards Kat was really for herself, not caring if others were listening even though her voice didn't rise at all from her quiet tone. 

Kat sighed before springing back to her defence. "I didn't mean like that! It's just... I guess I can't ask you to appreciate it, and yeah, I messed up, but you can't just guilt-trip me into confessing because you're upset that I was going to arrest Josh before he confessed, I already put my neck out there for this, my job was put at risk-"

"Well if you're looking for sympathy, well sorry, but that's not happening," Evie snarked back, her tranquil fury remaining. "At this point I don't care whether or not you confess, or what you thought you were doing beforehand. You can do whatever you want, but I'm having no part in it." Kat's arrogance rankled her to the bone. If she really thought all Evie was devastated about was her deciding to arrest Josh after weeks of keeping quiet, she'd rather walk into a road full of rattlesnakes than continue any conversation with her. 

Kat threw her head up, realising that this was no point in continuing this conversation. Even if Evie remained angry with her, Kat just wanted to know she wouldn't go and destroy her career just because she was upset. Despite that, she could see Evie was in a bad place now and didn't want to leave her like that. "Well what exactly do you want me to do, Evie? I want to fix this, but-"

Evie shook her head. She really wasn't getting it. "What I want you to do is leave me alone, because I've got nothing to say to you." And with that, Evie walked away as fast as she could from Kat, away from this hellish conversation. Maybe it was selfish of her, to turn away from someone who made mistakes like her, but if Kat couldn't recognise it, truly recognise it, then Evie didn't know what she could do for her. 

------ 

Her fists mechanically bumped against the bag, causing it to jump and drop back again for Evie's fists, covered in gloves, to hit it again. She was never really the athletic type, well, doing enough of it to stay healthy, but not as into it as a lot of other people were, and she never really thought she would be that into it as she was now, but she needed it, and the need felt good for once, as now she could tell herself that the need didn't make her feel like wasting anyone else's time. She needed it, after it was clear Kat really didn't get how Evie never asked for her to cover for Josh and to appreciate it. Losing Josh would have hurt, but even if they remained together, that a murder (Regardless of Josh's intentions, or what Charlotte did) would be hanging over their heads their whole time meant she still lost. There was no way to win in that mess. The only thing that made her feel slightly better, the only thing that covered what remained of the love she felt, was that she made sure she didn't make things worse by actually covering for Josh herself. She knew where that road lied, she walked down that road with Oscar not long ago. She thought by doing so things would have worked out for them, when all it did was make things worse (and even then it could have been ten times worse had Oscar hadn't eventually confessed). It wasn't fair on Oscar, it wasn't fair on Zac, it wasn't fair on Tamara, and that was her own selfish doing, but she couldn't let herself walk down there again. 

Here, she could keep those memories down, buried deep. Here, it was just her and the punching bag, it's chains rattling above it at every punch. She could put in everything that wasn't washed away by the water, everything that boiled up in her that she was determined not to drop on anyone else into her punches, the weight of her emotions that scratched and pounded her from the inside pummelled the bag. Even with the gloves on, her knuckles felt raw, felt irritated, and she welcomed that too, she would have welcomed it even if she was bare-fisted (though the staff insisted she wore gloves), just to distract herself from the numbing sadness that was in her. 

"Well, that probably helps, but really doesn't feel like a fair fight if it can't hit back." The voice startled her from her next punch, though she couldn't really be that annoyed by it. She didn't even have to try and hide any frustration, because there was none, only a twinge of relaxation as she turned with a grin that felt for a second warm towards Matt, who was holding a mischievous grin of his own that didn't match the gentleness in his eyes. 

Evie shrugged sheepishly, preparing a little comeback of her own for old times sake. "Do you want to take the bag's place?"

Matt's grin widened at that. "Nah, it seems to be holding it's own. Haven't seen you around here in a while. Then again, I guess you've been busy."

"Yeah, I guess I have." The easiness she felt was gradually disappearing, replaced by a twitchiness, and not just in her hands. She kept it down because it felt good to see Matt, no matter what he wanted to talk about, one of her last true friends, a complete goofball, but a nice guy she knew she could rely on. Just like Josh, eh? She grimaced against the dark voice again, trying hard to keep it from butting in as she concentrated on Matt again. "So, how have you've been?"

Matt shrugged. "Getting by everyday, I guess. Been helping out with Ash with the garage now with... well, with less staff now." Not sure what else to say, Matt decided to press forward to what he really wanted to talk to Evie about. "I meant to see you after Josh left, but Zac said you already went to bed-"

"Yeah, I didn't really felt like seeing anyone, I'm sorry," Evie offered an apologetic smile that she hoped didn't indicate how on edge she was feeling. She felt embarrassed that Matt, who was recovering from a break-up himself, went to try and helped her when she felt she didn't give enough for him when Maddy left, competing with a gratefulness that he tried anyway and a frustration that boiled like a furnace, because why was everyone seemed so urgent to talk to her about Josh? It was bad enough that she was still dealing with it without everyone trying to bring him into conversation, and that made her feel even worse because Matt didn't deserve any of that frustration, and it felt like a loosing battle to keep it deep below her, away from people who didn't deserve it, unlike her. "I'm just... I don't know, just trying to keep moving, and feel less like a mess."

Matt nodded, though in his own head alarms were ringing out of concern. He missed Josh, though that itself was soured by the fact that his friend covered up a murder, and let everyone else get blamed for it. Evie must have felt heartbroken, but he wouldn't have been able to tell though. She seemed to have cut herself off from the Bay ever since then. She kept herself busy in work, barely seemed to leave the house, and even when she went out to talk to people, like when Matt introduced her to Mason, it didn't feel like she was really present, like she was forcing herself to be there, and that troubled Matt like nothing else. He wanted Evie to be there for the sake of being there, not because she felt like she had to for any of them. He was also expecting more of a reaction from her about Josh's getaway than what she was showing to the world. He was glad she wasn't an emotional wreck, but he also hated the idea of her feeling isolated.

Evie could see Matt was troubled, and she hated the idea that he was troubled about her. She should have been more of a friend without having to drop her issues onto him, so she broke his train of thought. "So, what brings you here?"

"Thought I'd run into you here," Matt answered truthfully, his face earnest. Even if she didn't want to talk about Josh now, she still didn't have to be alone. "Look, if you don't want to talk about it, I get it, we won't. But I still missed you seeing you around. It feels like we've haven't had time in ages. Also, Chris keeps insisting that I'd stop fraternizing with, quote unquote, "the enemy", meaning the Morgans, so I need new company," he added humorously, hiding a smile when he saw Evie's mouth quirk upwards at that. 

