~Chapter 4~

~Welcome Home~

"Are you ready, honey?"

"Yes," I shoved the last of my things into my bag and turned to smile at my father. I forced the smile to stay in place when I saw what he was pushing. "I don't need that." I turned back towards the bed and grabbed my bag.

"It's protocol."

"I don't care. Last time I checked my legs aren't broken. I can walk." With the smile gone and my arms crossed over my chest, I glared at the offensive wheelchair. "I don't need it so I'm not going to use it. There are people in this hospital who actually need that to get around and I'm not one of them. I can get to the car just fine without it."

When Austin came into the room he took one look at me and sighed loudly before crossing the floor. "Give me that bag and sit in the damn wheelchair, Mackenzie."

"I'm not a kid, Austin. You can't tell what to do anymore."

"Well, you sure are acting like one right now. Besides, you're still my baby sister, so I can and always will have the right to tell you what to do. Now, sit down."

"No."

"Don't be difficult, Mack. I'll carry you out if I have to. Wouldn't that be cute? Being carried out of the hospital all because you're too stubborn for your own good? You're not walking, so take your pick. Pushed or carried?"

One look at my father's smug face told me he'd let Austin carry me out kicking and screaming, so I stomped over and plopped down. "Well?" Austin grinned and kissed my cheek before proceeding to push the wheelchair. Childishly, I reached up and wiped at my cheek.

xxx

The ride home from the hospital was quiet. I went straight up to my room when we got home claiming to take a shower. It wasn't a lie because I did intend to take a shower, but the fact that I hadn't showered since Friday after school and it was now Sunday was only a minor reason.

Somehow I had managed to avoid reflective surfaces. I had no clue what I looked like, but I took it that it wasn't good with everybody's reactions. So after an extremely hot shower, I pulled on a pair of underwear and a bra and turned to face the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door, cursing when I saw it was fogged up with steam.

I knew there was nothing wrong with me. They told me all I had was a few scrapes and bruises. When I forced my eyes open I didn't expect to see more unnatural purple and green-brown than the cream color of my skin. I didn't expect to see a scabbed over gash across my temple or the hand prints around my waist, ribs and thighs. This is what they call a few scrapes and bruises?

It was vain of me, but I didn't want to be marked up for the rest of my life. Especially by this bastard. The injury above my eye was going to scar. There was no doubt about that. I was going to have to walk around damned to forever remember that night. The worst night of my life.

I didn't even bother to finish getting dressed. I just went to my room and curled up in my bed. I didn't sleep. I just lay there, my tears silently soaking my pillowcase, cursing the fact that I let this happen. I have no right to play the weak damsel in distress because it was all my fault. I could have - should have - prevented this. Taken precautions. It was stupid to go outside alone in the state I was in. Why hadn't I stayed in the comfort of the crowded house? Being laughed at for passing out on the bathroom floor would have been the better alternative to this.

xxx

I pretended to be asleep when Austin came to call me for dinner. I pretended to be asleep when my dad brought a sandwich and sat it on my nightstand and later when he came to kiss me goodnight. Assuming it was finally an acceptable hour, I pulled on my old sweatpants and one of Austin's old shirts - the same outfit I had worn before all this happened - and fell into a fitful sleep. Glad to be able to put the day behind me. Tomorrow I would start to get over this. There was no more time for crying. That stage in my recovery was over. It was time to start moving on.

xxx

I shot upright panting and sweating. I roughly wiped my eyes with the back of my hand as I took in my surroundings. Rose colored walls, desk and bookcase on the wall next to me, dresser on the opposite wall from me, sandwich on the nightstand. I was in my bed at home with Austin right across the hall, not in the alley behind Tyler's house next to Josh's car.

It was a few hours after I had gone to bed. Midnight to be exact. I'd had the same dream as the flashback at the hospital only more vivid. I guess dreams can do that. Being unconscious has the power to make it seem like you're living it again, making you vulnerable again, only more so.

I went and washed my face before commencing to clean my entire room. Washing, scrubbing, organizing everything, leaving only the floor to be vacuumed.

I was finished in about fifteen minutes and that included dusting. I had no more than closed my eyes after crawling into bed then I was being assaulted by those piercing navy eyes. That was all I could see in my semi-unconscious state. It was like when the Cheshire cat disappeared in Alice in Wonderland and all you could see were his glowing eyes in the darkness.

I caught myself before a full scream rose in my throat, cutting off at a squeak. Just because I couldn't sleep didn't mean my dad and Austin had to suffer too. I was exhausted but sleep seemed to be an impossibility at the moment.

Sighing, I heaved myself out of bed once again and headed to take another shower. I felt dirty after everything. Physically from the sweat accumulated because of the dream and mentally because of the experience itself. I stood under the scolding spray for forty minutes before I finally started to feel some of the effects washing away. I was far from feeling clean, but it was enough to pull off the illusion.

I dressed in loose jeans and a t-shirt and put my hair in a bun before heading downstairs. As suspected the kitchen would keep me occupied for awhile. Last night's dinner dishes were piled neatly in the sink. First thing I had to do though, was start a pot of coffee if I planned on making it through the day.

