Erin nearly passes out while we wait for the paramedics- from the pain more than blood loss. I get her to lie down, her head in my lap. The paramedics examine her thigh.
“It looks worse than it is,” The female paramedic, Gina, says. “Deep graze.”
“The pain?” Erin asks, breathing heavily.
“You said you were moving when it happened,” Gina replies. “Your muscle was tight. The natural movement your thigh muscles make, combined with the damage the bullet made would create the intense pain you’re feeling.”
“We can give you a green whistle to ease the pain,” Darren, the other paramedic, says. “You’re going to need to go to Erinsborough hospital to get it stitched.”
I nod. “Sounds like a good plan.”
Darren hands her a green whistle. She sucks on it as they put a bandage on her leg.
“I’ll go get the gurney,” Darren says.
“No,” Erin says.
“We need to get you into the ambulance.”
“I wanna walk.”
“Aer, you almost passed out,” I tell her.
“I can do it!” She replies. “I’m not going to let Dimato have the satisfaction of seeing me being carried to the ambulance.”
Darren & Gina look at me, waiting for my call.
“Let her walk.”
Gina packs up their things as I help Erin sit up. She still has Felicity cradled against her chest.
“It will be easier to help you up if you let her go,” Gina says.
Erin shakes her head.
“This was all to save her daughter,” I explain.
“Okay,” Gina replies. “Can you get her up?”
I nod. Gina & I both crouch. I wrap my arms around Erin's waist.
“On the count of three, we’ll stand. Okay, Aer?”
“One… Two… Three,” I say, before standing up.
It takes a bit of effort to get her up, but I manage to pull her to her feet. Or really foot, given she tentatively puts weight on her right foot. I step to her right, wrapping my left arm around her back. I walk her out.
As Mark & Gina escort me to the ambulance, I look towards the cop cars to my left. I watch as two officers escort Dimato, handcuffed, over to one of the cars. He sees me as he waits for them to open the back door. I smirk, holding Felicity just that little bit tighter.
One officer guides him into the car & shuts the door. I look at Mark & smile.
“What?” He says.
“Thank you,” I reply. “For everything tonight.”
He smiles, before kissing my temple. He & Gina help me climb into the ambulance. Once I’m settled on the gurney, Mark sits down in the chair behind my head & buckles in.
Getting up the front stairs at home is a slow process. Karl gave me some pain medication, so it doesn't hurt that much. But it still aches. Mark walks up behind me, to make sure that I’m okay & don't fall. We’d dropped by the station on the way home, so Mark could return his gear & the vest I’d worn.
Mark opens the security door & then the front door, holding it open so I can walk through first. Paige is sitting in the armchair, while Aaron, Tyler & Piper sit on the couch, the latter two cuddled up together. They all look as I step in with Felicity.
They all get up & come over, taking turns hugging me. Paige hugs Mark.
“There's food keeping warm in the oven for you all,” Paige tells Mark & I. “Mum made it & brought it over.”
Mark nods. “Thank her for us.”
“Go sit at the table,” Aaron says. “We’ll get it for you.”
In a daze, I follow the others over to the dining table & sit down. Felicity opens her eyes, looking sleepy. I turn her around, resting her back against my chest.
I feed Felicity, the others talking sounding nothing but distorted noise. The few times I look up from Felicity, I can tell that Mark’s filling them in on what happened. I can't get the image of being forced to kiss Dimato out of my head.
"Hey," Mark says, some time later. “You should eat.”
I shake my head.
“Aer, you need to.”
“I’ve had enough.”
“You’ve barely touched it.”
“I’m not hungry,” I reply, meeting his eyes.
And there it is- the sudden recognition in his eyes. The understanding of what's going on in my head. He nods.
“Alright,” he says. “Lets get you through there. I’ll give Felicity her bath while you do whatever you want to do before bed.”
I nod. We both stand. I follow him through to the bathroom. I sit on the floor, getting lost in my own nightmare memories, as he gives Felicity her bath.
"I'm… I’m going to have a shower,” I say, as he dries Felicity off.
He looks at me. “Okay. I’ll keep going with her bedtime routine.”
He wraps her in her towel, picks her up & then stands. He crosses to the door.
“Call out to me if you need me,” he says.
I nod. He leaves.
I run the shower very hot. Not enough to scold me, but hot enough that I feel it. I feel so numb.
As much as I try, I can't shake the memories from tonight. I can't shake Dimato's smirk. The smug look when I agreed to his sick plan. Having to kiss him.
I sit down, letting the water hit my back as I draw my legs up & wrap my arms around them. I let the tears out.
I push the door to my room open, finding Mark sitting on my bed. Felicity's tucked in, barely keeping her eyes open.
“Hey,” he softly says.
"Hey," I reply. "Thanks for taking care of her.”
“Always happy to help,” he replies, smiling. He kisses Felicity's forehead & then stands. “I’ll let you get dressed.”
