Worth fighting for, p.7
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       Worth Fighting For, p.7

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
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  leaving my shoulders, my mind now fully occupied on something other than a grieving Ellie.

  Maybe I could race tonight. That would certainly make me feel better. I dug in my pocket for my cell phone, shooting a message to Rodriguez, one of the organizers of the races that I entered, asking if there was anything planned for tonight. There hadn’t been any whisperings of one on the streets, though, so chances were there wasn’t a race planned. Shame.

  I’d make sure she was in perfect working order, just in case.

  * * *

  It took almost all afternoon to fix up the car and have her purring like a kitten. She was ready, raring to go, a thing of beauty. After I’d finished working on her, I’d hoisted myself up on the bench, and Ray and I were having a celebratory beer. I was halfway through the bottle when Ed walked in, his face stern and his mouth set in a tight line.

  “Kid, I’ve been calling you. Why are you not answering?” he asked, frowning at the beer in my hand as if it were the sole reason I hadn’t responded to him.

  I shrugged, glancing down at my cell phone on the bench next to me, seeing three missed calls from him. “Ah, sorry, I must have accidentally put it on silent when I took it out of my pocket.” I picked it up now, also seeing a text from Rodriguez confirming there was no race tonight, but he said to make sure I checked my messages again in the next couple of days. Meaning a race was on the horizon once they found the perfect venue.

  Ed sighed, running a perfectly manicured hand through his slicked-back brown hair. I frowned, taking another sip of my beer, looking him over. He seemed more stressed than usual; his double-breasted suit jacket was even unbuttoned—something I rarely saw. Ed prided himself on image. He liked to wear expensive suits and a $30,000 watch to show everyone he had money and status. In all honesty, he was a douche who worked for me, someone who aspired to be number one but never would be. He was an ass-licking, smarmy prick who thought too much of himself. When he’d worked for Brett, he’d had more say in what went on—he’d been Brett’s voice a lot of the time, his number two in command. Under me, though, he ranked distinctly lower, but he still hadn’t given up his penchant for expensive suits.

  “So what’s up, then?” I asked, cocking my head to the side, waiting for his reply.

  His eyebrows knitted together, and his lips pursed in distaste as he spat two words. “The Salazars.”

  At the name, I frowned, too. The Salazars were my biggest opposition in town. The two Salazar brothers, Alberto and Mateo, had arrived about nine months ago from Mexico, bringing some cheap-as-shit drugs with them, and had set up camp on my turf. At first they’d wanted a partnership, wanted us to start selling their drugs—some cocaine shit cut with God only knows what—and when I’d not so politely told them to take a hike, we’d become rivals. They were the lowest of the low, in my opinion. They didn’t care that their drugs were laced with rat poison or levamisole, a drug used to deworm animals that I’d heard literally rotted people’s skin off. They weren’t like us; they had no morals and didn’t care how many people they hurt or killed with their impure product. We’d had many a battle with them over territories and where they were “allowed” to sell their second-rate drugs. We had an agreement.

  “What have those greasy punks done now?” I growled, tightening my hand around the bottle.

  “They sent some of their little skank girls into one of our clubs last night, peddling their shit. One guy had an epileptic fit in the middle of the dance floor, and now the police are sniffing around to try to find where he got it from. I’ve been fielding questions all day; really could have done with you answering your cell!” he replied, his tone clipped and accusing.

  “Motherfuckers! Why are they sending pushers into our clubs?” I snapped, shaking my head angrily. “Call Alberto, tell him I want to meet with him. Tonight,” I ordered, pulling my arm back and then launching my bottle across the workshop in anger, hearing it smash against the wall and spray glass everywhere.

  I’m going to kill that son of a bitch!

  CHAPTER 8

  ELLIE

  EACH HOUR OF the three days I’d been home felt like a painfilled eternity, yet at the same time there had barely been enough time for me to do all that was required.

