One & Lonely

 

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Chapter 1

            Anna’s shoulders tighten as she regarded the sheet of rain coating the front door of her townhouse. A blanket of sticky heat crept in embracing her. She sighed, the air-conditioned comfort of her home begging her to shut the door and go back to bed- if work hadn’t been so short staffed she probably would've.

            'Great, a whole day of frizzy hair now.' She mumbled before thrusting her hand bag over her head and running for the car. Yanking open the driver’s door she fell, an untidy mess, into the seat. She flung her bag into the back ramming the key in the ignition. A welcome blast of cool air found her hot skin as the engine rumbled to life. She turned the rear-view mirror towards herself surveying the damage. Tropical rain bursts weren’t new to Anna- the smell of those first fat raindrops hitting hot concrete threw her back to a time when flooding gutters and swollen puddles were a source of delight, not just an inconvenient hazard.  She wiped beads of moisture from her face careful not to smudge her meticulously applied mascara. She smoothed her dark hair pleased she'd worn it back. 'You need to buy an umbrella.' She chastised her reflection. Looking closer she noticed the red rim surrounding her hazel eyes- no amount of foundation could hide that. She pushed the mirror back displeased by what she saw. The wipers sprung into action madly swiping the flood from her windscreen, it didn’t help much. It was going to be a slow drive to work and she was already ten minutes late. Anna eased onto the streets of the quiet seaside suburb of Crystal Beach. The houses dwindled as she approached the round-about that swept cars onto the main highway leading into town. When she’d returned to Palm Bay two months earlier Anna had already known the outer beach suburbs were the only place she'd live- coming back had been depressing enough without living in the heart of such a backwards place. At least here she could escape to one of the many beach side coffee shops and pretend to be on holiday. It felt like she'd been gone an eternity, yet Palm Bay had hardly changed at all. She struggled to understand how this was possible- it even annoyed her a touch. It wasn't as though Anna hadn't liked growing up in Palm Bay. In fact life had been pretty good. The rainforest-covered mountains dipping their toes the warm ocean had provided endless entertainment for adventurous local kids. Riddled with bush walks and bike tracks, they hid countless streams perfect for a hot summer’s day relief. The emerald sea that lapped the shores was the gateway to the incredible underwater paradise of the Great Barrier Reef. Every kid in Palm Bay either owned a boat or knew someone who did. Fishing, swimming, riding- this was her life, and even though it was great Anna always knew she'd leave- and as soon as school finished she did. Anna was over the moon when Sydney University accepted her into their radiography degree. Anna left Palm Bay a month later and discovered the city was everything she’d ever dreamed- fantastic shopping, amazing restaurants; interesting people. The move was the best decision of her life- but unfortunately it seemed life had different ideas to her. When people asked why she moved back, Anna blamed her mum's multiple sclerosis, and this was true, but it wasn't the full story. When Anna finished her degree she landed a job in a private X-ray practice in inner Sydney. She worked hard and got on with everyone. She became good friends with the group of specialist doctors who owned the practice. They respected her opinion and recognized her natural talent for business. Within five years she was the chief radiographer running five practices scattered throughout the region. Everything was going so well. She was invited to exclusive parties; she had enough money to buy the right clothes, the right accessories, a great car. She thought life couldn't get any better, but then it did. A new radiologist, Dr Christian Haig, joined the company. A few weeks later he asked her out. Christian was great; admittedly a bit older, but he was handsome, funny charming- everybody loved him. By Christmas they were engaged. Anna couldn't believe it was happening. She finally had everything she ever wanted; she had finally broken free of her small town past- from the girl who would amount to nothing. Finally she was someone.

 

It was Valentines’ day when Anna got the phone call that changed her life forever. She could still remember the surge of ice at the sound of her mum’s voice. She had mentioned the blurred vision, the numb feet, the tripping over, but Anna just assumed she was getting old. When she had suggested her mother go see a doctor she didn't for a second think it was serious- turned out she horribly was wrong.

            ‘The doctor thinks it could be Multiple Sclerosis honey.’ Her mother had said quietly. ‘That’s not good is it?’

