Borrowed Wings

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Chapter 14

Billie

The words echo around the room, unsaid till now they bounce from walls and deflect on shiny surfaces, returning again before resting in the air between us.

I don’t answer because there’s no response that will do.

I want to say,…Excuse me? Come again? My mistake but I thought you just said killed, did you mean kissed?” As my internal narration quietens, the moment extends in contemplative silence. I take my time, tuck judgement away as best I can to leave my mind open and free to listen. He waits, watching me carefully, and the pressure of expectation is so high the air crackles with a thousand responses that would crush his honesty to shame.

“Tell me.”

Two words, all I can manage. But I hold his hand as I say them, knowing that this story will change everything.

Jack breathes heavily, closes his eyes and is silent for a moment. I imagine him clawing back hidden memories, dusting them off, anticipating their jagged edges.

“We were in a car wreck, here in St. Cloud. I was driving. I’d been drinking.” His tone is emotionless; these are the facts. “We were in Raife’s truck, the three of us, high and drunk. Lil was in the middle without a belt.”

“I’m so sorry.” I don’t know what else to say. There’s nothing to say that can change anything, no comfort to be had, an accident with repercussions that ripple altering lives forever.

“She hit the windscreen and we rolled right off the road and into the bush. We were all knocked out, without her belt Lil was a mess. She was in hospital for a long time. She healed pretty well, but the scarring on her face was bad.”

He stops for a minute and turns on his back, eyes to the ceiling. “She was beautiful.” He takes a slow breath. “After, with her face scarred like it was…” he pauses, gathering himself then carries on, his words slow and careful. “She moved away. They didn’t make it through the accident, her and Raife I mean. Afterwards things had changed, we all drifted. Lil moved to Australia, then after…Raife left for the States. I stayed and went down the tubes for a while. I’d fucked over everyone’s lives, one stupid decision…” he tails off.

“But you said you…” I pause because the word is too weighty. “You said Lil was dead.”

“She is.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Lil was a mess. She felt like she’d lost everything. She came to see me before she left, told me it wasn’t my fault. Said she had to get away from St. Cloud where everyone remembered how she used to be. She had to get away from Raife too. She’d loved him but Raife…he’d never really been serious about anyone. He’d strung Lil along for a while, he was a player. He liked her for sure but it had never been serious for him.” He pauses watching the early light dance across the room.

“Something happened to Raife after the accident, like a light went out. He went to see Lil while she was in hospital but it didn’t last. Mama thought he blamed himself but he didn’t, he blamed me. He didn’t say goodbye to Lil when she left. Two months later she was dead, an overdose. They found her body in a motel in Sydney. No note, all alone.”

The story settles for a time and the light around us gets gradually brighter. I keep hold of Jack’s hand and he lies still, eyes open, watching pictures of his past reflect in sunlight on the stark ceiling.

“When we heard, Raife went into a spin. You know St. Cloud, people were talking, saying Lil had killed herself, heartbroken, and it was the Kelly brothers’ doing. One crashed the car, ruining her face and the other one dumps her because of it. Mama said Raife needed to get away. They paid for his ticket to the States. He left quickly and never came back. Not until now.”

“But you never left.”

“I had to stay, it was my fault. I deserved to live with it.”

“But it was an accident.”

“I was drunk Billie. It was my fault, there’s no way around that. Lil died because of that night and Raife went off the rails. I’ve spent the last seventeen years feeling like I owe Raife. I screwed things up for more than just Lil.”

“But you’ve no way of knowing how it would have turned out anyway. It’s a terrible thing, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to live with that. But you’ve become the scapegoat for everything that’s ever gone wrong for Raife.”

“Maybe you get what you deserve.”

“Jack…” I reach out for him but he turns away.

“It’s not as easy as that Billie.”

I stroke his hair. “I know.”

