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Clawing at Your Broken Back


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I think one of the main things I wanted to express when writing this was to dispel the toxic idea that people who are suffering from depression or deep mental health issues are being just 'acting like a child/brat' or 'being self-pitying' , or 'unstable' or 'excessively complaining', or 'should pull themselves together'. Those kind of statements are really unfair and that's not how it works. It's not that simple for people to accept any help when they're in this state or to move on, they deserve proper understanding. They're also capable of doing good even if they don't think so. So everyone's got to learn from this to help Evie (Though recovering from this won't be easy), and no matter what she may think (or what others are mistakenly thinking), what Evie is going through is more serious but again, it's not her fault. Just wanted to make it clear.

Anyways, same warnings as usual, so thread carefully and hope I do a good job again. Thanks again for waiting. 

Chapter 10:

Evie wrapped her arms around her sleeves, clutching it tightly and subtly as if the cardigan would be taken away from her at any second and she would be completely exposed. She was resting against the chair resting besides her window, frozen as a statue. She need to keep it together, she had let herself slip up before, she wasn’t doing it again.

Her stomach cramped and her eyes felt dry. She didn’t sleep at all, refused herself to do so. Instead she stayed awake, their images floating in her mind. Oscar, Hannah, Denny, Josh… none of them said a word, but their presence was enough to make her want to cry, knowing how much she let them down. She wanted them to be angry at her, to hurt her, even though in life she knew they never would.

She was losing them all over again, bit by bit. Waking up, especially on this day, she couldn’t remember the exact shape of Denny’s smile, that used to be so bright. She remembered not long ago, she forget how much milk Oscar would want in his tea. She had to remember them, she was letting them down.

She can’t think about Denny apart from her death and how she treated her the first time she met her. It was so horrible, she’d take it all back if she could, but she couldn’t and that added to the overwhelming feeling in her chest that overflowed and threatened to choke her. She’d be happy for it to choke her, feeling the tight pressure overwhelm her until there was nothing left to feel, nothing left to worry about… Was she absolutely sure that was what she personally wanted? No, it always hit her like a brick wall whenever she thought about it, but then again, when the last thing she was sure? Besides, she’d be out of everyone’s way, no longer taking up time, no longer making anyone worried. They’d be free of her.

That they would be upset though, was the thing that never brought it into action. This wasn’t when she cut herself (how simple she could think it always hit her like a truckload of bricks), that left her arms an ugly mess. She needed to pay, she needed to feel that pain. That wasn’t just what she thought, she knew it as a fact, as much of a fact that she should have died instead of Oscar. Life without him never seemed like something worth going through.

It should have been me…

It was an awful feeling, knowing she shouldn’t be alive, taking up breath she didn’t deserve. It was cold, stomach-twisting and unforgiving. So why didn’t she end it? She was always so scared whenever she brought the scissors against her arm, always wondering if she’d cut more than she intended (only to be followed by waves of hatred for feeling scared). It probably always hurts more than anything else she ever knew, but that wasn't true- she was hurt in more than any pain the cutting would give her. She owed everyone so much, and they all cared too much, could they handle it if she was gone, after all the terrible stuff this year? What if they still needed her (she knew how much she needed them)?

Stop that. Stop acting as if you mean something to these people. They don’t really care and they’re right to. You’re nothing, you don’t deserve their respect or their love.

She knew she didn’t. After everything that had happened, she didn’t deserve any of it, and even by some slim, horrifying chance she did, it was too late. They’d put so much effort in trying to help her, and she can’t even reciprocate it. It’s only been a week since she started doing her work at the school and while things weren’t as bad as they were on the first day, it didn’t get any better. She helped them with the work, but there was no drive, no motivation to actually enjoy what she’s doing, and the mood in the class was affected by it, that was clear. It was hard to write or type, with the ache in her arms. The teachers on standby to help her noticed that as much as she did. She couldn’t even bring herself to discipline anyone who was causing a disruption. There were no complaints but Zac was keeping a close eye on her, always offering help that she didn’t need. It was as if he and everyone else were stepping on tippy-toes around her, trying to help her, and it was wrong, it was all wrong, and that only encourage the prevailing thought in her head. She needed to stop worrying them like this. She can see the look in their eyes, the look of apprehension and concern in everyone’s eyes whenever they saw her, and she didn’t want them to look like, they needed to be happy. Maybe if she was gone, they’d realise she wasn’t worth the bother, and it was easier for them to forget her, it be easier for them to hate her.

Then why didn’t she do anything about it? Why was she still here? And how could she still be walking, still pretending everything was fine when she kept slipping? When she looked into the mirror and saw nothing but a dishevelled, sleep-deprived, stupid little monster? When nothing she watches, nothing she eats, nothing she reads or listen to is alright anymore? What was wrong with her?

She felt herself withdrawing more. She kept avoiding talking or hanging out after dinner, turned down offers to hang out after work. She spends most of her time wistfully wandering around, directionless. She doesn’t want to walk, work, talk, anything. She’d see Zac and Leah when they’re together and they’re happy, she sees Matt roaring with laughter with Mason and VJ, they don’t need her. And her mood was getting worse. She was getting irritated easily, far too easily. And while by some miracle that had nothing to do with her she didn’t get into full arguments (though a lot of the time at work when it came to a student who asked what was the point in showing their work or Phoebe being way too chirpy in the morning, it just made Evie want to snap and throw herself into an argument). She couldn’t talk in full sentences with Zac or Leah anymore, she just gave short, blunt responses that were conversation killers.

Getting up with strength she didn’t feel and felt obligatory right now, she walked towards the door. Today, she and Zac had to take the morning off to see Hunter’s trial. For reasons she didn’t know, it got sent back a week, which meant more waiting and more wracking of nerves. God knows what to expect, or how long it would take. No matter what, unless Zac told her he didn’t need her help, she would be there, he cannot go through this alone. She battered down her own feelings of dread and grief. She cannot think about her, she can’t think about how she wanted to give up. Her eyes were open at how she wasn’t worth it a long time ago, she should have given up on the rest of it as well, for everyone’s sake.

Reaching towards the door, for some strange reason, her mind slyly dipped back to the time when she knew Josh was standing trial. What was he feeling? Was he scared? Did he try to be brave, only to crack once it was all done enough to convince himself to run away with Andy? Did he hope she would have showed up? Should she have?

She shook her head, feeling ridiculous. She shouldn’t be thinking anything about Josh, and she was wrong to do so. Oscar would despair of her, she had let him down, and just that thought was enough to make her want to die even more. She did so many things wrong, and it was he who paid the price. That was not fair.

It should have been me…

------

“On the charge of arson, how do you plead?”

“Guilty.”

“On the charge of burglary with reckless endangerment of life, how do you plead?”

“Guilty.”

“On the charge of aggravated assault with the intent of causing bodily harm, how do you plead?”

Hunter had hesitated for the first time, and all Zac could do was stare levelly at the back of him as he faced the judge. He was leaning back on the bench, but he was far from relaxed. He felt tired of the whole business, dreary that everything that happened over the last year was being brought back up, awful reminders. What didn’t help, looking at his son standing up watching his fate being decided, was the dark thought in his head that suggested there was something he could have done, to teach Hunter a better path. Realistically, he knew that wasn’t the case, not when Hunter kept all of this and lied to them all. It was the same as Evie’s situation, she couldn’t be blamed anymore for what Josh did. Both Hunter and Josh kept what they did to everyone else, no matter who else suffered because of it. He still felt bad, bad for everyone in this situation, that Hunter couldn’t admit to what he did in the first place. He wanted to believe that Hunter was truly sorry, but even if he was, it didn’t change anything, there were still repercussions that he had to face.

Looking over at Evie now, her staring blankly at Hunter in front of her, he wondered what was going on in her head, not for the first time. This wouldn’t be easy for her, either. She didn’t say anything on the way to the courthouse and while whenever she looked at him her eyes would be burning with concern, asking without speaking if he was okay- well not okay, but enough to get through the day- she had been lingering in the corner of the house with a look of reluctance while they were getting ready, as if she was trying to melt into the walls unseen. Her face was like a mask, something sculptured. Zac asked her if she wanted to stay here today instead of going to the trial, but she refused to stay behind, and just got in the car when they tried to ask. She looked shorter, thinner.

Zac felt helpless looking at her too. He hoped for her working at the school would help her find a sense of purpose again, but it didn’t, as how sad and joyless she looked even when she was working told him. She looked depressed, and it made Zac even more upset to see her like this. He had spoken to the teachers helping her and they said she would try and do things by herself, even when she looked lost, and she wouldn’t even tell off students for misbehaving. She was really missing that confidence. He offered her his help, tried to get time together when it was just them to cheer her up, but she always declined. He was beginning to think that she wanted to do this on her own, which was very much like her, but she needed his help, maybe not in work, but with everything else, and he wasn't going to throw in the towel. He just didn’t know how she would accept it that without feeling she should be ashamed. He still remembered their argument last week and while he didn’t like how she seemed so bitter about it, he understood why she wouldn’t exactly feel excited about it, when he actually thought about it. She had lost so much this year, such that anything other would seem so little by comparison. People may deal with grief in different ways, but that doesn't mean it was the right way to cope. 

And with Josh… he was so taken aback at how she felt that it was her fault, only when he had the week to think about it he could understand why she would think she should have noticed what he did earlier, even though she shouldn’t. It wasn’t a common thing for people to have that thought to occur in their head, the moment they realised someone they cared about had done something so awful. It had been similar to how he had felt with Hunter before, though he didn’t admit it. He just didn’t understand why Evie had still thought so, not when they had discussed it with her and they thought even though it still hurt, she still believed it. Zac tried to talk to her, trying to bring her out of that awful train of thought but if she listened, there was no signals. He won’t let her be swallowed up by guilt, especially when she did nothing wrong. It was as when she blamed herself for when Josh was injured. What happened with Tank was a mess, but the responsibility for what happened with Josh lied solely with Tank. 

But she can’t run away from her problems by refusing to acknowledge it, because it was a problem that Evie, while not snapping or complaining at those around her, no longer smiled properly or laughed with them, it was a problem Evie missed several meals and was looking really thin. A problem they had to fix. 

He was brought back to the present by Hunter’s voice declaring “Guilty”. Zac felt his throat tighten at how subjugated he sounded. While what his son did could not be ignored nor waved away, Zac remained locked between two choices on what he could do with Hunter. Even if he was going to spend a long time in prison, Zac believed that if Hunter would actually realise the full extent of what he did, he thought he should try and help him get his life back on track. He needed to make sure it would be okay for Leah and Evie, but he didn’t want to believe that his son was lost forever. Denny wouldn’t have held it against Zac to try. Whether or not he could forgive, he didn’t know, but with time... No matter what happened, he wasn’t going to let Hunter cause any more problems for his family. Zac loved him, and he wanted him to get better, but he won’t have him threatening Evie, or messing things up for Leah again.  

“On the charge of obstruction of justice in regards to the murder of Denise Miller, how do you plead?”

There it was. The moment of truth that would be both liberating and crushing. As it to avoid thinking about how he felt, Zac swirled his head around him to see how everyone else reacted. Evie’s stare became more focused, a hard edge across her eyes. Olivia was crying softly, her hands clasped over her mouth and fear in her wide eyes. The detectives in charge of the investigation on the row behind the prosecution’s table observed it all with looks of satisfaction and curiosity. Alf and John both shared a look that suggested they much sooner set Hunter on fire. Irene didn’t even look at him, just stared right at the wall beside her, her face unreadable. He couldn’t see Hunter’s face, and wished that he could have, just to get a glimpse of what he was thinking, what he was feeling.

After ten seconds of the entire courtroom holding their breaths, the judge’s firm voice ran through. “Would the defendant wish to hear the indictment again?”

It took Hunter’s attorney to lightly touch his arm, as if Hunter had been lost and needed to be brought back to the present. Zac watched him straighten up, one finger twitching against his collar as if the room had gotten incredibly stuffy and said in a monotone voice “Guilty.”

It was as if the entire courthouse gave a breath at that and Zac couldn’t remember if he did as well. It was one thing to suspect it, but something so different to hear him confirm it so… simply. Before Zac had worries of how long the trial could go on for, with the DNA found on the scene (with Hunter’s prints found on the safe after a second thorough investigation) and the other evidence laid out for all to see, and Zac felt that doing so would only hurt them more rather than help them move on, and had openly hoped that by pleading guilty would spare them all of that hardship, but he just now considered difficult it was for Hunter to plead guilty. As if any last hope for Hunter to be actually innocent (of that at least) was taken away.

He looked around and saw Evie’s hard stare at the back of Hunter wavering into a blank stare. Her hand had unconsciously shifted closer to him but just as Zac was about to reach out with his own hand, she suddenly shifted and brought her hand closer to himself. Zac didn’t know what to make of that, but he didn’t like it. Still, she was still here, that was all that mattered to him. Despite feeling so helpless of being left out of the loop, he knew she wanted to help, but he didn’t need her to. He just wanted her to be happy, to be safe.

“Very well,” the judge said, his voice quelling any mini discussion occurring in the room in front of him. “If there are no objections, I see no reason to move straight for sentencing.”

Zac saw just the small inclination of Hunter’s head and his attorney stood up. “We would like to take a brief recess, your Honour, before sentencing is announced.”

“If there’re no objections…” the judge repeated, now looking at the prosecution. The lead prosecutor shook her head, with a look that displayed a conflict of both satisfaction and disappointment. Zac guessed that while she and her team were glad they gained a conviction, they probably hoped to display the case they and the police had built against Hunter.

“We shall break for a recess for fifteen minutes. Court is adjourned.” The judge banned his gavel and stood up, the entire room rising with him.

Zac stood up wearily with the rest of them, not sure of what else to feel. Should he be glad? Upset? It had to be done, but that knowledge didn’t make seeing Hunter get taken away by the bailiff any easier. Just as he was thinking this, Hunter’s lawyer had turned around from speaking with one of the officers and was leaning towards him.

“Mr Maguire, my client wishes to speak to you before sentencing begins.”

Zac looked at him before slowly nodding, even though he wasn’t sure exactly what a meeting could accomplish. Evie thought the same. “What could he have to say that Zac would want to hear?”

The lawyer shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry, Miss Maguire, but that is between my client and his father.”

Evie’s eyes flashed sharply and was about to speak again only for Zac to gently shook his head at her, and she backed away, her face clouding into a stony appearance, still looking at the lawyer distrustfully. He appreciated her looking out for him, but he wanted to see Hunter, for no other reason to see if he would actually give him the truth for once.  

-----

“You have five minutes.”

Hunter was too busy trying to decipher the look on Zac’s face to acknowledge what the guard said before his dad moved forward near the bars. He didn’t know what to tell him, but he asked his attorney to give him time before sentencing, just to see where he still stood. He had been so filled with anger at everyone until he could no longer see the point anymore and all that left him was his own decisions. He was still angry, justified or not, but right now he could see how blindly following that anger brought all of this on himself. Zac didn’t have any obligation to hear him out, but that he was, maybe this was the second chance he was hoping for.

“Dad…” Hunter hesitated awkwardly.

Zac continued to look at him patiently, despite now he was out of that courtroom, he was feeling anything but patient. It wouldn’t do either of them any good to bate around the truth, but bitterness wouldn’t help either.

“I… I know really… you don’t have to believe anything I have to say, but… the only thing I can feel is regret. I never considered what I did and how it hurt everyone else. I should have been honest with you, after the chance you’ve given me, but… I tried Dad, I swear I tried to make up for what I did. I just didn’t wanted to lose you again.” He never thought about how everything could have come back to bite him, he just wanted his dad. Was that such a terrible thing? To have someone he didn’t have for 17 years? Why couldn’t anyone understand?

Zac sighed and clasped his hands in front of him as if in prayer. He didn’t know what to expect, not when Hunter had told him how sorry he was so many times before and yet, here they were. “And Denny?”

“I swear to you, I never knew what happened to her until after the body was found,” Hunter told him urgently, hoping desperately that Zac wouldn’t ask him what he would have done if he had knew before, because Hunter didn’t know if he could give an answer- or at least, an honest answer. This was the first time Zac ever mentioned his cousin during their conversations after he was arrested, though he always felt angry that Zac didn’t believe his denials and even now he felt frustrated. But then again, how could Zac expect anything other from him? “I only kept quiet about it because Mom threatened to turn me in. I didn’t meant for any of this to happen, I… it was just a stupid prank.”

“Hunter, come on, don’t play it down as some prank. Marilyn got hurt because you wanted to get back at Leah, and you didn’t come forward.”

Hunter was just about to say he wanted to confess and that Charlotte persuaded him not to, but kept it back. He could have said no, he could have ignored his mother and confess anyway. But he didn’t, because he was able to persuade himself to listen to her, that he didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt (then at least) and he didn’t deserve prison for that. “I know, and I’m sorry people got hurt.”

Zac didn’t say anything for a while, before shrugging helplessly. “Hunter… we’ve done this before. Charlotte may have been responsible, and I’m choosing to believe you didn’t know but, you still did those things that hurt people, and if you came forward before…" He knew what he was going to say, that Denny might have still be alive, but he just couldn't say it. Didn't mean it wasn't true though. "You say you’re sorry and we try and teach you the right way, and somehow we end up in a situation like this. I look at you right now, and… as much as it hurts, I can’t tell if you’re being completely honest with me right now, or if you’re telling me what you think want me to believe, I just can’t know.”

Hunter sighed and rubbed his hands around his face. “I am, I really am trying to be-”

“Because it finally ended up like this,” Zac interrupted him. “But if you didn’t try to attack Andy, if you hadn’t blurted out about the theft, would you have still kept quiet about it?”

Hunter looked up at him with eyes so full of despair and shame and as much as Zac hated that look in his son’s eyes, he hated the fact that it was entirely out of his hands even more.

“I… I probably would have.” And Hunter realised now, with everything falling apart, at how wrong he was to have hide what he did and to lie about it. He should have come clean from the start, and maybe things would have ended differently for him Rogers didn't believe they should have tried to fight it, Hunter could see in his lawyer’s eyes they were pretty much doomed before it began. He persuaded Hunter to put in a guilty plea just to get it over with, and because he didn’t want Zac to watch his son go through a long trial. The only thing that he was worried about was Olivia. By pleading guilty… was he putting an end to their relationship? Would she move on? Olivia was the best thing that ever happened to him, the one person who knew everything he did and still accepted him. He didn’t want to lose that.

“Then what am I supposed to make of that?” Zac asked him. “You just said you tried to make amends for what you did, except… that’s not how it works. We welcomed you in, and you had kept this from us. Even when you found out that Charlotte killed her… why couldn’t you have told us? We could have worked something out. You knew how much Denny meant to all of us, we… we were owed the truth.”

“Well I confessed, didn’t I?” Hunter’s mouth was set in a stubborn line. “I pleaded guilty, isn’t that what everyone wanted?”

“It’s not about what anyone else wants, Hunter, it’s about you actually taking responsibilities for your actions!” Zac stopped himself before he went off into a rant because that wouldn’t help. It was still very maddening that Hunter didn’t get it, but he had to try. As his father, Zac needed him to understand.  

“Hunter… I understand you were scared about being exposed. I know it wasn’t just being scared of prison, it was that you were worried about losing me, and I get what is happening is terrible for you… but it is important that you listen to me now, and actually listen, not just a token gesture. Your actions affected other people, that’s not anything you can shift the blame over. This is a chance for you to actually help yourself now, as strange as that sounds, for you to come out of this better than before. I know that sounds incredibly cliché, but it’s the truth. You need to take that chance, because you can’t keep using your anger as an excuse. Everyone gets angry, that doesn’t mean you get to commit crimes. The only thing I can do for you now is ask you to make an honest attempt to try, and to make yourself better.”

Hunter looked as though he was listening, but Zac could still see the stubbornness in his face, and wondered how much of it he was actually taking in. Hunter gulped a couple of times before he looked back to Zac and asked. “And what… what does that mean for… for us?” Hunter winced at his voice sounded, so begging, but he couldn’t help but ask, wanting to know.

Zac looked at him sternly for a couple of seconds before he could find an answer. “I love you Hunter, you’re my son. I want to be a part of your life, and I want you to have a good life, if you’re willing to actually change. But… before anything else, I need to know that you’re not willing to change just for me, not just for Olivia, but for everyone else too. For Leah, for Evie and for VJ. They’re just my family as you are, and I can’t let anything happen to them. And I can’t let you hurt them anymore than you have.”

Hunter nodded, actually listening and realising for once that it would be wrong for him to assume that he was always Zac’s only priority. He had actually wanted to help him before, even when he had other people in his life, and Hunter should have just accepted that without trying to barge everyone else aside. There was another question that he probably shouldn’t ask but it was out of his mouth before he could stop himself. “And Evie, I mean, with Josh-”

Zac shook his head in exasperation. He couldn’t believe he decided to bring this up now. “You have to be kidding me, Hunter, seriously, even now-”

“Are you sure though, that she didn’t know?” Hunter leaned back stubbornly in his chair, tense in preparation for the guard to walk back in to tell him his time was up but not prepared to let this go.

“I know she didn’t know. I know she wouldn’t do something like that.” Zac saw her the night when Josh turned himself in, and the heartbreak in her eyes, not because she could lose Josh, but because she already lost him the moment he killed someone, and from there he was always certain of Evie, and her behaviour recently, while making him worried, didn’t change that. Because family meant everything for Evie and he knew she would do anything for them, and he wasn’t going to let anyone accuse him of something like that, when it was still painful for her. She was already taking responsibility to too much.  “It was wrong of you to blame her for things Josh did, and that she had no control over, if anyone I thought you would get that.” 

The stubborn fire went away in Hunter’s eyes and he looked down in shame, knowing what Zac was referring to. No one had blamed him for what Charlotte did, at least until they found out about the safe, and he realised how hypocritical it was for him to have blamed her, even more so given how he had covered for his mum, and vice versa. “I was responsible for what happened to Marilyn and… Denny, and I know I messed up really bad. Do you think… they could ever forgive me, accept me back?”

Zac thought on it, and had to choose between the easy answer and the honest answer. He chose the honest answer. “I don’t think so, at least not yet, but whatever happens, it’s their own choice. Maybe in time, they will forgive, but things won’t be the same as before. You can’t expect that.” Zac secretly hoped that they could learn to accept Hunter if he actually improved the way he reacted, but would they forgive? Could he actually forgive Hunter? He didn’t know.

Hunter was suddenly filled with the urge to cry and he tried to keep it in. “I’m sorry for lying to you, for covering it all up, Dad. I really am.”

“I know, Hunter,” Zac said, not sure of what else he could. “But it doesn’t change what’s going to happen.”

------

Evie remained sitting on the bench in the nearly empty courtroom, her hands pressed against her chin as if forming a temple. It was hard to sit in that courtroom without cracking from how overheated and panicky she felt, just sitting down, a spectator over something which she had no control over and that fact gave her a headache. Apparently all the evidence everyone feared of seeing again wouldn’t be shown. She wondered how they would all feel if they had to view it, see every haunting detail of what Hunter did. Would it be better to shy away from it, to avoid feeling any more pain, or was it better just to expose it, so they knew the truth?  She didn’t feel any different from when Hunter pleaded guilty, knowing he was nothing but, and wondered where was the satisfaction she should have felt. Denny was given justice (not as much as there would have if Charlotte was caught, but enough), but she was still dead, and then the grief for her sister filled in the void. Another person who she loved was gone, another person that should still be alive. All that did was made her more angry to Hunter, for taking that chance (no matter how much indirectly) away from Denny. Maybe he didn’t knew, (though she couldn’t exactly believe that) but she couldn’t see past that, he still did it.

