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Clawing at Your Broken Back


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Okay, so this is the next part of my own take on Evie's storyline back in 2016. This is I guess a sequel to Even Love's got to have it's Limits, and shows what happens with her next. Basically, in 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 05/01/2021 at 22:39, Red Ranger 1 said:

Evie's still trapped in that cycle and not recognising how many people she has around her. Well-written as always!

Thanks Red. I'm becoming ever more nervous about writing each chapter, because I don't want to sound repetitive, but once anyone gets trapped inside their own head in such an awful way, it becomes almost impossible to not only recognise the good things around them, but that they deserve it. As a result, Evie's making a lot of bad decisions right now, and even though she still cares for everyone else, who can notice something's up, but not the full story, which complicates things. She can't recognise anything she did before as good or what she's going through as serious, yet she doesn't think she can get better, and there's a lot she blames herself for (which will all be explained in later chapters, I swear). It's hard to be writing about just this, as well as writing about the self-harm and how she covered it up to make sure no one notices, but as far as she's concerned, that's all she can hold onto. 

Sorry for the delay, I'm back in college. Same warnings of depression, and suicidal thoughts apply. 

Chapter 7:

“Evie, Evie please, it’s not real, please wake up!”

“Not them… not them…me…. help!...”

Zac tried to keep his voice from raising into a very frantic notch, but that was already too hard when Evie wouldn’t open her eyes and kept twisting in her sleep, the same twist a body takes just when they’re about to sprint into a run, as if struggling against some force that wasn’t there. She was breathing quickly in short gaps, as if her ability to breath would be cut off in a matter of seconds, and within those gaps, came whimpers and short beginnings of cries as her face contorted. A lot of them were so quiet, that not even Zac could hear all of what she said, but what he could hear only increased his worry. 

“Don’t… don’t hurt…stop please!”

Those moments she spoke, her voice so laden with fright and pain that it took every bit of his will power not to grab her by the shoulders to wake her up, because God knows what that could do to her. Even as his heart strings were pulled so hard they might fall apart, Zac was forcibly reminded of how panicked he felt, whenever he had nightmares about when he was attacked in prison. The overwhelming crushing fear of relieving that over and over again, with nothing he could do to stop it... This had to stop. “Evie!” Zac tried once more time, just hoping that it would wake her up, raising his voice as much as he could to try and not frighten her, not even caring at this point if it woke up anyone else in the house.

Evie then shot up like a canon, a sharp inhale passing through her lips as she was thrown back into reality. Her gaze was glistening and panicked even as her eyes blinked rapidly, as if she couldn’t see what was ahead of her and was desperately trying to. Her hair was tousled around her, body trembled against the headboard, and her hands tightened against her covers. He didn’t even knew if she could hear him, or even see him right now, but he’d do anything to break her out of this… this terrifying trance right now. “Evie. Can you hear me?” Zac tentatively rested his hand close to hers fisting against the bed, not daring to touch her when she hasn’t recovered yet.

Evie’s breaths kept hitching as her eyes kept blazing around the room, trying hard to see her surroundings, and with that her eyes finally settled on Zac. Zac expected her to feel more relaxed on seeing him, just to know he was there, but even though her gaze became more focused, more awake, she still looked pale and panicked, her eyes widening for a moment before shrinking back. “Z-Zac?” She stammered out while sucking in deep, greedy gulps of breath.

“Yeah, it’s me. It’s okay, it’s just me, you’re okay. I won’t leave.” Zac threw her an encouraging smile, hoping that he wasn’t betraying any of his own fear of seeing her like this, but even though she was still awake, he couldn’t tell if Evie was really seeing that smile. “Could you name five things you can see in the room right now?”

Evie’s eyes frantically blinked before she shifted her stare towards him slowly, terrified as she huddled closer to herself, placing her chin on top of her knees. “Y-you.”

“That’s great, Evie.”

“The-the bed, the closet…” she trailed off.

“It’s alright, take your time, you’re doing amazing,” Zac told her while his own head was spinning.

“The….the…. the floor, and….um, and… my phone,” her face turned towards where her phone rested beside the lamp. 

“I’m…I’m so sorry,” she mumbled as she struggled not to rock back and forwards, despite how rattled and scared she felt, how much the growing sense of nausea circled around her heart and threatened to encase it’s thumping movements, gripping it until the air in her lungs threaten build up to the point of bursting through. It was as if she was underwater, water flowing into her mouth and filling into so there's no room for breath. She can’t believe she let this happen, she was doing so well in keeping this to herself. Honestly, she would have been more surprised that she let herself fall asleep, knowing what was to await her when a dreamless sleep was becoming more and more hard to hope for, but the presence of Zac overshadowed everything else. She couldn’t let anyone see her like this, not when what she experiences happened so long ago, and no one else would be dealing with this stuff. The shame of that was too much, she didn’t want anyone to see her as weak (compared to all the other stuff they already or have yet to see her as such) yet now Zac had seen her like this.

“It’s alright. We all get nightmares from time to time. It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Zac told her resolutely, reaching out to take a hold of her shoulder hesitantly, only for her to lean into that touch. This prompted him to draw her into a hug, her head resting against his shoulder and his hand rubbing up and down her back in a soothing fashion. “You’re alright, you’re okay.” Zac told her, not sure if that was meant to comfort her or himself. Probably both. She was silent as the grave, her eyes, while dry, displayed a haunted look, and Zac could feel her trembling in his arms. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Evie shook her head violently, earning herself a headache as a result. She was distracted by how comforting his arms were around her, grounding her and a nice change from-

What the hell was she doing? This wasn’t what she should be doing. She wasn’t a child, she didn’t need this, now when she was feeling so ashamed. She pulled away and hugged herself further away, already missing the contact but she let it go too far already. “You should go back to bed.”

“We don’t have to talk about it, but would it be okay if I stay here for a while?” Zac asked her quietly, feeling disheartened by her pulling away. “Besides, I wasn’t in bed,” he added as a poor attempt of a joke. A belief obviously shared by her by her lack of a positive reaction.

Evie couldn’t even force up a response. She wanted to tell Zac do not to worry, to go, to get some sleep (she also wanted him to stay, wanted to hug him and for him to hug her back but  which one, she can’t have it both ways), yet somehow she couldn’t force the words out of her mouth. She could hear the echo of the critic’s voice in her ears, mocking and spitting at her for how weak she was being right now, yet she can’t even force herself to agree (not now). Right now she just knew that Zac’s presence, even if he wasn’t holding her, was enough for her. It was the only thing aside from the shame that was present in her mind, so she held onto that thought. Her breaths were still shaky even as her eyes kept blinking to try and keep her tears away from spilling from her eyes. So she focused on those two things, forcing her mouth to slow down, taking in long, deep breaths.

“That’s it Evie, that’s it.” Zac realised what she was trying to do, and kept his voice encouraging, as she tried and calmed herself. She keep breathing in and out, her body relaxing to a small extent, for Zac could still observe while her hands had eased from their position, her back still looked rigid. He could hear movement behind him and he looked behind him to see someone, he couldn’t tell who, at the door, obviously hearing the commotion. He waved a hand at the door, a gesture to whoever it was to leave them be, he’s got this. It took a minute, but eventually they walked away, and thankfully Evie didn’t notice, too focused on breathing normally again.

After she did that, they sat in silence for a total of 30 seconds before she spoke again and it wasn’t anything Zac was hoping for. “I’m…I’m fine now. You can go.”

“Do you want me to?”

“It’s really late. You should-”

“That wasn’t what I was asking,” Zac told her firmly, not prepared to let this go. “What was it?”

“Zac, it was… it was just a bad dream, it’s nothing worth worrying about. Can’t you just pretend you didn’t hear anything…” she trailed off as she pushed herself back under the covers, already feeling angry at herself for shutting him off but she had no other choice.

Zac sighed, not convinced at all. He wanted to believe her, he really did, but that muttering, those desperate cries could all indicate something else. It brought back bad memories for him, memories that he tried to push aside from the forefront of his mind. He loved Evie, but there were just some things he just wasn’t comfortable about disclosing to anyone apart from Leah. “Evie, you know I can’t. I mean, you were crying out-”

“Zac, please? Do we have to do this now? I just want to go back to sleep,” Evie replied forcefully turned on her side away from him, unwilling to look at him in the eye.

There was a moment of silence, before Zac shook his head. “Fine, but I’m going to stay until you fall asleep, okay? Would that be okay with you?”. Evie couldn’t even find it in herself to keep up the argument, can only responded by nodding slowly. He didn’t move anywhere closer to her, he just sat where he was, leaving Evie to ponder why he seemed so insistent on making sure she was alright, even after she rejected his help. She didn’t want him to be here, she just wanted to be left alone (or at least, that’s what she told herself).

She could still remember what happened. She was stuck back in that road, when she escaped from Tank and it was so dark and she could barely see the layout of where she was running. The road was sharp in places, and slippery in other places, the cool air whistling above her and tree branches scraping at her clothes, but she could hear the screams. She heard them crying out, all of them, her family, her friends, and she tried to search for them, to help them because she can’t let them get hurt, yet she was fumbling in the dark and her feet were leaving behind a trail of blood that was sparkled in the darkness, not knowing where to go and she was just so helpless as the narrative, no matter the dream, was always the same: the screams died out. All the while she heard his voice, his voice that used to send her heart fluttering, now sparked shivers down her spine with his spiteful words Can’t you see what you did? What you let happen to me?

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do right now, either stay awake or fall back into sleep, yet she could feel her eyes dropping slower and slower as she saw the room blacken around her. The last thing she felt was Zac draping the blanket around her shoulders, his fingers slowly carding through her hair and then she drifted off.

-------

Evie guessed she couldn’t be surprised when Zac was waiting for her in the morning, standing by the table, not even trying to hide how concerned he was. She woke up at 6 o’clock and spent almost 3 hours staring at the ceiling above her, waves of terrible thoughts and the weight of guilt clouding her mind and tying her stomach into knots that threatened to vomit everything out. It was so excruciating until the numbness set in for another 2 hours and drowned everything else. She just laid in bed, not even feeling the energy to curl up into a ball or draw further into herself. Even when Zac called for her downstairs, it felt like another hour to actually get up and dress and staring at the mirror as if it would give her answers other than a pale, thin, vacant shadow that could hold no form.

She would have stayed in bed but she knew she owed Zac a reassurance, try and explain. Still she felt a pang in her throat when seeing him. He looked as troubled as he did last night.

“Where’s everyone else?” Evie croaked out hesitantly as Zac led her to the table outside behind the kitchen. Her stomach was doing summersaults, rigidly walking with him as if ready to bolt from whatever conversation Zac was going to have. But now you’ve got to talk. You wasted Zac’s time while you were so wrapped up in your own misery, scared of just a little dream, that you pulled him into this. Why couldn’t you get a hold of yourself, why didn’t you try harder, you have to confess now, you have to admit everything you pathetic little-

No, it was just a dream, just her being dramatic, not something for him to put his life on hold for and she had to convince him of that. She should tell him the truth, she should be calm, level-headed. Of course she didn’t, she could only be paralysed in anger and fear.

“Leah went for a walk and Alf left for work. VJ’s still asleep, or at least, I hope he is,” Zac frowned as they both sat down. Evie didn’t really look better from after last night. She kept staring at the corner of the table, her eyes, still haunted and vacant, sported dark shadows underneath, her foot tapped restlessly against the leg of her chair, and both her hands were fastened against her legs. Now that Zac had thought about it, Evie had been looking tired for days now, her face often very red and disorientated despite her make-up, and now the top of her head was sporting a bruise. Was last night a recurring thing for her? “What happened there?" He asked softly, trying to keep the worry and alarm free from his voice as he softly brushed her hair away from her forehead. "Did someone-"

"No, of course not. I accidentally hit my head harder against my headboard getting up." Evie's voice came out automatically and slow, which was an entire different show from what was happening in her head. She didn't do it to herself this morning, couldn't even break herself out of the shock to do so, so how could a bruise be... 

"Did you really sleep at all after?”

“Do I look that bad?” Evie asked out, trying a joke in a poor attempt to break the ice, but her tone was as flat as a pancake. “I got some sleep,” she told him, and feeling utterly grateful that it was the truth she was telling him for once. She had fallen into that dreamless, pitch-black, vacant abyss that awaited her on a rare good night, where there were no memories, no nightmares, nothing to plague her. After nights of waking up terrified and overwhelmed by emotions, it was something she welcomed. She was so sick of dreaming that maybe she deserved that small comfort. Then again, she can’t trust her own word anymore. “I woke up a couple of times during the night- not nightmares, just couldn’t really stay there for long. The rest of the night went fine.”

Zac remained silent while she was explaining, looking for any indication that there was anything else on her mind before he began. “Evie, I didn’t tell anyone about last night and you don’t have to apologise for it. You can trust me- so could we talk about last night?” Zac tilted his head towards her, pained by how embarrassed and vulnerable she looked. It was Alf who had heard the commotion last night, but Zac convinced him that he took care of it. Alf didn’t like it, but he trusted Zac enough to leave it to him, and despite feeling bad about it, he didn’t tell Leah about it either. It didn’t feel like his to tell. “I couldn’t tell what you were saying in your sleep but… what happened?”

“It was just a bad dream, and I guess I was too panicked by it,” Evie said, her face turning redder than a tomato with embarrassment, which wasn’t helped by the sincerity in his voice. She couldn’t believe she let herself get so worked up over it. She always felt like that whenever she woke up like that, but now it was even worse that someone had found her like that. Maybe this was how it was supposed to be, for something to expose her. “I’m so sorry if I... freaked you out, or whatever…”

“Evie, you know I love you, right?”

Evie looked up startled, already hearing her critic’s voice slip into her ear. “Of course I do.” He says that of course, because he has to. You can already see his pity whenever he sees me, the way anyone sees you. Maybe it used to be that the voice of her critic and her own thoughts used to be different, as if two people, as if there was another person there in front of her and Zac, taunting her, but Evie realised now it was more of one voice repeating over and over again, it always was one voice. Her voice.

“Then talk to me. Are you sure that it wasn’t something more…?” Zac asked, feeling his heart plummet into his stomach at how guilty she looked. He couldn’t help but think that this could be something related to what happened to Oscar and Hannah and he was hoping against hope it wasn’t that. He didn’t know how to help with something like that, and as much as he wanted to help Evie, he didn’t feel prepared to be dealing with something that was still very raw to him. “Even if it was so long ago?” he prodded along. 

Evie could see it on his face, underneath his concern and even as he was getting closer to the truth than he realised, Zac was scared. Evie never saw Zac scared before, but she could still see it. He was scared that he was right about her still being affected by what happened. Even though she missed them every day, even though it felt like she had been ripped apart to the point of no return, it couldn’t be normal for her to still be so shaken by mere memories. Should she try and stop it? Was it even possible? “I don’t… I don’t even know, it’s all just a mess,” was all she could say and felt her voice becoming a slimmer of a whisper even as she felt a headache coming over her. She lifted one hand and lightly rubbed against her forehead, as if rubbing against it would clear the ache. Why did this had to be so hard?

Zac looked on as Evie’s face became more guarded even as she wasn’t looking at him. It was as if the shadows from under her eyeballs had spread over her face, masking her unreadable. It didn’t mean though that it had something to do with what happened earlier this year. To be reliving what happened… he just hoped that wasn’t the case. Surely Evie would tell him if she was, she knew that would be too serious to keep to herself. “Was it something to do with Josh or-”

“What?!” Evie now turned to him, her face a look of alarm and shock. “No, why- he has nothing to do with this!

“Okay, alright,” Zac said hastily, already regretting bringing it up. He had the tiniest feeling that maybe it had to do with Josh, something that he might have done. Zac wouldn’t have thought it of him before, but after this year, as far as he was concerned, Josh could have been capable of anything. “I’m sorry, I just thought if you were still missing him-”

He'll think you’re crazy and weak for wanting to be with him. Hell, he’s probably wishing you ran off with him, just so he wouldn’t have to deal with your whining.

