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Clawing at Your Broken Back


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Posted (edited)
On 15/03/2021 at 09:32, Red Ranger 1 said:

No magic solution but Evie talked and that can only be a good thing, even if she doesn't realise it.

Unfortunately, as much as I would have liked to have everything solved within the first session, recovery is a more complicated and difficult process than that. It's not something anyone can snap out of, especially when they can't help but make incorrect assumptions around them. But I am glad to have reached this point, because not only do I believe that therapy is an unappreciated gift, but I also wanted to use it to explore Evie (in my opinion, another unappreciated gift) as a character. From watching her on the show, I've found that two of Evie's main characteristics is that, while she's not afraid to take risks, she also had a tendency of being a perfectionist once she committed herself to something, everything she does to be mistake-free, and she has a very black and white morality, which has it's ups and downs, and plays a role for her actions in this story.  I also thought it was important to highlight what she had been through, because it was an extremely traumatic experience, and I think the show usually fails at remembering that. 

I'm glad you noticed that, because I guess what was behind every scene so far is the fact that even though she doesn't recognise it, Evie is actually trying. And that's what she's been doing the entire story, is just trying. Even when she felt there was nothing she could do to make things better, she still went to work, she still tried to do the right thing with other people, and given the state she's in, that's pretty impressive. It would be easy in her condition just not to care, about anything or anyone, and I can't even begin to imagine how hard it would be to think of anything positive, but she still does for her family and friends and feels bad when she thinks she lets them down. 

However, it just gets even more hard every passing day for anyone to try with depression, to think that trying is even enough. It's even more harder to try when she gradually becomes convinced they would all be better off if she just disappeared (no matter how much it hurts), especially now, when she actually believes that she started some sort of chain reaction that caused everything that happened. I honestly feel both sorry and terrible for her that I'm putting her through this, after everything she's been through, she deserves it the least. Obviously, what she thinks is not the case, but there is a genuine reason why she's so worried and feels all this guilt, and as I've said, it's going to be explained later on in the story, and once she understands things more clearly, it will be easier for her to try... eventually. 

Thanks again for commenting Red! 

Edited by D.B
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Posted (edited)

Hi guys, so sorry for the late update. College work has multiplied before the Easter holidays and that took up most of my time. I've had trouble getting time to write this, but I promise, there will be some development in the next few chapters. Same Warnings regarding Depression and Self-Harm. 

Chapter 13

She was eating a sandwich that Chris insisted she tried before leaving the Diner and she took along with her in a plastic bag before therapy. Chris keeps on outdoing himself with his ideas, and the thought… well, those thoughts made her feel a semblance of happiness for them, but not what it used to be. Evie looked down at her phone and saw just the text Zac gave her a while ago. It said the exact same thing as before: telling her it was okay if she didn’t want to talk, but she wasn’t alone, that they were there. And before that would have made her feel better, but it didn’t. Because she felt really lonely. Good.

Loneliness really made a person empty. A deep, heavy void filled with nothing in her that felt it would last forever, and Evie didn’t think being this empty would make her feel pain, but it really did. It wasn’t like usual pain, but something deeper, beyond anything she would have thought intensified tenfold. And what didn’t help was the feeling of hopeless anxiety whenever she was alone, which she didn’t know how to explain. She’d feel anxious around other people, even people she knew, and it didn’t make sense because she knew they’re good people, they wouldn’t hurt her- but when she would be alone, despite what she thought that it would give her some peace, it would end up intensifying. She didn’t know why. She knew she needed the people she had left in her life, but she couldn’t connect that with the crippling anxiety, especially when she knew she had two missed calls from earlier. She wished she could answer back, but she didn’t know what she could say.

She knew Zac was a good man, patient, understanding, gentle, wonderful, perfect, enough that wanting to help people was basically instinct to him, but no one could put up with her, not even the most patient, kindness person in the world. She just felt guilt that wasting so much valuable time on her behalf distracted him from more important stuff, but maybe that was why she couldn’t talk to him about what she was feeling. Of course, there was the difficulty of even talking about it without her blubbering like some baby. And what could she say? Say she’s fine- well, that wasn’t even remotely true and she won’t insult their intelligence by saying anything like that. But she couldn’t just say she wasn’t okay, even if it was obvious. That’s not really what people say, even if they aren’t okay, they just try and get on with it, they be brave, so their families and friends don’t worry. She shouldn’t let her own negativity spread to the others, but how else could she convince them she wasn’t worth it? How else could she be honest?

The thing was, she used those words before, saying she was fine as an automatic response, wanted to appear stable, okay- whatever the hell that meant anymore, because she knew that lie was a lot less painful than the truth. Then again, she was sure that Josh probably told himself the same thing. That was something she should have realised.

Would she say she was sorry- well, she was sorry, more sorry than she thought possible, but sorry won’t even begin to make up for the mistakes she made, sorry wouldn’t change a thing. That word was used way too often, and Evie was sure that most of the time they meant it, maybe even she did, but just saying it wasn’t enough. They were just too nice to say it to her face, but she knew the truth. All she could do is spare them of having to be nice to her. Maybe that was it, if she refused to talk to him, maybe he would finally have enough of her, realised she couldn’t be helped, that she wasn’t worth it.

And that the thought that she decided to let that happen hurt. Evie wanted to make amends, she wanted to make him proud, just wanted to know that she could still do things right without affecting him or anyone else she loved with the negativity and misery that was in her, but of course, there wasn’t much luck in that. They tried so damn hard for her, everyday, so it made sense for her to try too, for them. Tried to smile, tried to work. Maybe she did before, but she felt it was never enough, and now it was too late for her to keep trying.

She didn’t try hard enough to keep it all inside, could have done her best to be more of a friend to Matt and Maddy and everyone else. Especially Matt, who was one of the few people who didn’t walk on egg shells around her (at least at first), and looked how she repaid him. She remembered the times they hanged out together, when it was just only them as friends, and how good it felt just to be around him, just to see him smile-

And that’s the problem. You did it just to make yourself feel good, and that’s how you messed it all up, with your selfishness.

Well, she didn’t think she could think of any other way to see it that wouldn’t feel as though she was trying to excuse or justify herself. No matter what Nadia may think, she knew she didn’t try hard enough with her work. She wanted to be the teacher students would willingly come to ask for help, the one who always had a solution in hand, just like Zac was, not the one that got the cautious looks and the nervous stammering. Maybe it wasn’t as important in the grand scheme of things, but that didn’t mean she wasted that opportunity as well. That’s all she was now, just a waste, some pitiful excuse of a human being that… that…

God, it felt terrible in a way that it never did before to even think about it, but it didn’t make any of it less through… Oscar died because of her. Hannah died because of her. Not directly maybe, but she might as well have killed them. And that made her wish every shaky breath she took was her last. She didn’t think, realistically, that thought was logical, that there was no way for her to know it would lead to this, she wasn’t that emotionally stunted, but what other reason was there for her to be feeling the guilt, the shame, the self-loathing? Besides, Andy never thought getting into a fight with Tank would end up in an explosion, Evie didn’t really believed it made much difference. That it was an accident didn’t mean anything when people weren’t hurt or killed. So why would it make a difference for her? That thought filled her with anger once again, anger that Andy got off scot-free while Oscar and Hannah lie in their… their graves. Now that anger was at her as well, for still being here. If she hadn’t been so careless, then they’d still be alive, how does one live with that.

It was strange, because before she knew the responsibility laid with her, how everyone she came into contact with ended up dead or ruined, but she never figured out exactly how until today, it was building up until she finally realised how by abandoning Josh for Tank (because of what she can’t exactly remember), it all went downhill from there. Maybe she tried to lie to herself, tried to hide it so she could pretend she was mistaken (she was mistaken about a lot of things before), that the only reason she felt so bad was because of the helplessness she felt but it was always going to reveal itself. Isn’t that what they say, the truth always reveals itself? Didn’t it reveal itself through the nightmares, the constant stares? Nothing else made sense to her.

Right now Evie was in one of the empty caravans, wishing she could go home but she couldn’t. Actually, she wondered why did she end up coming here, knowing it was here when it all happened, where Oscar and Hannah… It didn’t mean she could come home yet. She was wrong to go back all those times, she should have realised before she couldn’t trust her own desires, not if they clashed with what she should have done from the get-go and left all of them alone. Let them get on with their lives which would be so much better without her in it. The only reason she could think of for her returning home time after time was because she loved them, but now she realised if she truly did love them, then she wouldn’t keep letting them down. She had fallen into old habits and therein lies disaster. She slipped up more times than she could count and every moment there was that urge that made her want to fall apart and cry (actually cry, not just feeling the tears drip down her face and wishing they weren’t there) and curl up into someone’s arms but she can’t. That would make her feel weak. She can’t let them feel obliged to try and help her (As if she could be helped), they deserve better than to waste their time on something that could never be fixed. She said before none of them deserved to pick up the slack for her own messes, and she kept to that, but she couldn’t handle those messes, that was clear. She wanted to save them the trouble.

Not that it actually matters. You don’t even care what they try to do for you, why would they be genuine in any love they have for you?

Did she appreciate what they tried to do for her? She tried to, she loved them, she was grateful for everything they have done, but when there was that knowledge that she didn’t deserve their effort, that they had so much better things to do with their time than to be her support… she tried to live to their efforts, to be as good as they wanted her to be, but deep down she knew it would never be enough and that they kept on trying to get her to open up, thinking she could do things she couldn’t… it was suffocating, knowing she would let them down. That misery, the misery that she tried to keep buried when around other people- it just kept rising. Evie didn’t blame them, she could only blame herself for fooling herself and everyone around her that just because she had the need to fix everything meant she could, but that they did try, only showed what good people they were.. too good than Evie ever deserved. 

Not that she knew what love was, really. Romantic love- that was a stranger to her. She thought it was what she and Josh had, but it couldn’t be. Not when the reason they got together was through cheating, not when they broke up too many times for a supposedly stable couple, and not when they ended in such a… unbelievably wrong way, that he could kill someone and she not have a clue, or that she end up wishing there was a way to stop him. She thought she cared for him, and him for her, but she didn’t believe she ever did.

Still, she knew what the other love was really like, the love that made you care about someone that you can’t live your life without them- or did she? Evie knew she loves her family, she loved Oscar that way, but yet, here she was, still alive. She could never imagine her life without her brother, but now she was forced to live it. And it was torture like nothing else.

Evie wondered, if deep down she knew this, how could she have gotten up every morning, even bothered to do anything when she had this guilt underneath her the whole time? She didn’t think it was strength, because she wasn’t strong. It couldn't be because of hope because, well, how could she be hopeful for anything? It couldn’t be because of everyone else. She thought that would be what they wanted but now she doubted if she ever cared. Because if she did care, if she really cared, she would have just stayed away. Everything that was going on… it was about Zac and Leah and everyone else, and she should have remembered that. It wasn’t about what she needed.

She didn’t know the answer as to why she was still moving and she hated that. Hated it so much that the urge came upon her again, the urge for her scissors and made her wish she brought it with her before she ran off. Her nails just scratched along her arms painfully. Her arms must look like an ugly war zone at this point, with cuts and scratches making their home on her skin. Maybe if that mattered she would have cared. She wants to hurt outside like she did inside. Maybe she knew this all along and pretended that it would help her to control, when it never brought her any control at all.

She should be dead. She wished she was, just to get out of everyone’s way. She wished she could just leave her body, not wanting to live in it anymore, not wanting to feel it anymore, not wanting to exist anymore. Sure there was the thought of dying being too easy, a getaway card from the empty feeling that followed her, an emptiness that caused pain she ought to burden, but being alive… well, she ought to say that’s a gift as well, but life without Oscar seemed so… colourless. That a person so full of life and kindness and everything that made him wonderful taken away in an instance… it was awful, and she felt like a fool for not realising it sooner. It felt like she was insulting his memory by pretending everything could be okay. 

She knew what she could do at least this time, stop making the same mistakes she has over and over again. It’s not good enough that she recognises what she did, she needs to accept the consequences for it.

She could see Alf in the distance and even though she didn’t know what he would say to her, she had to try. She had some money left over from work, she could pay the rent for as long as… well, for as long as she decided the next move.

But she felt she should talk to Leah or Zac first, just to let them know. For some strange reason they were worried for her, and they should know this at least. She can’t make decisions without consulting them at least. They wouldn’t like this, not when they were convinced they could help her, and she… she hated the idea of leaving them, but she didn’t see another way without her. Surely, they’d be fine, they were recovering, they didn’t need her hampering them.

-----

Leah just got the text and she looked up, already scanning the Diner for any sign of Evie. She sighed when she didn’t see her. Zac didn’t specify in what she could expect when she saw Evie but giving how reluctant Evie was to go to therapy, Leah doubted it would not be good. She just hoped the young woman was okay. Even though Leah still didn’t understand not wanting to discuss this.. deep emotional issues with family, she did understand why Evie would want to put on a brave face, as if it didn’t affect her. Leah could remember herself like that when Dan died, just wanted to be independent and not wanting to affect the people around her with her own misery, and knew Evie must be thinking the same. She knew that Evie just wanted to be normal around them, it's just that Leah and Zac had trouble believing that that she was recovering that quickly, especially when she was still grieving from Oscar. Leah didn't know if she could ever recover from that wound, knowing how inseparable the two were. 

“You alright there love?” Irene asked as she walked into the kitchen from the diner. Leah sighed in response.

“Yeah, of course,” she nodded. “Just stuff going on with Evie.”

Irene tutted sympathetically. “Things getting difficult at home?”

Leah shook her head. "Things were difficult for a while”. No one could really expect things to magically get better, but it could have if they just worked together. They can’t do that without Evie, and she couldn’t do it without them. She needed Zac and Zac needed her.

That said, Leah couldn’t help but wonder if Zac and Evie ever sat down and talked about Oscar and Hannah, how it affected them, try to share good memories of them. He spoken to her about it, those nights when it was too much for him in the immediate aftermath and he needed the comfort she could give him, but Leah knew that it would be different for him and Evie to actually talk about it- a much deeper conversation. Was it some line neither were willing to cross in their conversations, was the pain still raw? She wished she could go and find her, but still had a couple more hours on her shift, and she knew if she did leave to go look for Evie, the girl would just downplay whatever was going on and insist that Leah should go back to work.

