Worth fighting for, p.6
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       Worth Fighting For, p.6

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

  bracing myself for another confrontation and more of her anger-fueled grief.

  “What?” she called from inside.

  I gripped the handle, twisting it and opening the door a little, poking my head in. She was back on the bed, this time with her laptop open in front of her. Her shoulders stiffened and her eyebrows knitted together in a frown when she saw it was me. “Hey.” I cleared my throat. “I’m going to the hospital. Nana is sleeping downstairs and said she was going to hold off and come tonight instead. Do you want to go with me?”

  Indecision flickered across her features, and finally she shook her head. “I’ll go later too.”

  My stomach twisted in a knot. A very small part of me had been hoping she wouldn’t want to come because I didn’t want to bear the brunt of her anger and resentment, but a bigger part of me was devastated because it meant that I had to face going there alone. I needed my sister, I needed someone to share this with, and she was being so hostile to me. In her mind, though, I guess it was perfectly reasonable to feel resentment. I hadn’t been here when she needed me, after all. I fought to keep my expression neutral and not show her how much she was hurting me.

  “Okay.” The word came out more like a squeak than anything else. “I’ll call if there’s any change.” I closed the door quickly, not wanting to hang around where I clearly wasn’t wanted, and headed down the stairs, grabbing my jacket and purse as I slipped into the garage again and opened the roller door.

  As I pulled out of the garage, I gripped the wheel tightly. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to drive. I hadn’t been behind the wheel for the last three years, and driving my little bug had always been hard going at the best of times when I had to fight to change gears and haul the wheel heavily to go around corners.

  When I finally pulled into the hospital parking lot, I was actually a little relieved. After spending almost two years being ferried around in cars and cabs in England, it was a bit weird to be on the right side of the road and not the left. Funny how quickly you get used to things.

  As I left the safety of my car and made the short walk to the entrance of the hospital, I tried to prepare myself for what I was about to see, but in all honesty, I wasn’t sure what I was about to be confronted with. I dared not even try to imagine.

  Inside, the hospital was busier than I thought it would be. I had to line up at the reception desk, waiting behind other loved ones, to ask where I needed to go. After being directed to the ICU department, I walked slowly, ignoring people around me and counting my footfalls as I made my way up the long corridor to my mother’s ward. When I finally got to the right place, I squirted some sanitizer on my hands, as directed by the laminated sign just above the dispenser, and pushed open the hefty wooden door.

  As I stepped inside, the smell of the place changed. In the hallway, you could have been anywhere, but this ward had a distinct medicinal smell that was so strong it made my nose wrinkle. I stopped in my tracks, my feet firmly planted, unsure if I could stay here. The scent was overpowering, the clean lines, the white walls, the thick wooden doors with patient names written on a whiteboard attached to each door—it was all too much to handle. I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to see my mom’s name there; I wasn’t sure I was strong enough.

  Now I understood why Nana and Kelsey had both opted to skip this afternoon visit. I wouldn’t have wanted to come back here again so soon after leaving, either. Just as I was mentally chastising myself for coming alone, a nurse walked past. When she caught sight of me she stopped and smiled warmly.

  “Can I help you?” she asked, tilting her head to the side and regarding me with sympathetic eyes.

  I opened my mouth and closed it again. Words failed me. “Um...” I tried again. “I’m here to visit my mother, Ruth Pearce.” As I said her name, there was another twist in my gut.

  “Oh, you must be Ellie,” the nurse replied, her smile widening. “Your grandmother told me you were flying in today. England, right?”

  I nodded blankly, my mind slightly numb.

  “Come on in, I’ll show you where your mom is. There’s been no change since this morning. The doctor is monitoring her. All her pressures are good, her heart is steady. She’s still in a coma, but given the nature of her injuries that was not unexpected. She’s hooked up to the ventilator at the moment, so don’t let the machinery scare you.” She gripped my elbow, leading me inside the ward, forcing me to walk with gentle persuasion as her soft voice reassured me. She stopped outside the third door on the right and released her grip on my arm. “She’s in here. You want me to come in with you?” she offered, nodding to the door.