Why did he plead guilty, was it an attempt to get an easy sentence? A way to present himself as the good guy? Or did he actually feel guilty? Evie didn’t know what to make of it if it was the last one, it’s much easier to hate. She still hated Andy, who showed how sorry he felt about Oscar and Hannah when he ran off. They accepted him, and he actually killed them. Whatever she had thought about him before, she had nothing but pure, and unrelenting hatred for him. Though not enough as there was for herself. 

She didn’t think she could ever forgive him, with so much anger in her. She still felt angry at Charlotte, but what was the point of that when she was dead? People like that… they can’t just do what they do without caring who gets hurt in the process. It was right to want them to pay for what they did, but that ever be enough? Was it right to want them to hurt? Was it right to still not forgive? She didn’t have faith in forgiveness. People either forget, or they didn’t, and she didn’t think she could forget. What did forgiveness matter, when it doesn’t change anything?

Bolstered by that grief now was worry for Zac. She didn’t want Zac to go anywhere near Hunter, not after what he did, and was worried of what if Hunter was able to trick Zac once again, to give him a chance when as far as Evie was concerned, he lost all of his. That was why she spoke up when the lawyer spoke to them, she can’t let Hunter hurt Zac again. She knows it’s Zac’s own choice, and she can’t make it for him, she can’t keep interfering, but…

She just didn’t get it. Why does Zac still insist on giving chances to people who really don’t deserve it? It was in his nature, maybe but couldn’t he see that it was better if he just washed his hands of those who hurt him, of Hunter, of her?

“Where’s Zac?”

Evie turned around from where she was sitting down in the bench where Zac left her to see Olivia sitting in the bench behind her, her eyes still red from crying.

“He went to talk to Hunter.” Evie said, even though she felt too irritated to speak to anyone besides from Zac right now, not that he’d want to hear anything from her. “He wanted to see him before sentencing, but for what and why is anyone’s guess.”

“Why not?” Olivia asked. “Shouldn’t he be allowed to talk to his dad before he gets hauled off to prison?”

Evie rolled her eyes, and was surprised at how easy it was for her to act like this, for once. “It’s not as though Zac has any obligation to hear anything he has to say. Hunter betrayed his trust time after time.”

“It wasn’t like that, Hunter just didn’t want to hurt him.” Olivia insisted stubbornly. “You can make him out to be the bad guy all you want, but he didn’t want to go to jail for a mistake, not when he has his whole life ahead of him, what’s wrong with that?”

“Oh I see, he was the only one that matters. Everyone else can go to hell as far as he’s concerned, is that it?” It seemed pretty obvious from where she was standing. Still, it was real nice to know whatever she and Josh had was more unlovable than what Hunter and Olivia had.

“You’re wrong, you… you don’t understand what he’s really like, you don’t know him.” Olivia knew what Hunter did was legally wrong, but she knew there was more to him than what they were painting him as. Evie didn’t get it, Irene didn’t get it. If everyone else could see how sweet and kind Hunter was when he was with her, she was sure they’d think twice before judging him. It wasn’t as though Hunter actually killed anyone, unlike Josh.

“I know he stole from Leah, he got Marilyn injured, and he kept quiet when he found out that his mum killed his cousin. Are you really telling me you’re okay with that? That you could find a way to… rationalise that kind of cowardice?”

 “Why are you still on about this? He pleaded guilty, you won, what more could you want?!”

Evie looked back at the other girl with a look of disbelief on her face. She didn’t want to get into an argument of ethics, but seriously? She won? Is that what Olivia really thought of this? Denny was dead, and Hunter had some responsibility to that. No one was winning and she didn’t want to win. “I don’t want him to go near Zac, I don’t want him to hurt him anymore than he already has.” She didn’t sound angry, even though she felt it, she knew Olivia was hearing her sounding defeated, but she didn’t really care. “You can do whatever you want, but it doesn’t really matter what you or I think. He still broke the law, there’s no avoiding what happens after that.”

“Well, you can do whatever you want, but I’m not giving up on him. Hunter doesn’t deserve this and he’s gonna need me more than ever. At least one of us understands loyalty to our partners.” Olivia stood up with one final dirty look towards Evie and walking away.

Evie looked back at her, feeling another surge of unpleasantness surging through her at her words. It wasn’t as though she could really She wasn’t better than Josh, even though she may not have killed anyone. She had been self-centred, arrogant, ignorant to how much she could mess everything up. Maybe she should have stood by him- not because she still loved him because she didn’t, and not because she believed it could have worked out because it couldn’t, but then everyone else could see how horrible she was and given up on her. That would have hurt, it would hurt for her to lose anyone else, but she was hurting now so what did it matter? She lost Josh anyway, she didn’t want to be near him, he used what happened to Oscar and Hannah-

You are not the victim here, remember? You were a fool to love Josh, but you hurt him more than he hurt you. It’s not about what you want.

She knew this, she had no right to feel sorry for herself. She felt guilty for trying to convince herself to not think about Josh. She shouldn't talk about it to anyone else, but that didn't mean she shouldn't feel the guilt for letting Josh go down that dark path. But thinking about him, when worse happened to Oscar? To Hannah? To Denny? What could she do? She didn't deserve to feel sorry for herself about what happened to them, even thought it hurt everyday, and it will never not hurt.  

Not before long the room filled up again and Zac walked in to sit down next to her. He looked worn out but he tried to smile at her when he sat down. She knew she shouldn’t give him false hope, but her hand automatically reached out to squeeze his. He squeezed her hand back.

Hunter was brought back in by the bailiff with his lawyer trailing behind him to enter the dock, taking an anxious glance towards Zac but meeting Evie’s hard glare with one of his own. The bailiff stood aside and announced, “All rise,” as the judge emerged from his chambers. He sat down and stared at Hunter.

“Hunter King, you have been charged with four counts, all serious crimes. You have pleaded guilty to all charges laid against you and this court has taken it into account when considering sentence. However, this does not change the severity of the charges, nor your shameful attempts to cover up your crimes and mislead your community and law enforcement regarding your own responsibility or your own guilt. I have taken into account the mitigating factors of circumstances regarding the defendant’s upbringing and emotional state, but the sympathy of the court does not extend so far as to him putting other people at risk, nor does it extend to having an effect on his sentence. On the charge of arson in relation to the burning down of 12 James Street in 2015, I sentence you to two years. On the charge of theft with the cause of endangerment to life in relation to the injury to Marilyn Chambers in 2015, I sentence you to eight years. On the charge of aggravated assault with intent of causing bodily harm to Andrew Barrett this year, I sentence you to five years. On the charge of obstruction of justice as an accessory to the murder of Denise Miller in 2015, I sentence you to five years. Overall, this court sentences to 20 years, to be served consecutively with the chance of parole in 15 years. Bailiff, take custody of the prisoner and have him ready to be transferred. Court adjourned.”

 Zac sighed audibly as he watched his son get taken away. 20 years…Hunter would be spending the best years of his life behind bars. He looked around to see Evie’s mouth hardened and her eyes blazing but she kept her hand in Zac’s.

------

They rode the car ride home in silence, which was becoming too common for Zac’s liking. Evie kept looking over at him, to either check if he was okay, or else she wanted to say something but she couldn’t get it out. “Hunter told me he was truly sorry for all of it.”

Evie looked over at him, her face boarded up. “Do you believe him?”

“That he’s gets why this is happening to him? Not sure, but he says he is really sorry for deceiving us, and for what he did to Marilyn and Denny.”

“Not enough for him to come forward before,” Evie muttered. She didn’t want to sound bitter, but how else could she say it?

“I know,” Zac knew she wasn’t wrong. “He still pleaded guilty. I’m not sure where I go from here, involving him.” He wanted to get Hunter help, but he didn’t know how involved he could be right now. “But I’m thinking about reaching out to people I know in there… help set him on the narrow.”

“He’s not your responsibility, Zac. You shouldn’t waste any more time on him.”

Zac looked over at her, knowing she had a valid right to feel this way. He remembered the way he confronted her multiple times after Josh was arrested and the more Evie didn’t give way, the more aggressive Hunter got. Still, after so much time lost with Hunter’s life, he felt as though he should try and make sure he doesn’t keep making the same mistakes. “You and Leah have every right to want nothing more to do with him, and frankly I sometimes still have trouble looking at him, but… I have to try and help him, to make him see he had to do better.”

Evie looked at him, wondering why he has to. He doesn’t. Stuff like this couldn’t be forgiven. “Is that what you want to do?”

Zac shrugged, still feeling overwhelmed at how lengthy Hunter’s sentence was. Maybe he was being too generous, maybe it was because of the losses they suffered this year- Zac still had days he hoped Oscar would just walk down the stairs (and if he still had those days, Evie must been feeling it daily,), but he didn’t want to lose anymore of his family. “I promise you, I’m not going to let him continue to act as he did towards you or Leah or anyone else, but I don’t see another solution, Evie.”

Evie saw another good solution. She didn’t want him to protect her, she wanted him to protect himself. That’s what she was trying to do, it was what she was supposed to do; to protect Zac. “But what if he breaks his promise again, Zac, huh? What if he’s just using you and you end up getting let down, again?”

“Well what am I suppose to do, Evie?” Zac looked over to her, really not wanting to get into it today. They still hadn’t had many arguments, not even after the bad start a week ago, but her lack of proper responses and her cold demeaner spoke volumes. Hunter hurt her, he hurt all of them, there was no sugar-coating it, but he had been punished for it, holding onto the hate she must have for him would do her no good. “He’s my son, I can’t just pretend he doesn’t exist.” 

Evie felt all the more angry at his response because it felt like the right thing to do, but she just threw up a hand and didn’t say anything more. She didn’t have a right to lecture him about this kind of stuff, not with her own sins.

You’re just too scared, that if he decides to abandon Hunter, he’d abandon you. He’s too hopeful, too trusting, you shouldn’t trick him this but you are, you’re too cowardly, too selfish.

She knew this, she should tell him, she had to tell him all of it, to make him realise. But she just can’t force those words out of her mouth, even if it was better for Zac, she knew she can’t, her pathetic form knew it with a vicious fire that threatened to burst through her knuckles and out of her throat. She can’t be there for them, not the way they try to be for her, and Hunter was going to just sneak his way back into Zac's life and he was going to get hurt again- and once again, even though her arm still pained from the memory, and it always hurt, she longed for the scissors again.

----

Leah was waiting for them as they walked through the door. She didn’t ask how they were feeling or what happened. She could already see from the look on their faces how it went. She just walked over and hugged Zac, who wrapped his arms around her tightly in response.

“20 years… he got 20 years, Leah.” Zac couldn’t really explain how his voice sounded so… numb, maybe it was because of once he heard it out loud, the reality of it was sinking with him. After everything Hunter did, they couldn’t really expect anything else, but it didn’t make it easier to see.

“There was nothing you could have done, Zac,” Leah said, pulling and looking up to see the guilt in his eyes, not even trying to hide it. “It was out of our hands.”

“You did everything you could for that kid, mate,” Alf told him, his hands resting against the chair. Privately, he felt vindictively satisfied to see justice done, especially for Denny. It was unbearable to have found her body so close to home, when no one had a clue apart from that damn Charlotte, but to know someone they all trusted, gave a second chance to, had played a part in that, and not only that, but in Marilyn’s injury too, made his blood boil and had no regrets in seeing Hunter sent to the slammer. Alf only wished he could throw away the key himself. He could see that wasn’t what Zac needed to hear now, though. “But hopefully being locked up will give him a dose of reality.”

Zac looked around, not feeling reassured. He wondered if, despite what he told Hunter, this would actually help him learn to be a better person. He wanted to believe it, but could he actually change, or would prison only make him worse? It was just all big mess. He shrugged and walked over to the kitchen. Leah looked over to him with sad eyes before realising Evie had gone upstairs while they were talking. She couldn’t blame her, she must already had enough of hearing about Hunter today.

-----

Later in the day…

“Rough day?” Evie looked up to see Billie approaching where she was sitting on the bench.

“It was worse for Zac though, much worse.” Evie said, nodding to her, though not smiling. It didn’t feel right to smile. She tried not to be helpless, she tried to make sure Zac was okay and that he wouldn’t fall for Hunter’s manipulation again, and she couldn’t. It felt so wrong to feel anything other than grief, guilt, anger and that awful feeling of being so helpless. Still, she got up to help Billie in case she needed it. “Here, let me-”

“I can sit down, I’m pregnant, not made out of glass,” Billie reminded her jokily, sitting down next to her. “VJ sometimes forgets that too. It’s a blessing and a curse.” She sighed happily, though her smile faded when she looked over to Evie. “He was worried about you all the whole day. How’s Zac feeling?”

Evie shrugged as she picked out of her fingernails, didn’t feel convinced at it would ever be enough. “Zac doesn’t know what to do, he’s still struggling with it. He’s with Leah now, I… I couldn’t be a good comfort for him.” Part of her thought it wasn’t worth the bother, nothing she could do could be of help, but the other part of her felt sad that she couldn’t do it for Zac, or Leah, or anyone else. It made her angry, it made her feel worthless, disposable, it made her want to hit herself into oblivion for not doing enough for them. As if she didn't have enough reason to feel she shouldn't be alive. 

“It’s hard to know what to do to help other people through something when you’re having difficulty dealing with it yourself,” Billie couldn’t help but mumble. She knew that more than most. “It’s hard to just even talk about it.”

“It’s not like that, though. Zac and Leah had gone through so much, and I’m supposed to be there for them, but I can’t get it together for them. I’m so useless.” She took a breath, thinking of how what she was going through was nothing compared to everyone else.

“Hey, come on, you’re not useless, it’s just hard for you to deal with everything else going on.”

 “He’s thinking about trying to help him,” Evie mumbled, as if she didn’t hear what Billie said. “I don’t know, probably in prison trying to get him help.”

“What do you think about that?” Billie asked her. She could get where Zac was coming from, she would want the same if it was Ash in there, but with Hunter… maybe it was because she wasn’t family, but in Hunter’s case, Billie would feel fine to see the back of him. Especially after seeing VJ so anguished at how someone he thought of as a friend did so much damage. Evie must have felt the same.

“Zac shouldn’t do it. He…” Evie struggled to put it into words. “He puts so much hope in people who let him down, and keep stuff from him, and do bad things, he just doesn’t give up, even when he should, otherwise he’d get hurt and he shouldn’t get hurt, and those… and we keep letting him down. He deserves better.” They all deserved better than her. “It’s all just… I’ve done a lot of wrong things, bad things, and I want to do better, I’ve always wanted to do better, but it just sticks, and I can’t wash it off.” She hated the pleading note in her voice, as if begging for help, but she knew what she said was true, and what was the point of hiding it. Everyone else must know it. “I don’t want them to be concerned when they have enough to worry about, and but I just feel useless, I don’t know if that make sense and I shouldn’t be loading all of this onto you, but-”

“It’s okay, I kind of get it. I wasn’t exactly a saint when I got here either,” Billie grimaced at that reminder. She actually got where Evie was coming from, even now, she wondered if she could have done things better. Still, it was no way to think. “They do know you want to help, though, you’re not being useless.”

Evie just stared ahead. Evie didn’t think it was the same for Billie, she actually learned from her mistakes, she actually did do better. All Evie did was try, and that wasn’t enough. “I can’t let myself screw up, I done too many bad things to pretend I deserve anything good, I can’t do right by them, by Matt or anyone else, or Josh, or…” She screwed her face up painfully as her nails dug into her jeans because she couldn’t do right by Oscar or Hannah or Denny. She ought to say it, she should, but she couldn’t. She was so useless.

“Hey, Evie, what’s wrong?” Billie edged closer towards her, ducking her head to look at her with concern. She felt her brain freeze at Evie’s words, she had never heard anyone speak with so much self-loathing before in her life. She knew the girl had been through perhaps one of the worst things a person can go through, but this… this horrible train of thought isn’t something she shouldn’t have to deal with and she wondered why.

Wow, now you got the pregnant girl wrapped up in your troubles. Don’t you think everyone has enough trouble without you grabbing attention?

“I’m sorry Billie, it’s nothing for you to worry about.”

“Okay?” Billie said, feeling more confused and worried by the second, but she can see Evie didn’t want to talk about it. “We can talk about something else, if you want.”

“I…I…” she couldn’t think of anything else to talk about, she couldn’t focus on anything else. She wanted to be normal, she wanted to talk to Billie, she wanted to be good company, but that unseeable force always compelled her to stop. She’s so tired of losing people she cared about, and she’s misses the ones she lost her connection with, but she just can’t, not like she used to. Billie seemed to get her discomfort and immediately rushed into reassure her. “It’s okay if you don’t, it’s totally fine.”

Evie couldn’t believe that, she stood up. She ought to leave. She wants to leave before she makes things worse. She felt so guilty for saying all of this to Billie. It wasn’t her problem, it wasn’t anything anyone could do about. “I should go, I don’t… my fault…I just keep screwing up… you shouldn’t worry, I’m sorry if I had.”

Billie didn’t know what to say, because Evie’s ramblings were all coming out in very short, disconnected words. She didn’t know what to make of it, but it did make her want to wrap the younger girl in a hug. She didn’t, because she didn’t know of her boundaries, she was always careful with her own, but she didn’t think she ought to leave Evie alone. “Evie, it’s okay to be upset, if I can help-”

“I… I don’t even know why you’re trying, but it’s not worth it, I promise you.”

You don’t even- Evie-”

“Billie, please? I…” Evie’s eyes, glistening blue, were pleading down at her now. “I just… I just don’t want to make this worse.” That was exactly why she preferred if she just found a way to keep her mouth closed forever, because nothing comes out right, because it sounded like an excuse and she cannot make an excuse as if that makes everything okay, because it’s not okay.

Billie felt her resolve waver at that. “Okay, it’s alright, you’re not doing anything wrong. I’ll see you around.”

Evie nodded, the look on her face looking so sorry, before walking away. Billie watched her leave. She could see clearly that there was a lot going on with Evie, more than she would admit, but then again, Billie knew what it meant to feel like she couldn’t tell anyone what was going on with her, she was afraid of the incriminations, the judgement. She wouldn’t want to deal with that anymore than Evie did. Still, she’d been through a lot this year, she shouldn’t be alone. The things she said… Billie didn’t know what to make of it, she didn’t know what Evie thought she did wrong. What would Oscar do? What would he want her to do?

He’d want his sister, his favourite person, to be happy, and be safe, and for people to look out for her, that was obvious. Billie didn’t know if she should, or if she would be the right person to do so, but she knew someone who could. She got out her phone and rang VJ. “Hey, boyfriend…No, everything’s fine, don’t worry,” she smiled ruefully, rubbing her growing belly. She loved how protective he was over her and the baby… though that was always dimmed at the fear of what would he feel if he knew the truth. “I was just wondering… do you have your mother’s number? I just have something I think I should talk about.”

-----

Evie again found herself near the rocks, feeling the water prickle against her toes and then soak against her skin. It would have been soothing if it wasn’t for the pounding headache in her head. She felt extremely bad for leaving Billie like that, she was only trying to help, but she didn’t think she could just sit there, talking about small things that would matter to anyone else but not to her, while Billie would look at her as though she wanted to enjoy her company, like there’s something of worth in her.

Because it’s really, really not true. She wished it could have been otherwise. If it were true, then there wouldn’t be another fresh scar that was added on her arm, sinking in it’s reality, even bleeding a small bit when she did it. As always when she did it, she always acknowledged that little encouragement to press further with it, until she didn’t have to think, didn’t have to remember, yet she never did. Was it cowardice? Fear? Thinking about those she had left? Or those she lost? 

There were now four of them, lined up against her left arm, four cuts that were either faded pink or flushing angrily. Most times she kept hitting herself- not in the head though, over the week she realised she’d drag too much attention by the marks it’ left behind and instead focused instead on her arm, or her thigh, or her stomach, but there were times when the urge became too much and she had found a place to herself, scissors in hand and punished herself. She deserves nothing else but that. She didn't deserve their love, she didn't deserve the money (which was another reason why she must have given it away, as selfish as it was, that money would be no good in her hands). 

She was lost in that line of thought that she almost didn’t see Matt in the corner of her eye, navigating his way to her. Did he try to call her earlier? She couldn’t remember but she didn’t think he did. He shouldn’t have, she didn’t call anyone, not even when she felt like crumbling under the loneliness and wanted to talk to someone, just to expose herself without any idea of the consequences of doing so. She didn’t have that right to, so she suffered in silence.

“Matt, hey.” Evie called out to him, standing up. She slid off the rock she was sitting on and walked up to him, trying not to wince at the cramp in her knees and the sharp under-lying rock below her that would have cut at her feet if she wasn’t wearing shoes. “I didn’t think you’d want to come down here, I’ll leave you to it-”

“No, it’s fine, I was actually looking for you.” Matt looked around them. This place wasn’t exactly the most accessible, nor the most pleasant if you want to have time alone. The look of the sharp edges of the rocks and the frothy waves crashing nearby from where she was sitting already set his nerves on edge. It definitely couldn’t have been comfortable for her. “Just thought you wanted some company, especially after today.”

“Oh, you didn’t have to do that,” Evie told him, feeling grateful but obviously not enough to give him a smile, and that made her even more guilty. She didn’t feel the aura of warmth that always accompanied his presence. She didn’t deserve it. 

“I wanted to,” Matt replied, now frowning and Evie felt worse. A frown did not belong on Matt’s face, and she knew it was something she said. Nothing she could do can lift the mood, and Matt ought to give up now, before she took up too much of his time.

“Anyway, how about you and I go and get something to eat at Salt?” He asked hopefully. It wouldn’t hurt, especially seeing how thin Evie was at the moment. 

“I’m… I’m not really in the mood for eating,” Evie mumbled, casting her head down, feeling the guilt rush into her like a ocean because she can’t even try.

“Well, maybe we can go get something to drink.” Matt said, knowing how hard today must have been and if she didn’t want to talk about it, as frustrating as it was, then fine, but she shouldn’t be alone.

“I don’t… I don’t know…” She can’t form a proper sentence and feels so stupid because of it. Despite what others thought, she hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol. She didn’t think even something like that could numb the pain she felt, and she was afraid, she was afraid if she did let herself get drunk, she’ll do something incredibly stupid.

“Come on, it’ll be good, I won’t take no for an answer.”

Evie just looked up at him blankly, her eyes so dull-looking that he had no idea what she would say. “Okay, let’s go.” 

“Great,” Matt smiled at her, even though he felt really worried as they walked along. He didn’t know what he could say that could lift her from this state of misery she’s in. It was difficult to be around her like this, but more importantly, he didn’t want her to be in this state, but with Oscar gone… Matt couldn’t even imagine how much she missed him. With Josh, he still didn’t get her feelings about him, now with it being a couple of months, but that didn’t mean he won’t try and help her. “So, how’s work going?”