“Listen, maybe once my shift is over from you, you can go over and give Billie our little gift. I’m sure the darl would love it.”

Leah’s weary face broke into a warm smile at her best friend. “Thanks, I’m sure she will.”

Then it turned out she didn’t need to. She had just finished the next order and handed it to Irene when she saw Evie standing nearby, anxiously.

Leah quickly walked around to the counter before getting a closer look at her. She looked a bit puffy but at the same time Leah recognised how Evie was pulling her face up to keep tears from falling. “Hi,” Leah greeted her softly. “How are you feeling?”

“I… I don’t know,” Evie admitted, feeling it was the only plausible answer she could give, and hating at how vague it sounded. She wished she could be more coherent, but she pushed on. “I need to talk to you, but if you’re busy-”

“No, it’s fine, we can talk. You want something to drink or eat?” Leah assured her. She walked around the counter, Evie following her but not before leaning over to speak quietly to Chris. Leah couldn’t hear all of what she said but Evie did say “Thanks,” and Chris shook his hand as if to say ‘it was nothing. Leah brought her over to one of the tables and sat her down. When she asked her if she wanted something to eat, Evie shook her head. “Thanks, but I ate earlier. I.... I just had a lot to think about today, and I’m still getting my head around it. How was your morning?”

“Well… don’t tell Billie but me and Irene were spending this morning picking out baby clothes. We’re hoping to show her them this evening and she what she thinks of them.” Leah smiled wistfully, thinking at how adorable the ones Irene and her had looked at this morning. She opened up the small bag she kept with her and opened it up for Evie to see the collection of small pink, blue and green clothes all neatly packed together. “What do you think?”

“They look adorable, but I guess, I think Billie would like the blue ones,” Evie told her, a small smile gracing past her lips. It wasn’t as bright as it was before, Leah noticed, and it didn’t reach her eyes, but it was still genuine. “You settling in then?”

“Yeah, It took a while for me to get my head around it, but now that it’s happening… I’ll admit I’m really looking forward to the idea of being a grandmother.”

“That’s really good, I’m sure Billie will love it.” Evie said, her smile faltering before continuing with what she had to say. Even though she was happy for Billie and Leah, it still felt offensive for her to smile but she ended up doing it anyway, just like thanking Chris. He lost Hannah, and if she was responsible like she feared she was, she should be begging him, telling him and everyone else how sorry she was, instead of acting like she was normal, that there wasn’t something very wrong with her. Was that what Josh felt like, hanging around everyone knowing what he did? Was she more like him than she thought? “Listen, I… I know things have been difficult at home, I didn’t want it to be.”

“I know that Evie, and so does Zac. We just want to make sure you’re okay.” Both Zac and Leah knew that even when Evie wasn’t talking to them, she was looking after herself. She just hoped that Evie knew that, that they didn’t think she wasn’t capable, which would only make Evie want to lean on them less. "Did Nadia help you see things a bit more clearer."

“Actually yes, to what end I don't know, but um… I’ve been thinking, and… I just need to give you guys space so I was…” Evie felt her voice stammer because she hated that she was doing this, but what other choice did she have? She was too dangerous to be around, so she found the resolve (or a pretence of resolve) and put it back in her voice. “I think I need to move out.”

Leah met this with silence, digesting what Evie just told her. “Is… do you think you need to?” she asked, wishing she heard something else than that.

“Well… to be honest, yes.” Evie had to make it out on her own, didn’t she? Surely even she could achieve what any respectful adult could. At least if she was living alone, there was less chance of putting anyone else at risk. “At home, it’s just been… I think moving out to the caravan park is for the best, at least for a while.”

“Evie…” Leah knew Evie was an adult, and she made her own decisions. Zac and Leah would respect that, but they just wanted to know why. Was it something they did, did Evie feel even worse by their constant questioning if she was okay? Were they doing that? “If we’ve… I don’t know, been pushing you into giving us an answer, then please know that we weren’t trying to make you feel uncomfortable, we were just trying to help you get through this.”

“No Leah… it wasn’t you or Zac, I promise you,” Evie rushed to assure her. Maybe there were times where she felt like she was being scrutinised and that thought burned through her, but she couldn’t blame them, not when they were trying to help and not when they didn’t knew the full story. Dammit, why does this keep happening, why did she make them feel like it was somehow their fault? “You two are the most selfless, caring people I know… I didn’t know how you could put up with me for so long. I don’t want you to be worried about anything like that. I know I just keep worrying you, but by doing this… hopefully it can take your minds off it.”

“I get you weren’t willing to go to therapy, but…” Leah sighed before continuing. “Surely… you can’t use this to try and avoid talking about it.”

“I promise you… I know it may not mean much, but I promise you I will keep going to the sessions, but it’ll be easier knowing I’m doing this on my own …”

“If you wanted to do this on your own, then… I understand that, but not when we can’t watch you get worse and worse. I know you don’t want to worry us, but telling us you’re fine when… ” Leah replied.

“You don’t understand…”

“You’re not fine, Evie,” Leah said, and internally winced at how harsh that must have sounded. She had tried to avoid talking so bluntly with Evie, because even though she was going through something terrible, she didn’t want her to feel as though she was just a victim, she was so much more than that. However, she couldn’t be walking on egg-shells around her the whole time. “It’s just…" she began again, as compassionate as she could. "I don’t think any of us have been fine and that’s where this worry is coming from, but we know the old you is in there somewhere, we won’t stop until we get that person back.”

“How can you expect back, Leah? So much has changed… this year has been hell, for so many people. I know I'm not fine Leah, I don’t see how any of us can be the same person and that’s why I want to make things as easy as possible.” She couldn’t believe that Leah wanted the old Evie, the one who caused so much misery, surely she can see why that would be a terrible idea.

“But surely that would mean you should accept the help you’re given Evie. We… we don’t want you to feel worse, but we’re doing our best, and it really hurts seeing you like this.” Leah didn’t want to sound defensive, but it was true.

“I know you were, I knew you wanted to help,” Evie mumbled before looking Leah directly in the eyes. And maybe that was part of the problem. She should have known that Zac and Leah would have tried to help, tried to fix what couldn’t be fixed, no matter who it was to. And that just made the situation even more crushingly unbearable. “And I want to spare you that because… you know why, we both know why, it’s not worth it, I promise you. It was never worth it.”

Leah felt a cold shiver over her neck at the sound of that. The way Evie just said it… so simple, so accepting, when Leah just didn’t know what to make of it. “Evie… what are you talking about? What is that supposed to mean?”

“Why not? I should handling it on my own, even if it’s hard… hell, especially since it’s hard, I shouldn’t need your help.” It was really that simple from where Evie was sitting. People like Zac or Leah or Matt shouldn’t be around people like Evie. It was dangerous and wrong. “I mean, what have I done to deserve it?” She asked honestly.

“Evie, I’ve got to be honest, you’re scaring me here,” Leah admitted, feeling more and more unnerved at what the younger woman was saying. But even as Evie was saying this, she remembered back at words she had spoken not long ago, about how Evie thought she let her and Zac down and kept messing everything up, and while Leah didn’t think much of it then, but now, that she thought she messed something up somehow- did that made her even more determined to sort it out on her own? “I’ve never heard you sound like this- what’s brought this up?”

Evie tried not to bitterly laugh at that, because the answer to that was obvious. “What do you want me to say, Leah? We both know that I have made you and Zac worried… I can’t focus, I’m not sociable, at all anymore, I can’t be there, not as I want to, and after what Josh did to you all, what I let him did-”

“Evie, we’ve been through this, no one blames you for what Josh did! What does that have to do with you thinking you need to leave? You can’t let yourself think that, he… he lied to you just as much as anyone else,” Leah tried to persuade her. Why would Evie remain fixated on this, she must know how much hurtful it would be for her to think it.

“Did he lie to me as much? I’m not so sure about that,” Evie interjected in an almost dry tone. “Maybe there was some obvious sign for me to see that I could have ended that madness a long time ago, before Carter targeted Zac. If I hadn’t seen how big of a lie it was… come on Leah, I mean, I have had past experience with burying my head in the sand when it comes to obvious problems in my relationship.”

“Not this time,” Leah promised her, realising with a heavy heart what Evie was referring to. Leah could see why Evie would be doubting herself in regards to her mess with Tank, but this wasn’t the same. Evie would never cover for Josh, not about this. Leah couldn’t help but feel more anger at the boy now for leaving Evie to feel like this was her fault. It was bad enough that he let Zac go to prison, the fact that he was in a relationship with Evie at the time made it even worse. “Evie, we forgave you about what happened with Tank. You can’t let yourself keep thinking about this, it’s not going to do you any good. You’ve been there trying to help me and Zac and everyone else ever since it happened and I don’t know if whether or not you think you have to make up for it, but you don’t. None of that was your fault.” Leah reached out and took Evie’s hand in her own, softly rubbing it.  

Evie still felt that uncomfortable feeling whenever someone did that, and she didn’t know why, and at least she could keep that discomfort in. She didn’t want to make Leah feel worse, but…how could Leah think it wasn’t her fault?

God, what if they didn’t know? What if, by some strange turn, they can’t make the connection with what I did? What if they weren’t just putting up with me because they’re too nice or for some obligation, but because they don’t think I’m responsible?

Evie didn’t know if she should believe that. Zac and Leah- they’re smart people, they always knew the answers. If it took Evie this long to realise her responsibility, surely they would have worked it out and they wouldn’t have ignored it, that would be something that couldn’t be ignored. But if they didn’t know, if they couldn’t see what she did…

Evie had a horrible idea of where that train of thought was going and shut it down before it festered in her mind. She won’t take advantage of them like that. Even if they didn’t know how it was her fault, then she wasn’t going to pretend it wasn’t just to make herself feel better. It wouldn’t be long anyway before something bad happens to them, and as long as she could stop it, she would. They would hate her for pushing herself away even further, but no more than they would end up if she stayed.  She didn’t deserve them.

Evie ducked her head, so she could focus on the tablecloth rather than Leah. “How can I not think about it? I have to remember what I did wrong, I can’t shut it out. It’s not that I want to think that. Trust me, if I could think anything other I would-”

“Then why are you’re pushing yourself from us?” Leah shook her head. “Evie, we’re not going to judge you for whatever doubts you have about Josh, you loved him, of course it wasn’t going to simple to sort out.”

“Well it should be.” Evie’s eyes shot up and Leah tried not to recoil at how much sudden fury was in her eyes. “What happened to me and Josh- that’s nothing, it was never anything actually worth it and I was stupid to think so. You all have bigger issues going on with you right now than whatever I had with Josh and I should have been supporting you. Leah- you’re gonna be a grandmother! That’s huge. You’re going to need to be there for VJ, help him to be the father he wants to be and is worried that he won’t be, and for Billie, and Zac’s going to be there for you.”

“Evie, you have been trying to help me and Zac. You stood by Zac during the whole mess Hunter caused, and went with him to court, you keep offering to help, even with the little stuff, don’t ever think that’s not enough.” Leah then couldn’t help but think about how similar Zac and Evie both were in that regard, fearing their efforts for the people they love would never be enough.

“But it isn’t!” Evie had to keep her voice down to prevent making a scene. What mattered was that she tried to be the person they could lean onto, the one who could be supportive, but obviously now she realised that would never be enough. “Hunter may not be getting away with what he did, but he can’t be allowed to trick Zac again, I should have done more to keep him away, I-I could have gone to him, get him to confess earlier, got him to stay away.”

“I doubt Hunter would listen to anything we would have to say, but nothing’s certain yet when it comes to him. Zac’s not making any decisions right now, he wants to wait and see where he stands with Hunter. No matter what we’ll be more careful now.” Leah couldn’t lie and say she didn’t understand what Evie was talking about. She didn’t feel happy about the idea of Hunter being accepted any time soon either, but she trusted Zac to give the situation some time to make the right decision about him. “Whatever he does, we need to trust Zac to look after himself.

“I… I do trust Zac, but this thing with Hunter… it’s a really confusing situation for all of us, but for Zac it’s ten times worse, and he shouldn’t be hurt again. You guys… you shouldn’t be worrying about me. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you this entire time.”

Well, that was true at least. Evie had kept insisting that she was okay, ever since Josh was arrested. When Leah thought back then, Evie had looked like she’d been handling it, even then still giving everyone smiles, helping around the house. Leah didn’t feel it right to try and jump her, so she convinced Zac to let her get on with it, not wanting to make Evie feel worse. But now Leah was convinced that Evie had bottled it all up and pretended it wasn’t there. It must have been easier to have done it then, but that never lasts and the bubbly, energetic girl that entered Leah’s home more than a year ago had turned into a ghost.  “I know we may be asking a lot from you, but can I ask you something, just one thing- have you been drinking since…?”

Because that was the thing that was bugging Leah among other things. Zac and Alf both shared their suspicions with her and the late nights, the fact that Evie never actually denied it, how ill she sometimes looked gave those suspicions credit, but the thing was that Evie never looked drunk. Everytime she came home, she was always sober. So either she was keeping a control over it, or else she was never drunk. Then why wouldn’t Evie tell them that. She asked Evie several times, but she wasn’t getting a fever or anything. She didn’t get what was going on with her.

Evie considered the question and knew that was never the case, but she never denied it. maybe it was because she didn’t really care about it, maybe it was because she thought it would make them realise she wasn’t worth it… or maybe it was because what she actually did was much worse. “I never was. I lied to you guys, I… I was nervous and the nerves were too much, that was why I vomited when Mr Stewart found me.”

Leah looked deeply at her to see if she was telling the truth. Evie’s eyes looked genuine, but Leah also got the sense she was holding something back. “Then why didn’t you just tell us that? I get processing what you’ve been through is difficult, and it’s easy to try and suppress it, but you have to acknowledge it, not just avoid it when it’s convenient.”

“I know how-”

“I don’t think you do. I mean, I know you weren’t trying to worry us, but Zac was right. We don’t know what else to do. Work, the offer at the school- it’s as if nothing can get you out of this state. And you forget, Zac and I both know your work is where you’re at the top of your game.”

Evie tried to avoid the cramp in her stomach and hide the shame. She didn’t need the reminder, but what did that tell Leah? All it showed that nothing could fix her, and that fact meant only more that her issues cannot be deflected onto others. Yet Leah continued.

