Worth fighting for, p.5
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       Worth Fighting For, p.5
 

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

  wasn’t hungry, either.”

  I could sympathize with her there. “How’s she holding up?”

  Nana didn’t answer, but she didn’t need to; her teary eyes said it all. Kelsey wasn’t holding up very well at all.

  I gulped, glancing toward the stairs, steeling myself to go up and see my little sister, offer some words of comfort that I was hoping were going to magically come to me because right now I had nothing. There were simply no words that were ever going to make this better. “I’ll, um, go see her, tell her I’m here and see if she wants to come downstairs.”

  Stacey cleared her throat. “I’m going to go, let you get settled.” She smiled awkwardly. “If you need anything, then call me, all right? I can take you to the hospital later if you want,” she offered, stepping forward and wrapping her long, slender arms around me, pulling me tight against her body.

  “Thanks,” I muttered, hugging her back tightly, clinging to her, not really wanting her to leave. She pulled back and smiled sadly before turning and walking out the front door.

  Silence filled the hallway again. Deafening, awful, mind-whirling silence.

  Nana sniffed loudly, raising her chin and pulling back her shoulders. “I’m going to fix you a plate. I know you said you’re not hungry, but you might want it when you come down.”

  I forced a smile and nodded, knowing she just needed to do something, to feel like she was looking after us. “Okay, thank you.” I shrugged out of my jacket, hanging it on the rack before glancing back up the stairs, wondering if I had the energy to make it up the thirteen steps. My body now felt heavy, uncoordinated, and weak. All I wanted to do was curl into a ball and cry, but instead I took a deep breath and forced my legs to work, taking the steps one at a time.

  I stopped outside Kelsey’s bedroom door, listening for any sounds of life from inside, but there was nothing. I raised my hand and knocked—no answer.

  “Kelsey?” I knocked again, still to no response. Frowning, I reached down and gripped the handle, turning it and cracking the door open, peeking inside. Kelsey was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling, a pair of red Beats headphones covering her ears and an iPhone resting on her belly.

  My eyes widened as I looked at her. She was so tall, her body so much longer in her bed than when I’d left. Her brown hair, the exact shade of our father’s, cascaded over her shoulders and halfway down her arm. Her body was perfectly proportioned, her breasts already prominent and easily the same size as mine even though she was only thirteen. The skin on her face had a few teenage pimples that she’d covered with concealer that was one shade too light for her, making them stand out more than if she’d left them alone.

  I swallowed awkwardly around the lump that had rapidly formed in my throat. I’d missed so much of her growing up. This young lady in front of me was nothing like the little girl I’d said good-bye to. I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting to see; it actually shocked me that this wasn’t the ten-year-old who followed me around and sang One Direction songs way too loudly, the girl who jumped on my bed and applied my lipstick and deodorant when I wasn’t looking.

  “Kelsey?” I said, pushing the door open wider and peering in.

  She started, her head whipping to face me as her hand shot up to the phone, catching it as it fell off her tummy and onto the bed.

  I smiled weakly, not knowing where to start. “Hey. Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

  She didn’t smile back; her lips pressed into a thin hard line as she reached up and pulled the headphones from her ears, letting them rest around her neck. Her eyes wandered over me as she sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. “You’re here, then.” There was something off about her voice, a hard edge that made my spine straighten.

  “Yeah, Stacey just dropped me off.” I bit my lip, willing the words to come to me, some words of wisdom that would somehow take her pain away.

  “Nice of you to bother,” she huffed, standing up and ripping her headphones from her neck, carelessly dropping them and her phone onto the bed.

  I recoiled at her tone, unsure why she sounded so angry. I wasn’t expecting anger, hadn’t prepared for it one bit. “I came as soon as I could,” I replied, my eyebrows pinching together in confusion.

  She made a scoffing noise in the back of her throat and crossed her arms over her chest, raising one eyebrow in challenge. “You came as soon as you could? Not good enough.”

  “Kelsey, what?” I mumbled, frowning, unmoving, my whole body frozen against the doorframe by her steely glare. “I got the first available flight. I’ve just come up to see if you’re okay.”