“I don’t miss him, I don’t. After what he did to you, why would I? It’s nothing serious, I… it was just me overreacting.” Evie told him, the question of whether or not she actually meant she didn’t miss Josh never crossing her mind when she just wanted to finish this conversation. Any brief, misguided belief that she should actually talk about it, attempt to explain it, disappeared. She knew it was stupid, so pathetic that she was still dealing with it. Just looking at Zac now told her he wasn’t so eager about this either. Of course he wouldn’t. He lost people he cared about that day too, it wasn’t just her who suffered.

Of course he wouldn’t. Just see how agitated he is. Poor Zac, having to deal with everything else, and here you come along and do this. Face it, this is your fault. 

“I don’t know, I mean, maybe it would have made sense that you would still be thinking of him-”

Evie couldn’t help but leave a bitter scoff. So that’s what he really thinks about me? Thinking about him, missing him after Josh hurt him and everyone else? Can I blame him? Probably made sense that Zac wondered if she even cared, cared about anyone. It was a strange thing, though. She knew Zac was better off without her, yet still she didn’t want him to think any less of her, didn’t want to see his disappointment for being like this. No one needed to worry about her, even though she still worried about them. It was all getting a blur, what her priorities were and should be. And besides, how was she supposed to tell him. I haven’t gotten over Oscar and Hannah, or Denny, or Mom or even Dad? She refused to waste anymore of his time, this had already gone too far. “This isn’t anything you should be worried about, it’s fine, I… I should just go, it’s my fault. I’m just sorry.” She stood up and left before she starts spilling everything out, because she’d probably figure out a way to do so and Zac wouldn’t want to hear it, would hate her.

“Wait, where’re you going?” Zac followed her. He didn’t knew what scared him more, knowing what was bothering her or not having a clue, each fear tugging this way and that, but he didn’t want to ignore this unless he was certain she would be okay.

“I’m going out, I’m not really hungry. What are your plans for today?” she attempted a smile but it felt forced and Zac probably saw it like that too.

“Evie-”

“Have you seen my bag, I’m- I’m sure I left it around here somewhere-”

Evie was about to turn back up to her room but Zac stood in front of her, his arms folded in front of him and frowning at her. She guessed she wasn’t fooling him and tensed her stance before looking up at him. There was nothing else to tell him. “Zac, you’re blowing this way out of proportion.”

“Okay, maybe I am...” Zac took a deep breath before continuing. He wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to do, if this would only make things worse if he didn't let her have space to deal with this, but he can’t just keep silent. He didn’t want to see Evie like this, as if her passion was being slowly drained from her every day, and after last night he felt like he had to address it.  He’s seen Evie aloof before, but it wasn’t like this. He had thought she had moved past that, at least with him. “…but that doesn’t change what I saw, I want to make sure that you are actually alright and you’re not pretending.”

“So what if I am?” Evie felt herself burning up by the irritation rising from someplace she didn’t know, though she knew she shouldn’t. If she was pretending, if she was just a liar, then why was he still trying to help? “I’m handling things fine, I don’t need your help.”

“Do you? Evie, if something’s bothering you, then just talk to me, but I don’t want you to shut me out, shut any of us out, when there’s no reason to. You don’t see us closing ourselves off whenever we’re in trouble.” It was as if all his anxiety and frustration was pouring out and he didn’t knew how to stop.

“I know you don’t,” Evie said sullenly, her irritation turning quickly to anger. Why was he so insistent in ignoring the fact that she didn’t need his help? She wasn’t asking for any of it, it didn’t matter whether or not she wanted it. “I’m not shutting anyone out… I’m still here, I talk to you and Leah- I mean, what else you would call this right now?”

“Not what it used to be. I want to be there for you, Leah does, but we can’t help if you keep everything suppressed and pushing us away!”

“Well, I’m sorry for being an inconvenience, but that’s not what I was trying to do!” Evie retorted bitterly. Wow, great job Evie, way to start the pity parade.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it-” He didn’t want this to brew into an fight, yet it seemed to be heading down that road anyway. He couldn’t help but feel hurt by how she apparently didn’t trust him, and he just hated feeling so helpless, especially if there was something going on that he didn’t know about, and it came out in exasperation that she refused to talk about this.

“You said it, and it’s true. I’m trying not to be the person who is constantly dragging into problems you’ll regret, and I know that’s not enough, and I’m such a mess, but I don’t know what else you want me to do! There’s nothing that I have to ‘suppress’!” She bit back a groan, scrunching her eyes shut before trying to calm herself. But what did Zac expect? The old her back? How could he expect her to fall back into that? Because that girl is gone, she died when Oscar and Hannah died, and what was left were just pieces. That didn’t make it okay for her to snap, though. She willed her eyes to remain dry, because she didn’t want Zac to pity her, to forgive her just because she was crying, before speaking again, preparing herself from the harsh, angry words he was bound to give her. “I’m sorry. I know I’ve been saying that too much to be taken seriously, but you’re right to be angry, and fed up with my issues, but… why are you bothering?”

“Of course I’m going to bother,” Zac’s tone of obvious disappointment in his admonishment made her feel worse than if he was actually angry.

Zac squeezed her shoulder even as he tried to hide how upset he looked, even from her suddenly steady gaze. Deep down, he knew Evie cared and she didn’t want to fight either, but he can’t ignore the possibility that maybe she wasn’t coping as well as he hoped. Maybe he had been walking on eggshells around her too much? Was he expecting her to still be dealing with everything, or did she do it faster than expected? Was there really nothing for her to talk to him about? He didn’t knew what to do without pushing her to the point of no return and he didn’t want to make her feel worse about what happened. He didn’t want to lose her too, and those words were on the tip of his tongue, yet he held back, not ready for the onslaught of emotions that would come from the reminder of those words, the reminder of a wound that still affected them. “Yeah, it’s been rough, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. You were never one to keep your feelings to yourself, why start now of all times? You can actually trust me, you know?”

“I trust you, I do,” Evie told him, her voice edging towards one of defeat as she shifted her foot and bit the inside of her cheek. She was already feeling too guilty for letting too much of her feelings out. She needed that guilt, needed to feel every ounce of it, but she still hated herself for making Zac think like she didn’t care about him, for being angry at him when he did nothing wrong. “and that’s why I’m telling you there’s nothing else to talk about. It wasn’t your problem, and I’ve made you worry about it. Just something that I’ll try and make sure doesn’t happen again.” She raked her hands through her hair, nails scratching against her scalp as painful as she could make it.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pushed you.”

Evie looked up at him, feeling horror slip over her like a bucket of cool water and which probably appeared on her face. Where did that come from? What parallel universe did she slip into in the last five seconds that made Zac feel like he had to apologise to her? “What- Zac, no. This isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything. You’re… so nice and so understanding, and I was the one who lost control and refusing your help, same-” She caught her tongue into her mouth right on time, because she knew what she was going to say and she knew that would go down the road for an issue neither were anyway near comfortable talking about for a long length of time. “I’m going to go, this is going nowhere.”

Zac sighed. “Well… well maybe, we can talk at dinner tonight and-”

“Actually, I might just go to Salt for dinner tonight, to give you space.” The words escaped from her mouth before she had time to actually process them, but she said them anyway. If she stayed any longer with this still on Zac’s mind, she’d burn up in embarrassment. She can’t keep doing this, she can’t keep bringing everyone else into this, this had to stop. “I get it. You don’t want to know what it is, I can see it.”

“What, of course I do, of course I want to-” Zac’s heart was being tugged with strands of confusion and fear, not getting why she would say that, even if he was scared of what he may find. But if she said she didn’t want it, what else could he do instead of forcing her to open up and he wasn’t convinced if that was the right move?

“No, Zac, I don’t think you do.” And even if he did, he shouldn’t. If he wasn’t going to see that, then she had to make him see it. “I’m a grown woman, I can take it. I… I just want to be alone, okay?”

“Just… talk to me if it happens again, Evie, please?” Zac’s voice sounded so sad yet he squeezed her shoulder again and while that wasn’t a hug like he gave her last night, it was something to be grateful for. “You can’t let this put your life on hold.”

Evie didn’t know why he still felt like he had to pretend to care, but she felt herself nodding anyway, just to reassure him, yet she couldn’t help but mutter before walking away, “Yeah, well I haven’t got much else to worry about, do I, Zac?”

“What does that even-”

“Forget it,” Evie lightly brushed his shoulder with her hand in an apologetic matter before walking out, her voice remaining as hard as granite: “I’m fine. I’m always fine.”

-------

Evie felt her hands gripping the wet sand underneath her even as the water surged and then retracted inches away from where her feet were digging into the ground beneath it. She didn’t know if she preferred the way it crumpled under the pressure it gave her and slowly slipped through her fingers, because while it gave her a certain bit of satisfaction to ease out her frustration, it wasn’t like the way her hands clutched her bedsheets or a chair or even her leg, something solid that left her focused.

She still couldn’t believe what happened, what she let happen. She had been so careful, careful not to show how messed up she was that she was almost convinced that it was just her imagination… yet she could believe it, she could believe she would let herself slip while she was moping in her misery. She had always avoided trying to make mistakes and yet she always does. Now Zac was probably wondering why she was like that, and she snapped at him. Yeah, he’d be better off not knowing, he didn’t need this with everything else going on in his life, and Evie could tell herself that and it would all be true, but it didn’t change the fact that what he said was true: she was shutting them out, because she couldn’t find a better way of keeping her distance. Maybe there wasn’t, but she didn’t think about that. She just jumped in without a thought, not caring about where it could lead her, so determined she could avoid a confrontation and as a result she started one. She should have noticed it before, when she had been trying to distract herself in her work. She just wrote and typed and read, not considering what she was doing and made mistakes where she normally wouldn’t, but didn’t care if it was right or not. Her heart was no longer in it.

Despite it all, Zac said she didn’t need to apologise when there was so many things she knew were her fault and Evie was so selfish she let him tell her so. His steadfast kindness, it had to be wavering at this point, didn’t it? She wasn’t surprised if Zac would withdraw the teaching position, feeling like she couldn’t handle it, and she couldn’t blame him. She always had her mind set on being interdependent, but she could barely expect him to trust her now. She made the choice not to tell him, she can't turn back from this, even if she wanted to. All she felt in control of was hate and anger.  

She looked down at her phone, laying heavily in her palm and wanted to text him, to call him, she wanted just to make sure he actually wasn’t upset and wasn’t just pretending he wasn’t because he felt like he had to, she wanted to know he’d forgiven her, that he still loved her-

Stop that. You’re just trying to make this about yourself. The world doesn’t revolve around you. He already had enough of you being needy. He shouldn’t want you. He doesn’t want you.  

Feeling a sudden childish, vicious urge, she struck her foot out against a nearby rock twice. She got up and stood up, as if she was trying to see beyond the outline of the sea in front of her. She used to marvel at how beautiful it was, and it still was, but it was as if the colour, even during the middle of the day, had lost some of it’s touch, like a painting with its features faded away over the years. The rocks surrounded her, which proved to be a very cliché, yet also very easy hideout. One of the few places she didn't think she was taking up space. Honestly, she could just stay there. Every time she left the house, she noticed a certain convicted thought that she shouldn’t come back, that she should just leave for good. They would hate her for it, but not enough if she stayed. Maybe if she didn’t go back, they’d all finally realise how horrible she treated them and realise they no longer had her as a burden. Yet she always came back. For some selfish, incomprehensible reason she kept coming back. She never had the courage to go through with it. No matter what she told Zac, she didn’t want to be alone. She had been trying to keep out of their way while being there, trying to show she loved them and putting them first and to know she hasn’t lost them while trying to avoid them being reminded of the parts of her that was missing and the parts of her they didn’t want. She thought she was improving but she wasn’t and even as she buried her face in her hands, she felt her whole body shaking in rage. Maybe that was what she was doing wrong. Maybe it was better for her to break their hearts only once rather than doing it over and over and over again. She can’t go on like this, no one could, she can’t keep pretending while still being part of their lives.  

What, and linger here all day? What about the third option you’ve- the third option I’ve got? Why not just walk forward, stop being a problem, just walk into that water-

No. Just no. That won’t help. Evie grimaced, refusing to finish that thought, because that would be actually giving up and Evie hated the idea of giving up (Yet I could do it so easily with Josh). She had to feel all of this, every single bit of this emotional storm in her. She dragged herself away from the rocks, every inch of her aching from sleep-deprivation and… not hunger, but something that felt like that. She was just tired. So tired. So tired of no longer having the right road to walk on. She used to be stronger than this, she used to know what to do (or at least she thought she did). 

-----

Evie was up on her feet again and every ounce of her wanted to collapse but now she had something else to focus on. She was in the diner, drinking a strong cup of coffee and a sandwich when she ended up speaking to John and Marilyn, about the troubles they’ve been having with the new kid living at their house, Jordan, and how hard it’s been for him. It was something Evie had never really considered before, barricaded away in her own issues. Her eyes had been opened to how fragile life can actually be. Even when it seemed so enjoyable and free and loving, it could be taken away so easily. Yet some people never even got that chance to experience that life, never got to enjoy what so many take for granted, what she had took for granted. She wanted to do something about that, wanted to do something to help make things just the slightest bit more easier for people like Jordan, even if she didn’t know them. She just didn’t knew what or how…

But then she remembered what she received last week, something that she didn’t want and still pained her to have, but yet could do something worthwhile.

It wasn’t about her, this wasn’t just some distraction from her own problems. If anything the parade of questions that followed her decision to do something was an addition to her wave of doubt, of whether or not it would be enough, if there was a better way. Those were the questions that plagued her as she walked away from the diner towards the Bait Shop. That didn’t change anything in this state she's in, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't do something above herself, something that could help people. Something that both Oscar and Hannah would have done. She used to think of herself as good, now she knew otherwise, she would never be as good as they were but maybe she could at least do something good, something constructive, to-

To what, atone? Balance the scales? You’re pretty much destined to turn anything you touch to ruin, so why is this any difference?

“Because this is a good thing to do,” Evie spoke out loud, as if it was that simple, as if that was enough to convince her. She had to try, at least, didn’t she? And if that wasn’t enough-

Her phone was back in her hand before she knew it, her fingers pressing against the numbers and pressed it her ear. She needed someone else’s opinion, trying to see if what she had, for once, made the right decision.

“Uh Matt?” Evie called through the phone once the call connected, her voice pushing beyond how tired it sounded all day.

“Evie, hi. Everything good.” Matt’s voice came out quick and exhausted on the other end.

“Uh, yeah, hopefully. Listen, I want to ask you something?. It's.....um.....”

“Um, Evie can it wait until this evening? I’m kind of swamped here at work.”

Evie bit back a sigh, she couldn’t, not even if she didn't have all these issues in her head, take his time off his work for something that she should figure out. “No, it’s stupid. You should get back.”

“Alright, if you’re sure. See you later.”

Evie hung up. That may not have gone as she hoped, but she had to try and make this work before calling the Youth Hostel in Yabbie Creek about making the donation. This had to be normal, this had to be good.

I swear, I want good things for Evie, I swear! 😟 I hope you all enjoyed this. 

Edited by D.B
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3 hours ago, Red Ranger 1 said:

Evie and Zac talking at cross purposes.Will Evie go through with the donation?Who knows?

Both of them really care about each other, but both of them remain emotionally scarred by past events, so as much as Zac is frustrated by not being able to help, he's just as scared as Evie of pushing the conversation. 

I was always going to follow what happened with Evie and the money in the show, because I felt like her giving the money to charity and getting involved in that work was a right direction for her and I do believe it would fit her character to do so, but I also wanted to depict that even a good decision like this wouldn't be immune from her insecurities and self-loathing. This will be explored in the following chapters. Thanks for commenting again Red, I'm really grateful for the feedback. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm not really proud of this chapter, because a lot of time I was feeling lost on how to write it properly and with respect. I started this to explore the complex struggle they could have set for her during the show, to give her story respect, and that has proven harder than I expected, especially trying not to say the wrong thing when it comes to depression and trying not to dramatize it. Thank you to everyone who has read this, and sticking by this story. 