  Since that first visit to the hospital when the doctor had suggested I take control of the situation and make arrangements for my father’s funeral, I hadn’t stopped. I hadn’t realized how much planning and organizing was involved or how much time each task would take. Simple things, or things you would assume were simple, such as picking out flowers, took hours. Other things, like designing the order-of-service programs—and even finding a reputable place to have them printed—took even longer. I’d spent almost every spare moment sorting through photographs of my father, picking out his favorite music, and choosing readings that would be good for the service. It was painful, heart-wrenching work that seemed never-ending. Each photograph or meaningful piece of music was like a vise tightening around my heart. I’d barely managed to hold myself together; I was hanging by a thread at the moment, on the edge just waiting to tumble back over the grief cliff. I knew it would happen eventually; at some point I’d start to cry again, and when that happened, I wasn’t sure I would ever stop. Luckily, though, I was doing a good job of holding my emotions at bay—so far, anyway.

  Today had been close, though. Today’s task was pushing me extremely close to that breaking point.

  I looked down at my mother’s beautifully penned address book and ran my finger down the page, stopping at the last entry. Julie and Peter Watkins. I bypassed their address, finding their number and punching it into the phone. As it rang on the other end, I rubbed at my forehead, willing the headache that I’d had from sleep deprivation for the last two days to subside.

  “Hello?” a woman’s chipper voice answered.

  I closed my eyes and prepared myself for another painful conversation; this was the forty-second call I’d made today, working my way through my mother’s address book starting with the letter A and ending with the last couple named—the Watkinses.

  “Hi, is this Julie Watkins?”

  “It is.”

  “Hi, Julie. My name’s Ellie Pearce. You probably won’t remember me, I think I was about fifteen or sixteen the last time I saw you,” I said, massaging my forehead a little harder. I knew my parents kept in touch with the Watkinses, but the last time I saw them was at their son’s christening about five years ago. They were friends of my parents from their college days.

  “Ellie! Of course, I remember you,” she replied, her voice warm and cheerful. “How are you?”

  I opened my eyes and looked down at her name in the address book, knowing I was about to obliterate that cheerful tone in her voice. I frowned. “I’m calling to tell you some bad news.” I swallowed awkwardly; no matter how many times I’d said this exact same thing today, it hadn’t gotten any easier. “My parents were involved in a car accident this weekend. My father has passed away, and my mother is currently in critical condition in the hospital.”

  There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line, a few moments of silence, and then came the words, ones I had heard so many times today that they were now meaningless to me. I knew they were uttered with good intent, but they were just words now in varying phrases but all meaning the same thing.

  “Oh, Ellie. I’m so sorry!” she cried.

  I’m so sorry, sorry for your loss, I’m sorry this happened. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Everyone apologized like it was their fault.

  “Thank you,” I muttered. “I know you and your husband knew both of my parents from years back, so I just wanted to let you know a couple of details about my dad’s funeral in case you wanted to attend. It’s Friday at three p.m., at the crematorium on Everglade Drive. There’s a wake after at our house.”

  “Of course, thank you for telling us. We’ll both be there,” Julie answered, her voice quivering as she spoke. “How is your mother? You said she was in the hos
pital?”

  I nodded slowly. Throughout all of these calls, I’d tried to remain detached, not to think about what I was saying or people’s reactions to the news. It was so much easier for me to remain numb, to pretend I was talking about something else, someone else’s family, some person who meant nothing to me at all. It was the only way I could get through it. If I let myself feel the words, I never would have gotten through these calls and would probably still be a blubbering mess after the first one.

  “She sustained a blow to the head during the crash, which resulted in a brain bleed. She’s currently in a coma. We’re waiting to see what happens at the moment.” My words were matter-of-fact, no emotion involved.

  The hematoma, or brain bleed, I’d since learned, was the worst thing that happened to my mom. The broken bones, internal bleeding, and other injuries were now under control, but the hematoma was causing severe pressure on her brain. When I was alone with the doctor that first day, I’d begged him to be honest with me, and I’d heard something I hadn’t wanted to hear. They simply weren’t sure if she would wake up, and they’d told me to go ahead and arrange the funeral and not wait. My mother’s condition wasn’t good; at this point, it was a wait-and-see game. There was also a significant chance there would be permanent brain damage, but they wouldn’t know the extent until she woke...if she woke at all.

  “Oh, goodness. Poor Ruth!” Julie squeaked, now sniffing. “Will she be okay?”

