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Happily Never After

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Happily Never After

Chapter One

March 2015

“Riley! C’mon baby get up and get dressed. Mum’s gotta drop you off at Charlie’s before work,” Joey yelled from the kitchen. After getting no response, Joey shook her head and headed upstairs to Riley’s room. Standing in the doorway, Joey watched quietly as her son sat on his bed putting his shoes on. Joey smiled happily when he looked up at her, “Hey Ry you almost ready kiddo?” Riley nodded his head up and down, and jumped off the bed. Grabbing his bag, Riley placed his favourite toys in it, then walked over to Joey. Joey grinned at him, and ruffled his dark brown hair, looking into his bright blue eyes, “You okay baby boy?” Riley grinned back at her, his smile matching his mother’s, then said innocently, “Can’t wait to see Mama C today. Do you think she’ll let me have ice cream for lunch Mama J?”

“Oh so is that why you love spending time with Mama C Ry? Might have to speak to her about giving you favours like ice cream for lunch,” Joey giggled. Riley scrunched up his face, and grumbled, “No she never gives me ice cream because she says she’ll get a lecture from you.” “That’s more like it. Now you all packed for your weekend away?” Joey asked as she bent down next to Riley. Riley nodded again, his smile fading, “Yes Mum. Do you really have to work this weekend? Can’t we both visit Mama C and spend the weekend together as a family?” Joey sighed and stroked her hand against Riley’s face, “Baby we talked about this. Charlie wants to spend time with you, and I gotta help Aden on the trawler this weekend ‘cause Geoff’s away. But I promise we’ll spend some time together as a family soon okay?” Riley frowned slowly, “Okay...does this mean you and Mama C won’t get into another fight?”

Joey’s smile instantly dropped, “I’m sorry you’ve had to put up with that baby boy, but we’re getting along better nowadays. No more fights...recently, I promise.” Riley lent forward, hugging Joey, whispering, “That’s what you said last time before you started arguing over you going back to work more often.” Joey hugged Riley tighter, “I know Ry, we’re trying.” Riley nodded, letting go of Joey, “But next Friday we’ll spend together right?” “Absolutely Ry, we wouldn’t miss that for the world. C’mon let’s get going or Mum’s gonna be late for work,” Joey reminded him. Riley walked down the stairs with Joey following him after closing his bedroom door.

At the bottom of the stairs, Riley was greeted by Aden who just walked into the apartment after going for a run down at the beach. “Riley Collins my man!” Aden greeted cheerfully, then bending down to pick Riley up, he teased, “Woah Ry did you grow a foot and a half overnight?” Riley laughed, shaking his head. “You sure boy ‘cause you look taller to me. Does he look taller to you Jo?” Aden grinned at Joey. “Hmm I think you may be right Aid,” Joey chuckled. Riley shook his head again. Aden put Riley back down, “Well your Mum agrees with me Ry. How old are you now?” Riley held up three fingers on his right hand, “I’m three years old Uncle Aden, and I’ll be four next Friday.” “Three going on four huh...yeah right more like three going on fourteen the way you’re growing kiddo,” Aden laughed as he high-fived Riley’s hand.

Riley grinned up at Joey as she walked past him to the kitchen, “We’ll be leaving in a sec Riley. Don’t you go running back to your room, sit down on the couch and watch some TV.” “Okay Mum,” Riley sighed lightly. Aden followed Joey into the kitchen, as she poured them both a coffee, “So gonna go see Charlie this morning huh?” “Just to drop Riley off for the weekend, then I’ll catch up with you at the trawler shortly,” Joey dismissed, “Good thing I’m not the only one running late here.” “Mmm hmm,” Aden grunted, “You know if you two want to spend some time with your son I don’t mind working on my own this weekend.”

“And let no work get done, I doubt it. Can’t exactly afford to take time off right now can we?” Joey pointed out. “You’re the boss, boss,” Aden agreed. Joey looked up at him, “Not anymore I’m not. You’re equal partner with me on the trawler now, you know that.” “What can I say? Still can’t believe we both own the trawler now and run our own business. Its great having you be more of the business partner, but I’ve missed having you out there on the sea on the day to day basis. Geoff’s kinda okay at the job but he’s no you. You know as equal partner I could always insist we have the weekend off,” Aden replied.

Joey rolled her eyes, “Quit it already.” “Quit what Jo?” Aden asked innocently. “Quit trying to make me spend time with Charlie,” Joey groaned. Aden wrapped his arm around Joey’s shoulder, “C’mon isn’t that what you really want?” Joey took a sip of her coffee, wincing as she burnt her tongue on the hot liquid, “Aid...you know Charlie and I have tried to sort out our differences, and it hasn’t worked. We just...don’t fit together anymore you know that.” “Is this how you pictured your life together Jo?” Aden questioned thoughtfully. Joey shrugged, “You mean when I moved back to Summer Bay, forgave Charlie, got back together with her, then later married her, and had Riley together...yeah I was completely picturing my life with Charlie turning out like this. Or more specifically my life without Charlie now.”