Evie shrugged silently, not looking at him in the eye as she walked. Her mouth was moving, but no words were coming out. He didn’t know what to make of that. She looked thinner than he’d ever seen her, the skin under her eyes were darker than they ever had a right to be, and her hair lost it’s curls. It hung around her in straight locks, unwashed. “I’m sure you’re trying to take over from Zac, like it’s your own little office.” He joked half-heartedly, skirting over the icy tension at the moment. All it did, to his despair, only made her eyes flash in something that looked like annoyance before fading into resignation. He had never seen her like this, she was always sure of herself, and she should be. “I mean… you’re still there, and a lot of the time when you’re not, you keep saying you have to work…”

“So?” Evie asked him, not feeling confrontational, just wondering what was he trying to say. This was Matt, she should be able to put on a brave face, trying to act as if she was enjoying herself for his sake, but she felt too tired and too lonely, and that was no excuse, but why else can’t she do it? 

“So,” Matt replied a little testily, “I can’t even remember the last time we actually hanged out. What’s wrong with taking a break, huh?”

“I…” Evie started stammering and she had to gulp before answering. “I just want to do it right, I didn’t mean to let you down.”

Matt felt his brows furrowing. Let him down? What was she talking about? “Evie, I just don’t want to be left out… what’s wrong?”

Evie had to bite back a laugh, because what wasn’t wrong. There was nothing he could do though, so why should she tell him? She didn’t want to lose him by making things worse. “It’s nothing…”

“It’s clearly something, otherwise you wouldn’t be looking like that.” Matt internally flinched at that, because that sounded bad. He didn’t mean to sound so judgemental, but he felt so anxious about it. “Evie, you’ve been through a lot, I know that-”

“No more than anyone else has,” Evie retorted.

Matt felt very differently at that. She had it more difficult than nearly anyone else in the Bay this year. Before he could say this, she spoke again, slowly and so unsure. She had never been unsure.

“Why… why do you need to know?”

“Because, then I can know what’s wrong, if I did something wrong, and I can help you.”

“No, Matt, no, it’s not your fault, I shouldn’t have made you think that. You’re… you’ve been such a good friend, you have done nothing wrong.” God, how could he think that, and how could she let him think that, she was a terrible friend… How could he put up with her?

“Then what is it, Evie, because I can see something’s up. You barely speak to me, you shut yourself off, just tell me, what can I do-”

“I don’t want you to help me, it’s… it’s too much,” she told him bitterly. If there was a word to be used to describe her, it would be too much for anyone to deal with. Couldn’t he see how worthless, how horrible she was?

“So what, you can help me, but I can’t help you? That’s not how it works, Evie, and you know it.” Matt told her, trying to keep frustration out of his voice.  

“I just… I just can’t, okay, just leave it.”

Matt looked down at her again, and then shook his head, realising she won’t give him anything else at this point, but he promised himself not to drop it. “Okay fine, if you don’t want to talk,” Matt raised up his hands in surrender.

-------

“Oh, thank God you’re here,” Brody practically sang to Phoebe as he rushed over to the entrance of Salt.

“Well, while that’s a perfectly normal reaction when anyone sees me, what do you need?” she asked him, playfully suspicious, though the playfulness quickly faded when Brody pointed towards someone who even when she was sitting away from Phoebe, was easily recognisable as Kat, hunched down at the bar, her hair usually tied up in a bun falling around her back.

“She’s been here since midday. She’s been drinking and it’s almost getting to the point when I’m thinking about throwing her out before it gets disorderly.”

“Brodes, come on, I know Kat-”

“Exactly, you know her, so you could…” Brody didn’t finish his sentence, instead looking at her with a pleading look. Phoebe got what he wanted her to do in an instant, even though she rolled her eyes for dramatic effect.

“Fine, it’s all up to me. You owe me big time though.” Patting Brody dramatically on the shoulder, she walked up to where Kat was sitting down, already calling the bartender for another shot.

“Hey, Kat, what’s up?” Phoebe grabbed the almost empty glass out of her best friend’s hand and lifted up to her nose, almost coughing at the smell of it. “Damn, Kat, this is some strong stuff!”

“So?” Kat grabbed the shot out of her hand and glared up at her from where she was sitting. She definitely wasn’t happy. “I can get drunk if I want to, it’s a bar, isn’t it? That’s what the point of a bar is?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“Come on, Phoebe, get have a couple of them with me? Why can we have a bit of fun?” Kat demanded with a pout, swinging her new glass in the air as she spoke, alcohol spilling on the bar below her. The bartender turned to Phoebe with his eyebrows raised and Phoebe shrugged in response.

“As fun as that sounds, I’m not sure if Brody will appreciate if we make a mess of his restaurant.” She looked back and saw him watching them with not-so-subtle worry. He was so nervous about getting everything perfect about this place, Phoebe honestly found it a little funny, and she constantly teased him for it. “Besides, you’re a cop. I don’t think you would want your bosses to know you got wasted here.”

“Former cop,” Kat slurred bitterly, her already bad mood made worse by that reminder. Her head was spinning, and everything around her was fuzzy, she did not want to talk about it. “I quit today.”

“Wait, what?!” Phoebe shouted astonished. “Why?”

“Stuff going on with the garage… stuff I didn’t know about and it made me feel so compromised, and… there was it, gone!” That thought just made her angry. It was all a mess and it made things worse for her. The money that she thought was invested to help the garage get back on its feet was actually what Andy left behind when he made his escape, and Ash and Justin had pretended to had invested the money. She couldn’t confess it, but she didn’t feel as though she could wear the uniform anymore, it felt like an insult when she put it on until she could no longer do it and confessed to McCarthy. Not the full truth, but just enough to show why she wanted to resign. McCarthy wasn’t pleased when he found out, especially since she had already done an investigation with the garage, but he called Inspector Joyce and both agreed even though she had no idea, her judgement was called into question. He told her himself that the only thing that prevented him from considering charges against her was to preserve her testimony against the Dylan Carter case, and the best thing was for her to resign.  

Feeling devastated, Kat ended up here and decided to drink to distract herself. And as she did, the guilt faded away into anger, because why should she pay the price? She did nothing wrong, at least intentionally. Being a police officer was the only thing she ever wanted to do. Ash, Justin and probably Matt as well had kept the truth from her, Andy and Josh lied to them all… they all stabbed her in the back, all she did was not tell anyone. She was not some criminal. That… that wasn’t what she did. The drinking helped transfer her anger against them instead of herself because they deserved it, not her. And with every glass she emptied, they deserved it more.

“Umm… I’m so sorry, Kat.” Phoebe was left with no idea of what to say. “Do you want me to call Ash and…”

“Oh ho, no. Last thing I wanna do is talk to him!” Kat shook her head bitterly. If he thought she could forgive him after this, he is going to be very mistaken. “Why should I care what he thinks, he cost me my job…”

“Okay, just stay here.” Patting Kat awkwardly on the shoulder, Phoebe quickly turned to the bartender. “Maybe don’t give her anymore- Brody’s orders.” The bartender nodded knowingly, and took the glass away.

“Hey… hey!” Kat shouted out aggressively. “I’m the one who’s paying you! Just give me the whole bottle.”

“Okay, maybe it’s best if we get out of here, yeah?” Phoebe softly encouraged her up out of the seat and manoeuvred her out of the restaurant, Brody giving her a look of gratitude (something that Phoebe is going to remember for the future), and said “Listen, we need to talk about your shift for the next week.”

“Just give me a moment to sort this one out.” Phoebe nodded and continued to lead Kat out by the arm. She lead her down the stairs, out of the Surf Club and rested her against one of the chairs outside. “Just wait hear, okay? I’ll be right back.” She headed up the stairs, hoping Kat wouldn’t do anything stupid.

Kat leaned against the stairs, still feeling that weird feeling of knowing of her surroundings but not really caring to take it in. Even as her eyes were struggling to keep focus, she did find someone near the door watching her. Someone she felt like hitting.

“So, proud-hic-proud of yourself now, huh?” Kat stumbled towards Matt, her eyes flaring. What right did he have to look at her like that, huh? “You guys just couldn’t do something legal, for once, could you?!”

“Kat, are you okay?” Matt asked nervously, never seeing the cop looking so rattled, or so angry. Evie said she had to go to the bathroom and he was just waiting for her here when he saw Phoebe escort Kat down the stairs. Beyond that, he hadn’t the slightest idea of what she thought he did, or who the guys were supposed to mean. “What are you talking about?”

“You know what I’m talking about! You…” Kat almost toppled but she quickly regained her posture. Maybe it was because how angry she was, as she stepped forward to corner Matt against the corner. She kept talking before she really thought about it, but then again, she wasn’t really in the mood for thinking. “I… I backed you guys,” she muttered angrily. “I helped you set the whole thing up and you and Ash… using that money and… keeping me in the dark…”

“Okay, I’m not even going to pretend I know what you’re on talking about right now,” Matt assured her, though he was starting to wonder himself. Ash promised him the money he and Justin invested was completely legit. Did he lie? “Let’s sit down, okay, you look like you need it-”

“No! You don’t tell me what to do, you idiot!” Kat pushed a finger into his chest, pushing the younger man back. She was too drunk to think about it and if she didn’t have someone to lash out at, she’d be left to think about what she did to lead her here. “You ruined my-”

“Hey! Leave him alone!” Kat turned around and to the state in her mind that shouted bliss to being angry, saw Evie marching towards them. “Oh, look,” she gave a mirthless laugh. This was just what she needed! She put her job on the line (and looked how that ended up) to give Evie time to grief, and she couldn’t even give her the slightest bit of appreciation! “You want to have your own two cents on this? This is none of your business!”

“I don’t know what’s going on, but you… you can’t talk to Matt like that!”, Evie told her forcibly. She didn’t know where this energy was coming from, but she wasn’t going to let anyone act that way towards Matt. “Leave him alone.”

“Why, you sleeping with him?” Kat snorted, revelling in a bitter sense of humour even more when Evie blanched horribly at that, while Matt, who had previously been looking at Evie in gratitude, looked back at Kat in bewilderment, causing her to laugh. “Ho, boy, wouldn’t Josh love to hear that?!”

Evie felt her throat dry up and she suddenly lost any attempt of a retort. It had suddenly became very difficult to breath and her eyes kept blinking, making everything difficult to see. “Okay, Kat, that’s enough.” Matt intervened, his voice turning a unusually disapproving voice. Evie rarely, if ever, heard him sound like that. Was he like that because of her? He shouldn’t be, he really shouldn’t, she shouldn’t have said anything, she shouldn’t have agreed to do come here, why did she-

“Why not? She clearly didn’t want anything to do with Josh when he went down! Only looking after number one, aren’t you, Evie? You couldn’t control your little murdering boyfriend and you just keep on going, with your little sanctimonious act, and… not caring what other people would do for you…  you probably don’t even care what Josh did, just as long as you got what you wanted-”

The rest of her words were lost to static buzzing in her ears, and Evie tumbled back against the wall, feeling dizzy. Her whole vision was blurry, but she could barely see Matt had stepped in between her and Kat, who was still shouting drunken obscenities at Evie that she couldn’t hear, but she couldn’t breathe, and her body felt numb. Even when she pressed her fingers into her pants, whether it was an attempt to ground herself or an automatic response to punish herself, she couldn’t feel that either. Maybe it was because she was finally hearing what she felt from someone else, as a confirmation. If Kat thought it, so must everyone else. She looked up even as her heart trembled and her mouth kept making gasping gestures and she saw Matt’s back in front of her, his body looking so tense even though she couldn’t see his face, and by the sound of his voice, he must be arguing with Kat, and it was her fault. She wished she could give in to the desire to drop to her knees and crawl into a ball, a small ball tucked away so that no one can see her, hear her, even know she exists. She feels like she’s drifting, floating away, disconnected from her mind and body.

“No…” she murmurs the word, not caring if they could hear her. She didn’t even know if she could hear herself right now. Her voice sounds wrong, her body feels wrong, like it didn’t belong to her. She did recognise how her fist folded, as if preparing to hit herself. Still, her hands remained where they were: she couldn’t even get that right. She felt her body moving with unease, reaching out with one hand like some kind of zombie as if reaching for some safe haven.

But then Kat must have seen it and she grabbed Evie’s arm before she could take a step. She had to stifle a cry when she felt Kat’s fingers aggressively squeeze against her arm where the scars were, the skin prickling angry as if blood would burst out, but part of her doesn’t care if Kat did break something, and the rest of Evie was rather hoping she did. She didn’t know if it was because she wanted to hurt or she wanted proof to show everyone else that she wasn’t as strong, or good as they wanted her to be. Right now, in the moment, it didn’t sound so bad. And Kat’s shouts then suddenly broke through the static, sounding like thunder. “You don’t walk away from this, you little-”

“Get off her!” Matt got in between them and lightly threw Kat back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but whatever it is, it’s got nothing to do with Evie.” He felt a bit ridiculous at how strongly he felt his words, but right now, he felt so protective towards Evie that he wasn’t going to let Kat treat her like this.

For Evie, everything looked for dark, but she could hear the clear anger in his voice, and that wasn’t good, he shouldn’t be angry, he shouldn’t be defending her. She should have defended him harder, then he wouldn’t have been forced to do this for her, but he was, because she can’t handle anything, she only make things worse.

Kat looked back at him with anger clear on her face (as far as Matt was concerned that was fine: he was pretty angry to at this point), but just then Phoebe appeared out of nowhere to suddenly try and propel Kat away from the situation.

“Okay, that’s it. We’re going home now, okay?” Phoebe forcefully walked Kat away, even as Kat kept muttering and throwing bitter looks at Matt and Evie. Matt shook his head in exasperation before looking back at Evie. She had her back turn to him, almost leaning against the wall in front of her and breathing heavily. He hesitantly reached out to touch her shoulder and she jerked violently, her breath turning into a cough. “Woah, okay…” He was becoming extremely alarmed because this reaction definitely wasn’t Evie. Actually, now that Matt didn’t have Kat in his face and actually thought about it, the whole reaction wasn’t like Evie at all. Evie never had a problem defending herself. For her to not say a word in her defence… “Are you alright? I’m sorry, I didn’t know she just lay you out-”

“Y… you sh… you shouldn’t have…done that...”

“What?” Matt asked, his voice and face expressing nothing but pure confusion. She was talking so quietly, his ears were struggling to hear what she was saying.

“You shouldn’t have to do anything… it is my fault to begin with, I’m the one who ought to apologise…” Evie muttered. What Kat said was true, she should have just accepted it without doing some overdramatic performance! It didn’t matter if Evie felt like her entire world was shrinking around her, feeling so unmoored, so what? She would actually say sorry, if she already hadn’t said it so many times for it to mean anything. Just empty promises because she keeps making the same mistakes. She knew it didn’t matter if Kat was drunk. If anything, when someone got drunk and revealed everything, they tend to say what they really think. They don’t think about how it would be received by other people, so they tend to be only more truthful. “I…I ruined your night, when you tried to make time for me, and I… I couldn’t even handle the slightest bit of criticism!” She laughed bitterly. She was so pathetic. “I couldn’t even help you.”

“Criticism- what-you-I- why would you- Evie no! Kat was way out of line, drunk or not!” Matt told her honestly. He had never heard her sound or look like this, so… what’s the word? Not herself? No, wait, that was two words, though then again one word could never be enough to describe Evie-

That wasn’t the point. The point was he didn’t like it, especially when all she was trying to do was defend him. “Whatever was up with her wasn’t your fault.”

“It all goes back to Josh, so of course it is. You know this, you don’t have to pretend for me.” Evie knew he found it difficult to be around her, that he was hurt that she didn’t trust him, and that wasn’t the problem, but she knew she still hurt him. Whenever he talked to her, or talked about her when he thought she wasn’t listening, he always sounded so sad and exhausted. He wasn’t like that with anyone else, she was causing him so much worry. She was supposed to be the person to put him forward, to be there for him, and she couldn’t, so why should he do the same?

“What are you talking about? I’m not pretending anything,” Matt replied, feeling hurt all of a sudden even as he remained concerned. Why would she think that, didn’t she get he was just trying to help? “I mean, the whole thing with Josh, he had hurt you more than anyone-”

“That’s not true,” Evie murmured, almost as quiet as a whisper and it made Matt’s stomach curdle. Was she seriously defending him?

“Are we seriously not going to talk about this?” Matt asked softly, though the nervousness and frustration was making it’s way from his heart into his voice.

“No,” Evie growled- literally growled, not looking at him and instead focusing on the ground, though Matt could see a wince ghosted across her face.

“Evie, look, I don't know how to say this right, but you… you shouldn’t be worried about Josh. He caused so much damage, to everyone, and to you. He couldn’t even face up to what he did.”

“You don’t think I know that?” Evie felt even more ashamed because everything he was saying was true. She should have known the truth about Josh a long time ago and she just let it happen anyways. He doesn’t think you understand how much Josh hurt everyone else. And you don’t, if you had you wouldn't be bothering them. And you gave up on Josh too, you have no real loyalty to any of them, do you?

“I don’t know, do you? You barely spoke a word about him in ages, when you ought to be raging about him, you ought to be moving on from him!” Matt just didn’t get it and he wanted her to get it. She was acting like she was ashamed because of him, and that made him angry, because she shouldn’t be ashamed, she didn’t do anything wrong. He tried to calm down. “Come on, let’s just go up to Salt and let’s talk it-”

“No, I’ve ruined enough of your night.” Evie stood up straight, and still wouldn’t look at him in the eye. Right now, she had no idea of what she’ll see if she looks up to his eyes: disappointment or relief? “You go enjoy yourself, it wasn't your fault, I’ll…” she couldn’t even finish the sentence as she tried to walk away, regaining the sense of touch as she felt her hands getting clammy with sweat.

“Come on, don’t let this ruin our fun. A couple of drinks can help us loosen up-”

“God, Matt, don’t you get it? I can’t do this, okay!”

“Why, Evie, tell me why. I’m worried about you… this isn’t you!”

“That’s…” she grimaced with a pained grunt that definitely didn’t go unnoticed by Matt before continuing. Everything hurt, her arm, her legs, everything and she didn’t want to hurt. She wanted to go back to feeling numb, numbness was the only thing that could hold her back from shouting. “That’s none of your business.”

“The hell it isn’t! You’re my best friend.” But that was the problem, wasn’t it. People he cared about didn’t consider their problems none of his business. It was with Evie and it was just the same with Maddy and it hurt like nothing else.

“Why? Why are you so insistent?”, she was now glaring up at him. “I don’t need you to protect me, and I don’t want to hang out like… like everything is fine and it isn’t! I swear, why don’t you get it yet!”

Matt really didn’t want to feel angry, he really didn’t. But it was just so terrifying to see her like this and so frustrating to see that she doesn’t trust him, and he let his own insecurities take hold of her as she backed away. “Well fine! Be like that then. I was just trying to cheer you up, trying to see if you’re fine, when clearly, you’re not, but I’m sorry for caring then!”

There was really nothing Evie could say to that and she just stormed off. She shouldn’t have said that, she wasn’t angry at Matt, she couldn’t judge him. He didn’t deserve it and she tried to keep it in, but everything in her head was so loud to think straight, her critic laughing at her (she just realised how much that voice in her head laughed in glee when Kat was lashing out) and it just came out. It was so wrong, but she didn’t know how else she could convince him to abandon her. She let this happen, and then she made it everyone else’s job to pick up the pieces and it wasn’t fair, and she can’t take it back, but she can make it go away, make sure he didn’t have to worry about it, because that part at least was true. It wasn’t his problem, he had his own problems and his problems were worse than hers, everyone else’s problem was worse than her own, because she brought it on herself.

It was only as she was walking away that she thought back to what Kat said, about them dating. She couldn’t be more wrong (about that at least), Matt would never see her like that.

Though it says something about you, doesn’t it, that the only people you can attract all turn out to be bad?

She knew that, Matt wouldn’t want to be with someone who was so pathetic, so battered, so selfish that she let her boyfriend attack her previous boyfriend. It was her fault that Josh went blind, because she didn’t listen, and if Josh didn’t go blind, he wouldn’t have killed. In the back of her mind, she knew this, but it was only now she thought about it out loud. So that made it her fault as well. She shouldn’t want to go numb, she deserved to feel this pain, she did wrong, she was wrong, she was bad, bad, bad-

----- 

Matt looked back at her, and already felt regret wash over him. He didn’t want to be angry at her, but what else could he do when she steadfastly refused to open up? He just hated that Josh betrayed her and she was obviously suffering. She looked as though everything she used to enjoy was causing her misery, and the whole thing with Kat… she didn’t even try and put up a fight! That wasn’t the Evie he knew, not at all, the Evie he knew was strong-willed, proud, always willing to protect and defend herself and those she cared about, he saw a small glimpse of it when she stepped in between him and Kat, but it was lost with her now.

He was just scared but it came out all wrong. He was too harsh, he should have thought about it, but the way she lashed out at him, the annoyance on her face… that really hurt. She was almost unrecognisable, all the positive energy drained out of her, and he wanted the old her back, but how can he help her if she didn’t accept it. Was he missing something obvious that was the key to help her? He didn't regret trying to get her to open up, she can't keep him out but he shouldn't have gotten angry. What if he just made things worse? 

-----

“Nadia, I cannot thank you enough,” Zac said gratefully through the phone. “We’ve been trying to get her to open up but nothing’s changed and we’re… we’re really worried.”

“Of course, I get it, and I cannot tell you enough that you’re making the right decision here.”

Zac gave a small, tired laugh at that. “Nadia, no offence, that’s what you’re expected to say. You’re a therapist.”

A small chuckle came from the other end. “That’s true, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”

Zac sighed sadly and paced around the room. “I just… I just hoped she would come to us. After everything we’ve all been through… after everything she has been through… we’re family, and that means everything to her, I know that. And that just makes it more confusing that she won’t talk to us.”

“Sometimes with seriously pushed-down issues, it can be difficult to even talk about it to the people you love. That doesn’t mean any of you have to give up, you just have to be patient. We can build from this, create a path forward. Have you spoken to her about this yet?”

“I’ve talked to her about going to a therapist, but she didn’t agree to it. I’m going to talk to her tomorrow, really try and convince her to at least try seeing you.” He looked over to Leah, who was sitting on the bed and nodding encouragingly at him.

“Don’t make her feel pressurised into doing so, if she agrees to do so willingly, it makes the process a lot easier for her,” Nadia advised him, even though she knew that Zac already knew this.

“I’m not so sure that Evie will do so willingly,” Zac warned her. Evie may agree reluctantly if they press her enough, but that wouldn’t be good.

“There’s no knowing until you try.”

Zac nodded again and thanked Nadia before hanging up the phone. Leah looked up at him expectedly and Zac gave a unsure gesture. “Now, we have to sit her down and talk about this.”

Leah nodded in agreement. She didn’t want to force Evie to do anything, neither did Zac, and both hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but with Evie’s state… “You said it yourself, we can’t let her be stuck with this state of mind.” Leah thought back to her conversation with Billie earlier today. She had raised concerns about Evie, with her saying… really concerning things, and Leah didn’t get it. Evie didn't let any of them down, and she should never think that. She deserved to feel better than this, but Leah didn't know what she or Zac could do to convince her of it when she was like this. Maybe it was Evie’s responsibility to look after herself, but that didn’t change the fact that it was still Zac and Leah’s job to look after her. "We're gonna get her back." 