“You’re really creative, and not just with art,” Leah told her, trying to see if she could do anything to get Evie’s self-esteem back. “You’re good at organising and coming up with ideas, and as a teacher, you would be excellent. But what’s more you’re confident, you never give up anything you started. And that’s what we’re most confused about in all this. You’ve never question yourself before. We don’t need you to be get everything right the first time round, but we know you enjoy that type of work and you’ve always been sure of yourself.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Evie replied simply. She just felt worse, because Leah obviously thought saying all the thing she was apparently good at would make her feel better. She wished she could just nod along, but accepting it wouldn’t be honest and she wished she could explain it, wished she could get Leah to realise it was her fault, realise that she and Zac deserved so much better than Evie. Instead these words came out. “I’ve been so full of myself when I… was never really good at it, that it led me from one disaster to the next, and what makes it worse is that it infects everyone else around me. I was able to pretend to myself that wasn’t the case, and I’d lied about it to you guys as well, just so you’d think I could do it.”

“Evie, don’t think that, you-” Leah reached out to her arm and attempted to give her a gentle squeeze only for Evie to wince and pull away. Realising what she did, she looked up to Leah with embarrassment.

“I’m sorry… just aches a bit. You’re right, I’ve have been avoiding stuff, but I can stop making the same mistakes. And the only way… the only way I can see I can do that is for us to give each other space.”

Leah looked at the younger woman desperately, and wished she could change her mind. She felt she was making the wrong decision, but Leah could also realise that her own thoughts were clouded by her own worries. She just hoped that Evie was being honest and that space could make things easier for her. That didn’t mean she had to like it. “Evie… please understand, we trust you to look after yourself, but that doesn’t mean you have to.”

“I do, there’s no other choice,” Evie said, and this time she can’t keep the scathing tone out of her voice even as she tried. “I really don’t get why you put up with me when I’ve only made things worse.”

A very bad picture was already painting in Leah’s head. Did Evie really think that they saw her as someone they had to tolerate? Did she really think they would hesitate to even try to help her? “We’re not putting up with you Evie, we just need you to be there. I… I can’t imagine how painful it was to lose Oscar-”

“Leah please-”

“But you shutting us out won’t help you. You can’t expect us to just sit by without trying to help you move on, we love you, Evie.”

It was talking everything in Evie not to break down in tears, or scream as she stood up and walked towards the side of the diner, away from everyone else. Probably scream. How could they love her? Feeling the older woman walk up beside her, Evie turned around. “I’m not asking you to sit by, that’s the last thing I would want you do to. I’m not seventeen anymore, I can make these decisions for myself and I want to do this. I need you to be safe. You guys… you don’t need me, you never did.”

“Yes we do, Evie, of course we do-”

“No you don’t. You and Zac were worried about me from the start, and I’ve been trying to put it aside so I could help you and yet… I keep finding ways to let you down or make you worry but you still want to help me… it means too much, I’m sorry but it’s not going to get any better.” Evie internally cursed herself, because she told herself she wouldn’t say sorry, because that won’t make things okay and she won’t ask for forgiveness because she shouldn’t get it. But she needed Leah to understand that. Everytime they tried to help her, means more to her than anyone would probably expect, but she can’t let them do that.

Leah sighed in an attempt to hide the fear in her voice now. This was much worse than she expected. She had previously thought that Evie was just trying to ignore her issues just to get by, and she knew Evie didn’t want to worry them, but now… thinking back to things Evie has said before, she began to think that maybe Evie didn’t even want help, as if she didn’t want to be healed. Maybe she won’t be able to convince Evie that she needed help right now, but she’ll have to keep trying, they wanted her to heal. “Evie, don’t be afraid of letting us down, I promise you, that’s not what you’ve done. Yes, we feel frustrated about being let in the dark, but that doesn’t mean you’ve let us down. If you’re feeling pressurised, then tell us, we can work something out. We do need you, we want you to get better.”

Evie just sighed and wrapped her arms around herself, hoping it didn’t make her look weak. Maybe that was causing all the trouble. That for some, unfathomable reason they loved her and therefore they would forgive her when she didn’t deserve it. That didn’t make sense, but maybe, as much as Evie could trust them, she didn’t think they could see clearly when it came to her. Well, she won’t exploit that. “I don’t think this is something we can work out.”

------

Zac sat down at home on the couch, breathing heavily. He was feeling more weary every-day, and even though he did his best to push aside his worries in order to concentrate on what was in front of him, he knew they were still there, taunting him with their presence. He didn’t kid himself, he knew that after this year, when it came to his family, his immediate reaction was to be worried and to know what was going on, so he could try and fix it. He hated the idea of being left out of the loop and that was why what was going on with Evie was just all the more frustrating for him.

He could still remember how upset Evie looked before she ran away earlier today. He knew that it was difficult for her, to leave herself raw to a stranger, but he didn’t expect an emotional reaction like that. He didn’t need her to talk about it, but she can’t keep running away from confronting the issues she was dwelling in. He just wished she trusted him to be there for her even if it wasn’t easy. They’ve been through too much together for her to withdraw.

Did she feel ashamed she was feeling the emotions? It could connect the dots between her behaviour and her regret about Josh, and while he was no expert on the subject, he knew people who go through depression to experience feelings of shame. It was the only explanation he could think of for it, but he can’t let her think like that. The idea that she felt guilty of her emotions- it never sat right with Zac when anyone did that (even himself), but that a family member was doing it made him feel incredibly upset. And angry, that Evie felt like that.

It hadn’t felt right to leave her walk off though, even if it meant giving her space. After seeing how upset she looked… maybe he ought to have talked to her before letting her leave. Maybe that’s what he was doing wrong. Maybe she was actually trying to be better before but his constant questioning and trying to get her to open up, did it only set her back, only make her feel even worse, as if they expected her to fall apart-

No, that wasn’t what happened. He didn’t really think that was what happened. Yeah, he was worried, but that didn’t change the fact that all he and Leah did was to make sure she knew she wasn’t alone. Despite asking careful questions about how she was, they tried their best to treat her just like normal, apart from giving her a bit of latitude when it came to chores, at least at first. They can’t be there the whole time holding her hand, Evie of all people wouldn’t want them to do that. He should have expected that she didn’t want to talk immediately but he hoped she would come around to opening up, letting them help her. There was no reason why she would think they didn’t want to know what was going on with her.

But now Evie wanted to leave. She may just be down the road, where it would be easy to visit, and he knew he’d feel more comfortable with it if he believed she was in the right headspace for it, or if it was immediately after…, but that wasn’t what was happening here. She was leaving so she could avoid them, so she could avoid them actually being concerned for her. He didn’t get why it bothered her so much that they wanted to help, and why she didn’t want to get help.

Zac turned around at the sound of a case hitting the stairs. He saw Evie walk down with her stuff and he tried not to look bitter, but he won’t pretend that he liked this. “Is anything I’m going to say change your mind?”

Evie looked down, and he could see the shame clear on her face. “I don’t think so, Zac. I just… I just can’t be here, anymore. It’s for the best.”

“How can you say that?” Zac asked, feeling more bewildered than angry. “I don’t see how it’s for the best. After everything, you pushing yourself away doesn’t do anything for us.”

“I can’t see how me staying is going to do anything for you either. I mean, you’ve been worried about me ever since Josh got arrested, even though I’ve been handling it. I keep telling you I’m okay, but nothing changes. What does that tell you?”

“So what if I was?” Zac argued back. Leah spoke to him after she told him what Evie was planning to do, and warned him to try and stay calm, but he had tried to reach out to her, and he felt his patience was worn out. He still had that nagging feeling that their obvious worry pushed Evie towards the edge and he wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case. “Evie, please, I’m sorry if we made you feel worse if we were keeping an extra eye on you, but we were just worried, it wasn’t about not trusting you, but you can see why we had a right to be worried.”

“No you didn’t,” Evie replied, though inside she wanted to just plead how much she had tried, had tried to just be normal, but she shouldn’t make excuses. “So the least I can do is get out of your way. I know I’ve worried you, but at least this way I can make things better.”

“For us or for you?” Zac couldn’t help but ask, even though even he found that question extremely harsh, yet it slipped through anyway. “Are you just doing this so you can avoid something you don’t want to be there? Evie, I know you. You always want to be able to handle these things on your own, I know you want to be strong, but this is not how you solve this!”

“It’s my choice, Zac,” Evie rallied back. She should have expected this, she should have known Zac wasn’t going to let this go without a fight. “Zac, you are one of the smartest people I know, but you put too much trust in me, and it wasn’t worth it.”  

“Well, maybe that was my choice to make.”

“You want me to be better but it’s practically impossible for me to do that while I’m here. For some strange reason you care, but what I’m telling you is that you shouldn’t.”

“Not be better, get better. That’s all I wanted, why don’t you want that?”

“That’s why I’m leaving, because right now… I don’t know if you can look properly when it comes to the people you care about.”

“What-is this about Hunter again? Evie, I… if you don’t want anything to do with Hunter, I won’t ask you to do so. I won’t force you to, and I promise you, I will make sure this time that he won’t cause you or Leah anymore grief, but I can’t apologise for trying to make him be better!” Zac replied, hoping that this wasn’t because she wanted to leave. To be fair, he could see why it would make her feel uncomfortable, especially with all of Hunter’s attitude towards her, but she didn’t let it daunt her then, so why this reaction now? Surely she would know Zac won't let Hunter act like that to her again. “If that’s the reason you want to move out, Evie…”

“Hunter’s not the reason why I’m doing this. I didn’t want to argue about him before with you because I know you were still hurting from it and I know you blame him as much as I do, but I can’t see why you would still want to help him, not after what he did to you, to Leah, to Denny…”

“I haven’t forgotten any of that and I’ll make sure Hunter knows that. He’s not going to fool us again, but holding onto that anger, that grief… that’ll do no good. I won’t let him hurt you.”

“I can’t let him hurt you either, I should have tried harder than let him worm back into your life. I know you want to help people, and… and you shouldn’t stop trying, but surely Zac, even you can see that there are some people who can’t be helped.” Evie felt she was going to either ramble or go into some big emotional speech, even as she was trying to avoid how anxious that reminder made her, that Hunter could worm his way into Zac’s life again and mess it up, perhaps this time hurting Zac even more. Yet all that did was show to her that she had leave. It would be hypocritical for her to preach about that while pretending she should still be here. “That’s got nothing to do with this. I’m still going to work, I’ll still go to therapy, even though I’ve yet to see the point, and I’ll still do it as long as I have to," She replied, knowing that she'll keep it up as long as she had left, though she didn't think she could go on like this for long. "I owe you more than that, but at least I can do that. It’s just… harder for me to be here anymore.”

“Around us, you mean?”

“That’s not- that’s not what I meant…” Evie said slowly, unsure whether or not it was actually what she meant.

“Then what do you mean, Evie, because dammit, I don’t know what to do,” Zac told her bitterly. He couldn’t still get how it came to this, and all within a day. “You look as though you haven’t slept a bit, you don’t have the slightest bit of confidence in yourself, you take any mistake way too seriously-”

“Well, I’m choosing to live by myself, so I guess I trust myself that much,” Evie retorted, unsure even why she bothered.

“That’s not even funny,” Zac replied, too tired to entertain it. He wanted to ask what is going on with her, but he knows well enough not to ask that, knowing how judgemental that will sound no matter who he says it to. It just made him angry to see her so drained of apparently everything except dread and bitterness, even if she tried to appear positive from time to time. “I know this won’t be solved within… a day, or a week, or a month, but you’ve always tried before, you can’t give up on wanting help now. I’ve never seen you like this before and you can’t-”

“Before what, Zac? Before my boyfriend let you get stabbed in prison? Before I can’t do anything I was supposedly good at? Before Osc… before…” Evie’s hands were trembling again and she couldn’t finish that sentence. Frankly she didn’t think Zac would have wanted to hear it either (at least that’s what she tried to tell herself). She scrubbed her face over her hands, hoping it would hide the sudden wave of anguish that covered her eyes. God, how did it come to this, that she couldn’t even say her brother’s name?

“Evie.. can’t you see what’s happening here? You’re letting your grief take control of you. What Josh did to you…”

What Josh did to me. That made anger cloud in her mind and twist in her stomach. “He’s got nothing to do with this either. It’s my decision and that’s it!” Silence immediately fell as Evie watched a combination of emotions wash over Zac’s face before he settled on dreary resignation. “I won’t force you to change your mind, but…”

“Just the same way I won’t force you to do anything… I won’t force you to remain in this constant state of worrying about me.”

“Evie… I’d be less worry if I had a good idea of how to help you. I get if you don’t want to tell me everything… but I want you to deal with this properly, and that doesn’t include pretending otherwise and say it’s fine. I don’t need you to be perfect, I just need to know you’ll be safe.”

Evie looked up at him and wished she could give him a different answer, an honest answer. “I know everything you’ve done was to help me. I don’t know why you would want to, but you did, and… thank you, I wish I could say more, for everything you’ve done.” And that was why she couldn’t stay. What they’ve done for her- it was everything, everything she shouldn’t get.

“So make it mean something.” Zac couldn’t believe she would think they wouldn’t want to try to help her. He knew she wanted to do this on her own, but that she would think that made his anxiety bubble. Why would Evie be doubting them?  

“This is the only way I know I can.” Evie quietly replied. “I know I shouldn’t have pretended, but what else can I do. It’s my fault, I’ve hurt all of you-”

Zac sighed “Evie, we told you this time after time again, it wasn’t your fault! Why can’t you accept that and stop it controlling every part of your life?”

“You think that I want to let it? I can’t just ignore it, that wouldn’t be fair on you or anyone else, not when you’re going through as much grief-”

“Evie, I talk to Leah, I get to process what I’m going through, and I’m better off because of it. That will work for you just as well I promise.” Zac said even as his frustration rose. “Evie, I love you to bits, but you have to stop being so stubborn about this. You said you want to be there for us, but the only thing that will come of you doing this will make you the person we won’t call if we need help.”

“Well you shouldn’t then. There’s nothing I can do to help you and in fact, I’ll probably- no forget probably, I will just make things worse and you shouldn’t deal with that…”

“You don’t know that Evie, you don’t know you’ll make things worse. You… I know, it’s been hard and exhausting and painful, I know you miss Oscar… everyday, so do I, and I will do anything I have to do to help you get through this, but you’ve gone through too much to give up now” Zac said. “You still have too much ahead of you, please.”  

