As the days went by Stevie faced a constant battle of thoughts within her mind. It was a merciless tug of war between the black hopelessness, weariness, despair, and that flicker of light, life, and strength. The darkness was powerful. That very dark presence had caused her only weeks ago to attempt to take her own life. But that inner courage and determination was strong too. It was the force that sustained her through the long painful years away from Rose. That strange thing deep down that told her life could be better than this, that she could be better than this. And would be. That irritating tantilising glimmer of cruel hope that prevented her from trying to end her life again right here and now.
Her days she spent with the Banjo, peacefully riding. Looking back over her life it was the only time she could recall having so much time to think, to do nothing. She did not consider it a luxury at all though. She despised having nothing to do. No purpose. Caring for the horse was enough to get her going, but not nearly enough to keep her going. And as she began to think clearly for the first time in months, to think of getting away from here, back to her friends, claiming back her life, her strength. But those fantasy moments were brief and soon washed away by the flood of despair. She settled into her mundane useless life with Banjo. And Jonah. At times she tried desperatly to evade his continued attempts to get close to her. And at times she merely gave in to him, weary of fighting, of caring enough to protest.
Alex, always Alex. Not the prospect of Jail nor rejection from her sister and daughter, nor the fact her friends thought her dead brought her mood down so low. It was Alex, and it was hard to get him out of her mind once she started her mind functioning again. It was impossible. Even in this dreary nothing place Alex Ryan had never set foot upon, he haunted her every breath. Even as she kissed the man who had saved her life, Alex stood befor her, even riding in the eerie still silent acres, there was no where to hide. Alex had his hands around her neck so tightly she could not breathe. And she could not shake him. What use was running away from here, from her kidnapper, where could she go that would be better? Jail? On the run? It wouldnt matter, Alex would follow her. Poisoning her mind and suffocating her. And yet somehow she feared the day he would vanish from her thoughts. His presence in her life, although tormenting, was comforting. Familiar. Without him she was nothing. And so she held on tightly to the thing that cut her so deeply.
Alex was everywhere. His voice whispering in her ears, his hands firmly but gently caressing herher body, his eyes staring back at her each time she closed her own. Even Banjo reminded her of Alex, all those times she had taken for granted, simple times as neighbours checking fences, moving sheep. A life she craved for now. There was no escape from him. No escape from the torment. As she rode through the trees, she heard his voice calling through the wind, heard him calling her name softly, sweetly. And then as she turned her head towards the sound she heard that same voice harshly calling her a murderer.
Back and forth between dreaming of the man she loved, happy times the things she loved and missed, things she had probably imagined, a perfect man who did not exist. And the condeming image of this man who cared not at all. Whose words and promises had meant nothing. Who had broken her heart so completely so easily and not even realised. She loved him and missed him and tried so hard to hate him. And it pushed her back, further inside her mind, forcing her to shut down in every way unable to comprehend the truth of his feelings. She tried to become as dead as she could be whilst still living. The only thing she could think of to even hope or wish for, was that she had not been saved from that dam that day. What use was her life like this? Her entire life had become a prison sentence far worse than the justice system could have imposed upon her. She saw no way out. She had been saved that day and next time she would be more careful.
Just as she had decided her fate, she would look Banjo in the eyes as she brushed him down, and something in her stirred. She may be nothing to Alex. And somehow she had come to believe that meant she herself was deviod entirely of any worth and purpose. But Banjo loved her, needed her to care for him. The animal adored her unconditionally, had been a constant companion through so many trials. Banjo trusted her as she trusted him. And looking into his eyes as she burried her tear stained face into his mane, it was impossible to comprehend longing for death. Slowly other things came to mind, other people who loved her. Alex, Michelle and Rose had turned away, Claire and Tess had abandoned her- Claire to the grave and Tess to South America. But there were still people who loved her, trusted her, needed her. Regan, Jodi, Kate. For the very first time she looked outside her own suffering, and began to wonder how the others had been affected by her disappearance. She had done it partly for them, Drovers had lost so much business due to the murder scandal. But she started to realise that losing her to gain prosperity on the farm might not be considered a worth while trade by the others.
She knew she could not stay here, with Jonah, not any longer. She did not belong here. And so over and over she considered her options. Death? Running away? Jail? She could not decide.
Regan heard a sound, almost like a scream, and realised it had come from her own mouth. She stared down at the object in her hand. Dave had heard the noise and ran up the stairs, meeting her half way. He had not been going far from Drovers lately. He was so concerned about Regan. She was losing the plot entirely. She was so deep in denial about Stevie. He could see she was hurting so much, and that this insistence Stevie was alive was in part an act to convince herself rather than face the prospect she had lost her best friend in such a tragic set of events. It made it worse that no one knew the exact circumstances of Stevie's death. So many questions. No one who could answer. No matter how desperatly they wanted and needed to know.
Dave had tried to get Regan to face reality, to let him help her through it. His words fell on deaf ears, if anything it pushed her further away and that was the last thing he wanted. But she shut her self so far inside out of his reach. And so he waited patiently for that moment to come, the moment something small would trigger reality to come crashing down.
Dave found Regan clutching something in her hands, they were shaking and she stood staring in shock and disbelief.
"I told you, I told you!" She proclaimed as her horrified expression turned to satisfaction and her eyes lit up in a way he had almost forgotten they could do.
Dave stood looking at her with questioning eyes. They had spoken so little in the last weeks, they had become distant through this issue over Stevie, but in a way had formed a closeness that allowed words to disappear. With his eyes he asked the question, and with her eyes she answered, it was written all over her face. Stevie.
