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Clawing at Your Broken Back


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Lots of great stuff again. It was nice to see the adults' perspectives, and I loved the chats Evie had with both VJ and Maddy, who somehow managed to find tiny chinks in her armour, just for a bit. And yes, that ending: The definition of a mixed blessing!

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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 01/12/2020 at 00:43, Red Ranger 1 said:

Lots of great stuff again. It was nice to see the adults' perspectives, and I loved the chats Evie had with both VJ and Maddy, who somehow managed to find tiny chinks in her armour, just for a bit. And yes, that ending: The definition of a mixed blessing!

Thanks Red. It's clear that Zac has a good idea of what's going on, but he's really unsure of how to approach this, and Leah's feeling the same (As well as figuring out her own problem with VJ), and I really thought I should continue getting their perspectives. 

I'm glad you liked Evie's scenes with VJ and Maddy, it was really interesting to write how they've both got their own difficulties they're trying to make the best out of, and Evie trying to be supportive for them amidst the bubble of her own emotions (and without being obliged to). Yeah, I wanted to show how Evie can briefly let her guard down when trying to keep things about Josh bottled down, particularly because she feels more obligated to towards Maddy than others in this regard (which will be further explained in later chapters), but then she keeps sliding down into that into that state of mind that tells her to keep everything hidden. Now it's beginning to affect how she thinks other's see her and that's going to be a problem for her. 

I also wanted to corporate as much stuff that happened on the show at the time as possible, so I decided the money from Hannah would be one of them. How Evie would see it though... yet to be seen! 

Thanks again so much for commenting, I really appreciate it that people give feedback. Next chapter will be coming soon.

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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 characters perfectly and I loved hearing how all of them respond to her/her mental state, as well as how she's managing to deal with their life problems as well. Excited for the next one!

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On 02/12/2020 at 01:27, Lunar said:

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 characters perfectly and I loved hearing how all of them respond to her/her mental state, as well as how she's managing to deal with their life problems as well. Excited for the next one!

Thank you so much Lunar! I'm really grateful that you're enjoying this story. Evie's trauma was something I wanted to see explored more too (because really no one could go through the things she has and come out perfectly fine, or at least without some pent up issues), so I'm really nervous about coming across the right way in my writing, but your kind feedback (as well as that of everyone else) is really helpful, so thanks. I'm glad to know that I'm on the right track when writing about these issues. 

I'm really glad you liked all the different character interactions, because they've all have their own issues and stories going on as well, yet they're still aware of what's going on with Evie, they just don't know how bad. Yeah, Evie really wants to help her family and friends with their own problems, but she'll bottle down her own emotions to put them first, and that'll just create more problems for her (just adding to the nightmares that will continue to be explored and anxiety that she already feels), even if she doesn't recognise it yet. 

Thanks so much for commenting, next chapter will be up soon. 

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Thanks again for everyone’s feedback (with huge gratitude towards Quiet Achiever), and sorry for the longer wait for this chapter, life has been really hectic the last two weeks, and also this chapter was very hard to write. It took a lot to write and edit, but also I honestly had trouble sticking with it. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Evie was one of my favourite characters, and she went through too much during her time on the show, and yet here I am, adding more pain to her story!! I know her struggles here are important to this story, and I really care about depicting her mental state, and her eventual recovery. Things will get better for her eventually (I promise), but it’ll still be a long road for her to confront her demons in a more healthier coping method. The thing is, it’s going to take longer for her to realise that, so unfortunately she’s still be stuck in this cycle of feeling worthless, grief and depression. With this depression comes emotional instability as she starts to question her own views when she doesn't need to, especially regarding her own relationships with the people she loves. I still hate that I’m putting her through this, she really deserves better than be feeling like this.  

Warnings: This chapter will continue to surround mental health issues, but also surrounds topics of panic attacks, mentions of character death, self-hatred and self-harm. Again do not take any of these warnings lightly. The details will be nothing graphic, well at least not by the standards of the Forum, but it may still be uncomfortable for some people. I will highlight in red the part of the chapter surrounding self-harm for anyone who would want to avoid it, but there would be mentions of it later. These topics are and can be extremely upsetting so please take care of yourself when reading this and you may want to avoid it if you consider it to be too much. I’m really sorry about this, so please be careful when reading this.  

Chapter 4

The roar of the sea blasted into Chris's ears, drowning out his thoughts in a way that felt good for a change. It was those moments when he worked on the beach, when people were for once in a while, actually behaving themselves, where he can just look out into the sea and just tried not to think. Yeah, Chris Harrington, trying not to think, what a shocker!

Seriously however, Chris was glad of the escape, an escape from the bustling work at the diner, a break from his feud with that Brody guy in Salts (John called it a catfight, Chris preferred to call it a battle of wills between a professional such as himself and a newbie amateur) and he especially needed an escape from the chaos in the house. Irene was getting better, she was getting back to work in the diner and been taking self-defence classes with Billie, she was on the road for recovery at her own pace, and that was all he could hope for at the moment. Olivia, though, was still a mess over Hunter and Chris didn’t really knew how to help her. It was different when he found that she was… harming herself. He was nervous the entire time, but he knew enough to know what to do: talk to her, tried to understand why she felt she had to do so, and made sure she knew he was there if she ever wanted to talk. He feared that with Hunter gone this could set Olivia back in her recovery, but right now he wasn’t sure if that was the case. Olivia was still going to her counselling group, and she showed no signs of how she was before, but she was more confrontational, particularly when it involved Hunter. Chris did try and talk to her about it, but he couldn’t find himself to talk about Hunter without bile rising up his throat. He knew how much he meant to Olivia, of course, and if he was going to be honest with himself, he couldn’t find a scrap of sympathy for Andy, but that didn’t change anything Hunter did, how he fooled them all. And right now he wasn’t sure if Olivia was aware of that. She was worried about him and tried to explain his actions much more than Hunter deserved, but Chris was still hoping she would get that maybe Hunter shouldn’t be taking every minute of her mind, especially with how other people in the Bay thought about him, Chris included. That he kept quiet about Denny was more than a lot of people could stomach, and that Hannah and Oscar were never able to find out what truly happened to her, just darkened Chris’s day. Maybe if he found her someone else to hang out with, such as that new kid who was living at John’s, Jordan.

And even though he was feeling better, there remained a heavy ache in his heart whenever he thought of Hannah, which made him miss her even more. There were still days he imagined waking up to find her beside him, ready to take on the morning… and those moments when he realised she wouldn’t continue to hurt more than he could have known. And the moments he thought of her was combined with an anger that festered when he thought about Andy. All his talk about regret of what he let happen to Hannah and Oscar didn’t mean jack when he decided to drive off with that brother of his, leaving everyone else, leaving the people they hurt, to pick up the pieces left from their actions. And that they thought they could, made Chris feel a hatred he didn’t knew he could feel.

Speaking of one of those left to pick up the pieces…

While looking out on the dunes not far from where he was standing, he noticed Evie, sitting among the grass, staring out into the sea, similar to what he was just doing, as if she came here to try and escape the thoughts plaguing her. Yet she was clearly having less success than he was. Evie’s whole body was taught as a bowstring even as she was hunched over, as if preparing to move in an instant, restless. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders and moved with the wind. She was blinking fast as she remained concentrated on the sight ahead of her, but despite the concentration, her eyes remained unfocused, as if she were caught deep in some internal debate that prevented her from truly seeing what was ahead of her. Her hands were toying against her sleeves as her arms were bracketed against her knees, fidgeting against the skin the fingers found. She was clearly stuck with dealing some stuff and Chris, once again, was left unsure of what to do. He remembered how he was after Hannah died, refusing to talk to John or Phoebe despite their attempts to comfort him, ignoring any text of concern Spencer sent him, just feeling like he wanted to cut himself off from the world and anything else he knew, so he wasn’t confident if Evie needed to talk to someone or needed to be left alone in her own world. However, he could have seen she was still struggling even if they were both on opposite sides on the beach, and not only could he ignore his natural instinct to reach out to see if he could help, but he knew that Hannah would have wanted to see if Evie was… well not fine (because how could she be?), but still getting by.

So ignoring the side of him who told him to let things be (Chris could never really tell which side was his more sensible one) and walked over to the brunette girl, trying to be as careful as possible when approaching her…

“Hey Evie!”

Did he mention that being tactful wasn’t usually his strongest suit?

The way Evie’s posture snapped straight up and forward not only made Chris’s back ache in sympathy, but also made him worry that he made the wrong move. However, her face actually brightened when seeing him as she stood up, her smile appearing a bit too quickly for Chris’s liking, but it was something. “Chris, hey. You’re just the person I was looking for actually.”

Chris’s confidence soared that he made the right decision by approaching her then, though he still had questions as he smirked. “Well, that’s great, and of course totally natural, but you do know I was right over there?”

Evie gave a brief, awkward laugh before looking back at the beach before turning back to him. She had indeed seen him when she first came down here this morning; even though the beach wasn’t as crowded as it was, his uniform was hard to miss. She just had to prepare herself, and keep down her nausea whenever she got close to people now. She had some toast for breakfast before heading out, because she couldn’t stay in one place after the news she was given, and now she had to ignore her stomach’s growling retaliation, as well as ignoring the ball of uncertainty that grew larger every day. What she needed to talk to him about was more than just a normal conversation and she didn’t know how he would react to it. So she had to think of what to say. “I know, but you were working and I didn’t want to interrupt…” She internally winced at how poor that excuse sounded, particularly since there were only a few other people on the beach, and none of them looking like they need any assistance.

It was clear from Chris’s look that he thought the same. “Ah, the beach could manage without me for a minute. If you need to talk, you know I’ll always be happy to.”

Evie’s smiled brightened a bit by how welcoming he sounded, but that didn’t solve her question of how to tell him the news she received this morning. Right now, even when she felt burning from the wish to go back to bed and pretend the morning hasn’t happened yet, she needed to be here, to tell Chris, someone whom Hannah loved with all her heart, someone who had stood by her like a rock during her recovery, about this because he needed to know, and would accept it, then it could help set things right (though things could never be right). Stuck on what to say, she felt no choice but to start with the basic question. “I know that this is probably the stupidest question you’re going to hear today, but I should ask it anyway: how are you doing? And how’s Irene?”

Chris’s smile softened at the concern in her voice, as his own cheerfulness was dampened when he considered the question. “There are days where it looks like… I know things are brightening up, then there are days when I look at everything and wish Hannah were here to see it, all of it. I no longer feel like shutting myself in my room and ignore everyone, not that I could anyway. I’m glad to be here, to be working again and helping Irene, who’s doing a lot better, thanks,” he nodded at Evie gratefully before staring out into the sea. “But sometimes I just need a moment to myself, just to figure out… I don’t know, where I’m at emotionally. Sometimes I like what I see, and sometimes I don’t.”

Evie nodded along, feeling that notch of happiness that at least Chris is getting better, even if he still missed Hannah, but it was as if that notch was always entwined with her own misery, misery that is by her side daily when she hates what she feels. It was as if something was cut off from her and she could never get herself back. She gets broken out of her trance (because it’s not about her, never about-) by Chris’s cautious voice. “Well, permission to ask a stupid question back, how about you?”

Evie shrugged, a usual occurrence whenever someone would ask her that question nowadays, She can’t let herself tell anyone the full truth of how she really feels, how she more lost and hurt than she let on, because that would just raise everyone’s concern again and she can’t have them worry over her, not when they have so much going on in their own lives. Yet she can’t just say she’s fine, not yet, because she knows no one would believe that, but she just had to convince them she was coping (no matter how much some part of her she did her best to ignore wanted to say otherwise). “I don’t know what I’m doing. Everything just seems out of place, and I don’t feel like I have any control over it, like I’m just chasing all of it, and I keep falling behind.” She couldn’t reveal how angry that made her, how angry she felt, because if she did, if she did talk about it with someone else, then she would have to admit to herself that it did made her angry, and her critic would only plunge with only more abuse, screaming at her why does she get to be angry, what right did she have to be angry at anything or anyone apart from herself? “I’m sorry, you know, about Andy and Josh escaping. I’d hoped that they would have at least had the courage, or decency to face up with what they did, but I guess they couldn’t even be honest about that without driving off to the sunset.”

“Like we were asking too much of them. Doesn’t mean you’re to blame though” Chris added. He still felt bitterly furious about Andy, just as much as she was, but he had no interest in blaming Evie for what he or his brother did, especially since she had clearly washed her hands of Josh when it was revealed he killed Charlotte. He knew it must have been difficult for her, but at least she could realise that Josh wasn’t worth the effort, after all he lied about and covering for his brother. A lot of people wouldn’t be prepared to do that for someone they love.

Evie wasn’t so sure of that herself. There were moments when she couldn’t help but think about it, when her mind decided to focus on that particular thought, even before this morning. Josh claimed to have kept his crime hidden because he wanted to support her, and ever since she was doubting it, just like she was doubting everything she ever felt about him, doubting that he ever had anything except protecting himself on his mind. But what if she was wrong? What if he had actually did it for her? Did that mean she had some responsibility to hold as well? All those moments when Evie reassured herself that she couldn’t blame herself for what Josh did, that she had no obligation to wait for him, was she just fooling herself, trying to prevent herself from adding on to the list of things she already blamed herself for? Did the fact that she never asked Josh or Kat to cover this mean anything? Did she give up too easily? Evie of course knew that attempting to cover for him wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. She just wasn’t convinced if she was in the right with washing her hands of him too quickly. She tried to find an answer that told her resolutely no, that she didn't need to be at his side, but that thought, prompted by her critic that was always laughing, lingered no matter what direction she took, continuously turning her head into a devastating warzone whenever she tried to make sense out of it.

She remembered when he woke up in the hospital bed, not long after they all thought they would lose him. Even though he was blind, Josh would have had a chance of life again, and even though it took months for them to actually be friends around each other again, she knew then she wouldn’t have took him for granted again. Did she though? Did her rejection of him meant she took what they had for granted once more? What did she owe him? Nothing or everything? She didn’t know how to push past the uncertainty to find an answer and feared what it could be if she was able to.

She shrugged it off and looked back at Chris. She knew she needed to talk about the paper that was folded up in her pocket, she wasn’t here to try and inflict Chris with her own problems, as small as they were compared to his, but she still didn’t know how to approach this conversation. She felt her mouth open and close without words coming out and internally kicked herself for wasting his time.

“Is there anything else?” Chris softly prompted, as she clearly looked like she had more to say. Chris wasn’t a mind reader, but he decided to listen to his gut and wait for her to find what she needed to say.

Without anything else in her mind of what to say other than the instinct to run away, Evie went straight for it. “Chris, if I was to offer you $500000 right now, how would you feel?”

Chris’s eyes widened. Talk about out of the blue. Out of all the things he thought she wanted to talk to him about, this was definitely not on the list he created in his head. Still confused about the question, he answered with the first thing that popped into his head: “I’d probably ask when did you and Matt visited Vegas to rob a casino and why wasn’t I invited.”

In any other case, just by how light and how ‘Chris Harrington-typical’ the statement was, Evie would have laughed. Instead, all she could feel was a bitter twist in her chest. Maybe it was because he still doesn’t know the full story yet, but what else could it be? This was a good thing to offer him this, she just had to tell him. She sighed and started back out into the sea, as if it could give her answers.

Chris continued to stare at her, his brows furrowed as his look turned apprehensive. “Wait, it wasn’t actually stolen, was it? Because Evie, listen,  you and Matt are great people, but-”

“It’s from Hannah, from her life insurance,” Evie told him bluntly, well as bluntly as a reluctant person could sound. She pulled at the paper that Zac had given her, the paper that made the weight of her emotions unbearably larger, and handed it over to him.

Chris’s eyes narrowed for a moment before he looked at the paper and what it said, before widening in understanding of what it meant. “Oh,” was all he said, but the wave of different emotions that faded from his eyes as quickly as they appeared said everything else.

“Yeah,” Evie wearily replied, getting his reaction was similar to hers, when she felt unsure if she could really take it, or if she should. But this was the right decision.

Chris looked up at her, then back at the letter, then back to her as the light bulb buzzed in his head of what she meant, and where the money she was offering was coming from. “The money is meant for you.”

Evie tilted her head in a gesture that suggested something different as she ran a hand through her hair. “Well that’s what it says anyway. So I’m giving it to you.”

Chris’s eyes widened in surprise only to be further clouded with concern and hesitation. “Evie, I can’t-”

“Hannah loved you, I never saw her as happy, and as content with she was with you, despite everything. It just makes sense that you should take this.”

Chris shook his head, way from convinced. He could read between the lines, and he knew there was something else behind her insistence, something laden with grief. He didn’t feel right about taking the money, despite the love he shared for Hannah. Actually, because of the love for Hannah, he couldn’t take this money willing, not without knowing Evie had really thought this through. “Evie, if Hannah wanted you to have this money, then you should have it.”

“I know that,” Evie replied back, her tone taking a tersely note. “But I want to give this to you. You would do something good with it Chris, more than I could, I know you would.” Her breaths were suddenly short and quick, as if it was all being pushed out of her so that she tried internally hard to control it without giving attention to her agitation while talking. Why was this so difficult for him to get-

And then she realised she was the one making it difficult. She was just one step away from pressurising him into taking it, and that was not what she came here to do. She wanted him to take it, but only if he wanted to, she had no claim over his decisions. And maybe she just didn’t want to give it to him because she was trying to be generous, maybe that wasn’t the only reason. She still felt blown away by it. She offered the money to Zac, but he steadfastly refused to take it, reaffirming that it was her. Evie knew she should be feel generous that Hannah had thought to leave her and Oscar this, but it didn’t mean she felt sharp stabs of guilt and grief ripping at her.

She knew she shouldn’t be getting it in the first place, when all the news did was increase the hole of grief in her heart. She wouldn’t be getting this if Hannah wasn’t dead, and that made the money tainted, like she couldn’t even physically touch it, especially with everything else going on with her life. Maybe she was hoping that by giving it to someone who loved Hannah, someone who deserved it more than she did, then it would ease the weight of overwhelming guilt and sorrow that she received this money. Because if that was true, if that was why she was so insistent that Chris take the money, then she was being selfish all over again. Either way she was either holding onto money that she didn’t deserve or else she was passing off the burden to someone else (someone who missed Hannah just as much as she did). Damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. God, what was she thinking? Just because he was getting better, didn’t mean that he would have accepted it straight away. He was still experiencing his own loss and here she was, shoving another reminder of that loss on him, to make herself feel better. And isn’t that just what Kat was thinking, the critic, who had been suspiciously quiet so far, softly asked her with it’s prodding tongue, the same thing you hated her for? It had watched from the sidelines, seeing her trying to say the right thing and seeing her failing spectacularly.

Evie backed away, her vision becoming blurred a bit by the shame. “Look, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be forcing this on you.”

“You’re not,” Chris was quick to reassure her. This news was still a shock to him and he himself didn’t feel as though he would be happy taking the money, but the last thing he wanted was make her think that she was pressuring him into taking it, or that Hannah wouldn’t want her to have it. She shouldn’t feel like giving that money away unless she really wanted to and he doubted if she was considering that. “It’s just a lot to think about.”

Evie ducked her head, growing red with embarrassment. “You’re right, yeah…um…. just… could you please think about it? You needed to know about this, but I shouldn’t be pushing for you to take it,” She replied in a ragged breath before quickly continuing before Chris offered another reassurance that was already on his tongue, a reassurance she shouldn’t be getting. My fault, my fault… “This is a very serious decision, so you don’t have to decide now, but just think about. She’d want you to be happy.”

Chris was feeling more sombre than when he had this morning, and what he was seeing didn’t help. Evie wasn’t sounding good right now, her voice had dropped to a degree too low to be anything normal or good. “She’d want you to be happy too”.

Evie’s face turned stony, as if she developed a brick wall to keep her emotions at bay, her hands stretching against the pockets in her jeans. “I’ll…I’ll leave you to it,” she said quietly again, looking anywhere and everywhere except Chris’s face. His concern was obvious, and if he could tell, then she clearly was doing a worse job of pretending she was fine than she thought, even if she felt she only succeeded in pushing him away.

Chris knew that look enough to know she had enough of the conversation and he feared pushing her anymore than he needed to. “I will think about it,” he told her. Honestly, he already decided he didn’t need it, but it felt like something she needed to hear right now.

“Sorry to distract you again, and… just sorry for springing this on you,” she mumbled as she backed away, though her words are earnest. Something was terribly wrong here. Yeah, this news was big, and Chris didn’t really knew how to process it without talking to someone about it, but she was reacting like she just told him she committed a crime and she needed him to cover for her.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. I’ll talk later. Take care of yourself, yeah?”

Feeling the air get caught in her lungs and her hands, cold from sweat, begging to start at her itching skin, she simply gave a small nod and with that she left. She kept herself from running from the beach as she felt Chris’s eyes staring at the back of her head. She couldn’t look back, she couldn’t bare the shame of the reminder of how she mess up, even when she was trying to do something right. Regret clouded in her head as her breaths continued to escape shortly and harshly. She walked up to the Surf Club, determined to find something in the gym that could provide a long distraction. Why can’t I make anything right?

Because I’m me, was all she could think of as a reply. Why else? 

------

Chris looked down at the paper, as if the answer to what he should do would magically show up on writing. Though he was already certain about what he should do regarding the money. Hannah left that money for Evie, that would have been enough for him to refuse it. It would have, if he hadn’t seen the obvious despair Evie was trying to hide. He knew she wasn’t trying to pressure him into taking it, but there was something up with her insistence before she pulled away. He wouldn’t expect her to be over the moon, no matter how much money it was, but he also wouldn’t have expected her to be so urgent to give it away, even if she thought it would make him happy. This is what Hannah wanted for her, wouldn’t she wanted to keep it?

“You trying to burn holes in that paper, love?” Chris startled out of his concentration to look up to see Irene walk through the door of their house. He smiled softly at her, glad to hear her strong voice again, always ready to go straight into the conversation. It was great to see her get back to her old self again, after all Mick put her through.

