Worth fighting for, p.13
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       Worth Fighting For, p.13
 

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley

  adrenaline bumping up another level as I nosed ahead, pressing down onto the gas with all my might. Cars screeched around the corner behind me, the sound cutting through the night air like a knife.

  “Two more corners,” I muttered to myself, allowing myself another split-second glance in the mirror, seeing all three of them on my six and grappling to catch me. At the next corner, I left it slightly too late to brake, not realizing how sharp it was. I grunted, fighting with the steering to catch the skid before correcting and plummeting on down the straight road.

  Suddenly Ellie’s face flashed in my mind, and just like that, I wasn’t as fearless as I liked to believe. All this time I’d been racing, I’d never once worried about being hurt or killed. I’d never had anything worth living for anyway. But as soon as that little girl’s face appeared in my mind, fear clutched my heart with its icy hand. If I were hurt or dead, then I wouldn’t be able to be there for her, and that was something that was extremely important to me. I did have something worth living for, even if I didn’t actually have her, so to speak.

  I looked over to see the green kamikaze now in second place, almost at my side. I could see his determined look as he clasped his wheel tightly and gunned his engine. The next corner was within sight; the twin was not even yet thinking about applying the brakes. I gulped, thinking of Ellie having to lay her father to rest tomorrow. I needed to be there for that. I had to.

  My foot eased off the gas, my car slowing, and almost instantly the green kamikaze and Dodger breezed past me and into the corner as I braked, staying fully in control this time. It wasn’t worth it, I couldn’t risk it.

  Now on the home straight, I held my own, staying in third place as I crossed the finish line, seeing people videoing and applauding the cars as they stopped. When I came to a full stop, I closed my eyes and rested my head back on the headrest. Dodger had been right, I shouldn’t have raced tonight. My head was all over the place, and I’d almost lost control. If my reactions had been any slower, I would have rolled my car. At that sort of speed I probably wouldn’t have walked away from it.

  A loud rap on my window made my eyes pop open. One of the twins stood there, his toothy grin splitting his face. I rolled down my window.

  “Almost had you there,” I said, forcing a smile so he wouldn’t know anything was wrong.

  He shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. “Almost. Until you pussied out going into the last turn.”

  “Oh, whatever,” I replied, rolling my eyes with mock annoyance.

  He grinned. “See you next time, buddy. Drive safe.” He held out his fist and I bumped mine against it.

  “Yeah, next time,” I replied. But I wasn’t even sure there would be a next time; at least, not until Ellie was out of my life again and safely back in England with her Brit. As soon as I thought about it, I realized how much I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want her out of my life; I didn’t want her to marry someone else and have his British children; I didn’t want her to continue hating me, thinking I hadn’t loved her enough.

  I didn’t want this life. Since I’d been released from prison, I’d just been fooling myself into thinking I was content with what I had, when in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. Maybe it was time I was honest, put myself out there, realized I was maybe worth taking a risk on. Maybe I still could be good enough for her. Maybe.

  CHAPTER 14

  ELLIE

  BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

  The bedside alarm clock was loud and shrill and I instantly regretted setting it instead of the nice bird chirping or soft music I could have set on my cell phone alarm instead.

  “Ugh, tell me it’s not morning and that thing is malfunctioning,” Toby grunted, throwing his arm over his face as I reached out to turn the alarm off.

  “Nope, it’s morning,” I answered, rubbing at my tired eyes. A headache thumped at the back of my skull already. As if today won’t be hard enough. The headache was a by-product of another night of barely any sleep. I’d spent the wee hours lying in bed, staring at the ceiling in the darkness going over everything that needed to be done today, things I needed to do or say, wondering how I was going to hold it together. Today we would lay my dad to rest, and I was supposed to be the strong one who was there for my family. How in the hell was I supposed to do that? I had no clue.

