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I'm Not Letting Go

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She flatlined in the ambulance on the way to Erinsborough hospital. They were still resuscitating her when we arrived. Karl met us as soon as we arrived, & rushed her straight into surgery- leaving me in the waiting room.

I sit down & sigh. The last two times I watched someone I love be rushed into surgery, I lost the first & almost the second. And now I’m here, waiting for news if my sister has survived or not.

I lean forward, hunched over with my arms resting on my legs & clasp my hands. I stare at a spot on the floor, zoning out for a long time. After a while, Paige sits down beside me. She wraps her hands around mine.

Aaron, Tyler, Piper & Felicity join us.

“She could have died,” I say, breaking the silence.

“You saved her,” Paige says.

“If I hadn’t been there…”

“Don’t think like that,” Aaron replies.

“I just wish she hadn’t pushed us away,” I reply. “She shouldn’t have.”

Paige rests her head on my shoulder.

“She flatlined in the ambulance,” I say. “She wasn’t in the clear when they took her away.”

“We haven’t heard anything yet,” Aaron replies.

“Which is a good sign,” Tyler adds. “She’s clearly still alive. If she wasn’t, you know Karl would be out here.”

In rather spooky timing, Karl walks in. I rise & cross to him. He looks so serious.

“She's… Is she…” I struggle, choking on tears. “She's gone.”

He shakes his head & I let out a huge sigh. The others step over. Paige places a hand on my back.

“As you know, she flatlined before arriving,” Karl says. “We rushed her off to do three things- stop the bleeding, get her on a blood transfusion & get her heart beating. It was very touch & go, but she's alive. They were bandaging her forearms when I left, so I expect her to be moved to a room shortly.”

“Thank you, Karl.”

“You're welcome,” He replies. “She's not out of the woods yet, though.”

I nod. “But she's at least on the road to recovery. That's enough for me right now.”

“Unfortunately I’m going to have to keep her in for a few days,” Karl replies. “Normally I’d discharge her when she's well enough. However… given the circumstances she came in under, I have no choice but to put her on suicide watch. Which means she's legally detained here for forty eight hours.”

“Is that really necessary?” Aaron asks.

“It's hospital protocol,” Karl replies. “Even if I was able to make an exception, unfortunately I can't with Erin. While we were in surgery, the Erinsborough Police called. They are pushing for us to hold her on it.”

I clench my jaw. “Sarge is being unbelievable with this!”

“He wants her handcuffed to her bed.”

What?!

“She's still in police custody. He has the right to handcuff her.”

I rub my face as I sigh. “You know what? I wouldn't be surprised if he's the reason she tried to kill herself.”

“Mark,” Aaron says.

No! We almost lost our sister cause he's been pushing her into confessing to something she didn't do, & there's no way I’m letting him get away with it!”

“I advised him that handcuffing her wasn't necessary,” Karl says. “I strongly believe that this is a one off incident, that she won't try again. And she won't try to run away.”

“What did he say?”

“He's agreed.”

I sigh in relief. “Thank you, Karl.”

He nods.

“When can we see her?” Tyler asks.

“You can be in her room as soon as they have her in it,” Karl replies. “A nurse will be out soon to tell you when you can.”

****

Ten minutes after Karl spoke with us, a nurse came & told us we could see Erin. The others decided that I should go on my own. I hesitate at her door, preparing myself for what I’ll see. I open the door & step in.

She’s lying on her back, her face almost completely drained of colour; her arms are by her side, white bandages wrapped around her forearms. She looks so vulnerable.

I step in further & close the door. I turn around slowly, fighting back tears. How could anyone ever ruin someone's life, the way someone has broken my sister's?

I walk over to her side. She's sleeping off the anaesthetic, but is thankfully breathing on her own. I can't believe she would think the only way out of this would be to end her life. To leave Felicity without her mother. That she would let this break her for good. Where's the fighter that I know she is? Why would she let the darkness consume her?

I hate that Dimato has ruined her life. He’s done enough damage to my family- almost killing me, Paige & our twins. But watching what he's done to my baby sister- to see my strong-willed, happy sister become so worn down she wants to kill herself. It’s too heartbreaking.

He won't get away with this. I’ll make sure that he pays. Even if it takes me months to get him, I won't stop until he's behind bars.

I lean down & kiss her forehead. I then pull a chair closer & sit down, finally letting the tears fall.

 

****

I head back to the hospital straight after breakfast, ignoring the fact that I’m meant to be working. I can't stand being at the station when my sister is like this. I can't stand being around Sarge, knowing that he played such a huge roll in putting her in hospital.

Karl texted last night after we’d left to say that she had woken & was going well. I open her door, to find her sleeping on her right side, her left arm resting on her right. I slowly close the door, not wanting to wake her. As I walk over to same chair I sat in last night, I can tell the colour has come back in her cheeks. Such a relief!