“Would that help me find an answer?” He asked back. Irene looked carefully at him before dropping the shopping and walking straight over to where he was sitting by the couch. It was clear that he was asking for advice without having to ask for it, and Irene doubted it had anything to do with the diner or work. “Alright then Harrington, what’s up?” she asked as she sat down next to him.

Sighing softly, he gestured at the paper he held, prompting her to drop the shopping and walk over to read it. 

“Hannah left Evie $500000, and she tried to persuade me to take it.” All Irene gave in response was a raise of the eyebrows before looking back at Chris and asking, “Is that what you want?”

Chris looked at her and sighed. “No, not really. I mean, I’m not entirely sure what I can do with that money-”

“Probably nothing good,” Irene interrupted dryly.

“I will resent that remark in a less serious time,” Chris said humorously, before turning back to the letter, his face turning sombre once more. “Even if I did had some, crazy idea of what to do with it… doesn’t matter. This belonged to Hannah, and she wanted Evie to have that money. I won’t disrespect her wishes like that. It would be… it would feel like stealing from her.”

“Chris, I know you loved her, and it’s lovely that you’re still thinking of her, but this money does belong to Evie now. If that girl wants to give you this, then that’s her decision. It wouldn’t be stealing, Hannah wouldn’t have thought that of you, never.”

Chris grimaced, the lines on his forehead deepened. “But that’s not it, though. It’s nice that she wanted me to have it, it really is, but I don’t think she really thought about it. This isn’t just some $500000, this is from Hannah. She’s not thinking that maybe Hannah wanted her to keep it all, and what she could do with it.”

Irene’s smile was sympathetic. “Darl, did you think that maybe what Evie could do with that money wasn’t on her mind, at all?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying!” Chris replied. “There’s a lot for her to consider with this, Hannah knew this, that’s why she gave it to her, she should-”

Irene shook her head gently. “She’s not thinking of what the money is for, but why she was getting it.”

Chris turned to her slowly, his eyes trained in thought at her words. He realised then that maybe Evie couldn’t keep the money for something similar to why he felt he couldn’t take it from her. That repulsive thought, that slithered into his mind the moment he touched the paper, to suggest that taking this money would have made him feel like he was profiting in some way, from Hannah’s death, and he knows that’s not how life insurance works, but it would do nothing to ease the burden he shouldered. A burden that Evie was definitely shouldering with as much difficulty. What was the point of something like this when they couldn’t enjoy it with the people they love?

Chris sagged back against the couch, sighing through his nose. Emotions are more complicated than people would give credit for, and he and Evie have enough to contend this. Emotions wasn’t an obstacle that could be outsmarted, or punched away. “She’d burn that $500000 to ashes if she could get Hannah and Oscar back.”

Irene placed her hand on Chris’s shoulder, her fingers squeezing in a way that was both comforting and grounding. “And I knows you’d do the same. Maybe see if she knows that too.”

------

Chains wrapped around her. That’s what it felt like. It felt like chains that surround her, and keep her stuck in one place. She can’t see them, but they’re there and she can’t move. She’s like a marble statue, cold and fixed on one spot. She looks down and sees her hands are clenched against her sides, glued in their position. No matter how much she wriggles or pull at them, they won’t budge. Yet she kept trying, kept her eyes focused on her futile attempts to move, because she’s been here before. She’s been experiencing the same dream over and over again, and she always fall back into whenever she sleeps, so she knows what she’ll see if she looks up. She can’t let herself look up-

It’s what she always says. And, as always, then some invisible force reaches out, wrenches her head up by the hair and forces her to look.

No, no.

She sees the sun shining, but in a different way, in a breezing, dimmed way. She sees Oscar, in his tuxedo he was always so proud of, his smile so bright and so confident it burned her heart, shattered it to pieces and fed her it’s ashes. She sees Hannah and Chris dancing, both laughing and smiling at their hearts content. She sees Josh, the way he looks at her always sending flutters in her stomach, and she sees Zac, and Leah, and Matt and Maddy  and everyone else, her family, her friends all here, all happy, all enjoying themselves, all except her-

But she can’t because she knows what’s going to happen. She knows what’s going to happen even though she didn’t knew when it did, because how could she? How could anyone really expect to be thrown into a situation where they live and others die? But she could warn them, she could get them out, then things will be okay.

(Is something she always tells herself, and something she’ll always blame herself for when nothing happens).

Even though she remains frozen in place, she’ll still talk because people somehow come to her. And she try and reach out to Oscar, to Maddy, to Hannah, to anyone she could reach, telling them to run, telling them to get out of there, but something’s wrong. She can’t hear herself speak even though she knows her mouth is moving, and words are escaping her mouth. Her ears have been filled with some ringing noise that blocks everything else out. And now she’s doubting she’s saying the right thing, because what anyone does is just smile back and keeps doing what they’re doing. No alarm, no panic, no awareness. What is she doing wrong? Why wasn’t she helping them?

No, no, no, no, no…

The ear-piercing roar was getting louder and louder, louder than she ever thought was possible. A shuddering breeze was pushing against her, and yet that still couldn’t get her moving, free her from this invisible prison. And she needs to move, she needs to do something because everyone was staring at her now, their smiles fading away into confusion and something that resembled disgust, as if they had no idea what she was, or what she was doing there. She didn’t know what she was either, she didn’t belong there, not when she’s not able to save them, she couldn’t look, she needed to force her gaze down because she couldn’t bear to see their judgement, their disappointment.  Myfaultmyfaultmyfault…

Wait, no, please no…

And then fire reigns through the air, the carnage starts, and she can’t even hear her own screams through the roar that fills her ears, and pierces through her like a knife-

Evie jerked upright from the ground, her breathing coming out in raspy, uncontrollably deep movements. How she got there she wasn’t sure. She doesn’t even remember falling asleep, she had just come home after talking with Matt, trying to help him after talking to him about the troubles he and Ash were having at the garage. She came home to do work, she couldn’t remember the rest of the day after that, because she must have gone through it to fall asleep again. She looked down at her hands and saw despite the sweat that gathered in her palms, there was no blood that had always splattered onto them whenever she dreamt that memory, or nightmare, or did it really matter? It meant the same thing to her.

After several moments, trying to get her breath up, trying to forget how utterly helpless she had felt, she tried to rise, well aware of how hot tears were rolling down her cheeks, one elbow on the ground to support her. It was then she noticed how light was still shining through the window of her room. She felt more disorientated than before, and then she looked up and saw she didn’t fell out of bed; she fell off her chair, with her work still laid out on her desk. She slumbered off during the day.

Evie’s breaths got worse, as her joints and muscles contract agonizingly. She got up with more speed she knew was possible and staggered into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her with a bang. Her legs felt disjointed and heavy, her hands clammy with sweat, making her almost shudder from how cold she felt, how slimy it felt. She paced around the cold tiles, trying to ignore the pained coughs that escaped from her mouth, trying to ignore the way her hands folded into fists, trying not to black out from the claustrophobia that was climbing up around her, boiling and threatening to suffocate her into its darkness. The only thing that she could focus on was how so stupid she was that she left herself drift off while doing work, and how stupid she was to get so worked up over it. She did a lot of dumb stuff in her life, her failure of a conversation with Chris was proof of that.  Hannah, who was there for most of what went wrong in Evie’s life, would have despaired of her niece, and would definitely been reconsidering her own decisions with her life insurance. But this one was setting a whole new record. When Evie had so much work to do, even if she couldn’t find the point of it, she lets herself be lazy (ignoring that small, pleading voice in the corner of her mind that said she’d been sleep deprived since last night and couldn’t be expected to stay awake all day, that voice was overshadowed by the critic’s encouragement) and lets herself fall back into the memories that haunted her, of the people who got near her and paid the price. She could still hears echoes of that ringing noise.

------------

Quiet, that was all she wanted. For all the horror, and fear and loss in her to just stop. But she could never leave the past behind her, everything that went wrong-

She jumped once she felt the sharp jolt her fist made when it struck fast and hard against her temple. Shock sprang out of her, as if she couldn’t believe what she just did, before that shock faded away like fog and gave way to cold fury. Cold fury that made everything in her head go blank as she brought up her fist again and again and again, against her temple, her forehead, her cheek, the side of her head, anything that absorbed the dull blows she dealt herself Violence, it had dogged her life for the last three years and it was always someone else who took the blows. Her eyes blazed with scarlet yet satisfied outrage, her jaw clenching so hard she was close enough to break a tooth or two, but she wouldn’t have noticed, she remained so focus on her attempts to remain silent and keep on hitting. What if she screamed after she doze off, after what she saw in her own head? What if Zac or Leah or someone else were home and heard her? What would she have done then?

As the blurry faze in her eyes faded, she kept her hands behind her back (though still clenched in fists), and she focused on her reflection in the mirror. The shock that had briefly appeared returned with a vengeance. It was as if she wasn’t even there, like she was an observer, watching it happen to someone else and was unable to intervene, to put a stop to it. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to.

--------

Evie knew now what she felt about herself, how she messed up too much for anyone to give her the time of day anymore, but did her self-hatred reach the extent she actually wanted to hurt? Was there something wrong with that she did, or that something wrong with that only now she really felt she did?

Evie had felt the slope of her…desolation before. She felt it a few days after her father brought them to that cult, after their mother died. Oscar hated it, he would have barely spoke to Ethan and she didn’t know what to do, didn’t knew how to reconcile them. She remembered slipping into a black hole, a never-ending pit telling her that everything she knew was falling apart and there was nothing she could do. She fought that, fought that in her conviction in her family, in her trust for her last parent. And even though Zac and Ricky brought her out of that illusion, she still fought that pit, keeping it at bay. She fought to make her father see the truth behind the madness he subjected them to, to try and protect her family, not knowing that he was too far gone for him to see anything beyond the lies Granger fed him. The man she knew was a stranger, a stranger soon to be dead.

The pit resurged then, secretly creeping into her mind when she was covered in grief and nightmares of losing her conscious in a shipping containment, followed ever so quickly by the whiplashing revelation of Denny. The pit remained, asking her what she could have done to have saved him. She kept it down, stomped on it, fought it, because she still had a family, people who loved her and she loved back, and she was able to convince herself (or deluding herself?) that as long as they loved each other, then life would go on. She would always miss her parents (no matter what her father became), but it was as if the whole world was open as well, for new possibilities. She held on to that belief like the way a rock climber held onto a rope, fighting against it for months, even when the pit was getting deeper. Such as when Oscar was working himself to exhaustion, or when Zac left the house, or when Hannah or Josh ended up in the hospital, because she had to fight it, even if every day she felt like she was slowly sinking into the pit. There were still good periods of course, most days when she could ignore the pit, the pit that created this critic haunting her steps, but other days, she knew it’s presence. Despite that she did her best to keep it quiet, to keep moving forward to the next day.

Surprisingly enough, she didn’t feel the pit when Oscar or Hannah or Denny died, because her own grief seemed to numb everything else, and that made nearly every other emotion silenced, subdued. But when Josh left, and she began questioning everything, including her own actions, it made up for lost time. Never once though, no matter how persuasive and promising the emptiness was, did she ever felt the desire to hurt herself. She understood the anger, anger was familiar, easier to connect with. So when did that anger develop into what she felt?

Now, with most of her family gone, now that she did, she was wondering if she was really fighting it. Was it easier for her to fight the pit rather than accept it, and if she just embraced the pit, embraced that there was something wrong with her before, would things have ended differently? Would she have made decisions that would have been better for the people around her? If she wasn’t so sure of herself, of people like her father or Tank or Josh, would things ultimately been better? If she thought and acted differently, would Zac had remained instead of being forced to live with Leah? If she stood by Josh after she found out about the drugs, would Tank have become involved in their lives? Would Josh still have almost died and went out to kill someone? It was in a constant pattern, whenever she thought things were looking up, life would prove her wrong, and people got hurt.  

And what’s the one common factor in all that went wrong?

She was the only constant feature in all those relationships she ruined, in every reason for having lost people, who either died or turned to something worse- the only person who could take the fault, the hurt that echoed against her skull and scalp?

Evie carefully brought a quivering hand and pushed the bangs away from her puffy eyes, pushing them behind her ear. Tears had still gathered in her eyes (though tears of remorse, grief or self-pity, she couldn’t say) Furiously grabbing a towel, she mashed it against her eyes, in desperate attempts to hide her weakness. Putting on the tap, she quickly bent down and splashed water over her eyes (shutting off the attempts to find relief from the way the cool water sparked comfort against her thumping head). Looking up again to make sure there was no visible bruise from her fists, none where anyone could see, she peered closer against her reflection and barred her teeth into a tight sneer at this person mimicking her expression, this person that should be ashamed to be in her own skin.

“You’re such a disappointment,” she murmured at herself. There remained a miniature part of her that wanted to rally that that wasn’t true, another small part of her that wanted to cry, but the rest of her just blankly accepted those words, accepted her fists, because she needed a reminder of what she did, of why she has to be better.

She then distantly heard her name being called out and she clenched her jaw again, with enough force to wince but she quickly dried up, making sure that there were no sign of tears or anything that would raise alarm bells for anyone else, she stood straight, ignored how dizzy she felt as she slowly walked out of the bathroom. Dizzy is good, dizzy means she doesn’t have to think. Yet it doesn’t last long and her mind becomes focused once more. Somehow, with some strength that she didn’t really feel, she made her way down the stairs to where Alf was.

“Hey there, love,” he said softly, giving her a warm smile as he saw her. “I was just looking for you. Wasn’t interrupting you, I hope?”

Evie shook her head, giving what she was hoping was a warm smile (with none of the bitterness she’s shown herself) back. It felt forced, and unnatural, but she hoped that it would be enough to convince him. Mr Stewart had done much and more for her and Leah and Zac and all the rest of them, so she wanted to make things as easy as possible. “No, not at all, Mr Stewart. Just finishing some work.” She couldn’t think about her assignments now, she’ll have to finish it later. “Do you need me to help with something or-”

“No, no, it’s not that. Just that young Harrington was looking for you at the diner. He wanted to talk with you. Is everything okay or-”

“It’s fine. He just has something I need to talk to him about. I’m fine really.” Evie kept her smile up though her insides felt like rising up in her throat to make her vomit. Who knew what Chris had to say to her, but she already knew it was about Hannah, and her sides burned with shame, because she messed that up too, and Chris was going to let her know that. Even a good man like him would have his limits, and she must have pushed it. Those looks of harsh judgement that haunted her not a moment ago, she would most likely be seeing it soon. She didn’t need anyone else to tell her she needs to do better, she’s perfectly capable of reminding herself of that. Yet she had to go, had to hear him out. She went and grabbed her shoes, as Alf sat down with his newspaper in hand while keeping an eye on her. As if her mask would slip any moment. Because that’s what Evie knew it was, as she thanked him as she walked out the front door. This was the first time she ever told anyone she was fine since Josh left. She always had to say something that didn’t reveal the full truth, but enough to show she wasn’t exactly alright with everything, because no one could expect her to. But now she just straight up lied, because she wasn’t fine. She was keeping up a mask, pretending to ‘be fine’, and she was lying to the people she cared about.

Was she always this person? This person with her skin full of secrets and anger? This person who had to hide? The words you’re looking for is liar, two-faced, false, deceitful, unworthy, her critic happily supplied. No, Evie rallied against it, it was her not getting anyone else involved in her own misfortunes. Enough people had token the blows for her.  

------

The smile Chris gave when he saw her was both sincere and encouraging. Somehow that was worse than any criticism or loathing he could have given her.

Evie walked slowly through the sand, to where they talked this morning, the dull ache in her stomach growing more and more. Had she eaten since this morning? She wasn’t sure and right now she couldn’t care less. She could always eat when she gets back. Her head still felt unbalanced but she still somehow carried herself to where Chris was sitting on the sand. He was out of uniform, and was now in his typical clothes and looked at ease. Evie couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever feel like that again, to be at ease. Knocking that thought away, she sat down next to him, biting down on the sigh she would have done at her knees creaked as they bent. Both of them stared at the sun slowly turning a pink colour as it slowly sank behind the horizon.

“So, I’ve been thinking,” Chris started off the conversation they needed to have. If this was a normal talk, he would have made a joke about thinking, but this didn’t need a joke. Not at all. “Like I said.”

Evie nodded along, her tongue stuck between her teeth because she couldn’t trust herself to say anything to make it worse. She just waited to hear what else he had to say, stuck within a storm of anticipation and fear.

“Evie, this money,” he said softly, “it doesn’t really feel like the comfort it should be, does it?”

The question made Evie feel uncomfortably self-conscious. She knew that Chris had hit right into the centre of her storm. Evie understood the idea of life insurance, that it offered some sense of solace for those left behind, but now that it was happening to her, she didn’t see as any sort of solace. It could have been a billion dollars and it wouldn’t have made a difference. No amount of money could ever make up for a living person no longer breathing, a person with hopes and fears, a person who had people who loved her very much. “It feels wrong,” was all she felt capable of saying. “It’s wrong… just because I’m given this… as if it would make things better, that it would make up in some way to what happened to her and it doesn’t.”

Chris shook his head. “No, it really doesn’t.”

The two lapsed into a heavy silence, neither sure of what else there was to say other than that, because that was all they could feel before spilling out more than they intended. Then Chris spoke again. “Evie, I’ll be honest… even if I felt comfortable taking that money, I wouldn’t know what to do with it, and I don’t think you would either. That’s okay though, for both of us. Hannah left you that money because she trusted you. No matter what you chose to do with it, she wouldn’t be disappointed. It would have been the same if it was me. Just because neither of us feel we shouldn’t be getting this, or even if we did nothing with it, regardless of who it was for, doesn’t make us bad people.”

Well it didn’t make Chris a bad person. Evie had a rather different view when it came to herself, but that’s not something she could say out loud. She knew where he was coming from though. Everything in her life was so unstable and she didn’t know what to do with the money, and that was part of what made her want to give it away. “I guess that I was terrified of the idea of doing something stupid or worthless with it… it would have been like letting Hannah down. I couldn’t bear that, that I messed that up. But that wasn’t all of it,” she said, wanting to say something, anything that would offer him any form of solace. “You meant so much to her, and her to you. If you ever thought you needed something like this, I felt it was right to let you know.”

“I know,” Chris replied, “It’s just that… I don’t need anything like that right now, probably never. This is something that could help you later on in life, Evie. It’s just something to think about.”

Evie hadn’t really considered the future in… well, a long time, because she still felt scared for the future, not knowing what else it held for her that wasn’t more pain, more hardships. $500000 wasn’t going to make much of a difference in that regard. It would have been just some pointless thing for her to think about, if it didn’t come from her aunt. “I just… I didn’t mean for you to be burdened by this. I mean… I was pushing this off to you, when you’re still hurting, and that wasn’t fair. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad over this.” She felt every part of her squirm at that in disgust, disgust at her justification, when there was none. She was just bad at this whole comforting thing. Was anyone, deep down, really good at it?

“Evie, you weren’t.” Chris already tried to tell her this, but it was as though neither were on the same page at all. He doubted they still were and he couldn’t help but feel a bit exasperated by it. “Yeah, things sometime, to understate it, still suck, but this doesn’t change anything, not really. I really appreciate that you told me about it, I do,” he insisted at Evie’s doubtful look. “You’re still hurting too, and you didn’t want another reminder of it. That’s more than fair.”

Evie looked up clearly into Chris’s honest face, and still couldn’t help but not believe him. This didn’t change her own selfish motivations. “You don’t have to say that, you know,” Evie told him, straight up, and felt even more worse when he frowned, the look on his face turning more startled.

“I know I don’t. Doesn’t make any of it less true. You’re allowed to feel like this. You thought this was something you thought would help me, and that’s still okay.”

“Things may not change though,” Evie said, still aware that she didn’t really acknowledge his words and hoping he didn’t call her out on it. “That money could be waiting there for years, and I may still be afraid to go even near it.”

Chris shrugged lightly, his expression remaining earnest, even though he was hoping to see some of her confidence spark again. “Probably would have been the same if it was left to me. Making decisions like this, especially when it involves people we really love, I guess it would never be without second-guessing. But no decision has to be made now. You still got loads of time ahead of you, and when time passes, or even if it doesn’t take too long… you’ll make the right decision with it.”

Evie gave him the tiniest, shakiest smile Chris has ever seen in his life, as if she was hearing him, yet was going miles off of what he was trying to point out. “How do you know that?”, she couldn’t help but ask, pushing herself back as if that would keep her turmoil of emotions buried.

“I don’t,” Chris replied with an easy smile, bringing a little bit of light into the conversation as the sun continued to set. “Just a Chris feeling, y’know.”

He felt a surge of satisfaction to see her smile strengthen with a chuckle, hoping against hope that she had some faith in her, that she’ll accept that she didn’t have to still be happy by it. “That Chris feeling is never wrong, is it?” she teased him.

“99% of the time, at least. All the times that mattered. Well, most of them.” Chris countered back. This time the silence that covered them felt more gentle, easier, which was still a far cry from how Evie actually felt. She knew that his words were supposed to make herself feel better, and there remained a part of her, the part that wanted to fight her critic, that wanted to sink into those words, to embrace it’s warmth and comfort, and have confidence to do right by Hannah, but the rest of her held her at bay, she couldn’t be granted even that. Even if Chris was being truthful (that he believed his own words), it did nothing to make her feel more willing to accept it, or to banish how crushing her uncertainty was, that made her convinced that she could do nothing right, even when it came to the people she cared about. She was believing less every second that any action she took meant well for anyone.

Chris stood up. “Well, I better get back home. You’ll be good here?”

Evie nodded up at him gratefully. “Yeah, don’t worry.” She didn’t say she’ll be good, because she knows that’s too much to hope for, but she hoped that answer would be enough for him. It was apparently as after one final pat on her shoulder, he walked away, leaving Evie alone in her head.