I nod as he walks over to me. “I think I might just sleep.”
He nods. “Thought you might,” he replies. “It's been a long day.”
He smiles slightly. “True. But it's all over now.”
I nod. “Finally.”
“Sleep well,” he says, before kissing my forehead. “Night.”
I watch him head back to the others, waiting until he disappears from view, & then I shut the door. I get changed into my pjs, dump my towel over the back of a chair, & then crawl into bed. I switch off the bedside lamp, the room still lit a little by Felicity's nightlight.
I lie down beside her, lying on my left side to face her. Her eyes are drifting shut. I smile, leaning in & kissing her cheek.
“Good night, my little angel,” I whisper.
Two weeks later
Given the severity & amount of charges against Dimato, the court fast-tracked his trial & it begins today. He faces charges for the attempted murder of Paige & Mark, ordering my murder by sending Eddie to kill me, blackmailing Zack & the kidnap & attempted murder of Felicity. As well as a range of other lesser charges.
For a while, it was uncertain that I would attend the trial. Toadie gave me the choice to testify via video link, giving me the opportunity not to be in the same room as Dimato. But I’m determined to face him & show him that he hasn't broken me.
Mark, Paige, Piper, Tyler & myself are taken into a separate room where the witnesses wait. One by one, they are all called through- Tyler first, then Piper, Paige & finally Mark.
“Are you going to be okay?” Mark asks. “I can ask if they’ll let Aaron come sit with you.”
“I’ll be alright.”
I nod. He kisses my forehead, giving my hand a squeeze before he walks over to the door. He looks over & smiles at me before disappearing out the door.
I sigh, sinking into the chair. Being alone in the room leaves me to my own thoughts for the first time all day. I’d intentionally kept myself busy up until now- talking to the others or Felicity, who is now at childcare. We're not allowed to discuss the case, but they let us talk about other things while we waited. Impossible to have a conversation when you're on your own- unless you want to look crazy. And so I’m left to my thoughts. But they fall almost immediately into reliving the night I faced Dimato.
I grab my sketch book out & focus on finishing a drawing of myself & Felicity that I started a few days ago.
Soon enough, those memories return, & I can't breathe. I ask the guard if I can go to the bathroom, & he escorts me to it. I go inside & grip one of the basins, staring at myself in the mirror.
“You can do this, Erin,” I say to myself.
I splash my face with water, dry it off & then head out. I return to the room with the guard. It's only a few minutes later before I’m called to the court room. I pack up my sketch book & pencils, before being escorted to the court room. I take a moment at the doors to compose myself. I close my eyes, taking a deep breath in… Hold… Slowly exhale. I open my eyes & nod at the assistant, who opens the door for me.
“Here we go,” Aaron says, as he, Mark & Tyler return to our table at The Waterhole.
Aaron has hold of an open champagne bottle & a champagne glass, Tyler has two champagne glasses & a glass of coke a cola, while Mark has two champagne glasses & Felicity’s sippy cup that's freshly filled with apple juice. They put everything down on our table, except Mark hands Felicity hers straight away. Piper takes the glass of coke as my brothers take their seats.
“That's an expensive bottle,” I say, as Aaron starts to pour the glasses.
“Sheila gave it to us for free,” he replies. “Spoiling us.”
“She said we deserved a treat,” Mark adds.
“Hmmm, if this is what we get,” I reply. “Maybe I should sleep with psychopathic nephews of crime lords more often!”
Mark gives me an unamused look.
“Too soon to joke?” I ask, giving him a smile.
“Way too soon,” he replies.
“Argh! Party pooper!”
A waiter places the large platter of chips down on our table.
“Oooo!” I say. “Lets dig in, cause this looks delicious!”
“Hang on,” Aaron says, as I reach for a chip. “I want to make a speech first.”
I scrunch up my face. “Really?”
He nods. “I’ll keep it short, alright?”
“Over the last few weeks, we’ve been through a lot. Actually… Basically the whole year so far…” He says. “But we’re all still here.”
“Dimato's finally behind bars,” Tyler adds.
“Finally out of our lives,” Mark adds, putting his arm around Paige. “Forever.”
“We’ve got Erin & little Felicity with us,” Aaron says. “And soon, two more little ones. Every time our family expands, it strengthens us. Both as a group, but as individuals. We’ve got each others’ back.”
He raises his glass & we all do the same.
“So here's to a much happier rest of the year,” he says. “But even if we’re faced with more drama, here’s to us supporting each other through the highs & lows to come.”
“How about just ‘to family’?” I ask.
“To family,” Aaron says.
“To family,” Mark, Paige, Tyler, Piper & I echo.
We all clink glasses, except of course Felicity, & take a sip.
“Now can we eat?” I ask.
Aaron chuckles & nods.
We all dig in to the chips. I put a handful on a napkin, letting them cool off for Felicity. After all of the events this week, it's so good to finally unwind with my family.