WARNINGS: Descriptions of Self-Harm And Suicidal Thoughts (still nothing graphic, but no red lines separating the bits). Please do not read if you don't feel comfortable, please, I don't want this to bring awful thoughts to anyone. I'm so sorry if you ever felt this terrible, or lonely, or sad, or angry at yourself. So please make the best decision for yourself you have to do to feel happy and safe, and know you matter, and you're loved. 

Chapter 8:

After calling Matt, she didn’t really knew who else to turn to. Not Zac, not after this morning and last night. She didn’t feel like talking to Leah either for the same reason, and she didn’t know who else she could speak to on a matter like this. It did leave Chris, the one person who knew of her issues with the money Hannah left her in the first place, so she decided to look for him.

So here’s a fun question to ask herself: What the hell was she doing on the beach then?

Evie was going over what she would say over and over again in her head, preparing herself to try and say the right thing, encouraged by a sudden surge of determination. She saw him near the Surf Club inside, talking animatedly with John near the counter, and she didn’t want to ambush him. She just had to think this through, think of how to say something along the lines of Hey, how’re you doing? Listen, about that thing we talked about earlier this week? Well, I know what to do with it.

It was probably ridiculous that she felt like seeking guidance about this. Making a donation, contributing to a good cause, isn’t something that one would debate about it being the right thing to do or not. As long as you felt that what you were giving was actually doing some good, was helping people, it would be enough, wouldn’t it?

But she couldn’t rid herself of the notion that she needed some sort of confirmation, because what if it wasn’t enough? That question popped up like an alarm on her phone and kept ringing as she drove her feet into the sand. Maybe her worrying about it was a good thing, but what if, even if she did give the donation, it was just a desperate attempt to free herself from the guilt, just like it was when she first spoke to Chris about the money. What if she was just trying to make herself feel better? She wanted to do the right thing, and maybe this could be the drive that she needed to be better. That wasn’t what she was trying to do and that was why she wanted to talk to Chris, just to-

And what do you want him to say? Say, ‘Good job Evie’, ‘I’m proud of you’? God, you’re unbelievable. You’d do anything to get any sort of praise, wouldn’t you?

Evie shook her head as she tried and rid herself of that voice. Was that what she wanted? Just to hear she was doing the right thing? With everything in her life so unstable, she didn’t want to mess this up, but did she just want to grab attention for herself? Would it be the wrong reasons? She could already feel the guilt creeping onto her again. Would it turn to her throwing it away, ruining the point of giving the money in the first place and Hannah would have been so disappointed and-

Her hand was moving up and down her right arm, nails digging deep within the fabric to drive into the skin and leave marks behind as she groaned in frustration. Her stomach was growling but she couldn’t even pay attention to that. She had tried pacing, as if trying to catch up with the racing thoughts and worries in her head, but she couldn’t walk without her legs wanting to collapse the moment she stood and if she wasn't so preoccupied she'd be wondering about that too. This was something she wanted to do, she shouldn’t be double-guessing this, so why is she making this so difficult? She told herself this wasn't about her, but was she trying to convince herself otherwise?

Looking distantly ahead, even as she was lost in that wave of boiling frustration, she saw Mason walking up from the sea, surfboard in hand, wriggling his head from side to side to shake the water out of his hair. She thought about getting up, before he had a chance to see her like this, but even as she struggled to get her knees up, Mason caught sight of her and waved an eager hand in hello. She thought about just pretending she didn’t see it and walking away, but instead she raised her hand to wave it in reply. It wasn’t his fault she was like this, he shouldn’t be ignored.

“Evie hi,” Mason cheerfully chirped up as he approached her, though his eyebrows furrowed at how fatigued she looked, how uncombed her hair was, with a curiously restless look in her eyes. “Bad day?”

Evie shook her head exhaustedly. “I’ve had better”. The dreariness of her didn’t see the point of hiding it even as she felt embarrassed.. “How about you? You enjoying yourself?”

“Definitely. I mean, have you seen waves like that before? It’s beautiful.” Mason gave her a soft smile as he tried to think of something to continue the conversation. She looked lonely and maybe some company would do her some good. He also couldn’t help the small spark of excitement in him at getting to be that company, and if something was bothering her, he wanted to be the one to solve it. “Must be great to be able to go down here and just… jump in whenever you want, every day.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Evie offered up awkwardly with a half-grin, hating that she couldn’t answer him in a way that showed more engagement. She just realised with a bit of a startling realisation that this was the first time she and Mason were actually spending time together alone; usually Matt was with them too. It shouldn’t matter, Mason was a nice guy but she still didn’t really know him, not to the extent that Matt did. Besides, she’d been wrong about plenty of people in the past. She had trusted before, and she was wrong to. 

“The others aren’t that really into it, so usually it’s just me out there. You know, where we were living before here, we didn’t really get a chance to be near a beach, or at least, a beach as beautiful as this. Wasn’t exactly what you’d call a paradise,” Mason said, his voice turning wistfully. He shouldn’t really be thinking about it, not when he was trying to have a nice conversation with her.

Evie seemed to perk up a bit, though she still didn’t brighten up. “Must have been difficult to move, though.”

“Ah, it was okay. When Tori got that doctor’s job, we all thought a move was for the best.” That thought seemed to darken Mason’s mind just a bit, at the realisation that it was the case for most of the places they were sent to. They were never there for more than 2 years, before moving away, always starting a different life. There was never a place to call home, the last time they ever really had a home, a place with security and freedom, was when they were just kids. He kicked on regardless. “Anyway, you fancy going in or-”

“Nah, I’m… I’m not much of a swimmer,” Evie woodenly said, feeling even more embarrassed. She used to enjoy it, but she couldn’t anymore. She’d muck that up again, and besides, her critic’s voice still lingered in her head from earlier today, urging her to jump into the water and make an end- it frightened her, frightened to a level she didn’t think possible. “I’ve done it plenty of times, just… not very good at it. I’d probably end up needing help or something.” This wasn’t much of a conversation, and she was still failing at it. She appreciated that Mason patiently waiting for her to try and say something, but why was he still bothering?

“Ah, come on. I’m sure you can’t be that bad,” Mason joked, only to blanch when Evie didn’t react. Instead, the lines around her eyes hardened and she folded her arms around her legs, bringing them closer towards her.

“So, how long have you been living here? Did you grow up here or-”

Evie bit her lip, already thinking that was too personal a question for her. “Only a couple of years, though… I guess it’s hard to call anywhere else home, after everything. The move here wasn’t…. well, it wasn’t what you’d call ideal. Zac brought us here when our dad… he was in a bad place and we needed to get away. He… he died.” She already crunched up her hands into fists on either side of her, already wincing internally. She said too much, already divulged too much of how that still hurt her. Mason’s reaction didn’t exactly help. His eyes widened and were looking at her with sympathy. She didn’t want his sympathy, she’d seen enough from everyone since the explosion, and even more when Josh got arrested. She couldn’t have walked into the Diner or anywhere else without people staring, or people she knew and cared about looking at her with unbearably pitying looks. She didn’t knew which annoyed her most, those looks or the stares that followed her with whispers about her and Josh. A part of her shined at the idea that people cared, but overall she didn’t want the attention, she… just wanted them to look at her as normal.

But you aren’t normal, are you?

“Oh, God, I’m sorry. That must have been terrible.” He knew a bit of what happened to Evie and her family, Matt filled him in a while ago when they first met about her brother and aunt, though he didn’t give much information. From the sounds of it, though, Evie had a lot to endure for a while now. He was surprised at how well she had been handling it, always giving him a bright smile whenever she saw him. He didn't knew a lot of people who could still keep trying. He wanted to say he knew how she felt, with his own parents, but he held his tongue. He remembered his chat with Tori and Brody not long ago and while he felt rankled that they felt like they had to talk to him about being careful, like he would be stupid enough to make the same mistake, he couldn’t exactly blame them. Lana had put them all at risk and he knew he needed to stop himself from rushing into anything else that could spill the beans on all of them. Even while he was trying to find something else to talk about, something to break the thick ice, she already stood up.

“Look I’m gonna go, I didn’t mean to load all of that onto you. It’s- it’s not normal, whatever I’m doing, it’s not-”

Mason got up, already feeling guilty about bringing up what was most likely still a sensitive topic. “No, it’s fine. We can still talk, it’s perfectly normal if-”

“No, I can’t,” Evie insisted, her body starting to tremble. She couldn’t stand herself to be like this, and wished she was better at pretending otherwise for everyone’s sake. “I keep doing this, I keep putting my own problems out there on display, and I… I can’t decide on what to do, if what I’m doing is right, and I just lose control and it won’t stop, I just need it to stop!” Her voice had risen to the point of shouting and she could see a couple of passers-by staring at them with open curiosity and that just made her feel worse, like she was being overdramatic. She gritted her teeth as her heart went tapping in an uneven pattern and her hands reached for her hair as if on a mission to tear it out. Why was she always making a fool of herself, even over small things? “It’s pathetic, it’s so pathetic,” she huffed out as her eyes blinked back tears threatening to spill.

“Evie, just calm down, okay? It’s not pathetic,” Mason tried to reassure her, taking a hesitant step forward, automatically worried that if he made any sudden move she would fly off the handle. She looked like she was having an anxiety attack, and after everything he and his siblings had gone through, he was no stranger to what they look like. Tori and Justin and Brody all had their share of them over the years, no matter how many times they hide it from him, and from each other. He had also been learning how to handle them, and he knew that unless the sufferer gave explicit permission, it was important not to crowd around them. He slowly reached a hand out and dropped it again when she drew away from it as if it was a viper. Stomping down on the hurt that flared up inside at that movement, Mason just stood by, trying to keep his concern hidden. “You’re working this up into something that isn’t,” he told her. And immediately regretted saying it when Evie winced and backed away. “Come on, let me try and cheer you up. Do you want me to get Matt or Zac-”

“No.” Her voice came out forcefully. “I don’t need cheering up and I don’t need to talk to anyone, I just need to get it together.” Evie replied quickly and agitatedly, because she would have appreciated what he was trying to do more if he wasn’t reminding her of people who she would be letting down. Why would he think she would want any of them to see her like this? That she would want to waste their time like that? 

Mason’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked more concern, the thought occurring to him that maybe not even Matt knew what was going on with her. While he did feel a certain inner thrill at that he may be the first of her friends to help, it didn’t change the fact that maybe he wasn’t the person who was most qualified to deal with this. “I mean, are you sure? If this is… I don’t know, some sort of pent-up issue, don’t you want someone-”  

“Mason, I said no!” Again Evie’s voice rose to the point of shouting and she winced again, as if expecting him to shout back. She shouldn't have done that, it wasn't his fault, he was just trying to help, she didn't want to be mad at him. “I’m sorry, just… so sorry, I didn’t mean… never wanted…” she mumbled, trying to show how sorry she was, even as her body still trembled as she shook her head resolutely. “It’s ridiculous, talking wouldn’t do anything.”

Mason didn’t knew what to do. He had never seen her like this in the short time that he knew her, never saw her this agitated, but he didn't knew if he still talking to her was the right thing to do. Maybe he should have just bit his tongue. “Maybe it will be good just to talk."

Evie glanced up at him, her jaw hardening and her posture turning painfully stiff. Her hands have wrapped themselves around each other, nails scratching into the skin there, rubbing it raw. “What’s the point? Of any of it? What would it accomplish apart from only upsetting them?”

“Evie, I'm sure they'd want to know, so they can help.”

"No they don't, I'm not letting this affect them," Evie rasped softly, so softly that Mason almost didn't catch it. 

"But it's clearly affecting you though."

She sighed and tried and calm her face, or at least give the pretence of calm as she gave Mason a tight smile. It was unfair to leave him on a harsh note, but he didn't get it, he wasn't there before when she made all those mistakes. “Mason, I get you’re trying to help, but just leave it. You’ll be better off because of it. I'm not getting in the way of everyone else's lives. Just-please don’t tell anyone. I’m sorry.” And with that she turned away and began walking up towards the path leading up to the Surf Club. She felt stupid for asking Mason for anything after what she just said, but she hoped that he would understand. She needed to find Chris, just to talk to him-

And you think he’ll want to see you like this? That you’d actually accomplish anything when you’re like this? When you’re always like this. No one wants to hear you complain. 

She felt herself taking a turn towards the fence and leaned against it, her legs threatening to burn apart underneath her and her chest tightening. Her body felt like a poorly-oiled machine that had trouble doing even the simplest of tasks, and that increased her shallow, suffocating anger. She hated that this was happening more and more, even when she was trying to be certain about doing the right thing, but it just was piping in her head over and over again and she needed it to stop but could she expect anything else? As she told Mason, what was the point?

It was because she locked in this haze she didn’t see someone approach her. She could barely hear that person asking if she was alright and her nerves felt so rattled that she snapped out a “No”, immediately regretting it, sounding like a smart-ass even though it was obvious. It was probably Mason, trying to make sure she was okay, and she didn’t want to brush him off again, but she’d prefer if he just left her alone. She felt her head turning and flinching. She’d actually prefer it to be Mason now when she glimpsed the familiar blue shirt of a police officer and recognised the voice. She turned away from Kat, trying to keep her face from showing how messed up she felt.

“I’m fine, just leave me alone.” Her voice came out in a curt, cold tone, yet somehow Kat didn’t get the message.

“Evie, what’s going on? Do you need help?” The look of concern on Kat’s face was both irritating and laughable when Evie glimpsed again at her and she turned away.

She talks to you like she would to a child. Because you’re incapable, a burden. Weak. If she can see it, everyone else is going to see it.

“No, I don’t need help,” Evie hissed, aware of how much of a scene she was probably making yet couldn’t emphasis enough how little she cared. “Not from you.” Or anyone else.

She heard Kat give a infuriated sigh that if Evie didn’t have some form of inner restraint she would have screamed at. “Come on, Evie, don’t be like that.” Kat shook her head in exasperation. She knew Evie had a rough year, but she could barely still be blaming her for covering for Josh. “Just because-”

“No, just-no- just leave me alone!” Evie backed away and left, before she had to hear any more patronising words from the cop’s mouth. She was walking down the beach, aware of eyes still watching her and she couldn’t decide on whether or not she didn’t care, or to be worried about someone she cared about seeing her like this. How could she expect to talk to Chris, when she gets unravelled so easily? How could she expect to do this right in the first place?

------

She was back near the rocks before she knew it, kneeling down and huddling against the rock as if it would cave open and swallow her whole, as if the water seeping in would swallow her whole. She looked down at her hands, the skin blotching red and devastating from where she was scratching it. Why how she’s able to calm down when she’s alone, the frustrating remaining but now sinking under an empty, dissociated sense, yet it all seems to come out whenever she’s around people? Where did it leave her? What if she went straight to Chris and lost it in front of him? He’d thought she was being crazy, and she probably was. He was fed up of having to watch her like this. She wouldn’t even be able to tell him about what she hoped to do, and why would he want to know? Giving the money wouldn’t change anything, it didn’t make her any more deserving to feel better.

But then did it matter? It wasn’t anything she didn’t already know, and it didn’t change that donating it would still be the right thing. She shouldn’t let her own insecurities to stop her from doing something that could help kids like Jordan. It was unfair that they had lives that were so much worse than hers, and she felt a need to contribute something positive to help them. It was Hannah’s money, she would want her to do the right thing. Something Evie had grown to believe she never did while her aunt was alive.

I don’t think so. You think that just one good thing could make her proud of you… if she was still alive, that is. Can’t you see that you’re just trying to find a reason as to why you’re still here?

Yet Evie saw her hand unconsciously reaching for her phone, as distant as if it was a memory. The screen came to like and she’d always take a gulp whenever she saw the screensaver on her phone was always a picture of her and Oscar, his smile so bright and so warm. This is what he would do, the least she could do was follow his footsteps. They'd hopefully be proud of her. Her fingers clumsily and slowly typed down the numbers she looked up on the website for the Hostel, she felt a certain spark at the idea of doing some good. Maybe this was why she was still here, to do something worthwhile. That wasn’t about her, but it could be a way for her to make herself better, for others. The phone pressed against her ear, her hair brushing against its screen. She was doing it. Should she still let someone know? Should she still do this without consulting anyone, jumping so without appreciating what anyone thought-

The dial tone cut and she found her mouth opening, and she has to talk.