“Don’t be like that Jo, you know you and Charlie are just going through a hard time but you’ll work through it all. Maybe you just need a little time away,” Aden insisted supportively. “Aid you’ve been saying that for the past year now and nothing has changed. Charlie’s still as selfish as ever, I honestly can’t even believe she’s the same person I fell in love with all those years back,” Joey said miserably. “You’ve only been officially separated for six months now, give it some time, things are bound to settle down between you. Especially since you and Ry are living here, Charlie’s bound to be missing you both like never before,” Aden said. “Please I doubt Charlie even notices us gone, she’s too caught up in her job which is another reason she hates me right now. Did I tell you about our last argument the other day?” Joey demanded.

Aden shook his head, so Joey continued, “Apparently it’s all my fault that she had to turn down all these big promotions for work in the City so she could stay here in Summer Bay for me and Ry. Of course at the time she never told me she was ever offered these promotions and gave us a chance to decide if moving to the City was a good opportunity for our family, so yeah it’s all my fault that she’s stuck here and...she will probably take off the moment she’s offered another position so what’s the point of trying to fix things?” “Joey, as my bestest bud in the world, you need to stop letting these petty little fights get in between what you and Charlie share. You guys were amazing together, and I get it okay, you’re now parents to a little three-year-old ‘monster’ of a son. Most parents stress out and fight over petty things at this stage. You just got to work through it together. Don’t you want Riley to have both his parents together?” Aden asked lightly.

“Way to use the guilt-trip Aid,” Joey complained, “Of course I wish things could work out for Riley’s sake. But I’m not going to stick around in an unhappy marriage for the sake of my son. Deep down he deserves both his parents to be happy, not bordering on depression. So whether we’re together or separated as long as we’re happy that is what’s best for Riley. Now can we change the subject anytime soon or are you gonna keep hassling me about Charlie?” Aden shrugged, “Fine I’ll leave it alone...for now.” “Thank you,” Joey grinned, “Hey where’s Nic? I didn’t see her this morning.” “Nicole has actually decided to join Geoff and Ruby on their little road trip to the City to visit Annie so she’s gone over to Geoff’s early to sort out some food supplies for their trip and she’ll be gone a couple days,” Aden informed her.

“Missing her already are we?” Joey grinned cheekily. “Just a little...okay a lot, I miss her a lot,” Aden confessed. “You and Nicole are so cute together, I’m glad things are working out for you two, you deserve some happiness too,” Joey told him, then frowned, “Are you sure Nic’s still okay with Riley and me living here with you guys?” “Joey calm down, Nic loves having you two here, you know that. ‘Sides you’ve been here six months now, we’re used to it. We’re all just one big dysfunctional family now,” Aden reminded her, “Okay but I do admit that Nicole is a little worried that having Riley around means I’m gonna start getting clucky for kids of our own. Isn’t that meant to be the girl that get’s clucky?”

“C’mon you want kids Aid. You are great with Riley, he needs a father figure in his life. Okay so Nicole’s not ready for kids just yet, but it won’t hurt her to know that you’ll be ready whenever she is,” Joey insisted. “Yeah I guess, maybe we’ll talk about it when she gets back here. But in the meantime, helping you look after my God-son is pretty much a full-time job on top of my full-time job. Speaking of which we should get going if we want to catch some nice fish this morning,” Aden decided. “Good idea. I’ll meet you down at the trawler in fifteen minutes after I drop Riley off at Charlie’s,” Joey told him. “Sweet, fifteen minutes gives me just enough time for a shower, to get changed, pick up some proper coffees for us at the Diner, and walk down to the wharf,” Aden grinned. “You know it’s not fair it doesn’t take you guys long to get ready,” Joey whinged, “I’ll catch ya down there.”

Joey placed her coffee mug in the sink, and walked back out to the living room. Riley looked up at her, “We going now Mama J?” When Joey nodded yes and picked up her handbag, Riley grabbed the TV remote and turned the TV off, before jumping off the couch. Making his way over to Joey, Riley grabbed hold of his mother’s hand, “Do you know what Mama C has planned for us this weekend Mum?” “Not sure baby boy but I’m sure it’ll be fun and you won’t want to come back here Monday,” Joey laughed. “I never want to come back here,” Riley whispered, “I mean I love Uncle Aden, and Nic’s great fun but...”