"I... I just feel as though I could have done more." Zac shook his head. He couldn't stop that thought that maybe it was more than her trying to deny she was hurting. "She was always so hopeful, but ever since Oscar and Hannah... she was different and I understood that, she endured enough, but I didn't think it would go on like this, for so long..."

"It's not your fault, Zac," Leah gently cupped his face and leaned up to kiss him on the lips. "You keep trying doing everything for everyone, as much as you could. You... honestly, you've been more of a father than Ethan had been to Evie. It's not your fault, and it's not Evie's either. We just have to try and work with this to get her on the right track, and figure out what she needs us for." 

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

Well, that's Hunter getting his comeuppance and seemingly Kat too... It's very understandable that Zac would still want to help him though and maybe he can.Olivia was believably obnoxious. Evie still can't recognise that people care about her.Hopefully Zac and Leah getting some advice will help.

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On 18/02/2021 at 01:31, Red Ranger 1 said:

Well, that's Hunter getting his comeuppance and seemingly Kat too... It's very understandable that Zac would still want to help him though and maybe he can.Olivia was believably obnoxious. Evie still can't recognise that people care about her.Hopefully Zac and Leah getting some advice will help.

Thanks Red! I did my best to try and get Hunter's story to connect with the main story, and while he messed up badly, that he confessed gives Zac hope that there's still a chance for him, (he's a bit biased there, but it doesn't mean he's entirely wrong). I wanted to emphasis that while what Hunter did will take people a long time to forgive, there's no point in still holding onto anger and hatred long after the appropriate punishment. I'm glad that I wrote Olivia in as much character as I could, because she's always been willing to turn a blind eye to Hunter, to the extent she doesn't care what he did to Zac, or Evie, or anyone else. 

I had thought of the idea of Kat's true involvement with covering for Josh coming out, but I had other plans in the story for her so I decided to adapt the situation with her and the garage as the show. She's very bitter at the moment, but it doesn't give her the excuse to behave like she did to Matt or Evie. 

As of Evie... yeah, she's still in that headspace that forbids her to believe anything other than she doesn't deserve to be cared for. After everything that has happened to her, it would be very hard for her to accept anything good in her life, so everyone (not just herself) is going to work hard to get her better again. I always want to keep emphasising that despite being in this state, she is still very capable of being kind and supportive (such as with Matt, or Maddy or Billie), though that keeps getting overshadowed by things she did wrong, or in the most case, she believed she did wrong, as well as the fact she has to accept the idea of letting go.  She's not defending Josh either, she just can't believe what he did to her is important. And unfortunately, this can lead to an emotional outburst (though notably she still tries to restrain herself from being too harsh even in that circumstance). And finally Zac and Leah have reached out for help, though they'll have a hard time convincing Evie to accept it.  

Thanks for commenting again Red, and by the way, I love the new avatar. :)

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4 minutes ago, D.B said:

Thanks for commenting again Red, and by the way, I love the new avatar.

Thanks: I wasn't entirely sure if people could tell who it was, but after thirteen years on here, I've finally twigged how to make screen caps so thought I'd try it out...

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Posted (edited)

Warnings: Descriptions of self-harm, unhealthy coping methods and suicidal thoughts, please do whatever you have to do to be safe, and stay strong and positive. Please be careful when reading this.

Also on another note: I want to establish the timeline here. I made a mistake: After further research, Billie was suppose to be 7 months pregnant at this point, so while the story has been occurring for more than three weeks now Evie had been dealing with depression for more than a month now. Just wanted to straighten that out.  

Chapter 11 (Also, I passed 10 chapters! I've gotten farther than I thought).

“Hi sweetie,” Leah murmured softly as she saw Evie walk down the stairs. Her posture was wobbly, unsteady. Her hand had held against the doorway longer than it probably should have. “You slept okay?” Evie’s quiet shrug didn’t do much to reassure either her or Zac as she sat down on the couch, not far from where they were standing.

“Nothing to worry about.” Evie tried to keep her eyes open when she tried to reassure them, as if she hadn’t been staring at the scissors for more than 4 hours. It was either that or staring at the crimson cut that made its way onto her arm, just below the elbow. It bled, little droplets onto the ground. Maybe it bled everytime she did it, that it was only now she noticed it. Maybe she just didn’t care.

But even as her eyes were glued to the scissors, gleaming in a way that looked like it was mocking her, she had begun to worry about the blood that had dropped to the floor in her room, staining the floor below her to the room that was given to her and it was making a mess, and she didn’t want to make a mess. Not on the floor, not on the bedsheets, not on the chair, not anywhere. She then began to worry if what if she had bled before, if she had made a mess then.

She had woken up gasping from another nightmare that broke into a coughing fit. Even though she had felt wobbly (and still felt wobbly), she quickly covered herself with sheets (The movement made her arms feel like snapping but she tried to ignore it) when someone had got up and checked in on her. She laid there completely still, her breath shaky until they left the room. She stayed where she was for fifteen minutes, as if listening to everything to make sure she didn’t wake up anyone else. Fifteen minutes, that was all she could withstand before the boiling mess of anxiety and guilt burst up and screamed at her to do something and she clambered out of bed, but she almost fell if her hand hadn’t reached out towards the headstand. Crouching down, walking slowly into the corner just as she found the scissors, she crawled into it and rolled up her sleeves. She was filled with a desire to vomit, to let the bile escape from her throat and out her mouth, but she didn’t, she just let it storm inside her.

The urge to slice her wrist open until her eyes remained closed was overwhelming but she didn’t do it, instead the same vertical, small cut, that ripped through the skin in an almost satisfying feeling that hurt. It bled, maybe not enough to kill, but noticeable that even as she mindlessly pressed a tissue against it, she might as well have just watched it and did nothing. Watched it for what was hours but felt like days. She couldn’t sleep, even if she didn’t cut herself, so bushy-eyed, she just stared blankly at the scissors in her hand. It was always after she did, the emotions rushing in her mind before going numb, and voiceless, before returning even stronger. Why she cut this time, was it because she almost woke someone else up, was it because she felt the urge to vomit, was it because she left Matt hurt the night before, when all he did was defend her (a fact that made regret hit her like an iron-gloved fist to the stomach because she shouldn’t have lashed out at him. It should have been on his terms.)? Maybe a combination of all of them. She knew it was wrong of her to still do it, it was stupid, it was wrong, but she couldn’t stop it and she didn’t care.

It was only when she made it home did Evie actually recall how she reacted when Kat confronted her. She didn’t think about it immediately afterwards, so filled with the shame of it in the first place, but as she huddled in the corner, she began to recall how difficult it was for her to breath, her head pounding as if something was desperately clawing inside her trying to escape, and her heart was about to explode. She knew realistically that was a problem, that whatever it was, was not a normal reaction. She never felt so small, so pathetic, so sensitive.

“How about you? Are you guys okay?”, she looked to concern to Zac, seeing if he was okay after yesterday.

“Are you sure?” Leah looked at her closely, and felt extremely concerned at how pale Evie looked, at how frazzled her hair was, at how her hands seemed to almost cradle her stomach, pinching into the bare skin that laid underneath the jumper she was wearing. There was that underlying concern that she had been drinking again, or else sick, and while Zac and Leah found no concrete proof, the late hours that Evie kept returning home at, her unsteady walk and her heavy eyes did nothing to assure their fears. She sat down on the edge of the couch and reached out with the intention of pressing her hand against Evie’s forehead to check her temperature but the younger girl shied away. Leah stared at her with a upset look on her face. “Evie, we just need to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” Evie muttered irritably, feeling her head lolling to one side. That was not what she needed right now, them do act like they had to care. They had all played this game for far too long. She was worried that if they looked closer, they’d see past the make-up she put on to hide the fading bruises on near the top of her head. She brushed her hair in a way to obscure it, but they had noticed before how red her face looked, and she always assured them it was from stress. “Besides, I need to get to work, don’t I?” She looked up to Zac, only for him to hesitate with a face that was radiating so much concern before he responded.

“Evie, I… we’re thinking that maybe you should take some time off, at least today and maybe next week.” He hated that it came to this, but if he was able to convince her to go to therapy, she would need to set aside her job at least temporary.

Evie heard him, and could hear what wasn’t said behind his words. He didn’t want her to work there, which… well, it hurt, but she couldn’t say he was wrong. She couldn’t do anything right, she should have seen this coming. She didn’t do enough. “Okay,” was all she could say, letting him know it was fine, that he made the right decision.

Zac wasn’t encouraged, he hoped that she at least try to convince him to let her stay on, but she just accepted it. “Evie…are you enjoying working at the school?”

“Of course I am, it’s… it’s great.” She didn’t know what else she could say, all the while wondering why they were asking that, wasn’t it already clear that she had messed up? No one would want her in their workplace, especially a workplace with so much responsibility like a school.

“Evie, come on. You can refuse our help all you want, but that still doesn’t change the fact that we can still see you and you’re struggling. We need you to be honest with us, you… you don’t look too good.”

“I…” well, she couldn’t exactly say she was being honest, because she didn’t enjoy the work, she didn’t enjoy another day, another opportunity for her to screw up and let everyone down, but what else could she say? Why can’t she just tell them without faking it? “I’m doing a bad job, I know.”

“That’s not what we’re saying,” Zac said wearily. It wasn’t about how she was doing her job, she was good at teaching, but she had trouble concentrating, or making decisions, and that affected all of it. It was about whether or not she was enjoying it, she wasn’t enthusiastic about it. He didn’t get why she kept jumping to the wrong conclusions. “Evie… you know we don’t expect you to be perfect at it on the first try, no one is. You’re doing it fine, but you always wanted to be a teacher, you seemed excited about it when we talked about it… weeks ago.”

Was Evie excited about it before? She doubted it. What was more likely that she pretended to be so, or she convinced herself as such, just to make Zac happy. “I guess things changed,” she shrugged listlessly, acting as though she didn’t have a deep sick feeling in her stomach.

“Well, what, then? What changed? Please help me understand.”

“I guess it… um… I don’t know, okay? I just don’t know.” Evie had to fight back a groan as her hands balled into fists. She shouldn’t have taken the job, Zac should have known better than to have given her a chance- but it wasn’t his fault. She should have insisted harder that she shouldn’t have taken that appointment, that it would do no good, that she deluded herself of the hope of doing right for him, because she still needed him, needed everyone else. Still, what else would Zac expect from her?

Zac looked helplessly at Leah. They both understood it wasn’t easy for her, of course it couldn’t, but they had to take the hard decision. “Evie, listen… we’ve been talking and… we thought it would be best if… if you talked to someone.”

“Someone.” Evie repeated woodenly. It was not a question, merely a statement. She knew what Leah meant by ‘someone’, just by the tone in her voice. She tried not to squirm under it, even as her scars signed badly when they rubbed against the fabric of her cardigan the wrong way. The feeling of nausea in her stomach was growing.

“A therapist,” Leah confirmed, looking down at Evie in an attempt to gauge any reaction from her apart from her fidgeting fingers. “Zac had spoken to an old friend of his, about... an appointment for you next Tuesday.”

Evie got up and walked away from the couch, her empty stomach cramping as she did so, her face still startlingly blank while her mind felt like screaming. She felt ambushed, guilty. Why did they get involved? Why did she let them look after her like she was some baby? “Why? Why… why would you do that?” she forced out of her mouth.

Zac talked slowly even as she had her back turned to them. “Because… because you’ve been through a lot, after Oscar… and on top of what Josh did… he betrayed your trust, you must be really confused about what you’re feeling about him, and that’s fine, but maybe it’s time that you addressed it.” He hoped she’d consider it, actually be… well not exactly willing, both him and Leah knew that when it came to therapy, few were actually willing to sit down and accept it, but he hoped she wouldn’t outright reject it.

“So what am I supposed to do? Just talk to them about my… my relationship woes?” Evie found the idea laughable that she had gotten to the point that she needed someone else to help her understand her feelings towards a murderer, and would have laughed, had she not been supposed to had it all figured out a long time ago.

“Anything you’d want to talk to her about, anything that had happened this year or even before that… even stuff you don’t feel comfortable telling us about.” Zac couldn’t help but sound a bit reproachful at that last bit without meaning to. “Nadia will only want to listen, and-”

Evie turned back to them and Zac had to hide how startled he felt when he saw the hauntingly emptiness in her eyes. He didn’t want to say the word Depression, but even though he never had that experience or dealt with anyone with that experience, he didn’t know how else to explain her behaviour. He didn't know it for sure, but he had discussed it with Nadia, and he was praying it wasn’t as bad as they feared. “And what?”

“It’s possible that she… she may give a diagnosis for… it’s just that… please don’t take this the wrong way, but you are suffering-”

“No, I’m not,” Evie said, thinking that she might have laughed there with little humour, guilt laden underneath it, but not enough that would make it visible. She longed to sit down, rest her heavy head onto her knees and will the room to stop spinning. She didn’t get why any of them would want to hear what she would have to say. She kept it all from them, she lied to them, and they could clearly see it. She can’t drag them down. “I’m really not. You’re all suffering have to put up with this.”

“Evie, please listen to us. I know you think this helps… trying to bottle down all of these issues so you can pretend it’s not there, that it doesn’t bother you, but it really doesn’t. You have been through a terrible ordeal and you need to process it.” Zac needed her to listen to him. He won’t downplay this, because what’s going on is not a phase, or crying out for help, this is something serious, though he didn’t exactly know what.

“What’s there? There’s nothing there. I- I don’t need anything.” Evie couldn’t deal with this, deal with anymore guilt that they tried and do this for her. Her hands were squeezing against her stomach now, feeling the ribs protruding. She did not need their pity, because of course they were feeling pity for her. It had to be the only reason they were looking at her like that, why would they feel sorry for her? Why would anyone?

“Evie, that’s not true. You need to actually think about everything that has happened, then it can help you move forward. How long are you going to keep pushing yourself?” Zac took a breath to try and calm his fraying nerves. He couldn’t deal with this, not when she was being so damn… stubborn. Her refusal to talk to any of them about stuff she couldn’t ignore, and her continuing to distance herself from everyone… that didn’t help any of them, but most importantly it didn’t help her, he can’t let that happen. That was the thing, though. He knew Evie had matured from being the petulant and over-asserting teenager he knew from two years ago, but one thing that seemed to remain consistent that she can be so stubborn that she could handle things by herself and being right in doing so, even in keeping secrets. The whole situation with Tamara… none of them apart from Oscar handled it well, and she had been blinded by the situation with Tank to the point she lied to her own family. Sometimes she could handle things on her own, Zac knew when to trust her confidence, but sometimes she couldn't, she just didn't know when to ask for help. 

Zac had been the same a long time ago, long before he ever came to the Bay and sometimes even now he acted like he had it all under control as well, but he knew when he needed help. Evie had been gotten better at being more honest and had learned from her mistakes, but now her stubbornness was working against her. It wasn't even about keeping secrets, the situation was not the same. Deep down he knew it was really difficult for her to talk about and she was trying to put on a brave face because she didn't want them to worry but that didn't mean she couldn't try. “We’re trying too, Evie you know?”

Evie had already thought about everything that had happened, she had thought of practically nothing else. Talking about it wouldn’t make a difference. “I know that.” Evie mumbled, shame latching onto every word. “I can’t…

“We’re not trying to make you feel under pressure to go to it, but we’ve tried to talk to you about it, and you just brush us off. You avoid going to the diner, the gym… you’ve been grieving and you need to accept that, but you can’t be stuck like that forever.”

“I don’t see how it can help when I keep messing things up.” Evie said in that same wooden tone, the anger and shame was still burning in her, and she felt like clawing at her own throat to keep it from ended up bubbling out of her mouth, her hands trembling as she tried to resist the urge to batter them against her legs, her stomach, her head- at least not when they can see her.

They’ll find out eventually. You blurt everything out the way you do, of course they will. Look what they did. You’ve become so useless they had to make decisions for you. And when they find out what you did to yourself, they’d be disgusted, ashamed of you.

“Then let us help, that’s only if you really want to. But Evie, I don’t think that shutting us out is what you want.”

“I don’t want you to help me, don’t you get it? I don’t need help…”

“You can’t keep going on pretending everything is fine and it isn’t, Evie! You’re… you’re lost in your own grief that you’re pushing away the people who still love you.” Zac had to stifle back a frustrated groan, not wanting to make Evie feel worse and looked over to Leah with a look that showed how he felt. He didn’t want to be frustrated but she can’t just ignore the fact that they were there, willing to help. Leah stood up and walked towards Evie, her voice serious and worried. “Evie, it’s not healthy to deflect from this, and we don’t want you do that. It’s… it’s making us really worried.”

“I don’t want you to be worried, I… I never asked for that, I can look after myself.” Evie was trying to keep her own frustration, while unsure whether or not she wanted them to hold back on theirs. She just… she just couldn’t talk about it, don’t they get that? She knew what she still had, it was that she didn’t deserve it was the problem. She couldn’t even think about how hard it has been for her, because it didn’t matter, because she brought it on herself, and she was trying to keep them out of it, not giving them more things to worry about. Their kindness was killing her, because this is not what they have to do, they need to be safe and away from her.

“Just stop. You don’t get to choose that for us, Evie. We can’t do anything unless you meet us halfway. This has gone on for far too long, and we’re can’t keep looking over our shoulders for you, trying to squeeze answers out of you when you’re.. like this.” Zac insisted, trying to regain control over his self-control, even though a spark of guilt occurred within him. He hoped she didn’t take what he said the wrong way, because he was always going to worry, it comes with the territory. But this has gone on for far too long, and he couldn’t help but think he could have- ought to have- intervened sooner. “You can’t keep going on like this.”

“Then don’t watch.” Evie asked, her voice so flat no one would think the frustration was seconds away from reaching out of her. She wasn't forcing them to try and help her, why didn't they understand that? Why couldn't they see they didn't have to do anything for her, and that letting her go down on her own was the best, for everyone. 

“Then what’s your suggestion, just continue being in this state? I’m not going to do that, Evie, I’d never do that, and it’s not your choice to make, you know we want to do the best for you. There’s nothing going on that we can’t handle, you can’t make us worry about this, and then refuse to even talk about it-”

“I- I- you-Zac, you can’t do this, you-you shouldn’t!” Evie had to take a breath before continuing, before Zac could talk again. “You… you need to listen. You keep giving chances to people who- who let you down, and lie and ruin everything and that’s everything I’ve been doing, and you should be angry at me, be more mad than you are now, but you still don’t realise you should give up, even if you get hurt because of it… because of me. There’s nothing about me that can be fixed, don’t you see that? Can’t you see how wrong that is?!” Her words were coming out in a rush, and her nails were digging into her palm so deep and so sharp she wouldn’t be surprised if blood came rushing out.

“I don’t believe that, you can’t give up that easily.” Zac ran a hand over his stubble, distressed at how agitated her words were, even when none of them made any sense. She needed recognise she needed help, and there was no shame in that. What most people don’t realise about troubles with mental health is that it’s not always easy to spot. Sometimes, the clues are a lot more subtle. “What are you talking about? You haven’t ruined anything, you haven’t done anything wrong, and even if… even if it was otherwise, it wouldn’t matter. You’re my family, I have to help you, no matter how hard it is.”

“Is that what you thought about Hunter, time after time again?” Evie felt her mouth burn with guilt as her voice risen but once she began she couldn’t stop. “He hurt you, he hurt Denny, he hurt all of you, and you think he should get a second chance? That any of us do?!” After that, her mouth just opened and closed without words. She shouldn’t have said that, that was wrong, Zac can’t be blamed for what Hunter did. She shouldn’t have shouted, she shouldn’t have been angry, why was she so angry? Or more importantly, why was she letting this happen to everyone else? Whatever was wrong with her, it wasn’t an excuse to let it out on anyone else.

“Evie, I know what Hunter did was wrong, and no one can’t defend anything he did, or try to say that things with him could be normal again, but he’s been punished for it, the right way. That doesn’t mean Zac can just forget about him,” Leah said softly, but firmly.

Zac nodded. He had his own doubts about Hunter, and personally he didn’t believe that anything after this could ever erase what Hunter did, but that didn't mean his son was irredeemable. Hunter confessed, he pleaded guilty, that had to mean something, and while he may not want to face him for a while, Zac wanted to be the one to make sure Hunter got better. “Hunter has his own responsibility to face, and I’m not asking you to forgive him, but Charlotte killed Denny. He’s my son, and if there’s something I can do to get him on the right path, I’ll do it. I’m not going to apologise for that, no matter how hard it may be.”

That wasn’t what Evie meant, she didn’t mean it to sound like that. Maybe he was right about being able to fix Hunter, but that still didn’t mean he deserved it, nor did she. He pretty much said what she knew: the words have to. He didn’t want to do this, not because he saw worth in her, he thinks he has to because she was taking too much of his time, he just wanted her to fix herself, but once he sees she can’t, he won’t want anything to do with her. The way he was trying to hide how hurt he was by her words just confirmed it. She'd say she was sorry, but she wasn't looking for forgiveness. She didn't want it. “I know I… I’m not good at coping…it’s not your fault.”

“It's not yours either,” Zac said as gently as he could, meaning every word of it. She wasn’t exactly wrong about the coping, but he wouldn’t say that. The last thing he’s going to do is try to shame her into changing her mind. “We can’t tell you what to do, but we won’t let you be alone in this, and with…” he hesitated, because he didn’t know for sure that this was it, but what else could it be. “… the drinking is not something to be relied on, you are so much better than falling to that.” He was worried enough about her health, he won’t let her become trapped with an addiction.

Evie shrugged helplessly, knowing it was her fault, he didn’t have to say otherwise. If it wasn’t, then why would she feel so much guilt? She couldn’t even blame him for assuming the wrong thing. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t hiding the truth from him. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“You don’t have to say anything now,” Leah said reassuringly, already thinking on how badly this conversation has gotten. This was never going to be easy to talk about, and Evie probably needed time to think. “Listen, this is a tough decision, we know that, but we really believe that it can help you. Just, please think about it, Evie please, for your own sake. Now, maybe if we just ate first, we can make those pancakes you like so much-”.

“I’m gonna go, I don’t want to eat.” Evie felt weak on her feet and she just wanted to run back into her room but she was wasting enough of their space just by bearing here. The idea of being diagnosed with something… probably would have sent her into a nervous wreck, unsure of the implications that could mean, but now, she honestly couldn’t care less. Leah stood in her way, though.

“Evie, please, you need to eat.”

Evie probably should have argued, pushed her way out the door, but she felt so exhausted that she just nodded, but she just grabbed a bowl of cereal despite Leah’s gentle suggestions for the pancakes. She didn’t need to eat, but she shouldn’t argue.

It never left her mind, how easy it would be to cut deeper, to stop her responsibility, to stop the pain, to stop feeling… but she couldn’t take the easy way out. She had to be strong. But that was the thing.

She was tired of being strong, she was tired of pretending that she wasn't broken, she was tired of forcing up a smile, she was tired of thinking anything she did as punishment or to help anyone else could make anything better.

In the middle of her bleak vision, she briefly heard Zac’s soft voice, asking her if she wanted more to eat. She didn’t argue, but she shook her head. She’d already ate more than she deserved. Once she finished a half-filled bowl and stood up. “I…I...”