I wait, smoothing his hair back from his face, waiting till I hear him breathe. “Maybe if you were both able to talk about it, even just once, hear how he feels, say your piece, shout it out, whatever you guys do. Maybe it might be better.” He shakes his head. “Have you ever asked how he feels about it? Who he blames? Maybe you’d be surprised by his answer.”

“I know how he feels.”

“Talk to him one more time Jack. Maybe not now, not when you’ve just punched his lights out.” I lean in and gently kiss his cheek. “But before he takes off again. Maybe if you give him the chance to tell you properly how he feels he might stop being so angry, get it all out once and for all.”

He turns back to face me. “Are you done?”

“Yes.”

“How do you feel?” I can’t gauge his tone. “I’m taking your advice and asking. How do you feel, knowing now what I’ve done?” His face is serious, eyes downcast.

I reach for his chin, shadowed and rough, tipping it up toward me so I can see his eyes. “You were seventeen. You made a mistake and you’re still paying.” His eyes are raised to meet mine, waiting, needing more.

I suddenly understand. Jack’s life since then has centred on seeking the very thing no-one can give him. He wants to be forgiven, every act of reclamation, of second chances and charity are part of a subconscious bid for redemption, an attempt to barter guilt with good and make peace with God. And it’s all so bloody tragic I’m crying again, just when he needs me not to.

“I’m sorry.” Jabbing an eye with my hand I steady myself and carry on. “I’m sad Jack. It’s been so hard for you. I’m sad for you all; sad that you’ve lived underneath that mistake since, sad that you’ve suffered because of it.” I run a hand across my streaming eyes. “But you’ve got to stop sometime. It’s become who you are. You can’t wear it forever and neither can Raife. You’re more than your past. We make mistakes and we make amends the best way we can but we have to live.” He nods slowly. “We’ve seen enough life wasted.”

We’re both silent. All the words crowd out the light. I press my hand to closed eyelids, the red and purple psychedelic haze mirrors emotions raw and spent. Jack pulls me to him, prising my hands away, kissing each eyelid softly. Carefully he opens my clenched fists and rubs the palms where fingernails have left indentations.

Slowly, slowly an unravelling begins, and the need to give myself completely to him makes me dizzy. Moving to my mouth he kisses me with the same gentle intensity of before. An unspoken promise that leaves me breathless; my heart in my knickers once again.

A phone rings from somewhere in the depths of my bag and I pull myself up reluctantly, thinking it might be Marlene about the twins. Real life, my life calling, mayday; neglected and ignored. When finally, I find the phone it’s Dan’s number flashing impatiently on the screen. I ready myself to tease him.

“Hey, it’s Dan. Is Jack with you?”

I hesitate, picturing him frowning, frustrated I’ve ignored his advice. “Uh huh,” silent pause, “do you want to speak to him?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you okay?”

“Been better. Sorry if I was an idiot last night.”

“It’s fine you were…”

“Let me speak to Jack will you?”

“Sure, hang on.” I’m concerned, it’s barely 7.00 am and he sounds upset.”

Shrugging I pass the phone to Jack.

They talk and I head to the kitchen to make coffee in an attempt to give Jack some privacy. The coffee has barely started to brew when he enters the kitchen.

“Everything okay?”

“Can I take your car?”

“What’s wrong?”

This is a funny question considering how long his answer might be if he were to answer honestly…where to begin, well my brother’s a mad stalker, I’m struggling with a few hang ups because I think I ruined a few lives drunk driving when I was seventeen, my Dad hates me and my Mom is losing her marbles…oh, and I fell for the girl next door whose husband killed himself because he was a little crazy too.

Instead Jack simply shrugs. “Dan needs to talk to me. I’m not sure what the hell’s wrong with him, but he asked if I could come over now.”

“Now? It’s just gone seven.”

“He wouldn’t call if it weren’t a big deal.”