Chris could say everything he just did and believe it with all his heart, but that didn’t change the fact that she shouldn’t be getting this money. She shouldn’t be getting it even if Oscar and Hannah were still alive, that’s what she was feeling. Someone who was responsible for so much wrong in her life shouldn’t be getting… rewards like this. It made her nauseous over again, and his words, as well intentioned as they were, felt as though she was on the looming edge of having a breakdown. Partly because his encouragement maybe was too good to hope for, and partly because his words sounded so similar to what Oscar or Hannah would have said, words filled to the brim with encouragement and reassurance (what they wouldn’t have done if they knew the real her). She felt unconsciously leaning towards those memories, of love and closeness that she lived for. It was really all she wanted, to be loved. And look where she is now.  

She’ll never have any of it again. And there’s no way for her to atone for losing it.

She was surprised, she was able to admit, that only now she felt a single, lonely tear escape from her eye and she couldn’t even bring herself to brush it away, even at the critic’s jeering. Get over yourself, crybaby! She kept them from Chris because she didn’t want him to feel sorry for him, when she went there to apologise. But now on her own, with $500000 still belonging to her, and without the faintest idea of what to do with it, she felt overcoming to the chilling loneliness that stirred at her heart. She couldn’t feel the confidence she would have once felt, it felt like a shadow of what it once was.

She didn’t knew how long she stayed there, but eventually as the last of the sun sank below the waves and the sky turned from mystic blue to jet black, she rose up and walked away. Evie felt the sand that somehow snuck into her shoes prickle at her toes, yet she trudged through. The throbbing in her head had returned. It wasn’t as bad as she could have feared it was, yet she still had to close her eyes for a moment and tilted her head, like she did when she went swimming and had to get water out of her ears. But this wasn’t water, this wasn’t something she could just discharge. This repetitive subdued pounding that flared inside against her temple was a constant reminder of who she was and what she did, particularly what she did this afternoon. She still felt something that reminisced that anger, and that shock, as if she still almost couldn’t believe she did. You did though, came the critic’s response, and you know exactly why.

She was walking down the path across from the Surf Club, one hand automatically wavering near the fence, as if preparing something to steady herself, when she saw Matt standing by one of the tables, two milkshakes in his hand and an easy grin on his face, one that Evie did her best to copy. “Do you always show up with food for anyone passing at this time of night, or is that a perp of knowing you?”

Matt shrugged, playing along. “Figured you could use some free food. I hoped that we could catch up earlier, but I saw you with Chris down there, and I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“Yeah,” Evie shrugged her own shoulders back, well aware that he knew what they would be talking about and hoping that meant that he wouldn’t want more detail. “Still got $500000 on my hands. You’re still sure it wouldn’t help you and Ash?”

Matt chuckled. “Well, I know that it would help. Doesn’t mean I’m still going to take it. It’s yours, and you’ll do good with it. Besides, we’ll find another way of getting ourselves out of it. Preferably legal.”

Evie shot him a smile, even as her hand pressed against the fence, her eyes closed and her heart just plummeted. Again, that trust that people had for her, that trust in her, that made her feel like such a coward for not meeting up to: he shouldn’t trust her, she can’t even trust herself.

“You okay”? Matt’s voice turned more tentative and she had to keep focused in order to answer it, to not break his trust in some imagined worth. “Yeah, of course. I’m just feeling really tired. Really thirsty too, so I’ll just take one of those milkshakes off you.” She reached out, only for Matt to lift up his hand, high above Evie’s reach.

“You sure? You’ve been pretty much working non-stop, you sure you don’t need a break? know you can talk to me about anything.” The gentle, caring tone in his voice as he looked down at her, amusement shining in his eyes, made it really hard for her to be annoyed. The frustration remained though, that she couldn’t really give him what he wanted. She knew she wasn’t as much as a conversationalist as she was before, and recent events (specifically today) only encouraged her fear, kept her talking only to the bare minimum to other people to prevent sabotage. It would benefit them all in the long run.

“I know that, but I also know that it’s very late, there’s a bed waiting for me, and I need that milkshake. Maybe we can hang out tomorrow?” Pleading to herself that her voice and smile came off as playful and not needy, she stood on her tip-toes and grabbed the drink.

Matt huffed, even though he couldn’t help feeling a bit crestfallen. He was glad to have any moment with Evie, and he knew that she was trying her best, but it still felt whenever they talked, she wasn’t 100% present. He missed when her confident quips, which made an appearance now and then, but not as much as they used to. It was as if some sad reminder of how things couldn’t be as they use to. “Well, wouldn’t be me to keep you from your beauty sleep. Talk tomorrow?”

“Yeah, of course. Don’t worry about me, Matt. See you then, promise.” Evie smiled encouragingly at him. She wanted to say something like I always have time for you, but since she was almost rushing to leave, she knew that wasn’t true and she didn’t want to fool him like that. She will keep her promise for him tomorrow, but he didn't need to be troubled because of a cry for help. She knew she was being unreasonable, that Matt clearly needed a friend, but really she was doing him a favour. Nothing good came from being associated with her. She remembered that thought, the one she was convinced of: She was the one constant factor in everything gone wrong, responsible for everyone getting hurt, and it would have been no different with him. She couldn’t let that happen to Matt, even if it meant they couldn’t talk the way they could. And that’s why she lied. Because a lie was easier than the truth, because the truth meant involving him in her mess because he would throw himself head-first to try and help her. She didn’t want to mess up their friendship, when it meant so much to both of them. She wanted to be there for him and she will give him time, but she couldn’t let him get hurt because of her. Eventually of course, it won’t matter, because he’ll realise she didn’t deserve his friendship, his sympathy and he’ll have enough sense to stop offering it. It was only a matter of time.

As she walked, the already faint pounding in her head was subduing, becoming less of an echo. She still winced a small bit as she walked but each wince was worth the soothing of the critic and her soul that screamed of how bad she was. Of how lonely and selfish and how guilty she was. And it was only a few hits on the head, a growling ache in her stomach, and she began to believe that it helped to remind her to do better. It couldn’t even begin to compare to the pain she feels elsewise, so it didn’t make much of a difference to her.

Evie isn’t broken, or at least she believed she wasn’t. She was alone, stricken with grief and self-loathing and a storm of other things that were terribly wrong with her, but she wasn’t broken. She can’t afford to be. She has to be strong.

Okay, there we are for today. Mental Health works differently for different people, but from my own experience, the combination of depression and anxiety makes you doubt most of your own decisions. When you make a mistake, that depression will build it up into making you think you did something worse than it actually was. And that’s what happening with Evie with her conversation with Chris or when she fell asleep, her anxiety blowing the situation out of proportion so she’ll believe that even her best intentions are worthless, which only makes her hate herself more. She's convinced that there's something deeper behind that mistake. Unfortunately, it’ll only push her deeper into that pit of lack of self-worthlessness, and now it makes her even doubt her conviction about leaving Josh and believe that she deserved the hurt, which is really upsetting, since she doesn't owe Josh a thing. And with so many terrible things that had happened to her over a short period of time, unfortunately she can't help but accuse herself of being responsible for it, and that she would only make things worse. Overall, to put it simply, it sucks and she won’t escape from it easily, not until she gets that her own feelings matter and she can trust herself. I hope you understand what I’m trying to get across and understand that I do intend to make things better for her.  Evie really needs a hug, a lot more confidence in herself and some sleep, it's going to be a battle for her to realise that and accept it, as well as accepting her grief. I'm sorry about explaining this, I'm just really anxious about this and I don't want my writing to be giving anyone the wrong impression, I don't want anyone to think I'm being harsh to her on purpose. 

So would greatly appreciate the usual feedback, I’m very sorry again for the really difficult, dark details of this chapter and I hope you are all safe. Christmas is almost on the way!

Edited by D.B
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Another well-written chapter. I continue to like the little glimpses we're getting of the other characters and their own thought processes, as with Chris here. Evie continues to struggle to find joy in anything but maybe his words will sink in a bit.

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On 13/12/2020 at 14:38, Red Ranger 1 said:

Another well-written chapter. I continue to like the little glimpses we're getting of the other characters and their own thought processes, as with Chris here. Evie continues to struggle to find joy in anything but maybe his words will sink in a bit.

Thanks Red, I'm glad you're still liking the details of what's going on with the other characters, everyone still has their own stories and stuff to figure out so I feel glad to highlight that. I really enjoyed writing Chris because even though he was one of the more light-hearted characters I could write, I still wanted to show he's still coping with his own issues. He just manages to be the perfect combination of sincerity and lightly comedic. 

Evie... yeah, her own mental balance is really only worsening, with her now thinking that it's okay for her to hurt herself, and it was really gut-wrenching for me to write it. I wouldn't wish that line of thought on my worse enemy, and having someone who really deserves better to be feeling like that hurts (and while I still believe she still has a lot of personal issues built up that the show should have addressed and I'll continue to address, I guess I am glad things didn't get as bad for her as they are here!). But however I thought issues like these should be worked into this story (which is becoming a mix between depicting mental health and a character study) to show the negative mental results of these events that could happen really to everyone. It's a really difficult line for her to walk, because she wants to be there for the people she cares about and she wants to help them in anyway she can (such as when she offered the money to Chris because she wanted him to be happy, not just because she didn't know what to do with it). There remains a small part of her fighting for her to show faith, but she no longer believes that she deserves their care, nor trust herself to say the right thing. It's really hard to write and to explain. And the thing with Josh... she knows that she couldn't cover for him and she can't forget what he did, but that pit of uncertainty and worthlessness is trying to convince her that she should have done better with their relationship, and that's going to be something she'll continue to have trouble with. The life insurance also doesn't help when it feels like protecting Hannah's legacy and she feels unnecessary guilt because of it, so I wanted to address all these complicated topics of discussion,especially regarding her trauma of past events. Realistically no one could go through that kind of thing without any mental scars. Matt and Chris's support is helpful, but it'll still be a long journey before she truly realises how much she deserves that support and that she's allowed to still be grieving. What gets me through writing these really upsetting details is the reminder that things will get better for everyone involved later in the story, but again, it's going to be a while for everyone to get to that stage.

Thanks for commenting again, it means so much to me to get feedback on this very, very difficult story. 

Edited by D.B
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  • 2 weeks later...

With Christmas next week, and a time where we all deserve love and peace, I was extremely tempted to just skip past everything else I had planned for this story and go straight to the recovery and happiness that awaits Evie in this god damn fic. Unfortunately, I can’t and I gotta stick with the whole journey. Every detail, even the ones I wish I didn’t have to write, is important with this topic. Evie’s suffering from this mental agitation that fixed her own perspective against herself, it’s going to take more chapters for her to accept that the majority of bad stuff in her life weren’t her fault (especially regarding her family and Josh), and that it's important she acknowledges it and grief properly without falling to the vicious circle that forces her to beat herself up over it, and even if/when she does, there'll still be moment of backsliding, so i needed to get the foundations of this first. I know you all know this, but I’d like to say it anyway, because after writing all of this, as uncomfortable as a lot of it was, I just need to know you all understand, and that I don't want to put her in this place, but at the same time I kind of have to, because this kind of trauma can't be ignored, and... and I'm rambling. I haven’t proof-written this, so apologies for bad writing and any spelling mistakes.

Thanks again to Red Ranger for commenting. There’s a lot of time and effort that goes in every chapter, and with this kind of story, I end up rewriting things over and over again in an attempt to do things right. Any sort of feedback I get that shows that people take the time to read this and think it’s something good is greatly appreciated. So again, please be careful with this chapter and hope you enjoy these next few weeks!

Warnings: This chapter depicts sensory overload, and surrounds insecurity and self-hatred, as Evie continues to blame herself for things she really shouldn’t. It also mentions (though only mentions) self-harm and I’ve noted red dotted lines above and below it as a warning. It also mentions violence and death, So please be aware and safe when reading this.

Chapter 5

This shouldn’t be this difficult. Getting up and walking away from the bed is just something anyone was capable of doing. It made her feel stupendously puny for not being able to, but she can’t wave away her weariness. This time it wasn’t just how heavy every muscle in her body felt, the weight almost tying her down to where she laid, where she spend what felt like an eternity staring up into the white ceiling, which was as empty as she felt. She did get some sleep, only a few hours, but as always it didn’t last. The only thing that provided comfort was that she was able to keep herself quiet when waking up after a nightmare, as not to bother anyone else, though how anyone wasn’t woken by her tossing and turning was an unanswered question. If they did heard it, they must have figured it wasn’t their problem. Her eyes felt heavy, like the lids were just begging to close, only to be screeching to be opened again. It was as if her body no longer belonged to herself, like her subconscious was pushed out and she could only watch her body go on autopilot and she let it happen, and she can’t even convince herself she doesn’t want it.

No, this morning (not for the first time), Evie questioned what was the actual point. What did she have to do? Work no longer held the enthusiastic appeal she used to feal, as if it slowly leaked off the pages every time she opened the books. It served as a gruelling, draining distraction from the issues she considered more important, to deflect her reminders of the ever-growing, ever-aching pit, her critic, her misery. It helped construct a routine to just get through the day, but from what happened yesterday, if she let herself be distracted by her own pain so easily, then there wasn’t much else she could really hope from doing it. The boundaries Evie had hoped to create to keep that negativity, that dark parts of her out of the forefront of her mind… when now it just seemed a hopeless thought of her, because it was a part of her, and she concluded it would never go away. Those hopes and dreams of success and satisfaction she used to entertain, of doing something good with her life… well life actually intervened, and the appeal of even believing in those hopes were lost a long time ago. Too much had happened for her to not see the pattern of disasters, so why hope for something that was bound to be wrecked anyway? And what was the point of it, when Oscar wasn’t able to experience that? She still missed him, she felt nothing bad about it (at least not yet), but it still made her feel bad for even trying to think about trying to find something good in her life before… before these past few weeks made her realise there’s no hope. She missed Maddy, and some part of her wished that she could have been still be seeing her best friend, both of them enjoying college and having the fun they (or at least Maddy) should have had together, but Maddy had her own life, she had no obligation towards Evie (She may have some obligation towards Matt, but Evie wasn’t even going near that thought- it wasn’t her business).

She tilted her head sideways, as if always expecting to see someone there beside her and she never did. Her own feelings of Josh right now, pretty much like everything else, was a total mess. A swirl of different thoughts, ingredients to what felt like a ticking time bomb. What he did made her feel sick, his smiles and reassurances that now looked false made her feel sick. He became (or else always was) one of those people you need to get out of your life, yet why she couldn’t stop thinking about him. Was there some way she could have seen it, though? Those moments when she saw him, his pure anger, at herself, at Andy, at Tank, were those warning signs? Could she have stopped him long before? Those feelings (Which wasn’t important, compared to everything else, and she tried to block considering them) she felt for him for the last two years, were they worth fighting for, or meant she was blinded by him? If the blame for the destruction of their relationship laid with the both of them, maybe she could have helped him- not cover for him, that road led only to disaster, she knew that- but maybe they could have worked something out, got him to confess sooner, given him support (Requiring of course that he was truthful, that it was an accident and he wasn’t just a cold-blooded killer).

Evie can’t shake the feeling that she could have done better, and that any way of trying to ignore that feeling was cowardice, but if she did think about it, what did that make her? Moping over her killer boyfriend? Even her critic remained divisive with this train of thought. One moment it mocked her for wasting her time thinking of him, when people around her had more real issues, and the other moment it condemned her for giving up on him. Then there was that little voice that insisted that she didn’t owe him a thing, that whatever mistakes she made before in their relationship doesn’t even begin to compare to his crime. Realistically she couldn’t expect to put the pieces back together for whenever she would see him again, if she would ever see him again. It was why she took off the ring and kept it away in a cupboard, where she didn’t have to think about it. Josh left her behind without a second thought, it wouldn’t be fair for her to pick up the slack just because he couldn’t, but Evie didn’t really know if she could trust that voice, that it wasn’t her own attempts to convince herself she wasn’t to blame. She could have ignored the critic too, if she wasn’t so wracked with uncertainty and hopelessness. And besides, even if that small voice was right, what right did she have to be happy, when Oscar and Hannah and Denny were still dead and she was still here? Not surprising at all, the voice got real quiet at that.

She couldn’t block out Josh’s words either, his accusations of her that after what she did with Tank, with Andy, and yet she couldn’t forgive him. Of course, she knew that what he did was worse, (legally and morally), but that didn’t absolve her of anything. She may not have owed him anything, but he mustn’t have either, not the truth, not anything. She can’t help but remember her last memories of her father, when she realised how much he had changed. She tried to help him, but it apparently wasn’t enough for him, apparently her and Oscar weren’t enough, and she remembered how helpless she felt, like she had let her father down. She didn’t tell anyone, not even Oscar or the counsellor she saw those years ago, about it, but it still lingered. 

If it wasn’t for her family (or what was left of them) and her friends, who would have almost definitely noticed, Evie would have had no objection to just staying where she was, just lying there alone with her troubles, with her demons and let them swallow her whole, alone where she knew they could not hurt anyone else. Except that she knew that she couldn’t let anyone find her like this. She didn’t want to let them down, (She knew it was inevitable anyway, she didn’t deserve any of them, but as long as was possible, she wanted to make them happy, would do anything, even if her head pounded with the fear of whatever she did, it was wrong, or it wasn’t enough). Besides, she promised Matt she’d talk with him, and he didn’t deserve to be let down like that.

She hated this though. She hated that she couldn’t move out of the bed if it wasn’t for that reminder, no matter how much she feels she deserves to just waste away, and she hates that even now her conviction that pulling away from Josh was the right thing to do was slowly being eaten away by the doubt that crawled in through the holes and cracks she thought she sealed up. She hated that it felt like he still had some control over her emotions. She didn’t want to be thinking about him, she didn’t want to be doubting that she made the right decision regarding him, but when did wanting came into it? What did it matter what she wanted? It didn’t matter how much she hated this, it didn’t change how tired she was. It wouldn’t rid herself of these feelings that shadowed her.

Her feet like jagged rocks that would stumble once hitting the floor, her legs aching and her stomach growing furiously, she rose and began the next day. She had to keep going- to what, she wasn’t sure. The life insurance remained in her memory, and Evie still had no idea what to do with it. She felt like she had to decide something soon, despite Chris’s assurances from yesterday, something that would have made Hannah proud. What to do with it remained out of her reach.

It was earlier than Evie thought when she was halfway down the stairs, with the lack of noise from downstairs. Looking down at her watch she realised it was 7:50. Her movements slowed down, only her toes barely touching the steps in order to make sure she’d didn’t wake anyone up. Honestly, it was better that no one had to see her. Evie wasn’t as willing as she was to eat. She knew she had to, of course, else she’d collapse from not eating anything. It just seemed just another thing she had to do to get by the day, just taking the minimal amount necessary for her in breakfast, lunch and dinner to get through the day, and not raise any concerns. Even then it felt like an ordeal, because lately, whenever she woke up, she felt too revolted to eat. She grabbed herself a glass of milk and popped two slices of bread in the toaster, because surely that would be enough for the start of the day, at least until she met Matt.

Evie ate quickly, but remained sitting, leaning heavily against the wooden chair. It definitely wasn’t comfortable as her bed, not that that made a difference. She knew there wasn’t much point in getting out right now, not when so early, but she knew if she went back to bed, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to get back up. Out of instinct, she picked up her phone and scrolled through it uselessly, knowing she’d be putting it back in her pocket in a moment with nothing attracting her interest.

Probably 20 minutes had passed and she was putting on her jumper when Zac entered the kitchen, his eyes still that blurred look everyone gets after waking up, though they briefly raised in surprise at the sight of her. He clearly didn’t expect her to be awake so early. She forced a weak smile up at him, hoping that he didn’t mind and that they didn’t have to talk about yesterday. “Morning.”

“Morning. What are you’re doing up so early?”, Zac sat down just as she was standing up. This was definitely wasn’t what he was expecting of her, especially so early. Evie had been… not sleeping in (As far as he knew), but whenever he or Leah saw her walk into the kitchen to eat breakfast with them, she always looked dog-tired, like she could use a sleep-in, despite her insistence to the contrary. Now she was up before anyone else?

Evie ducked her head down, knowing he was just curious but couldn’t help but feel she’s being berated. Don’t be stupid about this. “Eh, I got up early, didn’t feel like laying around bed, so I thought I should just get it over with. I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No, no at all. Just thought you would have liked a lie-in.” Zac noted with unease how Evie shook her head vigorously.

“I didn’t need it, really. Besides, I said I’d catch up with Matt this morning. How are you? I mean… how are you feeling with next week…”

“I’m fine really. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.” Zac’s uneasiness grew at her tactic of always turning around the conversation, always showing concern for everyone else while always shying away at their concern. He hated the idea of her not thinking they cared. He’d like to say she was handling things better than most people would, but he couldn’t say that she was being 100% open with him, or anyone else. And that really troubled him. Apart from that, if Zac was going to be 100% honest, he couldn’t really think of anything else except Hunter’s trial beginning next week. The proceedings would be mercifully short. Hunter already having pleaded guilty to arson causing endangering of lives, assault, theft causing injury and attempted murder. The police had recently charged him with connection to Denny’s death, having identified his DNA on the safe, and no one knew whether or not he would plead guilty to that. Zac didn’t know what comfort he could get from that, because he knew Denny’s death occurred as a direct result of what he did.

He couldn't ignore the little plea in him that begged that he didn't, though it didn't made much of a difference. Even if he had no idea of what happened to Denny before any of them did (which was looked more unlikely since the charge was known and was becoming more and more unlikely every second), his involvement wasn’t to be ignored, and he should be getting some solace that some form of justice was served. That didn’t mean Zac felt easy about the idea of giving up on him so easily, when he already missed out on so much of his son’s life. Did he owe Hunter to try and get him through this? Or did he owe Denny to condemn him? Zac didn’t want to think he was beyond redemption, even after Hunter made bad decision after bad decision and had no secret of his disregard for the rest of Zac’s family, mainly because he didn't want to think he was misled about him. It was out of their hands now though, and Zac just had to wait and see what he should do next. “Leah and VJ have already insisted that they weren’t going, so I’ll take a break from work next week. Hopefully, it’ll be short.”