I poured coffee into a cup and added a few sugars before moving to the sink.

xxx

By three o'clock I had cleaned every flat surface in the kitchen and was drinking the last cup of coffee from the pot. Picking up my mug, I went and grabbed my book out of my room and then curled up on the couch in the living room to read. I pulled the afghan off the back and wrapped it around me. I stayed like that for two and a half hours.

I stretched and stood before deciding to make breakfast. I mixed up chocolate pancakes and had the first ones done by six when my dad came down for work. He worked a lot of long hours so it was rare that we actually saw him more than just in passing. The one constant was that we always ate dinner together. If one of us couldn't make it, we always called. Last night was the first time I had ever opted out on dinner with them.

"Good morning, sweetheart." He came to where I was still flipping pancakes and kissed my forehead. "You're up early."

"Yeah, I must have gone to sleep too early last night," I lied. Really I hadn't slept much at all and there were probably dark circles under my eyes to prove it. I looked up at him innocently. He didn't look too concerned by my early morning.

"You didn't have to do the dishes, I would have gotten them today."

"I know." I handed him a plate heaping with pancakes and a banana before I went to start another pot of coffee. Chocolate chip pancakes were one of his and Austin's favorites. I poured myself a glass of orange juice, grabbed the syrup and butter and sat down across from my father.

"You're not eating?"

There was a ding from the coffee maker. Using the distraction, I got up and poured him a cup of coffee while responding. "Um, I'm going to wait until Austin gets up."

He nodded and continued eating. I watched him. He was already dressed for work. He looked different though. Somehow older than just a few days ago. He was only forty three and handsome in his own right, but there were now more lines creasing his forehead from stress and tension. Before our mother's accident his face had been practically flawless, it was a shame that it had taken such a toll on him. The accident had changed him and he blamed himself. Kind of like Austin, Tyler and Josh blame themselves for what happened to me. But it wasn't their fault. If anything they had saved me. I doubt they saw it that way though. "That was good, honey. I'd love to stay, but I've got to get to work. I didn't anticipate a big breakfast when I got up this morning so I'm running a little late." He leaned over the table and kissed my forehead after he cleaned up his dishes. "See you tonight, Mackenzie."

"Bye, Daddy." He turned and waved, but there was a sad look in his eyes when he looked at me. It made tears prick in my eyes when he left. I quickly wiped at them and stood. I grabbed that first bottle of liquor I found in the cupboard and poured it in my orange juice, filling up the glass. I sat back down and took a long hard swallow, composing myself just as Austin bounded into the kitchen in a sweatshirt and track pants. He was getting ready to go for his morning run. He stopped in the doorway and just stared at me. "There's pancakes and coffee." I looked down at the table under his scrutiny and pointed.

Austin looked in the general direction and cleared his throat. "Chocolate chip?"

"Mmhmm." I took another less obvious sip of my drink as he began loading his plate.

"Knock, knock," I heard Josh call as the front door shut again. "Your dad said I could just come in, that you were awake." He entered the room. "Oh, hey, Austin."

"And if I hadn't been awake and you hadn't seen my dad in the driveway, would that have stopped you from coming in? Would that have changed anything?" I snapped slightly and continued. "No, you would have just woke me up yourself or helped yourself to our kitchen."

Austin turned to look at me, his mouth agape but Josh just smirked. "Well, somebody's feisty this morning, aren't we?"

I mumbled an apology and Josh sat down across from me while Austin turned to continue getting his breakfast. I didn't know where that had come from. It had never bothered me before that Josh just waltzed into our house whenever he pleased. I was so lost in my thought that I didn't notice Josh had picked up my glass until he started coughing not expecting anything other than orange juice. My eyes snapped up to his face.

"Whoa," Josh said when he was done wheezing.

"What?" Austin asked as he walked to the table. My widened eyes narrowed to glare at Josh.

"Nothing. It's just really good orange juice. I drank too much and it went down wrong." I stood up and walked to the sink taking my glass with me. Looking pointedly at Josh, I downed the rest and rinsed out my cup. Then, I picked up the plate with the remaining pancakes and sat it down in front of Josh.

"You're not eating?" Austin asked.

"I already did," I lied as I sat back down. Eating was the last thing on my mind at the moment.

A few minutes passed in silence as they ate. Austin turned to me after he put his plate in the sink. "You want to run with me, Mack?" he asked quietly.

"No."

"Well, okay. I'll see you later then, I guess. Thanks for breakfast." He kissed my cheek and left the house.

I started as soon as the door shut behind him. "What the hell was that, Josh?"

"What? How was I supposed to know you fucking spiked your orange juice? You could have warned me. Who drinks this early anyway? You hardly drink period let alone at seven in the morning, Kenz." He finished quietly

"On my own, Josh. I need to do this on my own. I don't need your help. Or anybody else's. I don't need everybody looking at me like I'm on the verge of a breakdown. I'm still Mackenzie whether you like it or not." That was the last thing I said to Josh before I left. I know it was harsh and mean, but it gave me a getaway, an opening to leave. I knew Josh would give me space after that and wouldn't try to follow me. I needed time to get myself under control. Then I would apologize to him.

AN: Okay, so not much I really have to say. I did post an update on my profile concerning I Love You, Baby. Oh, and I have my one-shot posted too, so if you're reading this you should read that. I'm actually very pleased at how that turned out.

Reviews? What did you think?

xoxo,

Ashley *AmandaHold*