Anna didn’t know how to answer; the breath had been stripped from her lungs.

            ‘It’s going to be alright mum.’ She finally reassured, knowing full well it probably wasn’t.

 

Her mother hadn't asked her to move back; that had been Anna's idea. She couldn't bear the thought of her being all alone getting frailer every day, and she knew she would never leave her beloved Palm Bay. Her mother had done so much for her over the years and it couldn’t have been easy, especially after her father had died when she was eleven. She owed her this. Anna told herself it would be fine, as long as she had Christian by her side everything would be fine. But the conversation with Christian didn’t go quite as planned.

            ‘How can you ask me to move to the middle of nowhere?’ His cool expression was unnerving. ‘Do you know what that would do to my career? I’m happy to help, don’t get me wrong, but she should move here.’

Anna was stunned.

            ‘But she won’t move… and she'd never ask for help.’

            ‘Well maybe we should respect that. We can pay for a carer if she gets too bad, and you can always visit.’

            ‘But… she’s my mum… ‘

            ‘And that makes her more important than me?’ Anna opened her mouth to reply but nothing came out. Christian stood there glaring. Tears welled. He didn’t soften. ‘I don’t want to talk about this anymore. You have the choice… her or me.’

And that was that- he didn’t what for a response, he just walked out. The words cut like a knife; the pain amplified by the look on his face as he turned away. She was left standing there, wondering where the man who'd sworn to love and support her forever had gone. How could he make her choose? So she did.

 

And now here she was- heartbroken, disillusioned and driving through this god-forsaken rain in a town she had hoped to leave forever.

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Chapter 2

             ‘Wet enough for ya Lord Zachary?’ Zach dropped his bag beside his desk ignoring Terry’s question. Terry didn’t take the hint. ‘Mind you, you POMs must feel right at home in all this rain.’

Zach turned to his workmate and raised an eyebrow. The smile on Terry’s chubby face only grew. He ran a hand through his short dark hair sending a fine spray of water into the air. Droplets of moisture ran down his olive cheeks through the stubble of his strong jaw. It really was coming down outside- after three years in Palm Bay you would have thought he’d remember to keep an umbrella in the car. Terry sat patiently at his desk waiting for a response.

            ‘In England we have civilized rain.’ Zach finally retorted in his smooth British accent. ‘If it’s grey it rains, if it’s sunny it doesn’t- not like these unpredictable downpours. There was hardly a cloud in the sky when I left home.’

Terry chortled and shook his head.

            ‘Mate, it’s the tropics- clouds appear out of nowhere, dump two inches then bugger off. Surely you’ve worked that out by now.’ Zach pulled up to his full height; his broad shoulders making him an imposing figure. He gave Terry his most indignant expression. Terry picked up his favourite chipped coffee mug and slurped the contents noisily- he knew Zach hated this. He put the cup down. ‘Besides isn’t it always grey in the UK?’

            A lopsided grin slid onto Zach’s face. He flopped into his desk chair. ‘Guess I can’t argue with that one.’ Terry’s pale eyes sparkled with the small victory. Zach focused on his computer trying not to laugh. Terry had been Zach’s partner for just over twelve months now, and in that time he had also become one of his best friends. Zach respected Terry more than any other paramedic he’d ever worked with and they made a good team, but it was their mutual love of tormenting each other that had really made them close. 

            ‘So how come you’re so late this morning?’ Terry asked returning his attention to his own computer. Zach shuffled a few things round his desk before answering.

            ‘Had a call from Dad.’ He answered quietly, hoping to let the matter rest. Terry spun dramatically in his chair.

            ‘So what did old money bags want?’ He asked with an enthusiasm, which declared this conversation was far from over.

            ‘Oh nothing… just a chat.’

Terry pursed his lips in disbelief.

            ‘I thought the old man only ever rang once in a blue moon and never for ‘just a chat’. Is the multimillion dollar family business in trouble or something?’