“I do know I will, and I know it’s been hard for you, but… I” I don’t know how long I can hold on, Evie wanted to say, but she didn’t need him to try and stop her pity party. She couldn’t even look at him now. Maybe it be easier if she was angry, for both of them. Not easy, but easier than it was right now. To be honest, it be easier if Zac was angry at her, as he should have. It would hurt less. “I should go.”

Zac realised the conversation was over. He couldn’t understand the full extent of what she was going through, but he didn’t like it, not one bit. “Fine, I guess… I guess I’ll see you at work then.”

“You will, I’ll see you then,” Evie murmured sadly. This wasn’t the right move to make, but it was better than the alternative. She hosted her bag up and walked out the door. She didn’t think she could look back at him, or else she was going to crumble. Because a small part of her wanted to be convinced to stay, and she felt horrible because of it.

-----

She sat down on the makeshift bed on the caravan. She didn’t know whether or not she could call it coincidence that she ended up in the same caravan she moped in earlier. Alf had accepted her to stay there, and thankfully didn’t push the matter of rent, which she was set for at least a few weeks. He kept his opinions to himself, but she could get that he didn’t exactly approve of her decision. She didn’t expect any of them to exactly be happy by this, but she didn’t see how she could make them happy if she remained, not if she couldn’t talk to them. None of it made sense, it was all so confusing (she hated confusion), but now if she knew they’d be safe from her, things would be more clearer- hopefully anyway. She needed to make the hard choice.

And how were you expecting to help them anyway, when you can’t even help yourself?

She sat down and pushed her head in her hands, wishing if she pulled her hands away, the blackness would remain, instead of the vision of the small living area in the caravan, or the kitchen on the far end with a small fridge and oven. She would keep things in order, it was what was expected of her and she won’t mess up what she always viewed as Mr Stewart’s property. Besides, it wasn’t as if she’d be inviting people for a party late in the night or getting drunk.

It felt unreal. She has never lived without family before. Even after Oscar left the cult, she still had what remained of her father. She had never lived alone, even though when she was younger, she had dreamed of living on her own as an adult. How stupid was she, to think she could do this on her own. Still, she made her bed, she’ll have to lie on it now.

She wished she could convince herself that this was the right move to make. She knew it was the preferable alternative, that she couldn’t be fooling Zac or Leah anymore than she already had. She will not be anymore of a liar than she already has been, she will not let them waste time or energy on her. Yet no matter how much she wrestled with herself, she couldn’t find a way to make this feel right. Even the promise she made to Zac and Leah to still go to therapy, to still go to work, didn’t feel right. Everything she has ever been, everything she had done, was all coming into doubt right in front of her, if anything she did, even if she thought it was for the right reasons, was good. It was all so confusing and she couldn’t trust herself. If her trying to be there for her family and friends wasn’t for them, but for herself, to show if she could still make them proud (if she could still be good enough). If her trying to keep this all to herself was trying to save herself from confronting some hard truths. She felt it was the right thing to do at the time, but she knew it made her feel good as well, just to be around them, and again, she shouldn’t have made it about her, (though if that was true, why did she feel extremely uncomfortable at other times around them as well? It couldn’t be both, it had to be one or the other, so which one is it?). If sending the money to charity was, as she feared, instead of doing it for the right reasons or making Hannah proud, a way to hide her guilt.

Guilt that was a pain greater than any physical pain she could bring upon herself and she still couldn’t imagine it. It was bad enough to remember she was helpless to do anything to save Oscar, horrible that he was gone forever, but what was equally horrible, equally disgusting, that he, as pure as a human being than Evie ever knew and would do anything for her, died because of her…

She slowly raised the scissors in her hand, pointing the edge at her right arm, preparing herself to cut herself once again, for it was the only way for her to feel something that felt, in the most strangest way, right, for her to feel the other type of pain, the pain she deserved for destroying her own family.

-----

“She’s gone,” Zac murmured softly to Leah as he stared off into the night. He knew he hadn’t lost her, but that she drove herself away like that… he won’t deny how confusing and hurt this whole thing was.

“She’s only down the road, she can look after herself,” Leah tried to assure him, but clearly Zac couldn’t see past this.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” he replied cryptically as he leaned against the wall. “I’ve never heard her sound like that before, sounding so defeated. As if… she doesn’t want to get better.”

“I think we’ve been reading this all wrong… we should have recognised it earlier” Leah told him, approaching him and wrapping an arm around him. Thinking back, she couldn’t help but wonder if the signs were there. Did Evie always feel like this, or had it develop overtime? It was disconcerting that someone who had never given up before seemed to have given up on herself and Leah didn’t know how to fix that. She had never seen it before, but they could have prepared for the opportunity, even though Evie should have come to them first the moment she started feeling this. She was a smart girl, surely she would know that wouldn’t end well. That idea was something Leah and Zac had to work on to get it out of Evie’s head, that it was hopeless. “I don’t know how we move from here,” she murmured honestly against his shoulder.

Zac shook his head. “We… we can’t let this beat her, even if she thinks it has. I’ll check on her, we’ll try and…” He didn’t know how to finish that sentence but he won’t give up on her, even if she has given up on herself. “I don’t know how, but we will. We’ll just have to hope that Nadia can help her see the light. ” He was only determined to help Evie, but it seemed harder than before. How can you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?

Edited by D.B
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Ooh, that may not be the best thing for Evie at all, being left alone with her own thoughts... Looking forward to seeing where you take it.

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On 04/04/2021 at 09:11, Red Ranger 1 said:

Ooh, that may not be the best thing for Evie at all, being left alone with her own thoughts... Looking forward to seeing where you take it.

No, it's not exactly the best move to make, and to an extent Evie knows this as well, but in her mind, it was the best out of two terrible choices: she can only see herself either staying with the fear of constantly inflicting her misery and pain onto the people she cares about, or leaving to give them space to heal. With her growing belief that she is responsible for what happened to Oscar and Hannah, she sees this as the only way to keep her family safe. Again, it's still the wrong decision and she'll have to realise this is a mistake, but I wanted to show her reasoning. Even though she can't recognise it yet (and that she can't decide which one it is, whether it's her being selfish or her trying to do the right thing), her decision comes from a mixture of caring for those she loves and fear for everyone, including herself. It's all confusing. And Zac and Leah aren't so sure of what to do either, who are getting close to the real problem with Evie, but still not hitting the bullseye yet. 

Thanks Red, I have big plans for the next coming chapters. I feared with becoming repetitive with writing about Evie's crumbling mental state, but I plan to move things along in the next few chapters so the road for recovery can begin. And thanks again for being so patient, my work is constantly screwing up my schedule. I can't make any promises, but the next chapter will be up within the next 2 or 3 weeks. 

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On 10/04/2021 at 00:13, D.B said:

Thanks Red, I have big plans for the next coming chapters. I feared with becoming repetitive with writing about Evie's crumbling mental state, but I plan to move things along in the next few chapters so the road for recovery can begin. And thanks again for being so patient, my work is constantly screwing up my schedule. I can't make any promises, but the next chapter will be up within the next 2 or 3 weeks. 

No problem, these things take as long as they take, the important thing is to keep working at them.

Been kind of holding off on the shameless plugging but did you ever read my fic Look to the Future, my attempt to get over my extreme dissatisfaction with this period? In some ways it's similar to this, in some ways it's nothing like it. (I had a very small role for Evelyn, for a start!)

https://www.backtothebay.net/forum/topic/46838-look-to-the-future/

 

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14 hours ago, Red Ranger 1 said:

No problem, these things take as long as they take, the important thing is to keep working at them.

Been kind of holding off on the shameless plugging but did you ever read my fic Look to the Future, my attempt to get over my extreme dissatisfaction with this period? In some ways it's similar to this, in some ways it's nothing like it. (I had a very small role for Evelyn, for a start!)

https://www.backtothebay.net/forum/topic/46838-look-to-the-future/

 

I actually have read it, back in 2018 before I joined the forum and I loved it. I agree, 2016 was a really depressing time for the show, and you had a great take on what should have happened.  I really enjoyed most of the stories for the characters (such as how you wrote Evie and Matt's relationship), and I loved the return of old characters such as Dex and Frank Morgan. I'll admit, my approach towards Zac's mixed loyalties when it came to Hunter was sort of influenced on your interpretation on what would have happened if Zac knew what Hunter did (because I was at a lost with how to write it and I wanted to see other people's views on it), so I must thank you for that. And thanks for your encouragement and patience. I'm still dedicated to finishing this story on a hopeful high note, especially now that the story at's this stage. 

Edited by D.B
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On 11/04/2021 at 22:52, D.B said:

I actually have read it, back in 2018 before I joined the forum and I loved it. I agree, 2016 was a really depressing time for the show, and you had a great take on what should have happened.  I really enjoyed most of the stories for the characters (such as how you wrote Evie and Matt's relationship), and I loved the return of old characters such as Dex and Frank Morgan. I'll admit, my approach towards Zac's mixed loyalties when it came to Hunter was sort of influenced on your interpretation on what would have happened if Zac knew what Hunter did (because I was at a lost with how to write it and I wanted to see other people's views on it), so I must thank you for that. And thanks for your encouragement and patience. I'm still dedicated to finishing this story on a hopeful high note, especially now that the story at's this stage. 

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 look forward to seeing where you take them.

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Posted (edited)

I cannot stress again how grateful I am for all of your patience and keeping up with this story. I started this story with the intent of trying to give Evie and her trauma, and where it may have lead her, justice, because I felt the show really did a disservice to her, and while writing this wasn't exactly as I thought it would be, or hoped it would be, I am still determined to write about how everything is affecting her and why she is making these decisions. The Subject matter of this story can be extremely taxing, mentally and emotionally, to write, and that on top of work and the state of the world in the moment, writing chapters have taken longer than expected. It's not easy to try and keep everyone in character, as well as keeping them as engaging characters, but I hope I did my best. And please remember, there's a lot more on the way, so I have no intention of abandoning this fic. 

Chapter 13

Evie wrapped her arms around herself in the dark, as if in a desperate attempt to keep herself from shaking or to keep herself warm, even as her limbs were shaking in sporadic movements and her throat was hoarse. That itself was stupid because she knew how warm it was, especially during the summer but that didn’t change anything, she felt unnaturally cold, like she had been thrown into a lake covered in ice and trapped there for eternity. Of course that wasn’t the first thing she was aware of as she shot out of what she knows to as her daily nightmare.

God, she might just be the stupidest person alive, if she had forgotten that she moved out, that the sight of the small interior of the caravan had left her feeling startled. It has been like this for the past few days she lived here, it was always the same reaction. Her breath laboured a painful shudder as her eyes, stretching out to see in the dark, darted around as if she had expected to wake up back in her bedroom, unable to rid herself of the panic that felt like a leech travelling up her spine to her neck, making her squirm. She felt dirty, slimy, a complete mess. Waking up from that nightmare no longer provided her any comfort, because waking up wasn’t any better, but the panic was spreading to her head, filling her ears with loud alarm bells, drowning out everything except her heartbeat that she always thinks is seconds away from bursting from her chest. It wasn’t like it was at home, this panic, felt like her entire skull about to collapse into itself, every breath filled with more pain than before as she tried to take in as much lungful of breaths but she couldn’t feel the lungs entering her body. What wasn’t she getting, why was the caravan filling her with such panic than it ever was at home-

She realised then it was because she wasn’t at home. Plagued with dreams that filled her with fear of something terrible happening to her family, she never acknowledged it but she felt the slightest bit of comfort knowing that Zac, Leah and the others were nearby and… still alive, a comfort that strengthened when she walked downstairs and saw them all. But she couldn’t do it now, not here. She couldn’t get that satisfaction of knowing they were alright. Anything could happen to them, and she wasn’t there-

As if you could do anything. If you stayed there, the only thing that would be certain would be that they were hurt. Wasn’t Oscar enough for you to realise-

“Shut up, shut up…” Evie muttered as she gripped her face in her hands, her nails digging into her forehead as if that would get herself to shut up or else she could rip it off. Then again, did she want it to? God, she was so full of herself if she thought she could look after them, they could look after themselves better than she ever could. Besides, shouldn’t she be reminded of what she was responsible for?

The thought that made her question whether or not it was rational for her to think so, whether or not she could connect what happened to Oscar and Hannah to what she did to Josh… no longer seemed rational. Evie remembered another phrase for it: the Butterfly effect, how one small thing can start a chain of more serious events. That’s what she did, with her selfishness and arrogance. It was the only way how she could connect it with how many people she lost. It wasn’t natural, it had to be her fault. She couldn’t see it any other way, and to do so would only seem like a cowardly attempt to deflect responsibility. It was her responsibility, she started all of this, but it was even more painful was that it was her family, people who weren’t tainted like her, who paid the price, when it should have just been her. She should have been the one who died, no one else, if she had done something about it a long time ago, then maybe no one else would have suffered. At least everyone would be better off than they were now.

She wanted to call them, she wanted to know they were alright, but she shouldn’t. She didn’t deserve that comfort of knowing. She remembered how she refused to answer any of their calls when they tried to call her during the past few days, when she was getting comfortable living in a caravan. She had never ignored their calls, always did her best to answer, until now. It would only be hypocritical of her to want to call them and expect anything else. She didn’t reply to any of the texts or attempted calls, not even the one about…

No, it was better that she didn’t. No matter how much good of a cause it was, it would do them no good for her to put her hands in it, she’d ruin it. 

On her first night sleeping here, she felt oddly out of place. It took her a while to realise that now she was truly, physically alone. Evie didn’t realise how alone she felt until then. She felt so alone, so much that it made her chest twist…

Good, she coldly reminded herself, forcing herself to supress the whimper trying to escape from the back of her throat. She deserved it.

Evie laid back down, not getting rid of that leech that seemed to make her own skin prickle. She knew she wasn’t going back to sleep and that was going to make her tired in the day, but she didn’t care at this point. She probably should have, since she would have work later today, she had to control the tiredness in her as to not to snap at anyone, but she just didn’t care anymore about getting sleep. She had to be woken up like this, just to be reminded what a terrible person she was. At any rate she was getting used to it at this point, used to the lack of peace in her sleep and awakening.