“Right,” I nod in agreement. “Here.” I thrust the keys at him. “And tell him there’s no room for any more drama right now.” Jack turns by the door. “We have enough, ask him to put his on hold at least until Monday.”

He smiles just a little before walking back to where I stand, two waiting coffee cups to hand. Cupping the back of my head with one hand he pulls me in, kisses me deeply then is gone.

As the tires of my old blue Honda skid out of the driveway I crumple just a little. Repercussions of last night and this morning make my head ache and my legs weary. The coffee bubbles in divine reply to my call and I pour the thick, black, aromatic brew into my favourite mug. Sip and breathe in that order, sip and breathe.

Jack

The air is fresh and cool; heavy, humid night washed away by rain to leave a morning so clear Jack is dazzled.

Pulling his cap low to shield his eyes from the light he drives with ease around the tight bends of the bay. He will go and see Dan, find out what’s going on, but first, he’ll find Raife. He’s pretty sure he knows where he’s gone. He’s broke and there’s no other place else for his brother to go.

Raife will be licking his wounds and sulking. He’ll be bedded down in Joseph’s old boat; Liberty. The old vessel has been moored in the same secluded bay for years, not far from their childhood home, just another old fishing boat, weather worn and no longer sea worthy.

When they were boys Joseph used it to fish and escape. He’d take off all day, sometimes for days, fishing alone. When the chaos of his young family was too much he’d leave and Amandine was never sure when he’d return, or if he really ever fished.

The boat had a small cabin with a gas stove and single bunk, it was a refuge. Joseph had a place to go for solitude. The family were glad of the boat, not that they fished or sailed together, but because they too needed refuge from Joseph.

Driving slowly along the dirt road that leads to the water’s edge, Jack parks, turns off the engine and waits. He watches the horizon, the edge of the ocean, the waves and the old boat. All is as it was. It’s a private cove, no-one ever comes here. Access from the road is unsealed and potholed, the sailing route out past the sand banks difficult to negotiate. Years ago Joseph had paid a friend for a permanent mooring. The old man had since passed but no-one had ever asked them to move the boat, and so she floats lazily, moored to a wooden dock, at the far end of the sandy beach. The sight speaks silently of neglect, things that no longer matter, time passed and forgotten, age and decay.

There are no signs of life on the boat. Raife’s probably still asleep, trying to avoid the hangover that waits. He clenches the steering wheel remembering last night; Raife with Billie, what Raife was trying to do. God he’s so tired, tired of it all. But maybe Billie is right. Maybe an honest talk, a chance for them both to say their piece might help. God knows he has nothing to lose.

He waits a while like this; uncertain, tossing emotional conflict and options for resolution back and forth. The tussle resolves in anger. Slamming the car door, Jack jogs across the sand to the old wooden walkway. Moorings long abandoned flank it’s sides. At the far end is Liberty, the only vessel that remains. Obstinate and sullen like his father, she floats uneasily, aware of the gradual decomposing of her hull and the dampness that eats at her once solid boards.

Jack had asked Joseph if he could restore her then sail her to St. Eloise. He’d wanted to gift her back to his father, return her to the way she’d been when he was a boy. But Joseph had said no, shook the idea off like an ill-fitting shirt. His boat wouldn’t be touched by anyone else.

Good intentions rejected turned inward mutate to bitterness. Jack can’t help it, but he’s found himself wishing the tables were turned and that Joseph was the one sick and losing his precious memories. Instead Amandine, whose capacity for joy and hope seemed infinite, watches her memories fade. Detailed recollections of people and places, time and events disappear one by one, day by day. A leaky tap with a slow inevitable drip, her memories disappear, leaving confusion and despair.

Still no signs of life. No-one on the deck and no movement from below. Jack jumps down on to the aged wooden planks and the boat creaks in weary protest.

“Raife?”