“Yeah, I get it,” Zac said. She wanted to be alone, and he hated that, but she needed space to (hopefully) think. “Thank you for listening to us, and please think it through.”

Leah stood up with her and when she stumbled towards the door, Leah reached out to help her but she backed away. “Do you want me to come with you, to-” Leah asked when they were out the door and in the porch.

“No, please don’t. Stay with Zac, enjoy the rest of your morning and please don’t worry. Don’t spend the rest of the day being worried because of me, please. I need you guys to be happy. The world doesn’t stop because of… whatever’s up with me.” Evie gave her a helpless look and she walked away. Leah and Zac shouldn’t be wasting time worrying about her at all, but at least she could try and leave them alone. They shouldn’t worry, they found their happiness in life, they weren’t broken.

She was broken. She deserved to be alone.

-----

Evie continued to walk: near the diner, around the outskirts on the beach, anywhere that she could walk, listlessly and exhausted. Despite the temperature today, she refused to take her jumper off, she refused to expose the scars on her arm, refused to let anyone see how far she’s fallen, how badly she managed things. She didn’t actually feel warm, or uncomfortably hot. She just felt cold.

Despite what she said, she couldn’t bring the energy to think about whether or not she should take therapy. The thing was, it wasn’t her first rodeo with it. Both her and Oscar had seen a counsellor after their dad was killed, as both Hannah and Zac insisted that they need to confront the trauma they had been through before and since coming to the Bay. That time, Evie really felt grateful of the need to do so, to let everything she was feeling then off her chest while giving everyone else their own space to get through it, though she knew now how many problems she caused, even then. She was such a brat then. Wasn’t Zac right when he said back then he regretted bringing her and Oscar with him if it got in the way between him and Hannah (not Oscar though. He shouldn’t have said that about Oscar). Now though… the idea of  exposing the horrible truth about herself to anyone seemed… bad, to be simplistic. She really didn’t know why she should burden a stranger with her awful life or if it would make any difference. It would still hurt, knowing that the one thing she ever wanted to be, being there for her family, a good person, was what she still can’t do right.

She shouldn’t have brought Hunter up, let alone the day after he was sentenced. That must have been so raw for Zac and it wasn’t as though she had a right to talk about who people should love or not. She had been there before…

Two months before…

“Evie, what do you want me to do?” Josh shook his head as they stood arguing near the couch in the living room. “He’s my brother, I’m not going to abandon him.”

“What about Oscar, huh? Or Hannah? Don’t they matter in all of this to you?” Evie threw back, feeling that anger that came from disbelief. Maybe she could understand loyalty to family, but not this. Not when Andy had did the unforgiveable. “Josh, he’s done this so many times, being so… so damned reckless, how can you expect me to forget that?"

“It’s not like that… I’m not going to let him go through this alone, he’s going through hell ever since the explosion…”

She had to stifle a scream at that. Seriously, was Josh expecting her to give sympathy to Andy? “Well maybe he should have thought about that before he decided to down to the caravan park in the first place! I mean… what was he thinking?!”

“It was an accident…” Josh pleaded with her, not for the first time. “He couldn’t have known what was in the caravan park was unstable enough to cause an explosion! You know him, he would never do anything to hurt Hannah or Oscar-”

Evie looked up at him with horrified eyes. “Never did anything? He did! He caused the explosion and left them there-”

“But he wasn’t the only one there,” Josh defended maddingly. “Tank should never have been there in the first place, why doesn’t anyone talk about that, huh? Andy was there trying to stop him, he shouldn’t be blamed for doing so. You and Zac were so quick to forgive Tank for what he did, for what he did to me, but yet you can’t-”

“I never forgiven him,” Evie said quietly, all the fight gone out of her. She sat down against the couch, looking up at Josh’s determined but uncertain face. “I never forgiven Tank for what he did to you, no more than I did to myself.”

“I know… I know, but hating Andy won’t change anything” Josh said, sitting down next to her. “It’s just… it’s hard for all of us.”

Evie nodded, she knew this, she just didn’t like that Josh could still defend Andy. She didn’t think she could ever forgive his brother, but maybe she shouldn’t be forcing Josh to make a choice? She just felt so tired of arguing, tired of fighting, especially with someone she loved. “I just… I don’t want to lose anyone else,” she murmured, tears gathering in her eyes.

“You won’t,” Josh said softly, so deceptively soft, as he wrapped an arm around her and pulled her into his shoulder. “I’m right here, I always will be.”

She had been feeling this… this dark state she was in now long before that argument with Josh. She tried to keep it down, tried to find other things, holding onto what she had (though she felt shame she didn't fight hard enough for Oscar or Hannah). But when she found out Josh lied… it was then she knew; she didn’t deserve good things in her life, not when it got constantly taken away from her.

She didn’t know who she was anymore, and if she did before, she was so wrong. No therapist could give her that. Zac thought she needed to get past the grief? She wasn’t sure if she did, at least properly. She didn’t deserve to grief, she didn’t deserve to make this about her.                                                        

The phone rang and it nearly fell out of her pocket when she jumped. That would be a laugh, wouldn’t it. She couldn’t take care of anyone she cared about, how could she look after a phone? Wearily accepting the call, she brought the phone up to her ear. “Yeah?”.

“Evie, hi, it’s VJ. I’m sorry for interrupting you, but I need your help. It’s Billie, she’s at home and-”

“Is she okay? Is it the baby?” Evie asked, her voice turning a surprisingly urgent tone, hoping that things weren’t wrong. Billie and VJ didn’t deserve that.

“She’s… she’s alright, it’s just cramps. It’s what we were expecting but she has to stay at home and she’s not exactly happy about it. I have to go to work, and she needs company, Phoebe’s off with those Morgan guys and Kat’s going through some hangover, could you…”

“Of course, I can do it,” Evie was quick to reply. The idea of being in the same room with Kat again made her nauseous, but she couldn’t think of that. Billie needed her help, for some reason VJ thought she could help, and if Kat got angry at the sight of her, and let her have another one- then she brought it on herself.

“Thank you so much- I’ll probably be finished by midday, you’ll only need to be there for the morning, it won’t take up most of your day.”

“Um… yeah, right, I’ll talk later.” She waited until VJ hanged up, and then pondered on what he said, about taking up her day. Apart from her poor work, she didn’t exactly had anything to do. Did he think that she didn’t care enough to try and help? Before that probably would have hurt- but now the only thing that came to her mind was how he was right, how the way she’s been wouldn’t exactly endear herself to anyone, no one else’s fault but her own. Still, she promised him, so she went to the farmhouse.

It was moments like this where nothing she did was the right thing. She should be able to help those she still cared about, even though what help she could possibly give would be little to none, but she should still try. But her heart felt so heavy at the shame and grief for Oscar, and Hannah, and her family, that she wanted to collapse, and maybe it was better that she did. It felt like an insult to still be breathing, to be doing anything, when they can’t do anything ever again. She was frozen by indirection, unable to pick one course to take with the certainty that it was best for everyone else. 

-----

“Evie, hi,” Billie smiled softly at Evie as she knocked hesitantly on the door leading to the living room. “VJ called you then?. I’m sorry, we just didn’t know who else to call.”

“Yeah, he just thought you could use the company,” Evie said hesitantly, wishing she appeared more confident. “If you don’t want me to, I can leave and call-”

“No, it’s fine, really,” Billie told her lightly, though her mind felt anything but. She and VJ were expecting stuff like this at least in this stage, but she still hated it feeling this helpless. “Healthwise, I’m fine here, but being stuck up here in the house… I’ll go stark crazy. As long as we’re not taking you away from anything important, I’m really glad that you’re here. Come on, sit down.” Billie patted the spot next to her, and Evie sat down. “How are you feeling after yesterday?”

“It’s nothing, really. I just overreacted, I was worried about Zac,” Evie said, her cheeks flaring with embarrassment and shame. She remembered talking to Billie yesterday, she should have kept quiet, it wasn’t Billie’s problem what was going on with her, the other girl had her own problems. She didn’t get why anyone would be glad to have her here, their unnecessary kindness just made her feel worse, because she let them down before, she was going to do it again. “Anyway, don’t worry, I was doing nothing when VJ called me, how can I help?”.

“Well, my feet are going to be swollen like balloons soon, so I ought to make as much time walking as I can before that happens. You want a glass of water?” Billie light-heartedly suggested. Evie nodded, but when Billie sat up and began walking, she hurried alongside her towards the kitchen. Billie raised her eyebrows but didn’t comment, both getting a glass each. It was then Billie noticed that while Evie held it with her right hand, her left arm hung heavily by her side. “You’ll pulled something there?” When Evie looked back at her, Billie emphasised, “Your arm, I mean”.

“Oh, umm… it’s nothing, seriously, just me being tired.” Evie looked away, already hating herself for letting what she did be too obvious. She shouldn’t be making Billie worried about her, what Billie needed to be was relaxed, worry could cause stress in her circumstances. “Anything else?”

Billie looked at her with dubious eyes, especially when Evie didn’t look at her, but she decided to let it go. “Thanks, but I’m fine. For now at least. My legs cramp nearly every morning when I get up, my cravings go around like crazy. What doesn’t help is that usually the cravings are for the stuff I had to give up, so I end up starving most of the time.”

Evie listened intensively as she filled the glass, feeling her stomach shrinking when Billie started talking about eating, because it bear in mind the one thing she had known she wasn’t good at. Was Billie hinting at something? Should Evie try and get her food, because she wasn’t good at cooking, but she shouldn’t be disappointing Billie like that, why was something that was always a bit of humour suddenly turning things worse, why couldn’t she do better-

“Do you want me to… make you something? Or-”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not up for it after breakfast. Nearly everything I eat makes me want to vomit immediately afterwards.” Billie gave a little chuckle. She felt a bit self-conscious complaining, she didn’t want to sound so needy, but VJ was helping her through it. During this pregnancy she had, and will continue to have, a lot of things to vent about, and VJ was always there to help her through it while assuring her that nothing about it was selfish of her. Sometimes she had trouble believing it, but she was still glad to be able to get this frustration off her chest in a way that didn’t upset VJ. He was really too sweet. She finished filling her glass and was walking back, only for the cramp in her right knee to work up, sending a sharp pain across her ankle and almost causing her to spill the glass onto the ground. Biting back a groan, she still felt unbelievably frustrated that sometimes, especially in this state, her body worked against her.

“Hey, you alright?” Evie immediately rushed to her side, concern washing over her exhausted state. “Here, let me help-”

“I got it, don’t worry,” Billie quickly reassured her, refusing her help. Even though she really liked the idea of people looking after her, she still had a hatred for looking vulnerable. She could look after herself, and letting herself slide into looking vulnerable… brought up bad memories. Memories she wished she could lock away and forget. “Let’s sit down.”

“Are you sure? Maybe I can-”

“Evie, I’m fine. I’m not completely helpless,” Billie snapped, her irritation getting the better of her. She immediately regretted it the moment it left her mouth, even though she knew she hated people thinking she was an invalid. She had spent years before coming to the Bay relying on herself, she could get through this fine. Embarrassed, she looked over to Evie, who had shrunk in on herself, keeping her glance on the floor and ashamed. “I’m sorry, I-”

“No, don’t apologise,” Evie was quick to say, still not looking at the older girl. She messed up again, she pushed too far. She should have known better than most that someone doesn’t want to be coddled, she should have taken care of Billie properly. “It’s my fault, I should have realised you could look after yourself.”

“It’s not that, it’s…” Billie sighed in frustration before sitting down on the couch. She didn’t like feeling insecure about her body, and she tried not to, but that was an unexpected mental side-effect of her own pregnancy, she guessed. She spends nearly every morning now poking at her producing stomach at the mirror, as if poking at it would make it go away. “I guess I’m still getting use to the fact that my body’s not exactly at it’s prime right now, and I hate the idea of others doing stuff for me, when I can do it by myself, no matter what you or VJ or anyone else thinks. I know they care, but I don’t want to be left useless. I know you were just trying to help, but… I need to still do stuff on my own, otherwise…”

“I get it, I totally do,” Evie nodded because she really did. People always had trouble with creating the boundary between properly looking after someone and not smothering them with that care. She had trouble with it before. That still didn’t mean she could have tried harder, it was no excuse. Billie looked so tired and so fed up, and Evie was just so sorry, and that thought made her eyes glisten.

Oh great, here I am, turning on the waterworks.

Billie shrugged tiredly, giving a tired smile at Evie, because she knew she was trying to help, but sometimes all those kind words can just seem as platitudes, even if the people who say them mean every word. Then Evie spoke again, still not looking directly at her, “Do you want me to call someone else, someone who could look after you better-”

“No, don’t do that. It’s just… just try and let me do things on my own, it’ll help me more than anything else.” Billie reassured her. She knew when she had to ask for help, but that didn’t mean all the time, though sometimes she felt the ridiculous bit of guilt of having to ask. “Anyways, sit down with me, let’s find something to watch.”

“Okay,” Evie said, still feeling that guilt. Billie may told her to stay, but that was because there was no one else to call, which sounded weird, but Evie didn’t know why she would want her to stay. When she tried to help, she quickly turned to overbearing and that was not what Billie needed.

This is the kind of thing that made her wonder what therapy would actually do to help. If she can’t do the little things properly, how was she expected to get a handle of the big things?

-----

Evie felt as she was frozen as she sat down, trying to hide her trembling hands that were curled into fists from Billie sitting next to her. They came to an uneasy routine: Billie will look at her more than two seconds before she’d get up to get something and Evie will know to let her do it. Other times Billie will hesitantly ask her to get something and Evie will have jumped off the couch before Billie will have finished the sentence to get it. Most of the time, they sat in silence as they flicked through the channels, sometimes sticking on one for a while. To be honest, Evie didn’t really thought she liked any of what was on and the brightness from the TV made her want to shut her eyes and keep them close for God knows how long, but she didn’t want to be a bore or a drama queen because Billie seemed to enjoy at least some of them. She probably would have before asked questions about how the kid’s doing, whether or not they found the gender, but she refrained, thinking they’re probably too personal and besides it was none of her business. She tried to bring up conversation as she saw the ad for the next Game of Thrones episode flash across the tv. “So what do you think about the season so far?”

Billie snorted. “I only started watching the show earlier this year, started from Season 1 onwards. Honestly, I prefer the books, much more character than what they’ve written on screen. Anyway, I can’t decide on any of these. What do you want to watch?”

Evie had to think about it before she answered, and when she did, she realised she hadn’t exactly been following the shows she used to enjoy anymore. It just… didn’t really contain the same thrill and excitement she usually got when watching them, that thrill when waiting for the next week to get the next episode. “I… um, I guess I haven’t watched much of it in a while. Must have lost tracked. I’m sorry, should-”

“It’s fine, you don’t have to do anything.” Billie offered with a sympathetic smile. Evie wished she could respond with a smile of her own, she really did, but all she did was turned away from her, trying to hide how much her face was contorting to not let her emotions show. Damnit, why did the conversation always went back to her, why did she let it? This was about making sure Billie was alright.

She turned back to give Billie an embarrassed attempt of a shrug to imply agreement before settling back on the couch to a degree that gave the impression she was trying to relax, but not enough in case that wasn’t what she should do.

“So, how’s work going?” Billie asked lightly, trying to ease Evie to make her more comfortable.

 “Yeah, it’s going fine,” Evie said, trying to clear the thought of Zac letting her go to make sure she didn’t complain, not as if she had anything to complain about. “Zac was really good to give it to me. Too good.”

“He really cares about you, and he knows you’re doing a good job. Zac knows the right people to give chances to,” Billie said with certainty, remembering Evie’s worries from yesterday and hope that she can assuage them.

Evie’s nodded in a sign of thanks towards Billie, but she didn’t know if she could believe that. How could Zac, someone who always so patient, so kind, someone who always had the answers, believe in someone like her? She was useless, incapable, selfish, reckless-

“Anyway, I wish I was back at work at the gym.” Billie sighed, bringing Evie back to where she was.

“Do you enjoy it? Sorry, that was a stupid question, I meant- was it something you always wanted to do?”

“Honestly, yeah. I’ve always enjoyed exercise, and it felt good to be in charge of it, instead of cooped up here, worrying out of my mind of the state of it when I get back,” Billie sighed and smiled at the same time and Evie nodded, though she wished she could smile back, or at least force a smile. She hadn’t been to the gym in ages, always too exhausted to do anything there.

“I’m sure it will be. What do you want to do now?” Evie asked her, to which Billie pursed her lips.

“Well, usually I do 30 minutes of slow running, but I think I might wait until the afternoon to do that,” she replied, her hands softly tracing over her stomach. She wondered about the child inside her. The Gender ultrasound was coming up soon. She always wanted a girl, but would she be upset if it was a boy? Would she be able to raise him right? Would… would her kid end up like him? Internally shuddering at that reminder, she looked over to Evie, and thought she never saw someone so unsmiling and pale. She looked like she was a few seconds away from getting sick. Billie liked Evie, but she didn’t know if she should be around her if she was sick, she can’t let anything risk her pregnancy. She thought about what she was going to say first, though, to make sure that she wouldn’t hurt Evie’s feelings. “Evie, listen, if you want to go, VJ will probably be back soon, and there’s not much else to do here-”

“Oh, uh, right…” Evie could see Billie realised she wasn’t good company, at all, and that was fine, Billie shouldn’t be focusing on her, she ought to be focusing on VJ and the kid, between 6-5 months away. “If you want me to go, I get it, it’s totally fine, I… I can call someone-”

“What? No, no, that’s not what I meant. There’s just you’ll probably have better things to do than look after me. Maybe go hang out with Matt or-”

Evie was trying really hard not to cry at the mention of Matt. He wouldn’t want to hang out with her after yesterday, she hurt him so badly. He probably didn’t want to hang out with her before, just did it for some obligation he didn’t owe her. Also, she must have given Billie the impression she’d rather be anywhere else but here, she couldn’t even be supportive. She just realised she was still sitting, should she be standing up. “It’s not that, I’m… I’m glad to help you, but-”

A loud bang from the other room cut her off as her body instantly tensed, her fists folding into herself, her insides crawling and the bang repeating over and over again in her head. Her throat felt like it was constricting into itself and her breath was starting to get choppy. Billie had looked startled as well, before the look faded away and she stood up with a resigned sigh. “Kat,” she murmured. “She was drinking last night… Phoebe said she quit her job, so I guess this must have been expected.” She turned over to Evie, and… the other girl looked kind of shocked and breathless, her eyes had glazed over. Billie had bent down to look at her before Evie looked up at her and shook her head, her eyes focusing on her. “’m fine,” Evie said. “Just shocked.”

Billie didn’t believe that. That reaction really seemed too extreme for something than just shock, something else was going on. “Okay,” Billie said, wondering if she should call Leah or Zac, thinking about how she raised the alarm with the older woman yesterday. She felt it was the right thing to do, but she didn’t know how Evie would react to that, so she kept quiet. She walked away to see the state Kat must be in now that she had woke up.

Evie remained where she was, distantly hearing the heavy sound of her breath and hating it for being so noisy, so attention-sinking, why did she had to be such a baby about this? Why was she constantly jumping at every loud noise like it was the end of the world?

Several weeks before…

Evie walked with thin determination in her posture to hide despair and anger. They were not a good combination but she couldn’t care, they were the only things that allowed her to move. She made her way quietly through the people sitting at the surf club, gave an absent nod towards John when he caught sight of her, and was heading towards the gym, hoping to find someway to get that aggression out of her system. After everything that happened, it was unavoidable, after her life was ruined and she was doing her best to hide how hard it was to everyone else for their sakes, she didn’t know how else-

The clang of something loud and metal froze her in her tracks and suddenly her vision went completely black. It was as if someone had come up upon her from behind and hit her in the back of the head. When her eyes reopened, nothing seemed right, blurred and unfocused. Her breathing fastening to the point that if she closed her mouth, she’d probably lose all breath. Her hands trembled, and her gym bag fell to the ground. She found herself moving, as if someone else was directing her, and moving towards the side as she struggled to figure out what happened. It didn’t feel right. It felt like trouble, it felt like danger-

She didn’t knew how long it took, maybe five minutes, but when her vision cleared, she remembered where she was, tucked in the corner of the gym door. Looking around her, that part of the building meant most people were unable to see her, apart from a staff member cleaning a table nearby and giving her an odd look. She felt her muscles trying to regain control, trying to move, to do something, and when she picked up the bag, she walked into the gym. She saw two men picking up gym equipment; one of the weights fell off of the rack it was set on, that must have been the clang she heard, the clang that shut her down. She felt her face burning with embarrassment and quickly walked away. What happened?

That wasn’t the first time it had happened, but it didn’t make it any less embarrassing, even if it mainly happened in private. Her breathing was returning to her, but it was still heavy, like just another gulp of breath will cause her to shatter. She couldn’t shatter, she couldn’t.

It was only at the sound of voices did she stood up automatically, as if preparing to flee if needed. Kat walked into the kitchen heading straight for the sink with Billie right behind her.

“You need something that doesn’t have alcohol in it,” Billie softly told Kat as she guided her towards the counter. “You feeling better?”

“Thanks Billie.” Kat groaned as she grabbed a glass. Billie turned on the tap and Kat directed her glass under it, listening to the sound of the water filling it even as her head pounded under the headache her hangover gave her. Seemed like such a good idea at the time, but she should have realised by now her and drink were not old friends. She just had so much anger and guilt (guilt she pretended wasn’t there but as time went on it was harder to pretend she didn’t bring about her own downfall), that she needed to drown her sorrows away.

“You sure you don’t want to go get some fresh air?” Billie asked honestly, though wondering if it was wise to send her friend out the door in a bad state.

“Nah, the only thing I want to do right now is lie on the couch,” Kat told her as she moved away from the sink. Her eyes were still blearily but they widened when she saw the last person she expected to see here. “Oh, you’re here,” Kat said the first thing coming into her head, not in the mood to deal with her right now. She remembered that they argued last night, but not about what. She was just feeling so angry that her entire career, everything that she worked so hard for, all of it went down the drain, leaving her with nothing but justifications. 

“Yeah, I am,” Evie replied bluntly, trying to avoid giving into the growing apprehension and running out the door, but part of her felt she should and as a result she ended up backing near the corner, twisting the hem of her jumper violently.

Billie kept looking back and forward between them, noticing the heavy tension between the two women. She had no idea of what was going on. “Um, Evie volunteered to keep me company for the morning, that’s all. Why, is that a problem?”

Kat’s eyes had squinted at Evie with something that maybe was suspicion or judgement, but looking back at Billie, she softened and shrug her shoulders. “No problem here, just as long as you’re fine with it.”

“Yeah, of course I am,” Billie reassured her.

“Yeah, I’m gonna go get dressed,” Kat said, patting Billie’s shoulder as Billie gave the taller woman an exasperated smile. The former cop slowly walked back out the door she came, but before she did, she looked back at Evie and looked like she was going to say something but apparently thought better and continued walking.

Evie watched her leave and felt her mind wavering. What did Billie say, Kat quit her job? She didn’t know what to make of that and even though it was probably wrong, she couldn’t exactly find it in herself to get much sympathy for Kat, she couldn’t help but wonder whether or not it was because of what happened with Josh.