But even as she laid down on the bunk bed, she kept seeing that last image of her dream before she woke up in her head, seared into her memory to never leave her- that image of Oscar lying dead at her feet, motionless and bloody, while hot tears streamed down her face and her mouth opened in a silent but hoarse scream.

-----

Zac knocked on the caravan door, hoping she’d open up. He tried doing it a couple of times before, but there was no answer. For all he knew, she had been there, just didn’t answer. She didn’t answer his calls, he rarely saw her outside the caravan park and she turned down offers to meet up at the house, even for dinner. He had tried and tried to reach out to her and the situation with Evie only turned worse. He won’t give up on her, she mattered too much to him for him to do that, but he was just angry that she had given up, and he didn’t know why- except he could though. He could think of a good reason why she would want to give up. This isn’t just the pain of a broken heart, it’s the pain of losing one of the closest connections she ever had, but that didn’t make it okay. It would have killed Oscar all over again to see her like this.

It was just draining, seeing someone get worse day after day, trying to see that they loved her, that they were just trying to help and it all going unheard. He couldn’t help that wave of frustration that she wasn’t willing to listen, to refuse any attempt of his to help her, while she could be stuck up in that caravan all day… maybe getting drunk. Leah shared her doubts that Evie was even drinking at all, but he doubted it. Why wouldn’t she just tell them that from the get-go? Why wouldn’t she say anything if that was the case the first time he asked her?

He just had to accept this was what Evie wanted to do right now until she realised she was making a mistake. He can’t be thinking about how to help her every moment, she can’t expect him to do that. She can’t be dwelling in this misery, and he didn’t get why she’d want to.

Still, Zac still believed he could have tried harder. Something he could have done to have broken Evie out of this sooner. Yeah, she could have met him half-way, but still… he was missing something, something important. It made him feel powerless and he didn’t like it.

She opened the door, a jeans and top hastily put on, she looked exhausted and it made Zac’s eyes strain to see, especially when the already dejected look on her face only deepened when she looked down to him, and then down to her feet. Her mouth opened up as if she was about to say good morning or something like that. 

Zac nodded uncertainly at her, not sure exactly where the two stood at this point. “You okay?”. He guessed, he should have expected the lack of an answer.

“I just thought I should give you this. It’s your schedule for tomorrow.” He handed her what she was going to do when she was going back to work. She took it almost hesitantly, as if she didn’t expect to be working there.

“Okay,” Evie replied flatly, but still not looking at Zac. That felt her with confusion, because after spending a morning with that worry of not knowing if he was alright, she was just grateful just to see him, but right now, she couldn’t look at him. She felt like she was standing in front of a firing squad under his gaze- wait, actually no, she’d have more dignity to raise her head to look at a firing squad.

“I know it’s not what you’re doing before, but I just want to tell you no one’s expecting you to be at your best right now.” Zac offered, looking to see if he could find some glimpse of what she was feeling behind that blank look on her face. If she had looked at her schedule, she’d see that she’ll mainly be doing assistant roles rather than looking after the entire class. That made Zac even more upset, because he knew that she was more capable than that, but right now, he also knew that with all the emotional stuff she must be dealing with, it would be best to reduce some of her workload for this week at least. Once she got better (he ignored the voice in his head that suggested what if she never gets better?), she could get back to doing that kind of work again. “Soon we can get you back at the work you were doing before, but the staff had concerns and we just wanted to make sure that-”

“I get it,” Evie said, her voice now tense. Her arms were killing her, and even though, in her moments of weakness, she had pressed a wet towel and used the necessary stuff to clean her arms to prevent the scars from infecting, they still affected her movements. “You guys don’t trust me, I don’t trust myself to do something as important as that. You don’t have to try and make me feel better. You can’t just play nice to everyone all the time, Zac.”

Zac would tell her that wasn’t the case, but he doubted she’d listen to him. But it did make him worry that maybe she got that impression from members of the staff. Not all of them were exactly thrilled that he got his niece a job here. “Evie, is there anyone there who was making you feel uncomfortable-”

“Nothing’s happened Zac, stop worrying about it.” Evie snapped, already regretting how rude she sounded before she realised it. She didn’t want him to be worried about him, and couldn’t believe how stubborn he was being about this. She still didn’t want to be rude or snap at him, but that was all she was doing, even if she tried not to.

“I was just making sure,” Zac said gruffly. He hated this, that they couldn’t even have a single conversation that ended up with the pair of them almost at each other’s throats. “It’s not as if I want to be constantly worried about you. Just wanted to make sure you’re alright. It’s not as if you answered my calls to let me know.”

“So you want me to lie, say I’m fine? I doubt it, even if you want to believe it.” she bitterly replied, wishing that the bitterness wasn’t there, but it was so there was no point in apologising, not when Zac should just leave her alone. She was half-way convinced that she should just tell him she was fine, just to appease him, but knew he would see right through it.

“Okay, fine. You want to prove you can handle this all on yourself, then fine.” Zac said, shaking his head before walking away. He immediately regretted the harshness of the words and it wasn’t fine, but if she didn’t want to be around him anymore, then right now there was nothing he could do about it.

Evie dared to raise her head to look at him. Her head was swimming and she couldn’t even think, let alone formulate a response other than that. She felt like burning up at the look in his eyes, which just seemed to radiate exhaustion and something she took as disappointment, and she felt sorry for making him look like that. It wasn’t as though she wanted to leave, but she couldn’t just say that. They didn’t force her out, it was her own choice and she shouldn’t make them feel guilty because of it. But the fact that she made Zac look that exhausted, when he shouldn’t, made her feel a stroke of anger rising in her, made her feel her fists clench in her pockets.

She wished she could only feel that numbness, that overwhelming numb feeling that blocked everything out, but even when she did feel that, there was anger as well. Anger that she was treating Zac like that, anger that when Phoebe came around to the caravan park earlier last week to see how she was doing, Evie pretended she wasn’t there, anger at well… everything. 

Even as her entire vision felt like toppling, Evie felt confused at how Zac could even look at her, could even accept her into the school. She didn’t believe that he couldn’t blame her. If it took her this long to get it, Zac would have known it a while ago. Maybe he tried to push that fact aside to try and give her another chance. If that was the case, then it only made Evie worse because she didn’t try hard enough, but would it have made a difference? Evie doubted she could ever make up for what she did or do anything that wouldn’t feel like some pathetic attempt to console her. She tried but-

But did she, really? Did she try to set it right, or had she already set herself up to fail? Was it easier to not try, to just give up when she knew there was no point, or easier just to keep moving, trying to kid herself that there was something she could do? It didn’t feel easy, taking one step after the other, but she didn’t know if she could trust that feeling. Everything that seemed rational, everything that made sense, was turned completely on its axis. He shouldn’t want to help her, she should be completely honest with him; to tell him what she did, as if he didn’t know, tell him that she was responsible for Oscar and Hannah and all these lives ruined-

But nothing came out of her mouth. The scream that was building up in her throat never made it to its destination. Cowardice, she chalked it up to, and that made her wish she could just take her fists out of her pockets and start pounding herself.

-------

VJ was glad he found her, as he walked up to the lighthouse and hesitating for a moment before continuing. He wondered (not for the first time) if this was the right move to make, or whether or not it should be his move, but he felt he should try. For his mom’s sake, because he could see that while both she and Zac were trying to get by, and were still doing pretty well, they both missed Evie. Missed seeing her walk through the house. And though Zac hid it pretty well, he was angry, at the whole situation, at how the family has fallen apart.

That wasn’t his only reason though. He remembered how Evie had went around to the farmhouse when he moved out, to try and get him to reach out to Leah again. A bright smile came to his lips when he remembered the clothes Leah showed him and Billie for the baby a week ago. His mother was fully on board now and he was so grateful that she was there to help Billie get through the pregnancy. And even though he’ll take all of John’s shifts at the Surf Club before he’ll ever admit it, he was still nervous about the whole thing. He didn’t know where he would be if he didn’t have Leah. Evie helped him realise that. VJ felt it was only right he try to do the same.

He could see her now, sitting down on the rough terrain, looking out towards the cliff. She was wearing a jumper which he found weird, especially given the temperature rising over the last few days. He reminded himself to be prepared for any mood Evie would be in right now just as he reached her. “Umm… hi, Evie,” he said tentatively, approaching her as she looked down to him. Evie’s eyes looked exhausted, like she was ready to fall asleep in an instant. VJ couldn’t help but be impressed that she was still standing.

Evie nodded hesitantly, not trusting herself to speak. There were so many questions on the tip of her tongue, how was he, how was things at home, how was Billie doing, didn’t he have work right now, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask. She didn’t have a right to know.

“You mind if I sit?” VJ asked, given her a warm smile. When she gave him no answer, he decided to take that as a yes (because it wasn’t necessary a no) and sat close to her. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“What’s there for me to do?” Evie asked, her voice barely coming above a rasp whisper. She had just been looking at the schedule Zac gave her, when she was expected to be back at work, but she didn’t know if she even should. It wasn’t just the fact that her job there had pretty much been reduced to tasks assisting the classroom and outside… she can’t just go back there and still pretend everything was okay. That wouldn’t be fair to Zac. As much as she hated to admit it, she wouldn’t miss her job, not when everytime she did it, she had that nagging feeling that she was missing something important, something that would have helped her do a good job.

VJ didn’t like the hopelessness in Evie’s voice so tried to think of something else to think of to lift her spirits. “Billie wanted me to say thank you for going over to keep her company, y’know, last week. I would have told you earlier, but…”, he trailed off, knowing why he didn’t tell her that was because he hadn’t seen her around. Still, he didn’t want Evie to feel bad about her decision, she must have had her reasons, even if they were reasons Zac and Leah didn’t like. “Listen, Billie… she’s been alone for… a very long time, she’s used to handling everything by herself, so she really doesn’t like it, mostly, when people try and take stuff from her to do, but she still appreciates your help. She said you’ll be welcome to hang out there again, if you need someplace to go.”

Evie just shook her head. “Thanks VJ but no…she’ll have better company than I can offer her- as if I could call what I did help.”

This was a lot worse than VJ thought. He tried to get a deeper look in Evie’s eyes and his breath almost caught in his throat at how much pain Evie’s held. “I don’t know if you remember, but you and I were in different positions ages ago- I meant like metaphorical positions, not where we’re sitting right-”

“Yeah, I got it,” Evie gently interrupted him, even though her soft eyes glazed over into a stern stare.

“You were the one to tell me I shouldn’t be cutting Mom out of what was going on with me and Billie and I’m better off because of it. Didn’t think I had to be giving you the same advice, but…”, he trailed off.

“It’s not the same, not even close,” Evie said wearily. She appreciated VJ for trying, but he didn’t get it. The situation is entirely different and he shouldn’t be trying to help her.

VJ could only shrug. “Why is it different? I needed Mum’s help, you helped me see that, you need our help.”

“I don’t,” Evie replied, as if it was that simple. She would have accepted their help if she thought she deserved it, if she thought it would do any good, but it wouldn’t and she didn’t. “I don’t need to be dragging down any of you with what was my fault. And you guys don’t need to wait for me to catch up. I’m sure Zac and Leah are doing just fine that I’m not there.”

“They’d be better if you were there, I know that for certainty. Zac is still hoping he can convince you to come back.”

Evie sighed miserably, not exactly willing to hear this now. “Zac’s way too stubborn, even when it comes to people who don’t deserve it.”

“You do deserve it, Evie.” VJ insisted. “Zac’s angry about this, yeah, but...”

“But nothing, I hurt him, I don’t deserve to have him trying to help me,” Evie interrupted him, no longer looking at him. Even though moving out was something she had to do, she still hurt Zac, she could see that.

“Matt’s missing you too. I’ve been speaking to him yesterday and… don’t blame him or anything, but he has been worried about you for a while now, and especially with Josh… he doesn’t think you trust him.”

“It’s not about trust,” Evie replied, leaning her head to the side a bit before straightening up again, as if trying to keep herself from falling, her eyes missing a certain gleam that he was sure there had been before. Well, now that VJ thought about it, Evie hadn’t had that look in a very long time. He remembered the look in her eyes are more determined one, trying to hide the exhaustion. He wondered why he didn’t notice it before, why didn’t anyone else.

Before he could ponder this further, Evie was talking again. “Matt is a wonderful guy, but he can’t solve everything. He’s probably right, I’ve treated him too badly, and I haven’t even seen him in ages.” It wouldn’t surprise her that she didn’t even know what she was intending to do, she’s lied to herself plenty of times before. She tried to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, but… what else could he ask from her? “I can’t make this right, I’ve made him feel like that and I shouldn’t, he didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I think it’d be easier for him to believe that if he heard it from you. I’ve seen you two together and I haven’t seen him this happy since Maddy left. And he knows you didn’t mean to do anything wrong, but you still shouldn’t leave him in the lurk like that. At least where I can see, you don’t want anyone to worry about you because you care about him, and everyone else.”

Evie looked up to him. She had thought that, in fact even now still held onto that thought for some reason even though she knew it still didn’t make things better, but she doubted that as well. If she couldn’t get it about herself, then how can anyone else be able to depict it better?  “How can you know that?”  

VJ could see it by recognising the same look from Billie. She never wanted to worry the people she cared about either. He knew Billie didn’t like to tell him if she needed help, as if she was causing trouble, but she’s been more open with him ever since he moved back into Alf’s house, so he trusted her. He loved that she wanted to do it all by herself, but he wanted to do his share too. “Just wanted to say… I get where you’re coming from, but… home’s always going to be open for you, and Leah and Zac… they may be upset now, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to give up on you.”

“I had to leave, VJ, I had to stay away. All I manage to do is make things worse whenever I try to open up, it’s just me trying to make all of this about me.” But secretly, she didn't know if that was true. She didn't doubt that they were safer without her in the picture, but did she really know that. Did she leave because she wanted to, to avoid the pressure of not being able to talk to them. 

“Well, isn’t it about you? I mean, you’re the one who lost-”

“VJ, please, please save it. Don’t you think I didn’t see the looks I’ve been getting, the looks of worry, or- God, pity? I don’t deserve your sympathy or pity. Even now… I hurt you guys by leaving, you shouldn’t be trying to help me.”