He didn’t say he’d be going to the courthouse alone, but Evie heard it all the same as she sat down next to him and even as the tension snapped into her body, how subdued Zac looked over all of it made her sad. Frankly, she had no intention of seeing Hunter get sent down, she would have been satisfied with the knowledge that he would be sent to jail (Though not much satisfaction, not when it didn’t bring Denny back). She understood that things weren’t easy for him growing up, but they all did their best to try and accept him into their lives, even after they found out he burned down their house. This was just one too many, even if it didn’t involve what happened to Denny. And that it did, that something he did led to Denny’s death, when she had such a great opportunity in Europe, made her so angry. Angry that Hunter got away with it for so long, just like Andy and Josh could with what they did. Angry that Denny didn’t get to live the life she wanted, and though it felt selfish, angry that she lost the sister she knew for barely a year. To think that the last time she saw Denny, that she thought she would see her again, vibrant and full of life, and that everytime she contacted her, it was talking to her murderer... made Evie want to collapse and just screw her eyes shut at how dizzy it all was. 
 

She, along with everyone else, made necessary statements to the police already to see what could help. He wasted too much of everyone’s time, after all they did for him, but knowing how torn Zac was over all of it, and that he would be alone when seeing his son sent away for who knows how long…

“Do you want me to come with you?” she asked quickly before she really considered it. Zac looked at her again, surprised. He knew that she wouldn’t want any more to do with Hunter (not that he could really blame her), and he didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. “Are you sure?”, Zac asked her seriously. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to...

“I don’t mind,” Evie reassured him, while her mind was screaming at her that that was far from the truth. She didn’t want any more to do with Hunter, and some part of her wanted to straight up question Zac what was the point of worrying about him anymore, after everything he did. And isn’t it what he does for you, after all you did? And what you still can’t help doing with Josh?, the critic reminded her, and she knew she couldn’t really voice what she really felt. She always did her best to avoid getting into an argument to Zac ever since Hunter was arrested and he did the same. After everything neither wanted to lose each other over something like this. It just that she wished things could just be seen as black and white, then maybe Zac not thinking about Hunter and Evie not thinking about Josh wouldn’t be so difficult. If only.  Evie knew how difficult this was for Zac, especially after all he does for everyone else. She also got it that Leah and VJ wouldn’t be comfortable going there, just as much as she wouldn’t be. Still… “I know this is really hard, and you shouldn’t be alone, no matter what happens.” She owed him more than that, at least.

Zac nodded slowly at her. He would be grateful for the company for what would truly be a difficult day tomorrow, but he didn’t want to be forcing her to do anything she didn’t want to do. Even her reassurance was different, it lacked the spark she has before. Maybe he was wrong to think after time passed, she would be more assured in herself. “Evie, please if you don’t feel comfortable about this, please let me know. You can still talk to me about anything troubling you, always.”

Now it was a real battle for Evie to keep her face from crumpling. That small voice that kept being pushed to the back of her brain wanted to convince her to just let her emotions known and tell him everything that was troubling her, her fears of letting everyone down and just to hug him and for neither of them to let the other go… but as always she kept it quiet and shunned into a corner. It wouldn’t be fair for her to add her troubles on to the pile of his own, and she wanted to do something for him. If she was able to convince them she was alright, then maybe it would be enough for them to realise they have better things to do than worry about her. She just needed to hold it together, even as her breaths started to hasten a bit, and she swallowed in an attempt to keep down her emotions.

“Don’t worry about me, Zac, please. I appreciate it, I really do, but I can handle myself.” She doubted that last part, but it didn’t matter, it shouldn’t. This was about him and Denny, not her (no matter how much she missed her sister).

Zac took one more look at her and sighed as he got up to prepare his breakfast. She seemed convinced now, but if she changed her mind later, that would be okay too. This would have been difficult for her too, just as much as it was for him. She has to know she can talk to him if she wanted to. “If you’re sure. You want some breakfast?”

“Don’t worry, I already ate.” Evie got up now, already feeling her hands fidgeting against her sides, determined to make sure this conversation didn’t start on the road she hoped to avoid. “Can’t keep Matt waiting! See you later.”

“Evie, wait.” She was just out the door when she heard Zac call. She turned around as he walked towards her, already listening to her tangent of worst case scenarios of what he wanted to talk about, and she can’t help but wonder what she did this time, did she get up too early, did he knew she didn’t eat much-

Zac took a deep breath, and slowly reached out to her shoulder with his hand. She’s gotten much better at controlling her movements whenever she felt someone else’s hand, in an innocent way. Because it wasn’t anyone else’s fault that she still wanted to shy away from people’s touch now, when they wouldn’t harm her, she knew they wouldn’t. So they didn’t need to feel nervous about it, it was her own fault anyway.

“Evie, thank you. Next week, it’s going to be really difficult and I honestly couldn’t bear going there alone, so truly… thank you.”

Evie smiled warmly up at him, even though she couldn't feel the warmth behind it. “You always did the best you could, you know. You don’t have to feel responsible for any of this, and I’d do anything to help you, really. It’s what’s family’s for right?”

Zac gave her a strained smile before softly kissing her forehead, and again Evie was doing her best not to tear up. She knew it was ridiculous to feel so much over it, but she hadn’t been given this kind of affection in a while, and all it did was serve a reminder that Zac was too kind to her. She can’t let herself to hurt him any more than he already was. She was poison; if she wasn’t careful, she would kill him too.

--------

The way Matt’s smile light up the moment he saw her waiting into the Diner both lifted her own spirits and sent a wave of anguish through her.

“Hey, early riser. Didn’t expect to see you this early. Hope you weren’t waiting long,” He warmly greeted her as he almost raced over to the chair next to her. She looked a bit bushy-eyed, but other than that, she looked actually happy. Or at least close to being happy. He always enjoyed seeing her smile, even if it wasn’t the same as it used to. To Matt it was like the sun shining and lighting up the whole world.

“No, just wanted to talk with you. I’m sorry again, for bailing last night.” Even if he deserved better than to be around her, she still felt guilty about leaving him like that. Just because she was tired and emotionally exhausted didn’t mean he didn’t have to get abandoned (again). She felt like saying she needed some sleep, but that wasn’t really true, and even if it was, it felt like an excuse and Matt deserved better than that.

“It’s fine, really, we still got to talk, that’s enough for me. Everything was okay though, right? You were okay with us talking, yeah?” Matt couldn’t help but feel a little bit insecure.  He knew Evie had a lot to get her head around but he hated the idea that she was uncomfortable of spending time with him and would do whatever he needed to improve the situation. He tried to tell himself that idea was ridiculous, but he wanted to make sure.

Evie gave him a little embarrassed smile. Matt wasn’t the problem, it was her having to figure out the uncertainty of trying to be there for those she cared about, yet keeping herself at arm’s length in an attempt to protect them. She thought if they just behaved like they used to, just as friends, she could salvage that knowledge at least like what was going on with her wouldn’t affect them. Apparently not, if he’s this concerned about her when she didn’t deserve it. He didn’t need to be concerned how she felt, which only reinforced her resolve to get through the day and do whatever she needed to make him feel comfortable. Whatever was wrong with her, it always seemed to carry onto someone else, someone she cared about, and she cannot let that happen. Not to Matt, or Zac, or Leah, or anyone. “I’m always glad to talk to you,” Evie gently reassured him, even though she knew of course she couldn’t talk to him about everything. How can she talk without sounding like a pitiful attempt to get sympathy? She made up for it though by reaching out for his arm and gently patting it. “Yesterday… was just a lot to get my head around and I didn’t want to put any of that on you, not when you have your own troubles. But really, I’m fine.”

“That’s all I need to hear. Now what do you want to do today?” Matt asked cheerfully, even with that nagging line of nervousness remaining in his forefront. Still, this was time both of them needed, and it was probably best if he didn’t ruin it by making about something she may not feel comfortable talking about. If just hanging out was what she needed to feel good, then that’s what Matt would do.

“I don’t know. I’m going to try and… finish some work from yesterday.” Evie tried not to falter at that memory, because even if she didn’t see the point of it anymore, she couldn’t leave it unfinished. Even if it meant reminding herself about the feel of her fists… She kept that memory down, because she just needed it as a reminder to make sure she didn’t mess up again, that’s all she needs to remember. Besides, she can’t let that distract her from Matt. That she was hanging out with him wasn’t her being self-serving, trying to make herself feel better, because she couldn’t feel better, no matter what she did, not when she expected herself to ruin what they had eventually. All she could do was make it bearable for everyone else, until they all felt better, and they could just forget about her.  “Just gives me something to do, but apart from that, it’s all just you and me. Unless you have plans.”

The wariness on Matt’s face (Everyone seemed to be looking at her with wariness lately, as if they were beyond on to her) turned quickly into easiness with a lazy smirk on his face. “Nah, planning isn’t really my strongest suit. I do make up for it with my unbelievable charm and humour.”

Evie rewarded him with a bright smile and a small laugh. “Charm? You’re right, you do have humour.”

Matt laughed, and the kindness behind the mock offence brought down the sharp, irrational worry that rose in her that accused her of saying the wrong thing, even though it was just a joke (the confidence she once felt when saying such light comments with her friends remained a distant memory that she tried to hold onto). “Wow, make fun of this wonderful guy, why don’t you?”

“Who, you? Never.” Evie teased him lightly, trying to emphasis the lightly even though she knew he knew already. “So, should we grab something here, and then maybe we can go for a swim?”

Matt nodded thoughtfully at that. “That actually sounds like a good plan. Just something that sounds normal enough to get back on the track of things.”

Evie couldn’t help but laugh at that, as she thought of another joke, a joke that didn’t sound as fun as it would have been to herself when she really considered it. “Normal? Sorry, I don’t know that. Is that a new friend?”

-----  

“Last one in is… well, the last one in!”

“Eloquent, as always,” Evie threw back playfully at Matt’s smirk as he practically dived into the waves, with her not far behind him. This helped her take her mind off things once she threw herself into the cool, refreshing sensations of the water that crashed up and down against her. She didn’t enjoy it, or rather enjoyed it to the extent she used to, because any resembling those emotions of happiness she felt before were diminished, always overtaken by anxiety and negativity. She could lose herself in those waves, leaving everything behind her… though she tried to look like she was having fun, for Matt’s sake. Before she could finish her thoughts, she could feel the water sweep against her feet, then her legs and just then she embraced the waves.

Reaching out like she was taught to, years ago, her hands formed up in front of her and moving as soon as she felt her feet moving in a pattern against the swirl of water. She gazed up from where her strokes led her and watched with a smile Matt resurfacing near her. She couldn’t help herself, but splash him with the water. He flashed back a grin that was used universally as a declaration of ‘Game on’, and made splash of his own in her direction. The expression of pure joy on his face was like light breaking through a mass of grey clouds, she thought. It was good to see him so happy, especially after everything with Maddy. She would have to tell him about her calling her the other day. It was something she thought he should know and Maddy didn’t tell her not to tell Matt, so Evie considered it to be safe. Their little war carried on for a few seconds before she turned around and let herself be carried by the waves and her moving arms, letting the tension be nurtured and caressed into numbing down-

And just like that, just as Evie’s left arm was reaching out for another stroke, her head down into the water, she ended up doubling over, her arm retracting to clutch at her stomach that suddenly, and painfully contracted. It was like someone had punched her there. Her legs suddenly froze and she was paralyzed even as her stomach twisted. Automatically she gasped, only for salty water to swarm in and fill her mouth. She was being strangled by it, her sense becoming too loud and too overwhelming, she had to get up, she had to-

The sun almost blinded her as she felt herself resurfacing, She hoped to keep quiet, but her body was betraying her, giving harsh, rapid coughs as she struggled to get her breath back amidst the water spilling out of her mouth. Even after she got it under control, her mouth felt raw, sharp intakes of breath that hitched with every gulp. She was walking backwards halfway before she could get it back. The pain from inside had lessened in those seconds, but the twisted knot lingered. Her vision was blurry, and the rest of her senses were blaring out at her. Everything that resonated in her ears sounded just so loud and noisy and she didn’t have a moment to even process it. A buzzing, familiar ringing echoed into her ears and she shook her head violently to try and ignore it- because she wasn’t back there, she wasn’t- But deep down she knew what this meant. She messed up again.

-------

 

Even now, when she tried to made this day good for Matt, she couldn’t even do that right. She and her weak body, had to do something that made it worse, something to ruin this day. She didn’t know what was up, but she should have done more to look after it. She tried, she honestly tried to try and make this time with him good, but now that meant nothing to her. Matt put his day on hold to spend it with her and she can’t even appreciate it. He’ll come over now, seeing her like this and wonder what was wrong, realise that it was a mistake to be spending time with her, he’d hate her, hate her for how stupid she was being, so stupid, her own fault, fault, fault…

She looked down even as her heart pounded and she slowly trembled to see the water simmering around her waist. Knowing that no one would see her through there, her left fist curled up furiously, furious and red, and was ready for the command to lash against her hipbone. Memories, memories that were simultaneously horrifying and grimly acceptable, flooded into her brain. And the critic encouraged it, encouraged her to do it, for failing, for not doing enough to act normal (Didn’t she already said she didn’t know normal?)-

 

-------

“Don’t tell me you already had enough?”

The light-hearted voice from behind Evie broke her out of her cage of misery. Surprisingly with her face kept straight, and being able to pass off her rapid breaths as just exhaustion, she turned around to see Matt standing up in the water, drops dripping from his hair, the same relaxed look on his face. And Evie could have collapsed from relief right there. He didn’t notice what happened, he clearly he didn’t know what was going on. She still felt like crawling out of her own skin, but he didn’t have to worry about it. She didn’t have to walk away in shame and her breaths were slowing, so he wouldn’t have to know. She felt terrible, but at least by not telling him, his day wasn’t ruined, yet. She wasn’t stupid; she was just kidding herself, in thinking she could act normal at anything, but she could pretend. Surely that’d be enough.

She turned up to him, her face still red but she could easily pass that off. “Yeah, sorry. Just accidentally swallowed too much of the ocean! Ready for round two?” She already brought her hand away from her stomach, (which still felt sore, but she could handle it) and brushed it against the water, already preparing to splash him, as if that fist wasn’t preparing to hit something not long ago. Apparently, she didn’t need to do that right now, but she’d remember it.

Wow, that was close to a seven, the critic snidely observed. Still a seven, but enough to be convincing.

------

“That was good, you know.” Matt’s hands leaned against the table they shared just outside the Surf Club. “Sometimes it’s best just to do normal stuff. You think you’re liking this  normal you never heard of, Evie?”

“Well, still don’t really know it, but they sound nice.” Evie kept her smile up, because to anyone else, that they were referring to normal as a third person would be pretty funny, but she couldn’t rid herself of this tight, panicky frame of mind that she can’t help but focus on ever since that moment on the beach. Because that wasn’t normal, none of this was normal. She didn't do much after that, just stood there in the water playfully splashing at him in the hope that he didn't notice anything wrong. That still wasn’t something he had to worry about. “I think it’s safe to say I won our five-minute war.”

“Ha, I recalled it as a tie.” Matt teased her, really enjoying this. Evie seemed so on edge lately, but when it was just the two of them, it was as if they were capable of finding a release together from the troubles of life and enjoy themselves, and some of that tension Evie seemed to be holding in went away (or rather, and Matt hoped it wasn’t the case, Evie was just hiding it away). “You were okay earlier, were you?”

Evie playfully tapped his hand with her finger before brushing her damp hair away from her eyes. “I was fine, I almost accidentally swallowed too much sea water, but it was nothing to worry about.” Her voice couldn’t help but take a bit of a defensive notch, like Matt didn’t need to be worrying about her 24/7. And that was true.

“Come on, I enjoyed today, I really did, it’s just… I just hope you’re having fun too. It’s not like some final exam to ace.”

Evie snorted light-hearted. “I actually liked exams.” As if that was some great comeback, even as Matt rolled his eyes.  

They continued their banter for a while, before she knew what she had to tell him, she just hoped he wouldn’t be upset by it. “There is actually something I wanted to talk to you about. I wasn’t really sure how to bring it up before, but you need to hear this… the day before… not yesterday, but before that… (come on, don’t screw this up) Maddy called and we talked.”

Matt’s mouth slowly turned into a silent ‘O’, his eyes turning hesitant and weary. He leaned forward, his cheek leaning against a hand. “Um… so… how is she?”

Evie shrugged. “As well as you can expect. She’s says she’s been getting better at her recovery, and she’s planning to get back to her course again…” She still felt incredibly nervous, because really this was between Maddy and Matt, and she didn’t know how much of what Maddy told her was her own business. But Matt deserved to know too. “She’s says it’s not perfect, but… I guess she’s trying to make the best of it.” This was followed by (as a result of failing to think of anything else to say): “Are you okay with that?”

Matt shrugged and sighed in between his fingers as the other hand ran through his hair. “I haven’t actually spoken to her. know she’s been talking to Roo, she talks to me how Maddy’s doing, and… I’m really glad she’s doing well, or… as well as she could be. But… even as I accept that she wants to do this on my own, and that she thought I’d be happy to be here… even if it would have been awkward as hell, I just thought she may want to talk, you know. I still want to hear from her how she’s doing. I didn’t know if I should have reached out, if it made her feel worse, and she doesn’t need that, but… just feels like it wouldn’t be enough, like before. She knows that I care, right? She doesn’t think that just because we broke up… I don’t care about her, doesn’t she?” And the look of plain fear and distress in his eyes made what remained of Evie’s heart ache terribly, like being pierced at how uncertain and upset he was, and she fumbled over her words to reassure him. She couldn’t let him think like that, absolutely not.

“No.” She had to clear her throat before continuing. “Matt, no. She knows you care for her, we all know that. It’s just hard for her to talk about this, and she thought you didn’t need the trouble. And that’s neither your fault nor hers. Anyone who would think so is an idiot. You did everything you could for her, and she’ll always know that. You weren’t a bad boyfriend, and you’re not a bad person. Never.” Evie’s voice was filled with emotion no matter how much she tried and keep it down, and she knew her words sounded flimsy, as she tried so desperately to try so desperately to get what she was saying across without making it look like she was blaming Maddy, or make Matt feel worse. Her words were still flimsy though, it was still hard for her to express her feelings in a coherent way. It probably wouldn’t make a difference, but she had to try. Matt was so wonderful, he didn’t deserve to be feeling like this.

Matt bit his lip as he smiled nervously at her, trying to keep himself from trembling. He still felt terrible about the whole thing, and he couldn’t get his mind between feeling upset that Maddy just left him without a proper goodbye, and worrying if he did enough. Maybe if he made more sacrifices, maybe Maddy would have let him come with her. But could he actually leave the Bay? He wasn’t sure, and he feared the answer. Evie’s words did help though, because even though he felt like it was something he wanted to hear, she did mean it with all her heart. It didn’t fix everything, but it did make him assuage his own insecurity.He felt really lucky to still have her as a friend. “God, Evie, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t be going on and on, it’s not your problem-”

“Hey, hey, it is my problem. You and Maddy are my best friends, nothing would change that. Neither of you did anything wrong, but it’s okay that you’re still feeling bad about all of it. You commit to everything that matters to you so much, and I hate to see you think you’re at fault because of it.” Evie needed him to hear her, even if she doubted she cold do much for him.

Matt sighed as he smiled again at her. “Thanks. It’s the same for you too. It’s okay for you to feel bad about… y’know, you and Josh.”

Evie could barely repress a sigh. Matt was so nice, but just because of what she said, didn’t mean he had to say the same, because it really wasn’t the same thing. Yes, both of them had their heart broken, but it wasn’t Maddy nor Matt’s fault what happened to them, it was factors out their control. Matt was hurt by Maddy leaving yes, but she could hardly be blamed either, after everything she was dealing with. What happened with Josh and her… well, as far as she believed, both of them held responsibility. Josh kept all those secrets and lies and no relationship could really survive that their partner going behind their back like that, and she could tell herself that, and it was true, but did she deserve to wash her hands of him (and she couldn’t trust the voice inside that told her that she did, that things would be miserable if she kept it up when she didn’t want it, because she can’t trust that just because she wanted to, meant it was the right thing to do, like before)? Yet she couldn’t exactly tell Matt that. She probably would have if it was actually important enough. He didn’t really knew how messed up she really was, and if he did, he would see her as pathetic for still thinking about him when anyone else would have already made their mind up. She was so afraid of ever seeing that from him. Her throat felt dry with venom at the idea of her not telling him this, after he opened his heart out to her, but again it wasn’t the same. He needed advice, her doing the same would have been (to her) asking for pity or help. “I know, but, I’m fine… I can’t complain, really.”

Matt looked at her closely, looking at the way her head looked away with one hand fidgeting against her neck and a very strained look of acceptance, like she was begging for him to accept her brushing it off. Matt didn’t have a professional degree regarding emotions and this kind of thing, but he could say that losing your brother, sister and aunt all in traumatic events and finding out your fiancé was a killer is one of the best reasons to complain about anything. She should be raging against Josh, against him abandoning her, it only made sense. There was a small notch of a thought that perhaps she still had feelings for him, but he dismissed that out of hand. Evie kept her distance when the truth about Josh became knew, she was obviously hurt about what he did. That didn’t mean she shouldn’t be reacting about it though. He knew she didn’t want to make a fuss over it, but she shouldn’t feel ashamed for being upset about it, anymore than he should. “Can’t or won’t?”