"I missed seeing you too," Evie admitted. She and Matt were the last of their friend group, she loved hanging out with him. It was just that after everything with Maddy, the last thing Matt needed was to deal with her heartbreak, while he was dealing with his own. Though maybe that's what they both needed. If she couldn't talk about Josh, then it wouldn't be right for her to talk to him about Maddy, but they could still hang out and talk, like normal friends, without her feeling the pressure of taking up his time. "I didn't really think you needed someone else moping about their love-life, but yeah, it'd be good to hang out." Like she could pretend, even for a second, that she was back in her normal life again.

The smile Matt gave her was so precious, presenting so much relief and happiness in it. "I always have time for you Maguire, no matter what's heading your way." Evie comprehended his words that should have made her feel happy in return if it wasn't for her wreck of nervousness. Blocking out the headache that was thumping in her head, Evie kept her smile up, put away the gloves and walked over to Matt. "Thanks. So, what do you say Page, you wanna watch Chris and these Morgans go at it like housewives?"

Matt laughed at that, which just about eased the pit in Evie's stomach, just to see she did something right. "Well, it's more than arguing housewives," he replied smugly as they both walked out of the gym. "At this point, it's leading to thermonuclear war!" 

----

Evie dragged a comb through her wet hair, a towel wrapped around her shoulders after she dried off from a shower. She had a good time with Matt today, doing nothing special, just hanging out and taking joy in each other's company, whether it was joking at the diner or just walking on the dune grass. For a moment, it felt as though she could actually be happy, like it was before the caravan explosion, before Josh confessed, before everything. But now, alone, the loathing flooded back to remind her how selfish and needy she was being.  

Seeing her friend just being happy to be spending time with her should have made her feel content, yet all it did was encourage the voice that spread thunder in her to insist that Matt wouldn't be so happy if he knew the real her, how she couldn't sleep anymore, how she couldn't properly look people in the eyes anymore, how everytime he edged closer to her, she felt trapped inside a locked box and she felt like desperately begging to get away, which was even more pitiful when he did nothing wrong. That she didn't deserve to feel happy around him, or anyone else. Evie knew that already, knowing every moment care and support she was given from Matt, or Zac or Leah, was undeserved, that they all had better things to do, but she still accepted it, because it made everyone else happy, and that's what she should be doing, isn't it, just making everyone else happy as possible?

What are you really think, that it makes them happy, or does it make yourself feel good, even just for a second?

That voice, that damn voice with it's silky contempt for her, was stuck in her and Evie didn't knew how to silence it, and she didn't knew if she even should. Maybe the voice was just trying to tell her what deep down, what she knew all along. Gritting her teeth, she gripped the sink with one hand, knuckles white, while throwing the comb away with the other. She hated that she couldn't really talk to anyone how she really felt, not Matt, not anyone, but it was for the best. "It makes them happy, I've got to make them happy," Evie told herself, knowing how ridiculous, almost insane it was that she was talking to herself, but just saying made her convictions solid. It wasn't about her, it was about them.  

Oh sure, I'd bet it makes them real happy to be wasting so much of their compassion for a screw-up, someone who can't hold onto a single good thing in her life!

"That's not true, it isn't", Evie was feeling more scared by the minute, not so much by the words of voice that was her own that sounded so convincing, but by the fact she was left talking to the voice in her own head, like she was talking to another person. Has she really become that desperate?

It is true, and you know it. You couldn't hold onto Josh, for one thing. He said he kept quiet for you, so you two could have a future, and you threw it back in his face without a single thought-

"That's not how it was." Now Evie was hating how her voice sounded too, it sounded so timid, so weak, as if she didn't believe her own arguments. When she looked up at the mirror, the steam fading away on the screen, she didn't know what to think, because she almost felt as if her reflection was glaring back at her, taunting her weakness and stupidity. "I couldn't stand by him, not after what he did. He made the decision to leave, not me." 

He left because there was nothing left for him, not after you gave up. You hold onto so much anger at him, and at Kat, but deep down, it's as if you know the anger's for yourself, for losing another person you cared about. You're the reason he went blind in the first place, after him and everyone else warning you about Tank, and yet here you are, judging him."

"Doesn't change any of Josh's decisions. Doesn't mean he had to do what he did, and he chose to run. That's what I know. He let everything be built on secrets and lies." Evie didn't need the reminder, because she lived with the agonizing moments of waiting to see if Josh would live or die ever since it happened. But she can't let that change any of Josh's actions. 

And is what you do is any difference? You keep all your feelings hidden from everyone, all your little secrets just like he did. Just like dad did, right until the last time we saw him. Kept insisting that you could all still be a nice little family, right up to when his thugs dragged you away. Even if no one else should care, you keep on lying to your family, your friends... or what's left of them. Shows how much you trust them, I guess. 

"No." Evie shut down that voice, or at least stopped it, glad that her own voice found some steel, the same steel when she confronted Kat, only less gratifying. "That's where you're wrong. It's not about trust. This is not like Josh or Dad. I don't cover up something I did, and I don't let anyone else suffer with my own problems. I got to learn to live with this myself, I deserve it, but no one else deserves to pick up the slack of it. And that's it." 

There was no response to that, as she should have expected. She turned away, wrapped herself up in her pajamas and walked over to her bedroom. She could hear Zac and Leah talking quietly downstairs and kept walking. She hoped that things were okay with them, and that only strengthened her resolve to keep them out of it. Their marriage can't be dealing with her issues, no matter how much she wanted to see them, for them to wrap their arms around her and never let go, and for them to do so without her feeling so strained, without her muscles contracting so much they could almost burst. She collapsed face-first onto her pillow, grabbing the covers to pull over her, grasping onto to them like a lifeline as she repeated her mantra. "Just make them happy, just make them happy, just make them happy..." Evie repeated this over and over again because if she could, she knows where to go from here. She was determined to do this right at least, to make up for a long list of agonizing losses and screw-ups, and then maybe, things would be okay again. 