“You want us to move back into our house with Charlie and Ruby and be a family again?” Joey concluded, “I wish we could always get what we want Ry. You know that Charlie and I are really trying to work through things for you but it’s gonna take some time. I just...I don’t want you to...get your hopes up if things don’t work out okay?” Riley nodded shyly, “I know Mum. I just miss us being a proper family.” “Yeah I know,” Joey replied softly, “C’mon Ry let’s go see your Mum. I’m sure she can’t wait to spend this extra weekend with you. And I know you especially hate the fact that you only get to spend every second weekend and a night or two during the week with Charlie but we both agreed that it’s what’s best for you.” Riley loosened his grip on Joey’s hand, “I understand Mum. I hate that I can’t always be with both of you but if it’s the only way for us to be a family again...guess it’s for the best.” Joey opened the front door, “C’mon kiddo let’s go get you to Charlie’s.” Joey gripped his hand tighter, and led him out the front door.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Two

Ruby walked into the kitchen, struggling to keep her eyes open, regretting her decision to get up early and travel to the City with Geoff and Nicole to see Annie. Entering the room, she opened her eyes enough to find her mother Charlie standing at the counter making a cup of coffee. Ruby stood there silently, watching Charlie move about the kitchen freely. It still amazed her that it had been nearly six years since she found out the truth that Charlie was her mother not her sister as she was raised to believe. It had taken a long time to regain Charlie’s trust, but eventually their relationship had stabled and they had pretty much continued on in the sisterly fashion they always had. Maybe because it was just easier that way, then to get used to the mother-daughter relationship they should have had.

“Morning Charlz,” Ruby greeted her warmly. Charlie made no effort to respond or acknowledge Ruby’s presence. “You okay Charlie?” Ruby asked a little louder. Charlie jumped at the sudden noise, “What? Huh?” “Little jumpy there Charlz, everything alright?” Ruby questioned again. Charlie flicked some strands of hair behind her ear, as she poured herself a cup of coffee, “Yeah I’m fine. Sorry I was just busy...thinking.” “Well that’s something new,” Ruby teased as she grabbed the kettle and made her own coffee. “Guess I walked right into that one,” Charlie shrugged. “So tell me...Mum,” Ruby said, her tone serious, “What were you thinking about?” Charlie finally turned around to face Ruby, “Just things...life.”

Ruby rolled her eyes, “Geez vague much? So does any of that thinking include Joey?” Charlie placed her cup back on the bench, and gave Ruby a questioning look. “What? C’mon I just want to know what’s going on with you two,” Ruby demanded. “What’s going on Rubes, are you serious?” Charlie sighed, “The usual Rubes. She argues with me, I argue with her.” “When are you two gonna sort out your pathetic issues and get back together?” Ruby asked lightly. Charlie frowned, “I wish I knew but with Jo and me...it’s never been simple. We’ve always had our problems lying beneath the surface even when we were at our best and didn’t want to believe it.” “You don’t seriously believe that do you?” Ruby groaned, “Charlie the only time I’ve ever seen you happy is when you’re with Joey and Riley. Why can’t you just admit that you were wrong when you blamed all your problems on Joey?”

“I never blamed Joey for anything...not really. I blame myself Rubes but...it’s not that simple to fix things,” Charlie said miserably, “I know we had some serious problems, stupid arguments all the time, and I’m to blame for most of them since I was working all the time. I was stressed out, too tired from working 70 plus hour weeks, I was never home so Joey has had to practically deal with raising Riley on her own, when she didn’t turn to Aden for help raising him that is...especially when Riley had begun the ‘terrible-two’s’ stage in style, Joey and I just weren’t connecting as a couple anymore...I get it okay, I messed up two of the most important things of my life...but I wasn’t the one that walked out on us.”

Ruby placed her hand on top of Charlie’s to comfort her, “Can you honestly blame Joey for walking out on you...when you didn’t even try to stop her?” Charlie wiped a tear from her eye, “No. I just...don’t know what she wants from me anymore. Everything I do nowadays is wrong.” Ruby pulled Charlie into a quick hug, “Maybe it’s time you changed that. Charlie do you want Joey back?”

Charlie looked away, fiddling with the ring on her left hand, then joked lightly, “I’m not just wearing my wedding ring because it’s an easy way to ward off guys when I want to get drunk down at Noah’s bar you know?” Ruby smiled, “Yeah I had actually noticed you hadn’t taken it off yet. I was waiting for you to say something about it.”

“Then I guess you also noticed that Joey’s not wearing hers anymore,” Charlie replied softly, “Maybe it’s just a ring...but it’s been missing from her hand pretty much since the day she left. So yeah maybe I should be taking mine off too but I don’t really feel like I’ve lost her yet so...” “You haven’t lost her Charlie...she’s just not here with us like she belongs. I know it’ll take some time to get past all this...but if you don’t try you might really lose her Charlz. I know that’s not want you want,” Ruby supported.

“I’ll think it over,” Charlie insisted. “Okay good, well hate to love you and leave you but I gotta go,” Ruby remarked. “Go where?” Charlie asked confused. “Get my stuff together, Geoff and Nic should be here soon to pick me up. We’re heading to the City to catch up with Annie remember...I told you last night,” Ruby reminded her. Charlie looked at Ruby blankly. Ruby rolled her eyes, “You know sometimes I think you’ve got the memory of a goldfish. Good thing it’s not a trait I inherited from you...Mum.” Charlie nodded slowly, a small smile creeping across her face.