Zach shoved several pens in his pocket without looking at Terry. This was exactly why he didn’t tell people about his background- but there’s nothing like a few beers and a work poker game to drop a person’s defences. At least Terry and the couple of other colleagues who had found out had been good enough to not spread the word that his family owned one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Europe. It was a life Zach had been happy to leave behind. His father on the other hand was extremely displeased with his decision to become a paramedic and move overseas. Zach had endured more than one lecture on his ‘real responsibilities, and this morning’s phone call had been no exception. His father had labelled his life in Australia ‘a phase’ that would be tolerated for only so much longer. Zach had given up arguing. Nothing short of moving back to England, taking the reigns of the company, marrying the ‘right’ girl and starting a family would make him happy now. They few times he’d been game enough to mention how this would make him feel resulted in a gut wrenching, guilt laced speech on how he was solely responsible for the whole families unhappiness- especially his mother, who according to his father had been sick with worry ever since he left. She seemed fine every time he spoke to her but he never directly asked if this was true because he knew she would never disagree with her husband. Ironically Zach’s twin sister Charlotte was the one with a real love of the company. She had worked tirelessly to impress their father, yet he still firmly believed that he should run the family business simply because he was male (Zach was pretty sure it would be a complete disaster if he was left in charge). As children Zach and Charlotte had been inseparable, but their father’s old-fashioned ideas had driven a wedge between them as the years had passed. It was another reason why Zach had chosen to move to Australia- he had hoped the physical distance would heal the emotional distance that had formed, but so far it had had little effect. Even now when he rang she rarely answered; when he emailed she hardly ever replied. Zach couldn’t deny it hurt and it made him even more determined to have as little to do with the company as possible

            ‘So how’s the morning been?’ Zach asked wanting to change the subject. Terry finally got the hint.

            ‘Pretty good so far.’ 

            ‘No accidents with all this rain then?’

            ‘Not yet, but we’re bound to get one sooner or later.’ Terry replied, instinctively turning up the volume on the radio attached to his green jumpsuit. ‘Hasn’t rained for a while, the roads will be slippery.’

Zach picked up his own radio and clipped it to his chest.

            ‘No doubt it’ll be on one of the northern beach roundabouts.’

            ‘Almost inevitable mate.’

As though sensing the conversation both CB radios suddenly crackled to life.

            ‘Palm Bay dispatch to unit 4-6-1?’

Terry nodded at Zach indicating he should take the call directed at their unit.

            ‘Dispatch this is 4-6-1, go ahead.’

            ‘Are you available for a Code 1 response?’

Terry rolled his eyes and stood up.

            ‘Affirm.’ Zach replied getting to his feet too. They both walked from the office.

            ‘I will mark you on case for a Code 1, 29 Delta 1 Echo- two car MVA at the Crystal Beach round-about. Multiple casualties- one vehicle is reported to have gone over the embankment, occupant still inside.’

A surge of adrenalin ran through Zach’s body - despite years of experience, big cases like this still affected him and he knew it was no different for Terry. They were at the ambulance by the time the report had finished.

            ‘Copy that, on case, responding from Palm Bay.Zach replied calmly, jumping in the passenger side. Terry started the engine; the concrete walls either side of them burst life with flashes of red and blue light. The enormous metal door shielding the garage full of ambulances clunked as it slid upwards. As they rolled outside, the sound of rain hitting the bonnet was deafening.

            ‘Should have kept ya mouth shut.’ Terry mumbled flicking on the siren. ‘Jinxed us tou did.’ The oncoming traffic slowed as they sighted their vehicle leaving the ambulance station. ‘We’re both going to be a soggy mess after this job.’

Zach shook his head and smiled.

            ‘Come on Terry you love Rainy jobs, besides what have we got to complain about, the people we’re about to help are having far worse a day.’

Terry moaned.

            ‘Always the caring, sensitive type aren’t ya Zach James?’ He said with an edge of sarcasm. ‘No wonder the ladies love you.’

Terry turned onto the road and hit the accelerator.

            ‘What’s not to love? Zach replied jovially as the ambulance speed up. ‘Though I do think you should take some of the credit.’