Evie looked up at him, biting her own lip in order to hide how much his words made her twitchy, but she couldn’t loose her cool, not when he just wanted to help, even though he couldn’t help her. Besides here, she could tell him the truth. “Can’t. That’s the truth. I just want to be there to help.” She knew Matt, he wouldn’t try and push something unless something was obviously wrong, so she just had to convince him. She’d feel less of a burden that way. She just hated that somehow the conversation had turned around to her, to her issues, when she assumed they could have just avoided going near this topic,

She assumed. Wrongly.

Matt slowly nodded at him, not convinced. He understood that she wanted to help him, she was like that, but she also needed to help herself too. Though maybe he was making too big a deal out of this. “Okay.”

Evie nodded back. “Okay.” Feeling her head redden with embarrassment at his gaze, fearing she’s already said too much, she thankfully found someone else to take their minds off things. “Hey Mason!”

Matt turned to see the other boy walk towards them with a bright smile and a leash in one hand. A big, brown dog trailed after him only to rush eagerly towards Matt and Evie with his big, round eyes that were similar to any dog: the eyes that demanded devotion and affection.

Evie fixed her face into a smile as she reached down to pet the dog’s head, his tail wagging ferociously in affection. Matt, still feeling concerned at Evie but doing his best to hide it, turned with an teasing smile towards Mason. “You live with three siblings, three older siblings at that, and a dog? How do you get any peace.”

Mason laughed at that. “With great difficulty, let me tell you,” he replied, gazing at the pair of them cheerfully. Mason couldn’t help but feel really happy, despite all the difficulties at home, despite not seeing Justin there to either ask him what the hell he did or to give advice. Honestly, he felt really lucky that he and his siblings were sent to the Bay. There was something actually… he didn’t know, magically beautiful about this place, and the people, despite sometimes being complete emotional brick walls (frankly, Justin should be fitting in pretty well), were honestly really nice to know. Just hanging out with people like Matt and Evie, made him feel like a normal life was possible for him, once the whole thing with the Syndicate was over. Him just hanging out with guys he liked, friends. He also couldn’t help but feel interested when it came to Evie. He couldn’t say he knew exactly everything that happened in this town, but he could tell that there was something seriously bothering her. It was in the way she acted around him and Matt, the hidden agitation behind her every move. He didn’t say this, because he didn’t knew him much and he didn’t want to push any boundaries or make himself unwelcome (a idea that seemed to gone beyond the brains of his older brothers), but he hoped she would be okay. “So, what are you two up to?” he asked as he sat down with the pair of them, Buddy padding around the three of them, getting equal amount of attention from all of them.

“Just came back from a swim. Anything going on with you?” Evie asked him, smiling at him.

“Ah, just taking a break from the house. The rest of the family… they’re trying to adjust here, so I thought I’d make a quick escape and take Buddy here with me.”  Mason smiled nervously at her, trying not to think about how pretty she was. He didn’t want to act weird, but he couldn’t help but feel awed. However, he still felt weird that he couldn’t really talk about the true drama going on in his house, but he realised his mistake from what happened to Lara. Lara… he couldn’t believe she turned on him like that, he was still trying to process everything, especially with Justin lying to them. So he couldn’t tell anyone about what’s really going on, even if he still wanted to hang around them. He enjoyed seeing the two of them, it was something that didn’t feel like directed to do so by Decker. Even his own identity, like the rest of his siblings, was chosen for him. He went by the name Mason for so long now he had troubling remembering his actual name. Always dictated, always controlled. Chatting with these two felt like he should have if he didn’t have this life, if he and his siblings were capable of living perfectly normal lives, so what’s the harm?

------

Brody looked from the balcony, where he saw Mason talk with Matt and Evie. He could clearly see the look on his younger brother’s face even as he tried to keep it hidden. Brody sighed, knowing that’s something not to be ignored. And just as he thought he had to take it up with Tori, he caught sight of his doctor sister walk up to him from Salt’s entrance doors, just as he passed back behind the counter.

“Wait, don’t tell me,” Brody told her before she could even get close, the joke already on his tongue before it escaped his lips. “The other doctors realised that you would drive them in work to the point of insanity and had banned you from the hospital.”

Tori rolled her eyes at him as she sat down before him. “You better be hoping not, or else I’ll be dictating you and Mason to work instead. And at least I’ve been working responsibly instead of day-dreaming”

Brody grinned at her, before turning serious again. “Well, it’s a mixture of day-dreaming and looking after our brother,” he said before he looked down. Tori’s look turning from light-hearted and confident into anxious in a second. “What’s happened? It’s not, I mean, not again-”

As soon as her words started to make sense to him, Brody stiffened. “What? Oh no, no! Tori, really, it’s nothing like that, I’m sorry,” he quickly reassured her, squeezing her shoulder. It’s been ages since they heard from Decker, which they can only assume was a good thing, but he knew she was still worried about the Syndicate making another move. The feds may have Blaine and Spike in custody, but they weren’t the only ones who would try and get a shot at them. He was worried too, and he hated, hated with a passion that that always seemed to be the forefront of their problems, instead of normal life issues. Well, for most of them. “It’s not that serious, not really. Not yet anyway.”

Tori gave him a pointed look, feeling better. “I’m pretty amazing, I know, but I’m not a mind-reader, so what’s happening, Cryptic Chef?”

Brody sighed again, not rising up at the banter this time. “Mason’s got that look again.”

“That look?”

“Yeah,” Brody turned fully towards his sister. “That look that says, ‘I’ve met some nice girl, and I’m already planning my wedding.’”

“Ah, that look.” Tori raised her eyebrows and gave him a smile that said ‘Well, you brought it up, do you want to come with a solution?’. Like Brody had an idea of what to do.

“Like, I get that this life is not easy, it never has been. I just thought he would wise up at this point. Jumping to close into a relationship is not in his best interests, especially so soon after Lara.”

Tori grimaced at the mention of Mason’s former girlfriend. It was bad enough that he was seeing her behind their backs, bad enough that he told her about their witness protection, but that she was working with the men who wanted to put all four of them in shallow graves, that she used him, was the worst thing about this. She got what Brody was saying, after this it would make sense for Mason to step away from the dating game for a while, until he really acknowledge the events of the past few weeks. Still, even now, she couldn’t even find it in herself to be so critical of her little brother, at least not yet. “I guess it’s as you said, this life isn’t easy. He’s just looking for some sense of normality and he’s desperate for any sign of it.”

“I know that,” Brody admitted. It was something all four of them hoped for. “It’s not that I think he’s being wilfully ignorant, or that any of these people would be secretly working for the Syndicate.” Of course, neither he nor Tori could make quick assumptions, not when it’s their lives on the line, but he knew he couldn’t be suspecting anyone and everyone they meet. That way leads to paranoia, and seeing the people of this town, he does find it hard to believe if of any of them. Well at least, he hoped so. “It’s just… he keeps doing this, no matter where we go. He finds someone, he throws himself into whatever it is way too quickly… gets emotionally attached way too quickly and too deeply, and before you know it, we have to deal with someone like Spike, or that Murphy, or all those guys before, and we have to leave town, and he feels heartbroken over it. I mean, what if he blurts about us… again? Even if whoever he does it to isn’t trying to kill us, what would happen to them? Do they get trapped in our lives? They could become targets too, and that would just make Mason feel worse.”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Tori shook her head, already sighing at how dreary this whole conversation is. “He still needs some form of normality to help him cope with everything, though. I think we should appreciate that, but you are right. There’s something about this place, and I guess we let ourselves melt into it, too easily. He needs to remember what the stakes are. We’ll talk to him tonight, the three of us, and we’ll just make sure where we all stand, especially him.”

Brody nodded. He wanted his brother to be happy, but he also preferred him to be sensible, because in the lives they live, sensible means he stays alive. He shouldn’t cut himself off from the world, but he shouldn’t be wearing everything on his sleeve for the world to see either. That can lead to mistakes and mistakes here can get people hurt, and not just them. He looked out distantly back towards the sea on his left. “It doesn’t feel right does it, just the three of us?”

Tori sighed and looked out, feeling just as lost as her brother looked. She missed having Justin in the house. It was always the four of them against the world. Yeah Decker too, but no matter how much he protected them, he didn’t really get himself attached. He mostly spoke with Justin, but kept contact with the rest of them to a minimal. The four of them always kept together, nothing was hidden. Or at least that’s what she thought (or rather hoped for). She missed him, but she couldn’t get her head around that he kept the truth behind their parent’s death, all these years. Yeah, Mason kept the truth from them too, but this was entirely different. This was their parents! It was for the best that she asked him to leave. It wouldn’t be permanent, at least she hoped not, but she couldn’t deal with him, not now. “No it doesn’t. Justin should have thought about that before he lied to us.”

Brody pressed his lips in a flat line. Truth was, he was thinking the same, and it wasn’t so easy to forgive Justin of that. “We’ll talk tonight,” Tori repeated, sounding like she was convincing herself as much as she was convincing him. “We can get things back on track.”

Brody gave her a hesitant smile, as if he’d do anything to break through the tension and just talk like normal people. “You know something I don’t?”

Tori shot him a cocky smirk back. “I know everything you don’t.”

-----

Evie walked back into the diner, having returned from home a while ago to get finish the work from before, and immediately saw Leah trying to catch her eye. She gave a quick hello to Roo and Chris (the latter trying to gauge if she was alright after yesterday before she waved a hasty assurance towards him) as she approached the older woman just besides the counter.

“Hey, Evie,” Leah gently said as she stood in front of her. “How was today? Matt said you two were hanging out today.”

“Yeah, we were just chilling and we took a swim. Honestly, it went well.” Evie smiled at Leah, even as she beat down that memory of her struggling in the water. She was just grateful no one noticed, even though she still didn’t know what went wrong. It must have been with something she ate, or something. She’ll be sure to get a bite when she gets back home, but that’s something she’s got to watch out for too. Still, she didn’t have to talk about it. “We had fun, it was something we both needed.”

Leah’s own smile widened, her eyes gazing at her, full with compassion and warmth. “I’m glad, honey, it’s good to see you take a break from everything, you deserve to have good things in your life.” She turned around to take her apron off, just about to finish her shift in ten minutes and gestured that she wanted to talk about something.

Evie nodded as the two of them walked out through the exit, her mind keep going back to Leah’s words: good things in your life. She had good things in her life; look what happened. “Is everything okay? Have you spoken to VJ?”

“Yeah, we talked. He’s… he’s still committed to the idea of staying with Billie, but we’re back to talking again, so I’ll take it.” Leah trailed off, lost in thought.  She wouldn’t deny that not seeing VJ around in the house anymore hurt, her little boy all grown up, but at least he could actually talk to her now, which was more than before. She was just glad that she could actually be involved in VJ’s transition to fatherhood. Besides, that wasn’t the only thing troubling her. She turned to Evie again. “Zac told me that you volunteered to accompany him to Hunter’ trial next week and… I just want to say thanks as well. It’s really generous of you.”

Evie kept herself from scratching at her neck, uncomfortable with the praise. This wasn’t something she should be thanked for, Zac just shouldn’t be going through this alone. “It’s okay… I mean, Zac’s the one we should be worried about. It won’t be easy for him, no matter what way the trial goes.”

“No, it won’t, but it can’t be easy for you either. To think he knew something about what happened to Denny, and kept it hidden…” Leah sighed and shook her head. She knew it wasn’t Zac’s fault, nor hers, but she still couldn’t help but feel foolish when they thought Hunter really changed. She gave Evie an imploring look. “Listen, if you’re not up to it, I can go with Zac next week.”

Evie looked back at her, alarmed. “Are you sure?” she asked Leah. No matter what she thought about Hunter, what Zac and Leah must be thinking must be ten times worse. “Zac said that you weren’t comfortable… which I totally get, after what he did.”

“Hunter hurt all of us, and I won’t forget that, but it must be just as horrible for you, to hear about Denny. I don’t want you to be hurt again, and neither does Zac,” Leah told her, feeling so much sadness for the girl in front of her. After Josh lied to her, and used her to cover his own tracks, what Hunter did would have caused a really bad reminder of it. She may not have been as close to Hunter as Zac or Leah were, but the betrayal still would have hurt.

Evie felt her own mouth tremble as she saw the soft compassion in Leah’s eyes, and it made her want to fold herself into the older woman’s arms, whom she came to see as… as a mother. She hasn’t had a mother in ages, it wasn’t something not even Hannah could replace, something that Hannah knew. But with Leah, the soft compassion and gentleness she had with all the kids who lived with her, whether related to her or not, had always made Evie feel warm and nice, just like it was with her actual mother.  She knocked that thought aside, because that’s not worth considering right now. “It’ll… it’ll be difficult, I can’t say otherwise,” Evie started, trying not to falter. She wanted to say otherwise, but it wouldn’t be the truth, and Leah would have known that. “But that doesn’t matter, I’ll still do it. The last thing I need is to make you think you have to do something like that for me, especially when Hunter betrayed your and Zac’s trust more than anyone else.”

“Evie, of course it matters,” Leah objected, running her hand against her arm. “You don’t have to do this for me or Zac. We’re not your priority to worry about-”

“Leah…” Evie cut her short, her muscles working overtime to keep the frustration out of her voice and her posture. This wasn’t about her, there was more at stake involved, so why was Leah so insistent on putting her first? It left a heaviness in her mouth, and it felt a struggle to use her words again. “I’m not a kid anymore. You and Zac did so much for me, for Matt, for Oscar, for all of us. It may not be my priority, but that doesn’t change things. I can do this for you both. You don’t need to protect me from it.” Evie felt like she was still stumbling with her words, but Leah didn’t need to do this for her, and she won’t let her do this when she clearly doesn’t want to.

Leah gave a sigh before sadly smiling at her. She felt like she won’t change Evie’s mind, at least not right now, and since she herself isn’t really feeling up to it at all, Zac would need the support. That didn’t lower her level of concern. “I know you do. And if that’s what you… you feel like doing,” (Leah couldn’t exactly say ‘want to’, because neither of them would want to be spending another moment with Hunter), “then I won’t stop you. But if you change your mind about it, if it feels too much for you, then please let us know. We care for you, so much, and… you’ve been through a really hard time, and you’ve changed. You don’t talk to us as you used to, and we just want to make things easy for you.”

“You shouldn’t,” Evie mumbled, before clearing her throat, because the way Leah was talking was smashing what was left of her heart. This wasn’t her problem, or anyone else’s problem. Evie brought this on herself, and she had to live with it. Leah deserved to be happy, which was why Evie couldn’t let her be caught in her own life. “You shouldn’t have to worry about me. Everyone’s got their own issues going on, you and Zac deserve some peace after everything, and I don’t want to wasting your time with whatever’s going on with me.”

“Evie, please,” Leah begged her, hating that this was what she thought. She felt like crying that Evie believed she couldn’t talk to her, or Zac. “Please never feel like you can’t come to me if something’s troubling you, or Zac. We want to be there for anything that you’re dealing with-”

“Listen, Leah, I think I might go back the house.” Evie was chocking back her own tears as she backed away, at looking how upset Leah was by this, by her. She hated that she was responsible for how upset she looked, if she tried and keep her problems to herself… she’d been selfish, so damn selfish, Leah shouldn’t be comforting her. She let bad things happen, she didn’t deserve the compassion shining in Leah’s eyes. Evie knew she should let her be alone, she was going to say something incredibly stupid if she stayed, or else she’d actually give in to the desire to actually try and rip her own skin open. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up…”

“Evie, it’s okay, it’s okay to talk about it,” Leah tried to reassure her, even as Evie was backing away towards the exit. She didn’t do anything wrong, Evie needed to know that. “You should never feel ashamed about talking or feeling like this, we love you.”. And Evie wanted to say it back because she loved them all so much, but she couldn’t, she couldn’t. Bad things happened to those she loved, and if she said it, it would mean disaster to them.

“I’ll see you later,” Evie hurried off, leaving Leah trying with all her power not to follow her. The older woman knew if she tried and followed her, it could only made Evie lash out. She looked to her retreating figure and the air got stuck in her lungs at how miserable she looked, that she felt no one could help her. Leah knew how alone she must have felt, but she hoped that at least she felt confident enough to talk to her or Zac about it, for her own sake. Leah won’t give up, especially not now, but that didn’t change that Evie needed to realise that.

Why would she really care, she won’t now, not after you threw it back in her face.

Evie didn’t mean to, she didn’t, almost begging against the critic’s harsh voice starting the string of insults against her, her fingers pinching against her skin as punishment. She tried to be good, she tried not to make things about herself-

But you did. Stop lying, you did. As if Leah doesn’t have enough to worry about without you playing the victim. Oscar, Denny, Hannah, your parents… they’d all be ashamed of you. You can’t keep doing this, making terrible decisions and feeling sorry for it. You have to try harder. You always do though, so what’s the point?

She knew this, just like she knew she had to remind herself, remind herself not to let it happen again. She just hoped Leah would get over it, and would let her try and do this right by Zac, at least.

------

3 days ago…

His hands were already sweating through the cuffs that were placed on him the moment he sat down. They always placed the cuffs on him, everytime they interviewed him with different detectives. For safety procedures, everyone said. Like they were afraid of him lashing out (wouldn’t be the first time). Hunter was sitting on the hard seat in the interrogation room. Waiting for his lawyer, his body spiked with nervousness. Actually, no he wasn’t, he wasn’t nervous.

He was straight-out terrified. He had no idea how things would go this way, or that the charges he was facing were more serious than he previously believed. He messed up, yeah, but for the most part, he didn’t mean to hurt anyone (did he, really?), and he was upset. He hoped that would be brought into consideration by the cops.

What hurt was that he had no one to stand by him, apart from Olivia. Apart from the cops and his lawyer (what he wouldn’t give to have Morag helping him, but she too washed her hands of him), the only other person who visited him were Olivia and Zac, and half the time Hunter suspected that Zac would rather be anywhere else than in front of his son (Could Hunter blame him though? After he thought he had something to do with Denny?). So much for family loyalty (as much loyalty he showed his mother when he found she was stealing from his trust fund). This he had to face alone, when things were looking more dire than before (thanks to himself).

It felt grating though, that he would be facing prison when Josh and Andy were still out there, unpunished for what they did. Sure Josh could claim that he didn’t mean to kill his mother, to Hunter it didn’t made a difference (Then why should it make a difference for himself?). He clung to his anger and justification like a blanket ever since he was arrested, anger at the world, at Zac, at Charlotte, at the police, at Josh and Andy (Not himself though. There was always someone else to blame. Always).

He looked up at the sound of the door opening, with Mr Rogers, his court-appointed lawyer, walking through the door. “The cops wish to discuss your earlier statement with you. The trial is set for next week, so we don’t have much time left, but neither do they. Just be completely honest,” he advised him the moment he sat down. “Your case is already looking very bad indeed, and an additional charge could make things worse.”

Hunter looked to him with soured eyes. He’d already been told this, and all the times before he couldn’t react in any other way than disbelief (as if he couldn’t believe what he did was that serious). He’d already plead guilty for the other charges, and for the most part, he was actually sorry that they happened (not sorry enough that he wished he could take it back, because he got what he wanted, but now that was being taken away). Now, however, that numb disbelief had given way to anger and a desire to hit someone. As long as it wasn’t Olivia, anyone else would do. “Isn’t it your job to get me out of it, then?”

Rogers sighed wearily as he turned towards his client. “Mr King, not for the first time, I have to remind you that I’m your lawyer, not a miracle worker. There’s no way that you would walk away free from these charges unscathed. No, the only thing we can hope for to mitigate the sentence. You already pleaded guilty to the previous charges, but they are all very serious ones. We must avoid this one, and that involves cooperating with the detectives in any form and show them no doubt you remorse what you did. You understand?”

Hunter nodded his head slowly. “I understand.” That didn’t mean he had to like it, not when it was his mother who killed Denny in the first place (for him). He did show genuine remorse for what happened to Marilyn (not enough to turn himself in for) and he hoped it would be enough, but he just hoped they steered away from what happened to Barrett, because there was no way he would apologise for that! If he could just talk to someone who would understand, someone to hear his side of the story without blowing it out of proportion.

The door opened and Hunter looked up to see the new Sergeant, McCarthy or something, enter the room alongside two detectives in suits, both of them he knew came from the city: one male, one female. None of them betrayed the slightest bit of compassion for him, and internally Hunter felt like shrinking in himself. Was that the face of everyone in the Bay if they saw him? Would everyone look at him like a criminal? (Not that it mattered to him though. All that mattered to him was how Zac saw him).

The female detective pressed the machine that started the recording and began: “Interview beginning with Mr King with legal counsel present. Detective Sergeants Ryan and Warren are heading the interview with Yabbie Creek Sergeant Phillip McCarthy present.”

Hunter leaned back against his chair, trying to hide how much this annoyed him. These people were strangers, unsympathetic strangers at that. Rogers warned him before that they might try to provoke him during their enquires, so he had to remain watchful.

“Mr King, you said in your previous statement that on the day of Ms Miller’s death, you left the Bay to see your grandmother,” the male detective (Warren) began, looking intently at him like he was a cat that ate a canary. Despite that, Hunter nodded.

“Yeah, Mom wanted me to leave town that night, I wanted to confess but she convinced me otherwise. She said it was best if I left while she… she took care of it. I needed time to think.” That was the truth. Hunter needed the break from the Bay, and after what he did, maybe it was enough to clear his head (though not enough for him to truly consider what he did). His mum stayed at the flat, and that was where she killed Denny (what would have happened if he was still there? Would things still have gotten that bad).

“Needed time to think?” Warren’s scowl was slowly melting away into something that looked like a smirk, never turning his gaze away from Hunter, who refused to intimidated. “Well, the thing is, Mrs King, your grandmother, had already told police that you didn’t arrive at the house until late in the night, approximately 8pm.”

“My client arrived at Peggy King’s house that day,” Rogers intervened, his hands folded in front of him. He made a living on with language, but he knew when and when not to talk. “No one’s disputing that.”