It was still a little weird for her having everyone know Ruby was her daughter, but Ruby seemed to be accepting it better every day. Most days they still bantered like siblings, but every now and then Ruby would call her ‘Mum’ – most times to tease Charlie or make her feel old – and things seemed like they couldn’t get better for the pair. “Yeah probably a good thing,” Charlie said distantly. “Okay well try not to get in any trouble while I’m gone,” Ruby teased to lighten the mood and try to lure Charlie out of her mood. Charlie looked up at her, “Isn’t it my job to say that?” “Probably but have a good time anyway,” Ruby shrugged as she turned around to go back to her room, but suddenly paused and turned back around to look at Charlie.

“Everything okay Rubes?” Charlie asked her quickly. “What? Yeah no fine...” Ruby responded softly, then scrunching up her face slightly puzzled, “Why do I feel like something’s wrong here...like you’re forgetting something?” Charlie cocked her eyebrow, “How can you possibly feel like I’m forgetting something? And what exactly do you think I’ve forgotten?” Before Ruby could respond, Riley came bounding into the kitchen through the open back door, running straight over to Charlie, yelling, “Mum did you miss me?” Charlie placed her mug down on the bench, and reached down to scoop Riley up into her arms. “Of course, I missed you baby boy,” Charlie grinned happily, “What are you doing here?”

The moment those words were out of Charlie’s mouth, Ruby closed her eyes briefly, fearing what was about to happen, and groaned, “Oh no!” Joey strolled through the open door, not bothering to notice Charlie’s surprised expression, or Ruby shaking her head in disappointment at her own mother’s forgetfulness, as she started rambling. “Charlie, I’ve packed everything Riley needs in his backpack, I’ll be out of call range ‘til Monday morning so please try not to have an emergency. I trust you can look after him. I’ll be back to pick up Riley early Monday. That okay with...you...?” Joey finally looked up at Charlie holding their son, “...You’re in your uniform? Why are you in your uniform Charlie!?”

Charlie automatically looked down at her attire, her police uniform. Grimacing, she placed her free hand against her forehead, trying to prepare herself for Joey’s attack...the way she’s been used to for the past year. Removing her hand from her forehead, she half-smiled at Riley, “Ry do you wanta go play in your room for a little? I’ll be in to see you in a moment.” Riley nodded excitedly, “Okay Mama C.” Charlie lent down, standing Riley on the floor, and the moment his feet touched the ground he raced off to his room at Charlie’s place. Ruby continued to stand in the kitchen entryway, conflicted on whether she should stay or leave, as she knew watching Charlie and Joey’s inevitable argument was like a train crash. You can’t walk away, when it’s easier to stay there and watch the fallout, but she would try and help diffuse the situation anyway.

“Joey I...” Charlie stumbled as she stood back up. Joey shook her head, “Don’t even bother apologizing Charlie. You forgot...that’s all there is to it. You’re unbelievably selfish.” “I know you don’t want an apology but what else can I say Joey? I got a call this morning to come in because we’re really busy and understaffed and I just...” Charlie trailed off guiltily. “You forgot that I had told you weeks ago – and reminded you a few days ago no less – that Geoff was away and I needed to help Aden out on the trawler for the weekend because we’re having a great season compared to last year and we can’t afford too many days off, so I was doing you a favour by giving you an extra weekend with your son. You forgot about your own son Charlie,” Joey accused.

“It wasn’t like that Joey, it just...slipped my mind,” Charlie replied lamely. “Glad to see where your priorities really lie,” Joey said sadly. Ruby took a step forward, “Look it’s my fault too. I only just remembered when Riley came bounding through the door.” “Ruby unless you’re the one that I specifically told twice and who agreed on both times that this wouldn’t be a problem...you don’t have anything to be sorry for,” Joey told her politely, before turning back to Charlie, “So are you gonna call the station and tell them you can’t come in now?” Charlie swallowed hard, “I can’t just do that Jo. We’re understaffed and unless I want to spend the next week or two working 24/7 to make up for it, never getting a chance to come home or see Riley then...my job’s important to me okay.”

Joey nodded, “Seems like it’s the only thing important to you. So what now once again I have to put aside my job for yours?” “Joey my job is unpredictable, you should know that by now,” Charlie claimed. “Yeah that seems to be one of our problems,” Joey shrugged. “I can’t get out of this shift today and...I’ll probably be needed tomorrow so...can you please just stay home this weekend and I’ll try and make sure I get next weekend off?” Charlie asked quietly. “And how does this help me now Charlie? I only need to work on the trawler because Geoff’s away this weekend, and now it looks like I’m the one that has to stay home to take care of our son because you’re flaking on us again,” Joey stated rudely.

“I don’t want to do this Joey but I don’t have a choice with my job right now,” Charlie explained. “Never change, do you?” Joey muttered under her breath, then louder, “Don’t even think I’m going to be the one to explain this to Riley. You wanna bail on Riley for the weekend...break his heart yourself.” “Look guys,” Ruby interrupted, “Charlie go to work, Joey you do the same. I’ll stay home this weekend and take care of Riley.” “Ruby you don’t need to do--” Charlie tried to tell her, but Ruby interrupted again, “I can go see Annie anytime. Besides I love spending time with my little brother.”