            ‘Yeah, why’s that?’ Terry asked suspiciously.

            ‘Because standing next to you always makes me look good.’

Terry huffed and shot him an unimpressed glance. 

            ‘Well James Bond- it's your shout for coffee when we get back.’

Zach looked out the window smiling.

            ‘Would be my pleasure Bilbo Baggins.’   

 

The mess that greeted Terry and Zach was the usual cluster of chaos, but at least the rain had eased to a drizzle. They were the first on scene. Communications had informed them another crew was coming. Several cars littered the side of the road, hazard lights flashing. People were crowded near a red sedan, it's bonnet folded neatly round a light pole. There was a man sitting on the ground, an older lady had her hand on his shoulder- presumably he was the driver; he looked relatively unscathed. A larger group stood further up the road staring down at something neither Terry nor Zach could see. A young man from the nearest pack spotted them and ran up the side of the road waving their arms as though they would miss the obvious carnage. They pulled up beside the red sedan.

            ‘I’ll take this one, you look down the embankment.’ Terry said, his tone flat. 

            ‘No worries.’

The arm waver was beside Zach’s door; he nearly jumped in as Zach opened it.

            ‘This car hit another one!’ The young man declared, pointing at the red sedan. Zach eased past him. The man jumped in front again. ‘I saw the whole thing!’ He continued in a panic. ‘There’s a woman in a car down there. She can’t get out. I think she’s hurt real bad!’ Zach put a hand on the young man’s shoulder; he looked in his early twenties with bad skin. He wore a faded black shirt that clung to his skinny chest. Dark strands of wet hair were glued to his shocked face.

            ‘What’s your name?’ He asked slowly.

            ‘Um… Mark.’

            ‘Ok Mark I need you to calm down. Just let me grab my kit and we’ll go take a look.’

Mark nodded briskly and stepped aside. Zach slid open the side door of the ambulance and pulled out his heavy bag full medical equipment. He followed Mark to the embankment. The small crowd parted looking at Zach expectantly. They all wore the same expression of curious fear. He dropped his bag and peered over the edge.

            ‘Crap.’ He muttered another surge of adrenaline hitting. A small white lancer laid right side up about three meters down the steep slope. The bonnet was crumpled, the windscreen smashed. He could see the driver's arm covered in blood through the broken passenger window. It wasn't going to be easy to get down the wet, grass-covered slope. He looked back over his shoulder. The second crew had just pulled up along with a police car and fire engine. He whistled at Terry who was crouched before the other driver. He glanced up.

            ‘I’m going down to have a look.’ He yelled. ‘Send the guys over when they’re ready.’  Terry nodded. Zach turned his attention back to the car. The arm hadn’t moved. A sense of dread dulled his chest. He assessed the slope, picked out the best option and started his descent. He soon realised he couldn’t stand so he resorted to half sliding, half stumbling. He landed awkwardly in front of the car. Running water filled his boots. The car had landed in a natural gutter. The back of his green jumpsuit was muddy from the slide. He looked through the smashed, but intact windscreen. He could just make out a slumped form. The car looked even worse from this angle. He looked back up and caught sight of Mark.

            ‘Hey Mark slide my bag down would you.’

Mark complied instantly. Zach only just caught the heavy bag as it flew towards him. He dragged it to the side of the car. There was just enough room for him to squeeze his large frame between the car and the embankment. The driver’s window was all but gone. He could see the woman now. His heart skipped a beat. She didn’t look good- her skin an ashen grey, always a bad colour. Her head was slumped slightly to the side; she wasn’t conscious. Blood streaked her pale cheeks from a cut on her forehead; her white business shirt was ripped at the shoulder. He could see she was breathing, but only just. Looking down at her legs he grimaced. Beneath the deflated airbags her legs were pinned by the dashboard. It was hard to tell how much damage she'd done- it wasn’t going to be easy to get her out regardless. He grabbed the brace from the top of his kit, leant in and eased it round her neck. Her eyelids flitted with his touch. A small wave of relief trickled through his chest. He brushed a loose strand of dark hair from her face.