“Hello, this is Evelyn Maguire. I would like to make a donation.” (Author’s note: I just realised I’ve been spelling her last name wrong for a while now).

------  

“Rough day?” Matt asked VJ as he and Billie sat down next to him at the diner.

“I don’t know how John persuaded me to take a shift on a Sunday, but somehow he did,” VJ groaned as he leaned both arms against the table and pinched his nose. “Holy bananas.”

If VJ wasn’t so exhausted, he probably would have been embarrassed at the pointed look Matt gave him while Billie laughed shyly beside him. “Holy bananas?” Matt asked, already thinking there’s a good story behind that.

“VJ looked up that babies can pick up bad words very early and he wants to break the habit,” Billie explained while trying to hold back a laugh herself at the sweet gesture.  

“Ok, 1: VJ, I think you’re reading way too much stuff on the internet. 2: Pretty sure Leah would have wanted you to try that before you knew you had a kid on the way. And 3, you know that’s still 7 months away, right?”

“There’s no problem with trying to start early.” VJ snarked irritably in response, glowering at Matt’s chuckle as the other boy leaned back against his chair. “It’s for the baby.”

“And they’re going to love you for it,” Billie reassured her boyfriend, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. VJ leaned into the kiss, awed at how amazingly glowing she looked. “Anyway, what are you up to?”, she asked Matt.

“Just waiting for Evie,” Matt told them. “She had something she wanted to talk about earlier, so I’m just waiting for her in case she pops up here.”

“Ugh, I wish my day was as much of a snooze-fest as yours,” VJ muttered before straightening up. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah of course,” Matt said. “I mean, I was working so I didn’t really get a chance to talk to her about it, but it’s probably nothing serious.” She didn’t sound very urgent during their brief talk earlier, so he was assuming for the best.

VJ saw Matt’s contemplating look even as his eyes felt like nodding off, and got while he looked so hopeful by it. He wasn’t going to tell him, but VJ heard Evie and Zac arguing this morning while he was upstairs. He didn’t know what it was, but when he got downstairs, he never saw Zac look that defeated. Zac wouldn’t talk about it and VJ didn’t press the issue, but after everything Evie and Zac have gone through this year, them arguing should be sending red flags. “At least she’s got you to talk to. She barely talks to anyone at home.”

“Well, that doesn’t necessarily means something’s wrong,” Billie objected. “Maybe she just doesn’t want everyone coddling her.” She knew her own feelings were a bit mixed on that topic, enjoying it some days and hating it on others but it didn’t mean it was everyone’s cup of tea.

“Yeah, well, I don’t want to push her, but I'm just there whenever she wants me, she’s my best friend.” While Matt would admit to himself that he had, and still had, concerns of Evie edging him out, he was sure that wasn’t the case, and besides, he was just glad that she wanted his help with something. It was like things were getting back to normal again. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, to check to see if he’s gotten any texts from her. He sent her one earlier, asking if she was alright and if she still wanted to talk and he yet to have gotten a response. Stifling down disappointment as he looked up, he raised his eyebrows amusedly at the look of mock offence on VJ. Well, he hoped it was mock offence.

“Wow. What am I then, chopped liver?” VJ said wearily as Matt threw up his hands in reconciliation. 

“Okay, fine. One of my best friends, does that satisfy you?” Matt joked as VJ dramatically shook his head.

“You’re my best friend, if it’s any conciliation,” Billie told him with a playful glint in her eyes as she petted VJ’s hand. VJ gave her a brief smile before turning his offence back to Matt.

“Yeah, but that’s a given. For this guy… no, no, don’t apologise. I’ll just leave you waiting for your best friend,” VJ exclaimed, enjoying how Matt rolled his eyes at him as he was trying to get up as Billie was failing to hold a laugh back in. She always loved it when VJ got intentionally overdramatic.     

“Come on, sit down,” Matt waved his hand up and down to get the other boy to sit again. “If I get you a coffee, which you very much look like you need, would you forgive me and stop being a grouch?”

“I make no promises,” VJ mumbled as he collapsed back on the couch and leaned his face against Billie’s arm but patted Matt’s arm in a gesture of ‘thank you’. Matt chuckled again before Billie said something before he stood.

“So you and Evie- just friends?”

Matt’s eyes widened comically at the question. “What, yeah, yeah, of course… um… just friends, best friends,” Matt didn’t knew why he was stammering right now, feeling himself blush to an embarrassing degree. So much that he didn’t even respond when VJ groaned again at the ‘best friend’ bit as Billie quickly apologised.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry… it’s just, you two were hanging out a lot and-”

“No, we’re just friends. We care about each other, that’s all.” Matt said before he could even consider if what he believed what he was saying. True, there had been times before where he considered the two of them together: with Evie, one of the most beautiful, kind and supporting people he knows, he’d be a fool not to, but she never really seemed interested in him that way. Which was fine by him, he’d rather have her as a friend in his life then not at all. He quickly excused himself from the conversation as he walked up to the counter, hoping it would be the last he would hear of it.

He nodded towards Roo at the counter, gesturing back towards VJ when he asked for another coffee. “Is he okay?” the older woman asked humorously as she send the order to another worker.

“Other than John working him to death- probably,” Matt told her as he fidgeted his hands in his pockets. Waiting for the two of them to be alone, Matt leaned in closer. “You haven’t seen Evie around here earlier, have you?”

Roo shook her head. “No, not since lunch. Why, did you two had an argument or something?”

“No, not that,” Matt reassured her. “It’s just she needed my help with something earlier, but she hasn’t called me back or anything.”

“Well, maybe she sorted it out on her own,” Roo suggested hopefully.

“Yeah, maybe,” Matt agreed half-heartedly. He knew Evie could look after herself, but he still couldn’t shake the growing disappointment of missing something important.

Getting a beep from his phone, he looked down, hoping it was Evie and feeling elated when he saw her name on the screen. Scrolling down to his texts, that elation faded as quickly as it arrived when he actually read the text from her:

Hi Matt, so sorry for bothering you, didn’t knew what I was thinking. Don’t worry about it, I got it sorted out. Talk to you later, E.

Matt sighed through his nose, looking up in frustration. Ever since he knew Evie, Matt knew she was strong-willed, passionate and never humble about what she wanted. It was one of the things he liked about her, she had always been tough. He just didn’t like being in the dark with this kind of stuff. She was happy to hear his problems, but wouldn’t talk about hers. That seems like a weird thing to complain about, but she wasn’t letting him in, or letting him in as much as she used to. It was like she didn’t care that he wanted to know. Just because Josh left her didn’t mean that Evie had to hold herself back from enjoying herself. He wasn't the only person in her life. She was just so downtrodden, even underneath her smiles, and he kind of got it, this year wasn’t easy on any of them, but it was like if he blinked, she’d disappear. Did she not want to hang out with him anymore? Did he do something wrong? He wanted to say otherwise, but Evie wasn’t giving him much to go on. It couldn’t be still about Josh, could it? She deserved so much better than still worrying about him.

“I can see the clogs turning in your head. What's up?” Roo’s question rang in his head for a couple of seconds before Matt realised he might as well answer with another question: “Do you think that she could be still missing Josh?”

Roo looked up at him, looking a bit perplexed at the question. “Who, Evie?”

“Yeah,” Matt confirmed, his clenching jaw betraying how much this annoyed him. “She’ll avoid any attempt to talk about it. I’d be fine if she wanted to... I don't know, rage or complain about it, she’d have a right to, but apparently she doesn’t want to do it either. It’s like… like even after everything he did, especially to her, she’d have no reason to still miss him.” He didn’t want to think that was the case, but he couldn’t help but wonder. If anyone asked him, she made a lucky escape. Who knew how long Josh was going to keep quiet about it, making her his accomplice. A part of him didn’t feel right about talking about a former friend like this, but the rest of him, after how Josh allowed him to be embarrassed by keeping quiet, felt vindicated.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just something she’d tell you if she did,” Roo said. “Did she tell you so, that she missed him?”

“Well, no, but since she doesn’t say anything else-”

“That maybe she doesn’t, or else just doesn’t want to talk about it, and pushing it when you don’t know the full story won’t help.”

Matt shrugged his shoulders and ran a hand through his curls, unsatisfied with that answer. He knew it was probably crazy to be worried, that maybe it was longer or shorter than he expected for Evie to come to pieces with it, but he didn’t have to like it. He shouldn’t avoid it just because it made her feel uncomfortable, when she was probably still bothered by it. She should be more angry, she shouldn’t be stuck on Josh, someone who had lied to her and hurt her to an unforgiveable degree, she couldn't remain heartbroken about it forever. He wanted to give her space to open up to him, but it’s been weeks for her to tell him the full story. There were a lot of things to like about Evie, but her insistence to stand by people who don’t deserve it isn’t one of them. “I’m beginning to think all this emotional stuff is what they should have taught us in school”.

Roo snorted. “Would have you actually paid attention if they did.”

Matt gave her a mock gasp and attempted a smile, even if he still felt frustrated. “I believe you’ll find, Ruth Stewart, that I was a model student.”

“Yeah, when everyone was out of school sick,” dryly moaned VJ from behind, causing Matt to turn back towards him.

“Sorry, who’s getting you an apology coffee again?” Matt grumbled, before turning to quickly thank the waitress who just passed him the coffee, gave an uncertain nod towards Roo and sat down next to VJ.

“Now who looks like a grouch?” VJ observed as his hands cradled the cup of coffee close. “Is everything okay?” His voice turning to one of concern.

“According to Evie, yes,” Matt said curtly, passing his phone over for VJ and Billie to see the text.

VJ looked at the text and shrugged helplessly. Billie looked over to Matt. “So then she’s got it all sorted out?”

“Well, that’s what she said,” Matt slouched against his chair and closed his eyes. “I just thought if Evie actually wanted to talk to me about anything bothering her, she would have, like she used to, instead of edging me out.”

“I thought she talked to you,” VJ pointed out, remembering Matt’s earlier statement. “Things were cool with you guys.”  

“Well, I guess I was hoping it was, it’s just…” Matt hummed in frustration. “I don’t know, maybe I was wrong. We hang out and we try and have fun, but a lot of the time, she’s so quiet, and… just sad. Even when I’m trying to avoid talking about everything going on with her, it’s like I’m trying to climb a fortress, or something. She acts fine when I know she… well, she can’t be, not after everything. It’d be weird if she didn’t. But it's like I'm talking to an entirely different person, I just don't get it.” He couldn’t help but go back to what he was just thinking: about him wanting her in his life even as a friend, did she not want the same? Was it because she thought he'd think badly of Josh? He knew she cared about him, but there was something else going on and she wasn’t letting him help. Did she not think he could handle it?

“Have you considered that maybe she’s just trying to put on a brave face? Trying to struggle by?” Billie suggested, exasperatingly looking at the two boys beside her looking at her like she suggested that Evie had left to climb Mount Everest.

“But why should she? She’s still got me, and you guys, and Zach and Leah. Just because Josh left doesn’t mean that the old Evie has to go too. I just wished she trusted me. It... just hurt to see her like this.”

VJ shrugged helplessly again, Billie's eyes crinkled with concern and Matt leaned forward to rest his hands against the table. He didn’t want to treat Evie as fragile, but he wanted to be involved without thinking he was crossing some invisible line in their friendship. It was like with Maddy, even though he still missed her. Did she really understand how much it hurt for him when she left? He was prepared to leave with her, to support her. Matt knew he wasn’t perfect, he made mistakes he wasn’t proud about, but he made steps to improve his life. He just wanted to be there for her, was that not enough? 

----

Evie could feel the gravel scraping against her knees and couldn’t even find it in herself to care, her head resting against grass, trying to keep herself from making any noises for fear of being found out after pucking out what little she ate on the bushes near the garden, already hating how much of a mess she made. Her arms wrapped around her waist, almost squeezing herself empty until she was dry heaving. The sun glowed a dark red as it disappeared beyond the trees, yet it seemed so dark.

It was those words, those words she heard from Matt from inside the diner. She had just walking nearby, thinking about going in even though she didn’t feel hungry, and while she was walking she realised she missed a text from Matt and she quickly reassured him, knowing she should be the one worrying about him, not the other way around. She had just finished her conversation with the people at the Hostel, filling them in with all the details they required and ensuring that the money would be transferred to them to be put to good use, after confirming several times that she wanted to give the entire amount. She wasn't sure what she felt, she still didn't feel good, but she didn't expect her to otherwise, so even though the knowledge that the money was put to good helped, she wouldn't let anything positive pass through her brain.  When she got there, she saw Matt sitting down near the entrance, talking to Billie and VJ, so she lingered nearby the door where no one could see her, uncertain if she should be listening or even be there. She heard what he said, that he felt she didn’t trust him, how hard it was for him to talk to her, how she didn’t appreciate him or anyone else. Maybe he didn’t directly say all of it, but she could hear enough that wasn’t unsaid. It wasn't anything she didn't already knew, but it hurt to hear it from someone else. Like a confirmation. She didn’t want to drag him down with her problems, was just trying to be helpful. But it wasn’t enough. She remembered how excited he had been to see her before (Why would he?), but she couldn’t be what he wanted her to be. 

You just had to try and make yourself feel better didn’t you. What gives you that right, huh? 

If she had thought donating the money, would ease the storm in her mind, she was kidding herself. She did it, but even though it wasn't about her, she couldn't make herself more calm. If anything, she ignored the voice in her head and after seeing Matt at the diner, it was striking back with a vengeance. It wasn’t enough, it told her, she was never enough. She was just trying to fix herself, an impossible task. She walked from the diner, tears streaming down her face as she was gulping back sobs, feeling furious at herself for not being in control of her body. Her nerves felt so shattered that she felt she couldn’t handle any of it. Everything was spinning and so nervous as she wracked herself trying to find out how she messed up this time when she ended up vomiting. Her stomach cramped in sharp pains, her mouth leaving a harsh, dry taste as she crumpled, her arm clumsily wiping hard against her mouth to clean herself. She couldn’t listen to anything other than the usual thoughts: She’s useless, she was exhausting, an awful friend and a horrible person. She felt foolish for ever thinking that brief sense of hope, thinking that Hannah or Oscar would be proud of her. 

She didn’t get it. She tried to make them happy, tried not to make mistakes, tried to not let them down more than she already had. Was she not capable of doing anything meaningful enough? Should she have expected anything other? She blamed herself, who else was there to blame? It just made her more angry and she needed a release, someway, to express this fury inside her without burdening anyone else. Everyone was doing their best, she couldn't.

This pain was too overwhelming, too excruciating that nothing could numb it. Not drinking, not drugs, nothing. Her body jerked at the familiar thuds of her fist against her stomach, and her cheek. She wasn’t an idiot, she knew what she was doing is: what she was doing was self-harm, relentless in how simple it was, but she couldn’t stop, she was used to it, was all she could think of as she stumbled up to the house. She can't express it anyway else. She could let go, let the rage consumer her until it brought an end, except dying would be an escape and she didn’t want an escape. She may not deserve to still be here, but she would make herself feel every ounce of pain she caused. She looked down at her phone, still on, from before and she had to hold back a sob when she was forced to see Oscar’s face staring up at her. She never wanted to forget him, but she never wanted to see him only through memories or photos.

“They aren’t in there, if you’re wondering.”

Evie nearly slipped, she was so startled. Alf had been waiting down on the porch, looking at her expectantly. Evie’s mouth was opening up and down like a startled fish, unsure of what to say or think, leaving him to speak again before she could say anything.

“Zac and Leah decided to have an early dinner and then left for a walk. Did you and Zac get things sorted out from last night?”

Evie could feel her eye twitch nervously at his usual bluntness, already feeling more embarrassed than she thought possible. Does she have to be reminded of this? Yes. “Do you know what happened?”