“You sure about this Rubes?” Joey asked. “If it’ll stop you two fighting...I’ll do anything. I’ll just go call Geoff, tell him not to bother coming to pick me up. Charlie just...try and make it home early tonight so you can at least spend some time with him. I’ll let you tell Riley you need to go to work today. See you Monday Jo,” Ruby waved at Joey as she left the pair alone. Charlie picked up her coffee mug again, taking a sip, “I’m sorry I screwed up again Joey.” “Not like I don’t expect it to happen anymore,” Joey snapped, before shaking her head, “Forget it, I gotta go.” Joey turned to leave.

“Jo wait,” Charlie begged, “Can’t we just take a moment to talk about this?” Joey refused to turn around, “What’s the point Charlie? Doesn’t change anything. You haven’t changed, and I’m tired of expecting you to. Next time I need some help raising our son I’ll go to the other people I can count on.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Charlie demanded. “Doesn’t matter, I don’t have time for this. I’ll see you Monday morning,” Joey said shaking her head. “Okay,” Charlie sighed heavily, “Can you pick him up by 9 am?” “Don’t worry...you can count on me,” Joey stated, getting a little dig in before exiting the house. Charlie ran her hand through her hair roughly, staring at the vacant spot in front of her, “You used to say you could always count on me. Guess you can’t anymore.”

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Three

Monday morning came around quickly, and Charlie was seated at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in front of her, reading the newspaper. Riley was next to her, playing around with his cereal, but not really eating any of it. “You feeling okay baby boy?” Charlie asked him concerned. “I guess, just not really hungry today Mum,” he replied. Charlie closed the newspaper, “You sure you’re okay? Ruby said you didn’t eat much last night either.” Riley shrugged his shoulders, “Ruby’s a terrible cook, you know that.” Charlie let out a small laugh, “Yeah I guess she is. I’m sorry I couldn’t spend much time with you this weekend.” Riley looked away, “You had to work, I know your work is important.” Charlie lent forward, “Not as important as you Ry. I know it sucks that I couldn’t hang out with you, but I’ll make it up to you soon. All this extra work I’ve been doing just means I’ll get more time off. That’s good isn’t it?”

“I guess. How long until you can take this time off?” Riley asked still disappointed. Charlie sighed, “Probably a few weeks...maybe months. I’ve got two staff on holidays at the moment ‘til the end of the month so I guess...it might be a while. I know it’s not much but that time will fly by...promise. But we’ll go on a proper holiday this time. Take you to the city to see your Grandma Morag and maybe Grandpa...if he’s up for it, then maybe we can head up north for a bit. Anywhere you wanta go. Maybe Ruby can even join us.” Riley turned back to look at her, “What about Mama J? Can she come too?” “I dunno Ry. Things are just a little...tense between us and I don’t want to make them any worse,” Charlie admitted sadly.

“You won’t even try to fix things with her,” Riley replied miserably. “Baby that is not true. We have tried...it’s just...” Charlie tried to explain. “Not working,” Riley concluded. Charlie nodded slowly, “Not right now. But I’m not giving up that easily okay? I want my family back together, and I promise I’ll make that happen...soon.” “Okay Mum,” Riley said happily, as he placed his spoon back into his cereal bowl, continuing to play around with his food. Charlie grinned at him, then lent over ruffling his hair. “Mum!” Riley complained, before turning around as he spotted Joey standing at the doorway.

Jumping off his seat, Riley leapt forward wrapping his arms around Joey’s leg, leaning his head against her hip, “Mama J I missed you.” “Well I missed you too Ry. How was your weekend?” Joey asked, smiling down at him. “Okay, I guess. Spent most of the time hanging out with Ruby. She’s a cool big sister,” Riley commented. Joey looked over at Charlie, as Charlie looked away guiltily, “Well at least Ruby was here for you.” Then nodding her head slightly, Joey greeted her simply, “Charlie.” Charlie responded similarly, her voice distant, “Joey.” “What? Surprised I’m on time to pick him up?” Joey questioned.

“You’re always on time to pick him up,” Charlie pointed out, before clearing her throat, “Um...thanks for being on time to pick him up this morning. I’ve gotta get to work in the next half hour.” “Starting late for once?” Joey noted. Charlie nodded, “Well Ruby had to leave early for her work and...ah I decided it was more important to spend at least some of this morning with him since I spent almost the whole weekend either working or sleeping.” “Cause a few hours out of the whole weekend makes such a difference,” Joey muttered, before turning her attention back to Riley, “So anything exciting happen while I was away?”

“Yeah...Mama C just promised to take me on a holiday soon. We’re gonna go to the city, then go up north for a few days. She said you can come too,” Riley told her innocently. “She did, did she? Well we’ll have to see about that,” Joey said lightly, as she continued to glare slightly at her ex, as she ruffled Riley’s hair, “Hey you feeling okay Ry? Your foreheads a little hot.”