His voice seems unnaturally loud, the sound sharp and rough amidst the smooth lapping of waves on empty moorings. Again, “Raife?” He walks around the edge to the far side of the boat and stoops over a grimy porthole but the dirt prevents a view inside. Liberty had once been white and red but her paint has peeled and flaked, and the faded remains are dull and grey. The cabin door is bolted from the inside, he bangs twice then hits the door with his shoulder.

In one forceful push the rusty hinges give and the door swings limply. The light within is mottled, filtered grey through smeared windows. Pinpoints of golden sun push through the spaces alighting on Raife, curled on the single bunk. He lifts a hand to shade his eyes from the glare. A moment passes when they watch each other uncertainly.

Why is it that everything seems calculated, every word and action, every expression? Was Raife always this way or did Lil’s death change him? His rehearsed responses paint a mask over the brother Jack used to know, the brother he’s no longer sure exists.

Raife sighs, pulling himself slowly up to sit, his face is bruised, the remains of a nosebleed crusts on his cheek and chin. “What took you so long? Thought you’d be hot on my heels, ready to finish me off.”

“Fuck you.”

“Don’t be a pussy Jack, just do it. You know I deserve it, get it over with.”

“Don’t go near her, don’t come near me. I want you to leave or I swear I will fucking kill you.” Jack’s words are delivered slowly, he means them, and the reality is terrifying.

“That’s more like it.” Raife rubs a hand over his face then swings his legs over the edge of the bunk to stand stiffly. “I’ve spent years feeling that way about you. Makes me feel better knowing it’s mutual.” He shrugs and winces. “I’d go to sleep thinking about kicking the shit out of you for fucking everything up. Funny how far hate can take you.”

Jack doesn’t have time to answer, the impact knocks him backward, through the broken door and on to his back. Raife wastes no time, descending on Jack, reigning punches. Stunned, Jack is limp and unresponsive, the first punch close to a knock out. Raife pulls him roughly to his feet and hits him again, the pain brings him back and he responds in like, his head catching pace gradually with the instinctive reactions of his body.

The fight is ugly; every impact delivers a lifetime of wasted blame. There’s torrid beauty in the scene, physical excellence in pugilistic combat. Primal expression in conflict, sleek shining muscle, bone impacting bone, the sound of breaking and smell of blood. There’s tragic satisfaction in the hurt, the giving and receiving of pain, deserving and deserved, blow after blow.

The cabin is broken, boards smashed and glass shattered. Like an awkward, brutal dance the fight moves to the deck, a trail of blood marking their passage. Intensity slows with exhaustion, anger almost spent. Jack staggers to his feet to grab Raife by the shoulders, bloodied hands weeping over Raife’s ripped t-shirt.

“Enough.” He wrenches the words from his throat, but Raife hears nothing. Bringing a knee to Jack’s belly he drives upward with all his remaining force. Jack stiffens and falls backward, over the side and into the water.

Raife isn’t done. He follows and here the fight continues. Gasping for breath, shaking with exhaustion they brawl in the shallow water. But Jack is struggling now, the punch to the head and the cold water leave him disorientated, his strength zapped. His response is too slow as Raife grabs his shoulders and pushes him roughly underwater. He struggles, legs kicking, arms flailing, fingers grabbing and pulling, but he’s held firm. Raife’s hands are around his neck and time slows, sounds quieten and the world stills. Jack forgets the pain and the air he needed so desperately, something cold and soothing flows through his veins and calm understanding comes with the stillness.

Time passes in a vacuum.

“Jack.” Again, his name, louder, urgent and afraid. “Jack!”

Pain comes first, sharp and insistent, then the voice again. “Jack! Come on man!”

Sand packed beneath him, rough against the side of his face, his eyes flicker uncertainly and open to the bright light around the silhouette of Raife’s head.

“Thank God…” Raife doesn’t finish the sentence, he collapses back on to the sand beside Jack breathing hard. Jack’s head is slowly finding focus, remembering where he is and what happened. He searches for his voice, but what comes is a hacking cough, wet and salty. He tries to stand but his legs are weak, on his knees he doubles over and vomits the sea water that nearly drowned him. Collapsing back on the sand, they lie side by side: silent, bloodied and broken.