Mr Stewart shook his head. “Only that Zac was, is, very worried about it. About you.” And looking at her now, Alf couldn’t really blame him. She looked quite a state, her t-shirt hanging to her in some places, her face looked ashen and desperately trying to hide something.

Evie ducked her head, looking away and wanting nothing more than wanting to go into her room and hide. She was stuck between feeling sad at not seeing Zac and Leah after today, even if she didn’t want to talk to them, just to see them, and feeling relieved that they don’t have to deal with her like this. She didn’t knew what to believe or what was worse: whether or not they actually cared (cared too much), or if they felt they had to pretend to. Why can’t she ever be certain? “It was nothing, I… I was just making too big a deal out of nothing and I'm sorry I got everyone worked up.”

Alf raised an unconvinced eyebrow at her. He may not know all the full details, but he knew it sounded like something worse than what she was saying. He’d saw Zac earlier and he looked like he was trying to convince himself when he told Alf he had it sorted. He'd look upset, muttering to himself as to why she wouldn't let him in when he thought Alf wasn't looking. Still, it didn’t feel like his place to say. Looking closer, Evie looked very unwell. She was almost swaying, and now that Alf thought about it, he could smell vomit off her. This led him to think of one of the few things he absolutely detested to smell in this house: “You’ve been drinking tonight?”

Of all the things Evie expected him to say, that wasn’t one of them. Still, she couldn’t find it in herself to deny it, when what was wrong with her was so worse. “So what if I was?”

“Well, since it’s still my house, it’s very much my business what goes on,” Alf sternly reminded her. She turned away without saying a word, leaning against the door while trying not to grimace. “Are you okay?” he asked, his voice turning softer, thinking it as trying to approach a wound, knowing that keeping scabbing at it won’t help.

She nodded absentmindedly, but the look on her face spoke volumes of something else.

“Love,” he tried again gently. “I know you’ve been trying to be there for everyone else, and you’d probably have enough right to spiral after everything that’s happened, but you can’t get rid of them that easily. They care about you like nothing else.”

“I’m- I’m not trying to get rid of anyone,” Evie replied miserably, trying to keep the offence out of her voice and filling it instead with astonishment. Arguing with Alf Stewart never seemed like a productive thing to do, unless sometimes if the other person was Roo, but she needed him to understand and the part of her that would have beamed whenever hearing someone cared no longer wanted to hear it, because the critic always reminded her that they shouldn't. “I know they care, but that’s the problem. I’m doing something wrong, I know I am, but it isn’t anything that everyone else isn’t already going through. I just… I just thought I could try and make them happy.”

Alf got up, slowly approaching her. She looked up at him, that honest, sincere expression of kindness on his otherwise stalwart and stubborn face. It was one few really got a chance to see. “Evelyn, what is it? What do you think you’re doing wrong?”

Evie felt like she was only half-listening as she was trying to keep her teeth from gritting. Her eye kept lingering towards through the door in the living room. Everything, she wanted to say, but that wouldn’t be a proper explanation. “I just wanted to stop making so many mistakes, and Josh and it just keeps…” she just gestured at herself, not able to get anymore words out. It was Josh's voice she was hearing alongside her now, and Hunter's and Tank's and Andy's and her father's and she can't trust herself. "It's my fault, all of it, and I can't change it." There she said it, she always thought it and she never directly said it, because everyone would rush over themselves to reassure her that it wasn't, because they were too good to her but she knew better and she wasn't going to drag attention onto herself and force them to say something that wasn't true.

"No, Evelyn, no. This isn't... year has been a flaming wreck for you, and I can see you're trying to be strong... I know maybe you don’t think this, but it isn't your fault…” Alf hesitated, already thinking about saying the pain was temporary and she'd get through it, but knew mere words wouldn't help. She looked like seconds away from crying and he didn't want to leave her like this. Alf didn't see why she would think this, but he can see how much trauma she was trying to bottle down. "You can't keep fixated on this suffering. Zac said you're going to start at the school tomorrow, maybe it could help."

“They shouldn’t try and help, they shouldn’t care, it’s my own… my own problem. I... I just need to feel this, okay, I don’t want help.” Her tone was shaky but intense. The suffering was the only thing she could be fixated on and she couldn't believe him. She moved her hand towards the door handle, offering Mr Stewart an apologetic look before looking away.

“Do you think Oscar would want to see you like this?” Alf’s question made her freeze uncontrollably, everything in her mind halting at how startling and painful that question was. “Refusing any sort of help?”.

“Don’t. Please, Mr Stewart… please don’t.” her head was leaning against the glass panel, sinking down into that drowning feeling. Her eyes were tearing up and she was worried she might start crying, she just wanted to run away.

“I know you’re trying to do right by Zac and everyone else, but they care about you just as much as you do. I’ve always lived here, seen some pretty flaming awful stuff during my time. I’ve seen people come and go, and from what I’ve seen, if you think that keeping to yourself is the solution, thinking we won’t try and help you… sorry love, but you’re making some pretty flaming unfounded assumptions.” She may not see it, but they all cared about her and they won't give up. He felt like he should tell Zac and Leah what he was hearing, they wanted to know, but should he leave it to her to tell them?

Evie spun around and Alf couldn’t help but be taken aback by the empty look in her eyes. It was strange, nothing he had seen before. “If you say so."

She left him there out in the porch before he could reply, already feeling the walls come crumbling down around her. Just reaching the doors leading to the stairs, she took a look back, to see if he wasn’t still looking, and when it was apparent he wasn’t, she looked down she saw it. A pair of scissors was lying against the table there and the sight of it was hurling bad, awful thoughts against her head. And she didn’t stop them. Surely it would go too far, that was something she couldn't get walk away from, but, maybe if she could use them, if she was careful just give herself a little cut on the arm to- not to end it, just to find that release. It was just an impulse, but she just grabbed the scissors and ran upstairs. She was gasping for breath and her vision was blurred with tears, but she couldn’t stop herself.

Oscar would have hated to see her like this, because Oscar was the best person she knew and he would have done anything for those he loved. But he also wanted to live his life, surrounded by his family and doing amazing things. He should be here, still alive, instead of-

Instead of her. She felt nothing at thinking this except pure, grim acceptance that he should be still alive and she shouldn’t. It was something she always knew, but now she directly paid attention to. She could have done something, paid more attention, been smarter, they’d still be alive. There was nothing she could do to change that and trying to make herself feel better was a despicable betrayal, not just to Oscar, and Hannah and Denny and her parents, but to Zac and Leah and Matt and Alf and everyone else. She didn't say it because it would immediately raise alarm bells and he would be forced to tell Zac. She knew the truth though. Why was she still alive, she asked herself as she flexed the scissors in her hands, tears now streaming down her cheeks, why? 

This is very dangerous, unchartered territory and I tried to keep this as respectful and coherent as I could, hopefully it would be enough to explain how she's feeling this (It will be explained more when the right time comes). It was also hard to explain how difficult it is for everyone else to see her like this, even when they're trying to help. It's still not her fault, but it's just an awful experience for everyone right now. I'm so sorry. 

Edited by D.B
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No need to keep apologising, you're doing good! A bit of normality from Mason and a bit of straight-talking from Alf, but neither seems to be getting through this shell Evie has built around herself...

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On 28/01/2021 at 00:36, Red Ranger 1 said:

No need to keep apologising, you're doing good! A bit of normality from Mason and a bit of straight-talking from Alf, but neither seems to be getting through this shell Evie has built around herself...

Thanks Red! I feel a bit embarrassed about keep apologising and explaining myself and being reassuring every chapter, but I just really want to do this right and I sometimes worry about explaining this story the wrong way and in my own way, I guess I'm trying to convince myself as well to keep going through with it because I want to be committed but after endings like that sometimes I wish I didn't had to write it. I'm glad you're still sticking by the story. 

Even though they don't know the problem, everyone still cares about Evie and wants to see her get better. However, the state that she's in has her convinced that what is going on with her is not as important as their own issues, that she shouldn't tell them, that doing so would only make things worse and that it would hurt them. No one can really blame her for it, but she needs to be shown that's not the case and that they really want to help and that she should receive it. Just saying so won't just turn everything okay. That they don't know the full extent, makes it frustrating for everyone, leading to people like Alf or Matt to make the wrong assumptions. And now, even though Evie still makes good decisions when it comes to helping other people or giving to a good cause, her self-worth is so shattered that she no longer recognises them as good choices or sees any future for her. That shell she's locked in is a true hell. I hope I explained that right. 

Next chapter up soon! 

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Wow, this was longer than I anticipated. The warnings still apply as before, so please be careful. Thanks again to Red for his kind support. 

Chapter 9:

If Evie could have predicted the look on Zac’s face when he saw her, she would have just stayed in bed. It was one of weariness, as if he was already dreading whatever was going on with her. Actually, now that she thought about it, even as she gave him a forced smile, she might as well have predicted it.

“You sleep okay?” Zac asked her wearily, the weariness already passing over and dominating the concern he was feeling.

“Yeah, it was fine,” Evie answered dully, even though she kept smiling for his sake. She knew he had looked on her before he went to bed last night, to make sure there wasn’t a repeat of the night before and she stayed as silent and as still as a rock until he went to bed.  Looking in the mirror this morning was hard when she woke up with a stony appearance stuck on her face. When she attempted to smile several times, it wouldn’t ever linger, it would just immediately morph into her baring her teeth in a snarl. Giving up on that, she splashed water that just barely counted for washing her face and got dressed. She didn’t want to look like this, she had hope she could have kept all of it on the inside so it wouldn’t bother anyone. She wanted them to be happy, it was the only thing she saw worth in her life. Obviously she was still doing a terrible job of it, but the motivation still lingered. “How about you?” she asked with a little more energy as she grabbed a bowl from the cupboard.

“I’m doing fine,” Zac said quietly. He had been looking forward to today, hoping that Evie would get back in the routine of things instead of being stuck in the house for the majority of the day. This could be the start of her actually regaining that sense of normality she lost. Just how tired she looked and how ringed her eyes were, his sense of worry was coming back in strength. Maybe it was stress. Also, Alf had spoken to him privately when Zac came back last night and told him that it was possible Evie had been drinking, probably heavily. He hated that she was falling to pieces like to that, especially on the night before she would be working, but he needed her to talk to him about it, just to make sure she was alright with working today. “You excited for today?”

“I guess.” Evie wished she could have given him a more positive answer, but she felt so drained, she couldn’t force herself to. It didn’t make a difference because she’ll most likely ruin it for him. She half-filled the bowl with cereal and milk while she draped her bag over her cardigan. She didn’t know what to do.

Say you can’t do it, you know you can’t. He’d be disappointed, but that train’s already left the station. Besides, he’ll be disappointed when you ultimately fail today, so what’s the point?

Zac looked on, still looking tense. “I know you’d prefer to be assigned to an English class, I remember how much you loved it, but I couldn’t get it to work with the timetable, so you’ll be working after three classes in the morning: Modern History, two classes of Geography.”

“Whatever you think so,” Evie mumbled. Her limbs were itching even as she was eating, filling with the desire just to get on with it. Evie didn’t complain, knowing he did his best and frankly, it didn’t really matter. He wanted her there to help, though for what reason he would think she would she didn’t know.

Zac shook his head and sighed. He’d hope this would have lifted her spirits, even if a little bit. He was still a bit disappointed about last night, which could explain how depressed she looked. Maybe she had thought it would help as a distraction from everything that happened this year, maybe she’d thought it would help, but he knew from first-hand experience it wouldn’t help. “Evie, I know you were drinking last night,” and when she flinched and shrunk in on herself, Zac lowered his voice to a more gentle tone. “Look, I get it, you wanted to find something to distract yourself, but you need to look after yourself. You can’t just go out to try and drink your sorrows away, that’s not going to help you.”

“I know.” Evie said, her voice indifferent, even though what actually happened wasn’t even close to what he was thinking, she felt so ashamed of letting him down she didn’t bring it on herself to deny it. Let him think bad of her. She didn’t want him to think that before, either in an attempt to see if she could salvage their relationship, or else not to let him down, but why not if she was going to so anyway? My fault, my fault, my fault.

Zac shook his head. It was really hard for him to see her like this, and he was honestly exhausted of her refusal to admit anything or her not showing an interest. Her arm started scratching along her left lower arm underneath her jumper and she kept looking down. He just didn’t want her to be so sad, and he wanted to tell her that, just stop being sad, but he knew it wasn’t that simple. “You don’t have to be ashamed, but please try today, you would do great today I know you would.”

“If you say so.” Evie said, her voice an awfully dreary tone, feeling weird that she was acting as though that was what she did, when what she did was much worse.

“Alright fine, you don’t want to talk about it, okay.” Zac said disapprovingly. He didn’t have time for this right now, and her mood wasn’t helping. He had never seen that from her, he’d seen her angry and indignant (though not since a while now) but never so morbid. “Doesn’t mean you should let yourself spiral, you were doing so good before. And it doesn’t change the fact that you can’t let this ruin the rest of your day.”

Zac looked at her exasperatingly before turning away to get his stuff ready. She froze for a second before reluctantly kept eating. He wondered why was she talking like this. If she was so insistent that she didn’t to talk about, then he wasn’t going to keep badgering her right now, not if it would encourage her to remain cooped up here. To be honest, she didn’t look hungover at all, actually, so maybe she didn’t- then why didn’t she deny it? They all had their own lives to focus on, and he won’t let her give up this opportunity just because she didn’t want to talk about herself. It wasn’t as though he could force her down and get her to open up, he didn’t want to irritate her even more, but it still hurt to see her deteriorating like this. The walls that she must have created were either crumbling down or else the walls that were holding her up were hostile towards any approach, but he didn’t knew to find out what was it.

Evie kept eating, trying to avoid thinking about how that suddenly felt like too much work. She had always felt as defeated as she sounded, but she always tried to keep it hidden or else it would made people think something was wrong with her (well there was, but something that they think they could help). She was struck with the reminder of what Matt said yesterday, about how hard it was for him to see her when she was… her.  It was just a constant reminder of how she failed to pretend to be fine for everyone else. She actually wanted to cry right now, but she refused herself to do so, or else Zac would give in to her crocodile tears and it would just prove even more how worthless she was, worthless, useless, failure, embarrassment, bad, bad, bad… and now Evie couldn’t speak anymore, otherwise she’d probably blurt it out and she’d be shaking at the hatred behind the words, and that was when her critic was pouring poison into her.

Seriously, where does Zac get off from telling you not to get drunk? He did it plenty of times before. You should tell him that.

No, she was not going to tell him that, not in a million years. That would hurt him, and he was right, she was being dramatic, she wasn’t going to make it worse-

Make it worse? Already too late for that. You just coming down made it worse. You’re not up to this, you’re going to explode and he’s gonna realise he was kidding himself in giving you a second chance. Just do it now, so he won’t regret it later.

She couldn’t, doing it would be bad. Regardless of whether or not it was true, but he was going through a lot back then, and she didn’t’ make it easy for him and and she just wanted to do good by him, she wanted to be good-

You’re not, you’re never good and he knows that, he’s just waiting to see you fail.

“Just-” Evie caught her tongue once she realised she was talking out loud in telling the critic to shut up and ducked her head down in embarrassment when Zac looked up. He didn’t pry, probably not thinking there was any point. It was only then she realised she was scratching against her cardigan and quickly brought her hand down to stop.

Five minutes later, after she ate, Evie stood up, grabbed her keys and went out the house without saying a word, still trying to hide how she stumbled and how disturbed she was to keep finding herself scratching against… against the cut through the cardigan. It wasn’t a big one, the scissors weren’t big enough to cause big damage, she could only find herself to create a small, thin mark against her lower arm, one that still gashed red, but not as big as she thought it would have. She hated herself before, during and after she did it and her hand had been trembling the entire time but she couldn’t stop it, She hadn’t been able to tear her eyes away from it, her entire viewpoint shrinking and focusing solely on it. She knew she had been crying the entire time, but she still stared at it, feeling shame and anger and acceptance until eventually she was drawn back into an usual uneasy sleep. Her hand must have automatically began scratching during her argument with Zac and it drew almost immediately against the wound, or scab, or whatever it was right now. It was a childish fear, but she didn’t want anyone to see that. Those faces of accusation and disgust she saw in her dreams, she’d see them for real-

“Come on, take my car.” She turned around and keeping both hands rigid against her pockets, she saw Zac just leaving the door with his own keys in hand. “We’re both going to the same place, we might as well,” Zac said with an artificial light-heartedness in his voice.