Okay, some points:

  1.  The scene with Evie arguing with her own 'critic' was based on my own experiences, as stated above. She's just trying to cope with her own insecurities causing her to distance herself from everyone. She's carrying around all these mistakes and she doesn't want to feel like a burden. So everytime she feels frustration or anxiety around someone she cares about, it only serves to fuel the critic, which makes her feel more undeserving of their love. Even when she starts to feel happy being around them, that fear is always lurking underneath, and it'll only grow more, so it's going to take a long time for her to face the critic and to accept the support everyone gives her, and accept that she deserves that love and support. I didn't want anyone to think I was making light of this topic. I'm not trying to impose stereotypes of hearing voices in the head, nor trying to be offensive to those who had lived with these issues in real life (who may suffer different symptoms). This issues remain part of an extremely important discussion, and it effects people in different ways, especially this year, and I wanted to depict it with the upmost respect, because it deserves it. No matter what Evie feels now, she's not insane or weak, and she does deserve love. I hope you can understand where I am coming from, and how her depression impacts her perceptions about herself, and her interactions with other characters. But if anyone does have an issue regarding my writing of it, please inform me so I can do what I can to fix it. Other than that, I hope I did a good job depicting in a respectful manner. 
  2. Hunter being arrested. I have no shame regarding this, because I've always felt Hunter deserved to be locked up for what he did instead of that shameful cop-out we received a year later. I know he didn't know that Charlotte killed Denny until Denny's body was recovered (though he kept quiet about that when Charlotte threatened to expose his secrets), but as I said above, the safe that he stole was found next to her body. Once they find out about his involvement, even a unexperienced rookie cop would look at it and say, "Jeez, I'm spotting a connection here." Him trying to kill Andy is Hunter basically lashing out because he can't get to Josh, and Andy, to him, makes a suitable target. Zac feels as though he can't be in Hunter's corner anymore, not after the truth is revealed, but he still feels uncertain on how he feels anymore. I did slightly hint at this in the last chapter, but I didn't talk about it because I wanted to leave an impression that Zac and Evie were doing their best not to think about it, and I didn't want to upload so much info into one chapter.  So this was one of the character changes I've mentioned before.
  3. Finally, I do apologise if I'm getting any events wrong here, it's been four years ago since this occurred, and while I did look things up as best as I can, events may be happening at the wrong time here, so I'm sorry about that if that's so.

Other than that, I hope I keep doing a good job explaining this, and I really hope you are all doing well during these extremely difficult and even dark times, and just keep on believing in something good. Thanks! 

 

Edited by D.B
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I continue to be impressed by this, and it may help that our views seem to align on a lot of things! I get that the focus is on Evie and what's going on in her head, but I like the little hints of what's going on with other characters like VJ and Hunter, and Matt being her last remaining friend, and Evie actually giving Kat a serve for the right reasons. I look forward to more!

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On 22/11/2020 at 18:08, Red Ranger 1 said:

I continue to be impressed by this, and it may help that our views seem to align on a lot of things! I get that the focus is on Evie and what's going on in her head, but I like the little hints of what's going on with other characters like VJ and Hunter, and Matt being her last remaining friend, and Evie actually giving Kat a serve for the right reasons. I look forward to more!

Thanks so much Red! I'm glad you're still enjoying the writing. I know how sensitive this topic really is and I'm really nervous about getting this right (as well as because of the characters involved) so I'm really glad to have your encouragement, even when I know from our past arguments Evie's far from your favourite character!😁 

This still is kind of weird of me, because I really did like Evie, and I still believe (since it is the point of this fic) that she could have been utilised better as a character, and I hate that in my story, she's experiencing all of these extreme emotions. That said, I felt in her earlier years she made a lot of mistakes, such as forcing Oscar to keep quiet about Tamara's injury, or getting together with Josh while he was still with Maddy, obviously, I didn't like. And while I do believe her character matured in later years and I really started to really like her again, I felt thought it would be a good idea to acknowledge those moments without excusing them, and show how they had a role in how she made her decisions regarding Josh, because she's learned from those mistakes, and how they impact on her mental state (because she needs to let them go at the same time). Part of her wants to reach out for help, but the other part of her cares too much about what's left of her family and friends that she's afraid of letting them down. 

Yeah, while I'm going to keep Evie's well-being as the main focus (with me hopefully keeping up the quality of writing, because I want to her character justice), I wanted to keep up elements of what's happening with other characters because they're all going to contribute later on, and I feel that I should show the relationships Evie has in her life and how they work, particularly with VJ and Billie, Matt and the Morgans (who will be making an appearance soon). I may be giving spoilers here, but

Spoiler

special emphasis is going to be on Billie and Evie's friendship later on in the story. 

 

Matt and Evie's relationship here is going to be like a slow burn, because both are the last of their friend group, so they feel like relying on each other more, but both also want to figure out where they stand with one another, it's going to be something I'm really looking forward to write about while not taking focus away from the other issues. I want to show there's more to Evie than just her own turmoil. What they have is going to be really important for both of them and the last thing either want is to screw that up, but it won't automatically fix things. I hope that makes sense.

Hunter... yeah, the only way I could have written him is him actually facing punishment for what he did (I'm sure you enjoyed that as much as I did!). Even though he's not going to be physically in this story, I wanted to show how he would have reacted to the fallout of Josh confessing and that would have realistically led to tensions with him and Zac and Evie, and there's still lasting effects on that for the both of them.  

Evie shutting down Kat's attempts to defend herself was a lot of fun to write. Kat's still struggling to understand that her decisions weren't for the best for anyone, especially if those decisions do more harm than good. Evie hasn't forgotten that (nor had she forgotten the impression that she helped Dylan Carter in his campaign against Zac), so she has no intention of going easy on her. If I'm going to be honest, I'm not really sure where I'm going with Kat from here on out, but things aren't going to get magically better between her and Evie, if they even will! 

Thanks so much for commenting, I really appreciate the feedback. I will upload another chapter soon. 

Edited by D.B
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I say Evie should keep hanging out with Matt she's needs some light hearted comedy to get through this instead of all the seriousness virbes from the adults

Kat was always a wally so she's not worth worrying about 

 

Lastly glad you got through your depression with those inner thoughts they are as pointless as Kat thinking herself a really outstanding cop lol

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On 23/11/2020 at 22:52, pembie said:

I say Evie should keep hanging out with Matt she's needs some light hearted comedy to get through this instead of all the seriousness virbes from the adults

Kat was always a wally so she's not worth worrying about 

 

Lastly glad you got through your depression with those inner thoughts they are as pointless as Kat thinking herself a really outstanding cop lol

Thanks so much Pembie, I'm so glad you're still liking this. And thank you, those inner thoughts were real pests (just as annoying as Kat really! 😁), but at least now I've gotten a handle on them. 

Matt is basically one of the few shining lights in this story, and while he'll be going through his own issues, he's going to do his best to be there for Evie, and Evie's going to try and be there for him. So there's going to be some more light-hearted moments to come between the two, but it won't be easy sailing for a while.

Edited by D.B
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Thanks everyone for commenting again. I'm really grateful for all the good feedback and support I've been getting. Mental Illness remains something extremely difficult to write about, and I really want to do this properly and with respect, so hopefully I remain on the right track. The Warnings from the previous chapters still apply, especially the ones regarding descriptions of self-hatred and depression, so please do whatever you need to keep yourself safe.