Jack has lost track of time, how long have they lain here? He’s cold and disoriented.

“I’m sorry.” Raife’s forearms cover his eyes, his body shaking. “I lost control,” the unfamiliar honesty drags uncertainly. “I wanted to kill you.”

Jack’s voice returns broken and hoarse. “Why didn’t you?”

“What a fucking mess.” Raife’s sobs silently and Jack can’t watch, doesn’t want to hear. He pulls his aching body up to sit, his head pounding, he has to get away.

“Are we done?”

Raife nods. “Are you okay?”

“Fucking fantastic.” He tries to stand but his legs aren’t ready and he sinks reluctantly back on to the sand.

“Hear me out…”

“I don’t want to talk to you, or see you or fucking think about you anymore Raife. I’m done. We’re done. Do you get it?” He lowers his head, elbows on raised knees, waiting for steadiness to return.

“I never really blamed you. I blamed myself, but I was too much of a coward to wear it. I convinced myself it was your fault. It was easier that way.”

“I crashed the car.”

“I made you drive.”

“We fucked up Raife…both of us.”

“I’m still so fucking angry.” Raife laces his hands behind his neck, head down he rocks gently. “I didn’t want you to be happy. I’d screwed my life up, why should you move on? When I saw you with her, I was so fucking bitter. I’m sorry, I don’t expect anything from you.” He pauses to breathe, eyes pressed closed. “When I was holding you like that under the water, and you were kicking and fighting for your life, I saw it all, for the first time. Saw it clearly, I’d spent all that anger on you and suddenly I could see past it. All this time, I’ve been hiding behind you.”

Jack breathes carefully, eyes ahead, letting Raife speak. He’s carried it too; the blame, the guilt and the shame. The unexpected confession churns up a decade of distraction and despair, he fights for composure.

“It was a bad time for me back then Jack. I just…” He shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. “I was fucking mixed up. Messing around, smoking weed and drinking seemed to be the only way to feel okay.”

“Not much has changed then.”

Raife exhales, nodding ruefully. “Do you want me to go?”

Jack waits, letting his thoughts slow and find clarity. He shakes his head and nods toward Joseph’s boat. “Fix her up for Papa. I’ll give you what you need. He’ll be happy for you to do it. Do something useful with those hands, live on her for a while and sort your shit out.”

“Tell Billie I’m sorry.”

“Don’t fucking talk about her. I’m not ready to hear you say her name.”

Raife raises his hands in surrender. “Okay.”

“We should go see Dan, get cleaned up, we probably both need some stitches.” Jack gestures to Raife’s face.

“I’m okay, you go.”

Jack shrugs. “I’ll be back with tools later.”

Raife nods and Jack turns to leave, walking slowly back to the car. His body aches; weary and sore but his heart is a little lighter. It’s when he reaches the car that he hears Raife’s voice again.

“Jack.” Turning he sees Raife trying to run across the sand “Wait up…there’s something else.”

Billie

When Ginny calls the twins have just arrived home with Marlene. It’s true what they say about absence and hearts growing fonder. Although it’s hard to imagine you can become fonder of your own children, fondness already runs at maximum. What’s different this morning is that I appreciate them so much more than yesterday. My love is renewed and so it seems, is there’s. They scream excitedly to see me like they’ve been gone for weeks and I respond in like.

So when I scramble to the phone I have a giggling child on each hip, of course they are far too big for me to manage this manoeuvre with any degree of comfort. “Hello?” I’m breathless as I answer.

“Billie, its Ginny…are you alright?”

“Ginny,” I exclaim loudly, my inside voice has gone outside. It’s loud and rambunctious over here since the twin’s return. “How are you? What happened to you last night?”