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Riley confessed, as he let go of Joey and sat back up at the kitchen table. “You didn’t tell me that,” Charlie pointed out. Joey took a few steps forward, “Riley you haven’t eaten your breakfast. Are you sick?” Riley shook his head. “Sweetie you didn’t eat very much for dinner last night, and now this morning you’re still not eating. You need to tell us if you’re not feeling well,” Charlie leaned forward, taking his hand in her own. Joey looked down at the pair, then directly at Charlie, “Wait he hasn’t eaten much since yesterday afternoon and you haven’t taken him to the doctors yet?”

Charlie looked up at her, “Well he just told me he’s fine. And I only just found out this morning from Ruby that he didn’t eat dinner last night. She didn’t notice anything wrong with him.” “’Cause as great as Ruby is looking after him, she’s not a mum. It’s not her responsibility to look out for these types of things. Way to look after your son Charlie, you need to notice these things. Maybe if you had of been here looking after him like you were meant to, you would have been able to take him to Rachel earlier,” Joey accused. Charlie bit her lip, “Yeah I bet you would’ve loved that. Getting a call from me saying ‘I’m with Riley at the hospital seeing Rachel.’ As if you don’t already think I’m a terrible parent.” 

Joey pursed her lips, choosing to ignore Charlie’s comments because she didn’t want to start a fight in front of Riley, “C’mon Riley. Get your bags, I’ll take you to see Rachel, make sure you’re okay.” Riley slowly jumped off his seat, and walked to his room. Charlie stood up, taking her coffee mug and Riley’s bowl to the sink to wash them up, “Do you want me to come with you to see Rachel?” “I got this one, you just go to work and don’t bother worrying, I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s probably just coming down with a cold,” Joey decided.

“How can I not worry about him? I want to be there for my family. Don’t try to keep me from being there for him. I know you think this is my fault for not noticing the signs of him getting sick but sometimes it’s hard to get him to...open up to me,” Charlie sighed. “Wonder why that could be,” Joey rolled her eyes, “Sorry I just...look I’m not trying to keep you away from being there for him. I just...look it’s nothing serious...and we’ll be okay without you.” “Joey I am really trying here. You keep asking me to change and work out what’s important in life and I am...and you won’t even give me a chance to prove it,” Charlie pleaded.

Joey looked away, “I know...I’m sorry. I guess I’m just used to you bailing on us...I can’t help that it’s what I’ve grown to expect of you Charlie. You can’t change overnight, and you can’t expect me to trust that...you won’t just start bailing on us again. I can’t put our son through that. Expecting that you have finally changed...only for you to start bailing again the moment things get tough. History repeats itself Charlie and it’ll take more than one time for you skipping work to be with us before I can trust you won’t revert to your old self. Look I’ll just call you and let you know how it went. I assume you’ll leave your phone on during work.” “If that’s what you want and you won’t let me be there for you...I guess it’s what I deserve from my past actions...or lack of them. Okay of course, but if it’s anything more than a cold I want you to call me right away and I’ll be right there. I want you to rely on me for once. I don’t want you phoning...” Charlie trailed off. “Phoning who?” Joey questioned. “Never mind,” Charlie ignored the question.

Joey tapped her fingers on the counter of her former house, “So did you tell him that I’ll go on holidays with you? Way to make me look like the bad guy if I don’t want to go.” “I told him I’d ask you to join us, I didn’t say you would agree,” Charlie explained. “Still makes me the bad guy when I tell him I can’t come. Nice work Charlie,” Joey said hatefully. “Well maybe if you don’t want to break his heart like you always accuse me of doing...you could just come with us,” Charlie suggested hesitantly. “Do you really want to subject him to our fights first hand?” Joey demanded, “It’s bad enough that he catches us fighting when we barely spend any time together Charlie.” Charlie looked away, grabbing a dish cloth to dry the mug and bowl, “We could always just not fight. Maybe it’ll be good for us to get away...spend some time as a family again.”

“We’re not a family anymore Charlie...not a normal one anyway. Besides I can hardly take him away from Aden for weeks on end while we try to sort out our problems because trust me it’s not something we can fix in a couple days. You know how close they are,” Joey remarked. Charlie flicked her hair over her shoulder and turned around, “So that’s what you care more about? How Aden’s gonna cope without Riley is more important than us trying to fix things?” “That’s not what I said Charlie. I just meant that...it’s important for Riley to have Aden in his life,” Joey insisted. “Yeah I’ll bet,” Charlie gritted her teeth. Joey shook her head, “Not this argument again. Damn it Charlie I don’t want to do this again.” “Why not? I’m tired of you always turning to Aden,” Charlie grimaced. Joey shook her head again, “No, no, no. Not the Aden thing again.” Charlie closed her eyes as the memories overwhelmed her.

Flashback – September 2014

“I can’t do this anymore Charlie,” Joey insisted, turning away from Charlie. Charlie rushed after her from their bedroom, reaching her in the living room and grabbed her arm. “You can’t do this. I won’t let you,” Charlie yelled. “Let go of me,” Joey demanded, “I can’t keep living like this. We can’t keep living like this. It’s not working Charlie, why can’t you accept that?” “You just want me to let you leave? I can’t do that. How can you destroy our family like this?” Charlie asked desperately. “I’m not the one destroying our family. You are. When was the last time you spent any time with us? Or even had enough time for a conversation...one that doesn’t involve arguing? All you care about is your work. You don’t even see what this is doing to us,” Joey argued.