Evie wanted to say no, knowing that either he would still insist on having hope for her, or else she’d lose it again and she cannot keep doing that to Zac. She can’t keep doing that to anyone. But somehow, maybe because she felt like she needed to make up to him (Make up for this and you think everything will be okay? Grow up.), she ended up nodding and she slid into the passenger seat.

The car ride was quiet, but not the comfortable, enduring quiet that seemed to disappear from their lives a long time ago. This quiet was so tense that it could shatter easily if one of them chose to. Evie couldn’t rid herself of the urge to break that quiet, just to ask Zac why did he insist, insist on helping her. It had hurt to hear him like this, his patience worn thin by her, but it was easier. It would hurt less if Zac just blew up and screamed at her. It wasn’t as though she wanted to push him away, she didn’t mean to sound like she wasn’t grateful,  she was. She just didn’t want to let him down when she screwed this opportunity up. There were so many times she wanted to rush into his arms and confess everything, but there was another part of her that wanted him to be happy, and that was not what he needed. He would only resent it, so she would have to deal with this on her own, she brought it on herself.

Her mind kept going back towards the recurring thought that implanted itself onto her, unwavering and stolid in it’s certainty: Why was she still alive? Did she want to die? That was a question that would definitely announce that the person needs help, but she won’t say that, just dragging attention onto herself with her little ‘woe is me’ attitude. She couldn’t exactly say that thought was a new thought, it latched onto her mind in the aftermath of the explosion, wondering why it wasn’t her instead of Oscar and Hannah. She wondered if it was a usual thought for people after experiencing something like that, wishing it was them instead of someone they loved. She still wished she had died, if it meant that they would have lived. It went even beyond any sense of responsibility or blame, to her it would simply be better off with them still here rather than her. There was no point in wishing that though, because they would still be gone, and she would be here, wasting away.

There may have been something she could have done to change even that, follow down their path by herself. It was an awful thing to consider, to think about ending her own life, one that no one should consider but she had thought it. She had shoved it away when it first appeared in her head, thinking about Zac and everyone else, not wanting to cause them more pain, and wanting to be there for them, but now when she was being convinced more and more every day that they’d be better off without her, and that they didn’t want to see her like this, yet she couldn’t be anything else, she turned towards the idea that giving up like that would only be too easy. Oscar would never want that for her, deep down she knew that, but he was dead, what if she was just trying to persuade herself of that to prevent herself from doing what she had to? Even if it meant that she could see him again?

It didn’t take long for them to arrive at the school, but just as they were close, Zac broke the silence, looking tersely ahead on the road. “Evie, have you considered talking to someone, I mean… someone who’s not us?”. He kept his voice hardened in determination to hide how uncertain he was.

Evie looked at him, her face unreadable. Talking to people she cared about was hard enough, talking to a complete stranger about everything that happened? “Why… do you think I should? I don’t really know what good it would do.”

Alf mentioned that she said something was her fault, but didn’t really explain what she thought it was and Zac had to ask. “Alf said… he said that you thought something was your fault, that you were doing something wrong.”

Evie turned against the window, staring her vague, pale reflection against the window. She didn’t know what to tell him, didn’t know how to explain how she was failing without making it look like a cry for help. Maybe that was all she was, a cry for help. Just because her life was ruined doesn’t mean she had to make things harder for other people. Maybe that was why she gave the money, not that did it change anything about her.

“Evie… I don’t know what to do,” Zac grimaced as he held the steering wheel more tightly. Maybe she had time to process everything that happened, but she can’t let it control her. “I’m just worried about you, and I… I guess I wanted things to be back to normal, like they were. If you don’t feel like talking to us… why not? What do you think you’re doing wrong?”

“I…” Evie had to take a deep breath, because Zac shouldn’t be feeling confused about this, he shouldn’t be worried about her at all. She thought it was nice that he was, but she needed him to stop. He’d think he would want to help her and if she had deserved it, he could have and she would have let him, but she didn’t. “I shouldn’t have said anything. After everything … and after Josh did, to you and to everyone… I wanted to help you. But, I can’t, I can’t do any of that stuff for any of you and I… I don’t deserve your help.”

“What, of course you do.” Zac turned to her astonished. She had been holding it together for a while, and even though she’d turn distant whenever anyone would suggest that she’d confront her emotions instead of hiding away from them and pretend they didn’t exist, she had a better attitude when it came to other people. He knew how much family meant to her and how she would do anything for them. Yesterday morning was the first time he had saw her break and he didn’t want to see her spiral out of control, she still had good things in her life she needs, she shouldn't ignore them. “Evie, this…” he waved beside her, trying to find a word for the look of pain and bitterness that was on her, “it isn’t you. What does what Josh did have to do with this? I mean… you can’t still blame yourself for what he did.”

“Why not?” Evie shrugged bitterly, clenching her teeth together. She remembered believing it wasn’t, though she could no longer convinced herself that she was right to take the moral high ground against Josh. Yeah, he did wrong, but it didn’t absolve her. “Who else is left to blame? He and Andy should pay for what they done, not going off into the sunset to some… grand escape. I don’t get that luxury though… I had to have seen it, I should have, things could have been different if I just saw what he was.” My fault. She should have tried to get him to confess, even if meant the end of them- she couldn’t think about that, she couldn’t let her own happiness affect the lives of anyone else. Hell, if she thought about it, Josh couldn’t be trusted in making the right decisions. She should have done so. It really was her fault.

“You can’t do that to yourself.” Zac shook his head, his voice as soft as it was pragmatic. He and Leah already had this talk with Evie, in the days after Josh turned himself in, to make sure she didn’t feel foolish for not seeing it when she shouldn’t. They were all fooled and thinking so wouldn’t help anyone. “That wasn’t your fault. No one else saw Josh capable of killing anyone, even someone like Charlotte. There was nothing you could have done-”

“I know there's nothing I could do,” Evie stubbornly replied, glaring at herself through the window and looking away from Zac. There had to be some way for her to notice, maybe raise the alarm faster. She had ignored the warning signs before, how could it be different here? “You get engaged to someone like that, you have to notice these things. He sent you to prison, Zac! How can you still be okay with it?”

“Obviously, I’m not!” Zac snapped. He didn’t mean to, but he felt uncomfortable at the reminder. Being stuck in there, the possibility of losing his life for a murder he didn’t commit, was one of the worst moments in his life, even before he was attacked. It was the look on Leah’s face before he was denied bail, that look that suggested she no longer believed him and even though he didn’t admit it to her, it tore out a chunk of his heart. He had his own rage against Josh for letting it happen, but felt even more angry at him for leaving Evie behind to take responsibility for his actions. “I don’t forgive him for any of it either but I got out Evie, that’s all that matters.”

“You were the one who was hurt the most by all of it,” Evie told him, now actually pleading. It was taking everything in her to prevent herself from displaying the full strength of her self-loathing, but apparently she was on a roll. She can’t even apologise, an apology isn’t enough. If it hadn’t been for Morag, he may have still been locked up and things could have gotten worse and- he could have died, and she had to stop breathing because if she said it out loud would have caused her to cry and she didn’t want Zac to make this about her or anything, she was not the person to feel sorry for. She shouldn’t have said that, she shouldn’t have reminded him.

He had pull the car over to the side so he can fully look at her. He reached out to hold onto her hand but she pulled away. She didn’t deserve his comfort. Why did she have to bring this up? “You don’t have to say any of this, and you don’t have to make me feel better, I… you shouldn’t have to deal with any of this, so just please… please, leave it alone. Please don’t get yourself involved.”

“Evie, we talked about this. Please do not blame yourself. Of course I’m going to get involved. You’ve been through a lot, I have to worry-”

“No you don’t,” Evie’s response now scathingly, her face like ice. “You want to know what you’re supposed to do, you should stop worrying about me and focus on yourself, cause you’ve been through enough. I’m getting through this on my own, I’m not going to talk to anyone. You should be happy, and leave me alone.”

She turned away and glued her eyes to the window, no longer budging when Zac tried to get her to talk two more times. Instead, he just brought his hand close to hers, not touching (Which made her internally whimper a bit), and murmured “It wasn’t your fault, please know that,” before he started the car and she just stared at the world that passed by them in a blur. It all seemed like a blur to her, a colourless blur that she could no longer enjoy, not that she felt she should. She didn’t think of anything other than her own happiness, so it’s probably likely that she had ignored whatever Josh could be, and Zac paid the price. It wasn’t the first time; she ignored what was wrong with Tank. With how her and Josh got together, Maddy got hurt. How Maddy could want to be around her after that- probably because of Oscar, or Matt, just putting up with her for their sakes. Everyone just puts up with her because they feel they have to, she needs them to know they don’t have to.

They reached the school, and just as Evie jumped straight out of the car. Before she could step away from the teacher’s carpark though, Zac called out to her, and she turned around. “Evie, I…” Zac hesitated, not knowing what to say. “Good luck today. This is going to be your element, and it’s a more helpful distraction for you.”

As if it were that easy, well, it would be easy for anyone else. Still, she can’t say no to him. He’d want her to try, she’d try. “Do you think so?” she couldn’t help but ask, knowing it was too much to hope.

Zac wanted to give her a definite answer, but with her not giving him a straight answer, he couldn’t. He didn’t get what she was saying, since the beginning he expected her bottling away her emotions would lead to emotional outbursts, but this was not what he was expecting. This had to be… some kind of panicking about today, she had nothing to feel guilty about. Was it a way to avoid her feelings? “I want to, I really do.”

-----

Amidst everything she was feeling, Evie couldn’t help but think about how strange it was to be walking back in these halls without wearing the same uniform. It was strange not feeling the urge to get to class before the teacher did.

She’d just take whatever was expected of her, even if she had to bare her teeth after being around a lot of people. Evie never appreciated how much students wanted to shout at each other, or else moving way too fast, and her senses were paying for it, feeling battered as students shuffled and pushed past each other in their own world. She wondered what that was like, to be focused entirely on ordinary, sheltered lives instead of the drama she and her friends had experienced even during their school years.

Evie drove on, keeping herself from giving into that nervousness, even if she could only find hollow dread to quench it with. Her legs were still burning as if hating her for walking when she didn’t feel capable enough for it, her body cursing at her and she wished it would stop. She squeezed her way through a bunch of boys that had to be a year younger than her, despite the fact that nearly all of them towered over her. These were the students that she was expected to look after. If it had been a different year, or even a different person, it wouldn’t be an easy task, but since it was this year, and Evie was her, she couldn’t convince herself otherwise that it would be any simple for her. 

Just come on, get it over with. The moment the day’s done, they’ll realise they made a mistake in giving you this chance and give you the sack before you even get the job.

She found the first room she was assigned to and knocked on the door, looking in to find a middle-aged woman with curly auburn hair collecting things off her desk. “Um, Ms Ward?” Evie asked tentatively, already worried that she had taken the wrong room by accident. “I’m Evie, I was assigned here by Mr Maguire-”

“Oh, yes, of course.” The teacher walked over from the desk to shake Evie’s hand and give her a bright smile. “We’re very happy to have you here to help us. Zac talks about you all the time.”

“Really?” Evie nodded, trying to hide the anxious shame at her words. Even now, Zac was putting way too much faith in her, expecting things from her that she couldn’t, not even for him. He’d put a lot of effort into getting this for her and she couldn’t find it in herself to be happy. What was wrong with her?

“Oh yes, he was very happy to get you this assignment,” Ms Ward told her, oblivious to the twitch in Evie’s eyes as she cleaned off her desk. “So, you have the 12th year Modern History class this morning, that’s mine. We thought you’d be more comfortable beginning your experience by starting with kids near your own age. We’ve just started on learning the Modern World since 1945 a couple of weeks ago, you’ll find all the information you need right there,” She pointed towards a folder left on the corner of the desk, next to the roll call.

“To help students’ understanding of the world we live in today,” Evie murmured remarkably, remembering the way the class was introduced to them in this class just a year ago. It was apparently the right thing to say, as the older woman smiled down again at her.

“Seems like you already know your place around, so I’ll leave you to it. You need anything, just call me from the staff room.” With an encouraging pat on Evie’s shoulder (which made Evie feel like crumbling under the weight of that responsibility), she left, leaving Evie in the classroom with just ten minutes before the students came clambering in for her to adjust to the situation and act like she was in control. Knowing that her inner critic had already prepared itself on standby, just waiting to pounce at the slightest swerve in today, she sat down heavily on the desk, reaching out with her left hand to grab the folder and wincing heavily even before she started reading it.

-----

It was fifteen minutes into the class where she faced her first set of trouble. The class had looked at her a little startled of seeing her teaching her, and the fact that she wasn’t experienced definitely wouldn’t help. Still, they all said their name into the roll call, and none of them had any trouble filling her in with the work they had been doing last week. Looking down at the folder Ms Ward had left her, she announced that they were going to start with Australia’s relationship with NATO in the 1950s, during the height of the Cold War. And that was when one of the students, whose name according to the roll was Charles, raised up his hand.

“Actually, we already did that part. Like, days ago.”

Evie felt her mouth opening in surprise, probably looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights. That wasn’t anything Ward had mentioned in the folder, it emphasised that this was the first time they were looking at the topic. “Um… really?” she asked, already feeling out of her depth.

“Oh, yeah,” Charles insisted as he leaned back against his chair, talking slowly as if he was explaining where babies came from. “We already went over this, right guys?”

It was a couple of students right next to him, definitely his friends, nodding along with him with smirks, but the others were either showing confusion or shaking their heads, a couple of them in the back were sniggering and another student in the front, Lucy according to the roll, rolled her eyes and told Evie “We haven’t. This is the first time we’re looking at this topic. Maybe if those guys actually showed up for a class, they’d know that.”

“Okay, maybe we should all calm down,” Evie tried to bring order back to the class, even if she felt like running out the door and calling for Ms Ward. This was her responsibility. Did she read something wrong, did she mistake something? “Ms Ward mentioned that she was planning to start it today. It’s in her folder.”

Charles shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “Maybe you’re reading it wrong.”

“She’s the one with the folder,” another student sitting closest to the door- Jordan, the kid living with John and Marilyn- turned confrontationally back to the other boy. “She’s going to know what we’re supposed to do, not you.”

“Well, then how are you so sure, huh?” Charles snarked back and Jordan looked like two seconds from standing up and walking over to punch him when Evie intervened.

“Enough, this isn’t a fight club, or whatever!” Evie didn’t want to start off her experience with being harsh, but she ended up doing so anyway. It was all going awry. She was beginning to get a guess of what this was: the usual trick of misleading the substitute teacher in order to waste time in the class instead of actual learning. It was the oldest trick in the book and she couldn’t believe she was falling for it. “Listen, it’s what Ms Ward laid out for you guys, it’s in the-”

In the folder, was what she was going to say as she turned around to find the folder no longer on the desk. She looked around more dismayed than before, desperately searching for it, where could she have lost it? Where the hell was it?

“It-it… it was around here somewhere, it definitely said…” She turned away from the class to the desk, as if that would keep down the crushing anxiety that threatened to burst through her throat. She just needed to find this, there was no way it couldn’t be anywhere else. Evie threw her bag aside, not acknowledging the thud heard when it smacked against underneath the table as she scanned the desk. No… she felt her right hand scratching against her throat, while the other clutched the whiteboard beside her it as if trying to rip it open. Had she been wrong? Had she read it wrong? Had it even been there? She was feeling more sweaty than usual, and she should take off her cardigan- no wait, she shouldn’t, otherwise they’d see what she did, no one was suppose to see her like this.

