Huge thanks for all the reviews so far, they genuinely mean a lot. So here's the final part, and I just hope I did it some kind of justice.
It was almost becoming comical now. Every time she glanced through the office window to the workers outside, she'd momentarily catch Hayley staring at her: Their eyes would meet for a fragment of a second, before her head would turn away so quickly that Carla wondered how she didn't pull a muscle in her neck. She was torn between the urge to howl with laughter and the equally strong urge to hide under her desk and refuse to come out until they'd all gone home. Why did she have to tell her? She'd kept it a secret for the past year, it hadn't even been mentioned at the trial; something she'd almost prepared herself for. It was in the past, gone, forgotten by all except Carla herself, and yet for some stupid reason she'd felt the need to blab to an employee of all people.
Michelle looked up from her computer screen, aware of Carla's constant tapping over her pen against the table. "You alright?".
Carla smiled to suggest she was, throwing the pen to one side. "Y'know when you tell someone something and then wish you hadn't?"
"Story of my life. Anyone in particular?" She tried to sound casual but knew she was probably failing. She knew better than to challenge her former sister-in-law and best friend, or to push her into talking about things she'd made clear were off limits, but the vacant expression she'd spent the day walking round with had worried her. She'd been miles away all day, and feared that the Carla was heading for trouble. She couldn't help but worry about the last time her friend had felt alone and with no one to turn to.
"Hayley" she sighed. "She's been starring at me ever since, thinks I haven't noticed".
Michelle leaned closer over her desk. "Why, what did you tell her?"
Carla put her head in her hands, screwing her face up as though she were ashamed of the words about to come out of her mouth. "I told her about… y'know, the overdose." She practically squirmed "I don't why, it was stupid and… well know she keeps watching me like I'm about to do it again or something. They were all whispering behind my back in the pub at dinner y'know, I bet she's told them." She spoke quickly, in a low tone as though they were being watched.
"Hayley wouldn't do that" Michelle reasoned.
"Not deliberately maybe, but she can't lie to save her life. The tiniest bit of pressure an' she'll 'ave buckled, I'd put money on it."
"Ok," the other woman replied, more firmly now. "I'm sure you're just being paranoid, but even if she has said something then so what? Like you keep saying it was a year ago and anyway, surely if anything they should admire you?"
"For what, being a coward? For letting that scum win and giving them all what they want?"
"Yeah, but he didn't win did he, that's the point". She hated seeing her like this, and it killed her to even think about what the poor woman had gone through in those days, weeks when she'd wished a thousand times she could've been there. "He's gone, and you're still here. You won".
Carla smiled to herself in mock amusement. "Yeah well, it doesn't feel like that sometimes".
"Yeah well sorry again Susan, we'll have the correct order to you within the hour, I promise..." Rob spun a pen round on the table before motioning to Carla through the window to come get into the office, sharpish. "Alright… yeah, bye." He slammed the phone down onto the cradle as Carla entered the room. He stood up, looking his sister up and down as he did so. "That was Susan Barnes on the phone, wondering why she was presented with 10 boxes of silk Y-fronts this morning".
Carla frowned, "What? But I…" she paused, biting her lip and starring at the floor like a child before the headmaster. "I must've signed off the wrong order…"
Rob took a step closer to his sister, tilting his head to one side and lowering his body so that their eyes met. "School boy error, Carla. Since when you did you make mistakes like that?"
She shuffled her feet, taking several steps back towards the door. "I'm sorry I'll… I'll sort it straight away". There was a faint tremor to her voice that worried Rob.
"No it's fine I'll sort it. Look Carla you've been in a funny mood all day, are you alright?"
"I'm fine." She replied without skipping a beat. "I'll um.. I'll go and find out where that other order's got to…"
Michelle walked in just as Carla scuttled out, eyes fixed to the floor, shoulders scrunched inwards. Rob had never seen his sister in such a state.
"She ok?" He asked Michelle as she placed two mugs on the desk.
"Yeah just…" She turned to face him, checking that Carla wasn't watching them. "Just go easy on her today, ok?"
"Am I missing something?"
"No look it's nothing important, honestly She's just having a bad day".
Rob looked unconvinced. There'd been an odd atmosphere that he couldn't quite place all day. "You sure?"
"Yeah. Yeah just… things are tough with Peter and Simon at the moment, y'know?" She lied. She felt guilty dragging Peter into it, but figured he probably wouldn't mind today of all days, and anyway, it wasn't entirely unture.
"Alright, well… If you change your mind…"
"Yeah," Michelle smiled. "Now come on, let's get this order out before Susan Barnes throws another hissy fit!"
