“I need to get there. Now,” Matt snapped, shoving Ian away as my eldest brother tried to talk some reason into him.
“Think this through, Matt,” Ian growled back, pinning him against the wall. “You’ve been drinking. We all have.”
There had been a fair few liqueur coffees, several beers and the odd tumbler of whiskey. It was Christmas after all.
“I need to get there,” Matt screamed, wrestling against Ian fruitlessly.
“We can call you a taxi,” Karl tried to reason with him, handing Grace to Elise to keep her away from our volatile adopted brother.
“It’s Christmas Day,” Ian looked at Karl as if he was an idiot.
Karl raised an eyebrow. He didn’t like being spoken to in that way; I could tell by the tight bunching of his muscles. “Not everybody celebrates Christmas.”
“Don’t get all PC on me,” Ian teased, still pinning Matt to the wall as if the effort was nothing to him despite his violent struggle.
“Get the fuck off me, E!” Matt flailed wildly with his free limbs.
“Not until you calm down,” Ian answered calmly, unfazed by Matt’s venom.
“I need to fucking get there now, Ian! You don’t understand!”
“I understand more than you know,” Ian whispered back but it wasn’t quiet enough. I still heard him. “Let’s try a few taxi places.”
“Um, Ian,” I squeaked.
“Not now, Jelly,” Ian barked and I shrank back. This was soldier mode and no matter how much safer I felt with my brothers, I wasn’t about to trifle with soldier mode.
I sat quietly back in Jason’s arms and nibbled my lip whilst they all called every single taxi company in the city and surrounding areas.
“You okay, little squirrel?” Jason studied my face with concern.
“Yeah,” I replied sadly. This wasn’t the way things were meant to go on Christmas day. Poor Matt.
“Do you know what’s going on?” He asked me, brushing my cheek with his thumb as he cupped my face.
I shook my head sadly. “Not really. With Matt it has to be his family though. Nothing else gets him this mad.”
“Two fucking hours?” Matt screeched when Ian told him how long he would have to wait for a taxi.
“Don’t even think about it, Matt,” Ian warned him, predicting his intentions. “You are not driving.”
“Um, guys,” I spoke up.
They continued screaming so loud they couldn’t hear me. Matt swung out at Ian but he dodged it, hitting Jake in the gut by accident.
“Guys!” I screamed.
Jake didn’t like being hit for no reason so he swung back at Matt; Karl had to jump in to pull him away. Ian did the same with Matt.
“Shut up!” I bellowed as loud as I could to get their attention.
All eyes, sweaty faces, and bunched muscles turned to me.
“Thank you,” I breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m sober and Berty is ready to go.”
“Why didn’t you fucking say so?” Karl dropped his head, obviously irritated with me.
“She tried but nobody listened,” Jason jumped to my defence.
“I’ll give you a lift,” I told Matt softly.
He scowled. I knew I was the last person in the universe he’d come to for help but he had no choice. I was his only option.
The ride was possibly the most awkward I’d ever experienced. The silence was almost painful. Jason had wanted to come along but Matt was obviously struggling with something. I thought having Jason witness that might make it harder for him. I asked him to stay with the others.
“A and E,” Matt grunted as I flipped my indicators to enter the massive complex.
“Okay,” I answered softly.
He was staring blindly out of the passenger window, his jaw firmly set. The second I pulled the car into the bay, his door was open and he was running full speed into the hospital. He didn’t say anything to me.
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. At the very least I needed to pay for parking, so I did that first.
How long will we be here?
I put two hours on the car just in case. I could always top it up later. Did Matt want me to follow him? Did he want me to stay in the car? It was Matt; of course he wanted me to keep my distance. The car was too cold though. I figured I could just sit in the waiting room.
With it being Christmas day, I half expected the waiting room to be chaos but it was almost empty save for an elderly man sat in a chair, half asleep.
I could see a few people rushing around through the door which lead to the beds but it didn’t look as bad as it could have been.
I text Matt to let him know where I was and settled into the seat.
“Ms Carter,” a familiar pair of eyes met mine from across the room.
It was one of the doctors I’d met during my stay in hospital whilst I’d been recovering from my meeting with Jason’s father.
“Hi,” I smiled politely.
“What are you doing here?” He greeted me. “Not gotten yourself into trouble again I hope?”
“No,” I shook my head. “I’m waiting for my brother.”
“Craig isn’t working today,” the doctor frowned in confusion.
“Not Craig,” I chuckled. It seemed like everyone here new him. “Matt.”
“Is he hurt?” He looked at the chart in his hands. “There are no Carters on my bed list.”
I shook my head again. “Matt’s here visiting somebody. His surname is Smith,” I added in explanation. “He’s my adopted brother.
“Smith,” his face fell. “Oh.”
“What?” My heart beat quickened slightly. That was not a good reaction.
“I think your brother might need you. Come with me.”
There was no chance for me to explain that Matt wouldn’t want me there. The doctor ushered me into the nerve centre, past a number of empty beds. I could hear the crying before I could see it. I didn’t need to see who it was to know it was Matt.
“I’ll give you two a moment,” the doctor whispered to me, patting my shoulder and leaving me in front of the curtains drawn around the bed.
I took a deep breath. I didn’t want to cross a line and upset Matt but he was family and I hated hearing the noises coming from the other side of the curtain. I’d never seen or heard him cry before.
I pulled the curtain to the side carefully. There was a woman of around forty lying in the bed, her face sunken and grey, her cheekbones jutting up against her skin. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in a month. Her bright red lip stick was smeared across her face and she’d obviously been wearing mascara at some point because it still stained her skin.
Despite her battered and famished appearance, she was obviously a blood relative of Matt. They had the same dark hair and almost black eyes, only hers stared blankly at the ceiling above her head. This must have been his real sister, Stacey.
“Matt,” I whispered softly, coming to a stop a few steps away from him. “I, um..”
I didn’t really know what to say. He was hunched over her bed side, shaking and crying.
I sighed deeply, pushing past my fears to move towards him. He was known to have an unpredictable temper.
I took the seat next to him and cautiously placed a hand on his back. When he didn’t lash out or yell at me. I gently rubbed his back.
I could barely take my eyes off the women in front of me, especially not once I noticed her bandaged hands. Or rather, what was left of them.
She was distinctly fingerless.
Bile rose in my throat as the reality sank in. Somebody had cut her fingers off. I stilled as I looked from the blood stained bandages to the face of the woman in the bed. She wasn’t crying, wasn’t visibly in pain. It was like there was an empty shell of a person in front of us.
The same couldn’t be said for Matt – and I knew why.
I remembered what had happened at the club on the night of Craig’s birthday. That ape like man had said Stacey owed him money and threatened to remove her fingers if Matt didn’t pay up.
“It’s all my fault,” he whimpered, grabbing me and pulling me into an embrace.
I wanted to tell him it wasn’t. He hadn’t done this to her. He had no responsibility for this awful act of violence. But he was hugging me too tightly. I could barely breathe so I just hugged him back.
“Merry fucking Christmas,” he added bitterly, trembling with his whole body.