  I turned to Toby, squinting down at him through blurry, puffy eyes from when I’d eventually cried myself to sleep silently so I wouldn’t wake him. He sent me a sad smile, his eyes still half-closed, and I lay back down, scooting closer to him and setting my head on his chest. His arms wrapped around me, surrounding me in his warmth as he placed a kiss on the top of my head. Wrapped in a little duvet-Toby cocoon, I felt safe and comfortable, and I didn’t just mean the sleeping position. Our whole relationship was like this: lazy and uncomplicated companionship.

  “Okay, sweetheart?” he whispered.

  I blew out a big breath and lifted my head, resting my chin on his chest so I could look at him. “Toby, how am I going to do this today? I don’t think I can,” I confided. My heart hurt, my whole body heavy with sadness.

  His hands came up, cupping the side of my neck as his soft green eyes met mine. “You can do it. I’ll be right ’ere, and you’ll get through it. You’re stronger than you think.”

  “Yeah,” I croaked, unsure if I believed it. Getting through today was going to be the hardest thing I’d done so far, and I’d barely managed to make it through some of the previous things.

  How could I say good-bye? How could I stand there and listen to people talk about my dad and what a great man he was, how he had so much life left in him, and how on earth was I going to do it all without breaking down in front of everyone?

  “Will you do me a favor today?” I asked.

  “’Course.” He nodded sadly.

  I smiled gratefully. “Watch out for my nana for me, okay? I’ll be fine, I’ll get through it, just stay close to her and make sure she’s all right. I know we’re all going through it, but she’s saying good-bye to her son today, and no mother should have to do that.”

  Toby’s hand slid down my back, pulling me closer, hugging me tightly to his body. “’Course I will. I’ll watch out for all of you.”

  “Thank you,” I muttered against his shoulder, clutching him closer to me, wishing I didn’t ever have to get out of this bed and I could just hide here, away from all my problems. Unfortunately, life didn’t work like that, so I pulled away, kissing his cheek softly before swinging my legs out of bed.

  It was only seven a.m., but I had lots more preparations to do today before the funeral. To save on money, because I simply hadn’t realized how expensive these things were and was already struggling, Nana and I were catering the wake ourselves. We’d prepared a lot of the food last night, baking mini sausages, stuffing pastry shells with a variety of fillings, and cooking all manner of finger foods until well past midnight, but today we needed to make the sandwiches and deviled eggs, sort out the cold cuts selection, and chop vegetables. At least it will keep our minds occupied for a while, I thought, slipping on my robe and heading downstairs.

  * * *

  Hours later we were essentially done, and I was pretty ready to throw the hors d’oeuvres out the window. I didn’t want to see another teeny pizza or chicken nugget in my life. The table in the living room was all laid out like we were hosting some sort of party for little people or something. My nana kept saying how much my dad would have loved it and how partial he was to a bit of finger food. She was right; he’d always said there was something about miniature food that made it taste better.

  While Toby and Kelsey tidied the house, Nana finished plating up the cold cuts and I gathered all the trash, tying the bag tightly. “You sure you don’t want to come to the hospital?” I asked, walking into the living room and raising my voice a little over the vacuum that Kelsey was pushing around.

  “No. I’ll stay here and finish up,” she answered quickly, turning the
vacuum off. Kelsey didn’t visit Mom as much as I did. She wouldn’t talk about it, but I got the distinct impression that she didn’t like seeing our mother like that. I must admit, I didn’t, either.

  “Okay. I’ll be back in a bit,” I told her before turning to Toby. “You’ll watch Nana for me while I’m gone?”

  He smiled, walking to my side and bending to kiss my cheek. “Like an ’awk,” he replied.

  “A what?” Kelsey questioned.

  “An ’awk,” Toby repeated. When Kelsey’s eyebrow rose and it was clear she still didn’t get it, I laughed. Seeing my family trying to get used to his accent was hilarious. “Big bird, excellent eyesight, likes to eat mice...an ’awk.”

  I turned, heading out of the house and leaving them to it, picking up the trash bag on the way out. As I walked down the path, I looked up at the rain clouds brewing in the sky, hoping they’d clear before this afternoon. A funeral in the rain would just about be the icing on the cake for me, though it certainly would suit my dark, depressive mood perfectly.