I sit down as my mobile rings. I look at the ID, seeing its work- in fact, Sarge's desk. I reject the call as she stirs. She opens her eyes as I look up at her.

“Hey,” I say softly, tucking my mobile back into my pocket & leaning forward.

“Hey,” she softly replies.

“How are you?”

“Sore & tired.”

“Have you had breakfast?”

She raises an eyebrow. “You're not mad at me for this?”

“I’m your big brother. I wanna put you first for a bit,” I reply. “So let me care about whether you’ve eaten before I chastise you for yesterday.”

She narrows her eyes but smiles. “No, I haven't eaten yet,” She replies. “In fact, haven't since lunch yesterday.”

“Well, I’m gonna go see if we can get you something,” I reply as I stand. “Even if I have to go get something from the cafeteria.”

“You're the best!” She says as I cross to the door.

I go out to the Nurse’s station & talk to a Nurse. With food on its way, I return to her room. She's now sitting up. Her bandages stand out against the baby blue of her hospital gown & sheets.

“Food will be here shortly,” I tell her as I return to my seat.

She nods. “You gonna get angry at me now?”

I tilt my head, looking at her for a minute. “I’m not angry at you.”

She looks surprised.

“I’m relieved that you're still here,” I say, taking hold of her hand.

“So who's getting the cold shoulder, then?”

I frown.

“The call that you aggressively rejected,” She adds.

“You saw that?”

“I opened one eye before you noticed that I was awake.”

I smirk. “That was Sarge. I’m meant to be at the station right now.”

“You should go.”

“No way.”

Mark.”

No. I’m not going to be around him when my baby sister is here after almost dying.”

“You are aware that you’ll eventually have to go back there.”

“Yes. Just not today.”

“I’m not gonna let you throw away your career over this.”

I shrug. “Maybe I don't wanna be a cop anymore.”

“You wouldn't quit,” She replies. “It's engrained in your blood.”

“I’ve done it before.”

“You were forced to, because you did the right thing & reported a dodgy cop.”

“Yeah, well it feels like I’m back there again.”

“So don't give it up.”

I shake my head. “It's costing me too much.”

She tilts her head. “You love being a cop.”

“I love you more.”

She smiles, fighting back tears. “I love you too much to let you throw your career away,” she replies. “Being a cop makes you happy. You’ve always wanted to be one.”

“Things change with time.”

“Come here,” she says, patting the edge of her bed.

I get up & sit on the edge of her bed, facing her.

“I let the pressure get to me. It broke me down, &…” She sighs. “Don't make the same mistake. You walk away from the force, you’re going to look back at it & regret leaving. Things get tough, life tries to break all of us. Learn something from these last few days… Don't give up your career.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Good,” she says, with a nod. “Seeing you in your cop uniform makes me so proud. You’ve always made me feel safe because I had you looking out for me. Erinsborough needs you to do that for everyone. Everyone needs a cop like you.”

I smile. “You're not gonna let it go, are you?”

She smiles. “Just making sure you know what I see.”

“Are you going to tell me why you did this?” I ask, glancing at her bandages.

She sighs. “I cracked under the pressure,” she replies. “Hit rock bottom, & convinced myself that the only way out was to…”

“You promised me that you would fight.”

“I know,” She softly replies, fighting back tears. “And I’m sorry for betraying you like that. And being in that cell… Alone… I couldn't fight the thoughts running through my head any longer. It was a moment of weakness, & I hated myself for pushing you away. Had I not been so stupid, & tried to handle this on my own, I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't have tried to kill myself &-”

She cries & I shift closer, pulling her into a hug. She holds onto my jacket tightly, crying as she rests her head on my chest & I gently rub her back.

****

I steer the conversation away from the last few days while she eats her breakfast, trying to bring back her smile. Just as she finishes eating, my mobile beeps with a message. I check it, huffing as I see its Sarge- You're very late to your shift. Consider this a warning. Call me.

“Don't risk getting disciplinary action to be here,” she says.

I look at her as I shove it back into my pocket. “I’ll contact him later.”

“Go do it now.”

I shake my head. She rolls her eyes. I remember what Paige told me last night- that Erin received a text that shook her. But it hadn't been from the police- I’d checked.

“Aer,” I say.

“Wow,” She replies. “Haven't heard that nickname in ages.”

I smile. “Paige told me about the text you got yesterday,” I say, & she almost grimaces. “She said you were spooked by it, thought it was maybe from my work, but I checked. It wasn't.”

“I don't want to talk about it.”

“The timing of it suggests that it is connected to you handing yourself in… Possibly the suicide attempt too.”

“Oh, there's the cop in you!”

“Aer, that's not what's going on!”

Really?”