Chapter 3

There was a lot she couldn't have, or didn't want to, expect from what she's experiencing, but what Evie didn't expect, for some reason, was the bottomless pit of uncertainty she felt. It was as if every hour she wanders by the pit just gets bigger, and it hadn't been for the turmoil and jumble of emotions, would have been like a bowl with nothing inside it's hollow. It was as if this pit had reached out and took a hold on her mind, that the only thing it could focus on was that pit, dictating every step she took, every thought she had, no matter how minor. What should she do, how would the others feel, why did she choose so? And all the while, her inner critic just observed, concentrating every ounce of sneering distaste to pile on top of the mesh of her emotions, making everything around her more dreary. As if the colour just drained away into unreachable dark corners everytime she opened her eyes. 

Evie turned in her bed, that feeling emerging that she would like nothing more than to remain there, for how long she wasn't sure, but just to curl into herself, wrapped up in the blankets and keep herself there. However, her brain, or at least the parts of her brain who weren't recovering from sleep deprivation, told her realistically, she couldn't. There was too much for her to keep busy, people to see, assignments for her to complete. She couldn't let her life be put on hold, and even if she could, what would Leah or Zac say if they found clinging to the bed sheets during the middle of the day, unable to move? What would Oscar think if he could have seen her? How pitiful would she appear? All that would accomplish is that they would finally see how worthless she was, how secretly desperate for attention she felt she was, and she didn't want to lose them like that. As selfish as that was, she hated letting them down. And that's what made things more unclear for her. Evie wanted make things as easy for them as she can, that would be the right thing to do, but she couldn't tell if it was because of an obligation, or if it would make her happy to do so as well, as if to demonstrate to herself if she could be happy. And then the critic would remind her not to be entitled, reminding her of her previous words of it being about them, and not herself, not about giving purpose to the train wreck that was her life. It's not their mission to make you feel satisfied, you're eighteen years old. So what is she expected to do, just trudge through life, knowing she didn't deserve to be happy? Will she always feel this way, no matter what she did, and was she suppose to? Is this a repeating circle every day: Eat, work, exercise, not even sleep?

Not that Evie could really find herself to close her eyes to begin with. Whether she was trying to get just a minute of sleep, or else when she found a quiet space away from everyone, and her eyes fastened shut to focus on her breath, when she couldn't bring herself to focus on work, or if the conversations of those around her become too loud and too immense, she finds herself plummeting down into her memories, reliving those consecutive moments that felt like a lifetime yet flashed in front of her like a very fast picture reel of horror. And she has to open her eyes instead, to escape what she sees if only to receive the briefest moment of hope, hope that it was all just a harrowing nightmare, that she would wake up, and those who were lost were still there, still breathing- and then that moment disappears as quickly as it appeared, pushed out by the tormenting reminder (she doesn't need the critic for that) that it was real. Nothing has changed. Most nights Evie gets a least a couple hours of sleep, and she counts herself fortunate.

Using her elbow, Evie stifled back a grimace as she got up, her back aching with every second of movement, and she ignored it. It didn't mattered to her how every nerve and muscle creaked in agony and felt like she was being held down by weights on all side. It didn't matter that she felt almost blinded by the sun shining through the curtains or how the brightness brought a drumming headache. It didn't matter how bleak everything appeared to her now, or how many times she's splash herself with water in an attempt to mask the obvious tiredness with a small bit of makeup to cover. It didn’t matter how she hated looking at the mirror now before washing her face, because she ends up cursing at her own reflection, how it indicated how horrible how she felt. "Get over yourself, Maguire", she groaned as she stood up, feeling her legs as stiff as wooden boards. "Other people have it just as bad, or worse than you, and you don't see them moping around." It took her a moment to realise it was her voice that she heard condemning, not the critic's, no matter how similar they sound. She hated how scared that made her.  She needed to be better than that.

-----

"I'm worried for her, Leah" Zac shook his head as he leaned against the wall next to the diner's counter, talking with Leah, John and Roo. "She's been dodging any attempt from me to talk about anything she may be feeling, she looks like she's about to collapse from exhaustion at any moment and she just buries herself in work. Sometimes it's like I may as well be talking to a wall." 

Leah sighed as she wrote down the next order. She wanted to help Evie too, so very much, but she wasn't entirely sure what they can do at this point. Leah could still remember how tired Evie has been looking for the past few days, as if she didn't get a moment of sleep the night before. It was a miracle she kept awake the entire day. When she tried to ask her about it this morning, Evie just gave her reassurances that were sounding a bit too familiar before heading out. "Both of us made it clear that we were there for her, to be a shoulder to lean on. Now... it is really up to Evie to accept that help. Besides, maybe it's not a bad thing for her to be finding things to do... you know, to keep her mind off things. And then in a while she could feel more willing to open up."

"Well that's the point though, isn't it," Zac pointed out, feeling a bit frustrated by that answer. "She should be confronting these feelings, not just bottling them down and going down every avenue to avoid them. The more she does that, the worse it'll get when it becomes too much! ... But I don't want to push her because that could make it all worse way too quickly." He knew Leah made a good point, and maybe Evie needed to the work to give some semblance of structure to her life, but Zac wasn't really convinced that was all there is, and he believed Leah was thinking the same thing. Most of him remained sure that Evie was struggling, no matter how much she attempted to hide it. She was quick to offer anyone else help, yet drew away when the attention was on her, as if she was concealing what she needed. But the last thing she needed was everyone crowded around her, coddling her like some fragile thing that could crack at the slightest pressure. That was probably one of the hardest things Zac ever had to think about: deciding where to show Evie that there are people around her willing and able to support her, but not enough to make her feel like she had to accept it. He couldn't even tell himself that he dealt with something like this before with other people, because it was a whole different kettle of fish when it came to family, while every single part of his mind and heart was screaming at him to do something, anything. "Besides, she shouldn't be working all the time, I want her to find something enjoyable to do."

"Well, we're not the ones you need to convince of that, mate," John shrugged helplessly as Leah left to hand out the order. "I mean, she was in the Surf Club yesterday, and you would have thought her eyes were glued to the book, she wouldn't look at anything else. She didn't even order anything. It was almost like she blocked out everything else around her, and if she looked away for a minute, she would have fallen asleep right there and then. If it wasn't for Matt and Mason, I was worried she would have stayed there right up to closing time!"

"Well, what was she like with Matt?" Zac asked, feeling this could be important. Maybe Matt could be the one who could break past Evie's defences, to get her to open up again. He remembered a couple of days ago when Evie came back from a day out with Matt and she almost looked like herself again, even though she still couldn't really look at any of them in the eye. 

John hesitated, not sure exactly how much of this was his actual business to divulge, but the look of obvious anxiety on Zac's face convinced him to keep talking. If it had been Jett or Skye in this situation, he would have wanted to know the same. "Well, she actually looked up from her books for one thing... she talked with both of them and, well I guess that's what happens when she has those two jokers for company, but it was as if she was actually... well, happy..." John trailed off, not entirely sure how to continue. Marilyn would have probably described it better, but he knew what he saw. "But the thing is..." he continued before Zac could prompt him, "... just that she seemed anxious as well, a bit uncomfortable, if I gotta be honest." 