  There, on the whiteboard, printed in neat script, was my mother’s name.

  It felt like a weight had been laid on my chest, pressing, squeezing. It was finally sinking in, all the things I was struggling to contain inside: My father had died, and my mother was inside this room fighting for her life. I could lose them both. And then what? What would happen then, to Kelsey, to me, to Nana?

  “Are you okay, dear?”

  I blinked a couple of times, realizing she was waiting for a response, and turned to look at her, willing my voice to work this time. “I’m fine. I’d like to go in alone.” That was a lie. I would actually like to turn and run, run so fast that my head spun and I left this horrible waking nightmare far behind me.

  “Okay, give me a shout if you need anything or have any questions. I’ll let the doctor know you’re here, I know he wanted to speak to you.” She threw me one last sympathetic smile and then turned and hurried off into the nurses’ office.

  I turned my attention back to the door, reaching out tentatively and pushing it open. I held my breath the whole time.

  As the door swung open, I caught my first glimpse of her. She was lying on the bed in the center of the room. She looked incredibly small, so still and lifeless. Seeing her there, so fragile and helpless, the pain in my chest somehow, impossibly, doubled.

  My hand shot to my mouth as a little whimper left my lips. She looked childlike lying there, peaceful even. Tubes and wires protruded from her mouth, attached to the ventilator that was keeping her alive. Clear liquid pumped into her veins via an IV in her hand. I stepped into the room, letting the door swing closed behind me as I raked my eyes over her. Bruises and cuts marred her usually perfect creamy skin. Her hair was tangled instead of being perfectly and meticulously straightened; there was even some dirt under her fingernails. My body hitched with a sob. If my mother could see herself right now, she would hate it. I made a mental note to bring a hairbrush and some cleaning wipes when I came next time. When she woke, she would be horrified if there was dirt under her nails.

  Then it hit me, the absurdity of my thought: If my mother woke, she wouldn’t care about a little grime or dirt because she’d then learn that my dad had left us. I held my breath, my eyes fixed on her as I approached the bed.

  The heart rate monitor beeping steadily and the slow rhythm of her chest rising and falling softly with the forced intake from the ventilator were the only indications that she was alive. If not for them, I would have sworn she’d already left, followed my father, and the two of them were watching me as I stood vigil over a lifeless body.

  I reached out and traced her cheek with the back of one finger as my grief consumed me. “Oh, Mom,” I croaked. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here. I’m so sorry.”

  This was the first time I had seen my mother in three years, and these were the circumstances—where was the justice in that? Sure, we’d called each other, chatted on FaceTime, and used Skype a few times, but this was the first time I’d physically touched my mother since I left for Rome over three years ago. Toby and I had been planning on seeing them soon; they were going to fly over with Kelsey during the school holidays and spend the week with us, but now...

  I choked back a sob and reached out, taking her hand softly. “I’m so sorry.”

  I don’t know how long I stood there for, lost in my grief, but it must
have been a while because when the door opened and a middle-aged man in a white coat walked in with that sympathetic smile that they must all practice in the mirror, my neck ached from standing and looking down at my mother for so long.

  “Ellison? I’m Doctor Pacer. Is now a good time for us to chat? There are a few things I need to talk to you about,” he said.

  I nodded, stepping back, licking my dry lips. “Yeah, and it’s Ellie.”

  He nodded once in acknowledgment and motioned toward the two chairs next to my mother’s bed. “Shall we sit?”

  Sit? Is this more bad news? What more is there that can go wrong?

  “Um, okay.” I plopped into one chair, my eyes trained on him as he clasped his hands in his lap and sat forward, looking at me intently.

  “There are certain arrangements that need to be made. I didn’t bring this up with your grandmother because I wasn’t sure how she would cope after her fainting episode earlier. I’m not sure how she’d cope under the pressure, she already seems a little...delicate,” he said, seeming to be choosing his words carefully.