  I chewed the inside of my cheek, testing the soft skin between my teeth. “We don’t know. We hope so.”

  “Oh, Ellie. I’m so sorry.”

  There it was again: sorry. “Thank you. I’d better go, I have other people to call. I’ll see you Friday afternoon, if you can make it,” I said.

  Then came more of the overused phrases that had been said to me today: “I’m thinking of you and Kelsey. If you need anything, then let me know. I’ll pray for your mother.”

  I wasn’t a religious person—none of my family were—but I appreciated the gesture. At times like these, people did what they felt best and whatever brought them comfort. Let her pray if that was her thing; it surely couldn’t hurt.

  I didn’t answer, just disconnected the phone and leaned back in the chair, letting out a long, slow breath. It was done. It had taken me—I looked at the clock, almost four p.m.—over three hours to make all the calls. I set the phone down on my father’s large oak desk and unclenched my hand a couple of times, trying to ease my stiff fingers.

  I looked up, letting my eyes slowly drag over my father’s private room. He’d worked from here in the evenings sometimes, maybe even the odd weekend. My gaze settled on the faded, ripped fabric of the armchair next to the window. My mom had badgered him every time she entered about throwing the chair out because it was an eyesore, but it was my dad’s favorite so he’d fought tooth and nail to keep it.

  I stood and walked over to it, running my fingers over the velvety material. I smiled weakly as memories came to me of this chair. My dad would allow me in here sometimes when he was working. I’d sit on the chair under the window and do my homework, read a book or magazine, or do some coloring. Sometimes I’d pretend to read but I’d secretly be watching him, sitting behind his desk tapping away at his laptop or speaking on the phone to some important client. Sometimes when he’d look up and catch me watching, he’d make a stupid face, going cross-eyed, tongue sticking out the side of his mouth, before continuing his call as if nothing had happened. I’d spend hours in here just watching him work, escaping as he did, for a bit of quiet to read. Sometimes he’d lift me onto his lap in this chair and we’d read a book together. My father and I had discovered the wonders of Harry Potter together in this chair.

  I smiled to myself, fingering the hole in the arm of the chair. It was the silly little things that seemed so unimportant at the time that could end up meaning the most after, the things that came at you all at once and reminded you that you took so much for granted when you thought your world was unbreakable.

  I stood there for another couple of minutes, then left the room, closing the door behind me. As I walked into the living room, seeing Kelsey and Nana sitting there, Kelsey turned toward me. Her eyes narrowed, a little line forming between her eyebrows as she stood and left the room without another word. I clenched my jaw at the action. It had been the same for the last couple of days—she’d leave the room every time I entered, opting to spend most of her time holed up in her bedroom, making her scorn clear every time her accusing eyes landed on me. I had no idea how to make her feel better or what I could say to mend our damaged relationship. Maybe she’d never forgive me for not being here when it happened.

  I turned and watched her walk up the hallway and up the stairs toward her bedroom. My heart felt heavy. I needed her, could she not see that? Could she not see that I was hurting too and that I needed a hug from my sister? Did she not see that my world fell apart at the same time hers did? I wasn’t sure how long I could pretend to be unaffected by her indifference. After sitting alone in that room for the last three hours repeating that my father was dead over and over, I just needed someone to hold me, and that someone clearly wasn’t going to be Kelsey, no matter how much I stared at her back and willed it to happen.

  “Are you okay, darling?”

  I sniffed and turned back, seeing Nana sitting on the sofa, her knitting on her lap, her kind and caring eyes watching me with evident sympathy. “I’m fine, Nana,” I lied. “It’s all done, I called everyone I found in the address book, plus a few I found in Dad’s Rolodex.”

  Nana nodded, her eyes on me. “That’s good. You should have let me do some.”

  “It’s all done now.” I shrugged one shoulder, leaning on the doorframe and picking at a loose thread on the sleeve of my sweater so I didn’t have to look at her. She’d offered to call around too—she’d wanted to help—but I could see she was barely keeping herself together. Since I’d been home, she looked like she’d aged ten years. She wasn’t coping, and at her age I wanted to protect her from as much as I could. I saw how the stress of this situation had made her arthritis flare up in her hip again; I saw the tired circles under her eyes and how her dresses hung off her shrinking frame. I saw her drift into a daydream, her knitting or the food she was cooking long forgotten, and I saw how she sometimes cried when she thought she was alone in the room.