Zac sighed and looked away. It was just like the way Evie was whenever Zac or Leah was seeing her, as if deep inside, she was looking for some way to escape. Apparently being with her friends didn't change that. It was Roo who voiced his thoughts. "So, was she secretly wanting to leave or something-"

"No, I doubt it was that," John said, his face concentrated in memory. "I'm not sure if this makes any sense, but she was happy to see them while at the same time just on edge... she looked really unsure of herself, and jittery." It was concerning to watch, as if the confident, bubbly young woman that had been absent for a long time had made a brief appearance before disappearing again. 

Silence fell then, which made Zac felt more frustrated than ever. They've all had their experience with teenagers before and their troubles, so there was no real reason for any of them to come up empty for an idea to solve this. Then Zac had to catch himself, remembering that Evie was 18 now, soon to be 19 this year. It was moments like this he felt really old, and that didn't help calm the storm in his mind at all. He felt so helpless when he needed to step up. Zac couldn't help but feel like he should have been keeping a closer eye on his family, and he wasn't just thinking about Hannah and Oscar. His mind kept coming back to Hunter, and if everything he did could have been prevented. If he tried to reach out before, or sat him down sooner and got him to talk. He tried, and all that led was Hunter in jail, and Zac not being able to look at him without thinking about Denny. He knew it was a different situation with Evie, but that didn't change how worried he still felt. 

Leah, having returned to hear John, shook her head. She felt like she would have tried to get Evie to open up, but now she felt like that tactic was less effective than it once was and worried was it more like interfering. She tried it with VJ, and now he left the house and moved in with Billie. The entire family that her and Zac had called their own was falling apart, she didn't want to drive Evie, who was like a daughter to both her and Zac, away the same thing. "I don't think this changes things. We have to trust Evie to come to us when she needs to. We'll keep an eye on her, but until then.. it's a waiting game." 

Zac looked at her, grimacing. He may not like it, but a large part of him agreed with her. Evie was an adult now. He remembered when he took her camping three years ago that seemed like another life to help her see the world beyond Ethan wanted her to see. We said what needed to be said, the rest is up to her. He knew this was more difficult, but he still had to trust her to trust them, trust them enough to be open about her emotions. 

------ 

"Hey," Evie threw a nervous smile as she peered through the door leading to the living room in the farmhouse. VJ turned over from the counter to return her smile. Evie could smell the almost-burned food from the plate he was holding. "That's yours?" She asked as she sat down on the couch quickly, almost taken aback by the flood of memories of her being there with... with her family, all those moments of them together, her, Oscar, Hannah, Denny, Zac, the moments that she took for granted. Because now they were just memories. She brought herself back to the present by focusing on VJ, who gave a shrug. 

"I was able to win over Phoebe with my amazing cooking skills, so I'm practicing. I am not about to fall out of her good graces," VJ laughed back while focusing on the practice dinner he had. He was still getting over the massive decision he made not long ago, but remained convinced it was the right move, even if his mom couldn't see that, Billie needed him to be there.. 

"Hey, better you than me," Evie remained sitting. Her back still ached like a rock was placed on it, and there were moments when her legs almost turned to jelly, wobbling and begging to cave in, but working near the lighthouse helped her with some distraction. There she had the privilege of being able to be alone, without eyes brimming with concern burning at the back of her head. What made it worse was the nagging reminder that they all had better things to do than be worried about her. Guilt wracked her when she remembered yesterday when talking to Matt and Mason. She felt like a weight was lifted to take a break away from her assignments, with her eyes screwed almost painfully to keep focused on it, and especially with these two. But even then she wasn't at ease. She couldn't let herself be at ease, keeping up the pretence of being okay. It was as if she was stuck behind some invisible barrier that separated her from everyone else. She no longer felt the same enjoyment she should have when talking to her friends. Everything that came out of her mouth during those conversations felt disorientated, nothing she could recognise despite all the jokes and small talk she was used to. And there were times she couldn't find herself to speak for long, leaving the two boys compensating, in a way, with her little responses. 

Now what she experienced was something resembling that enjoyment, her smiles and laughs missing an essential part, something that was quenched by her anxiety. Anxiety that rose like lava from a volcano whenever she saw the lingering concern in Matt's eyes, and even in Mason's. There were even times she felt like snapping, or just grabbing whatever she could and just run, just like with Kat. And that made her revile herself more. Matt was still one of her best friends, and Mason was a good guy, and she feels like hiding from them, even when she knows there was no need for her to feel like this, but their concern just made her want to just to blurt everything out, everything that was troubling her, but she always held herself back, by the fear of their reaction if she revealed just how desperate she really felt. Just make them happy, just make them happy, the words she's been repeating for a week and gave her the resolve. It was a miracle that she didn’t just shut down immediately then.

But now, that burden was slightly softened when she observing VJ's obvious excitement. So caught up in his own life, he was talking to her without any form of worry or underlining scrutiny, and she found it refreshing. She was glad for him, but she couldn't ignore how anxious all of this was making Leah, so she thought she should come over to see where his head's at. "And how does Billie feel about all of it?" 

"She's a bit nervous about it, she's worried that we're moving too fast, but she'll come around soon. I mean, if she wants it, we would have been living with each other soon enough, might as well start now." VJ paused, just hoping that Billie will accept it eventually. He couldn't worry about school anymore, he would have to find a job for when Billie had to take leave from the gym to support them, he needed Billie to know how serious he was by all of this. With that said, though, he was also hoping that his mom would accept his decision too. He hated the idea of arguing with her with a baby on the way, but VJ had more important priorities now to consider. Looking over to Evie now, he asked "Have you talked to Mom?"

Evie raised an eyebrow at her cousin. "Have you?", she replied. 

VJ sighed as he turned away. "Billie tried to get us to talk a while ago, but... but I couldn't do it. Mom keeps lecturing me to think about school, but she doesn't get it. I just want her to see me as taking responsibility for... well, for my family." VJ still couldn't help but still feel a jolt of shock when he said his family. He was about to become a father, they can't keep treating him like some kid anymore. 

Evie did get where he was coming from, he didn't want to neglect Billie or his kid, it was admirable. And she couldn't judge him on whether or not he dropped school, that was his own choice. But she also didn't think that distancing himself from Leah or moving in with Billie when she, by the sounds of it, wasn't that eager for it, was a good solution either. And you don't exactly have much of a standing when it comes to telling people not to distance themselves, the thought ran before Evie could block the critic out. She was convinced that wasn't the same though. Her keeping her distance was what was best for everyone, so that no one else was dragged down with her issues. VJ would need Leah for the next 9 months and beyond that, and Leah needed her son to be open with her. "Look, this isn't really my business, but Leah's just worried for you. Even if you don't agree on school, but is moving out really the best way you think this could work?"