  Delicate, that was a good word for her right now. I nodded, actually grateful that he hadn’t piled any more pressure onto my frail grandmother. “What sort of arrangements?”

  His lips pressed into a thin line before he spoke. “Funeral arrangements for your father. His body is currently down in the morgue. We’ve done everything that we need to do and the police have given permission for his body to be released to a funeral home so you can start planning for what you’d like to happen.”

  Funeral arrangements. Ouch.

  “Oh,” I mumbled.

  “If you want, I can have someone help you with the arrangements, or if you don’t wish to deal with it, then I can speak with your grandmother next time she comes in. I know it’s a lot for someone to deal with; losing a parent is never easy, and under these circumstances”—he shot a quick look at my mother in the bed—“it makes it even harder.”

  I shook my head quickly, my mind made up and set. “Don’t talk to my nana. I’ll deal with it, I’ll arrange it all. I don’t want her doing more than she has to.”

  CHAPTER 7

  JAMIE

  THREE DAYS ELLIE had been back stateside, three fucking days. The longest three days of my life, they felt like.

  Since seeing that article, all I could think about was her. She’d taken over everything, consumed my every thought. And now she was back here, so tantalizingly close, and I’d been wrestling with the decision of whether I should go and see her, offer my condolences, ask if there was anything I could do to help. I’d almost caved a few times, but had managed to maintain my resolve. I wanted what was best for her—I always had—and I was almost positive that what was best for her wasn’t me. But there was still that selfish need, that incredible desire to be near her, touch her face, run my fingers through her hair, pull her body against mine, and hold her so tightly we’d never be apart again. It was one thing staying away from her while she was halfway around the world, but quite another making myself stay away from her now that she was just ten miles down the road.

  I groaned and gripped the small knife in my hand tightly, looking up at the dartboard mounted on the wall. I needed a drink. I needed to get so shitfaced drunk that I couldn’t even stand; maybe then my chest would loosen and I’d be able to breathe properly. For the hundredth time in three days, I thought about how much easier my life would have been if I’d never even met that playful little redhead. She came into my life with an unexpected bang that turned my world into something I’d dared not even hope for. If I hadn’t met her, if she hadn’t made me fall in love with her so deeply that it devoured me, then I wouldn’t feel this emptiness inside me.

  My heartache had gone beyond pain now, beyond loneliness, beyond grief; now it was just emptiness, which, in my opinion, was fucking worse. I could barely stand it.

  I needed a distraction, an escape, something to take my mind off her. Seeing as it was barely eleven a.m. I couldn’t exactly drink myself into oblivion like I craved, so it would have to be something else. Closing my eyes, I thought of some of the more menial jobs that needed doing—there were a few emails that required my attention from the legitimate businesses I ran, I needed to sort out hiring two more security guards for a new contract we’d just signed, I had a couple of people I needed to call back—but I wasn’t inclined to do any of these things.

  My hands itched to do something more exciting, to find some thrills. Maybe to steal some rich prick’s pride and joy and crush it into a cube at the junkyard, just for kicks. There was all sorts of depraved shit I enjoyed lately. I was constantly pushing myself, wanting—no, wanting wasn’t the right word, needing was more fitting—needing bigger and better.

  “Go big or go home.” My mantra.

  But daytime limited what distractions could be had.

  Fighting was out. I was still recovering from the beating I’d received on Friday night, the yellowing bruises on my face evident. There were no gun or drug deliveries scheduled until the weekend. Stealing cars was one of my favorite pastimes—one of the only things that made me feel alive in this unfeeling, boring, pointless existence—but that was ruled out, too. I liked taking risks, but stealing cars in the daylight was for the brainless, uncouth, low-class thief who mainly just wanted the car radio or a little joyride.

  So, all in all, I was pretty much useless today.

