20:00 27th February 2013 Dingle District Hospital, Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland
"She made me go round for my tea once a month. She was a force to be reckoned with was your nana".
Aaron smiled. His father had never spoken much about his mother, neither had his granddad. Now he knew why – it was her that brought his mother to live in the house with them. He wondered why his mum had agreed to live with people she barely knew. He could vaguely remember his nana, she had a big smile and was always giving him chocolate buttons.
"She wasn't perfect. Not by a long stretch" Cain continued talking, "she could be a bit of a bully. But one of them clever ones, that made you think you wanted to do what they wanted. She talked your mum and dad into getting married, even though they didn't even like each other much, never mind love each other. Recipe for disaster that, sixteen year old marrying a nineteen year old. Great party though – Shadrach and Zak both got so drunk they fell into the fountain at the front of the hotel."
"Is there a point to this?" Aaron asked, wondering where Cain's ramblings were taking them. His sister was fast asleep in his arms and it felt so comfortable. Chas was still unmoving on the bed, monitors beeping regularly, the ventilator hissing as it pumped air in and out of her lungs.
"Not really, just telling you why Evie was important to your mum. She looked after you while Chas went to school, got her exams, all that stuff that me and you never bothered with, it was so important to your mam. She were a proper little geek when she was younger. It wasn't until after your nana died that everything went wrong."
"How d'you mean?"
"Well, your granddad was a nasty piece of work. Without Evie around to bully him into keeping quiet about you and your mum, he'd constantly have a go at Chas, make comments about her being a bad mother, and constantly push her buttons. And you know your mum, she'd lose her temper and have a go back, then Gordon'd stick his neb in and everything would kick off. Chas hated it. Said if she wanted to live in a warzone, she might as well move back in with Shadrach. Your dad told her if she left with you, neither of you would get a penny, but if she left you with him, he'd make sure you were looked after. She was seventeen, she had no choice."
"Why are you telling me this?" Aaron asked, "you're supposed to hate her, why are you trying to convince me she left me with my dad for the right reasons?"
"Dunno" Cain replied, rubbing his face tiredly. He couldn't control his emotions anymore, one minute he was seething with anger, the next he was worried sick his sister was never going to wake up.
Aaron could see Cain was struggling. He'd never seen him so shaky before.
"Why have you done this?" he asked his uncle.
"Done what?" Cain replied.
"Chased her, harassed her, obsessed over finding her. You could have just written her off when you found out about the affair – out of sight, out of mind. She'd pretty much banished herself. But you had to hunt her down. Why?"
Cain looked up at Aaron, "couldn't let her get away with it" he said bluntly.
Aaron shook his head, "nah, try again".
Cain frowned, "get lost".
Aaron stood up with Evie, "tell you what. Why don't you tell my mam? Only time you'll ever get to say what you want to her without her answering back. I'm going to take Evie back to wherever you got her from".
Cain was left alone to sulk as Aaron went to find a nurse.
He edged closer to Chas, looked at the hand Aaron had been holding, the bruised arms, the tubes and wires attached to her. He remembered waking up in hospital after his attack, how scared he was, how strange everything seemed. And she'd been there, with Aaron, and Debbie and Cameron. And they'd all supported him, taken his side against Charity, even though he'd been a nightmare to live with those previous months. They'd believed him when he'd lied to them about it being Jai that had attacked him. Chas even let rip at Charity when she'd admitted she'd left Cain for dead at the side of the road, Aaron had to drag her off her.
And then when he'd been forced to back down and admit he'd lied about Jai, Chas had just accepted it, no mithering about who it really was like with Aaron and Debbie, she'd just shrugged her shoulders and apologised to Jai and got on with organising Charity's wedding. Because she knew him inside out. She knew if she pushed him to talk he'd tell her to bog off. She knew that if he wanted to tell her, he would have told her. She knew that he was lying about men from Spain getting him, but she let it lie, happy for the drama to be over.
A nurse came in and took some readings, wrote things in a chart and adjusted some of the machines.
"She okay?" Cain asked, "she's still a bit blue. The doctor said that would stop"
The nurse smiled warmly, "she's stable" she told him, a lighter lilt to her accent than the other medical staff, "I've increased her oxygen a tad and I'll keep an eye on her. Sure, she'll probably like it if you had a talk to her. Hold her hand, it'll make her feel better".
She left and Cain looked at Chas. He doubted he could make her feel better at the moment.
He took her hand anyway. It was like ice. He saw the little white scar on her knuckle where she'd split it on Jarrod Finnegan's chin over twenty years ago. He traced the darker scar that ran down her palm and around her wrist from when she'd put it through a window when she was ten. She usually covered it with her watch. He let his fingers trace hers, seeing that two of them were still much smaller than the rest. He wondered if she still sucked them in her sleep?
"I don't know what to say" he said softly by her ear, "there's nothing I can say to make this right. I'm still so angry with you, I don't get how you could betray us like that. Anyone else, I could believe it, but you…that's what makes it hurt the most. You were the only one I thought I could trust, and you do something like this to my daughter? To a girl you've pretty much treated as your own daughter? When Sarah was dying and she needed all of us.
"I get it now, why you ran. I knew you were never a coward. I see you had your reasons for running, you were protecting your kid, like I was doing with mine. If you only knew how much this has broken Debbie, how haunted she is by the knowledge of what you've done to her, you'd know why I couldn't let this lie. She should be enjoying time with her new son, celebrating the fact Sarah's on the mend, but all she does is mope around the place, crying all the time.
"I don't think I'm really encouraging you to wake up am I?" he said with a small laugh, "I needed to say all that, and I feel better that I have, even if you probably can't hear me. And while I'm at it, I'll admit I've missed you. Everyone's missing you. They'll not dare say it out loud, but I can tell. I think that's what makes the hate burn longer, because I know what a massive hole you've left behind, what hurt you've caused by taking yourself away from us all. I don't know if things can ever be the same again, but you've got other priorities now. So you've got to wake up and be the mother you've always wanted to be".