  Although I was doing my damn best to hold it together, my family was falling apart at the seams and I was powerless to stop it. The least I could do was shoulder as much of the burden as I could. My mom’s parents were no help; they’d been informed about the crash, but they were both older and in fairly poor health so they weren’t up to making the trip across the country. It was doubtful that they’d even make the funeral.

  “I’m going to make you some tea,” I murmured, slipping into the kitchen and starting to make it in a daze.

  When I reentered the room, two steaming-hot mugs in hand, I saw that Nana was asleep on the sofa, her knitting still grasped in her hands. I sighed and set the teas down, carefully plucking the wool and needles from between her bony fingers and placing them into the basket at her feet. She needed sleep. I heard her at night, down here cleaning or putting things away, making food that no one ate, keeping herself busy. She was probably awake more than I was at nighttime.

  Not wanting to sit and dwell on what I’d spent my day doing, I decided to go to my room and lie down. I headed upstairs, stopping to listen outside Kelsey’s door for a couple of seconds, checking she wasn’t upset or anything. It was quiet in there so I continued into my room.

  My room was just the same as I’d left it three years ago. My possessions were still displayed on the side tables and windowsill—not collecting dust, though, because my mother would never have allowed that. My bed was still made, my carpet vacuumed. I hadn’t really spent much time in here, I’d simply unpacked my case when I’d arrived and slept in here, nothing more.

  I stopped in the middle of the room, looking around
at it all. It felt strange being in my childhood bedroom, a nice strange, but weird nonetheless.

  I headed to my desk, picking up one of the sketch pads that were stacked neatly there. I turned the pages slowly, seeing all the drawings I’d made, the clothes I’d spent hours dreaming up and giving life to on the page. I frowned, running my hand over the designs. I hadn’t sketched for three years, just hadn’t been inspired or had the motivation. I set the book aside, picking up the swatches of material instead, rubbing them between my thumb and finger, remembering nicer times when I’d be bursting with creativity and desperate to get my ideas down on paper. So much time had passed, I was almost a different person from the girl who used to dream of being a fashion designer.

  I sighed and let my hand drop to my side as my eyes wandered over everything else and settled on the wall. I frowned at the sight before me.

  It was the map that I’d stuck up there when planning my travels, the one where I’d pinned clipped-out photos of the places I wanted to visit with Jamie, but now it looked different. I stepped closer, my curiosity piqued.

  And that was the thing that smashed down the emotional wall I’d built around myself.

  That map—and the photos and postcards my parents had pinned onto it, the ones I’d sent them each time I’d gone to a new place. On each one there was the date I’d arrived there and the date I’d departed. A sob left my lips. They’d been following my progress; they’d mapped it all out, following me around Europe with their pins and little flags. My chin trembled, uncontrollable tears streaming down my face as my eyes darted over all the places they’d marked: Italy, Germany, Greece, Cypress, Spain, France, Ireland, Scotland, and lots more. My gaze stopped at the photo pinned on London, England—one I’d sent them six months ago. It was Toby and me, both of us grinning, me holding my left hand out to the camera to show them the nice sparkly new addition to my ring finger. A Post-it note was stuck to the bottom; there, in my mother’s beautiful script, were the words Ellie finally stops running.

  I closed my eyes, hugging myself tightly as the tears fell and my breathing turned into shallow gasps. That was when the anger built up: irrational, blazing rage burning through the hollow in my stomach. My eyes dropped open and landed on the map. I’d been off gallivanting, having a good time—“running,” my mother had called it—instead of being here, spending time with them, making more memories. I’d left without a second thought that something like this could happen. I’d never dreamed that when I’d said good-bye to them on the grass outside the house, it would be the last time I would get to hug my father, and possibly my mother too if she didn’t wake. I’d taken them for granted, assumed I could come back anytime and pick up where we left off. I’d been so wrong.

  Without thinking, I reached out and grabbed at the photographs, the map, and the postcards, tearing them from the wall with wild abandon, not caring about the pins that flew all over the place,
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