She barely registered Charles’ voice talking behind her and other voices responding, a couple shouting him down and others laughing, but she didn’t respond, so focused on her search as she squatted down to look under the table. It wasn’t on the floor, it wasn’t on the desk, it wasn’t anywhere. She can’t believe she screwed it up so early and so quickly, or that she couldn’t be calm about losing a scissors- The folder, not the scissors. The folder, the folder… Her chest felt so tight, everything inside of her squeezing of her, her brain delivering static to her ears as Evie tried to battle away the images that flashed themselves onto her memory, and in her vision, the shaking hands, her skin, the crimson mark…

Stupid, failure, not good enough, embarrassment, waste of space-

The sight in the corner of her eyes, of the red cover on the folder within an open cabinet. She must have put it there before the students entered. More embarrassment filled her lungs and she gritted her teeth to prevent a gasp from escaping. Standing up, grabbing the folder as she did so, she faced the whiteboard in front of the class, trying to breath properly again. Why couldn’t she pretend to be the old Evie Maguire, the one who could have pulled off a couple of good-natured jokes while getting them to do what they were supposed to do? She then turned around and faced her class. The majority of them looked at her with a mixture of confusion and amusement. Some of them were attempting to find more interest in their desks, Jordan included, while Charles remained leaning back against his chair, a triumphant look in his eyes, like he knew he rattled her beyond his intentions. They’d must think she was a complete looney to be teaching them.

“Ms Ward laid down the instructions, for you guys to start Chapter 4: Australia’s relationship  with NATO during the 1950s. Just… just get your textbooks out and let’s begin.” She collapsed against her chair, her vision now definitely blurred with tears and her anxiety leaving an empty void thundering in her head.

They all complied, though not without lingering looks to her. So much for trying.

------

4 hours later, Evie found herself resting against the desk in a different classroom, her palms pressed against her temple as her eyes looked unmoving at an assignment report on her university laptop, pretending to read it though she had no intention of doing so. The remarks by the lecturer were highlighted on the side in red and a mixture of positive and negative, mainly in grammar. It was the negative that seemed to stick with her, baneful reminders. Her friends from university had been going crazy in their texts, talking about what they got. A couple of them texted Evie, and she texted back she did fine, nothing more.

She had been through three different classes today. While the other two started off as bad as the History class, she had been almost preparing herself to mess it up again. As a result, she was jittery, looking twice at everything to reassure herself and the students. She became obsessed with every little single detail and her mind kept coming up with scenarios for her to worry about. She got a lot of odd looks at her, and she ended up snapping a couple of students who were talking with each other and she ended up feeling guilty about it, because she probably did it too harshly. Despite her keeping looking, she still missed details about the work they’re doing that had to be corrected by the students, which resulted in her responses to questions ranging from snapping at them to telling them to look in the textbook. Zac had trusted her to do this properly, and she made a complete fool of herself, when she should have done this perfectly. Maybe she should understand that not everything was going to go perfect, but did that mean she shouldn’t blame herself, when she already found herself responsible for a lot more? Or was it because of that she should? She couldn’t let herself make those mistakes. All it was, the critic agreed with her, was just further proof that she couldn’t trust herself, and neither should anyone else. She thought she couldn’t find anymore proof of that, but she surprised herself there!

A couple of teachers popped in from time to time to offer her advice and to run past their courses with her, she just stood by and listened lamely, though even after the classes finished she didn’t feel as though she did all she was asked for. Apart from Jordan, the only other student she knew here was Olivia and it was probably for the best that Olivia wasn’t in any of the classes Evie was put in charge of. Olivia, in her insistence that Hunter was innocent, had maintained a hostile approach towards Evie in the immediate aftermath after his arrest, thinking that she gave up on family too easily. That had sparked a burning rage in Evie, because Hunter was the one who hurt the family, and after everything, it seemed as the personal insult. She couldn’t bring it on herself to fight it though, not knowing what was the point and after telling Olivia to stay away from Zac, avoided the other girl as far as possible. From the icy glares Olivia had given her across the hall throughout the day, it seemed as though things between them hadn’t changed, and frankly, that was fine by Evie.

“Helloo!” Evie shot up, an attempt of a smile already on her face in case anyone wanted to talk. Looking up, she saw the over-energetic form of Phoebe waltzing towards her with a bubbly smile and it’s not that Evie doesn’t want to brush her off, it’s just that she’s tired and she doesn’t know why Phoebe would be smiling at her. Surely she heard how she messed up earlier. “Hey, new co-worker!” Phoebe almost shouted cheerfully as she sat down next to Evie.

“Hi Phoebe,” Evie responded tiredly, keeping her small smile up as she ran her fingers through her own hair. “You alright?”

“Yeah, just glad to have you here. The morning is always exhausted, but since the kids just love me, I pull through,” Phoebe said airily as she sighed dramatically, like she was making some big sacrifice. “I swear, they love the arts, you’d actually have to pry them off the desks when the bell rings. Anyway, I need help cleaning up the class, you’re not too tired to-”

“No, of course,” Evie honestly felt like falling asleep but yet she got up anyway, putting her laptop away in her bag and accompanying Phoebe out of the room.

------ 

“Uh, they do not know the meaning of cleaning up,” Phoebe groaned as she help sort in the chairs and put the instruments the students had been using. “I mean, do they expect us to clean after them?”

Evie shrugged, not sure what was the right thing to say. Really, she didn’t think it mattered, but saying so didn’t feel right to tell Phoebe so, so she just kept quiet.

“How was your first day?”

“Well… it could have…you’re won’t be so glad, I made a lot of mistakes this morning.”

“Ah, anyone can get to a bad start, things will get easier the more you do it,” Phoebe reassured the younger woman, sympathising entirely to why she would be tired. This definitely wasn’t the easiest job in the world, and the kids ranged from willingly helpful to reluctantly helpful to being complete brats.

Evie wasn’t sure if she could make things easier when she almost lost the folder and almost had a fight on her hands, all in the first morning, that already seemed like the first indication that she shouldn’t be working here. Even when the class ended, while some of the students such as Jordan and Lucy thanked her, she could see the way they saw her. Like she was someone about to explode.. “I don’t know… I mean, Zac gave me this opportunity and I wanted to do this right for him, and I messed it up. He deserves better than that.”

“Zac trusts you, the first day hardly matters.”

“It kind of does Phoebe, I should have remembered that.” Evie sat down on a chair and turned away from her to avoid the other girl seeing her blinking fast to avoid tears.

“I’m sure you did fine. So how about you and I go out for lunch?” Phoebe asked casually. Evie seemed a bit tired, but she probably needed a couple of drinks to loosen up.  

“I don’t know,” Evie said again. Wow, you’re a worst conversationalist than you thought, if you end up repeating the same. Maybe Evie’s leg hadn’t been bouncing so furiously before, but it was now. “I’m kind of feeling tired, I won’t be good company. You should go though, thanks Phoebe.” She felt ashamed, when Phoebe was just trying to help, but Phoebe didn’t knew what she was getting into, and if Evie let her, when she wouldn’t bring much to the conversation, she’d feel more ashamed.

“Come on, I insist,” Phoebe said, standing up and holding out her hand, looking down on Evie hopefully. “Let’s go somewhere where we don’t have to worry about teenagers.”

Evie contemplated, thinking maybe she should accept it just to not let the other woman down but she knew she would be letting her down anyway. It still didn’t feel right, pushing away people who she cared about, people who acted like they wanted to see her, but she couldn’t do anything else, not with her confidence dried up. Phoebe then spoke again:

“Seriously, you don’t to be having lunch here with a bunch of kids yelling and stomping their way past. If I had to be stuck in here everyday, listening to them when I’m trying to eat, I might actually kill myself.”

That was when Evie knew she couldn’t stay in the room any longer. Muttering a “Excuse me,” and she almost ran out of there, leaving Phoebe there startled at that. Evie didn’t know if she was calling out to her, it’s just static, her head emptying out apart from an ill feeling at those two words, those two small, yet extremely important words that meant she couldn’t breathe. Everyone says they’d kill themselves at some point, and a lot of the time they don’t mean it, which definitely would make it worse for those who would have that awful feeling that they’d want to do it. She doubts they would say it if they truly understood what it meant: the end of a human life, the lights closing and a soul lost forever. That itching feeling against her left arm came back, and she was suddenly filled with the drowning desire to do it again. There was no turning back from that, no second chances…

Her hand had somehow transferred itself to her back pocket and found to her surprise

-------

“Hey,” Mason greeted Matt as he walked over to the garage. Matt had been standing against the wall, beer in hand. “Catch you on a break?”

“Hey, mate,” Matt nodded cheerfully at him. “Good to see you, everything good?”

“Um, hopefully.” Mason suggested as he looked over, nodding a hello to Ash who emerged from the office. “Hi Ash.”

Ash nodded back as he walked forward, looking guarded. “You’ve seen your brother around?”

“Justin?” Mason asked, trying to avoid the shame of not having spoken to his older brother for a while now. He missed it when it was just the four of them in the house, should they really cast him out for something in the past?  “No, not really. Things aren’t great at home right now, with him and us.”

Ash shook his head as he placed his hands on his hips. “Well, if you see him, let him know I need to talk with him.” He walked back to the office, leaving Mason to bemusedly look back at Matt. “Things haven’t calm down between them, have they?”

“Well, they’re at the point where they can be in a room without the desire to strangle each other. Knowing Ash, that’s pretty impressive,” Matt shrugged, to which Mason responded with a dry snort. “Anyways, what’s up?”

“Do you know what’s going on with Evie?” Mason asked, his concern rising when Matt looked up at him in alarm. “Why, is everything okay?”

“I don’t know,” Mason admitted, leaning against the wall besides him. She asked him not to tell anyone and part of him felt guilty because he was, but if she and Matt had some sort of falling out, then they’d ought to try and fix it. “We were talking yesterday and she got really upset… I don’t really know why, but she didn’t want to talk to me, and she said she didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. She… she said she didn’t want to talk to anyone, saying that they… that you didn’t want to know, so I just thought maybe something happened with you two?”

“What, no!” Matt straightened up quickly. He had no idea of what happened, but did something happen? Did he do something wrong? He’d been patient, he didn’t push her into anything she didn’t feel uncomfortable with, but what if he had unintentionally and she took it the wrong way? “I mean, last time we talked was a couple of days ago and things were fine. Nothing really happened. Did she say why? Why were you talking to her?”

“Well, I was just…” Mason suddenly felt irrationally defensive, as if he needed permission to talk to her. “I just thought I should try and get to know her better, I’ve only really talked to her with you, and she doesn’t really talk much then apart from her asking how we were. We talked a bit about the water and then… well, then the conversation moved on to her dad…”

“Oh,” Matt could see why she wouldn’t be in any hurry to discuss that. It was just sad that there were a lot of things Evie wouldn’t want to talk about. “Yeah, that’s not exactly a conversation starter.”

“Yeah, I know, she told me he died. That must have been really rough,” Mason said, to which Matt huffed.

“Did she mention the bit how he forced her and Oscar into a cult and then had them kidnapped?” Matt asked bluntly, to Mason’s shock and horror.

“Wait, you- what, I-you- are you serious?” Mason asked, hoping against hope he was just kidding, though if he was, that was a terrible joke. “Please tell me that’s just another joke.”

“I wish I was,” Matt shook his head. “Evie has had a long history of people who let her down, and frankly in the Bay, a lot of us don’t have the best history when it comes to parents.” He couldn’t help but think of his own father, and how he let Matt down. It seemed wrong to talk about Evie’s history, but apparently someone had to.

“That’s, umm… that’s even worse than I expected,” was all Mason could think of saying. He wasn’t surprised at how agitated Evie was at the mention of it, even if it didn’t explain a lot of her other behaviour. He couldn’t imagine the idea of any parent doing that to their own kid.

“Well, what do you expect. That’s not exactly something to bring up in conversation. We can’t just say stuff like that to normal people like you.”

“Well… I mean… I guess that makes sense,” Mason looked away to hide how awkward that sentence was and how he had to go along with it, as if he and his family hadn’t been hunted by a crime syndicate for the good part of the last twenty years. And here he thought the people here had it easy. “Would you know why she didn’t want to talk to you?”

“No, I don’t!” Matt told him anxiously, really unsure of what to make of this. “She used to talk to me about stuff that was bothering her, like I would with her. She’d always let you know what she was feeling… for better or worse, to be honest. I’d just like to know there’s nothing to worry about.” She’d been avoiding talking to him about what went on with Josh, and if VJ was right about her not talking to anyone at the house… but come on, she had Zac and Leah, she told them everything, she must be talking to them about everything that happened.

She said she didn’t want to complain, so maybe she just didn’t want to keep focusing on it. He didn’t want to push her after Josh escaped, but he so with the hope that eventually she’d open up. If she was at this point, she hadn’t been doing it with him. She should have someone to discuss this with, even if it wasn’t him. Matt put down his drink and sighed. “She’s working at the school today, I don’t really want to bother her. When we last talked… I don’t know, she was fine, there was no argument or anything.” He remembered it, he had fun, and he hoped she did to, but he also remembered a moment when she had emerged from the water and was bending over as if in trouble. He didn’t think much of it, because she was back there playing with him quickly again, but what if it was something else? He texted her earlier this morning, wishing her luck. “I’ll go speak to her tonight.”

“That’s good,” Mason nodded, even as Ash walked out of there with a clipboard in hand and a determined look on his face. Which was probably Mason’s cue to leave. “You two have something special... you know," Mason reassured him, though he couldn't help that notch of jealousy. "I can see how much you both value it. Whatever it is, you'll sort it out.”

“Yeah,” Matt told him, nodding his head at Mason in farewell as he turned around to face Ash. Probably.

-----

“Hey Evie, can I have a word?” She turned around from where she and Leah were setting the table for dinner to see Zac in the porch, an unreadable expression on his face. She nodded towards Leah before walking over to him, ready to hear what she did wrong. He probably heard what happened today, how she freaked out, so she needed to hear him, so she could- well, she can’t keep saying sorry, because saying that doesn’t make it better.

“Hey, so I heard from all the teachers, and they all thought you did a great job, today,” Zac smiled at her, though he furrowed his brow at the look of apprehension on her face. Maybe it was probably nerves, or just because she expected too much on the first day.

“Well, I didn’t,” Evie replied. She hated that she was admitting she disappointed him but she didn’t want to lie, she had to be honest. “In the first class-”

“Well, about that, a couple of students spoke with Ms Ward, said you had trouble with some troublemakers and…” Zac hesitated, thinking on how to say this. They had went to complain to Ms Ward and while she dealt with them, Zac had to make sure she was up to it.  “Apparently, you panicked or something when arguing with them.”

Well, Evie didn’t remembered it as an argument, more just her trying to control the class, but then again, she probably remembered it wrong. If they talked about what she did, then she did It wrong. “Yeah, I was looking for the folder Ms Ward gave me to show what she wanted the class to do, but I lost it, and the class started late and-”

She felt her teeth moving though she suddenly couldn’t talk, a heavy feeling growing in her throat that blocked it, as if she didn’t want to remind her. Why bother, he already knew what she did. “I messed up, and I know it was wrong.”

“Hey, no, we both know that’s not what happened, those kids always loved to mess with new teachers. You got them working, that’s what matters. But… it’s just, you shouldn’t let them get to you, it wasn’t a big deal.”

“I know.” Evie said, seeing how sad his smile was now, and hated herself for making him look like that. He was right, it wasn’t a big deal, yet she made it so anyway. She just had to do it right, but she can’t be relied on for the simplest of tasks.

“It’s fine to make mistakes on the first day. On Wednesday, things will get better, you’ll get the hang of it.” Zac told her. This wasn’t like her, she never lacked confidence. Apparently she was lacking that today. She didn’t interact with the students apart from organising the class, the teachers told him that she kept to herself, and Phoebe didn’t say a word beyond that she left quickly after she was done for the day. He didn’t get it, this was what she wanted.

“You… you still want me to keep doing it?” Evie asked, bewilderedly. Would he still want her working there?

“Of course, I mean, you’ll have the teachers with you in the class, just to be on standby if you need help with the class.” Zac reassured her. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her, but it wouldn’t hurt her to get some help. Evie looked away, biting her lip. “I know you don’t think it went well today, but you did fine.”