“Is everything alright, between you two?” Billie asked tentatively, now sitting down at the table. Evie looked back at her and automatically nodded, only realising too late that it obviously wasn’t and Billie was going to call her out on it.

“Well… I ran into her last night and I… I had a lot going on and I got her angry,” she admitted, knowing the truth was more complicated, but she shouldn’t bring any of that up, she’d talk enough about herself. “Don’t worry about it Billie, it’s between me and Kat.”

“Okay, just be careful in the future. Ash told me that dealing with a drunk Kat is like trying to fighting a lion.” Billie said, deciding not to make a big deal out it. Looking at Evie now, who still looked very hesitant, and decided it’d be best if she stayed here. “Listen, I’m almost 100% sure that somewhere here Phoebe’s got a pack of cards to play with-”

“I’m home!” VJ’s loud voice echoed through the hall. Evie tried to keep a straight face, even though her eyes bulged for a split second at how loud it was. He walked into the living room, smiling brightly at Billie before looking towards Evie. “Hey, how’s everything here,”

“Even better with you here,” Billie answered with a grin, as VJ walked up to her and kissed her warmly. “Anyway, me and Evie were just about to get a game-”

“No I should go,” Evie said. “VJ’s here now, you don’t need me to do anything.”

“Oh…uh, okay,” Billie’s smile shrunk, but VJ seemed oblivious to Evie’s mood. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, thanks anyway, though. I’ll see you later,” Evie said, edging towards the door before almost bolting out. She heard Billie calling after her, but she didn't stop. She tried to enjoy today with Billie, to try and help her, but she didn’t know if she could just stay. That was the type of stuff normal people would do, and she didn’t know if she could, not with all the negativity inside her, the feeling that made her want to hurt herself predominant among them. How could she go around pretending to be like that, all the while wishing it was Oscar here instead of her?

-----

Zac walked into the diner, glad to get out of the stuffy classrooms that were part of his daily routine. He was glad to be given the distraction, clear his mind away from everything that was troubling him, though he knew he had to give those thoughts some time to work through them. Unfortunately, Evie's situation was among the things that were troubling him. He really hoped she was considering at least trying going to therapy, to be given the chance to confront everything that happened. She needed to accept that she didn’t had to be totally fine or perfect, she just needed to be honest. 

“Hey there,” Zac said as he approached Leah near the counter, smiling gamely.

“Hey yourself,” Leah smiled back at him, her smile saying she knew he was worried. She reached out and rubbed his arm. “She’ll come around.”

“I just hope so,” Zac replied honestly. “Sometimes I just wonder whether or not I should have done something earlier.”

“We thought just it would be good to give her space. That wasn’t wrong then, but we’re trying to help her now.”

“Well, as long as she accepts it. I… I know she thinks she has to be fine, for us, but I don’t get why she thinks she has to keep any of it from us. I know maybe it’s difficult to speak about emotional stuff with family… She’s an adult, I know, but we were right to do this, aren’t we? We can’t let her suffer.”

“Absolutely. But what… She’s scared, Zac. We can both see that, what if she doesn’t want to do it? We can’t let her be stuck where she is, but if she won’t listen to us…” Leah trailed off, but she could see Zac knew what she meant. If Evie can’t hear, like, really hear what they’re saying, then nothing they would say would matter.

“I don’t know,” Zac said. He wanted to respect Evie, but he didn’t know if she was making the right decisions right now. It wasn’t her fault, but did it mean he ought to step in, make the decision by his own for her sake? Nadia told him it was important that Evie would be willing to make this step, and he hated the idea of having to step in, but he felt like he had no choice. Evie must know  better than most what she’s feeling, but what if she wasn’t as capable as she, or they, thought she was at the moment? Mental health had repeatedly been given a bad name over the years, and that made it even more difficult for people to actually be open about it, but it still didn’t made sense that Evie wouldn’t be open about her own health with them. Did she think they would judge her? It hurt Zac that she would think that. 

He leaned over to kiss Leah’s forehead, and smiled gratefully at her before asking for a coffee. While waiting, he grabbed a newspaper and went outside near the steps to read it. He didn’t feel like sitting down at one of the tables, not when there were so many thoughts in his head. He picked up the paper and began reading through it, only to inhale sharply when he saw the image of Hunter being led out of the courthouse straight in his vision. He quickly turned the page. He still couldn’t get his head around not seeing his son outside of prison for possibly 20 years, especially since he had only so recently came to Zac’s life. No matter what he thought, no matter what he told Evie or Leah or anyone else, he didn’t really know where he could go with Hunter anymore. He just felt sad that Hunter kept it from him, and that he lost another member of his family. 

“You alright mate?” Zac turned around to see Chris standing behind him, coffee in hand.

“Um, yeah, thanks, Chris,” Zac replied, smiling tiredly at him as Chris handed him his coffee. “Just things are a bit difficult at home.”

“Anything I can do to help?” Chris asked.

Zac looked over to Chris as he joined the older man outside. Zac rested his arms against the newspaper on the landing, thinking of telling Chris thanks but no, he could look after it, but when Zac thought about it, he felt he needed some sort of acknowledgement about what to do from someone else. “There’s someone who… I helped, but they didn’t want to accept the help. I wanted to respect their decision, but I don’t know if they’re the right headspace to make a decision for themselves.”

“What would you usually do?” Chris asked, feeling confused as to why Zac would keep the identity unknown- especially in a small town, but respected his decision.

Zac snorted. “Well, usually, I would convince the people who loves this person that if they believe this is the right decision to do, they ought to make that decision. But… this time I’m the one who has to wonder if making the decision for them was the right thing to do. And when it’s someone I love… the lines are no longer clear,” Zac said, contemplating how difficult it was, and knowing the usual advice he would give just seemed useless. He of course, knew that just doing sessions won’t automatically solve the problem. He knew better than to hope for that, but it was the first step. 

“Oh, I see,” Chris said before reluctantly adding. “Okay, I’m actually not sure what to say. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Zac assured him. “I don’t know what to do either.” Especially considering how he noticed and was now thinking of was how contradictory Evie’s words were. One point she’d be telling him there was nothing wrong with her, and the next she’d say she couldn’t be fixed. It was as if even she didn’t know what she could tell him. As Chris patted him on the shoulder silently as he left Zac to think, Zac was forced to try and think about something that really made him worry, but it wouldn’t leave him alone: that she said she thought she ruined ‘everything’. He kept trying to figure out why she would say that and always ended up with nothing. She hasn't done anything that could even compare to what Josh or Hunter did, so it really didn't made sense. Because no matter what she said, he knew, even during when they first met, that there was more to Evie than her flaws. She had strong moral values, especially for family, and had one of the biggest hearts he knew, and fiercely independent. 

Why did Evie feel she needed to hide all of this? Why did she want to handle this on her own? Why did she need to be alone?

----

Eventually, Evie was back in her old hiding place. With apparently no job for her to do, and since it wasn’t right for her to go home when she didn’t have an answer yet, to what they suggested, she ended up sitting down on the hard edges of the rocks, wishing she could feel how uncomfortable it was to sit there, but she didn’t.

Evie was left to think about therapy. She knew from her previous experience it wasn’t like it was shown on the TV, people looking at you like some animal at the zoo and taking notes. It was just someone to talk to, someone to try and help you figure out what you’re feeling but that didn’t fill her with confidence. The circumstances were different this time, so much different, and even if it wasn’t, her eyes were open now. She didn’t know why talking would do anything that could help the situation, and she didn’t know why it should be help for her, why would anyone want to help her? She wasn’t good at talking, not the way she used to, and when she thought back, of all the cruel, petty things she said whenever she was angry in her life, she doubted if she was ever good at it, only able to convince herself of such until she no longer could. Whatever she would hope to say to this Nadia, it would come out the wrong way, it would mislead her, and that wouldn’t help her.

She was wrong to hide from them, they ought to know the truth about her, but she didn't want to bring them down with her problems, it was why she kept avoiding them for long periods of time, she didn't want to make this about herself. That left her with no choice... didn't it? 

Zac was right about one thing, though; they can’t keep looking over their shoulder be worrying about them, they had their own lives too, and she had done a terrible job of keeping them out of it. Zac, Leah, Matt, they all tried to cheer her up, they tried to get her to eat, they offered to hang out, even though they all had so much better things to do, but nothing changed, she couldn’t bring herself to do be good for them, she just ends up piling on more crap for them to deal with, but what else could she do?

You know, you know what else you can do.

And that was the thing, she did know. That was the goddamn thing. That thought had lingered and never went away, she never had the strength to make it disappear. She knew any moment that that thought could overcome her. Then she’d be done.

Was that why she ended up here? Ended up at such a place, alone?

She can’t see beyond the deep, blue colour of the water, the white foam that appeared at the top of the waves before it went crashing down, spreading into the water and then disappearing. Evie lifted her feet, letting her toes wash over the water, wishing that watching it, and feeling how cold it was could bring her some sense of calm. It didn’t, instead it only seemed to mock her, something that she remembered as relaxing now only intensified how uncertain and how paralysed she felt. She felt herself rising and took a step forward.

It would be so easy, wouldn’t it? Easy to walk into that water, keep walking until she ends up floating, floating away until the water filled her nose, her mouth, and just pure oblivion.

Another step forward.

Evie wasn’t religious, she never really was, but she believed that there was something… something after life, something waiting after the switch turned off. Would it be like that for her, if she did it? Would Oscar be there? Would he wait for her? Would he- he-

Another step forward and now the water was just below her knees.

Evie felt tears down her cheeks in gallons at that thought, that thought that invaded her mind like some sick virus, but… would he even want to see her?

Go on. Do it.

Despite the tears, she knew she wasn’t crying, her body so motionless that it didn’t mean anything. She didn’t even shake but she didn’t move. She couldn’t. Maybe five, ten minutes passed, but the thought was no longer prominent in Evie’s mind. The thought wouldn’t go away though, it would always linger in the dark corner of her mind, always waiting to strike.

What do you think? That you have something to live for? That they want you to get better? You can’t even look after yourself, how can you look after any of them?

So she should just walk ahead, she should be noble, she should be brave for once in her life to do the right thing. Then why couldn’t she? Was it because the thought of dying was too easy, an end to her pain. It was what she thought so, but she was so exhausted of all of it, so tired, that maybe the easy way out won’t be so bad. She can't keep wasting their time and ought to leave, it wasn't fair to them but she just couldn’t force herself to keep walking, and that made her hate herself more. More than any human being should.

------

When Zac entered her room, Evie was lying on her bed, on her side staring at the floor. He was grateful at least she was home early. All those late nights she came in, he was worried sick about where she could be. After everything that happened, maybe he was getting paranoid, but that fear from his gut was always present, especially with the fear that something could happen to her. She always came back though, so he held onto hope. 

“Is it okay if I sit down with you?”

Evie looked up slowly at him, then looked down again, unable to look him in the eye. Zac took that for a yes and sat down on the edge of the bed. He brought a plate of food- a sandwich, a few fish fingers, and a bag of potato chips- in case. “You want to something to eat? Alf said you had some toast before going upstairs.”

She sighed and said inaudible words before noticing Zac couldn’t hear her. She began stumbling on her words before Zac began to assure her. “It’s alright, you don’t have to.”

Evie heard him, but didn’t believe him. She ought to have just accepted it, it wasn’t right that they made this food for her and she wasn’t grateful. She couldn’t stomach food. She ate this morning to avoid suspicion but the thought of eating was just another thing that she took for granted, another thing that she shouldn’t be allowed to do.

“We missed you at school today,” Zac said encouragingly, hoping that will get a reaction out of her. “We all thought you have a lot of potential, and they were wondering when you’ll be back. Hopefully soon.”

Evie didn’t so much as looked up, her fingernails picking at the bedsheets. She knew that wasn’t true. She was doing a poor job, no one would want her back.

Zac sighed, and brought his hand up to where hers was, though now he was careful not to touch her unless she wanted to. “Have you thought about… what we talked about?”

Evie’s hand gripped the sheets harder, her face suddenly frightened. Zac felt immediately heartbroken, why would she ever had to be afraid of him. “Evie, it’s fine if you haven’t. This… this isn’t an easy decision to do, but you’ve done this before, you know there’s no one would judge you, that’s not how it works. We’ve all been through a lot so we know how hard it is, and we won’t force you to accept this. I know you don't want us to worry about it, but... we are, that hasn't changed.”

Evie gulped deeply before speaking for the first time, her voice extremely raspy and slow. “I just don’t know if even if I agree… nothing will change, nothing will make this easier for you guys.”

“Evie, this isn’t about us. I know you’ve been putting on a brave face to deal with all of this, to make it look like you’re handling it, you’ve been doing your best, I know that, but there… there’s no shame in admitting you’re struggling, or reaching out for help. It’s going to be a long process, none of us will be able to rush it. But…you’re a grown woman now. If you want us to respect your decisions, then you need to take responsibility for yourself.” Anxiety was bubbling in his chest, because right now he was hoping that she knew he wasn’t talking about blame: the responsibility in this sense meant looking after herself.

Evie heard all of Zac’s speech and knew he probably believed what he was saying, probably said to who knows how many other people, but he was wrong: there was a shame in her doing so. She failed all of them and she wished she could just say so frankly, but she could never do it. Maybe it was because she didn’t want to be given pity, or maybe because the fact was so horrifying she couldn’t bring herself to say it. And a long process? That was too long, too long for anyone to be dealing with this. She can’t keep on living like this.

She spoke again, that same raspy voice she always had. “You were right… You can’t keep looking after me being worried all the time. It’s not fair to you.”

“So will you go?” Zac asked, really fighting the urge to pull her into a hug.

There was silence for who knew how long and Evie still wouldn’t look at him but she nodded. He already booked the appointment anyway, so there’s no point in getting it cancelled just because she didn’t want to talk. He'd already done too much- At least it will get him to stop worrying about her. Maybe this will make him realise to forget about her, once he realised (why hasn't he already?) that there was something seriously wrong with her. Then it would be easy for her to do whatever she had to do. 

“Okay fine, you already got the appointment, I might as well go to it.”

Zac sighed, trying to hide his frustration that she didn’t get the point of this. This wasn’t about what he or Leah wanted. He knew therapy wasn’t for everyone, but if she was going to try it, she ought to do it because she thought it could help, not to please anyone else. “Evie-”

“Just go, Zac. I’ll do it, okay? Just don’t waste your time.” Evie’s jaw was clenched tightly as she refused to look at him tried not to break down. 

“Just listen to me-”

“Zac, please.”

Zac looked down at her with despair and shook his head, wishing she was actually hearing him. “You want to go down to dinner?”

Evie shook her head, but didn’t give any answer beyond that. Zac knew she was probably drained after talking today, and he didn’t want to push her anymore than he did. That didn’t stop the wave of helplessness he felt looking at her like this, seeing her look so… so frail, it terrified him. He hated the idea of her going through this alone. He reached out and placed the plate onto the table near the window. “Please eat and get some rest, okay. I… I may not know how to help you right now, but I will find a way, I promise you, Evie, we need you.”

Evie closed her eyes as she heard him leave, not knowing what she could say to make any of this better. She hated that he felt guilty or worried, he didn't do anything wrong. She was also fed up of not able to do anything right, not even accepting this, because apparently he was still upset about it. She didn't know what to do, she'd do anything to make them happy, but she was not their responsibility. Why did they even bother, if even doing this won’t make them happy? Why was she even bothering? Dammit, why didn’t they just give up?

She didn't believe him. He didn't mean it. No one needed her. 

Next chapter, off to therapy. 

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Leah and Zac handled things as well as they could. I really thought Evelyn was going to attempt suicide for a moment there. Time will tell if therapy will help her...

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On 03/03/2021 at 00:47, Red Ranger 1 said:

Leah and Zac handled things as well as they could. I really thought Evelyn was going to attempt suicide for a moment there. Time will tell if therapy will help her...

Thanks Red! I was conflicted on how to approach this, because as much as I wanted to depict Evie making the choice to go to therapy for herself, without being prompted, I knew given her mental state, it would be unrealistic for her to do so at this time in the story. So Zac and Leah made the appointment (Though I guess Evie made the final choice, but still, she does it for them, not for herself...). 

Writing Leah and Zac was also really hard. They both love Evie, they want her to be well, they want to help her, and the only reason they're frustrated is because they feel helpless in this situation. However, what doesn't change is that they still don't know the full extent of what Evie is going through right now, and sometimes they make the wrong assumptions because they're going with what they would expect (i.e. bottling everything down or turning to alcohol). Also, while Evie has nothing to feel guilty about regarding Josh, her past mistakes or her family, and while she does try and do things right for other people, she isn't perfect. She is going to get angry, she is going to slip up, and it's okay, but she's got to learn how to deal with these emotions properly. No one is perfect, and they're all struggling on how to deal with everything going on. 

Yeah, that moment got really tense there! I guess I wanted to show that while people who suffer from depression will experience the emotions of helplessness and self-loathing, they won't always want to take their own life or feel like they could. Evie here is going through the worst of times (and has been for a while) and sees no worth in herself, yet she cannot do it. And while obviously that's a good thing, that she didn't only increase her self-hatred. Writing that was very difficult and I was sorry that I had to, but what she is feeling right now is unfortunately familiar to those who suffer from it in real life.

Again, therapy is not going to immediately solve everything and it will still be an uphill battle for her to realise she is worth saving, and for her family and friends to break her out of that cycle, but as the story continues, I'm going to use it to help Evie understand what's going on with her in a more beneficial way. I know therapy isn't for everyone and I respect that, but from my personal experiences, I found it extremely helpful. 

Also on a personal note, I felt weird writing about Zac's thoughts regarding Hunter, because Hunter's not a good kid, and Zac realises that and that what he did is too serious for people to forgive, but that still doesn't mean he's irredeemable, and Zac would still want to try and put him on the right path before it's too late. There's also some other emotions impacting his judgement, but we'll get to that later.

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On an addition to my previous comment above, just to make it clear in case anyone's getting the wrong impression, Evie also shouldn't feel guilty about her past mistakes, not when she has matured from them, and everyone else knows that, but that doesn't mean right now it won't affect her. I just wanted to make that clear.

Also, I also wants to say thanks again for everyone being so patient in waiting between chapters. College online is a nightmare and I have so many things to do in the week, but I promise that the next chapter will be up soon, thank you. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
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Thanks again for waiting, and again, please look after yourself if you're going to read this. This is really heavy material, I don't want to upset anyone. Same Warnings still apply, please look at them. 

Chapter 12

So… she knew what she was going to do today. She had thought of nothing else, how she'd be there for three sessions over the coming weeks, and she thought about whether or not she still should do it, what she should talk about. She knew she should be honest, she shouldn’t lie, but… how could she even begin to explain what was wrong with her? How could she take every single problem, every single thought and force it into words? How could she explain the confusing feelings that took control everytime she cut herself: a wave of shame, knowing that it was wrong, and a bitter reminder that whatever pain came her way, she deserved it, whether or not it gave her control. That thought used to be excruciating, but overtime… it was simple to think it.

She rolled onto her side, wincing a bit as she got up from her bed. She didn’t sleep, so restless at the thought of therapy, which wasn’t helped by every negative thought in her shrieked in anger at her for agreeing to do this, for trying to help herself, so it was just another sleepless night for her. Since she didn’t have any work today, she just laid there like she did every other morning. It was always just the same, and all that does is force her to remember that it can’t, she can’t keep going on like this?

She was past trying to stop giving the question of why she was still here oxygen to breath, so she just got dressed, didn’t even bother to brush her hair or brush her teeth (if someone was to ask her, she wouldn’t remember when was the last time she did any of that) and walked downstairs. Well, actually… more limped downstairs. She wished it wasn’t as noticeable as it felt.

She came downstairs and saw Zac standing near the kitchen. She felt really confused, because unless she read her clock wrong, it was nearly 10 o’clock. Meaning he should really be at work right now. “Zac, um… good morning.”

“Good morning,” Zac gently replied, his face looking very soft as he looked at her. “How are you feeling? You were up there for a while?”

Evie looked down at her feet, already feeling embarrassed. “Yeah, I’m… I was just wondering about today. Anyway, what are you doing here?”

“I have the morning off, I’m not expected until midday. Even teachers need a break on days that aren’t Mondays, eh?”

It was a poor joke, and Evie only gave him a brief half-smile, but it was still something, and he appreciated how much effort she put into that half-smile. If only a joke was enough to move all her tension away.

However, the slim light atmosphere evaporated when Zac said. “So, if you want, I can…”

“Zac, don’t worry, I can go by myself.” Evie was already dreading today, and she was tired of rehashing old conversations again and again. He offered to accompany her to therapy but she refused. If she was going to be forced into doing this, then she was not going to let Zac spend his day accompanying her and worrying. “I promised you I… I was going to do try, but I want to do it on my own.”

“Okay, I know we already talked about it, but I just wanted to make sure.” Zac told her. He knew he had brought it up before and it was probably coming across more as being over-bearing, but he knew that despite Evie making the choice to try out therapy, he thought he should come along just in case she needed the support. He knew this would be hard for her, to be confronted with the trauma she went through, even if she pretended that it wasn’t there to keep going. It wasn’t fair for any of this to be happening to her, and anything he can do to make it easier for her, he’d do it.

“It’ll be easier for me if I do this on my own. I don’t… I don’t need you there holding my hand.” Evie had to bit her lip at how harsh that sounded. The truth was, the thought occurred to her that she would have preferred it if he did come along with her, maybe for the sake of helping her understand what she had to say, maybe because she didn’t want to do this alone, but she didn’t want that. She didn’t need that, she had to look after herself. Besides, the constant worry was not what Zac or anyone else needed, and that they still were was making her feel more guilty, and she was having enough trouble handling the guilt she already had. “You have a busy day today, just focus on that, okay?”

“You know I’m going to be worried right? It’s okay to be nervous about it, or if you have trouble handling-,” Zac pointed out.

“I can handle it,” Evie insisted, her voice now a flat and bitter tone. She loved Zac, but she really didn’t get him. Before he talked about her being a grown woman, and should be taking responsibility, now he was acting like she was still a kid afraid of going to the dentist. Though to be honest, she may actually prefer a trip to the dentist compared to this. She still didn’t like this, especially when it seemed to her like a confirmation to everyone else that they thought there was something wrong with her, but then again, they weren’t wrong about that. “Zac, thank you, but I want to do this on my own.”

“Okay,” Zac said, though he didn’t have to like it. He wondered if she was annoyed at him, annoyed for doing this because she felt she didn’t need it. He tried to get a hold on her the whole weekend, just to see if she was any more comfortable with the idea of therapy, but he got nothing from her. Whenever she took the opportunity to get out of the house, she took it, and she didn’t join them for dinner anymore. Everyone was left missing her absence, but nothing they could do could convince her to stay around. Still, Zac knew this was going to be a long process, and he knew helping Evie through her issues wasn’t going to be an easy one. He just wished she didn’t avoid them like this, it was as if she didn’t live here anymore. All of her losses were dictating her life, creating this bubble between her and the rest of the world. He knows that can usually happen to people suffering with grief (especially for Oscar... even now it was hard to remember he was gone, it must be unimaginable for her), but it didn’t change how hard it was to see it happen to her, seeing her so thin and vacant. He gave her time before, but enough was enough.