            ‘Can you hear me?’ Her eyelids twitched again ‘Can you tell me your name?’ Her eyes opened and rolled towards him. She couldn’t turn her head because of the bright yellow collar. It took a moment for her to focus. The muscles of his neck tightened as her gaze solidified. ‘Hey there, can you tell me your name?’

Her lips parted reluctantly.

            ‘Anna.’ She managed to whisper. At the sound of her voice an unexpected twinge shot through him. It ruffled him a little. Normally he felt very little in the initial stages of assessing a trauma. It was part of his training. Paramedics saw so many horrible things that it was essential to stay numb till the job was over. Emotions clouded judgement- something Zach knew all too well. He cleared his throat.

            ‘Hi Anna, my name’s Zach. You’ve been in a car accident. I need to put a needle in your arm then I’ll give you something for the pain. Are you in much pain?’ She tried to nod but couldn’t with the collar. She reached up in confusion. Zach caught her hand. ‘It’s Ok; try not to move. I’ve put a neck brace on just in case.’ Her eyes flicked back to his. He could see awareness growing. Tears began to well. He gave her a small smile. ‘It’s going to be Ok Anna, I promise.’ He could see the desperation in her eyes, her need to believe him.  Guilt crept through him… He hated lying.

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Chapter 3

Anna tried to focus on the white fuzz swirling before her eyes. Strange noises mixed with buzzing in her ears. She could taste something metallic- nothing made sense. She felt uncomfortable, confused. She tried to move but her body was heavy, her legs and head hurt.  As she struggled to work out what was happening the pain suddenly intensified.

            ‘Where am I?’ Her mind asked. Her eyes cleared enough for her to see what looked like a deflated, pale balloon- it was wet, smeared with pink. She could smell something odd, like mud and petrol. She had smelt it before- it made her uneasy. She tried to move again. Her legs screamed in protest. She went limp succumbing to the pain. It was just easier to close her eyes and drift off, so she did. Movement at her shoulder disturbed her. Someone started talking, asking questions. She wished they'd go away, let her sleep- they didn’t; it annoyed her. Finally she opened her eyes. There was someone there. A layer of fog kept her from seeing them properly. She was sure she didn’t know them. He kept talking; she couldn’t understand what he was saying. Then she heard a word that made sense.

            ‘Name.’

            'Why does he want to know my name?' ‘Anna.’ She whispered hoping it would make him go away. It didn’t. He kept talking; she could make out more words now.

            ‘Zach.’ She heard him say. She wondered who that was. Then she realised, it must be him. His voice was calm, deep, soothing. He sounded a little strange, like he had an accent. ‘…Are you in much pain?’ The question brought alive the reality of just how much pain she was actually in- everything hurt. She inhaled deeply and tried to nod. Something was caught round her neck. She reached up; a strong hand caught hers. ‘It’s Ok, try not to move… I’ve put a neck brace on…’ Anna looked sideways, she could see him clearly now. Her head throbbed; her legs were on fire. His dark brown eyes locked on hers. Panic crushed her chest; she wanted to cry. ‘Did he say accident?’ Last thing she remembered was hopping in her car. It was raining she knew that. The fear surged with the familiarity of the situation. He smiled at her. ‘It’s going to be Ok Anna, I promise.’ The mounting panic eased with his soft words. ‘Alright I’m going to pop a cuff on your arm to measure your blood pressure. I just need to undo your top button to place some sticky dots on your chest to keep an eye on your heart.’ Anna didn’t answer; she could feel his hands working quickly. Anna focused on the stranger’s face as he leant in closer. His eyes flicked to hers. There was something about him, his calm demeanor- she trusted him, felt safe in his care. Surely this wouldn’t end like last time. ‘Right.’ He said tearing his gaze away a bit too fast. ‘I’m just going to pop a pulse ox on your finger to make sure you’re getting enough oxygen then I’m going to put a needle in your arm. Do you have any allergies?’

            ‘Um… no.’ Anna breathed. ‘My legs hurt.’