She didn’t know what to say. Maybe he was right, maybe, with the right guidance, Evie will get better at it. She remembered how much she wanted it before, and Zac was giving her a chance. If she can’t do it alone, then they can make sure she doesn’t screw this up, and then-.

And then what? Things will go magically okay? They don’t trust you to do the job right, so you just let them waste your time because you’ll keep ruining it. You should have insisted on not doing it.

Zac wanted her to do this, that should be enough. She may not have the motivation to do it for any hope of a career, because she didn’t see it, but she can’t ruin it for Zac or the students-

You already had. That’s why you cut yourself again, when you left Phoebe.

It was that reminder that soured everything, and she just couldn’t say yes. Who was she kidding, she couldn’t hope? “Well, I already screwed up this today, not sure how anyone could call it fine.”

“Evie, don’t do that to yourself. It was a mistake, anyone could have done so-”

“Yeah, well I did,” she bitterly retorted. “And you worked so hard in giving me this appointment and I couldn’t even do it right, I should just give up, I shouldn’t-”

“Calm down,” Zac told her sternly, even though his head was filling with worry at what she was saying. Why was she sounding like this? “Just because you let yourself spiralling yesterday doesn’t mean you should act like you can’t do anything. I’m not gonna let you do this to yourself.”

“Then don’t watch. I never asked you for that ever. I don’t need you holding my hand,” Evie tersely responded, as she looked to the ground. She knew she sounded more angry than anything else, but she couldn’t help it, if she thought she’d do well, she wouldn’t have said anything, but she can’t be trusted with this. She was now fiddling with her sleeve, as if resisting the urge to scratch at the new scar on her arm, to join the other one. “You kept on insisting everything was fine with me doing it, and it wasn’t fine. You’d expect me to cover some detention because you-”

A flare of frustration and hurt shot through Zac. “Okay, enough. I know you still feel bad about Josh, but that doesn’t mean you just give up on everything, not when you’re so capable. I was just trying to help, and maybe, just maybe, you could actually accept it for once instead of feeling sorry for yourself, then maybe we can work through this. You don't need it, I don't need it.” He immediately regretted saying it so harshly, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t wrong. She had more right than most to be upset and angry about everything that happened, but she shouldn’t be taking it out on him, or anyone, especially since it’s been weeks and they were all still trying to recover. Oscar would have wanted her to try, and he would not let her hit rock-bottom. “There’s a middle-class detention on Tuesday, I was going to give it to you, but maybe it’s best if I ask someone else.”

“Maybe it is,” Evie said. Her eyes had widened with shock and hurt while he was talking before they narrowed back coldly. “If you still want me to do it, fine I’ll do it for the rest of the week. You should go back inside, I’ll be there in a minute.”

“It’s not about what I want,” Zac said. It was about her wanting to do this. He didn’t understand, she was looking forward to this for weeks now, she wouldn’t get cold feet about it. “Just…I’m not going to give up, you shouldn’t either. I know this opportunity means something to you, you're get better at it. I love you.” He told her, though his voice felt a bit weak, patting her shoulder before walking back inside. He won’t let her do that, she needed her confidence back, from wherever it apparently went. She said before that she wouldn’t let what Josh did dictate her life, but apparently it still was. She needed closure from him. He was thinking about getting into touch with a couple of people he knew, in case she changed her mind about therapy.

Evie was left alone to think about her thoughts. He was right to be angry at her, right in everything he said. It didn’t matter that she did appreciate what he did for her, she should have said so. He trusted her and she ruined it. He couldn't look at her in the eye, as if he didn't want to see the sorrow reflected in his own. His voice sounded so tired, and she shouldn't have done so. She shouldn’t have burst out like that, she should have just simply accepted it, she should have just did what she was asked- or should she? Was Zac even right about giving her this chance? Maybe she should have insisted more about how untrustworthy she was for this, maybe she didn’t do good enough a job of explaining it without exposing everything, but what was the point of even trying when she shouldn't even-

“Hey,” She jumped nearly out of her skin when she turned around and saw Matt walking over. “Oh, hi Matt, how are you? How’s everything at the garage?” she asked, her voice sounding strained in trying to sound happy, but she couldn’t get what he said out of her head. He was right, she needed to do better, but she didn’t know how.

“I’m doing great, you know me. I think Ash’s found someone to help with our money issues, so there’s that.”

“Great, I’m glad you’re getting back on your feet after what Andy and….” she froze mid-sentence, thinking about how Josh and Andy left Ash and Matt in the lurch, leaving them with so much trouble-

Hence, another problem you could have fixed.

No, that wasn’t it. She can’t blame herself for everything Josh did- could she? It won’t make a difference really, but it was as if everytime she reached a new bottom, she kept going lower. The look on Matt’s face, darkening a bit about that reminder, didn’t encourage her esteem. “Is there anything else?”

“Yeah, how about you? Heard you entered the horrifying world of teaching.” Matt asked as he joined her at the porch. He noticed how she blanched just when she was about to mention Josh and how he screwed them all over and he didn’t know what to make of it. He knew she hated what Josh did, but why would she still refuse to even say his name? Did that still hurt too much? He didn’t want her to be hurt, but he still felt she needed to acknowledge it. He didn't blame her, no one would. Still, it was good to hear she got a chance to work, she'd fit right at home in teaching. 

“Uh, yeah,” Evie gave a small laugh. Matt always had that effect on her, always knew how to make people cheerful, or close to being cheerful. “It wasn’t… I didn’t do as good as everyone was hoping.”

“What, did you intimidate the entire class out the room?” Matt joked light-heartedly, only for that to fail when she didn’t even laugh at that one, just giving him a sad smile before looking away. “I… I was just teasing you know.” Matt didn’t like this, he didn’t want her to take that seriously, maybe he should have kept quiet. She didn't even give one of her usual rebukes.

“I just wasn’t as prepared as I thought, so I just screwed it up… just a screw-up,” she muttered, just waiting for him to tell her to get over herself, that it wasn’t the most important thing. 

Instead though, he said “Come on, we both know you’re more than that. You couldn’t screw something like that up even if you tried. It's not good to keep focusing on it.”

“Wouldn't be the first bad decision I made,” was all Evie said, still looking down. He didn’t have to say this, she wasn’t some delicate flower needing shelter. She wanted to keep talking wanting to explain, but as always, she forced herself quiet, she was being stupid. “I’ll work with it. Anyway, I’ve got dinner waiting inside, so…”

“Oh, okay,” Matt said reluctantly, seeing that she wanted to just go back inside. He hoped to actually have a conversation with her, but he wouldn’t force the issue. If she didn’t want to focus on what was clearly a bad day, then they didn’t have to talk about it. “Do you want to hang out tomorrow?”

“Um, no, I’m sorry, but I have this-”

“Okay, maybe another time.” Matt said, though he was disappointed that she said no. Wasn’t her fault, but he’d hope she’d say yes anyway. “I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah, I’ll see you around.” Evie simply said before turning around. Matt couldn’t help himself and he asked. “Evie, you are happy, right?”

It took five seconds for Evie to respond but when she did, she gave him a smile that didn’t look right, that looked forced and bitter, and reassured him, “Matt, I am happy. Thanks for looking in, you didn’t have to do that, I’m fine.” Did he really care? 

“Evie, you were just talking about a bad day, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you look like a mess. Tell me, what can I do to help?”

“It’s nothing, okay?” Evie insisted, her voice forceful, because he shouldn’t be asking this. “It’s not your concern and I don’t want to… there’s nothing you can do Matt.”

“Come on, I-”

“Matt, stop! It’s nothing you need to worry about!” Evie told him, her voice risen but her face looking like she was keeping something in before she said. Why did she snap, why did she do that, it’s unacceptable, worthless, worthless… She wanted to say she was sorry but she couldn’t, Matt would feel like he had to forgive her because she looked like a wreck, as he said- God, was she really that bad?

“Okay, fine, sorry for asking, I just thought...” Matt said in a voice that showed he was trying to avoid sounding hurt. Obviously she was having a bad day, but he thought he could cheer her up. She then muttered, not looking at him, “Good night,” and she quickly turned away and walked inside.  

“Yeah, sure, anytime,” Matt said, watching her go inside, feeling more uncertain than ever. He was now feeling that the jokes were a bad idea, not if she was taken it that seriously. It was strange, she always knew when he was joking, what changed? He was still determined to fix this, but he still felt a bit hurt by her harsh attitude, she didn't want to see him, unfortunately that was clear. Maybe it was nothing, maybe it was the wrong day, maybe after everything he was being paranoid, but who he saw in front of him, with not telling him what was going on and not giving a proper smile, no feistiness, on a hair-trigger- that wasn’t Evie, and he didn't know where she'd gone. 

-----

Evie closed the door behind her, and slide down, putting her arms around her knees. She wanted to avoid dinner, didn’t felt like she deserved any of the food that was prepared, but she ate it anyway, not to make a waste. The conversation at the table wasn’t great, mainly between VJ and Leah and Mr Stewart. Zac kept glancing at her across the table, even as she was cutting up her food into tiny bits and forced it into her mouth, and the looks of concern can no longer give her comfort, instead it made her skin crawl and her fists tighten around her knees. Their mouths turned down into a downward tilt whenever they saw her, the furrowing on their foreheads- they all see what's wrong with her and she just wanted to get away. And that was bad too. Oscar would never had this problem. He should have been here, not her.

She loved them, she loved them all with everything that she was. But she can no longer physically stand being around them, not when everything just wanted to burst out of her, and it would be wrong to do that to them, but they keep looking at her and trying to talk to her and she doesn’t know what to do. She can’t even talk to Matt without snapping. She didn't want to lose them, but she can't even talk to them, and only end up pushing them away. That doesn't make sense, she couldn't make sense out of it, but all it means is that she's only making it worse. They should be angry at her, they shouldn't cut her any slack. The scissors, her fists, the way her head slammed against the door behind her, they felt like her only escape, the only way to-

The phone buzzed on the floor next to her, where it had slid out of her pants. That was another thing, her pants had suddenly gotten baggy. Her jumper sometimes seemed to cover her entire arm, even enclosing over her hands. Wasn’t the biggest of her concerns, but she still noticed it. Anyway, she picked up the phone tiredly and swiped to accept the call. “Yes,” Evie answered, not caring how tired she must have sounded through the receiver.

It took a couple of seconds, and a few hitched breaths on the other end before a frightened voice echoed in her ears. “Hi, um… Evie?”

“Maddy, is everything alright? Where are you? Are you okay?” Evie asked hurriedly, clutching the phone closer as her weariness evaporated to give way for concern. She sounded like she was in trouble or in pain, and Evie didn’t know what to do other than know that Maddy was alright.

“I’m still at the rehab, I… oh God, I don’t know what…”

Evie felt a sinking feeling in her, she shouldn’t handle this. “Do you want me to call Mr Stewart or Roo?”

“No! No I… I don’t know who else to call, I don't know about any of them yet, I can’t…it’s embarrassing, and I don’t know what to do. Can we talk?”

“Yeah, of course, what’s wrong,” Evie asked, though hearing her critic taunt herself in the other ear, because that’s what everyone asks her and she doesn’t really answer.

“I… I got my prosthetic arm today, and we were… we were just… we were trying it out, the um… the arm had cables that attached to the nerves in the muscles up on my arm… well what’s left of it,” Maddy gave something that was either a bitter laugh or a bitter cry and Evie wanted to cry too, to hear her like this. “They wanted me to try it out with holding onto a cup and…”

Now Evie was sure Maddy was physically crying and she wanted to reach out through the phone and hug her. “God, it was so difficult, it was as if it was taking every nerve in me to reach out and to hold and to lift it up… a cup! A plastic cup! It seemed so fine before I actually did it, I was so sure I could have done it, and then that’s one step forward, but… it’s such a simple thing and it took more than 5 minutes for me to get it right. How can I hope to do get my life back on track? Just some… some cripple who has trouble holding a cup!”

“Maddy, don’t say that, that’s not even remotely true!” Evie told her, meaning every word of it. She didn’t want to hear Maddy put herself down like that. She was going to have trouble, but she was going to pull through, Evie knew she would. Maddy was so strong, having been through so much, and didn’t get why she would say that about herself. “It was always going to be difficult, but you pulled through, you did it!”

“Eventually.”

“Yeah, you still did it, that’s amazing Maddy, it really is. You’re so strong and so brave to have done it and you’re going to be fine. It… I don’t know, I wish it was all over in an instant for you and that you’d get through all this so quickly, but… I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be, it’s not your fault,” Maddy told her. And Evie had to grip her teeth, because everyone says that too, and she knows better. "Maddy, are you sure you don't want me to get someone who can-"

"I know you've got your own stuff going on," Maddy said, her voice still sounding like she was crying. "I know things still aren't easy there, of course they can't, but I didn't know who else to talk to-"

"No, I just meant, they'd always want to hear from you." Evie didn't mean that she didn't want to talk to her, she just wasn't the right person to talk to, Maddy deserved someone who can actually help her.

The way poor Maddy talks, honestly it's what you want to do, if you had anything worth saying. You're expected to pull yourself together and that you can't is only making them tired of you. And why would Maddy feel the same? Shouldn't she keep this to herself, instead of bothering people she left-

She really wishes she could shut that voice up. She really did. It wasn't as if she didn't deserve it, she needed to hear it, why else was it constantly in her voice if she didn't need to. But she can't let it affect the people she cared about. It was different for Maddy, who lost a part of herself, who Evie could have and should have helped, and had a better chance of getting her life back together. "Maddy, I know this won't help, but you... it's the little steps you're taking, and when it came to the big stuff, you'll be great at it. I wish I can prove it, but... I know you, you're get through this."

She already felt like that was bad advice and she was just waiting for Maddy to criticise her, because she should and she'd ask to get someone else, and she'd ask for Leah or call Roo or-

"Thanks, I just hate this. I don't want to feel like this, but it's like, what happened to me is trying to keep kicking me down. It's not my fault, I know that, but it just feels so wrong, it feels embarrassing."

It's definitely wrong that Evie wants to hang up the phone, or reach out again and shake Maddy to stop her feeling like this because it's like everything she felt has been mirrored back at her, and Maddy couldn't know, but she was just so fed up. Forcing herself up and onto the bed. "Maddy, is there anything you want me to do?"

"Could we just talk? I want to talk to Roo, and tell her about how I'm doing, but... I just want to talk about nothing. Can we do that?"

"Yeah, of course," Evie feel fine just talking about nothing. Maddy shouldn't feel guilty about this, no matter what the voice in her head was saying, that was something Evie had to live with. Maddy deserved to feel better than what she did, and while Evie knew there was nothing she could really help, she did it anyway. It was never about her, she needs to realise that. Why did Maddy even want to talk to her, she ruined her relationship with Josh, she was not a positive person to be around, for anyone. But what was she supposed to do?

 

Edited by D.B
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On 02/02/2021 at 22:42, Red Ranger 1 said:

Phoebe managed to be...realistically irritating. Evie's reached the point where she can hardly talk to anyone.

Honestly, Phoebe was actually the easiest character to write out of all of this. Her being unintentionally insensitive is one of the things more recognisable about her, to say the least.

Writing Evie and Zac arguing was difficult because I don't want to make it look like Zac thinks Evie's being unreasonable or anything, he has a good idea of how much she has been suffering, but he also wants her to get better, and doesn't know the full extent of what she is feeling, and why she is feeling so. He's not being useless or unsympathetic, it's just that no one is going to make the best decisions all the time. Evie, meanwhile, had always been having difficulty trying to keeping in how she feels because she believes no one wants to hear them while convince them not to worry. As well as the fact is, she's been hurting herself, she barely gets any sleep, and hasn't been looking after herself, so it was inevitable that her temper was going to fray. She needs to realise that she requires help, that her state is not good and while she was still capable of helping people, it will be much better once she acknowledges everything, for herself and everyone else. It's not easy for her though, and she is going to need help to realise it.

Thanks Red. Not sure when the next chapter will be up, I'm back in college, but hopefully soon. 

Edited by D.B
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