“I’m concerned,” I reply. “You told me you were going to fight the accusations, & then you get that text. Next thing I know, you’re handing yourself in, refuse to talk to me or our brothers & then you try to kill yourself. I'm just…” I sigh. “I’m just trying to figure out what caused you to be so different.”

She shakes her head.

“Aer, please.”

She shakes her head even more.

I stand up & sit on the edge of her bed. I take hold of both her hands.

“This isn't you,” I say. “Something… Maybe there's more than one thing… But something's causing you to be like this. I want to be there for you. But I can't if you keep pushing me away. So please let me in, Aer.”

She fights back tears & I can tell she's trying to decide if she should tell me.

“It was the army,” She says. “Wanting to talk to me about Zack.”

“Felicity's dad?”

She nods. “I’m listed, along with his parents, as an emergency contact,” She says. “Cause of Felicity.”

I nod.

“They never contact me, requesting that I call as soon as possible,” She continues. “So… When I got the text, I was… It shook me.”

“Is he okay?”

She stares at me, fighting tears, & then shakes her head. “He was killed in action.”

My heart sinks. “I’m so sorry.”

She bursts into tears. I pull her in, wrapping my arms around her tightly as she cries.

****

“He’s dead?” Tyler asks. “Wow. No wonder she did what she did.”

Tyler, Aaron & I are standing in the hospital waiting room. I called both of them here to tell them about Erin’s news & to be there for her.

I nod. “It definitely explains why she would give in & make the deal with Sarge.”

“And then her attempted suicide…”

“Why didn't she tell us?” Aaron asks.

“She said she wasn't thinking straight,” I reply. “Having both her exes die so close together. I can't imagine the emotional & psychological toll that would have. She was already so fragile & on the brink of giving up. I talked her into keep fighting. Hearing the news that Zack had died would have broken what little strength she had left. Pushing us away would have been her coping with it all. Probably trying to protect us from watching her self-destruct.”

“But… Suicide?” Tyler asks.

“Don’t, Tyler,” I warn him.

“No. I wanna know why our sister decided to take her own life. Even if it was just an attempt.”

“You haven't lost someone like she has,” I reply. “You haven't watched as someone you love bleeds out in front of you, & you can't do a thing to save them. So you just watch them slip away, praying that some miracle will happen & you don't have to live without them. You don't know the pain of losing someone like that. Of having to live with their last minutes on your mind.” I step closer to him. “I have. Our sister has. But her situation is way worse. She had to cope with all of that, plus potential murder charges. And then her ex, the father if her little girl, dies. That pain of losing one person is overwhelming. Losing two people like that in the space of twenty-four hours is enough to drive you into doing the unthinkable.”

“Okay,” Aaron says, placing a hand on my shoulder to defuse the situation. “We’re all stressed out. Why don't Ty & I go in & see Erin. You stay out here & take a break.”

I stare at Tyler for a moment, & then nod. Aaron squeezes my shoulder, waiting until Tyler passes behind him before he takes his hand off my shoulder. I turn around, watching as Tyler & then Aaron enter Erin’s room. I sigh heavily, before running my hands over my face.

“Hey, are you okay?” Paige asks.

I look left, seeing her approach with Felicity in her arms.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Is Erin okay?”

I nod. “As good as can be, given recent events,” I reply. “How come…” I point to Felicity.

“She wants to see her,” She replies. “Thought it would be mean not to. I thought the least I could do is bring her here. So at least she can be with us & near Erin. She may not want Felicity in there, but… I thought the proximity might do both of them some good.”

I smile. “Good idea.”

Felicity reaches out her chubby arm to me. I may have only known her a few days, but I already know that's her way of asking to swap who has her. Which is strange, given how good she is at talking. I step closer, slipping my hands under her arms & lift her out of Paige’s arms. I hold her against my chest & she rests her head on my shoulder, as if she knows I need a hug.

“Should I go see if Erin wants to see her?”

I shake my head. “Aaron & Tyler have just gone in. Let them have some time with her.”

****

Felicity fell asleep after a little while, & so I filled Paige in on what Erin had told me as Felicity sleeps on my chest. When Aaron & Tyler emerged from Erin’s room, I passed Felicity to Paige & crossed to Erin’s room.

“Hey,” I say, poking my head in.

“You should be at work,” She replies, as I shut the door behind me.

“I called in earlier,” I reply as I cross to her. “Sarge wasn't pleased with me… And so I’m… I’m on suspension for the next couple of days.”

She tilts her head, giving me a disapproving look.

“I don't care,” I reply. “If he hadn't suspended me, I would have asked for the days off.”

“You shouldn't.”

“Too late. It's done.”

“Stubborn.”

“It's called caring for my baby sister.”

“Is there a reason why you came in? Or did you just want to guilt-trip me into approving your rather ridiculously bad way of getting suspended?”

I sigh. “I came to ask you something.”

“Depends on what.”