“You had your reasons, it’ll take time, but you and Zac will come around, eventually. I’m sure of it.”

“Not this time, I don’t want him to. He, Leah, you, you’ve all better off without me.”

VJ opened his mouth but then hesitated. He didn’t know what to say to that, and thought he should leave it to someone who would know, who would help her get away from those thoughts. Should he mention how Matt had been speaking to him earlier this week? Matt had been thinking that he should give Evie some space before begin talking to her again. VJ knew they had some argument, but Matt was hoping to rebuild the bridge again, finally. Coincidentally, VJ had also heard from Mason that there was a party from university happening during the weekend, and Mason was planning to bring Evie along. VJ dutifully told Matt, and Matt decided to come along too. As much as he wanted to tell her right there and then, he decided it was Matt’s news to tell. “Look, I’m leaving, but… just talk to Matt okay. At least to give him peace of mind. Trust me, you both need it. And you do deserve our help, whether you know it or not.” And, with that he stood up and left her to ponder at that.

She knew she didn’t treat Matt right, if there was a chance that she could make it up to him… well, then she’d take it without hesitation. But what if she did? Then maybe, if Matt would accept her back, she could pretend to believe that she deserved that chance for a while before things (As always) turned to crap and people start getting hurt because she decided to take that chance. Everyone around her just seemed to be doomed just by trying to be there with her. She had to stop making the same mistakes.

Maybe that was why she ended up here, staring out into the sea below the cliff, and wondering what would happen if she just jumped. It looked really far down, and yet that idea brought a sense of calm to her. If VJ hadn’t just arrive…

-----

“Look at you, Mr Med Student,” Justin cheerfully called out as Mason entered the kitchen. “How was your first day?”

“You mean once Tori stopped hovering over my shoulder to see if I was getting it right?” Mason said brightly, stopping by the sink to grab himself some water. He couldn’t help but feel exhausted, but that only made him feel prouder in a way, after doing a long day at the hospital. He turned around to his older brother. “How about you? What’s the deal with you and Phoebe?”

Justin shook his head warily at Mason’s cheeky smile before turning back on the couch. Ever since he got back home, when he and his siblings finally found a shaky reconciliation that got better overtime, Brody and Mason had been teasing him non-stop when it came to him and Phoebe. They weren’t in a relationship or anything, and Justin wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking for, let alone what Phoebe was looking for, but his brothers took it for what they wanted to see. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.”

“I’m not saying anything!” Mason argued back, plopping down on the seat next to him. “I just think it’s good that someone’s actually broken the past that tough exterior of yours!”

Justin laughed and leaned back as Buddy jumped up onto the couch at the sound of laughter and curled up on the other end of the couch. It was true though, Justin had been creeping into a state of relaxation in the Bay, and had shed some of his distant attitude when it came to Phoebe, or Alf. “So, what do you have planned for the rest of the week?”

Mason shrugged. “There’s a party on Saturday with some friends from Uni, I’m going to go there, meet some people y’know.” He drank a bit, before noticing Justin’s smile stifle a bit, and sighed. “I won’t be drinking, don’t worry.”

“If only that was my only worry,” Justin rebuked, leaning forward. “You sure you trust these guys?”

Mason nodded, already feeling the slightest bit annoyed that he and Tori were always asking him questions like this. He knew it was for his own safety, but he still didn’t have to like it. “Yes. I’ll even be bringing along someone from the Bay with me.”

“Who?” Justin asked curiously. “Matt?”

“No, he’s umm.. he’s busy,” Mason said, thinking how he didn’t already tell him about it. Mason had been thinking about, well, the situation with Evie, someone whom Mason was beginning to spark a friendship with but hasn’t seen in a while. He knew of the whole situation with her former boyfriend, Matt told him all about it, and the thought occurred to him: why not try and look for a relationship with her? Maybe he could be the one to help her get through this dark time she was in? “I was thinking about bringing Evie, you know, Zac’s niece?”

“I’ve seen her around,” Justin told him, though not often. Alf mentioned her to Justin, about the rough time she was going through and how she was spiralling. To be fair, Justin could understand her, he couldn’t imagine how much he’d fall apart if he lost any of his siblings. “You sure she’d be up for a party? I’ve heard-”

“Well, yeah, but hopefully if I can convince her to come along, maybe I can help brighten things up for her?” Mason said wistfully, hoping that will be the case. He then noticed Justin looking at him carefully, and gave an annoyed sigh. “Okay, what? You’re doing that look?”

“I’m doing the look? Mason, you’ve got that almost giddy look yourself.”

“Not this again!” Mason groaned as he got up, no longer in a good mood at that reminder. “Brody and Tori have already lectured me about this, I don’t need to hear it from you too! Evie’s just a friend!”

“As long as it remains that way. Mason, you still gotta be careful. ‘They’ are still out there.”

Mason rolled his eyes, as if Justin saying, ‘The Syndicate,’ would cause them to come crashing down on this house. “Come on Justin, we can’t live our entire lives in this house in fear! Maybe Decker’s keeping the Syndicate back, maybe he’s got them on the run, we haven’t heard anything from them in ages!” Mason argued, wishing he could break his brother out of his shell that he always seems to shrink into whenever the topic of the Syndicate comes up.

“That doesn’t mean they’re still out there, Mason! Doesn’t mean our entire family isn’t at risk!” Justin shook his head in frustration. As the youngest, he didn’t think Mason ever really understood the full risk of what their family faced. He understood his younger brother wanted the freedom, but he needed to know where to draw the line. “What happens if they come back, you’d just be putting this Evie in danger.”

“What, like you’re putting Phoebe in danger? No matter what’s going on between you two, are we just supposed to keep everyone away from a thick wall that surrounds this family.” Mason didn’t want to argue about this, but he didn’t have time for Justin’s hypocrisy, given how close he’s gotten to Phoebe, or how Tori was getting way too friendly than professional with Dr Nate, no matter how much she liked to pretend no-one else saw. Why can’t he pursue a relationship?

“That’s not what—okay, we have done that, Mason, you’re right, but it’s not as though we don’t have good reason to do so? Me and Tori- we know what the stakes are.”

“So do I,” Mason argued before snorting. “Or do you forget that it was my girlfriend who almost got us all killed?” He saw Justin’s face pale at that, and he immediately regretted saying it, but he had a point to make. “I know what I did wrong, and I’m gonna make sure I won’t make the same ones again. I’m going to work a way to help protect this family, and still have a life. You can’t deny me that, Justin.”

Justin looked up at his younger brother and shook his head. He knew Mason didn’t want to think how Lara betrayed him, and even though Justin, especially after all the secrets he’d kept, wanted to just forgive and forget, he wanted to trust his brother to be more careful, just as he, Tori and Brody had trusted him to protect them all these years. “Okay, fine, if that’s what you want to do. But be careful okay. Keep an eye out on your surroundings and keep your phone on you.”

“Yes… yeah, okay, I’ll be careful,” Mason replied, his tone softening just to keep his brother satisfied. Mason guessed from where he was sitting, Justin had reason to be concerned, but that protective side, to Mason at least, usually came off as overbearing, even though he trusted his older brother.

Anyway, walking out to the porch, with Buddy trailing behind him to get some fresh air, he thought back to the party this weekend. He just hoped that Evie would want to go to it, and no matter what Justin thought, Mason couldn’t find a reason not to want to have a relationship with Evie, as long as she wanted one to. She was beautiful, back when Mason started hanging out with her and Matt, she was smart and nice and a really bright smile…

1 month ago…

“Hey,” Matt greeted her, free as a bird, as he and Mason popped onto seats next to Evie, as she was working. “What you’re working on?”

Given how concentrated she looked while she was almost buried deep to her nose in books and papers, Mason half-expected her to look at least annoyed at this interruption, but instead Evie smiled genuinely at the pair of them before they even sat down. “You know, just assignments due in the next few weeks., Art, Sociology and stuff like that…”, she trailed off, and Mason couldn’t help but notice the glimpse of a vacant look in her eyes before she looked down again. “Anyways Matt, is Ash going to give you a break from your shifts yet?”

“I’d probably have to wait to next year for that to happen,” Matt joked with a short laugh. Yet Mason could notice a bit of hesitation between the pair, as if the garage was bringing up uncomfortable mentions. Before he could comment though, Matt turned to him with a much more easier smile. “You’re looking for a Medical Degree, she wants to become a teacher, what’s left for me, eh?”

“You’re studying medical?” Evie asked, leaning onto the table in interest and Mason shrugged modestly.

“You have an older sibling as a doctor who talks about her day every dinner, it kind of rubs off on you,” Mason dryly replied. “I’m enjoying it though. The only problem I’m having is organising all my notes. They’ll all in a mess in my room.”

“Well, I can come around to help later if you want,” Evie told him and Mason looked at her as if she was a godsend. “Matt will too.”

“Well, I’ll come along, but Evie’s the kind of person you’d want for organisational skills,” Matt said ruefully, rubbing his hand along his head, but Evie shook her head.

“Na, not really…but Matt’s got a gift for noticing little stuff I wouldn’t, or anyone else. He’s really something.”

“Well at least tomorrow I’ve got help then,” Mason smiled widely at that before Matt, turning a bit red in the cheeks at the praise, brought up his hand.

“Hold up there. Don’t expect us to start writing the essay for you.” Evie snorted at that and Mason shook his head wirily. If he wasn’t so occupied in arranging his seat, he would have noticed the look of uncertainty in Evie’s eyes as she ducked down again, or the way Matt’s smile dimmed a bit at that.

He remembered how Evie was when he first met her, always smiling and working and willing to help. But overtime she drifted further and further apart. Mason heard of how grief can change people, but even though he may not know her as much as Matt did, he felt this urge that he didn’t want that to happen to Evie. Hopefully this weekend will change things.

Still, he felt a nagging urge that told him he shouldn’t be leaving Matt in the lope for this. He knew Matt and Evie were going through a tough patch in their friendship, and he was worried about going behind Matt’s back about this. Hell, he had been worried about going behind Evie’s back whenever Matt and Mason talked about her, especially with Matt both frustrated and worried about her. Maybe he ought to let him know, and surely Matt wouldn't have a problem if Mason hoped to ask Evie out... 

------

“How have you’ve been eating?”

Evie looked at Nadia and shrugged. Evie didn’t know why she asked the same question from last week, it would be doubtful that anything would have changed in that short amount of time. “Not very well, I guess. I… I didn’t really feel hungry, not in a while.”

“Have you ever felt the urge to skip out on meals?” Nadia asked gently, easing the bluntness of the question. Not that Evie didn’t really mind. Surprisingly, she found Nadia’s bluntness better than if the older woman had tried to ease her way through platitudes.

“Sometimes…” Evie does remember leaving the house plenty of times to avoid eating, but when she did stay, she did eat what they gave her. It didn’t feel okay when she did it, but she still did it. Everytime she ate at the table, it felt as though she was begrudging them of every bite. Then Nadia asked the question she never expected:

“What type of cereal do you like?”

Evie looked up, her face scrunched up in confusion. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Nadia shrugged lightly, smiling easily in a way that made Evie irrationally infuriated. “I was just wondering. We’ve been talking about what has happened to you, how you’ve been trying to manage it- you’ve buried yourself in work, you tried to spend time out the house- but I want to know about you, as a person.”

Evie stared at her doubtfully. “You said you’ve read your files about me- surely you’d have made up your mind up by now.”

“Those files don’t tell the full story. They don’t tell me your thoughts, your hobbies, your fears, anything that makes you… you.”

Evie shook her head scathingly. “I don’t think there’s anything worth hearing about any of that stuff, not with me anyway. None of that matters not in the… I don’t know, grand scheme of things.”

Nadia let that sink in for a moment before pointing out, “Then you don’t have a problem telling me your favourite cereal then.”

Evie didn’t answer that. She didn’t feel like she was being mocked or anything, but she didn’t want to slip into a sense of comfort, because it would only make it easier for her to keep talking about herself, and that’s not what she should be allowed to do. She expected Nadia to keep prompting her, but instead the older woman just leaned back in her chair. They were left staring at each other, the silence broken only through Daisy’s small whines as she buried her nose into the couch’s fabric next to Evie’s leg. Evie didn’t know how longer either of them could take this silence, but before she could say anything, Nadia broke it with a very dry response. “Five minutes of silence, that’s a lot harder to do than most people would believe.”

Evie was so surprised at how much time passed that she didn’t even consider how she should respond to that, but Nadia was speaking again. “You don’t like talking about yourself, do you?”

“No, not really.” Evie laced her hands together on her lap, feeling Daisy brush her nose against her hip bone which Evie took as a sign for her to move her arm up to let Daisy snuggle in closer. “Well, I shouldn’t, should I? I mean- no one likes people who just talk about themselves, but somehow I always manage,” Evie said bitterly. “I wanted to put them first, ever since it happened, because they- Zac, Leah, everyone- they deserved perfection, and I wanted to make sure I don’t make it about myself... but I failed. They were just more and more worried about me.”

“Well, firstly, I would have to disagree with one of your points: no one deserves perfection. Not me, not you, not Zac, no one. No one is perfect, we’ve all done bad things or mistakes, therefore it wouldn’t be right for anyone to get perfection. No one should expect that from anyone, and besides, perfection is too much pressure. Do you remember what we discussed last week?”

“Yes I remember what we talked about, how maybe I pushed myself to be perfect- but that’s not the point. I deserved to feel that pressure, I needed to. They deserve the best, and I should have given it to them, but I… I don’t know, I thought to do so I had to keep it all to myself but I don’t know whether or not I did it to protect myself from stuff I didn’t want to think.” She did care about them, she did, but she didn’t know whether or not what she did it was for them or for herself.

It was for yourself. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see you never do anything right for anyone else?

Nadia considered that, and tilting her head to one side as she looked at Evie so she wouldn’t be seen as staring constantly at her, asked “Have you considered that maybe you were thinking both? That you wanted to avoid thinking about it, but also wanted to try and help your family and friends? That way, you believed that it would be best for all of you.”

The look Evie gave her was incredulous. “No, I mean- it can’t be both! I can’t be focusing on what I wanted and what they wanted at the same time. It can only be one or the other, and I don’t want to focus on me. I don’t want to make this all about myself.”