“No, but it’s not a long distance from where Mrs King lived,” Detective Ryan answered, her steel gaze turning from Rogers to Hunter. “It was clear that people believed that Mr King was still in town, as evidence from Mr Maguire’s statement that Ms Miller went to your flat in the first place to find you to take her shifts. And you didn’t make any deters, any stops on the way?”

Hunter felt confused by the answer. Had Zac give a statement to the police about him? Had he really given up on him that easily? He couldn’t really pay attention to the rest of her question. If he was being honest, he was still dealing with everything that happened that he couldn’t remember the road trip to see his grandmother. “I… I don’t think so… things were a bit of a blur and…”

“A blur,” Warren repeated sceptically, after Hunter trailed off. He looked up at the detective, suspicious and tense. “Well, yeah. Mom told me to leave the bay the night before and I was still shook by everything-”

“Well, it’s not as if she can corroborate that statement now, can she, son?,” McCarthy fired back. “There’s no mobile phones GPS signals either to suggest you were on the road at this time.”

“I turned it off,” Hunter explained to the sergeant, feeling more uncertain by the minute. He didn’t want to talk to anyone after being told to leave, not even his mother. He was still furious about what he felt was Zac spending more time with Leah and the rest rather than his own son, which led to him stealing the safe in the first place. He felt shunted aside again, even by his mother, so he just avoided all contact. “I had it shut off for the whole journey.”

McCarthy’s eyebrows raised in a look that said he wasn’t surprised. “How convenient, eh?”

“What was your state of mind that day? You said you were ‘shaken’. Were you in a frame of mind to confront Denise Miller once she found the stolen safe in your home?” Ryan asked quickly, leaning her head towards him before Hunter could force up an answer. “To coerce her?”

Hunter felt like his insides were turning inside out. He had no idea where they were going with this, but he already knew he wasn’t going to like it. “What? I… I wasn’t there! I told you this. I had no idea what my mum did to Denny. She kept it from me too.” (until after the body was found, and she threatened to go the police with what he did if he went to the police) He looked anxiously at Rogers. Isn’t he supposed to be doing something?

“According to you, you weren’t there. We have no one else to corroborate proof that you weren’t there at the time of Ms Miller’s death.” Ryan’s glare was piercing. She didn’t like this kid and she had no bones of showing it. Does he think they’re complete idiots? He had lied about nearly everything he already pled guilty for, he can’t expect them to take his word with more than a grain of salt. With Charlotte King dead too, there was no way for him to prove this, yet he still didn’t really get it.  

“We do, however, have plenty of statements, from people of this community, all of which paints a very vivid picture of your history of aggressive nature when it comes to members of your own family. Adding that to your attempted stabbing of Andrew Barrett, well…” Warren didn’t need to finish that sentence. He was confident he didn’t need to as Ryan handed him the file she was holding. Warren had no trouble getting people to talk to him about the King boy, with the eyes of the community finally open to what he was.

Hunter’s eyes felt like bulging at the sentence. What did that mean? Yeah, he wasn’t the nicest guy when he came to the Bay, but ‘aggressive nature’ ? Maybe they could cut him some slack!

“Mr Vinnie Jr Patterson had told us a very interesting story about how, not a long after you first met, you deliberately, and without provocation, broke his wrist when playing basketball. He, along with Mrs Leah Patterson-Baker, also told us of the many fights you were involved with him, mostly with you initiating those fights.”

“That first part was an accident!” Hunter blurted out before Warren could even finished, though his gut squirmed at the fact that wasn’t true. He did want to hurt VJ back then, but it was so long ago, he thought bygones could be bygones. “Besides, VJ started a lot of fights too, like when he found out that I… I”

His voice trailed off, already embarrassed at how childish he sounded, and already knowing what he was going to say. McCarthy finished the sentence for him “when he found out that you burned down his home.”

Hunter looked down and nodded, his face turning red. The way that sounded made VJ a lot more sympathetic than he was trying to make himself sound. He turned a glare against Rogers. Say something!

“You burned down their house, you threatened Mrs Patterson-Baker in the past, you stole from her work place causing injury to a colleague and could have just as easily injured Mrs Patterson-Baker if she’d be there. One could easily spot a connection. Not only that, but we’ve also received statements that claim in the days leading up to your attack on Andrew Barrett, you were seen behaving in an aggressive manner that was bordering on threatening towards Evelyn Maguire. Do you deny this?”

Despite how nervous he felt by all of it, he couldn’t help but snort in disbelief, ignoring Roger’s look of disapproval as he did so. He remembered his lawyer telling him not to act arrogant or unremorseful, particularly when it came to what was left of his family (not that he really considered anyone other than Charlotte, Zac or Olivia as his family), but he couldn’t help it. “Of course, she’d try and play the ‘Pity me’ card-”

“Do you deny it?” Warren asked him bluntly, his scowl returning.

“No, I don’t” Hunter said determined. He took a quick glance at his lawyer, who said nothing, but continued to watch him with an expression of exhaustion. Well, he wanted me to tell the truth. “Her fiancé killed my mother, she may have known about it, I was upset. Maybe you ought to go grill her about her beloved boyfriend and wherever he’s cowering at.”

“‘You were upset’. That seems to behind the reasoning for a lot of your actions, doesn’t it Mr King?” McCarthy asked, his voice displaying his disapproval.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Hunter scowled at him.

“Well, you said you were upset, when you stole that safe, because your father had priorities other than you. You were upset when you burned Mrs Patterson’s house. You were upset when you attempted to blame Ms Maguire for her fiancé’s actions. You were upset when you stabbed Mr Barrett… There’s really only so many times until that excuse loses any meaning,” Warren informed him causally, like he was discussing the weather. He spent the majority of his life in this job, and the ‘upset’ card was played so many times he couldn’t be surprised anymore that people didn’t seriously believed it excused the crimes they committed. It may explain it, but understanding it doesn’t equal excusing it. “Funny, though. By your own admission, Mr Patterson was upset about your burning down his mother’s house, Ms Maguire was most likely upset about her fiancé charged with murder. As far as we know, neither of them have committed arson or assault.”

“And for the tape,” Ryan told him. “Not only have inquires by our colleagues found no evidence that Ms Maguire had any prior knowledge regarding Joshua Barrett’s actions or current whereabouts, but she didn’t give a statement regarding your actions towards her. No, this information came from correlating statements from Mrs Patterson, Alfred Stewart and Christopher Harrington. Apart from a victim statement for Ms Miller and regarding your possible involvement in that, she hasn’t brought up anything you may have done to her. Hardly seems like playing the victim card.” Which is more than we could say for you, pal, she thought but knew would be unprofessional to state on tap.

If that was supposed to make him feel better, it didn’t. Hunter was still shocked by how willing everyone was to give evidence against him. As he was still getting his head around this, Rogers finally realised he had a client to defend. “Is there a point behind this line of questioning?”

“That depends,” Ryan leaned closer on the table, her eyes professional, yet narrowed with disgust. “You seemed to enjoy a little vendetta against those who were close to your father, who you would believe were taking his time away from you. I mean, who knows?” She gestured with one hand while keeping both hands on King, gauging for any reaction. “If you weren’t able to confront Mr Barrett or his brother, would Ms Maguire have been enough for you to unleash your anger? Would you tried to make it look like an accident, blame it on someone else? Wouldn’t be the first time for you.”

“Can we please get back to questioning that is relevant to the investigation, please?!” Roger’s voice sounded like he was on the verge of defeat, which only made Hunter more agitated. Why wasn’t he fighting this?! Hunter’s jaw felt like falling off. Is that what they really think of him? A psychopath who would have killed anyone who got in his way? (Well, he already hurt enough people who got his way, it’s not really that hard to believe- no, he couldn’t believe that) He was angry towards Evie (with Josh in jail and out of reach, she just seemed to him the perfect person to be angry at, regardless of whether or not she knew), he couldn’t deny that, but did he want to actually hurt her? Would he have let himself?

“Is that what happened that day?” McCarthy took over. “Were you angry when Ms Miller found the safe, or upset? Did you wish to silence her?”

“My client regrets the loss of life,” Roger said, when Hunter couldn’t answer for a while as he attempted to control his breaths. “But I don’t need to remind anyone, that Ms King’s DNA was found on the body, already found by Constable Katrina Chapman and Sergeant Mike Emerson.”

“Indeed it was. That doesn’t mean she was the only one who could have played a part.”

Hunter got his breath back and stared at the table, even as his fists curled up and were visibly trembling as he was beginning to understand what they were implying. They thought he had something to do with Denny’s death!

“Does he?”

Hunter looked up at Detective Warren, afraid that he said something in his shock that he shouldn’t have. “Do I what?”

Warren's face was still intense as he bored into Hunter, but it also now turned solemn. “Do you regret what happened to Ms Miller, Hunter King?” The older man’s voice turned softer.

Hunter shook his head, still disbelieving that this was happening. “Of course I do, I never wished-”

“Or do you simply regret that she was found, particularly found next to evidence of your wrongdoings?” Warren's voice returned to his unflinching, condemning tone. “Or rather, more evidence of your wrongdoings.”

“That’s…. I didn’t…. that’s not what-”

“I mean,” Warren continued on, contempt dripping from his voice, as if Hunter wasn’t stuttering in front of him. “I wonder why you were so upset at Josh Barrett. From where you’re sitting, him killing your mother had did you a favour, so she couldn’t reveal anything else you did.”

Hunter wanted to start shouting at that, rage pouring into the part of his brain that felt vacant, yet for some reason he couldn’t get his mouth to move (and was the detective even wrong?). Rogers immediately jumped in. “I object to this in the strongest of terms,” he told the detectives, even he himself was weary of this very unwinnable case. “My client lost his mother through tragic circumstances, at the hands of someone he thought of as a friend, a fact that wasn’t revealed until months after. This line of questioning and the language it’s presented in is offensive, and insensitive.”

“Yes, and we all know how sensitive Mr King can get, don’t we? Houses get burned and people get hurt when he gets sensitive.” McCarthy remarked, his calm stare never leaving the frantic boy in front of him.

“I- I didn’t kill Denny Miller!” Hunter suddenly shouted, his voice betraying more panic than anger and the looks of the officers in front of him showed that they knew that. Rogers had warned him that they would try and agitate him, and he knew he was giving them what they wanted but he never expected this ambush. “Why would I do something like that? How could I?”

“Well, let’s look at three things: Opportunity. As far as we know, you were present in the Bay that day, the incident occurred in your flat, and there’s no one living who could tell us otherwise,” McCarthy started off.

“Means. Ms Miller was killed by an internal haemorrhage. You have plenty of experience using your fists in an argument, and no regard if things got out of hand,” Warren pointed out, as Hunter kept shaking his head.

“Motive. Two, in fact. You wanted to keep her from telling the world what you did, and she was related to your father, so you must have deemed her as a threat to-”

“No, no, no! This was all Charlotte! She did this stuff, I did nothing to Denny!” Hunter cut off Ryan. He felt the walls closing around him, but he couldn’t give up. He couldn’t let them say this, let them think he was a bad person. Yeah he made mistakes, but he didn’t kill Denny, he wouldn’t do that (Then what happened with Andy? Hunter did want to hurt him, wanted him to feel the pain he felt, but kill? Is that who he was?)

“So, it wasn’t you, it was the woman who’s already dead and can’t say otherwise, the woman who you had no problem blaming your crimes on her before?” The smirk on Warren's face told him exactly what he thought of that.

Hunter would have rubbed his hand against his face, if it wasn’t for the cuffs. He needed them to listen to him, hear his side of the story. “I confessed to the arson, I confessed to the theft. What else do you want from me?”

“Yes you confess. After throwing Belinda Ashford under the bus for arson, for causing a fire that nearly killed herself and three other people, right until the last minute. After duping your family that your mother stole the safe and you had no knowledge of it. Perfect cover story, Charlotte King kills and steals, but you, no, you were the helpless son, blameless. After you had them all tied around your thumb, didn’t you.”

“No, no…” He was shaking now, all his assurances to himself slowly fading into fear at every second. He had no idea things would turn this badly for him (and he did his best to ignore the idea that they should). He felt trapped by their hostility, with no way for him to escape. “I didn’t dupe anyone!”

“Yet that’s exactly what you did, didn’t you? You deliberately misled them about everything that happened. You had them convinced you may have made mistakes, but you changed, you were a ‘good guy’. As if that was enough for you to hide from responsibility. All the while covering up what you did, to Mrs Patterson, to Marilyn Chambers and to Denny Miller!” Warren rallied against him, his voice getting louder and louder by the minute.

“NO!” Hunter screamed as he looked up at the detective, wishing he could smash his face in. Smash everyone in, for leaving him like this. “I was out of the Bay, I wasn’t there!! So what if you can’t prove it, it’s the bloody truth! I didn’t know about Denny’s death until her body was found, and I didn’t know that Mum did until she told me so!!”

It took a few seconds, for the haze to disappear from his eyes, for him to actually realise what he said. Silence ran through the room, so thick you couldn’t cut at it. The shared looks of surprise and satisfaction on the three officer’s faces and the way Rogers looked upwards, resignation and dismay mingled on his lawyer’s face, made Hunter realise that he messed up badly (Again).

“Would you mind repeating that?” McCarthy asked him slowly.

Hunter leaned forward, wanting to bang his head against the desk. What had he done? “I… I confronted Mum, and… she confessed. She said…” Tears were gathering in his eyes. “She said she’d tell the police what I did if they ever found out that she killed Denny and… I…”

“What did you do?” Detective Ryan asked him, her voice turning towards exasperation.

“I told her to leave town,” And with that, the first tear drops poured down his cheek, and Hunter knew what this meant for him. He put his own safety ahead of doing the right thing and going to the police. What would Zac think of him? “That’s all I knew about it, that is the truth, I swear.”

A second of silence ran again before Warren spoke. “So you’ve been lied about not knowing about Denny Miller’s death before constables found Ms King’s evidence on her body, but now you’re telling us the truth?”

“Yes! That’s what happened!”

“So, you’re an honest liar?”

Hunter couldn’t even respond to that, all the anger seeped out him and replaced with shuddering, ice-cold fear. Ryan’s voice rang through the buzz in his ears with a cold tone with finality. “Doesn’t matter. You just confessed to being complicit to hiding a murder after the fact, a murder connected to your crimes.”

“That’s it. We have what we need,” McCarthy sighed as he stood up, looking at the pitiful sight in front of him.

Hunter gave a rasping gasp that was close to a sob. This wasn’t fair, it wasn’t! (Neither was what he did, to Zac, to Leah, to any of them). “Wait-”

“Hunter King, you are being charged with accessory after the fact to the murder of Denise Miller and obstruction of justice, in addition to charges of arson with reckless endangerment of life, burglary with reckless endangerment of life, and aggravated assault with the intent of causing bodily harm.”

------

Evie was sitting down on one of her chairs in her room, looking absently out the window with the guilt still welling in her when Leah came in. She flinched as she felt the door open, already expecting a firm reprimand for upsetting Leah, but when Leah simply, slowly, sat down next to her, Evie didn’t felt reassured, not at all.

“I’m so sorry about earlier.” It was the first words out of Evie’s mouth as Leah sat down next to her, her body automatically scooting a tiniest bit away, but she meant every word of it. “You weren’t pushing me, and I reacted badly. Everything that's going on... just seems small with everything going on with you and Zac, and VJ and the rest. I’ll do better… I di...didn’t want to upset you, and cause trouble.” Too bad it meant too little too late. She should have known better by now, just loosing the slightest bit of control over herself would only make things worse, it would spread her misery to other people. Even if people felt hurt by her not talking to them, doing so would only hurt them more. Then there was silence, as she just anticipated for Leah to tell her off, to yell at her, to do something.

“Evie, sweetie…” Evie turned reluctantly towards Leah’s eyes wide with concern and understanding and kindness and wondered why did Leah looked that way, why at her? “You didn’t upset me, you never could. It’s just… I feel sad that you feel like we wouldn’t want to hear about anything that’s bothering you. You’re an adult now, we know that and we respect your decisions, but that never means that you have to rely on just yourself. You've been through something awful and we would never ignore that.”

Evie could only look on incredulously. She wanted to ask her, ask her why and how Leah didn’t hate her, when she was so awful, but the question felt lodged on her tongue, unable and unwilling to leave her mouth, and she found she was scared of the answer. Scared of hearing it, even if she deserved it. Feeling so much shame, she didn’t ask, just sat there in silence, knowing that it didn't just happened to her, it meant worse to other people.

------

 

feeling the bruise against her hipbone from… from earlier, the fury that she felt against herself translated in the only way she could.

The first time she did it, she felt the shock, the astonishment that she did. The second time today, there was no shock, just acceptance because she felt gross, ugly and beating it seemed the only thing that made sense (no matter how much she hurt, how horrible it felt)

 

------

“When Dan died, I didn’t feel like… like I had a right to be happy,” Leah said wistfully, gently tucking a few strands of dark hair behind Evie’s ear. “He died in America, and I was here, and… no matter what, I felt such shame that I wasn’t there with him, I couldn’t speak to anyone. Whenever I thought about him, or Vinnie, it was so full of regret, of the time we missed, and it only made it worse, because that’s not what I wanted to feel whenever I thought of them.” Leah couldn’t help but sigh whenever she thought about Dan, and even though it was years later, every argument they had felt like a knife to her soul.

“It took… what felt like a lifetime for me to actually process it, and I realised, it was okay for me to feel that way. It hurt, and I wished I never felt any of it, but it was okay for me to be hurt by what happened to them. Neither Dan nor Vinnie would want me to be guilty for showing my feelings. It’s okay for you too. No one's expecting you to be okay immediately, and no one thinks what you're going through is unimportant. You never have to feel sorry feeling hurt for what happened to Oscar and Hannah, and Denny, and Josh too. You’re allowed to feel hurt by him.”

Evie heard her words, but it all felt dimmed, because she was so busy hating that she wanted nothing more than to lean into the older woman’s touch. She never really spoke to her about her previous husbands, it was never really her business, but even though she listened hard, even though she wanted to believe Leah, that would be easy, wouldn’t it, the easiest thing in the world. If it was true, then why did she feel so guilty and ashamed? Why did it feel so hard to think anything else other than those thoughts and feelings if she was allowed to feel them, if it was okay to? Leah couldn’t hold herself responsible for what happened, and at least she was able to move past it, made something good with her life, with VJ and Zac, and of course she did, Leah was so wonderful, she deserved it. Evie knew it was different for her, she deserved to be alone. She did grief before, and it didn’t make things better, not when she should have done things better beforehand and everything could have been different. When people have been hurt, people have been killed, what was happening with her remained so insignificant, when she was still breathing. She should be grateful, and felt horrified that she didn't. It wouldn’t long for Leah and everyone else to realise that eventually, and leave her. What didn’t help Evie was that she didn’t know really how to respond to Leah. She wanted to say how sorry she was that Leah had to go through that, but she knew those words would mean nothing. She needed to acknowledge those words thought, the effort Leah put into them.

“Thanks. I know that was really tough, but… thank you, for… this. I’ve just been thinking… about things I haven’t for a long time, and sometimes I have trouble sleeping some nights, thinking too much, but I… I can handle it, and make sure it doesn’t become too much. I could slow down on some of my studies without falling behind.” She could find some truth in it, because it was already too much, but she could make sure it doesn’t get worse, that it would be kept locked away. As long as she just didn’t talk about what she was thinking, because it would expose and ruin everything. She was just hoping it would be enough for Leah, enough to sooth her mind.

“It’s fine. Maybe a break from the work will be a good thing, to find things to help you relax, like today.” Leah smiled at her with that warm, that so understanding smile again like she thought too much of Evie. “It’s fine. Just… don’t feel like you need to keep anything from me, or Zac. We care about you so much to let you go through any of this on your own. And thanks again for… offering to go with Zac, he really need help next week. You’re under no pressure to do anything, but if you still want to, then that’s okay. You’re... you're such a good kid.” With one final squeeze on her shoulder, Leah stood up (keeping down the urge to wrap the younger woman into a deep hug) and left, knowing that Evie, as much she needed to hear it and needed to stop being so hard on herself, needed her own space as well. She wasn’t going to give up, she just hoped Evie wouldn’t either.

There was at least seven times when I was writing this when I honestly couldn't believe I wrote this, but, I’ve done it now and I keep reminding myself of my promise that things will get better for her, just not right now. I like to think I did a good job with the descriptions, but it was still really hard to write. I had more planned for this chapter but I decided to leave this on as possible a light note as I could at this stage in the story, because it’s Christmas, so I finished it with Leah comforting Evie, but it won't be solved overnight, and I’m so sorry because of that, but it's still relevant. I… I’ve never been good at this kind of stuff, but I am so sorry if this is personal to any of you, and I just hope that you all love yourselves and one another.

Also, I’m claiming artificial licence when it came to the Hunter stuff, because I doubt that the police could charge someone with a crime so close to a trial date and I said he wouldn’t be in this story, but I decided to try and work it in because… honestly, because with everything bad happening to Evie (who deserves all the real love she can get), I needed to write the stuff happening with Hunter to actually help me get through this chapter, who still thinks what he did could be excused and needed to have his crimes pointed out to him., as well as the fact that he did cover up what Charlotte did just like what she did for him. Also, I started watching H&A in 2007 so I may don’t have all the details about Leah and Dan, so sorry to the earlier fans if I made any mistakes.

So I’m going to take a break for Christmas, and again, I hope that you all enjoy yourselves as much as you can this year, try and protect yourselves and be around people who care about you and you care about back, and please always remember: whoever you are, you are loved, you are important. Have a truly wonderful, merry Christmas and a happy (and hopefully better) New Year!

Edited by D.B
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Evie continues to be in a bad place and struggling to find the motivation to do anything.She's got people around her but maybe they don't know how bad it is.

I can understand the desire to see something bad happen to Hunter...

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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)
On 22/12/2020 at 12:24, Red Ranger 1 said:

Evie continues to be in a bad place and struggling to find the motivation to do anything.She's got people around her but maybe they don't know how bad it is.