  Her top lip turned up into a sneer, a look I had never seen on my loving, sweet little sister before. “You came to see if I was okay? Of course I’m not fucking okay!” Her f-bomb shocked me, and I blinked rapidly, taking in her words. She shook her head forcefully. “It’s just too little too late, Ellie. You should have been here—you should have been here for Mom, for me, for Dad. You should have been here when the police officer brought the news, you should have been here for the hour-long drive in the police car to the hospital from Nana’s, you should have been here when they took Mom into surgery. You should have been here when Nana had to go in and formally identify Dad’s body. You should have been here when she broke down crying and then passed out from the pressure of it all. We needed you, and you weren’t here! Instead, you were off swanning around in another country without a care in the world while my world was falling apart!” she all but screamed.

  The lump in my throat seemed to swell, emotion bubbling up inside me, her hurtful words cutting and full of acid. The guilt at not being here like she said, it was crushing. “It’s not like that,” I croaked, my eyes filling with tears.

  She raised her chin, her eyes hard as she walked the six or seven steps over to me. “You should have been here, but you weren’t. If you think turning up after so long is going to make everything okay, then you’re dead wrong.” She grasped the door, swinging it forward forcefully and slamming it in my face.

  CHAPTER 6

  FOR A COUPLE of seconds I just stood there, my mouth agape, staring at the white painted grains in the wood that was less than two inches from my face, my mind not really responding to what had just happened.

  What had just happened?

  I recoiled, my heart aching, my lungs too tight to draw in anything other than a short, sharp breath. I gulped. The force of her words, the anger, the acid and purposeful hurtfulness to them. She’d meant every word.

  A tear escaped, trickling down my cheek as I blinked a couple of times, the guilt and grief overwhelming. My knees weakened and I reached out, placing one hand on the wall for support as I thought of my poor nana having to identify her son’s body, of her frail body not being able to cope with the pressure, of Kelsey being alone, her father dead, her mother in surgery, her nana blacking out at the hospital. It was all too much, too much sadness, too much to take in at once.

  I leaned forward and placed my forehead against the cold wood of Kelsey’s door, closing my eyes, taking deep breaths to try to calm my raging inner storm of emotions. All I wanted to do was stagger to my bedroom, fall face-first onto my bed, and cry into my pillow. Her words hit me hard, and I suddenly realized she was right. Me simply turning up here wasn’t enough; I needed to make up for it, starting right now. Crying on my bed was not an option.

  I sucked in a deep breath and pulled back, reaching up to dry my tearstained face with the back of my hand before turning for the stairs, deciding to leave Kelsey to calm down for a little while. I’d try again in a little while and see if she was ready to talk. Maybe she just needed a bit of space.

  As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I followed the sound of dishes clinking and the delicious scent of chili wafting out of the kitchen. Nana was standing by the stove, stirring an enormous pot with a wooden spoon. I stood silently. Watching her cook was something I had always enjoyed; she was a whiz in the kitchen. When I was younger and
would stay over at her house, she would let me help her make dinner; we’d bake cakes and cookies almost every visit.

  “How’d it go?”

  I jumped, startled by her words. I had been purposefully quiet when I entered and hadn’t realized she’d known I was here. She smiled sadly over her shoulder as she picked up a bowl and scooped a ladleful of chili into it.

  I didn’t have the words to answer. I shrugged, walking forward and fingering the soft leather of a dining chair, noting it was new. In fact, the whole kitchen looked different. It had been painted a pale green; the porcelain on display was now green instead of the yellow set that had once been there.

  “She’s...” I gulped, swallowing the hurt. “...Angry with me for not being here when it happened.”

  Nana let out a long breath and nodded slowly, shuffling over to the table and setting down the bowl and a plate of crusty bread rolls. “Come sit down, you must be exhausted after all that traveling.”

  I sat obediently, my hands folded in my lap, my eyes firmly on the table.

  “Kelsey’s just upset. Everyone deals with grief differently. She’s young and doesn’t know how to take it all in. Sometimes anger is easier to deal with than sadness.” She sat down opposite me and I looked up into her soft, sorrowful eyes. “She doesn’t mean it, being angry is just her way of coping, and it appears you’re getting the brunt of it. Unfortunately, sometimes we hurt the ones we love the most. She’ll come around.”