  “Oh, Ellie. Do you need anything done today, honey?” Mrs. Egbert, our next-door neighbor, came trotting across her lawn, her hair still in rollers, her large frame still in her nightdress.

  “We’ve got it all under control, thank you. Though I wanted to ask, would it be possible for a few cars to use your driveway later?” I replied. I’d meant to come over yesterday, but we’d been busy shopping for all the food and drinks for the wake.

  “Of course it is, honey. I’ll have Derek move our cars into the garage so you can feel free to use the whole drive if you need to,” she said, setting her hand on my arm. “It’s so sad what’s happened. I just feel for you all. And your poor mother...” She clucked her tongue and shook her head sadly. “We’re both praying for her.”

  “Thanks,” I muttered. “I’d better go. Heading to the hospital for a visit.”

  “Oh, give your mother our love,” she instructed.

  I nodded, sending her a last smile, and then turned toward my car. As I started down the path, a maroon sedan caught my eye and I stopped, glancing over at it. It was parked across the street, opposite my house. It had been there yesterday too, but I didn’t recognize it as one of the neighbors’ cars. Today the guy sitting in the driver’s seat, a handsome twentysomething black guy, was looking back at me, seeming a little apprehensive as we made eye contact. I frowned. Hadn’t the guy sitting in the car yesterday been an older white guy with brown hair? Surely it couldn’t have been the same car, though, with two different drivers parked outside my house...

  As I squinted, trying to get a better look at the guy because something about him seemed a little familiar, the car started up and drove off, the driver putting his cell phone to his ear. I watched the car as it rolled down the road and out of sight. Maybe I’d been wrong about yesterday; my mind wasn’t exactly focused and engaged lately, I was just cruising along in a bit of a daze still.

  I shook it off and headed to my car, trying to keep my mind on anything other than what would happen in four hours’ time.

  * * *

  No matter how many times I was subjected to it, I simply couldn’t get used to that distinct hospital smell. It was like the scent of death lingered in the air, covered up with cleaning fluid and bleach. I’d come to the hospital to visit my mother two or sometimes three times a day, and the scent of it, especially her ward, made my throat dry and my nose burn.

  As usual, I stopped at the nurses’ office on my way in and asked for an update—as usual, I was told no change.

  It had been too long already. A week had passed since the accident and she hadn’t woken. Her prognosis was getting worse each day. I hated that there was nothing anyone could do but keep her comfortable and wait. I didn’t like not being in control of anything.

  The uncomfortable chair at the side of my mom’s bed creaked as I eased into it, setting my purse on the floor before leaning forward and taking her hand in mine.

  “Morning,” I muttered. The doctors and nurses had been encouraging us to talk to her, saying it might help. I felt a little stupid doing it, but we all tried anyway, even Kels sometimes. “I can’t stay long today, I just wanted to come and say hi.” I cleared my throat. “So, um...” I looked around her room for something to talk about. “Looks like rain today.” That was all I had. Pathetic.

  I sighed and leaned forward, resting my chin on the edge of her bed and watching her chest rise and fall with the soft suck and pull of the ventilator.

  “I’m so sorry we couldn’t wait for you to wake up before having Dad’s funeral.” And I was sorry, too. I’d considered waiting, but the doctors had been adamant that the best thing to do was to do it now. They’d said that even if she woke up, the stress of it all might cause other complications.

  “I wish you could be there.” The silence in the room was deafening to me. “I’m not sure I can do it, Mom. I’m trying to be strong for everyone, but inside I feel like I’m breaking. There’s so much pressure and everyone is looking at me to do everything because Nana is struggling too, and I’m trying to keep the pressure of it off her, but it feels like everything is weighing me down and I’m not sure how much more I can take.”