“What’s all the noise?”

“Evie and Sunny are a little hyper. They stayed at Marlene’s last night. I thought they’d hate it but apparently not. I’m not quite as indispensable as I thought.” Ginny is unusually quiet. “Are you okay?”

“I am.”

“You’re what? You’re okay?

“No, not okay, but it seems I am dispensable.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m dispensable.”

“I heard that bit, what are you talking about?”

“Mike’s having an affair.”

I suck in my breath, shocked and unsure of what to say. “Oh Ginny, how do you know? I mean, are you sure?” I can’t believe that Mike, the quiet, retiring, work-obsessed geek that he is would be the type. Is there a type?

“He told me last night. He told me, when I was getting ready to come to Santos. He told me quiet plainly, as I was applying my lipstick, like it was nothing really, just a small detail.”

“I’m so sorry.” In the background the twins are yelling and it’s hard to hear. It sounds like maybe she’s laughing, or crying, I’m not sure, something hysterical. “Come over.”

“I’m coming.”

There’s a click as she hangs up and I stand holding the receiver stunned. The last man I would have believed was capable of cheating on his wife, old Harry high pants Mike. Poor Ginny. Poor, poor Ginny. I’m imagining her face, hearing his words, dropping her lipstick on the floor. Her recent confessions regarding their relationship, how she’d wanted to bring the spark back. God it makes sense now, all of it. His emotional distance, the long hours, the lack of intimacy. I want to kill him, but first cut his nuts off.

Instead I race after Sunny, scoop him up, tickle him mercilessly and vow to make him the kind of man who’d never, ever treat a woman like that. As he laughs and squirms, his eyes twinkle like Evans and I catch myself.

Is the cheating gene inevitable? Is it present in all males, activated in most by presentation of a particular sort of women at a particular time in their lives? But hang on, a small internal voice becomes louder till it’s a shout. A shouty voice that’s angry and hurt. It sounds a little like Evan, a little like me, it’s saying; don’t forget, you cheated too, you cheated too…YOU CHEATED TOO!

There’s a knock at the door. Sunny is wriggling in my arms. I’m hugging him too tightly and my eyes are wet. Another knock and Ginny lets herself in, looking quite unlike the Ginny I’m used to.

“What’s wrong?” she asks me, when plainly I should be asking her.

“Hay fever.” I set Sunny down and he runs for cover. I move to Ginny and wrap her in the biggest, most comforting hug I have.

“Okay, I can’t breathe Billie,” she muffles after a few minutes. “You can let me go.”

“Sorry.” I release her and take a step back. “You look… amazing. I mean, you always look lovely but I’d expected you to look a little…”

“Heartbroken and dowdy? Well yes, that’s all there, but I thought I’d go for the vampish here’s what you’re missing look.”

“Of course.” I nod and take her hands, she’s straightened her usually frizzy hair, has on a full face of makeup, a dress and heels. As I squeeze her hands she crumples a little, one tear then a small tsunami. While the twins play in the yard we sit together on the swing seat with a view of the ocean.

“It’s been going on for over a year.” She pauses and sniffs, I pass her a hankie. “Her name is Helen and she’s a nurse in ER.”

“I can’t believe it.” Shaking my head, I squeeze her hand again. “I mean, he never gave you any reason to believe that…”

“Actually, now that it’s all come out I can see that the signs were there. I just wasn’t looking.”

“Oh Ginny, what did you do?”

“I told him to leave, and I was calm. In fact, I don’t know how I did it. Pride maybe, I told him I would never forgive him and not to come back. Didn’t shed a tear. I waited till he was gone of course. He looked wretched.”

“He bloody well should look wretched. God what a bastard.”

Ginny shakes her head, eyes on the twins running around with Jack’s dogs in the yard, she smiles sadly. “You know Billie, I actually felt sorry for him. I know that makes no sense, but I did. I found myself thinking you stupid old man, look what you’ve gone and done, it can’t be fixed, and you won’t ever be truly happy. I know him and he’ll always be plagued with guilt.”