  I nodded, taking in her words, hoping they were true. Nana’s eyes were tight, watching me, her gaze flicking down to the spoon I hadn’t touched. Resigned, I picked it up, seeing some of the tension leave her shoulders as I scooped some chili from the bowl and put it in my mouth, chewing slowly. It tasted just as delicious as it smelled, but I still wasn’t hungry in the slightest. For my nana and her peace of mind, I forced myself to keep going, though, knowing that in some strange way, it made her feel better.

  The silence was almost too much to bear as I ate, so I decided to broach the subject of the accident. She had been vague on the phone, just told me it was a car crash, no details. Now, with only the clink of spoon against bowl to cut the silence, the details seemed important.

  “Nana, the car accident,” I started, my voice cracking slightly—talking about it made it even more real, somehow—“was there anyone else hurt?” I’d been so wrapped up in my own grief that I hadn’t even considered the fact that there could be other people injured or dead.

  Her eyebrows knitted together as she picked at a loose thread on her apron. “No one else was hurt. They’re not sure how it all happened. There was only one witness, who was driving a fair bit behind, so they didn’t see much. They said that a blue Ford pickup truck had sped past them, driving erratically. They said it collided with the side of your father’s car, which caused him to lose control and hit the central barrier. The other car sped off, and they haven’t been able to find the driver.”

  I recoiled at her words. The other driver didn’t stop? What kind of person was involved in an accident and didn’t stop? “Do the police think they were drunk or something?” The words driving erratically stuck in my mind.

  She sighed deeply and gave a small shrug of her shoulders. “They just don’t know. They’ve checked the traffic cams, but haven’t managed to get a picture of the driver, so at this point, they’re not sure what really happened.”

  I ground my teeth, anger flaring in my stomach at this unknown driver.

  She reached out and placed her soft hand over mine, squeezing gently. “They’ll find the person responsible and bring them to justice, don’t you worry about that.” Her voice was set, firm, confident, and more than a little angry. “Trust that the police will do their jobs. We have other things to worry about.”

  I nodded, a lump now firmly lodged in my throat. I put down my spoon and pushed the bowl away from me gently, knowing I couldn’t force down another bite. Nana stood silently, picking up my bowl and walking over to the garbage disposal to scrape my barely touched food away. Her shoulders sagged, her movements slow.

  “Why don’t you have a little nap or something?” I suggested, standing and walking over to her. “I can clean this up, you look exhausted.” I put my arm around her and gave her an encouraging squeeze.

  She sighed, not looking at me, and nodded. “I think I will.” She turned and planted a soft kiss on my cheek. “Wake me if there’s any news. Visiting starts again at three, but I think I’ll skip the afternoon visit and just go tonight instead. Unless you want me to come with you?”

  I smiled and shook my head. “I’ll be fine. I’ll go this afternoon, and then we can all go up again tonight.”

  She nodded in agreement, and I watched her walk out of the kitchen before glancing at the clock. Just before two. Just over an hour to wait before I could go see my mother. I sighed and dug in my pocket for my cell phone, heading over to the Wi-Fi router to get the password so I could connect to it. Once I’d connected, I dropped down into the kitchen chair and called Toby. He’d be climbing the walls waiting for news, but I knew he wouldn’t call me in case I was at the hospital or something.

  It took a few seconds to connect, but he answered on the second ring. “Hey, sweetheart. You okay?”

  I closed my eyes, pressing the phone harder against my ear. In the background, I could hear the beep of the cash register, the clink of glasses, the murmured chatter of patrons. He was working. “Hi. Is now a good time?” I asked.

  “It’s always a good time where you’re concerned.” His voice was warm, loving. “Just ’old on one sec.” The line became even more muffled, as if he had covered the mouthpiece. “Trev, look after things for a bit, ’lright? It’s Ellie.” Then he was back to talking to me. “Sorry, sweetheart. ’Ow’s everyone coping? ’Ow’s your mum?”

  Nana looks like she’s a minute from collapsing and Kelsey hates me.