  I swallowed and closed my eyes. “I think we’ve done everything, though. I’ve been busy sorting out food and flowers and songs for today. And don’t worry, we’ve cleaned the house because I know how particular you are about keeping up appearances.” I chuckled humorlessly. “Everything should go fine, I hope. I’m just sorry you won’t be there.”

  I squeezed her hand and sat back, watching the rise and fall of her chest again as my thoughts wandered to this afternoon and tears welled in my eyes.

  * * *

  When I returned home, the place was sparkling clean yet deserted. I could hear the shower on upstairs, but there was no one around that I could see. I set my bag down and checked the time on my watch. Half past one. There was a little over an hour left until the car would arrive to pick us up and take us to the crematorium.

  I set my purse down, following the sounds of life from upstairs. I stopped outside the spare bedroom, the one Nana was using, and could hear the whirr of a hair dryer, so I moved on, meaning to head to my bedroom and shower so I could change. As I walked up the hallway, sounds of quiet crying made my ears prick up. I frowned, creeping over to Kelsey’s room, noticing her door was only half-closed. The sound of crying got louder the closer I got. My heart ached, and I wished I could take her pain away.

  As I peeked in the door, I saw her sitting at her dresser, hairbrush in one hand, bobby pin in the other. Tears were streaming endlessly down her face as she twisted the front of her hair, pulling it away from her face and attempting to push the bobby pin in to secure it. A groan of frustration left her lips before she hurled her brush across the room; it hit the wall with a loud thunk.

  “Stupid, stupid hair!” she cried, standing up and using both arms to roughly sweep the contents of her dresser onto the floor in one quick motion, sending bobby pins in every direction.

  I gulped, knowing it wasn’t the hair she was upset about.

  “Kels, how about I help you style it?” I offered softly.

  She jumped, her eyes flicking up to look at my reflection in the mirror. Anger and frustration twisted her usually beautiful features as she shoved up from the stool and marched over to me. When her hand came up and caught the door, swinging it toward my face, I was ready and stopped it before it slammed, pushing it back open again and stepping in uninvited.

  This needed to stop. I couldn’t keep allowing her to use me as a punching bag for her emotions; I couldn’t take it anymore.

  “Kelsey, stop it, stop shutting me out all the time and being so mean. I’m hurting too, you know! Do you really think this whole thing isn’t killing me inside? Do you really think you’re the only one suffering? I lost him, too. I miss him and Mom just as much as you do,” I cried, my own frustration leaking into my words. “You can’t keep punishing me for not bei
ng here when it happened. It’s not fair.” I shook my head, willing her to listen and let me in. “I need you, Kels. I can’t do all this on my own. You need to stop pushing me away. At the moment, we’ve only got each other. We can help each other get through this, but not if you keep shutting me out.”

  Her tears were in full force. This was the first time I had seen her cry since I’d been home. I groaned and stepped forward, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her against me, holding her tightly when she wriggled and tried to push me off. I held fast, not letting go, and after a couple of seconds, her body sagged against mine and her arms looped around my waist, hugging me back.

  My eyes fluttered closed as I pressed my face into her hair, holding her while she sobbed onto my shoulder and finally let it all out. I stroked her back, thanking God for this mini breakthrough and just hoping that it wasn’t limited to today.

  After a few minutes she pulled back and sniffed loudly, wiping her face with the back of her hand. I left my hands on her shoulders and dipped my head slightly, so I could meet her red-rimmed eyes. “I love you lots, like tater tots. You know that, don’t you?” I whispered. It was something we’d always said to each other when we were younger; she’d come up with it once because they were her favorite food as a kid.

  She nodded. “You, too.”

  I smiled and reached up to take hold of her hair, tugging on it playfully. “How about you let me do your hair, just like old times?” I offered, praying she wouldn’t reject me again now that the forced hug was over.

  “Okay.” It was a small gesture on her part, letting me do it, but I took it and ran with it.

  I smiled gratefully and bent to retrieve her hairbrush from the floor where it had landed after she’d launched it. “How about I braid the front and we curl the back?” I offered. It was a hairstyle Stacey had given me many times.

 
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