“Whether you want to see your daughter, who is waiting outside?” I ask. “I wasn't sure if you’d want her to see you like this.”

Her eyes drift to the windows looking out to the hallway & waiting room. “Bring her in.”

“Are you sure?”

“I can't keep holding her at arm’s length,” she replies. “She's been through just as much as I have these last few days. She needs me.”

I nod. “Okay,” I reply. “I’ll go get her.”

****

The door opens again a few minutes later, & Mark steps in carrying Felicity. He acts surprised as he looks at her.

“Look, Felicity!” He says, excitedly. “There's Mummy!”

“Heyyy baby girl!” I say, smiling.

Felicity squirms as Mark shuts the door, desperate to get to me as he turns & steps over. He places a still squirming Felicity down on the end of my bed. She crawls up very quickly, into my open arms. I hold her tight against me, smothering the top of her head with kisses. Mark chuckles as he sits down in the chair at my bedside.

****

I bring Felicity out after a while, upon Erin’s request so she can sleep. I sit down beside Paige, settling Felicity on my lap, her back against my chest.

“Well, that went well,” Paige says.

I nod. “Felicity was a little curious about her bandages,” I reply. “She was touching them, feeling them as she worked out what they were. Erin said this is her first time seeing bandages, so she was very curious. But other than that, she was fine. Just happy to see her mum again.”

“I bet she was,” Paige says.

Tyler waves a toy, trying to get Felicity's attention. But Felicity is busy staring at people passing by the nurses’ station to our left.

“Daddyyyyyy!!!” She squeals.

Aaron, Tyler, Paige & I look confused.

“Felicity, honey,” I say.

“Daddyyyy!” She repeats, squirming & reaching out towards the nurses’ station.

I look towards it, trying to figure out what's captivated her. There's a young man, about Erin’s age, wearing jeans & a black leather jacket walking over to us. His eyes fall on Felicity, & he smiles at her- she squeals in delight.

“Uhhh… Can we help you?” I ask him, instantly wary of the stranger. I hold Felicity closer to my chest. She squirms, but can't get away, which frustrates her.

The man turns his attention to me. “You must be Mark.”

“And you are?”

“Zack Freeman,” he replies. “You're holding my daughter.”

I rise, holding Felicity even more securely much to her frustration. Aaron, Tyler & Paige stand too, my brothers stepping closer in defence.

“Felicity's father was killed in action two days ago,” I reply.

“I think her reaction to seeing me would indicate otherwise,” he says. “But if you want, I have my driver's license. That will verify who I am. Which you would know, being a cop.”

I pass Felicity to Paige. Felicity screams at the fact she’s now further away from the man.

“That could be forged,” I reply.

“Okay,” he says. “Thought the fact she's trying to get to me would be sufficient identification. But maybe you should escort me into Erin’s room, & she can identify me. Because I’m sure you’ll accept her word.”

“Or I could take you to the Erinsborough Police sub-station & have your identity verified there,” I reply.

“Wouldn't Erin be quicker? She's closer.”

“She's sleeping,” I reply. “And there's no way I’m letting a strange man into my sister's room after all she’s been through lately.”

****

Just as I’m drifting off, Felicity's frustrated cry pierces the silence. I open my eyes, listening & waiting to see if Mark calms her down. But she cries out again, & I can't shake the maternal instinct to go check on her. So I push aside my sheet & blanket aside & get up. I slip on a dressing gown & cross to the door. Mark pulled the blinds shut before he left, so I can sleep. But it makes it hard to see what's going on.

I open the door, squinting at the sudden brightness. I pause, letting my eyes adjust before I step further out.

I stop in the doorway, & take in the scene. Paige is holding a rather frustrated Felicity, holding her tight against her chest as Felicity squirms & cries. They're behind Mark, Tyler & Aaron who are standing in a row. All three have their arms crossed, serious expressions on their face as they stare at a man in a leather jacket, his back to me so I can't see his face. What's curious is the fact that Felicity is reaching for the man. She only does that when she knows someone.

“What's going on out here?” I ask.

Aaron, Tyler, Paige & Mark look at me.

“Aer, go back in your room,” Mark replies.

“No!” I reply. “Not until my daughter stops screaming.”

Please, Aer!”

No!” I reply, walking over. “Not until I have answers!”

The man turns around to face me, & I stop several steps back from him as I recognise him.

I feel woozy, but I force myself to stand & maintain eye contact with him.

“Aer,” Mark says, concerned.

I shake my head. “No.”

He looks down & then up me, taking me in. He smiles, relieved to see that I’m okay.

But I’m not. I’m far from being okay. I’m seeing things! He’s just a stranger, & I just think that he’s…

I shake my head as I close my eyes, trying to shake the image from my mind. I look at him again, & my stomach backflips. I’m not seeing things.

I whisper the one word I can manage to say. The most important word.

Zack?!