“I get it, I know you don’t, but Evie, I promise you, you letting me know more about you, that’s not making it about yourself. Also it’s completely normal for people to think about themselves from time to time, it’s almost impossible not to.”

“It doesn’t feel normal,” Evie countered back, scratching against the back of her neck. “It feels wrong, just to even think about me now. I’ve done it so many times before and it never goes right for other people. And even now I thought that… I don’t know, that I was trying to put them first, I wanted to do things right, but… but was I doing it for them or for myself, to try and make myself better? As if I was thinking that if I could do that right, at least then it would… I just don’t know.”

“Well, I think its own natural that you’d want to feel good by doing the right thing, and the fact that you’re worrying about it now seems to make it clear that you were thinking of them. But I can’t help but wonder about what you’ve said before. Keeping this all to yourself- I doubt it’s exactly what anyone else wanted you to do.”

Evie’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, well they wouldn’t want me to be angry all the time. If I can’t control my emotions… I just feel this anger and it just leeks out of me, like a volcano… I shouldn’t be angry, not with them…”

Nadia did give a small sigh at that. “You know what I’ve always hated: the word ‘should’ when it comes to feelings. Like there’s some Bible-like textbook that tells people what they should or shouldn’t feel. Emotions don’t work like that, people don’t work like that. Though to be fair, life would be easier if there was. There are things you should and shouldn’t do, but what you feel is not one of those things.

But Evie, can’t you see? When a person bottles up their emotions and pretend they’re not there, it ends up exploding regardless. Maybe not in big bursts, but it still happens.”

Evie just shook her head. Well, in theory, what Nadia was saying made sense in a way, but it didn’t connect to what Evie had known. There were always right things to feel and wrong things to feel. It wasn’t complicated. And that stuff about bottling emotions… well she had hoped if she just ignored it (but not enough so she could forget what she did), it would go away and she could focus on more important things.

“No, I shouldn’t be angry at anyone else-”

“Why not?” Nadia asked curiously, leaning forward in her chair. “Why do you think so? If I was in your position, I’d be really angry with the world around me, for giving me all this trauma. That’s not wrong, Evie- at the risk of sounding like a cliché, that’s being human.”

“It’s not trauma,” Evie insisted, knowing Nadia suggested this in the last session, but she didn’t want to belief that. People with trauma deserved sympathy and help, she didn’t. She couldn’t be suffering from trauma when she was the person who caused it. “I shouldn’t be getting angry at Zac or anyone else. They’ve done nothing wrong-”

“But maybe unintentionally, sometimes, even the people who love you have given you the wrong image of what they were actually trying to do? That won’t help you.”

“What does that supposed to mean?” Evie asked, her voice turning a higher pitch, already feeling defensive towards her family.

“Well, as you said before, Zac and other people have been through a lot this year. Even now, sometimes they won’t make the best decisions. Was there ever a moment when they may have made you feel worse, or pressured?”

The words ‘No’ were on Evie’s tongue, but suddenly her tongue felt so tied. Because there had been moments when she felt overwhelmed when talking to them. They were just trying to understand her, but that didn’t help, especially when she knew it wouldn’t help them. When Matt mentioned Josh the last time they spoke… of course she knew that Josh wasn’t a good guy, she just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. It wasn’t their fault, they weren’t trying to pressurise her, even though they should. “They weren’t trying to do that, I wasn’t being completely honest with them...”

“I never said they were doing that intentionally. Even good people like Zac can make assumptions and get the wrong idea. But still you should have been more honest with them, you’re right. I’m sure you didn’t want them to worry but if you kept giving them the wrong idea… I know you don’t want to hear that it won’t help you, but it’s not going to help them either. It's important for you to have your limits, but everyone needs to lay them out first.”

“I know that, and… I didn’t want to keep doing that to them. My… my best friend, Matt, I made him think that I didn’t trust him enough to tell him what was going on… he needed a friend and I wasn’t enough…I just thought if I just left him alone now… he had other friends, better friends, he doesn’t need someone who… who treats him like that.” Evie said, feeling her face turning red from the rush of emotions. She remembered when Zac thought she was getting drunk, whenever she was going out, and she let him believe it. She deceived him, there was no other word for it. Maybe Zac was just going with what he expected, maybe she was trying to make him realise that she wasn’t worth it, but Evie felt ashamed that she still didn’t say the truth- the truth about the nerves before, the truth about the scars.

“Do you need him?”

Definitely, but Evie knew better at this point than to give into that need, that selfish, unyielding need. “Isn’t this the part when you say I should try and open up to them?” she asked instead.  

“Would you start if I did say that?” Nadia remarked dryly.

“And then what? I’ve lied to them, kept things from them, and suddenly all I have to do is say ‘Sorry, I won’t do it again’, and then all is forgiven?!” Evie didn’t spat out those words, but it was the next best thing. Nadia didn’t rise at the provocation though, just took a moment to consider her and asked. “Well, you’ll never know until you try- as long as that’s what you want.”

“No, it isn’t,” Evie replied bluntly, intentionally ignoring the sceptical look on Nadia’s face. “I’ve made so many mistakes, and I’ve said sorry everytime but that word… sorry… it doesn’t change anything. People keep using that word so much that it loses all meaning. I’ve done too much to be asked for forgiveness. And even if they accept it, how do I know I won’t mess up again and… let them down again after they’ve been so patient…” Evie sighed as she pulled tightly on a loose strand of hair that blew against her cheek. She can’t trust herself to do it right.

“You want to be honest with them but at the same time, worried about what it could lead to, and that stops you. You’ve always been able to keep fighting your way through life, but when that fear sets in, you can’t be sure what their reactions would be.”

Well, she wasn’t wrong. Part of Evie was worried that what if they found out the full extent of what she was feeling, of what she did to herself. They’d either be disgusted or ashamed that she let things go too far, (even if she deserved it) or else want to help even more and she couldn’t deal with that. As much as she hated to be thinking about herself, it wouldn’t do any of them any good, not just her. “But isn’t that the problem, I should be thinking about what they want and, but… I don’t see why they would want to… it’s my fault…” Evie struggled with her words as Nadia waited patiently for her to continue. “I didn’t want to leave them dealing with me being so negative and so angry and upset all the time, but, do I just pretend to be okay with everything? I know it isn’t okay, and it’s my fault, all of it, and they should know that. It's... It's there, and they have to see it, they have to. I can’t lie to them, I can’t keep them in the dark. Otherwise I’d be like… I’d be like…”

Nadia hesitated for a minute, looking at her before asking. “You’re afraid you’d be just like Josh.”

Evie sighed and nodded reluctantly. “I should have seen it, I should have gotten him to stop.” It was an old argument, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. “That’s all there is to it. I mean, why else would you mention him if not that?”

“Because Zac told me you blamed yourself. Well, did you know that Josh killed Charlotte King when he did?” Nadia asked her bluntly.

“Well, no, but…”

“Did you know that when Zac was arrested for it?”

“No but that doesn’t mean I could have found out before Zac got-”

“How could you have? From what I understood, Josh pretended to be blind at the time. That rarely gives reason for anyone to suspect him as a murder suspect.”

“I was dating him, that should have given me enough reason to suspect anything was up. No one… no one can’t just do something like that, accidental or not, and then just keep… doing everything they’ve done before as if nothing ever happened. That isn’t normal either…he  had to have slipped up, but I must have ignored it.” Evie trailed off, feeling a slimmer of guilt, because Josh had been her boyfriend, her fiancé, and yet she was talking about him as if he was some sociopath.

“Can you think of a moment when you think you could have seen that Josh was capable of such a thing?”

Evie was caught point blank at that question, actually wondering if she could. She had took it for granted that she ought to have seen it (no matter how hard it might have been), but she couldn’t think of it…

“Evie, also please remember, anything you say here, I won’t judge and it will be completely confidential.”

But just then she even considered the idea of even having hope, her ever-so-helpful memory dragged up one moment. “When um… when Tank… Wayne Snelgrove… he was a… an ex-boyfriend…”, she was sure Nadia caught the note of shame in her voice. “He was released from prison… he was in hospital… Josh was upset… he went see Tank… he attacked him. Tank was lying on a bed, injured, and Josh still attacked him. I- I never thought about it, I just chalked it up to him being angry, and I couldn’t disagree with him being angry, because… Tank almost killed him, but what he did… I’ve never seen him do anything like that, and if he could do that…”

“There’s still a wide gulf between attacking someone in anger and murder. Tank was the person, as you said, almost killed Josh, no one could expect anything less from anger. Of course, it’s still not okay to be lashing out in anger all the time, like you said.”

“Then… how else do you show that what that person did hurt you?” Evie commented, even as she was thinking that what Nadia said first did seem right. She had been furious beyond belief in her life, she’d even seen Zac like that. Did that make either of them capable of murder? She didn’t think so, but that didn’t change the fact that Josh’s anger may have meant something different, that he was a murderer. Because who knows if he was telling the truth about it being an accident? Josh had lied about the whole incident with Charlotte to begin with, in fact, the only reason he turned himself in the end was because Kat had apparently given him a deadline to do so. If she hadn’t found out, he would have been fine with hiding it for the rest of his life.

Nadia nodded. “Well, that’ll be a question for the end of times, but I can tell you what I’ve learned during my life: If you try to demonstrate your anger through a more healthier way, without hurting people while still letting people know that how that anger has affected you, I would only encourage it. It’s better than letting it fester until the only person you’re angry at is yourself or you end up lashing out at the people you love.”

She let that sink in, because Evie knew that she was referring to what she said earlier about anger, before asking. “I might as well ask this, because there’s no point going around the bush: How did it feel when you first found out what Josh did?”

Evie felt her tongue dry up, because ever since that night, when she learned the truth, she had tried to avoid even thinking about it. She tried not to think how it affected her, it shouldn’t matter. She shifted her head, focusing on Daisy in a poor attempt to act as if she wasn’t just asked that.

“Silence huh?t Well, that’s one way to feel.” Nadia’s voice was filled with light sarcasm, the type that was so subtle you wouldn’t think of it at first. It didn’t make Evie feel any better though. “He was responsible for the death of the woman who killed your sister, your trust in him was broken, he went off on the run to leave everyone else to deal with his actions...or are you telling me you didn't feel anything because of it?” Evie noticed a genuine curious note in Nadia's voice at the last question.

It'd be a lot easier not to feel, not to feel any of this. “I don’t know what you want me to say. What Josh and I had wasn’t good, that was all there is to it.” Evie’s mind, still dreary, focused for the first part of that sentence. She never thought about how what Josh did had turned that particular situation completely upside-down: Charlotte, the woman who killed Denny, who terrorised her family, had become the victim, and Josh had become the perpetrator. That was so messed up, and maybe that was why she didn’t think about it- because it was too much to try and make sense out of, and… what did it matter at this point?

“I can’t tell you what to say. That’s the whole thing with therapy. I am here to help you understand this properly and help convince you that you can talk to the people who love you, but I can’t tell you what’s the right thing to say or not. That’s for you to decide, it is how you get back control. But you’re still human, so I can say this without a shred of doubt- what Josh did affected you very much.”

“Okay, well here’s this,” Evie said sharply, because why not at this point? “I don’t care about the pain, I should feel that pain, it’s my own to deal with, because… because everyone I’ve ever known has either died or been screwed over,” Evie said bluntly as she looked down at her feet. She thought she would have took a deep breath before saying something as… bleak as that. “I’ve guessed I’ve known this for a while, but I… I tried to ignore it. I’m like a magnet for bad people, and it’s anyone whose around me suffers because of it. Not just with Josh, but with Tank, Andy, my father…”

“Maybe… maybe you were seeing a pattern that wasn’t there.” When Evie arched an eyebrow, but still couldn’t look up, Nadia elaborated. “Sometimes, people sees things so one-sided that if something happens around them multiple times, they see it as a result of themselves. In most cases, it’s correlation, not causation.”

Evie listened but shook her head once she was finished. It didn’t seem that way; she was responsible for what Tank did to Josh and surely that would make her responsible for all the rest. “That’s not it, no… it is my fault, I should have known better. It…” She needed Nadia to understand. She was breathing rather heavily, and when Nadia asked her if she wanted a glass of water, she shook her head. “When I was with Tank, everyone warned me about him, how wrong he was, and I didn’t listen. I was stupid and arrogant and I didn’t realise it in time. And he almost killed Josh. That makes it my fault.”

Nadia sighed before answering. “Indirectly, maybe. And I would have to agree you ignoring the worries of your family and friends wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But you didn’t asked Tank to attack Josh and you didn't know he was going to do that. You had no control over Tank’s actions, no more than you had for anything Josh did. Tank had manipulated you, would have hurt you had you not realised in time and he took it upon himself to try and hurt Josh. That wasn’t you. I think that would make it easier for you to forgive yourself for that.”

Evie knew Nadia was just trying to help her, but it didn’t. It only made her feel more guilty, because she shouldn’t have let herself be manipulated like that, should have learned not to put her own desires first. And even more guilty that it took her so long for her to realise that.

“Forgive myself?” Evie asked, her voice aghast at the mere suggestion. “Why would I want to forgive myself? I should… I caused it, like it was a… I don’t know, like those butterfly effects everyone talks about? I caused that. Maybe I didn’t attack Josh, but I might as well have. If I hadn’t been so stupid, none of this would have happened… that’s what I should be remembering what I did every day, only I was too….cowardly to realise it, or even admit it.”

“But you are admitting it, Evie, right now to me. What good does trying to connect those events together do for you, Evie? What good does it do anyone to remain fixated on mistakes that had happened a long time ago? From what Zac told me about it, everyone had moved on from it- why can’t you?”

Evie scoffed, turning away on the couch and unintentionally making Daisy jump off as well, as if the dog was suddenly afraid of catching the negativity that was radiating off Evie now. “It wasn’t a mistake, it was me thinking I was right and me holding onto that thought no matter what and it almost got Josh killed. It almost got Zac killed. You can’t… you can’t just ignore those moments when you screw up, and other people suffer because of it. No one should just pretend that stuff didn’t happen. That’s… it’s just not good, it isn’t right.” She felt her body almost ready to start rocking back and forth and had to keep her body rigid. She shouldn’t look so pitiful.  

Nadia observed her body movement, her lips reversing into a small frown before commenting, “Funny thing is, you do have a point. It is easier for people to try and pretend actions they have taken never happened, or worse, to blame others for it, but that is not the same as looking back at it, realising where you went wrong, and moving on from it.”