But maybe he was being too harsh. He knew that taking this step was uncomfortable for her, and even though she didn’t like it, she still agreed to do it, because she had the final say in this. Zac may have talked to Nadia about the appointment but if Evie didn’t want to, they wouldn’t have done it. But he was there when she called Nadia yesterday, asking for the appointment. She made the choice to do it because hopefully deep down, she realised this could help her, and he was proud of her for that. Despites concerns about her mental state, it didn't mean he thought she was unstable or anything like that, that's not what this was about. He knew she could make choices for herself, even though some decisions were heavily affected by what she’s been through. However, he didn’t want her to feel she was being forced into it, all he wanted to do was to break that bubble so she’d know she wasn’t alone, and she can’t keep it all to herself. He tried to make her feel more at ease with this decision, but maybe all he succeeded in doing was pushing her further away. When he asked her about it, she assured him he didn’t, but… as much as he didn’t want to confirm it, he didn’t believe her. There was something in her eyes, a lingering look that spoke of guilt and anger. “I just… I’m just tired of being worried.” Zac admitted honestly, because he was. He was tired of being worried whenever he saw her looking so blankly, or when she was returning late in the evening.

“I know you are, I don’t want you to be, I didn’t…” Evie trailed off, because she didn’t meant to make him worry but she can’t say it, because she didn’t want to force him to forgive her. Before she could find a way to finish the sentence, Zac was talking again.

“Listen, I’m proud of you to take this step, I know you can get through this. Just promise me you’ll call if you need me, okay?”

Evie looked up at him, and he could see the irritation on her face melting away into something that looked more sorrowful. She nodded and said “I’ll… I’ll see you later then.”

Just as she was walking through the door, Zac called out to her “I love you,” and she turned back, her face going through some sort of struggle before nodding vacantly and walked out of the house as fast as she could. Zac watched on, feeling hurt, worried that she could be feeling resentment for this, and no matter how much he knew she loved him, she felt it towards him… 

He didn’t know much about symptoms of depression, if that was what was happening to her-but he knew enough about how so little in a person’s life could mean much to them when they’re trapped by depression. A lot of her behaviour before, if that’s the case, makes a lot more sense for him. He just wanted to make sure that he and Leah, and everyone Evie still had, would be enough for her to keep trying. Obviously, he didn’t expect her to collapse and he didn’t wanted to give her that impression, she had been so strong for a very long time, but he just wanted her to deal with everything in a healthy way, and recently it was as if she was finding it harder and harder to try, and therapy seemed the way to do so to make sure things didn’t get worse for her. He loved her too much to let her go through this on her own, and he knew she didn’t want to worry him, but he just didn’t get why she couldn’t see how much he wanted to help her.

----- 

Evie tried not to cry as she got out of her car, thinking to this morning. She wished she could say I love you back but she knew better at that by now to say that, as if it could make everything okay, make her even more loveable. Nothing good ever came from her saying those words to anyone, (Like a curse, that inner dark voice supplied to her). My fault, my fault…

She was already in the diner before she realised it, caught up in her own thoughts when she distantly heard Chris call out to her, even though he was right next to her at the counter. She cursed herself for being so unaware, and turned to him. "Chris, hi. 'm sorry... just lost there for a moment." 

"Yeah, kind of," Chris replied, chuckling a bit. Despite that, she really looked down, and it made him sad. He got it, there were still days when he was struggling, even though those days were getting few and few between. He hoped it was the same for her. "Anyway, you want tea or...?"

"Yeah, tea, thanks," Evie shot him a grateful look before handing him the money. She waited, twisting her hands in her pockets as he passed the order along. "Haven't seen you here in a while. You doing okay?" Chris asked her. It was strange not to see her around the place. 

"Um... yeah, you know, I've been busy..." Evie really wished she could say she was fine, or she was getting there, but it wouldn't really be true and she didn't want to lie, but she didn't want to worry him, but she didn't know why anyone would want to know. Thankfully, Chris seemed to get it. 

"Yeah, I get it," Chris said, brightly smiling at her in a way that he hoped she got. Somedays, moving past the grief felt like fighting an uphill battle, and he knew better than to say empty platitudes. 

"So, are you doing alright?" It seemed too simple a question to ask, but Chris still answered it. "Just getting by day by day." He wondered if she was still worried about that life insurance, but didn't knew how to approach it. Besides she looked like she had enough on her plate, so he decided to leave it be. "Anyway, you got anything planned today or-"

"Actually, I have to go... um... something I have to do," Evie told him, trying to hide the urgency. "Thanks anyway." 

"Yeah, no worries, look after yourself." Chris said as she left. She wished she could just stay at the diner all day, talking to him, but she still had to do this- for what reason, she wasn't sure, but Chris had better things to do.

That feeling of uncertainty about therapy still didn't leave her. She couldn’t hate Zac or Leah, she could never and she doesn’t, but she could feel resentful towards them for making her do this, for making her feel more guilty that they wasted more of their time, that they appointed this for her and that made her feel even more guilty, that she couldn’t feel a single bit of gratitude, because right now, she knew nothing would change.

-------

After Dr Bishop invited her into her room, the first thing Evie noticed was how bright it was. It was a large, oak panelled room with a couch, a chair near the window facing the couch, and a desk with files and folders piled onto it next to the chair. The walls were painted in a mixture of yellow and blue, which she took as an attempt to make her clients feel more at ease. Well, that was already a losing battle. She was constantly rattled with what she could tell this person, this stranger, or what she should say.

“Please sit down,” Nadia Bishop told her. Evie sat down tentatively on the couch right next to the door. She knew this probably looked like she was hoping to make a run for it, but she didn’t have the energy to care. 

“Thank you for being here Evelyn,” Nadia started, sitting down on the chair on the opposite side of her. She was a very striking woman, Evie thought. Dark-skinned, jet-black hair pulled back in a tight bun, and Evie was definitely sure she was just as tall as Zac. Despite that imposing look, her face showed nothing but warmth. “Or would you prefer Evie?”

Evie looked sideways at her, already at a loss. She didn’t really think about it. Growing up, she always preferred to be called by her given name. It felt proper, it felt natural. Only… only Oscar got an exception from her, but when she came to Summer Bay, she gradually got more comfortable with being called Evie, more comfortable with being a little bit laid-back about herself. And look where that got everyone. “I don’t know, whatever suits you.”

“What would you like me to call you?”

Evie attempted to sigh irritably, though that came off as weak too. “Call me Evie then, everyone else does.”

“Okay then. Call me Nadia, then,” Nadia replied warmly as she settled down into her chair. “Would you like something to drink?”

When Evie shook her head, she didn’t comment, but she said something else. “You can get relaxed, you know. The couch isn’t going to bite.”

“Thank you, but this is fine,” Evie replied curtly, holding back any sense of frustration from her voice. She felt unreasonably provoked, and she wasn’t even in one minute into the session.

“Okay, but feel free to lay down on it if you want. I know most people think it’s more of a cliché you see on TV, but I did it most of the time when I first tried therapy.”

Evie’s gaze lifted from the green carpet on the floor to look up at the other woman. “You… you went to therapy?”

“Yes,” she said simply, smiling brightly. “Before I begin, please feel free to tell me I’m talking too much. I always wanted to be in this line of work, ever since I was thirteen years old- mainly to annoy my older sister. She thought therapists and psychiatrists were creepy. It was part of my training for me to undergo the process myself. At first I didn’t get it. I thought ‘What was the point of me doing it, I was fine’. So I sat down, on the other side of a world I was always fascinated with. Three sessions in, my mind was wide open to how difficult it was, how hard it was to actually speak about all the emotions and feelings and thoughts that people I’m supposed to help would have to talk to me about.”

“So,” Nadia continued as Evie looked at her, trying to hide her astonishment. “I don’t regret a moment of it. To be honest, it helped me realise things about myself… I never knew where there. After that, I knew what it was like to feel on display, and I knew what I could do to convince people they weren’t. It’s the oldest rule in the book: you have to help yourself before you can help anyone else.”

Evie nodded after Nadia finished, though why she was nodding she didn’t know. Just as she was struggling to find something to say, she suddenly felt something nudge her leg. She looked down and saw a Charles Spaniel looking up at her, it’s cute little nose wriggling at the sight of her.

“That’s Daisy,” Nadia told her as the dog jumped up on the couch to nuzzle next to Evie. “She likes to come to work with me sometimes. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No,” Evie told her, reaching down with a tentative hand to stroke Daisy, who leaned into her hand. She looked up to see if that was alright, but Nadia’s nod did not reassure her the way it should. “Why did you tell me this? Not that I don’t care, but…”

“It’s alright, I get it,” Nadia reassured her. “Usually I’ve found that telling other people about my experiences can make it less daunting for them to talk about themselves. Though it’s probably surprising to many people, people who go to therapy usually hate the idea of talking about themselves.”

“So it’s like quid-pro-quo?” It was the first thing that came into Evie’s head and she blurted it out before she thought about it, but Nadia laughed lightly.

“Nice reference, and yes, it can be like that if you want. I might as well tell you this before we start. If you would like to continue meeting past the three sessions, I’d be happy to book more sessions. So... let's begin and turn to something I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about: yourself.”

Even if Nadia’s bluntness startled Evie a little bit, she didn’t exactly mind. She was more right than she knew. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she said slowly, struggling with the words as she petted Daisy’s head.

“Anything about yourself,” Nadia softly encouraged her. “Anything you would like me to know.”

“Why,” Evie asked. She indicated towards the pile of folders on Nadia’s desk. “I’m guessing you read about me.”

“I read about what happened yes,” the older woman nodded. “But I don’t know about you, who you are, and that’s more important than anything else. So just tell me a little bit.”

Evie shifted uncomfortably in her seat, before deciding to go with the truth. “Well, I go to University at Yabbie Creek, I live in the Summer Bay house. I’ve lived in the Bay for three years now.” That sounded poor, but she thought it may be the easiest thing to start with. “I don’t cook, I used to swim and go the gym...”

“Before that, you lived at 12th James Street, yes?” Nadia asked, and Evie nodded to confirm this.

“Yes, Leah Patterson-Baker brought us in a year ago, but then it was burned down… a year ago.”

“By your cousin, Hunter King, yes?”

“Yeah.” Evie felt her hand twitching against the leather couch and spoke again to bring focus away from it. “Then Alf Stewart, he invited us into his home, and… apart from up in university, we’ve lived there.”

“With your uncle Zac?”

“Yeah,” Evie nodded, wondering why it was so easy for her to be talking about this, and wondered if she should. “Do you know him?”

“I’ve met him a long time ago, and we keep in touch. When I was growing up, there… let’s just say there weren’t a lot of good men, so I didn’t exactly keep in touch with anyone from where I was growing up. Zac was different.”

“He is. I… I don’t know where I would be without him,” Evie spoke honestly, but what she didn’t say was that there had been a growing reminder in her for a while that said it would be better if Zac left her there in that cult all those years ago. Rescue Oscar by all means, he wanted out, but she thought she was fine there, he should have forgotten about her.

“What about your favourite food? Tv Show? Book?” Nadia’s voice was so soft and so genuine that Evie had to look down at Daisy, brushing her fur as she considered the question. She didn’t know if she could answer that, not only because she hadn’t really thought about anything like that in ages, but also because she knew even something as minor as that can make her want to talk more about herself and she refused to fall back into that habit. “I… I haven’t really thought about that stuff, in a while.”

Nadia didn’t reply, she just nodded but Evie already felt that she said the wrong thing (Zac’s reminder that in therapy there were no wrong answers going out the window). “I’m sorry, I know this isn’t really interesting. You… you do this to help people with real problems to fix, and yet here I am.”

Nadia looked as though she wanted to commented on that, but instead she asked, “Tell me how you’re sleeping?”. Right now, with so much thoughts flowing through her head, Evie found it hard to be shocked at how smooth and how quickly the conversation changed.

“Not great,” Evie admitted in what was probably a sour voice. “I… I don’t know, I just been having trouble to get to sleep and most of the time I don’t see the point and I lie awake… sometimes all night, but sometime most of the night.” She didn’t know how she could say why she was so afraid of closing her eyes, and how stupid she felt every time she did so.

“I’m…I’m…” a lot of words came into her head to describe her but she didn’t know how to say any of them. She decided with the most honest. She remembered what Zac said: just try. “I don’t know what I am, well… not anything good, anyway.”

“This isn’t your first rodeo with therapy isn’t it?” Nadia obviously wanted to get straight to the point, and Evie couldn’t help but snort at that. “No, no it is not.”

“But yet you don’t really want to be here, do you?”

“I… no, I don’t.” Those words felt weird to her dry tongue, as if saying what she did and didn’t want was something that shouldn’t be said, that it was wrong for her to say it, or even think it. “I know it’s weird because I’ve been through this before, I know how it works, but… it’s different now. I just don’t think it works.”

“Why do you think so?”

Evie wanted to reply with I don’t know. She didn’t want to bare her deepest, darkest problems with some lady. Okay, some lady with a PHD, maybe two PHDs, given the two plaques on the wall, but still… “It’s just different. Too much… stuff, has happened.” Her blinders were removed, she knew what she was now. “What exactly are we going to be talking about? I mean, what are you supposed to…” Evie couldn’t find the right words to her question, but Nadia came to her rescue.

“If you’re asking what I think you’re asking, my practices range from depression to anxiety to helping people recover from traumatic experiences. Evie… do you know what depression is?”

If Evie was honest, the answer didn’t really help, because she just felt more confused. “I have a good idea what it is, but… is that what you think is happening with me?”  

Nadia raised her hands in a gesture that said ‘Maybe’. “Well you’re right to an extent. Therapy doesn’t immediately solve everything. I’m sorry to tell you but you’re not going to walk out of here suddenly feeling better. However, while it’s a more longer process, I do believe it’s benefits will last. As for you… well… you’ve had a rough two years, haven’t you.”

Evie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She didn’t want to think about that because she didn’t know whether or not it was true- or if it mattered, when it was her own doing. “Not more than other people.”

“Why do you say so?”

Evie shrugged irritably. This was getting too close to uncharted territory. “Because compared to a lot of other people, I… I got off easy. I mean… I’m still alive.”

Silence fell for a second, as Evie’s hand that wasn’t petting the dog was becoming more restless as she put it behind her back to avoid detection, though she doubted Nadia didn’t see it. It got to the point she couldn’t handle it. “Well, don’t you agree?”

“That you’re still alive- yes I do,” Nadia replied wirily. “However, I don’t think that shrugging off traumatic moments in their life, that are important, is going to help you in the long-run.”

“I’m not shrugging anything off, I’m not suffering anything.” Evie retorted, a defensive tone rising. She felt herself slowly sinking onto the couch, as if she was trying to disappear into it. “I… I’m trying not to complain…” she trailed off, hating how pathetic that sounded. Her words sounded like an excuse, a justification for being like this.

“I get it Evie, I really do. It’s hard enough to for people to sort out the feelings going on in their head, but society has held a very negative view on people expressing their emotions for a very long time, so much that it discourages them. But that you don’t bottle your emotions down, especially after the ordeal you’ve been through, or else it’s going to blow up sooner or later.”

Evie shook her head, not wanting to disagree with her, but she couldn’t really believe it. She did get what Nadia was saying, how important it was to talk about stuff like this, but it didn’t change how wrong it felt for her to expose everyone else to her problems. It was her responsibility to deal with it, not anyone else’s.

“But do you not agree? Do you not think you’ve been through something traumatic?”

Did she? Evie knew what was going on with her wasn’t normal, and that what happened had affected her- it didn’t matter though, that’s what she also knew. She wasn’t killed, she hadn’t been injured, she shouldn’t feel hurt. As for depression, she had a good idea of what it is, but she didn't want to think that's what was going on with her.

“Then why do you think you’re here today?”

“I know why. The way I’ve been… the way I am, I know there is something wrong with me, and I couldn’t do what I should be doing, and the way I've been... it's affecting everyone around me, and Zac thought this could help. He thinks he has to try and help me, but… he should know better by now.”

“Do you not want his help?”

“No, I don’t. The only thing I want him to do is stop thinking he owes me something, he doesn’t. I… I know I made the choice to come here today, but…I guess I did it so they’d stop worrying.”

“It's understandable, but did you want to try it for yourself?"

Evie weakly glared at her but couldn't answer that. 

"We can come back to that," Nadia said when she got nothing but silence. "So, apart from exercising, what other hobbies do you have? How do you spend your day?”

“I… mostly I just wander around, just… lost in my own thoughts I guess.”

“Do you work?” Nadia asked, moving onto the next question. She didn’t have a notebook or something in front of her, so Evie was guessing she knew these questions by routine.

“I was given an appointment where Zac works, Yabbie Creek High School. I worked there for a couple of weeks.”

“So you want to be a teacher?” Nadia prompted, tilting her head at her.

“Yeah, I did,” Evie replied shortly. She thought it was ridiculous now, but it was true, it was what she wanted. Before she realised how much it didn’t matter.

“You don’t anymore?”

Evie hesitated before answering. She might as well tell her what happened, there was no point in hiding the truth. “I…I wasn’t good at it, I thought I was up for it, you know, actually be an adult and start a career, I hoped I could be, but I kept messing up.” She said it all too fast, but she hoped Nadia heard her, she didn’t know if she could say it again.

“So did you quit?” Nadia asked.  

“No, but Zac said I should take this week off, but he probably wants me to stop,” Evie told her before immediately jumping. “I’m not trying to blame him, he gave me this chance and I made so much mistakes, he’s right to… to realise I’m not up to it.”

“So he didn’t tell you he wanted to fire you?”

“No, but…” Evie wanted to give up, this was not what she wanted to do, she did not want to make Zac look like the bad guy. “Zac didn’t do anything wrong, he… he was just too nice and way too non-judgemental, and he didn’t want to hurt me. I’m not trying to make it look like he did something wrong, it was all me.”

“You’re not saying anything about him, I promise you. However,” Nadia added. “Did you consider that he actually wants you to still do the job? That he has faith in you? That making mistakes on the first few weeks is not as bad as you think?”

“No, it is bad, it is when I screw everything up, and I thought I could try and do this right, but I couldn’t, it was just another thing I messed up, and it’s only worse because Zac trusted me, he trusted me to look after those students but I couldn’t do anything for them either!” Evie knew how desperate and nonsensical those words were coming out of her, and how fast her breaths were happening didn’t help, but she knew what she was saying, she needed her to understand. Daisy’s head shot up, and was staring at her with an anxious look- well as anxious as a dog can look. Great, now she’s got the dog worried about her!

Nadia considered her for a moment, letting her take a moment to stop gasping, before she spoke again. “Sounds like you were under a lot of pressure.”

“No, that wasn’t it,” Evie shook her head. Ironically, that wasn’t even close to the truth. “I didn’t put myself under enough pressure. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t have messed up as much as I did.”

“You think putting more pressure on yourself would make you do a better job?”

“Well couldn’t it?” Evie countered stubbornly. Anything else didn’t make much sense to her. She had to have done it perfectly, she shouldn’t have let herself become lax and making mistakes.

As if you can be expected to do anything perfect. Have you not learned from anything?

“It could. It could also make you even more stressed, which can lead to more mistakes. I think you were expecting yourself to be perfect, that you had to do everything right the first time you try it, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. After everything that happened, it’s expected that you’d be overwhelmed, with even the most normal things in life.”

“Why are we talking about this?” Evie asked, not getting why this had to be discussed, not when there were more important things that she did wrong. “Does it matter?”

“I think it can be important. Of course, I can see what you’re really asking, and you are right, there are more important stuff we’re going to have to get to, but the first meeting shouldn’t be so confrontational for people, so I wanted to try dealing with the smallest stuff troubling you first.”

“No, Dr Bishop-”

“Nadia, please.”

“…fine, Nadia, that’s not what happened,” Evie said, though she was doubting herself and that voice in her head who was telling her otherwise (and won’t that be a barrel of laughs for her to tell Nadia that she was talking to herself like there was someone else there? “I did a bad job, that’s what happened, there was… there was no being overwhelmed-”

“Okay, tell me about it, what did you do wrong?”

Evie fought back a scowl but she crossed her arms in a childish form of defiance. Why would she want to talk about this, why would she want to be reminded about of what she did?

But then again, doesn’t it not matter what I want?

She sighed angrily. “Do we have to talk about it?”

Nadia shrugged lightly. “No, we don’t, but we’re here for another 30 minutes, so unless there’s anything else you’d like to do...”

“I just don’t know why it’s important.”

“Well, given how agitated you looked when you were talking about it, I would say it was important to you.”

Evie sighed again as she unfolded her arms. Nadia didn’t smile at her, which was fine, she could do without some patronising smile at her like she was three years old, but the soft edge was still clear in the older woman’s voice when she spoke next. “Sorry Evie, but this isn’t my first rodeo either.”

Evie tried to figure out how to begin. Daisy nuzzled close to her leg again and Evie petted her head again, as if that helped her relax. “Well… I kept forgetting things, small things like the timetable or the notes that the students needed… I had to be reminded, I snapped at a couple of students, and that’s not… that’s not what I was supposed to do.”

“What were the students doing?”

“They… you know, talking in lessons, trying to disrupt the class…”

“Then weren’t you doing the right thing, in getting them to stop?”

Evie shrugged. “Well, I know that what I’m supposed to do when something like that happens, of course I do, but… I just feel like I should have been able to control the situation from the beginning, not let it fall out of my hands so quickly, you know?”

“I think I know where you’re coming from. You like to be on top of things, making sure everything works out the way you started out wishing it was so. You want things to work smoothly and as perfect as possible for yourself and everyone else.”

“Yeah, and looked how that turned out,” Evie shook her head bitterly. 

“How did you sleep the night before? Did you sleep well or did you have difficulty?”

Evie tried to call back to the night before that day, and tried not to recoil at the memory. It was the first time she cut herself and she tried to remain in this room, not be thrown back into the memory of her in her bedroom, curled up, scissors in hand, and of how alone and how cold she felt. “I…uh… yeah I was,” she admitted, trying to keep the tremble out of her voice, even though behind her, her hand was trembling into a fist.

“And how are you eating?”

“I’m eating fine,” Evie replied before Nadia even finished her question. That wasn’t important, she still ate, though not nearly as much as she used to, and even when she did, she felt as though she was eating more than she should. “But then… I don’t know, I can’t remember.”

“How did you feel while doing the teaching practice? I’m not gonna ask if you were nervous, because that’s a certain one for everyone starting a new career . Did you feel excited… or not as excited as you thought you would?”

Now that Evie thought about it, she didn’t even feel as nervous as she thought she would. She was almost convinced that it would end in disaster, so it didn’t really matter as much when she was doing it. Then why did she agree to take the job in the first place? And why did she feel so bad whenever she messed up, if she already knew it was coming.

Nadia took a deep breath before replying. “Okay, I’m gonna ask you something and please try not to take this the wrong way, because I’m not implying anything but… do you think you were pushing yourself too much?”

“What do you mean?”

“The fact is everyone has their own limits, both physically and mentally. When you’re having issues such as trouble sleeping, those issues are going to impact your everyday life. And not just you- this could happen to anyone in your shoes. But that doesn’t mean you should be pushing yourself when you know you’re not up for something at the moment, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I… I’m not sure, just maybe…”

Evie’s mouth kept opening and closing, no words escaping, because she thought she had an answer but it was probably wrong to say so, when Zac gave her the opportunity.