She saw Zach’s eyebrows tighten. Somewhere a rhythmic beeping started. Anna guessed it was the heart rate monitor. The deep timbre of his voice didn't waver.

            ‘Once this needle is in I’ll give you something to help with the pain- a bit of the good stuff.’

Anna could feel his warm hands holding her arm; she was beginning to shake. Something tightened above her elbow. The pain in her legs and head came in waves afloat a sea of nausea.

            ‘When can I get out?’ She asked faintly.

            ‘Ok little sting.’ She winced out of habit even though the pain from the needle was minute compared to everything else. ‘That should help.’

            ‘When can I get out of here?’ She asked again. Zach finished the injection. He looked up examining her eyes.

            ‘As soon as possible.’ He replied flatly. Warmth ran up her arm, dulling the pain as the drug coursed through her bloodstream. She exhaled with relief.

            ‘So are you a local girl Anna?’ He asked, continuing to work around her.

            ‘Was… moved away… just came back.’ She replied, drowsily.

            ‘What brought you back?’

            ‘Mum’s MS.’

            ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’

His response sounded sincere.

            ‘You have an accent.’  Anna mumbled.

            ‘Good pick up. I’m from England- Canterbury actually.’

            ‘Oh.’ She replied her head starting to spin.

            ‘Have you ever been to England Anna?’

            ‘No.’

            ‘Well you should go there some time, it’s very pretty- though I’d wait for summer, horribly cold in winter.’ His hands moved back and forth, Anna grimaced with discomfort. ‘Tell you what; there’s a great café right near Canterbury Cathedral. How about I meet you there sometime, we’ll have a coffee.’

Anna wanted to sleep but knew she shouldn’t. She forced herself to concentrate.

            ‘Are you moving back?’ 

He hesitated.

            ‘Um… not anytime soon.’

She flicked her eyes towards him.

            ‘You don’t sound sure.’

He gave her a tight-lipped grin.

            ‘Well… you never know what tomorrow brings… So where were you living before you came back to Palm Bay?’

Anna didn’t want to talk about Sydney right now.

            ‘Tell me about the café.’ She muttered. He stopped moving; the comment seemed to surprise him. His grin turned to a genuine smile. Anna’s mouth went dry. Even in her damaged state she could see how attractive this man was, how devastating that smile would be under normal circumstances. One of his upper canine teeth sat slightly forward pushing his already full lips outwards at that point. It made his smile slightly lopsided and even more appealing- if not for the dishevelled hair and stubbled jaw he would have easily passed as the tall, dark English gentleman from any Jane Austen novel. He started working again.

            ‘It’s called ‘Café Saint-Amand. It's not very big but the coffee is great. There are couches where you can sit and read; the paint is peeling from the wall. None of the chairs match, but it’s always warm, crowded, and the baguettes are amazing.’

            ‘I’d like to go there.’ She whispered. He tilted his head.

            ‘Then it’s a date.’

A gruff male voice broke through their conversation.

            ‘Can I talk to you Zach?’

His smile faltered.

            ‘Back in a moment Anna- don’t go anywhere ok, we need to finalize our plans.’

She watched as he stood awkwardly and moved in front of the car. It had to be hurting him crouching in such a confined space for so long. She could just see through the shattered windscreen. Distorted figures moved around the car. She heard Zach talking; small snippets of the conversation reached her ears- words like ‘shock’, ‘legs’ and ‘quick’. There was an edge of concern to his voice that hadn’t been present while talking to her. She could hear the monitor beeping, registering her increasing heart rate. The thinly restrained panic she had been fighting began to bubble. Zach stopped talking and returned to her window. She couldn’t look at him.

            ‘So they’re going to cut you out now Anna.’ He said softly. She didn’t answer she just kept staring straight ahead fighting to control her fear. Blurry red, green and yellow shapes darted around outside. He reached in touching her cheek gently. She shut her eyes, her skin tingling under his fingertips. ‘Did you hear me Anna?’

            ‘Yes.’ 