“You think I want to be at work all the time that I wouldn’t rather be at home here with you and Ry?” Charlie asked. “I dunno anymore Charlie. I dunno what you want anymore...that’s the problem,” Joey confessed. Charlie looked away, “So that’s it? You’re just gonna walk away after all we’ve being through?” “I didn’t say this is it...that we’re never gonna be together again...but we need some time apart. We’ve been through a lot and I’m not giving up that easily but...this is what I need,” Joey decided. Charlie nodded her head slowly, “Okay...okay if that’s what you need. Doesn’t mean that I’m just gonna give up. So how long do you think you’ll need?”

Joey turned around to face Charlie, “I dunno. A few days, weeks...maybe months. Our problems are not easy to fix Charlie. We’re not happy anymore...we haven’t been for a while now and it’s destroying both of us. I’m not sure how long it’ll take for us to sort things out....or even if we can.”

“You’re right. Things haven’t been good for a while now...and I know most of that is my fault,” Charlie swallowed hard, “So where are you gonna go?” “I’m gonna stay with Aden and Nicole for a little while,” Joey told her, “And I’m...I’m taking Riley with me.” “You can’t do that,” Charlie whispered urgently. “Charlie, we don’t have any other option. You’re always at work, and we cannot rely on Ruby to take care of him when she’s got her own job. I can work from home so I can look after him, give him some sense of normalcy through these changes,” Joey pleaded.

“You can’t take our son away from me,” Charlie begged. “This isn’t forever Charlie. When you have time off work you can spend as much time with him as you like,” Joey replied. “So what I’m just the weekend parent now. How is that best for Riley?” Charlie pointed out. “You brought this on yourself Charlie by neglecting everything except your work,” Joey accused, “Besides...I’ve already...I’ve already spoken to Morag about this and...if you fight this...you’ll lose.” “You what?” Charlie asked shocked, “You spoke to Morag about this already? You let Morag know you were planning on leaving me with Riley instead of talking to me about all this? And you made sure Morag couldn’t come to me about this?”

“Don’t blame Morag for this Charlie, I asked Morag for legal help and she’s not allowed to discuss that with you or your Dad...if you’re worried about him being disappointed in you again. Maybe I did the wrong thing going to her and telling her our problems but she’s family, she would’ve found out sooner or later,” Joey said. Charlie bit her bottom lip, “So she told you that I wouldn’t stand a chance winning custody...if it came to that?” Joey nodded sadly, “I don’t want it to come to that...but yes you wouldn’t win custody of Riley. I don’t want to sound harsh but be realistic about it, you have a job that is dangerous and keeps you away at all hours of the day and...”

“And I’m not his biological parent like you are,” Charlie concluded miserably. “That’s not what I meant,” Joey insisted, “You are as much his parent as I am. You know that. We made the choice for me to carry him because of what you experienced having Ruby and we knew it would be...more difficult for you.” “Right of course,” Charlie agreed, “So I bet Aden has no problems with this plan.” “Aden can see what the stress of our relationship is doing to us and Riley. He wants what’s best for us,” Joey explained. “So, you just go running to him like you always do?” Charlie accused.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Joey questioned. “What do you think? Like I don’t notice the fact that when anything goes wrong lately you turn to him instead of me. How do you think that makes me feel? I wasn’t the one that shut down and stopped talking, and I wasn’t the one who suddenly started making excuses for us not...being together. We stopped being together long before I found myself at work all hours of the day and night. I tried to talk to you about it but you just shut down even more. I just wanted you to open up to me about what changed for you but do you remember what you did? You took off for a week on the trawler with Aden without saying a single word to me...you left me a note...a note!...saying everything’s fine and you’ll call me when you could. I never got a call...do you know how worried I was? You left me and Riley in a complete panic about if you were safe. Then when you came back, it was like it never happened, you refused to talk to me about it. Do you know what that was like for me?” Charlie argued fiercely.

Joey looked away guiltily. “You stopped communicating with me and it was killing me so yes I threw myself into my work because at least it was something I could control. Something that wasn’t causing me heartbreak. You get angry at me for ‘abandoning you’ and always been at work but what’s the point of being here...when you’re not here. You and Riley are always hanging out with Aden now. You think you’re so innocent...that I’m the screw-up wife. You know I’ve caught you over the last few weeks...sneaking out of our bed in the middle of the night...coming back in the morning pretending that you got up early to go for a run...doesn’t take three guesses to work out where you go. What am I supposed to think is going on between you two?” Charlie claimed.

“You’re not seriously insinuating what I think you are,” Joey stared at her in disbelief. Charlie pinched the bridge of her nose, “Every time you seem to have a problem you go running to Aden and he’s there to save you. We haven’t been together in a while. Is it that crazy to think that something’s going on between you two?” “Ah hello totally gay over here, I thought that was pretty obvious by now,” Joey affirmed, “Aden’s just a friend. That thing...six months ago with me taking off with Aden...he just needed some help...and he didn’t want anyone knowing. I shouldn’t be telling you but he’d asked Nicole to move in with him, and he was happy that things were going well for them. He was so happy that he forgot the anniversary of Belle’s death.