Carla hesitated slightly before turning the key in the front door, mentally preparing herself for the reception she was undoubtedly about to get. 'He'll either be overly caring and overbearing, or it's all got too much for him and he's hit the bottle', she thought. As she twisted the key and pushed open the door, she realized she wasn't sure which one she'd prefer.
To her partial surprise, she was greeted at the top of the stairs by a flat tidier than she'd seen it in months - even the smell of rancid cigarette smoke had mostly been banished from the air. Peter, who had been stretched across the sofa, flicking through the sports section of the local paper, turned suddenly as he heard the door click shut, quickly jumping to his feet as though he'd been caught skiving. "Hiya, love". He smiled, walking over to give her a hug.
Carla accepted the hug, but didn't appear to reciprocate, pulling away again quickly and placing her bag down on the chair nearest the door. "Wow , this is um… tidy" she commented, scanning the room.
"Yeah, well, Si's at Leanne's so I thought I'd use the time productively". It was a blatant lie, one that she could see straight through, yet she was at the same time at least slightly flattered by his attempts, and relieved he wasn't curled up over a bottle of vodka. "How was work?" He continued, still not having let go of her hand.
"Oh, y'know, everyone was weird wi' me and I couldn't get out there quick enough, but other that yeah, I survived".
"Good. Well I wasn't sure if you'd want to eat anything or not, so I've not got much in but we could always go out or I could cook something if you'd prefer, I mean-" She cut him off.
"Peter look," she started, perching on the back of the sofa "You really don't have to treat me I'm some kind of porcelain doll. I'm not gonna smash into pieces you know."
He smiled. "Ok, I'm sorry. I just worry about you, you know?"
"I know," Carla smiled, taking his hands. "And I'm grateful, really I am. You know, it's you that's got me through this past year and I honestly don't know what I'd have done without you. But… I'm just trying to forget about it, you know? Act normal."
"I can do normal". He kisses her gently on the forehead, stroking her shoulders.
"Right… I'm go gonna and get changed, then we can talk about dinner" She smiled.
As soon as she noticed the time she wished she hadn't. It was now, exactly a year ago. A year since he'd pinned her to the door, a look of pure evil in his eyes. A year since he'd thrown her to the floor, baring over her, breathing down her neck and holding her wrists so tight he'd left bruises for weeks.
She felt her breath tighten, her skin go clammy. Her hands shook.
A year since he'd laughed, called her a lying, cheating whore, his face inches from hers, grabbing at her clothing and violently tearing at her skirt.
Peter turned, suddenly aware of both his girlfriend's current state and then, seconds later, the time. He hushed her in a faint whisper, gently squeezing her hand to show he was there and that it was ok.
A year since she'd cried out, begging him to stop until he'd slammed his hands over her mouth so tightly she could barely breathe. A year since she'd sobbed as he'd pulled her legs apart, her hips slamming against the cold, hard floor as she shut her eyes and tried desperately to block out what was happening to her.
Carla wasn't even aware she was crying until she felt Peter's thumb against her cheek, wiping her tears and trying to talk her out of her trance. She felt stupid, but powerless to stop herself, images of that night replaying over in her head, menacing and violent, Frank's voice echoing so loudly around her head she thought she may be deafened.
"Carla listen to me. You're safe, he can't hurt you now…" Peter whispered, scared of how to be in case he triggered another flashback. Her eyes remained fixed across the room, sheer fear as her whole body trembled. Finally he couldn't bare to do anything else but hold her tightly in his arms. To his relief she didn't push him away; didn't jolt or scream. Her whole body was stiff, paralyzed with fear until eventually she started to cling to him, her sobs causing her body to jolt, her heart racing against his body. "It's ok…" He repeated, feeling completely helpless to stop the trauma in her mind.
"But he… I…" Her words were drowned out by choked sobs as he clung to him.
"Shh, he's gone…" He assured her, fighting back tears of his own. How could he have ever allowed this to happen to her? He would never forgive himself for walking away from her that day, never.
They must have fallen asleep there on the sofa, as when he woke, they were lying there in the dark, Carla still clutching his shoulders in her sleep, her head rested against his chest. Peaceful, finally. Her body was relaxed, warm and safe.
He knew they should move from here, but he daren't risk waking her, and besides, she needed as much rest as she could get. He shuffled slightly upright in the chair, causing Carla to murmur slightly as she snuggled back down.
He would never be able to rid her of her demons, could never undo to horrors of that night, but what he could do was protect her now and, as they lay there in the silence of the room, the only light a small flickering from the tv still in standby mode, he made a vow to himself he would never let another living soul hurt her again.
"Night, Carla" he whispered, his fingers slowly stroking her hair as he too began to drift back off to sleep.