I can understand the desire to see something bad happen to Hunter...

Thanks Red! Your comments always help. I felt it was important to emphasis that Evie still has people who love her, but as you said, they don't expect her deeper issues to be as bad as they are and they wouldn't be sure what to do. This combined with Evie's own conviction that she shouldn't open up to them, and as a result doesn't tell them the full truth, makes things more difficult for everyone involved. 

Hunter... yeah, maybe his scene was a bit overdone, but I do believe if this ever happened to him in the show, his history would definitely be used against him. Some of the law details may be a bit sketchy, but I tried to be as accurate as I could for the sake of drama, with my own research and what I learned from shows such as Law and Order or Line of Duty (which I just watched over the summer and it was amazing). Also, really, I needed to write that scene with bad stuff happening to Hunter, someone who deserved it to compare it against a lot of bad stuff happening to Evie, someone who didn't deserve it. Apologies to the Hunter fans out there, but I didn't feel too bad writing that. 

 

Anyways, here’s the next chapter, hope you all had a great Christmas, are staying safe, and that you’re still enjoying/enduring this story.

Warnings: Same warnings apply to depression, self-hatred, descriptions of a panic attack and Anorexia. Warnings: Implied (non-explicit) references to self-harm and to past-sexual assault/rape (which I have never written about before, so I hope the descriptions aren't insensitive or inappropriate to anyone. Again red lines will be drawn so avoid that section if you feel it to be necessary). Please be careful. 

Chapter 6

“Hey, what are you doing out here this early?” Zac looked back to where Leah was standing in her dressing gown and a sad smile on her face. Zac gave a smile that tried to be reassuring but was still probably just as sad as his wife looked. He lifted up his arm from where it was pressed against the wall of the porch for her to walk forward and to lean against his shoulder. The weight of her nestled against him and the way she wrapped her arms around him made Zac feel more warm, more grounded. It made the toll of pressure he’d been facing feel lighter, that someone had not taken it from him but rather was helping him hold it up. With everything with VJ, Evie, Hunter, the diner, school, and everything in between, it felt like ages since both he and Leah had a moment like this, just to themselves. He knew there were still tons of issues worth discussing and he wanted to, but right now, as he rested his cheek against the top of Leah’s head, he could just push that reminder into the back brain and just enjoy the moment. Besides, most days it felt like he could only really talk to Leah about the troubles in his head and he didn’t want to spoil moments like this. “Sorry for slipping out so early.”

“Hmm, I think I could survive your absence for a moment,” Leah assured him with a playful chuckle. Pushing her head back onto Zac’s shoulder, she smiled, though she could feel more words were on the tip of her tongue. She could see something was clearly troubling Zac, as if all his attempts to be strong and supportive for everyone else was no longer distracting him from his own issues, but she could also recognise that right now he didn’t need nor want to talk about it, the same way he’d recognise when she preferred to push her own troubles to be addressed later, not ignored, but not put in the way of enjoying themselves, and right now, Leah couldn’t agree more. Zac’s already talked to her about his insecurities, including his issues with Hunter (though he always made sure to keep a balance, knowing how uncomfortable Leah still felt about that topic. She knew Zac would try and help his son, try and make him want to do better for real, but she wasn’t sure if she would ever feel the same with Hunter as before), and she just had to trust him. However, she still couldn’t really shake the nervousness she gained when Zac came back from prison, how distant he was without meaning to, and she just needed to know that she was getting the right signals to make sure he didn’t fall down that road again. Several minutes had passed before she asked him “Anything you want to talk about?”, just leaving the opportunity to talk open and hoping he would see it as such.

“Actually yes,” Zac turned around so he could look her in the eye. “You want to go out for dinner tonight? I’ve been thinking about it and you and I haven’t been really given time for ourselves… to be, y’know, an actual couple. What do you say?”

Leah smiled up at him. “I think that sounds wonderful,” she said, “…and to be honest, very much needed.” It was as if ever since they were married neither were given a moment to accept that fact and bask into it. She never doubted their love for a moment, but no matter how much they loved their family, after all the drama over the past year, they needed more time for themselves. The only thing that she felt was holding them back was their fears about the kids.

She and Billie had been talking, and she had been able to convince VJ to move back home. He’d be moving back in tomorrow, but Leah was still nervous about pushing her son. VJ seemed to be handling things well on his own, though he remained determined in quitting school in order to look after Billie, and while Leah would remain supportive of him and Billie, she also remained hopeful to get him to come around to the idea of keeping school. He was excited about the baby, she totally understood that, but he still had an opportunity to reconsider his options and be able to balance out his options. VJ may be a father soon, but he remained her number one priority. As for Evie… Leah still had worries over their conversation last night, especially with what she thought was a redness around her upper head. Leah didn’t knew what it was, but it didn’t look like an illness, so she could be assured about that. If Evie promised to just cut back on the work she was doing (Leah couldn’t help but think how unusual it was to tell someone of that age to spend less time studying), she’d feel more relaxed, going back to enjoy the things she loved again, and feel more able to discuss the emotional issues she must have been dealing with. She needed to talk to Zac about it. Not now though, not when neither wanted to damper the mood that had been prevailing for weeks now. “So, what did you have planned?”

“Beyond just you and me, just like it’s supposed to be- no idea,” Zac admitted playfully. “I want for both of us to just enjoy ourselves, so tell me anywhere, anything you would want for tonight, literally anything.”

Leah, while touched by that statement of pure love, pretended to consider the options in her head before answering with a smirk: “Paris.”

Zac chuckled good-naturally as he began to walk back inside. “Okay, I walked right into that one.”

Leah’s smirk melted into a smile before leaning up to peck him on the lips. “How about instead of Paris, we can go book a reservation at a restaurant in Yabbie Creek at 6?”

Zac smiled back at her. “Have I told you lately how amazing you are?”

Leah pursed her lips again light-heartedly, acting as if in thought again. “You know what, I don’t think you have,” she replied.

“Well, you are,” Zac told her, taking her hand and walking back towards the door. They opened up just to see the room was still empty, leaving Zac with a small nagging feeling of concern that persuaded him to put down his cup, give Leah a small hug as she sat down and walked upstairs up to Evie’s room. He’d half expected her to be up early again, and he couldn’t help but feel worried that she wasn’t, which caused him to knock ever so cautiously on the door. He heard a quiet “Yeah” before taking that as ‘Come in’ and opened up to see Evie just sitting up on the bed.

“Morning,” Zac greeted her. “Sorry, were you just up?”

“Yeah,” was all Evie felt like she could volunteer out of her mouth, satisfied that despite how glassy her voice sounded, it easily passed as just morning-tired, because she wasn’t sure what else to say.

It was the weekend, which gave them all the perfect excuse for a lie in, yet she was still awake long before anyone else was, and once she was awake, she could never go back to sleep. She thought that this was the perfect time for her to get up without disturbing anyone and avoid attracting attention to the amount she ate, but Evie couldn’t find it in herself to do so. It was like batteries being shut down, the energy that was drained from her as the day went on already gone. She couldn’t even find the motivation of not letting anyone see her like this to force herself up. If anything, what happened yesterday gave her motivation to just remain, the fear of her exposing herself more and making Leah and Zac more worried about her. She was careless yesterday, they didn’t want to hear what was wrong with her, she was ruining everything, why couldn’t she just- well, she can’t feel normal, not anymore, but why couldn’t she at least pretend to be? She cannot let that happen again. Part of her actually wanted them to find out, just for them to see how worthless and disappointing she was, but it wouldn’t make them feel better, and that’s all she wanted, to make them feel better (even if it was selfish of her to continue to mislead them. Maybe the truth was she was afraid of what they would think, of what they would all think). Maybe if she just kept her distance, it lay the foundations for them to realise they don’t need to pretend around her and just move on with their lives, leaving her alone in the past. Blushing red with embarrassment, she forced out a “Sorry, I should have gotten up earlier.”

“Hey, no issues. It’s a Saturday after all,” Zac replied as he stood by the door. He felt a little embarrassed himself for feeling like he had to check on her, but he couldn’t help himself. Looking for something else to break the silence, he remembered something he should ask Evie about. “Hey Evie, actually, I meant to ask. Did you find some exam papers yesterday?” He had gotten up this morning and saw the file of papers he had been looking for yesterday were stacked up carefully on the corner of the table. He was worried that he accidentally brought them to school and left them there over the weekend, and he needed them corrected by Tuesday.

“Oh, yeah. I found them just behind the counter besides the stairs and I thought I should put them on the table there, just to make sure they’re not forgotten. I hope you don’t mind,” Evie said, only for Zac to nod at her gratefully.

“That’s perfect, really. Thanks, I was worried I had to correct them all over again before next week was up. Though then again, I’m already dreading some of the answers, you couldn’t have lost some of them, could’ve you?” He laughed, throwing a still grateful smile at his niece.

Evie rolled her eyes at him, as a result of a lack of a witty response that didn’t sound right to her anymore, because even though the logical side of her knew he was joking, the other side of her couldn’t help but feel ridiculously reprimanded a small bit, before rising out of the bed to get dressed, only to be stopped in her tracks by his next words.

“Bet you’re looking forward to the teaching practice next week.”

“Oh, is that starting next week?” Evie asked, her voice adding a strained tone of surprise, and something that could possibly be eagerness. She and Zac had talked about it before, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise. There was nervousness of course, the Evie before would have been nervous. One of her dream jobs was to be a teacher, and this chance to prove her ambitions and to help out would have made her nervous, but also thrilled at getting the chance. Now, this Evie, with all her dreams and confidence stripped away, was only capable of feeling an icy stab of suffocating despair at ever being excited at such a thing that looked so meaningless in the larger scheme of things. It didn’t help that that stab was followed by a strangling belief that this appointment would be another thing that would fail. She couldn’t even reminisce on how it used to be, her mind so centred on that strangling feeling. If she screwed this up (or more likely when), she’d be letting Zac down (again). So what is the point of you even trying to do it in the first place, that damn inner voice asked her and she couldn’t really come up with an answer.

“Yeah, I mean, if you’re still up to it, of course,” Zac told her, the amusement edging away in turn of apprehension. She seemed so enthusiastic about the idea before, and she needed to find other things to do during her day.   

Evie was left unsure of what to say. Zac put a lot of effort to try and get her this appointment, it would be unbearably selfish for her to put it to waste. Even if it was either an attempt of charity, whether or not he believed in her (which secretly she hated, she didn’t need help), or just another good chance that she didn’t deserve, she didn’t like lying to him, or make him already fed up with her. Besides, she needed to work, she needed to earn a living for herself and stop sponging off her family. “Yeah, I’ll be ready for it,” Evie said with a false sense of bravado, before adding “It will be good.” It probably wouldn’t, but that would be something else she had to deal with when the time came. As long as she had control over herself, it wouldn’t be ruined.

Zac walked over to give her with a pat on the back, a silent attempt to calm her, assured himself that her sudden doubt was most likely due to nerves. “Anyway, I’ll leave you to it. You’re okay if me and Leah already start breakfast?”

Evie nodded immediately. “Yeah, of course, I’ll be down in a few minutes.” Zac nodded and left, leaving Evie remaining sitting, feeling like she could stay there forever but knowing she had to, she grabbed her shoes to begin getting dressed (the fact she was planning to only have a very small breakfast, practically non-existent was completely irrelevant).

------

Evie made it downstairs roughly ten minutes later, feeling in a dazed state, with aches in her head as she did so. Leah was just about to leave for work when Evie walked into the room. “Hi,” Evie greeted her.

“Hi, Evie,” Leah replied, grabbing her bag before facing her, smiling. “How are you?”

That such a simple question could leave Evie so unsure didn’t even cross her mind when she saw Leah smiling at her. She felt so confused but she gave a faded smile back because she was still glad to see her, to see her smile, even if it was at her. “Yeah. Last night’s conversation helped, and I’m just going to go through the day.” Well, it didn’t help, but it wasn’t to do with anything Leah did, so there was no need to make her feel responsible for it.

“So… is there anything you want to talk about?”

Evie felt herself stuttering before answering “No, not really. Just feel a bit ridiculous about getting so late at… wow it’s 11 already? Anyway, that’s really it.” Maybe it was the hunger, or how trying it was, but all her movements still felt clumsy, faulty. It took her longer than it should have to tie her laces together and to pull her hair back into a ponytail, and putting on her sweatshirt felt like it took ten minutes, when it almost definitely didn’t. That swerved her train of thought back towards what happened at the beach, and couldn’t believe her body betrayed her like that, in public. Staring at the mirror this morning while she was leaning against the opposite wall, fiddling with her top to pinch the skin against her stomach and sucking in harsh breaths to keep her stomach folded in, while she didn’t knew while this happened, she had to reduce what she ate, as low as that already was. She did the research, she wasn’t an idiot, she knew what was enough to keep her fitness up and without collapsing. She had to avoid the diner altogether, as a restriction, a punishment that in a strange way, made her cope.

Leah’s smile turned a sadder notch, and it made Evie more afraid than before. What she said… she knew it was what she was expected to say, but she must have done it wrong. She sat down, feeling her face go motionless.

“Are you sure? Evie?”

“Leah, yes, please I’m fine,” Evie blurted out, the frustration clear in her voice, it was too early in the morning for this. “Just… don’t.” And then came the regret, flooding in like a tidal wave, covering and drowning the frustration and everything else. Right now she wished it drowned herself. She ducked her head and her hands disappeared under the table, so she wouldn’t have to look at Leah’s reaction, which would have to be disappointment. “I’m sorry.” Her apology came out in a timid whisper, and she already despised it.

“It’s alright,” Leah replied, her voice sounding so tired and Evie hated herself for making her sound like that. She looked up and saw the hurt and worry clear in Leah's eyes as the older woman placed a hand on her shoulder.

“No, it’s not. I… I don’t like snapping at you. You shouldn’t be treated like that, I shouldn't be a brat.”

“You aren't, I promise. It’s probably too early anyway. We can talk later, okay?” Leah didn't deny she felt a bit taken aback by Evie's reaction but she saw it clearly that Evie didn't want to talk about it, so maybe it was best to leave it.

Evie nodded, but believed Leah didn't really mean that, how could she? before she could say anything though, anything to make things better, Leah was already walking out the door. “I’ve got to get to work, but enjoy yourself today, sweetie, yeah. And feel free to pop in if there’s anything bothering you.”

Evie could feel herself nodding, though still very doubtful that she should, not when she would just snap at Leah like that. As she looked up, Leah left and she was alone.

Wow, couldn’t even get through the morning-

“Shut up,” Evie growled at herself, at the critic. She knew what she did, there was no point in reminding herself, at least not that way. She should have liked nothing more than just to sink into the floor, but she can’t. She had to get her breakfast ready.

She opened the fridge and grabbed a few grapes, popped them into her mouth quickly. After taking a few seconds to swallow them, she grabbed a piece of bread and popped into the toaster. She just stood there, tapping her foot for at least four minutes before she decided bread wasn’t that different from toast, other than the obvious, so she just pressed the button on the appliance, spread the butter over it and wolfed it down. She was always a fan of toast, yet while it seemed more appealing than most of what she used to eat, it didn’t still hold much to her.

After getting some coffee and drinking it quickly, she grabbed her gym bag that she always left ready for beside the couch in the morning, she walked out and said a quick goodbye to Zac, who was reading out in the porch.

“Wow you finished breakfast quickly. You’re heading to the gym?”

“Yeah, well, you know me, a fast eater. I’ll see you later,” Evie told him before walking away, afraid she’d say something she shouldn’t just like earlier.

“Evie, wait, are you sure you want to wear that?”

Evie looked back at him in confusion, and he cautiously gestured at her. She looked down and saw she’d put her long-sleeved white and purple cardigan over her gym top. Huffing out an embarrassed laugh that had all the embarrassment but none of the humour, she quickly pulled it off and stuffed it in her bag. She would have looked quite the sight, a cardigan that would be uncomfortable to have been in while doing strenuous exercises that didn’t match her tracksuit. “Thanks”, she called out before leaving again, just noticing him smile at her, for some reason. She felt in such a daze, not really connected that she must have unconsciously put it on by mistake. It wasn’t really the sight that bothered her, it was the idea that she didn’t feel 100% there, and she always hated that idea, even before this year, hated anything that prevented her to do things perfect, in work or otherwise.   

The only way for her to combat that pressure was to feel she was in control. She was in control.

------

She wasn’t in control.

That thought rankled her, and it slightly increased the energy and anger she mustered in striking at the punching bag, but it didn’t change the fact that the energy wasn’t as much to begin with. Even just working with the rowing machine or the treadmill made every muscle in her wanted to shut down, screaming at her for doing so much when her own body didn’t feel like it could take it. It was a miracle she didn’t slip or anything, but it didn’t change how fatigued her body felt, how battered and acidic her insides felt, especially during the day. She knew she slept rarely but she thought that the amount of caffeine she drank each morning would help.

Now feeling the pressure of that fact now more than ever, she avoided the training bench or the dumbbell set and instead focused the frustration against the punching bag, imagining she was looking at herself while doing so and gaining a grim, bitter contentment whenever the bag shook and shuddered before bouncing back to her. The way her own arms throbbed stiffly every time she took a swing didn’t make things easy yet she didn’t stop. Evie didn’t really think it was healthy to be imaging punching someone, even herself, while doing this exercise yet she couldn’t stop.

“You’re sure you’re good there?”

Evie puffed out a breath before reluctantly she looked back to see Billie watching her from behind, the trainer’s face clouded with concern. And though Evie liked Billie, her concern was the last thing she needed. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“Evie, don’t take this the wrong way and I know it’s none of my business, but you look exhausted. Maybe you should go take a break.” Billie didn’t want to push it, and she still felt that shadowing cloud of discomfort when she was standing very close to anyone other than VJ, Phoebe, Ash or Irene.

------

 

She couldn’t help it, with memories of… that night flashing back even when she tried not to think of it, dragging her into hell the same way he did. She knew she wasn’t over it, she knew it when her skin crawled like crazy even when she felt she had no reason to, or when she jumped at loud, unprepared noises, when she found herself crying in a corner or in the shadow until her breaths were wheezing, where she hoped no one could hear her, no one could see how trapped she felt, twisting in pure terror and anger, reliving every moment that just hurt. 

She had Phoebe to talk to about it, those moments when the haze in her mind turned darker and darker until it turned completely black or when her own breath threatened to choke her, and her friend would do her best to try and make Billie feel comfortable and to take her mind off things, even if Phoebe remained uncomfortable of the idea of her not reporting it, and her self-defence classes with Irene also surprisingly helped, as if she was regaining control, her courage, but it still didn’t change the anger and helplessness that remained, anger that that man did this to her, that he was still out there, in prison, but still capable of doing that to someone else. That made the already horrible reality even more gut-wrenching.

 

------

Right now she tried and keep herself from slipping back into that haze as she focused on Evie in front of her. The two didn’t really know each other well, even though Evie did her best to help her feel welcome, but she didn’t really spend much time talking to the other girl, not as much as Leah or Zac did. Still, she should try. Maybe it was because she could see so much of Oscar in his sister. Apart from the eyes: from Oscar’s eyes Billie had always saw a constant gleam of excitement and positivity. From Evie, Billie saw a mixture of exhaustion, stress and forced positivity (Billie had played with that too often for her not to recognise it) that made Billie knew better than to comment on or to offer something up like ‘How are you?’. “You want to go get lunch? I could go take a break.”

“Nah, I’m alright. I had a big breakfast anyway,” Evie reassured her, shrugging out the lie more easily than if it was the truth.

Resting (more like pressing) one glove against the bag, she remained focused on Billie, who excepted the lie without question. though after the exercise. “How about you, how long before… y’know…”

“Well,” Billie knew what Evie meant, but she looked down at her stomach, which was only slightly sticking out a bit. She still couldn’t help but experience a wave of self-conscious and apprehension, even if she tried her best to love this child. Still, she tried to make the best out of it. “I still think it’s in 7 months,” she joked and laughed shortly, despite even now she still felt inner agitation at the idea of even joking about it. “Well, I guess I’ll be taking leave until 11 weeks before the due date, but even now I’m only playing a supervisor role. Don’t want to take any risks with this little one.”

Evie nodded along, allowing the tiniest glimpse of a tentative smile to escape. “And everything else’s is going okay?”

“Health-wise, everything is going as well as we could hope for. Meanwhile, I’m getting used to the morning sickness. Doesn’t make it easier, but, I guess I can live with it. It’s only for 8 months.” Billie shrugged as Evie grimaced in sympathy, but remained silent. Honestly, Billie didn’t mind. She didn’t think she would have appreciated platitudes of how it will all be worth it, when she already knew that. Evie seemed to get that. Apart from VJ and Irene, she didn’t get that from anyone else.

“VJ’s really been a great help. He’s… a bit disappointed to move back home with Leah, but he gets it, and he knows that I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong, or at least on purpose. Still eager, which, to be honest, I should have expected. There’re times when I think it’s all moving way too fast, or if he really knows what he’s doing, but mostly… it feels nice. He’s so caring and he’s learning to understand when I need space and when I want to be around him, it’s… it’s not really something I’ve had for a very long time.” Billie couldn’t help but smile widely at the thought of her boyfriend. “I don’t want to mess that up by jumping a few stages.”

Yes, VJ demanding to move in with her was a bit of a hasty move to make, and she had secretly hoped it was only be a temporary arrangement, but that still didn’t change how much she appreciated everything he was trying to do for her, and even though he remained excited, he still held her opinions and views above all else, something she hadn’t been used to in a long time. After a long time of feeling alone, she was beginning to miss him whenever he left for the day and always felt a startling burst of joy whenever she saw him, even at work. She really cared for him, even loved that sweet man. Yet all that love did was add onto the tormenting guilt she felt of the lie she had told him. It would be so simple (most likely preferable) for her to tell him the truth before he became too invested, which he was very close towards, but it wouldn’t make things better. She didn’t want him to be hurt, he was happy to be by her side, and she was happy to do the same, surely that would be enough? It didn’t do anything to remove that weight in her heart, knowing that that truth could send all that love flying away, at the idea that it meant that the love may not be complete, or even as real as she felt, but she knew she did care for him, and she still had to try. The baby didn’t need to be biologically VJ’s for him to love them, surely?