I pass her another hankie and she wipes her eyes. “Stupid old fool. God I wonder what she’s like. What if she’s young and gorgeous? What if they end up having a family together?” Ginny now looks wretched herself.

I shake my head. “I’ll bet she’s in her fifties with a flat bottom. I’ll bet she wears tan tights and those awful white nursing Crocs. She’s probably even got a hairy mole on her chin.” Ginny bursts out laughing but it doesn’t last long, the laugh fades to a sniffle that turns into a sob. She’s processing the thought that Mike might start a family with someone else. “Oh Ginny, I’m so sorry.”

She shakes her head but continues to cry quietly and we sit for a while like that, watching the afternoon sun reach its peak in the sky then begin its slow slide downward.

Sunny and Evie are in the sandpit and Louie and Bets loll in the sun. The twins run them ragged, they’re forever fetching and chasing. I’ve noticed that lately Louie seems slower, maybe a little sore and I realise I don’t know how old the dogs are, or how long Jack’s had them. Rising from the seat I head inside to get the twins some snacks and the dogs some water. Ginny has closed her eyes and I wonder if she might have fallen asleep, her head is tipped back on the cushion and her red lipped mouth is relaxed and slightly open.

What a day. It’s four pm and I feel I’ve come through a year’s worth of emotional drama. There’s a bottle of white wine in the cupboard, I pop it into the refrigerator and head outside to the kids and dogs, snacks and drinks on a tray.

Evie and Sunny are beginning to get a little grouchy, they are tired too. They gave up on the afternoon nap a month ago and the witching hour quite often begins right about now. Being that bedtime is seven, technically the witching hour has become ‘hours’, three to be exact. Evie squeals as Sunny takes an apple slice that apparently she had earmarked for herself. A bop on the head follows the squeal and soon Sunny is squealing too. Bets pads over and licks Evie on the ear whilst Louie makes a groaning sound and curls himself under the shade of the gum tree.

Evie begins throwing the snacks around and squealing, soon Sunny has joined in. It’s noisy but everyone seems happy. Ginny sleeps on, only Louie looks twitchy under the tree, he stands turns around in a circle then settles again, trying to get comfortable. I watch as he repeats this funny little cycle, a few times before whining, settling and finally closing his eyes.

I remember the wine cooling nicely in the fridge, and as Ginny sighs and rouses gently from her doze I decide a nice chilled glass is just what we both need. The day’s dramas might fade a little and some alcohol fuelled philosophy will be nice.

It’s when I’m pouring the second glass that I hear it, a sound so violent and terrible that I drop the bottle on the floor. It smashes instantly, but I barely notice the glass that slices my feet as I run to the garden.

The sight is one that will stay forever etched in fearful memory, one that will form the basis of nightmares to come.

Evie is under the tree with Louie and he holds her to the ground, jaws clamped around her small face. The screaming that began as Evie’s becomes mine as I run to the nightmare scene, lunging at Louie who releases Evie as I strike him across the head. I grab Evie who has gone quiet and limp. Louie cowers, bearing his teeth, blood on his mouth. Sunny screams from the sandpit and Ginny runs from behind striking Louie with a child’s plastic spade. I’m afraid to look at Evie, I don’t know what I’ll see. I’m in shock and so is she.

“Tie him up! Tie him up Ginny, quick!” I scream whilst running to the kitchen with Evie bundled in my arms, her face so covered in blood I can’t see how bad anything is.

Events blur from here, an ambulance, hospital, emergency surgery, me, Ginny and Sunny in the waiting room. Sunny sleeps on my lap and Ginny and I hold hands, all other events of the day pale now beside this new and unexpected disaster.

I try again to call Jack, but his phone goes straight to message.

Where is Jack? Where the hell is Jack?

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