He looked to the object in her hand. A wrist band that had belonged to Stevie.She had worn it fairly often. He still looked at her puzzled, not comprehending what the interest in the object was. Stevie's things were all over the place.
"You don't understand." Regan insisted. "Stevie was wearing it, on the day..."Regans voice trailed off. "She was wearing it see?"
"Oh Regan." Dave almost did not bother to speak. At the disapproval in his eyes she had turned away shaking her head, already knowing what he thought. She was crazy. He looked at her with this sad pity in his eyes, and she wanted to slap him for it. "Stevie has a lot of those things.." He tried half heartedly to be logical.
"But THIS is the one she wore that day. You know what that means?" Regan tried to convince him, determined she was right. Suddely pieces fell into place. She didn't know how or why it had happened. But Stevie was alive. This was proof. And Regan knew now where she was. Regan never stopped to consider it all had been a sick joke, the letter, the wrist band. Jonah had played games like this with her before. But this time she knew in her heart. She had known all along. Stevie was alive.
"She might have taken it off, before she left the house.." Dave continued realising that Regan would not be convinced.
"No." Regan answered. "She was wearing it." She stopped suddenly. Not able, not willing, to explain to Dave about the phone call, about Jonah, about the past she had kept hidden. In her own mind she tried to work out what he was playing at, what was Stevie doing with him. But she let all thoughts fall away. All but this- Stevie was coming home.
She pushed past Dave as he stood on the staircase, almost running down the stairs. There was no point in them communicating any furthur. He followed closely behind, alarmed by the depth of her denial. She was seriously in need of some sort of counselling. She could not honestly believe the things she was saying. And even if she did, where did she think she was going?
"Where did you find it?" Dave asked for lack of anything constructive to say.
Regan did not answer, what could she say that Dave would believe anyway? She realised she looked crazy to him, but he would see soon enough. They would all see. She would find Stevie and everything would be ok. Whatever the cost, it would not matter. Nothing mattered very much after the terrifying weeks she had lived with the possibility that her best friend was foreve gone hanging over her head. She knew Jonah wanted something. He always did. She would no doubt pay dearly for this. But she would pay gladly.
She ignored Dave as she picked up the car keys, trying frantically to remember the way to the house where Jonah lived. Dave tried to talk to her, she would not listen. Dave could not let her go off driving in such a state, it wasn't safe, she hardly slept for weeks, she was acting crazy, where on earth was she going anyway? He grabbed her from behind, only gently to get her to stop, to look at him. She pulled away fiercely and he held her tighter. Suddenly she was in another place, another time, with another man. Before she realised what she was doing she had picked up the knife on the nearby kitchen counter and held it in her hands.
Dave watched as she relaxed and turned to him, still holding onto her arm tightly. He sighed in relief, feeling he was getting through to her somehow, but his expression changed when he saw the fierce look of hatred in her eyes. He could make no sense of it, it was as if he was looking at someone totally unknown. And then he saw the knife in her hand. Still the picture made no sense to him. And despite the look in her eyes that frightened him, despite the fact she had threatened Tess with a knife earlier, he could not bring himself to back away in fear, knife or no knife. It just didn't make sense. Regan held the knife close to her, not threatening him in any way, but refusing to put it down.
"Regan, calm down ok, give me the knife." He said gently, his eyes darting between her own confused expression, and her hand clutching the knife.
At that moment Kate, Jodi and Tess entered the kitchen. Somehow the feeling changed completely, Regan dropped the knife in surprise and Dave let go of her. The two stood stunned as the girls entered the kitchen.
"Is everything ok?" Jodi asked as she hesitantly inched forward safely taking the knife from its place near Dave's feet.
No one answered her. Regan shook herself free from Dave and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Jodi asked. But Regan did not answer, Dave shrugged his shoulders helplessly, wanting to follow but fearing it would make things worse.
"Jodi can you please go with her?" Dave asked.
Jodi nodded and turned to follow.
"But what about the memorial service?" Kate asked
"Stevie is dead it wont make a difference to her." Jodi answered.
Kate followed also, agreeing that helping Regan, who was alive, was far more important that a service. Alex wasn't coming anyway. Regan wasn't coming. The two most important people to Stevie and they wouldn't be there. So what point was a memorial service? Still, Kate had been looking forward to it in a bizarre way. A chance to say goodbye, to make peace, to have closure.
Tess had wanted to follow also, but Dave stopped her. And she reluctantly realised she and Dave both would probably make the situation worse.
"Regan wait." Jodi called as she ran after her cousin.
"No time." Reagn answered as she headed for her car.
"Where are you going?" Jodi asked breathless from the effort of catching up, and already afraid of the answer
"To get Stevie." Regan said as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Kate and Jodi exchanged glances, not knowing what to do. They could hardly stop her, and could not let her go alone. The only thing was to go with.
"Regan wait." Jodi called as she caught up to her cousin, with Kate trailing behind. "We'll come, take my car."
Regan nodded in agreement, pleased for once that they had stopped telling her she was crazy, stopped trying to control her movements and thoughts. Of course Jodi and Kate could come, why not? The more the merrier. Soon they would all know that she had been right. Stevie wasn't dead at all. It was all nonsense. Regan hadn't stopped to think beyond that, about Jonah, about what he was playing at, about leading Kate and Jodi straight into a part of her life she had so desperatly and diligently kept hidden. She thought only of Stevie, of seeing her finally, and putting this nightmare to an end once and for all.