  “They’re doing okay,” I lied. “I haven’t been to see my mom yet. I have to wait for visiting hours, but Nana said she’s still in a coma.”

  “Aww, I’m so sorry, Ellie. I wish I was there, I’ve been so worried ’bout ya.”

  “Don’t worry about me, I’m all right,” I muttered, opening my eyes and looking down at the table, tracing the grains of wood with my fingernail.

  “It’s my job to worry, ain’t it?” His voice was deliberately light, playful.

  “I suppose,” I admitted. “Are the boys okay?” They had still been asleep this morning when Toby and I left for the airport. I hadn’t even had a chance to say good-bye to them before Toby’s mother had come over to watch them so Toby could accompany me in the taxi.

  “They’re fine. They both send their love. Christian made you a drawing. ’E said I ’ave to bring it with me when I fly out to you.”

  My heart squeezed at the gesture. They really were sweet kids. “Tell them I said hi.”

  We chatted for another ten minutes, mundane conversation, nothing heavy. Mostly about the flight, Stacey, the pub, his kids, and Nana’s chili. At the end of the call, he told me he loved me and apologized again for not being here with me, and made me promise to call again tonight, screw the time difference. He told me he’d arranged cover at the pub and had booked his flight for Wednesday—four days’ time—once the kids were returned to their mother. When I disconnected the call, I felt a little better. Talking to someone who wasn’t so closely involved and hearing the regular pub sounds in the background was a welcome distraction to the blackness that was inside me, consuming me by the second.

  After quickly washing the dishes, I walked into the living room to see Nana asleep, sitting up in the armchair. I watched her rhythmic breathing for a few seconds, wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t been here, if Kelsey had been on her own with no support. This woman was a rock, and I would be eternally grateful for her stepping in and taking care of my sister in my absence. I walked forward, picking up the throw from the sofa and laying it over her carefully. She didn’t stir.

>   Not wanting to sit down, I wandered slowly around the house, touching things I hadn’t seen for years, my eyes lingering on family photos that adorned the walls. When my gaze landed on the key rack that was mounted on the wall by the front door, I saw my old, battered Volkswagen Beetle key ring dangling there. I frowned, heading over to it and picking it up, memories of my beat-up little car swirling to the front of my mind.

  I had no idea my parents had kept her.

  Tightening my fist around the keys, I headed to the garage through the internal door and there she sat. My beloved green bug.

  The fluffy green dice that Stacey had bought me when I passed my driving test still hung from the rearview mirror. I smiled and shook my head, finding the right key and pushing it into the lock eagerly.

  As the door opened, a waft of polish and leather hit my nose. Slipping inside, I noticed that the inside was spotlessly clean, sparkling even. Someone, most likely my father, had kept the car clean for the last three years—probably in the hope that one day I’d come home and want to drive her. Pain stabbed at my heart as I touched the soft, ripped leather of my seat. Swinging the door closed, I leaned forward and rested my forehead against the steering wheel. The loss of my father was something I would surely never recover from. Everything inside me hurt—my heart squeezed painfully with each beat as I closed my eyes and saw his smiling face, his twinkling eyes, heard his laugh.

  A strangled sob left my throat.

  I dragged in a couple of ragged breaths, opening my eyes and staring at the ceiling of the car, forcing my mind away from my father in a bid to keep the tears at bay. Needing something else to do before I fell into the grief abyss, I shoved the key into the ignition and turned it, pushing my foot down on the gas pedal, pumping it like I used to. The engine ticked over, but didn’t catch. On the second try I pumped the gas faster and...bingo! There was a little life left in the old girl yet! I smiled, leaving the engine running as I reveled in the loud roar.

  When it was finally time to start thinking about going to the hospital, I sent a quick text to Stacey, saying that we didn’t need a ride, that my car was still in working order, and that I’d actually quite like to drive myself. She replied quickly and asked me to message later and let her know if there was any change.

  Leaving the car running, not wanting to risk turning it off in case it didn’t start up again, I headed back into the house and crept through the lounge and up the stairs toward Kelsey’s room. I knocked softly, taking a couple of deep breaths outside her door,
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