"Well, if she won't stop trying to convince me to stay in home, me staying at home would just make things more difficult, wouldn't it? Besides, what about Billie, how would she fit into this? What if Mom tries and persuade her to her side, and it becomes too much-"

"VJ come on, you know she wouldn't try and do anything if it made Billie uncomfortable."

"Maybe, but she needs to accept that perhaps maybe I know what I'm doing," VJ stubbornly countered back. "Her keep looking over my shoulder, ready to jump in anytime she disagrees about something, is something neither Billie nor I need right now."

Evie sighed. "No, that's not what you need. But are you sure that's what she's doing? I mean, if I was expecting a kid-"

"But you're not though, Evie," VJ snapped back, annoyance clear on his face. "This is happening with Billie, and I have to put her first." He pulled over a chair and sat down on it, running a hand through his own hair as he calmed down. He remained sure about his decision, but he shouldn't be giving out to Evie, who had nothing to do with his and his mom's arguments and had enough on her plate. "Evie, I'm sor-"

"It's fine, I don't want to be butting in," Evie reassured him firmly, looking a bit resigned but not upset. She didn't know if she could agree with him, but VJ was right, this was his own business. She shouldn't have him falling over to apologise for that. She wasn't going to turn to dust by a stern word, even if she was giving in to the surge of guilt that rose when it was clear she pushed this conversation too far. Maybe she wasn't as good at this than she thought she was. Despite that, she kept talking, determined to make this right at least. "You're not wrong, this is about you and Billie, but that doesn't mean you cut out everyone else, especially Leah. This kid, they're going to need her as much as they're going to need you and Billie," she said sincerely before cheekily adding for good measure, "and Ash, I guess," and felt something that resembled joy when VJ relaxed and gave a laugh, before sighing and putting his head down before again. 

"This definitely wasn't what Billie or I planned for, like, it was a mistake, but now that it happened... I got to step up. I'm looking forward to it, I am. And Mom was really supportive at first... I just can't see why she couldn't still. I just want her and Billie to see me of more than just a teenager way over his head." 

"Leah will always support you," Evie told him, gently smiling at him. "This is just probably her way of showing it. What you want to do is up to you, but just talk to Billie as well, see where she's stands in terms of you two. And talk to Leah, just try to get her to understand you." VJ looked up to her thoughtfully before giving a gesture with his head that suggested he'll give it a go, and that's all really Evie could ask of him before saying, "Billie's lucky though, to have someone like you sticking by her. Just make sure to talk to her too. No matter what, that kid is going to have two great parents." VJ smiled more brightly at that. "Thanks Evie. You know, you'll be a good aunt too." 

VJ stood and turned around back to the food, so he didn't see the way Evie's smile stifle before freezing in a brave move to keep it up, her eyes glistening briefly at his words.

------

You'll be a good aunt too.

Those word followed her like a shadow from the farmhouse, even as she was walking back to the house, a shadow that send chills down her spine and down her pulsing throat, and kept ringing in her ears. She felt ridiculous, this wasn't about her, yet she knew it was, but she didn't knew how that made her feel.

VJ's reassurance almost made her cry right then and there, because she felt as astonished as she felt grateful by that declaration of trust, even as lightly as VJ made it out to be. It was good to at least stir him on the right path of getting him to talk with Billie and Leah, and the idea of being considered a good aunt for his future child made her feel touched, and kind and a entire collection of complicated in-between emotions. Yet again, like a damn boomerang, that darker inner her would return and strike, telling her that VJ and Billie's kid would just be another person for her to ultimately disappoint if she ever tried to be an aunt. You can't even look after yourself, how are you expected to help them? Bad stuff follows you, and it’s everyone else around that suffers. She can't trust herself, no matter how much she tries to be better, and a part of her couldn't truly believe that people actually trusted her to do the same, that they accepted her when there was so much of herself that Evie knew wasn't fine, and that she herself didn't want to accept. Maybe it was easier to believe that VJ felt obligated to say that, the same way everyone was probably, to convince herself that she wasn't worth it. Evie won't admit that, still holding onto that silver lining of hope, the hope that not everything got ruined by association with her. 

But that wasn't the main thing that bothered her, not really. She was blasted by something she never considered before: something that she should have remembered. To be an aunt for VJ and Billie's kid should be wonderful, but she should have been an aunt to the kids Oscar should have had. 

It wasn't until a year ago, back when he went missing during the storm, that Evie ever really considered for a moment her life without Oscar in it. It just seemed impossible to her, just as the sun rising in the west, or snow in the Bay, it's not something she would prepare for. She remembered a saying from school: "Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for hte end of the world to come", but that wasn't the case for her. It would have been unforgivable for her to even consider waiting for the end to come, because she never thought there would be an end. It was always a given to the both of them were going to grow up into old age, still connected by love and an continuous battle of wits. Just like it was a given that Oscar would find someone to settle down with, someone to start a family with. He was that kind of guy, someone who would dedicate himself fully to that family and be more of a father than Ethan proved to be. He would have been a great father, no question. Evie couldn't help it and she never would have told VJ this, not when he was so happy about it, but seeing his commitment and enthusiasm was like a dull punch slammed against her heart, because that's exactly how Oscar would have been.

But Oscar would never have that chance. He'll never get married, or be able to hold his child in his arms, or do anything that he would have been fantastic at, and it was unfair. She gave a breath that sounded like the world's weakest attempt of a laugh at how childish that sounded. What else could she call it though, when the person who knew her better than anyone, who had so much good stuff ahead of him, so much to hope for, had it all stripped away along with him? It was unfair, so desperately, painfully unfair-

She just caught her nails scratching against her right arm, scarping against her pale skin that rose in colour before she moved it away. Evie found herself doing that often, when she felt slipping into that space of pressurising nervousness and edginess, when all the panic build up until she felt like she was being pulled underwater, being clenched and dragged under a wave of distracting coldness until only her head is sticking out and a battle of emotions is waged above her. Everything she hears becomes numb, any other feeling in her body is blocked out, so she can't realise how her hands automatically wrap around her arms, scratching so she stops herself from crying. And that what is was now, with the memories of Oscar rising in a storm of shame, and grief and anger, and even with her fingers adding pressure, it would have made her want to drop to her knees and just scream, scream at the sky, scream at the ground, at how unfair it was, how excruciating sore it all was-

It took a single word from inside that kept her from doing that, that kept her nails on her arms at a slightly lower rate of pressure, just to keep a straight face when that was the last thing she wanted to do- Pathetic. 