  As if he knew I was falling down the black hole of boredom, Ray shouted my name from downstairs in the workshop. The sound of metal clanging against metal drifted through the floor. I blinked, thankful for the reprieve from my negative thoughts, and drew back my arm, throwing the knife, letting it fly across the room, and watching it find its target in the double-six slot on the dartboard, grouped nicely with the two others I’d thrown moments before my mind wandered to redheaded places. An acquaintance I’d met in prison had liked knives; he’d told me that to master a knife you first had to understand it, respect it. I wasn’t sure I’d quite become a master at throwing knives, but I was a pretty skilled shot now.

  I pushed myself up from the black leather chair and headed out of the office that had once belonged to Brett. Downstairs was the workshop where I’d spent so many hours of my life, hiding from the beatings that going home would bring, earning money so I could save for plans that never came into effect. As I reached the bottom step, the smell of stale sweat and grease hit me. I smiled a half smile. This workshop was my favorite place in the world.

  Ray was over to one side, perched on a stool working on some sort of circuit board, his array of tools spread all over the workbench. The radio thumped behind him while he sang along to some Kanye West shit.

  Ray had been with me from the beginning. As soon as I had been released from prison, he’d sought me out, taking me into his home with his wife and daughter, trying to convince me to go onto the straight and narrow, something he had been doing for the year and a half while I was doing hard time. When it became obvious to him and everyone else that my mind was set, he quit his mechanic job and helped me take back the territory and business that Brett had built before he died. Ed and Enzo had also come on board, and I’d headhunted Dodger, convincing him to come work with me, too. Together, we’d streamlined the business, dropping the things I had never liked doing while under Brett’s charge—the robberies, the neighborhood protection racket, and the moneylending. We kept the bread-and-butter jobs, the real moneymakers—drugs, munitions, and of course, the cars. We certainly weren’t the massive enterprise that Brett had run, fingers in all the pies, but we were a formidable force within our three areas.

  Go big or go home.

  We went big.

  Other local gangs and organizations despised us for it because we took all the best deals, leaving the scraps for them to fight over. I delighted in it. What else had I ever had to be proud of in my life?

  “What’s up, buddy?” I called to Ray’s back.

  “Hey, Kid.” He turned to me and
smiled warmly, wiping his hands on a rag. “Thought that was your car outside. Here, I got you something.”

  “Oh yeah, what?”

  He pointed to a little white box on the workbench, so I picked it up and lifted the lid. Inside was a small metal object that made my heart leap in my chest. “Is this what I think it is?” I gasped, eyeing him hopefully.

  He nodded, his smile smug as he folded his arms over his chest. “It certainly is. I called in a favor. Had it overnighted from China for you.”

  I pumped my fist, excitement bubbling in my stomach. Now I had something to keep me occupied for a couple of hours. “You’re the best. Thanks, man.” I grinned, walking over and slapping him on the back.

  He raised one eyebrow. “You might not thank me when you find out how much it cost.”

  I waved a dismissive hand. Money wasn’t an issue for me at all. “I owe you big time. Buy you a drink later?” I offered. He nodded in response as I walked over to my pride and joy, parked in the corner. Grinning, I gripped the blue tarp that covered it and pulled it off, revealing my 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX, the limited Petter Solberg edition. A proud, dreamy sigh left my lips. She was a beautiful thing—when she worked, that was. Of all the cars I owned or had driven, this was one of my favorites.

  She really was a piece of art, in my opinion—ice-blue paint job, 316 horsepower, zero to sixty in 4.5 seconds, limited edition too because they’d only made five hundred of them. I’d had her shipped in from Japan earlier in the year when I’d accidentally fallen into my new hobby—street racing.

  I hadn’t driven her in two weeks, though; during my last race she’d snapped a clutch cable and had been unusable since.

  “I got you new spark plugs too, I know you said she was a little sluggish so that should help,” Ray said, walking up behind me with another box.

  I grinned over my shoulder. “Thanks, bud,” I said, digging in my pocket for my keys and unlocking the car.

  “Want me to help you fix her up?”

  I shook my head quickly. “Nah, I got it. Thanks.” Grinning, I popped the hood. A long, slow exhale of breath escaped my body as I looked at her beautiful engine. I could feel some of the tension
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