Evie was happy for her and VJ, in a crushing dull sort of way, but she really just wanted to go back to what she was doing, but at the first glance at her turning away, Billie remained by her side, keeping her distance. Despite her words, Billie still felt it was her business, as this was happening, in her business. She’s seen more times than she liked when people pushed themselves beyond their limit.

“Evie, are you sure-”

“Billie, I get it, but I am fine,” Evie said abruptly, not as sharp as it was with Leah, more tired than anything else, but she still said it. She knew she shouldn’t be like this, but she already had a bad start to the day, there was nothing she could do to pretend otherwise and Billie’s cheerfulness was not something she could reciprocate right now. To quote Captain America, she could do this all day. “Just drop it.”

“No, I can’t.” Billie was now standing right next to her. “Seriously, you look like two seconds away from collapsing and you’re probably are.” The other girl’s blunt manner didn’t deter her, but she still couldn’t let her continue, not when she wasn’t looking like she was up to it.

One quick glance at her side told her that Billie didn’t believe her for a minute and was most likely not to give up. Evie sighed as she briefly considered the idea of just going back to what she was doing, but she could tell Billie wanted her to stop. She probably wanted Evie to just leave before she made things worse, because she probably already did something wrong already, and Billie was just trying to be nice, but honest about it. She pulled them both off her hands and almost said sorry, but knew it would be meaningless.  

“I’ve probably been pushing it too far.” Evie sheepishly dropped back the gloves. “Just needed a bit of a distraction. I’ll go find something else to do.”

“I’ve been there,” Billie admitted, her posture turning more softer, knowing how much she had tried to distract herself from everything that had troubled her when she could, but she had always knew her limits, and it seemed that Evie had either forgotten or ignored hers.

Evie slumped against the counter, looking up at the older girl, remembering how close Oscar was to her, and she suddenly felt an urge to say, something that was undeniably true.  “Oscar would be happy to see… to see you doing so well, and to see you happy with VJ.”

Billie smiled sadly, even though she herself knew he wouldn’t be pleased about her decision regarding VJ. She also knew he wouldn’t judge; he was so kind that there wasn’t a judgemental bone in his body. “I know he would. Ever since I came back to the Bay, when a lot of people weren’t… so comfortable with me being here, Oscar was the one of the few who accepted me. He was always so kind, and patient even when there were a lot of reasons not to. I really care for VJ,  I do, but… I’ve rarely felt like a man who cared for me as a friend before, and saw beyond that. It doesn’t feel the same without him, doesn’t it?”

Evie shook her head, too tired to shrug it off. She couldn’t talk about how hard it was though, how knife-piercing the knowledge that he wouldn’t able to accomplish any of his wishes, to do… anything, ever again? “He would have been by your side every step of the way, through all of this. He should have been given that chance.”

Billie couldn’t help but sigh in agreement. She wanted to talk more about Oscar, but she didn’t knew if it was the wisest thing to do, not if it pained Evie to talk about it. Even so, her sight noticed and focused in on the other girl while not trying to make it look like she was. Her cheek was looking startling red, more than the other cheek. “Sorry, it’s just that… your cheek’s looking a bit red. Are you feeling okay?”

“What?” Evie looked up at her, her already big eyes widening. “No, no, it’s fine… exhaustion, really. I’ll try and take it easy. Right, see you later. And take things easy yourself, yeah?”

“Yeah, of course,” Billie smiled at her before walking back to the office. It was probably exactly as Evie said it, and she was just exhausted. She could already tell that from the way the other girl’s shoulders had sagged and she pretty much dragged herself from one equipment to another. She just wasn’t sure if the anxiety in her eyes was from embarrassment or something else. Still, with her own habit of bottling everything up, Billie didn’t really knew what else to say.  

Evie grabbed her bag and tried not to think about this morning. It was just to make sure she knew she was in control, she was used to it, she just hoped it wouldn’t be noticeable beneath the water and make-up she used to cover it. There was never really a bruise to begin with and no one would look for one, but she still felt it safe than otherwise. It wasn’t Billie’s business, anyway, despite her well-intentions, wasn’t anyone’s business. Despite the unsettling coil in her she couldn’t help but feel another urge to walk back and ask her if there was anything bothering Oscar whenever he was with her, if there were things he could only confide to a friend and not to anyone else, not even her. Or if he was happy during that brief period before disaster struck, genuine happy to be following his own life and not be bothered with that of others and confident of the future ahead. She didn’t knew what good it would do if she knew, since it made no difference, not when it turned out that there was no future for him, but she needed to know…

The sound of voices surrounding her, so many voices that sounded too loud, as she reached the doors, startling her steps into a complete and utter halt, like a train had crashed right in front of her. She just froze, right in the middle, her breath caught in her throat just like yesterday, only for nothing to fill her mouth as the clang ringed in her ears and suddenly she was back there, back to that park, memorising the same disorientation she woke up to on the ground, and startling fear she felt ever since she opened her eyes and realised what happened and the alarm she had when she realised she didn’t knew what happened to them-

She tried to shake it off, she knew she wasn’t there, this was just people going about their ordinary business- yet her head still felt dizzy, a void taking over her vision, it’s intensity making everything blurred to the point she could barely see ahead of her, and her breath stuttered. As she tried to process her senses, which were simultaneously heightened and muted so that the clang, despite seconds having passed since it happened, was the only thing she can remember hearing, she put enough pressure to look forward and took a deep breath. That somehow allowed her to start moving again. She walked unsteadily to the outside, away from the confining walls, carefully sliding past people. She must have stumbled against the wall at least once, and she can’t tell but she hopes no one notices, she can’t even tell if she was getting outside, her vision was so blinded. It was only after she saw dark shades of green before her sight returned. She closed her mouth because she didn’t knew what would come out so she just breathed through her nose before sliding against the wall beside the building. Her face was a mask of calmness, carefully constructed as she took another three deep breaths through her nose, her heart threatening to burst through her chest with its thumping, and her eyes pricked at her. She’s not afraid, or upset or angry. She just feels embarrassed that such a minor thing could set her off. It was bad enough that she thought about it during her dreams, but during the day? She had moments before where she felt overwhelmed when surrounded by too many people, especially ones she doesn’t know and she had to move away without making a scene, but it always rattled her. The only thing that calmed her was that at least she regained control, that was most important.

Allowing her mouth to open to allow air to fill her mouth, she slid down the wall and curled up, her knees touching her chest as she tried and made herself as small as possible, staying solid still so no one could see her. A few minutes passed, as her breaths became shallower as she just focused on the wall in front of her but no one came. If someone had noticed the way she was acting, they probably shrugged it off.

She didn’t know how long she stayed there, but she did, just in case it would happen as soon as she stood up. A thought did occur to her that maybe this was her body trying to shut down after such a intensive morning, but as soon as it came the void disappeared, falling back to a dark corner where she can’t search for it, and when her breathing returned to it’s normal pace, she was able to rise on her feet, so she knew that couldn’t be it. She may not know exactly what makes her react this way, but she knows it’s her own fault that she feels overwhelmed, her own fault that she’s constantly reminded at every glance of food of who she should be eating with but can’t. The way Oscar used to race her to see who could get the best snack from the fridge, and that would never happen again. Even her memories of them are soured, as if all that love that she had for them, all the love that she lost, had coiled into a creature of flame that hissed and snapped at every touch And that was her fault too. She knows this the way the gleam from the sea is blue and the grass is green.

It was more than just the feeling that there was nothing she could do to help her family, to save her family when they most needed it (Because family was what she held most important and she would have done anything for them), but something deeper. 

She had thought this ever since Oscar and Hannah died, a thought that was only strengthened when Josh left. The memories of letting her father get too involved with guys like Granger, or ignoring the obvious warning signs with Tank, or apparently with Josh, were enough for her to know this. She still had to figure out exactly what she did, but she knew she must have done something wrong somewhere, it had to be the only reason she was constantly haunted by nightmares, by memories, why she felt she didn’t deserve any more love.

Getting up and walking away, she could see Matt in the distance, down at the beach, he had just set his towel down and was about to go in for a swim. He must have somehow noticed her staring at him, because he looked up and waved. She waved back, but she couldn’t bring herself to smile. She felt the longing feeling of rushing down to talk to him, to chat, to hang out, just to be close to him-

But she can’t. Not like this, not when she couldn’t feel like constructing full sentences. Whenever they do hang out, whenever she doesn’t try and shy away, somehow Matt always has that look of underlying concern and she can’t be as she used to. Evie shouldn’t be a constant state of worry for Matt. She had thought that she could hold onto whoever she had left, those she cared about, and that she could do so without forcing her own issues onto them. Yet somehow she was incapable of doing that either. Matt may think that he made mistakes, that somehow he was a screw-up but he wasn’t: he was funny, kind-hearted, selfless, amazing. Why would he want to hang out with someone like her, someone who was so damaged beyond repair, someone who has lied and still lies, someone who made so many mistakes and so many bad decisions that everything she ever was and everything she ever did or thought has become twisted. She wasn’t good enough to hold onto Oscar, or Denny, or Josh or the rest of her family, so why did she think she was good enough to hold onto him, or anyone else?

Matt deserved better, better than someone who despite her efforts, couldn’t make him happy. Who doesn’t know how to. She almost ruined their day yesterday when she was struggling while swimming, or when her bringing up Maddy (and Maddy, would she still be around if it wasn’t for her) brought about his own emotions, emotions he probably didn’t want to think about. He must know that. He’d probably only waved right now because he knew she saw her. She can’t even pretend to be happy, when he and everyone else wanted her to act like he was happy, so that they wouldn’t have to be worried. She knew that they must have cared before, but after everything, they must tire of it. If they haven’t before, they would soon. No one liked a mess, and that was all she could see herself, it was all she was. And Evie doesn’t blame them. Maybe she had been using their time together to distract herself from her grief, (because nothing else she enjoyed doing did that, not drawing, not exercise, not reading) yet somehow it kept dictating everything and she didn’t want that. She just does what she wants, and without enough regard for anyone else, but she can’t expect anyone else to pick up the pieces. She had been afraid of distancing herself, because doing that meant not seeing any of them and that would only add more unbearable pain to what she was already experiencing. But maybe that’s what she needs to do. Maybe when she wants someone to be happy, it meant that she had to be left out. She’d rather have some of them than none of them.

She walked away, away from the beach, away from the surf club, to where she wasn’t sure. She was lost, directionless, but she knew where she couldn’t be.

------

“Hey, beautiful stranger,” Zac smiled as he wrapped his arms around Leah’s waist and kissed her deeply. “How was your day?”

“Better once seeing you again Mr Handsome,” Leah coyly answered as she wrapped her arms around his neck to kiss him. “I have the reservation set out for tonight. Just you and me.”

“Already sounds wonderful.” He held Leah’s hand in his tightly as they walked from the diner. “Though you don’t seem so convinced.”

 “I am, it’s just I’m still a bit worried about Evie, but she can manage a night by herself. I’ll call her later just to see where she’s at.”

“She can,” Zac agreed, though knowing while she was so worried. He was worried too. He wanted Evie to smile like she used to, enjoy herself like she used to, be as talkative as she used to. Maybe time had passed, yet he knew Evie, no matter how supportive she tried to be, didn’t speak to him as much as she used to, and that was a clear indication that she was still suffering. He couldn’t even call it a delayed reaction to everything that had happened and her concealing herself away… he couldn’t help but feel hurt by that. Family should stick together, and he didn’t blame her for not feeling like that, but… it’s just that he hoped that she would have tried to remember that, and for him to do the same. Still, if talking to them wasn’t the solution… “I’ve been thinking a bit, and… maybe it could help her if… if…”

“Maybe it could help her if she went to speak with someone. Someone who… wasn’t us.”

Leah’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion before she gained understanding. “Wait, you mean, a counsellor?”, she cautiously asked.

“I mean, it could help. If she feels like she can’t talk to us, then maybe if she spoke to a professional, about all her emotional problems, then she’d feel settled enough, that she doesn’t have to hide.”

Leah shrugged tiredly, very unsure about the idea. To be honest, she hated the idea of not being able to talk with family. Evie had to know that they loved her, as much as she loved them, and surely that knowledge would be enough for her to be open with them. Yet, they’ve been waiting for her to do that, yet she still dodged any attempt to talk to them about how she was feeling, or else her temper would show, even if Evie didn’t mean to. Even last night, if Leah didn’t prod, she wasn’t sure if the girl would have spoken more than she did. “Are you sure it’s what she needs right now?  

“I don’t know,” Zac answered, feeling frustrated himself. “I’m just worried that if we accept that she should be seeking that kind of help… then it would confirm that it’s worse than we thought.” He had hoped that just by being there for Evie, it could help her. But apparently that wasn’t enough. "Evie might feel comfortable discussing this stuff with someone else, even if we can understand while she would be. She wouldn’t feel pressure to talk just for our sakes. It wouldn't solve everything, I know it wouldn't, but it could be a start.”

Leah sighed, knowing from Zac's personal experience about how hard this could be, it may be a good option.  “I’m sorry this is so difficult,” Leah told him. “But we can fix this. She doesn’t have to do this now, but we can keep it on the table, and just bring up the idea with her. See what she thinks.”

Zac sighed. “That’s probably all we can do right now.”

Realising they said all that needed to be, and that there was no point in dwelling on it, Leah  smiled up at him and “But tonight, let’s try and remember that tonight is about us.”

“I get it. But hopefully this will help her, and… we can get her back."

Zac smiled tiredly at her. “Yeah,” he leaned down to kiss her again, mindful of how lucky he was to have someone like Leah by his side. He just wished Evie knew that they were by her side too, even if love meant taking a step back for someone else to help. With that in mind he decided he would call her, just to see if she was okay.

------

Evie felt her phone buzzing in her hand as she was making her way back home. She had spent most of the day on her own, just wandering on herself, but mostly sitting down in places on the grass in the area near the cliffs, away from the beach where she could be alone and avoid people noticing or finding her. Not that anyone would. Looking down and seeing Leah’s contact no. on the screen, however, the grey haze in her mind suddenly slipped away in a rush of anxiety that made her quickly swiped green and pressed it against her ear. “Leah, is everything okay?”

“Evie, yeah everything’s fine. Why, is everything okay with you?”

“Yeah, sure. Sorry, it’s just… nothing. I’m almost home now.” She couldn’t help it, but she was just filled with that crushing fear that something bad had happened again, that she might have lost Leah or Zac, or someone else. She still cared, even if they deserved better, and that fear just sparked and filled her at any moment. “I didn’t have the best morning, but I hanged out with Billie, we talked and I feel more sure now.” It wasn’t all a lie; she did talk with Billie and she felt surer about what she had to do, now more than ever.

“That’s… really good, Evie, it is. Listen, I’m just calling to tell you that me and Zac are going to Yabbie Creek tonight for dinner. Will you be okay for dinner for yourself tonight?”

Evie could feel her heart sink without knowing why. “Of course, I’ll be fine. You and Leah enjoy yourselves, really. After… well everything, you deserve it.”

“Thanks. We’ll be back around 11. We’ll see you later.”

“Yeah, have fun.” Evie kept her voice light and earnest right until the phone hanged up and then let out a weary sigh. Maybe it was that anxiety again, that anxiety she felt deep down ever since the explosion whenever she wasn’t around those she cared about, feeling a deep fear that while she remained unaware, something awful could have happened to them. But Zac and Leah were fine, and that was good. She wanted that for them, for them to be happy. She was just a fool to think that they could do that with her.

Ever since last night, Leah must have felt obligated to talk to her, to want to listen to her problems, but she mustn’t have really meant it, especially if Evie was just going to fire up. She couldn’t have wanted to have that obligation and Evie couldn’t blame her, or Zac. She can’t. They have their own lives to live, they shouldn’t be putting that on hold for her. They must be tired of always keeping an eye on her, realising that if she could have gotten better, she would have done so already. And even if she had, she caused them so much hurt to begin with, so much hurt to everyone. Zac must have been always reminded of his own loss whenever he saw Evie, because he shared the same loss. She was happy just to be around them, but she was also filled with so much misery for anyone to handle. No wonder they would be fed up of her. Who wouldn’t?

That didn’t change how hard it was though. It didn’t change how heavy the loneliness in her was, pulling her shoulders down and her legs droopy. It didn’t change the way her eyes feel wet even though it was stupid, it didn’t change how hard it was for her to walk away from Matt earlier, and for her to be alone tonight. In all honesty thought, she didn’t want any of them to be with her. Not if it held her back, if she held them back.

Then what was the point? It was a question she had wrestled with too many times, asking what was the point of even continuing other than the idea that giving up would be too easy an escape from the pain, just as easy as it was to accept assurances, that she owed the others-

Owe them what? You just thought it. You saw Matt down there, you heard Leah. They won’t say it, but you can hear it. They’re happier without you. They’re better without you. Everyone would be from the very start.

Evie just gritted her teeth as her left hand almost ravaged her right arm and her other hand folded into a fist. Reminding herself of this when she already knew it didn’t change anything, yet she felt so cowardly because she didn’t want to consider that, leaving only the thought she could nothing else but except the inevitable. Eventually everyone would have enough of pretending to care about her and become distant and distant, until she was left alone. And that was fine. It’s what she deserved.

She had made it back to the house before she even realised it, stuck in her own head as usual. Walking up the steps to the porch she heard voices arguing. Already dreading what this could be, Evie forced herself forward, worried it could be Zac and Leah. Having reached the door however, she heard Mr Stewart’s familiarly firm voice and she relaxed.

“Flaming gala, you didn’t think to give us a fair warning before-”

“Well, naturally, that was the point of the surprise-”

Opening the door, she came in to see Alf helping VJ with some of his bags. “VJ, hey. I thought you weren’t coming back until tomorrow.”

“So did we all, love,” Alf grumbled, shooting VJ a glare that simultaneously said, ‘It’s great to have you back in the house’ and ‘You’re not out of the woods yet’ before turning away to the kitchen.

VJ shrugged helplessly. “Well I just thought that I might show up early to surprise Mom. She’s been gone for a while now, so I thought I might just get this stuff back in my room.”

“Oh, right,” Evie stumbled to reach out and help him. “Zac called me earlier, said him and Leah were going out for lunch this evening. They probably weren’t expecting you to be back tonight, so…”

VJ gave a small indigent huff while Mr Stewart turned around. “Well, it looks like we’ll have to manage dinner ourselves tonight.”

“Right, I’ll just bring this stuff upstairs and then I can show off all the cookery skills I have learned,” VJ smiled as he picked up two of his bags and began to walk upstairs, Evie following him holding onto another bag. She was never really good at cooking, and she knew better than to offer.

“How are you doing? Feel good to be back?” She asked before realising and reprimanding herself for asking, it was none of her business. Yet VJ answered anyway.

“I guess it does, and… I’m glad Billie still likes having me around, but… I just can’t help but wish it lasted longer. Or that I thought it through more. But, she hasn’t gotten rid of me yet, so that counts.” He beamed at that, and Evie couldn’t help but smile back. Putting the bags back in his room, they both walked back down the hallway before Evie stopped at her room.

“You coming down?”

Evie hesitated at VJ’s question, looking back at him. “I just need to get… something here. Call out if you need help.” And with that she opened the door and closed it as soon as she got in. VJ wouldn’t call, though, he probably had it under control and even if he didn’t, Mr Stewart was there. She’d just be in the way, someone that didn’t belong there. And that wasn’t the only thing that bothered her. She didn’t really knew if she could eat much food tonight, even if surrounded by other people. She wanted to keep to the structure she designed for herself, yet she didn’t knew how to keep to it, not when they would notice and would be forced to get involved. She couldn’t just skip dinner, that wouldn’t help anyone, but she just needed to find a way to get by it, just to force herself from keeping what she didn’t want, what she didn’t need…

-----

Later that night…

Zac stood up from the table with a satisfied nod. He had just finished correcting half the papers, having already looked at some of them earlier this week, but it was still good to get the work almost done. He really enjoyed himself tonight, an enjoyment that was strengthened by the fact that Leah enjoyed herself too. She always looked beautiful to him, but she was stunning tonight, so much it made him feel younger, freer. It was as if the sparked they had was ignited once more. Gathering the papers in his arm to take upstairs, he looked around the empty kitchen. Everyone else had already gone to bed (Leah after hugging VJ closely as a response to seeing him back sooner than she thought) and he promised Leah he wouldn’t stay up too late. He’d just keep his work in his room so he’d remember this time and then head off to bed.

He was half way up the stairs when he could have sworn he heard something of a squeak. He paused, and looked behind him, half expecting to see a mouse skirting across the floor. When nothing happened and silence fell, he walked back up the stairs, certain that it was probably something of his imagination.

That certainty was gone as soon as it came when he reached Evie’s door, and a soft cry echoed from behind it. This was louder, yet he knew it was what he heard from before.

After a few minutes hesitation, Zac opened the door and went in to see Evie’s hands, knuckle pale-white, gripping the bed sheets, twisting and turning in her sleep, soft whimpers and broken cries escaping from her mouth, that were so timid, that if he hadn’t been listening intently, he doubted he would have heard it at all. Slowly, but alarmed, Zac approached the bed, sitting down softly as to not disturb Evie.

“Please… no…you need…”

Zac raised a hand and softly touched Evie’s shoulder, only to withdraw as she quickly turned to his side, her eyes still screwed shut but crumpled in a panicked state. He needed her to wake up. "Evie?"

“No, no…no!”

And that was all I was willing to write for this one. I admit, a few tears were shed writing this. What do you guys think?

Edited by D.B
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