--------

Evie shouldn't have been as surprised as she was that Maddy called that night. She knew that the other girl would try and reach out while she was recovering, she just thought Maddy would have called Roo or Mr Stewart (though not Matt; things remained… complicated).

“How is it going?” Evie asked when the conversation turned to her rehab, hoping that her voice conveyed the right amount of concern within the very obvious question: enough to show that she cared, but not too much to sound overbearing, which she knew Maddy wouldn’t stand.

Maddy’s voice sounded as weary as Evie herself felt. “It’s all just… unreal, you know. I mean, everyone here is great, and I really appreciate everything they’ve done… but I look around me, where I am, and I’m always thrown in a loop, asking myself ‘How exactly did I end up here?’, ‘How exactly is this my life?’. And that’s not in a… overly depressed way (Evie does her best not to wince), but just… I still feel unnerved that this is how things turned out, and how there’s a part of me that’s not part of me anymore, but it’s not all bad. They’re talking about getting me a prosthetic arm, and that’s hopeful, at least, but even then it feels like a replacement… and I don’t know if it would be enough to make up with it.”

“Well, maybe it will take time, and then you’d feel more comfortable with everything,” Evie replied, struggling to find words to console her friend that didn’t sound patronising, or how similar that felt for her. She felt way out of her depth, but she’d do anything to try and make things better for Maddy. At least she had hope ahead of her.

“Well, I have been speaking with some people and they think that after I’m out of here, arrangements could be made that I could continue my nursing course again.”

“That’s great Maddy!” Evie exclaimed brightly, actually feeling happy at the news, which got a embarrassed laugh from the other line.

“Thank you, I hope it really will be. Anyway, how about you, what have you been up to?”

“I… I’ve went back to uni, and Zac got me a teaching practice at the school, so I have something to keep me busy at least catching up.” She remembered all her excitement of uni, of proving herself capable in so many courses all focused on her hobbies and dreams, building the foundations of a career, providing for herself… but now she couldn’t catch that same excitement as she used to, like cold water had splashed over the spark and quenched it. She was experiencing a lack of purpose, like she had to question why uni was so important for her to begin with, combined with a dread that she’ll inevitably screw things up again, let everyone down. This resulted in her just doing the work, getting on with it.

“How’s Matt?” Maddy’s voice, sounding very unsure, broke her out of her moment of retrospect to consider the question. Evie sighed before answering, because this was a time she felt it really wasn’t her place to answer. “He’s doing okay. He’s not seeing anyone but he’s keeping up with work and just getting involved in things, just trying to be happy. He misses you though, that’s clear… we all miss you.”

Brilliant, way to guilt-trip her, once again you proven yourself as useful as a trapdoor on a lifeboat, the critic’s harsh voice reprimanded her as she realised how those words sounded. “Sorry, that came out wrong, I-“ but before she could keep apologising, try to explain herself, Maddy’s voice broke through again. “I know, I miss you all too, and Summer Bay, always. It gave me so much to be grateful for. But I had to leave, this was change that I had to deal with and I wasn’t sure if I could have if I stayed there. Matt… the Bay is his home, it was always the only place that he actually felt like home. I couldn’t have dragged him away from that, but I regret not telling him face to face.”

“It was your own choice. No one would grudge you of that” Evie told her softly and then due to some unknown inspiration, added in a poor Western drawl, “Just don’t forget about us small town folk when you’re off exploring the world!” Both of them shared a laugh at that, and it was as if a cloud had been broken and eased the sadness behind the words before.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Maddy dryly replied before adding with a enthusiastic tone. “So come on, tell me what else is going on?”

Evie snorted. “You’re so sure there’s enough gossip going on while you were gone.”

Her response sounded very much like her, so calm and interested, it was as if they were back before everything this year. “It’s Summer Bay, so naturally yes.”

They talked for a while, always finding things to discuss that distracted both of them from their own storms. Maddy asked about Roo, how she was doing, and Evie told her about how well her mother figure was recovering, how Mr Stewart was getting better from his health scare, how Chris remained in a battle of wills and pure annoyance against the new owner of Angelos- no wait, Salt. Evie still couldn’t get around the name change, just like she couldn’t get her head around walking through their and not seeing Kyle there. He always seemed part of the fixtures, always there, working and talking and giving that old Braxton advice. But now he was gone too. Another soul gone for the Bay, possibly forever and another change that made things unfamiliar. Evie doubted there was a single person in the Bay that knew him who believed that he committed that robbery, but he still went to prison anyway. She heard rumours of him doing it for a girl he met, a girl that was in trouble but he stepped in and took the blame because he loved her. She couldn’t help but think on it. Was that an act of love or desperation? Was that how love was expected to work? Because she wasn’t so sure of love anymore.

“This is probably a sore topic, so feel free to say so, but how is everyone with the whole Hunter case?”

Evie gave a huff at the question. “How does a complete mess sound, because that’s as closest I’m getting to describe it.” She sighed and rubbed her face in annoyance. She wasn’t as close to Hunter as much as Zac or Leah or VJ were, not even when he started living with them, but the anger she felt at his confession, more than when he confessed to setting Leah’s house on fire, remained clear. Anger at the idea of him having some role in Denny’s death, anger that he betrayed and used the trust Zac was so earnest in giving him, anger that he pretended to have change, that he recognised what he did and wanted to make up for it… but it’s gotten to the point that she felt so tired of all that strong emotions, so tired of feeling all of it when at least he’s paying for his crimes, that all she could muster now was frustration and sadness. “Olivia’s half scared to death that he’d be in prison for a long time, and no one could have a conversation with her now without her snapping about it. Mr Stewart keeps saying that’s exactly where he belongs. Frankly, just as long as he goes to jail, and stays away from Zac and Leah, I don’t care what happens to Hunter anymore. They took him in when they, well at least Leah, had plenty of reasons not to, they trusted him, not blamed him for anything Charlotte did, and he was lying to them the whole time. He’d probably never cared about redemption, or any of that crap he was spewing, just as long as he was in Zac’s good books. But Zac… Zac doesn’t know what to think, he’s caught between condemning him and wanting to try and change him, for real this time. He’ll only really talk to Leah about it, and avoid any arguments about it, but… it’s like he’s realising that we were all living with a stranger, someone who put up this pretence of being a good guy while all the time he was probably laughing behind our backs…”

She trailed off, because while she knew all of this was how she felt about Hunter, she was beginning to doubt she was referring to only him. And as the storm regathered in her mind, Maddy could tell that too by her next question:

“Like Josh?”