Evie couldn’t move on. It went against every instinct in her body to do so, with so much inside her screaming that just thinking about doing so would be selfish, cowardly, weak. “I couldn’t make it right, I couldn’t… I couldn’t stay, I had to leave. I was making everyone miserable-”

“Do you know that for a fact? Did anyone tell you so?”

“No, they didn’t, but I could tell. I see them when I’m not around them. They don’t look worried or frustrated, not really, they just seem… happy, at ease. That’s not the case whenever I’m there… Zac was disappointed that I was drinking, Matt was fed up with me thinking about Josh, and I don’t blame them- they were both affected by Josh, I just made things worse. Yet they still tried to help, even though it wasn’t what they wanted. At least, if I was gone, I’d stop hurting them.”

Nadia shrugged. “Sounds to me like maybe you were trying to protect yourself as well.”

Evie took a sharp inhale at that, while her inner critic crooned in glee at the idea that she was just thinking about herself again. “So what, you think that I wasn’t thinking about them, that I was just left them for… for selfish reasons?” Her voice didn’t sound indignant or defensive as it would have had to such a statement, it just sounded defeated, as if this was what she had known and feared, but ignored.

“I didn’t say that, why are you? Why did you think I was accusing you of doing so for selfish reasons?”

“It wasn’t their fault-”

“We’re not talking about whose fault it is, that’s not what we’re here for. No one can do the right thing constantly here, yet no one’s setting out to hurt the other. You wanted to help them, and they don’t want to judge you or put you down, they just want to help you-”

“I don’t want them to care for me, I want to be alone, I want to deal with this by myself-”

“Can you seriously tell me, that you never once considered opening up, considered letting them help you?”

Evie faltered, looking away from her to stare at her hands, as if they would have the answer. Because she had, and that made it worse. “I don’t… it doesn’t matter what I want. I’ve always gone with what I wanted, but I… I couldn’t tell if this was just another time, if what you’re saying about the pressure…I’ve been afraid for so long but… that I left to avoid that stress, so I didn’t have to be confronted that I had these issues… issues that shouldn’t be ignored.”

“I doubt that was the only reason though. You were worried about letting them down, and wanted to protect yourself from that, as well as from the pressure. Your love for them is clear, I doubt it was the easy thing for you to make that decision, or that distancing yourself from them is what you wanted.”

Evie didn’t want to protect herself, she didn’t want to be more of a coward than she already was. “I don’t want it to be because of that, it shouldn’t, I mean… isn’t that what you’ve been telling me, that I should confront whatever issues there are? And I can’t say any of this to anyone else… I don’t want to be mean to them, I don’t want to be so bitter, but… how else to convince them that I’m not worth it, because I’m too gutless to say it out loud, or else I can’t convince them properly, that it isn’t their problem.”

Nadia admitted, but continued. “Yes, you should confront it through the right way, but just because you didn’t want to see that those issues were there doesn’t make you a bad person. You just didn't want anyone to see how tired you've been. Keeping your feelings to yourself doesn't make you like Josh, this is not about laws or anything like that. This is about you, as much as you may not like that."

Evie didn't believe that. Keeping these emotions, she thought it was right, but was it honest? How did it not make her like Josh? Besides, there was much more than that she wasn't saying.

"Here’s what I see from where you’re standing: talking about this stuff to your family isn’t an option, so you left because you believed at least this way, you wouldn’t be infecting them with this ‘misery’. To me, it’s a lot more than just you being miserable, you were still trying to protect them.”

“As long as that’s the truth,” Evie admitted. “I can’t tell if it is anymore… I can’t keep them being so worried, it’s not fair for them. But… like I’ll still be going to work, I still run into them… if I really wanted to stop them from worrying, I’d.. I can’t make myself see the point in it. It’s all just… nothing, but it’s not about that, and I try to tell myself that, but that thought is still there, and I’m not doing as good as I am. And at the same time I know I should just leave them alone instead of letting them down, and I’m not… not exactly happy at work because I shouldn’t be there, but at the same time, no one wants to be around someone who’s negative all of the time, and I’m just… dishonest for being there, like I’m deceiving them.”

“I don’t believe that’s what you’re doing, or even trying to do. Maybe you’re not at your best, but that’s only because you have all this emotional baggage. And no one can be happy all the time, no one’s expecting you to be so. Despite it all, you still feel that responsibility to at least try and do right by the people you love. And even though you may not care for it, you still, even without seeing why, try and get some semblance of structure into your life.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” Evie admitted, rubbing her hands together nervously. “Maybe it’s because I want it. Maybe I’ve convinced myself that I don’t care about it, when I do… I… I shouldn’t let that love try and blind me into thinking I deserve their help, that would be the easy thing, just as easy as it would be to…”, Evie hesitated before answering, she wanted to make them happy. “…to believe anything you’re telling about me. I… I can’t keep lying or deceiving them, not them. And going to work, thinking that I could be normal… I’m just lying to them again, I should be able to explain this, but...” how could she without making things worse?

“You are normal, Evie. Everything you’re feeling is normal and is nothing to be ashamed of. Even if you tried to explain, I doubt you’d be able to explain all of it. Those are your inner demons, no one can ever properly explain them to anyone,” Nadia reassured her. “You’re jumping ahead to conclusions that seem determined to make it look like you did something wrong. You can no longer believe you can do anything right. Why do you think that’s the case? That other people would think badly of you? Have they said anything about you? Have they said anything that suggested they blame you for Josh, or hold the fact that you were having trouble at work against you- and when I mean ‘they’, I mean people who care about you and aren’t trying to hurt you.”

“No, but… I can’t believe that. Otherwise there wouldn’t be all this…. this, going on with me. They’re good people and they won’t hold a thing against me, at least not openly, and it makes me feel more guilty and know more that I don’t deserve them. How could they not think badly of me?”

“But what if they don’t?”

“Then they should… They should not waste their time with something that can’t be fixed, and Zac- he thinks he can help me… he… he is one of the smartest people I know, but if he can’t see clearly here. He’s wrong, but he doesn’t see it, otherwise… why else would he reach out to you?”

“He did so because he was scared for you, that you needed help that he couldn’t give you. Zac knows when and when not to step away from a situation, which is not as easy as most people would believe- but what doesn’t change is how much you mean to him.”

“I should have convinced him, I should have been more honest, they don’t know the full story… what’s going on with me is not as severe as what they’re going through…” Evie felt her vision swirling, suddenly getting blurry. She tried to focus on Nadia’s face again and she felt her left hand grasp the couch arm hard, as if trying to anchor herself. She took a deep breath and continued, even though she felt her resolve breaking. “This is just…stupid of me to still be thinking about Josh… after everything… it’s just me overreacting to relationship woes.”

She could see a glimpse of Nadia shaking her head, her easy demeaner disappearing as she leaned forward, looking closer at Evie with a hard glance. “But it’s more than that, though Evie, even I know you don’t believe that.”

You think that you no longer deserve anyone’s help, and that what you did, or what you think you did, is more important than what’s going on with you. You no longer believe that anything that happens to you is unimportant. This level of self-hatred and losing interest in things that matter to you… that’s coming from something deeper than just being upset about a broken relationship.”

Evie looked away, wrapping her arms around herself, the whole world around her turning a lot greyer. She knew it was more than just Josh that made her like that, Nadia was right. It was just so hard to say it. No matter how wrong it was, she just couldn’t say it…

“Losing Josh that way was going to affect you, in a way you never expected. And that’s not it. You’ve been through an incredibly traumatic experience, you lost people you loved… it doesn’t have to be physical to be severe to be experiencing after-affects from what happened on the 5th of May.” Nadia told her.

It was as if a black cloud appeared from nowhere and clouded her vision in red and brown at those words, those words hitting straight at the jugular, because Evie knew what that date meant, Nadia knew what that date meant, and her body froze over. Ever nerve was on edge, ever hair was almost standing. The tension was so thick with those words, those words that meant the worst day…

Sharp, small inhales were escaping from her nose as Evie shook her head, looking desperately for anything in the room to look at other than Nadia. “I… they… they shouldn’t have…it was awful…” It was more than awful- it was hell.

“It’s difficult to talk about your grief, let alone the people you care about. Actually, especially with the people you care about- but I promise you, they’re just sharing your grief too.”

Evie felt herself shake her head, because—she was about to think it didn’t matter, but it was about Oscar and Hannah, so of course they mattered, she should be honouring them, she should be remembering them, everyday-

But then the memory of Oscar’s body, crushed and bloody in front of her, replaced Nadia in her sight and Evie couldn’t think of that anymore. Because he was dead, gone forever. The memories: all fading, all bleached from their meaning, soured by the brutality of his death. She opened her mouth but nothing came out, nothing that could sound right or wrong or anything.

“Evie, this stuff cannot be shook off- not by anyone else, and not by you. You wanted to be honest, want to make things right for other people, then you need to address the fact that what happened that day, is still affecting you.”

“I…. I just don’t know how… they meant… so much…I can’t…” Evie’s words were coming out so slow, she wouldn’t be surprised to find out if she was slurring them. “…think about how it affected me…”

“But it did, Evie. You were so focused on being there for those you still had that you pushed it all down, pretending that the grief wasn’t there. That grief- grief for people who meant so much to you- was an important part of the trauma you’re experiencing and the trauma you’re not ignoring, is already taking its toll. Thinking about what you don’t deserve makes it easier for you to ignore how such something so crushing would leave after-effects on you… and therefore makes it easier for you to give in to that belief that nothing matters. had you ever considered that, properly? When I mentioned the traumatic experience before, did you not considered that day to be the experience that would be giving you after effects?”

Evie didn’t say anything, instead remained focused on her knees, which prompted Nadia to continue. “You weren’t just someone who had to hear they lost someone- you were a witness to an incident that caused injury and death to other people, almost to you.”

“But nothing happened to me,” Evie insisted, less than sure if that was true or not. Yeah, physically she was fine, but mentally…

“That isn’t true Evie,” Nadia countered. “You don’t have to tell me anything for me to know that. Losing too many people you cared about through horrific ways, that would create a toll on any human mind. Nightmares, moments of extreme anxiety and hopelessness… has that happened to you?”

Evie wanted to say yes, but she couldn’t say that. She was honestly frightened at how accurate Nadia was, even if she didn’t know if she was right now. “What difference does it make, I caused-”

“Forget about responsibility, that’s not the important thing here. Do you think that is what is happening to you? The fear of letting your loved ones down, the anger, the feelings that everything you are will collapse?”

“It’s my responsibility-”

“Evie, please. You don’t have to answer all my questions, you can answer them or don’t answer them, but you can’t do both at the same time. It’s hard, it’s unfair to you, but is it what is happening to you?”

Evie felt her entire tongue was tied up in knots that were impossible to break through, her back was on fire as she leaned forward, unable to lean back into the couch’s support and her fingers were twisted against each other because, because she, because she…

…never thought about it that way.

It made sense, even she couldn’t deny that, she knew she was there, she relived it everyday. Every horrific moment in her mind, in her dreams. She has heard of people who experienced live-threatening moments would suffer from the traumatic effects even long after those events happened. Would that explain why every loud noise made her want to crouch into a corner, want the need to hide as if to protect herself? Why she was plagued by horrible nightmares? Because it could have happened to-

So what if it did. That doesn’t mean sh#%. All it does is make you more guilty because it still should have been you, even more so because you were there, but it wasn’t. Oscar paid the price for your stupidity, you didn’t do enough to protect him, stupid, failure, weak…

“Didn’t do enough…” Evie murmured, her voice barely above a raspy whisper.

“Evie?”

“I didn’t do enough… I couldn’t stop it, they were there and I… should have… saved them…”

“Evie, I’m sorry but I can’t hear you. Could you please speak up for me? I know this is painful, but I want to help you understand this, to heal from this.”

Evie felt her entire body ready to crumple at those words, and felt the walls she constructed crumbling, cracks appearing on all sides to start falling down and she felt she should just let it all out, expose it all, for better or worse-

Oh boo-freaking-hoo, go on, tell Nadia. Tell her what you did, how vile you are. Maybe she’ll go easy on you and just give you some pills to help cope. You know, like those pills you condemned Josh for, so easily.

It shouldn’t matter, it shouldn’t, it would only be better it Evie was honest, but all she could do was look up and say. “I don’t want to heal from this, I don’t want that help.”

Nadia didn’t answer straight away, looking at Evie closely in that way she does, that look that told Evie she was trying to look deep inside her, before saying “Why then, Evie? Why else would you be here today, talking about this? Why continue going to work apart from a sense of responsibility to the people you care about? I know you believe you don’t deserve it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want it as well.”

“Then that’s me being arrogant, cowardly, thinking that just because I want it-” Evie suggested, thinking it as the truth. She hated doing this, she talked more than enough about herself.

“It isn’t cowardly, it’s a lot more than that, Evie.”

“It doesn’t matter… I don’t deserve to heal, to move on. Not with Oscar…not with Oscar…” there it was again, the goddamn cowardly part of her that can’t even finish that sentence.

“Evie… when you said you think you’re a magnet for bad people, how everyone around you suffered- did you start thinking that after that date? Do you believe what happened to Oscar and Hannah-”

“I don’t believe  it, I know it.”

“You can’t know that, it isn't what happened. Evie… talk to me, please don’t shut me out. Tell me why you think so, explain it to me so I can help you…”

Evie can’t let that happen, she can’t let herself make this better, this wasn’t okay, this wasn’t about making her feel better. So what if it was the depression, it didn’t make anything better for Oscar and Hannah. Nadia can't know that, she can't know that it wasn't her fault... “I think our time’s up.”

Nadia stood up with as she did, looking at her with deep concern. “Evie, please talk to me, you can get past this grief. It's over-shadowing everything, but it doesn't have to be this way."

Evie sighed as she looked up at the ceiling. "Yes it does."

"Tell me what I can do." 

It was too late for that, because Evie felt her mind going blank and as she looked back at Nadia and said in a cold tone of finality: “Nothing…nothing.”

So, what do you guys think? 

Edited by D.B
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Some nice chats here, especially VJ trying to give Evie his perspective.That ending was intense with Evelyn turning away from the offer of help.What now then?

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