Nadia must have known what she was thinking, because she said next. “Evie, there are no wrong answers you can give me. Whatever you want to tell me, just know you’re in a safe place.”

Evie tried to control her breathing, which had quickened. “I… I guess, I didn’t want to keep being so lazy, I knew I needed to work, but… I just didn’t see the point of it, which probably didn’t make sense.”

“That makes sense, Evie, I promise you. When someone goes through a traumatic experience, it can become much harder to concentrate on things that are taken out of their usual perspective. Things in life that used to be important before, no longer seem that significant to a person. And you weren’t being lazy, you just needed time to take a break, and you tried to get back into a structure, and it’s good that you did. That not something worth feeling guilty about.”

“Shouldn’t I feel guilty that I screw up at everything I try to do?” Evie asked in a brittle tone. 

“Do you want to elaborate on that?” Nadia replied, her face still unbelievably patient.

No. She did not want to think about this anymore than she had to. But she remembered what Zac said: try.

Screw trying: she just wanted to fall on the floor and never get up. “I… I just thought before I was going to fail at it, that I wasn’t ready for it, like you said, and I should have… known better than to try if I knew I was going to fail.” Nadia looked like she was going to say something but then Evie thought about something Nadia said before and while she tried to think up the words, Nadia just sat back and let her try. “What you said before, about it happening to anyone in my shoes? I don’t think that’s it, because… I’m not the only one who… who went through this… Zac lost people too, my… my friend Maddy Osborne, she lost her arm and everyone’s lost something, or someone this year, and they’re healing, they’re getting their lives back on track, and yet here I am, getting help I don’t need. I know I… I can’t keep going on like this-” Evie felt her almost lose her tongue for a moment, because she knew what she said had an entirely different meaning from what most people would say. “I know what I have to do, I should handle it.”

“You believed you can just trudge through it?” Nadia’s voice wasn’t judgemental, but to Evie, it felt more patronising than before, and she didn’t know whether or not that was true, but she knew she should have. She should have done a better job.

“I knew I should but… it was just really hard,” she muttered, hating how her voice trembled when she spoke, as if she was begging to be understood how difficult it all was. It should be easy to handle, but she just hates it. “I can’t keep going like this, I know that, I can’t keep hiding behind some… some sort of victim status, but I can’t see beyond this.”

“Being a victim is not something to be ashamed of, and it won't be the only thing that defines you. People like to pretend those who use this ‘status’, as you said, as an excuse to behave in whatever they want, but it’s not what I’ve found in my experience. And I’ll tell you this, even if it was, I don’t see it in you. Yes, other people have been through horrible stuff in their lives, some cases, even worse than what you’re going through. That doesn’t change how important your own pain is, or how it has affected you. Have you talked to Zac, or Leah about how hard you find it?” Nadia asked thoughtfully.

“No, I can’t.” Evie said. That was the one thing that remained with her. Anytime she talked to them, it only made things worse.

“Why can’t you?” Nadia asked, and when Evie scoffed and turned away, “No, seriously, why not?”

Why not? Have you not been listening? It’s hard enough to even talk about any of it with you, but to tell them… I don’t want them to have to deal with this, they have their own stuff to deal with without me barging in and making things more difficult for them. It’s my own fault I can’t handle it, and that they have to deal with me. I’ve… I’ve let it happen before and it doesn’t make things better.”

She can just remember everytime she got someone involved in her problems (Josh with Tank was predominantly in her mind, and where he ended up because of it), and everytime she slipped up, such as last Friday when she argued to Zac about Hunter. She could see how it hurt him, and how better it was for her to keep her mouth shut.

“And do you think what you’ve been trying to do, keep it all to yourself, remaining in a constant state of fear that you ignore any attempt to help you, do you think that’s better for you?”

“I’m not ignoring it,” Evie said indignantly. “I know what they’re trying to do, I don’t want to leave them wondering but…” Evie said, chewing her lip and looking away, because she knows she’s going to say something really stupid. “It didn’t feel right, but… I feel pathetic talking about any of it, and I don’t want to make it about me but… y’know, I come down to the kitchen every morning, and come home every night and it’s full of really, really wonderful people, who I can see get really worried when they see me, even if they try to hide it, and I don’t know why they are but… all I want to do is be with them, talk to them, be normal around them, to try and make them not be worried, but when I look at them and see that worry, I just… get reminded that…” she lost the urge to continue that sentence, and she took a deep breath as her hands went to her hair, pulling at the ends. “What am I supposed to do with that? I can’t let them down, and isn’t that what I’m supposed to do, to not make things worse for them, but it’s not just what I’m supposed to, I want to, but-”

Nadia leaned forward, her hands on her knees as she slowly replied. “Evie, I get that you want to handle this on your own, and that’s fine, and I know you don’t want to make things worse for Zac and the rest, I promise you, it is entirely normal to feel this way, feel uncomfortable around other people and feel frustrated not to still do the same things you have usually done before with the people you love. You mentioned before you spend most of your time ‘wandering around’? Do you do that by yourself, or is someone with you?”

“I don’t need constant supervision!” Evie replied testily, already thinking how childish her answer was. “I can think for myself.”

“That wasn’t what I was saying. Are you alone when you’re walking around?”

“Yes… okay, I am. I… I like time to myself…”

“And how does that make you feel? Do you like it?”

Now that Evie thought about it, she said the answer before she actually thought about it. She just ends up thinking so much about what she did, what she didn’t do, what she should/shouldn’t do, whether or not she wanted that time alone just seemed so irrelevant. When she was there she felt… a really empty sensation, wishing she wasn’t alone, wishing she didn’t have to be- She can’t think about that now, it’s not about her. “I… I don’t really think about it.”

“It’s alright to want to be alone sometimes, you need to have your own privacy, but isolation is a serious form of mental torture. What most people don’t realise is that 9 times out of 10, people who self-isolate don’t like to do so, but feel that they don’t have a choice.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. I mean, what’s the point in being around people if I can’t even talk to them? If I can’t be normal?”

“You are normal, Evie, I promise. I never said you did it for fun. No one ever does. Low self-esteem can make you feel lonely when you don’t think you can connect to anyone. I’m not going to tell you what you’re doing is wrong, or that you made the wrong choice, because it is more difficult than one would think, but I’m telling you it’s not the only way. It’s hard to adjust when you lose people you can’t imagine your life without, and to lose them in ways most people can even imagine-”

“Do-do we h-have to t-talk about it now?” Evie stammered, more like pleaded, to her, wrapping her arms around her stomach and tried to keep her body from rocking. “I’m sorry but I…I don’t…”

“It’s alright, we don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. No one can give a time limit on when someone can gets over something like this.”

What Nadia was saying seemed to be going against everything in Evie’s mind that was screaming at her. No she was wrong, Evie had her time to get over it, it was wrong that she was taking up everyone’s time- but what should she believe? What did she really know? She didn’t know if it could be just as simple as that, she just only saw in terms that, while more complicated, were set out in black and white: what she should and shouldn’t do had seemed easy at first to do for a very long time (no matter how hard it was in practice). "I don't know how talking will help them... I don't know anything I could do to make it better, it's just..." she brought her hand to her temple and rested it there, sighing. 

“Would you like to take a break?” Nadia suggested softly, gesturing towards another door in the room that said ‘Bathroom’ on it.

Evie nodded, and unsteadily rose. Daisy sat up as she passed the dog, clumsily opening the bathroom door and rested both hands against the sink. She stared at the basin, couldn’t bare to look at her own reflection right now. She realised that Nadia probably had a point: she wasn't concentrating on work, and after all that happened, how could she? But she wanted to, she wanted to do it right for Zac, but... Was that what she was doing? Striving so hard to be perfect at work that it only had the opposite effect? If she just let herself relax, would she have been better at knowing what to do, and would she have noticed things around her better, to have made less mistakes-

What the hell did it matter? You still screwed it all up, no matter how you did it.

But what if Nadia was right? If she knew where she did it wrong, then she could correct it, she would know better-

It’s never that simple. You think just because you say ‘Oh, okay, I know where I went wrong’ means everything’s okay and you can carry on like nothing ever happened. That’s not how it works, just like Hunter, or Andy, or Josh.

She gripped the basin tighter in her hands, almost afraid she might break it, but she can’t get rid of that voice in her head. I messed up my second chance to do anything right, so explain why I should get a third chance?

She must be going insane. She shouldn’t explain it, because she shouldn’t get a third chance. She thought about what Nadia said, about keeping it to herself. She thought it was for the best, that keeping all tucked away and not talking about would protect everyone else around her, but did she do it wrong? She lied to them, she let them believe she was under stress from work, or started drinking, and why she did, she couldn’t remember, but it didn’t change the fact that she did lie to them, and she couldn’t take it back. She tried to be honest at first, avoiding saying stuff like “I’m fine” because… how could she be, but then when she became convinced she should be getting over it, she ended up using those same words, because she didn’t want them to worry about her. There had to be a better way for her to have kept them safe from her problems without lying and making them even more worried. She thought back to when Matt and she last argued, seeing the hurt on his face. She didn’t want to stay (or at least she thought so), she didn’t want to make his night even more miserable than it was, but she could have tried and calmed herself, left him in a way that didn’t hurt him. They haven’t spoken since, and she tried not to think about how it hurt, and just hoped he was okay.

She felt so bad, but that wasn’t enough to fix it, she just couldn’t make it up to him. He wouldn’t want to spend time with her now, now after she treated him.

After a couple of minutes, Evie went back into the room. Daisy was back on the floor, but jumped onto the couch when she walked in. Nadia was still sitting down, and was looking through a newspaper but looked up to her expectantly. “You feeling better?”

Well the truthful answer was no, but Evie didn’t want to be rude, after Nadia had been so accommodating. After a moment silence Nadia spoke again softly. “Evie, remember, no wrong answers.”

“I don’t think so,” Evie said shamefully, looking down.

“That’s alright. Let’s sit down.” Evie still couldn’t look at her but she timidly sat down next to Daisy again.

Nadia waited until she was settled again before speaking cautiously. “We’re only got 15 minutes left so I want to talk about something you mentioned earlier. Do you think you started that job hoping you fail?”

Did she? “No, that… that wasn’t what I was trying to do. I…”

“Did you try?”

“Well, what does it matter? It wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t my best-”

“That wasn’t my question. Did you try to do your best?”

“Okay, I did try. But-”

“Then that’s all you needed. You wanted to do right by Zac, and you wanted to be a teacher, so you thought you ought to try anyway, even if in the large scheme of things, it didn’t matter. It gave you hope, in a sense.”

“It… it didn’t feel that way at the time.” Evie said astonished, not even knowing if that ever occurred to her, that she wanted to hope.

“Maybe it didn’t then, but just because you’re not aware of that feeling, or that you didn’t want to feel it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.”

Nadia left that to float in the air for a few minutes, leaving Evie to contemplate that? How could she have hoped for something like that? If it didn’t matter on the large scheme of things, then, she would have known better than to have hoped for it. She’s already messed up too many times.

After another few minutes, Nadia continued. “Now that we’ve already mentioned it, if you would like, we could talk about your cousin- Hunter.”

Evie’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “What does he have to do with this?”

“Well, I heard that he was sentenced last week. How did that made you feel?”

“I don’t know, I… I guess glad that he got punished, but… I don’t know…”

“You wonder whether or not it would ever be enough?”

Evie nodded miserably. “It’s not like… it’s not like I want revenge or anything like that, but… I just know it doesn’t change anything. And Zac… he knows what he did, and he hates it as well, but… he’s worried about him as well, and again, he really shouldn’t, not for him. Because… Zac trusted Hunter before and he betrayed him and what if he does it again? Zac’s been through enough, he shouldn’t be hurt again.”

Nadia nodded along as Evie talked. “You feel protective towards Zac?”

Evie guessed that was true, she just wanted Zac to be safe. Maybe that was where all her anger at Hunter was coming from. “Well… I mean, he’s an adult, I know he can look after himself but-”

“You can’t help but be worried, and I think it's a very justifiable worry. Did you know Hunter well?”

“Not really. I mean… I would have talked with him, but I didn’t have the same relationship with him than Zac did, or VJ, my cousin, did.”

“But his actions must have still affected you to know what he knew did nothing?”

“Well, I guess, Zac accepted him, even after he burned down Leah’s house, he… we all thought that was the worst of it, but it just kept getting worse and worse, and I don’t… I don’t see how he can still think he can help Hunter.”

“I think he probably asks himself the same. But that wasn’t what I was referring to.”

Evie glanced up to her from her knees. Nadia gave a sad sigh before continuing. “How did you feel when it was revealed his actions played a role in your half-sister’s-”

“Sister,” Evie interrupted her sharply, already knowing what she was about to ask and also convinced she didn’t want to talk about it. Still, it felt important to correct her, Denny wasn’t just a half-sister.

“Sorry, of course… your sister’s death, Denny Miller?”

Evie’s nails started digging into the palm of her left hand, while her right fingernails moved away from Daisy to start scratching against her left hand desperately. “I… I can’t… I don’t know I can… talk..” her words were turning into mutterings that even she couldn’t hear, and she felt so embarrassed that she couldn’t talk anymore. Looking up at Nadia, she tried to show how sorry she was, but what was the point of being sorry, as if that made up for it?  Evie didn’t know if anyone could actually get over grief, and she wondered if she could. It didn’t feel right, not when she felt so much guilt that she didn’t earn the right to grieve and move on, not the way Zac or Maddy or Chris did. Her breathing was getting shallow and her hands were trembling. Sound rushed into her ears, and her fingers were almost buzzing on the couch. She could hear Daisy whine softly next to her, and Evie turned to her, looking down at her before looking towards Nadia, who was already sitting down next to her, an apology already on her lips for loosing control.

“It’s alright, you don’t have to say sorry, okay.” Nadia told her. She waited a few minutes, not touching Evie, but just waiting for her and Evie felt so grateful that strangely it didn’t make her feel better.

“I… I wasn’t trying to avoid talking about… I… I just don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Evie gasped, really wishing she could cry, even though she probably shouldn’t.

“Nothing’s wrong with you Evie, I promise you.”

“No…” Nadia had seen her like this now, she might as well as tell her. “I… I should be able to deal with this, I can.” She already doubted that.

“If it was that simple, then I think we’d all be more fine, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. Grieving is a process that it’s impossible to put expectations on. You have to go through it at your own pace, but I can help you not having to feel so afraid whenever you get that urge to shut down.”

Evie couldn’t help but feel that small bit of hope when she said that, as if there was a way for her to control it, so that she didn’t have to infect everyone with everything that was wrong with her, that she could do that at least, no matter what else she did.

“Listen, we’re done for today, but we’ll meet next week. I know you don't believe everything I've told you..."

Evie looked up at her in embarrassment and wanted to apologise but she kept talking. "And that's okay, don’t worry about that. No one’s expecting you to get everything right on the first day, but by meeting me here today, we can begin the process. ”

“What if… what if I can’t?” She meant if she can’t make that progress, but Nadia seemed to get what she was asking.

“Then we’ll keep trying, Evie, no matter how long it takes.”

Evie heard her, but she didn’t think it was that easy. What if she couldn’t and she let them down again? What if she wanted to make progress, was that selfish of her? But if she didn’t want to, that didn’t feel right either, but she didn’t want to feel better, she knew that. Not when Oscar couldn’t.

“I know how difficult it is as well, but if you ever want to talk to your family about it, please don’t feel ashamed for doing so. They just want to help you come to terms with it, I promise it’s that.”

Evie wanted to believe her, but she didn’t know if she could. She already felt terrible just with these thoughts, to talk about it with the people she loved- she just couldn’t see how it could make anything better. “And… it’s my choice, I mean… you won’t…”

“I won’t tell Zac or anyone else anything unless you want me to. I respect your decisions on what to share and what not to, that’s the only way this works.”

Evie couldn’t help but ask this, just to be sure. “And you don’t mind?”

Nadia nodded reassuringly. “I promise you, I don’t mind. And if you change your mind about anything, I promise you there’s nothing wrong with that either.”

------

Evie didn’t crash her car on the way back, and she yet to decide whether or not that was a good thing. Even as she got back home, she thought about nothing but what Nadia told her. She gave Evie a book about dealing with stress. One chapter was dedicated to dealing with panic attacks, and she read about them before driving and she never considered them before, but the details in the book- the overloading of senses, the feeling she couldn’t breathe, as if water was rushing into her ears and how difficult it was to focus on everything… she could recognise all of it from what happened to her. She just couldn’t understand why she would be having them. She could tell her that she could change her mind all she wanted, but was it right to do so? She spent too much time trying to keep them safe from the fallout of the mess that she made, and she didn’t know if it was possible for her to change her mind on something like that. She didn’t want to hurt anyone, she hasn’t been honest with them, and she wanted to be honest, she did, but what if it was too late? They were so much better than her, but they had to have their limits, and if she hadn’t already pushed theirs already… why would they want to be patient with her now?

She also thought about Nadia’s words about her trying to be perfect. Well, she could agree with that, at least. She did strive to be perfect. Even though she never admitted it to everyone, not wanting to demand anything from them, everything had to be perfect with her; her relationships, her work, everything. It just seemed right. That energy made her want to fight for what she cared about even more, but what Nadia suggested, that it caused her to make more mistakes… well, that was easier to believe. Wasn’t it that tendency of hers that made her give up on Josh when she found out about him and the drugs. What he was involved with didn’t make her feel comfortable, but ever since then, she thought she ought to have stuck by him, that she shouldn’t have given up what they had for something as small as that. Did she do the same this time, when he told her he killed Charlotte?  He let Zac go to prison for it, and that wasn’t something she could forget, but that she gave up that easily again… it felt like she betrayed him, and not the other way around. All it did was to show she learned nothing, nothing about something that no longer felt like a real relationship. How could she ask anyone else to make sacrifices that she wasn’t willing to make?

But what did it matter anyway, when there was still that one thing that remained constant that made any of Nadia’s encouragement seem worthless. She… she let Oscar die, there was no other way for her to see it. She was supposed to protect him, like he did for her. She was brought back to the memory when she, Oscar and Kyle were all trapped in that container, three years ago. It was the first time, stuck in that stuffy, hot container where the air was growing short, that she ever actually thought she was going to die. Remembering what Kyle told them to try and stay awake for as long as possible, Evie tried to do that with Oscar, giving him encouragement to make sure he kept his eyes open, just as he did the same for her. They kept it up even as they all slipped into unconsciousness, but even then, she just had one wish, gratingly painful as it was that she couldn’t do anything more to keep him alive: that Oscar, the person she knew that always deserved the world, wouldn’t see her die, nor she see him die. But then they were rescued, and she could pretend that she never experienced that fear, that pain.

But now… she wished things ended differently for her then: that she had just died there, in that container, while Oscar and Kyle were saved. Just to have died there before ever coming to the Bay, before meeting Josh, before ruining everyone’s lives. It was a horrible thing to think, let alone to let Oscar go through the pain he’d probably feel if he lost her… but if it meant he’d still be alive… he was stronger than her, he would be fine.

There was nothing she could do when that explosion killed him, and-

That's half the story. You may have done nothing directly, but you're still responsible. You abandoned Josh for Tank, he went and killed someone and got away with it because you made him blind, Zac got arrested, and then your boyfriend's brother and former boyfriend decided to duke it out, all because of you. In a way, then you could say you-

No. No, no, nononono…

Even as she felt her stomach tighten and her lungs suddenly betraying her, making it very more difficult to breath, she felt herself grip the steering wheel- Her vision was blurring over, she felt more sick than ever, and she can’t listen to anything other than those words in her head. She didn’t want it to be true, it couldn’t be… because if it was, if that was how it was her fault, that what she did led to Oscar and Hannah die in such a terrible, terrible way…

There was no forgiving that, nothing that could ever make her deserve anyone’s love or patience. She put her hands over her mouth and tried to breath, even though a part of her wanted to just stop that, just stop the guilt, stop everything.

By the time she heard a car come up the driveway, the breathing somehow returned but she felt so numb to care, or to put on any sort of expression that would suggest she wasn’t feeling numb. Because how could she go back to pretending when she knew what it felt like, to know she should have died instead of others?

She didn't know how long it took for her to realise someone was trying to talk to her through the window and she looked over to see Zac's worried face staring at her, and Evie felt so sorry for looking more stupid and pathetic than she usually does, and she just can’t stand people seeing her like this, and as much as she wanted to try and smile at him, or nod or anything like that, she couldn’t.

“Hey,” he said simply, crouching down next to her. “How are you feeling?”

Evie didn’t move, didn’t even look at him as she stared down.

Zac expected this, he knew something like this was going to be draining for her, but he needed her to know it was alright to struggle, no one needed her to be a picture of happy perfection. “Evie… it’s okay, I know it must have been difficult today, but I can’t tell you enough how proud I am of you-”

“Don’t.” Evie said suddenly and bluntly, her voice a broken, hoarse tone. “I… I c-couldn’t talk to her about everything and… I couldn’t hold it together… my fault.”

“No, Evie, it wasn’t. Don’t ever think that. It’s never easy to talk about this stuff. There’s been too much that happened that’s going to affect you, I accept that, and I know it doesn't feel like it now, but I promise you, we’ll get through this.” He wanted to say something like ‘the pain’s temporary’, but he avoided saying obvious stuff like that, words he knew wouldn’t help.

Evie couldn’t hear anymore of this. She didn’t know why Zac would ever be proud of her, or why he thought she could get through this, but she was only going to let him down, and she can’t do that. She got up, and started to walk away.

“Evie, wait-” Zac watched her get up, and he knew she needed time to understand, but… it still felt so unnerving, that the positive energy that surrounded Evie looked like it had disappeared, and was replaced with that same thing he saw glimpses of, something that he could not even begin to describe. 

“I’m… I’m sor…” She looked back at him as he got up, her face looking so desolate. “I just… I can’t be around here anymore, I’m sorry, but I can’t.” She walked away before a stunned Zac could reply. She just felt so ashamed to be around him any longer. She didn’t think she could spend another moment at the house, not when she would just remind Zac of everything that was wrong with her, and not when she would be reminded of it as well. She felt horrible, she didn’t want to leave, but it just seemed too hard.

She wasn’t going to stop going to the next two sessions, because she promised Zac and Leah she’d go to them, and she could keep that at least, but if- or probably when, it fell apart and not even that would be enough to fix her, they wouldn't want anything to do with her anymore. Not when...

She could see it though, she could see how it was all connected, a chain reaction. Just how her failing at work was part of a long string of past failures. She let herself be manipulated, blinded by what her own selfishness, and now it was clear to her: the consequences of that were far-reaching, making it impossible for her not to blame herself. She had her chance to make it right, and she blew it. Yet she didn't pay the price for it, not really. Instead it was Oscar and Hannah who did. She would have gladly pay that price if it meant they'd still be alive, even if it wasn't her fault, but it was too late. She couldn't fight for them anymore, she could never do anything for them anymore. All that time before the explosion, when she thought they were safe, that they could enjoy life, that nothing bad was in front of them... all that time was wasted, when she should have been been looking out for them, she let them down. And all of it based on a lie, a lie that on her relationship with Josh. She let Oscar down, and that was the thing that was unforgiveable. She shouldn't be helped, she can never run from that fact. 

Edited by D.B
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