Evie lapsed into silence, waiting for the rush of irritation and anger that ate at her insides whenever Josh became mentioned nowadays, because she just doesn’t want to think about him… but it didn’t came. It came whenever Matt subtly attempted to bring up into conversation, or when Leah worriedly tried to talk to her about it and it was all Evie could do was keep that rush down, stomp on it to not let it show, not to hurt the people she cared about. Yet Maddy’s straight-forward question, no jumping around it, almost left her in ease with the question. Maybe it was because Maddy wasn’t physically in the room with her, so she didn’t feel trapped by it’s presence, maybe it was because she was so open about it, or maybe because (Evie realised with a burning river of shame flowing down her throat and into her chest) Maddy would know, because she dated Josh too.

“Yeah,” her voice barely coming above a subdued whisper, almost blank. “Pretty much like Josh, except I don’t know whom I’m angrier about. I’m pretty ticked off at both of them, but more to who?”

This would have been a moment asking for awkward silence to fall in between the conversation but Maddy spoke again quickly.

“I’m sorry for not calling earlier when I heard the news. I couldn’t believe any of it, that he did any of it-“

“I’m not sure if I really understand it either, any of it,” Evie remembered those words, or something similar to it, during her last conversation with Josh, the conversation that soured every good memory she still had of him. She knew she shouldn’t be talking about it, she knew Maddy had enough real problems without her spilling about her pathetic love life, but once she started she couldn’t stop. “I’ve really tried not to think about him, about what he could be doing or what would happen if he got caught again. I try and keep those thoughts in the back of my head, where I can no longer here them, because… he doesn’t deserve to have me thinking of him. But sometimes I have to think: what the hell does that say about me, that I can no longer think about the man I was supposed to marry without feeling my stomach turning?”

“It says you chose yourself,” Maddy’s voice was so certain Evie felt a irrational surge of envy, because she couldn’t be certain about most things anymore. “It says you refused to be dragged down with him because you know better. It hurts, but it will be worth it.”

Evie wished she could share Maddy’s certainty but she couldn’t find herself to. She knew that her and Josh wouldn’t work out after he told her what he did, and she still maintained a small pinch of pride that she had ended things on her own terms, but that didn’t make any of the memories of her and Josh cease to exist, or didn’t fix the blaze of uncertainty whenever she thought about him. It didn’t work like that, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted it to be so.

 And you know what those words really mean. You chose yourself, hence selfish again. The critic interfered again.

Then she realised that was enough. The desire to keep talking, to try and figure out how she didn’t or should have seen it in Josh, this thing that made him a liar and a killer, was burning less and less. She shouldn’t be piling all of this onto Maddy, who had so much to deal with and was doing so well in her recovery, and who also was the number one person who didn’t need to hear Evie making all about herself, especially when the way that her and Josh got together was by hurting Maddy, no matter how unintentional it was. “I hope it will be, I really do,” was all she could think of replying after a length of silence, hoping that her tone didn’t convey how much she didn’t think it will.

She could imagine Maddy’s head nodding along in the silence that immediately followed, and Evie didn’t know what else she could say so she continued. “Well, that’s all I can think of right now, so I think we both desperately need some shut eye.”

“Amen,” Maddy replied in a bright tone that sounded a bit too bright, like there was more she wanted to talk about, but refrained. “I’ll call again soon.”

“We’ll do our best to stay in touch too,” Evie reassured her friend. “Listen, Maddy… thanks, you know for calling. And listening.” Especially since I don’t deserve it, she couldn't help but think, with the inner critic right beside her. “You ever need to talk, (She’d have better people to call), I’m here if you want.”

“I know, and I’d probably will. And the same here. You’ll get through this.” Maddy’s voice sounded warm and kind, too kind, that broke Evie’s heart more than she’d ever admit. She won’t though, the voice reminded her, she has more reliable people in her corner than you, she’ll know that like you know it.

Hanging up the phone after sincere goodbyes, Evie sat down on the edge of her bed, lost in thought.

Where does Maddy’s positive image of her come from, after all she’s done? Where does Zac and Leah’s? Or Matt’s? Or VJ’s? How does everyone see her in this big, good light when she can barely stand to look at herself in the mirror without mocking and cursing what she sees? Was she playing them, like Hunter did? Or do they? Is it just some obligation that they feel just because they have to, while all the while they know what she really is? Evie doesn’t know, and she dreads the answer, because how could they still think such good from her. If she couldn’t forgive Josh for what he did, or Tank, or Kat, how could she expect anyone else to love her?  

“Make them happy, make them happy, make them happy…”, she muttered under her breath over and over again, clenching against the edge. Because if she could, if she could make up for what she did (the thing that Josh failed to do), then maybe they can see her as good again.

So why was that such a hollow and lonely thought?

------

Just one look on Zac’s face as she got to the kitchen told Evie that something was up. He was standing by the counter with a letter in his hand, his brows furrowed and his mouth set in a straight line.

“Is everything okay?” She asked, already dreading the answer, because at this rate, it wouldn’t surprise her that something bad was already happening. “Did something-“

“No,” Zac reassured her, a bit too quickly for reassurance. “It’s not like that, nothing like that. It’s just that…” He trailed off. The news was a surprise to him and he wasn’t sure how she would react to it.

Evie could feel her left foot, the one not leaning against a chair, tapping against the floor, nerves wracking through her as countless thoughts and possibilities of something terrible happening flew through her mind like a flock of birds. Unable to cope with the silence, she blurted out (hopefully not as frantic as she felt inside), “Zac, what is it?”

Zac threw his head back with a sigh before looking down at her again. “Evie… it’s Hannah’s life insurance. She’s left you $500000.”

And that’s all for this chapter! This was a long one to write, and a long one to look over. I still feel sorry how all of this is happening to one of my favourite characters. Evie’s well-being is really deteriorating and I hate that it’s happening to her (Especially since I’m the one writing it!), but it’s like an old saying: Things are going to get worse before they get better.

Some notes again:

1.      Yes, the thing with Hannah’s life insurance is still happening, and next chapter’s going to show how that will affect Evie.

2.      The quote ‘Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come’ is from Japanese Writer Haruki Murakami. I felt it was right to reference him.

3.      The whole thing with Maddy and Evie and Josh is… complicated. There’s some underlying tension (as well as how Evie feels about it now that effects the way she feels) that will be addressed and discussed in later chapters by both of them.

4.      I’m still trying to figure out how to write the Morgans into this because I’m not sure how to work the whole witness protection into the story. It won’t play a massive effect, but it’s taking some time.

5.      There are times when I look at what I write and I wonder the actors from the show at the time read this stuff. It’s unlikely but in the case that they do… Ms Northeast, I’m very sorry! I have nothing against you or your character (though it would be hard to tell from my writing!). 😰🙂

Other than that, I hope you enjoyed this chapter guys.

 

Edited by D.B
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