            ‘It’s going to be noisy but I’ll here the whole time. Do you understand?’

            ‘Yes.’

            ‘What’s your favourite song Anna?’ Her eyes shot open with the unexpected question.

            ‘Why?’ She mumbled still staring straight ahead.

            ‘When this is happening I want you to play it in your head. I want you to really concentrate on the words, make them up if you have to. Make it as loud as you can and think only about your song.’ Anna watched the ballet of blurry forms through the crazed windscreen. She was too numb to even register what Zach was saying. His hand dropped to hers. ‘I know you’re scared Anna but we’re going to get you out. I promise I won’t leave you.’

She squeezed his fingers and glanced at him. His dark eyes spoke genuine concern. She traced the line of his strong jaw with her eyes and settled on his full lips.

            ‘I’ve been here before.’ She whispered. Zach frowned.

            ‘What do you mean?’

            ‘A car accident when I was eleven. My dad was driving; it was raining. We ran off the road… I…I was caught… couldn’t get out.’

Zach bit his bottom lip.

            ‘But you did get out, and we'll get you out now.’ Anna felt her chin quiver. Her breathing became ragged. Zach leant in closer, looking at her pupils. ‘You ok Anna?’ She held his gaze.

            ‘But they didn’t get dad out…not in time… ’

Zach’s lips parted. He was rarely lost for words. A shout came through the passenger window.

            ‘Alright Zach, we’re about to start.’ He didn’t move. The thick muscles of his jaw flexed. ‘Did you hear me Zach? Ok to get the cutters in?’ He inhaled deeply.

            ‘Yep, you’re good to go!’ His dark eyes stayed fixed on hers. He lowered his voice. ‘I won’t let that happen Anna. Do you understand?’ Anna wanted to say that she believed him, she just couldn’t. A single tear slid down her cheek. Zach followed it with his eyes, pausing on her lips. ‘If you cry you’ll ruin your make up.’ He whispered. Anna nearly smiled. His expression softened. He glanced past her and nodded at someone. ‘It’s about to get really loud now Anna. Close your eyes; think of that song. You’ll feel me putting some glasses on you to protect your eyes.’

Anna took one final look at the man who held her life in his hands.

            ‘Ok.’ She breathed. She shut her eyes, violently aware of Zach’s hand slipping away. A second later she felt him put the glasses on her face. The world erupted with smells, vibrations; small objects hitting her.  She heard shouts, loud metallic noises, smashing glass. She screwed her eyes up even tighter; in her head the words of the ABBA song ‘Waterloo’ started to build in volume. She had no idea why she picked that song it seemed so inappropriate. Her father had loved ABBA maybe that was the reason. A gush of fresh air hit her cheeks as the roof came free, it happened in minutes but to Anna it felt like an eternity. Her mind started screaming the song as she felt them working around her legs. She could hear Zach shouting instructions but couldn’t afford to listen- that would have brought her back to reality; back to the fear of being here again. Her heart was pounding. She felt cold and uncomfortable; her head was foggy. She didn’t know if it was the drugs, the adrenalin or something else but suddenly everything started to fade- the pain, the noise all dulled, drifting away. She became confused and wondered if it was all just a horrible dream. The ABBA song sounded like it came from a radio and the darkness lightened to reveal a small room- she knew instantly it was a French café, somewhere in Canterbury where none of the chairs matched. It was warm; the smell of fresh coffee and bread filled the air. Faceless people walked past her as though she wasn’t there but she didn’t care, there was only one person she wanted to find. She looked around and there he was, sitting on a couch in the corner. He smiled at her in a way that said they were old friends. The dimples in his cheeks deepened as their eyes met, he looked happy to see her; like he was worried she wouldn’t come. She felt safe; the sadness that had been her constant companion trickled away. His lips started to move, he was speaking but she couldn’t hear him. She shook her head and stepped closer, he spoke again. She could only just hear his voice, like he was whispering in her ear.

            ‘Everything is ok now Anna… Just like I promised… You’re going to be ok.’

Anna smiled- it was going to be ok. 

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