He broke down, feeling the pain of losing her again, and he felt guilty for moving on...he just needed a friend to remind him that Belle would be happy that he’d moved on. I should’ve told you it had nothing to do with you...and I don’t know what changed for me...I just suddenly felt...I don’t know pressured to be perfect. Perfect for you, perfect for Riley, the perfect boss on the trawler, perfect for everyone, and I knew I wasn’t. I don’t know why I felt that way, and it was never something you did. I know you tried to talk to me. I know I pushed you away...I guess it really is my fault that you eventually turned to your work instead. And yes...I...I’ve been...uncomfortable the past few months the way we’ve been...sleeping as far away from each other as possible in the same bed. I started out sleeping on the couch...but...yes okay I started sleeping over at Aden’s – in the spare room. I should have come to you...but I was just trying to ignore...what was really going on between us. Trust me nothing will happen between Aden and I. I can’t believe you would even think that. I’m not the one that’s ever been confused over their sexuality.”

“Thanks for bringing that up again, I thought we’d moved past that. Look I’m sorry for accusing you of cheating on me but I just...I can’t stand the idea of you and Riley playing happy families with Aden,” Charlie admitted as several tears ran down her cheeks. “Happy families?” Joey repeated, “Why on earth would you think...Charlie are you feeling threatened because Aden’s...?” “What?” Charlie looked over at Joey, her eyes continuing to brim with tears, “Riley’s father?”

Joey gazed deep into Charlie’s eyes, watching the confusion etched in them, “Biologically yes, he is, but he’s never being anything more than Riley’s uncle-like figure. Riley knows you’re his parent, he always has. You should’ve seen him the other day down at the beach, when some stupid older kids started teasing him about having two Mum’s, he stood up for us saying he’s proud of us.” “Really?” Charlie asked hopefully.

“Yes of course. I mean granted he didn’t exactly know what he was defending us for as he doesn’t know any different because he’s always been raised by both of us but he knows exactly who you are to him,” Joey reminded her, “Charlie we talked about this when we first decided to have a family. I asked if you would ever have a problem with this when Aden offered to be our sperm donor. We all agreed that this was the best option rather than using some random sperm donor. Aden made it clear that all he wanted was to give us the family we wanted and he didn’t want to be anything more than an uncle to our child, and that he would never try to take your place.” “Things change,” Charlie whispered.

“What would make you think that?” Joey puzzled. “Joey I’m losing my whole family because you’re walking out on me and taking our son away to live with his father. I can’t help but feel threatened by that. I can’t...help that I feel like I’ve failed you both and that I might be left out of Riley’s life,” Charlie broke down. Joey stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Charlie’s waist and lent her head against her shoulder, as Charlie brought her arms around Joey’s shoulders, holding onto her tightly. “You haven’t failed anyone. And I will never let you disappear from Riley’s life. I know this is complicated and it might not seem like the best option but it’s what we both need,” Joey whispered, “I still love you but...I’m just not sure that’s enough anymore.” “There’s nothing I can do to convince you to stay is there?” Charlie sobbed. Joey squeezed her softly, “I need some time Charlie. It’s not like I’m saying it’s over for good--”

Present Day – March 2015

“Charlie...Charlie!” Joey finally yelled. “Huh? What?” Charlie turned around, looking at Joey confused.  “You okay? You seemed to be like a million miles away. I’ve been calling your name for the past minute,” Joey said concerned. “No I’m fine...I was just...” Charlie struggled to string together her thoughts into words, as she was brought back from the painful memory, “Doesn’t matter. I’m fine. If you’re sure you won’t let me come with you...you should...ah get going if your gonna take Riley to the Doctors.” “Right of course...” Joey hesitated, as she saw the pain written on Charlie’s face at being told she wasn’t needed to look after her family, “Look um...since you didn’t get to spend much of the weekend with Riley...how about I bring him over Thursday night and you can spend an extra night with him...if you’re not working of course?” Charlie half-smiled, “That’d be nice. I’ll make sure I’ve got the night off work. Thank you.”

Joey nodded, “And um...that way you can spend Friday morning with him as well. I’m sure he’d love that.” “Friday...?” Charlie furrowed her brow, then in response to Joey’s exasperated look, “Right Riley’s birthday. I knew that...I’m not completely useless.” “I didn’t think you were,” Joey insisted, then suggested lightly, “Maybe I could come over early with some of his presents and we can help him open them together. Then we can head over to Leah’s place and help her set up for his birthday party...I mean you did remember to--” “Yes I arranged to have the day off work and made it very clear that nobody is to call me unless they want to lose their job,” Charlie confirmed.

“Good,” Joey replied, “I’m glad you can see what’s important for once.” Riley dawdled as he exited his room, and made his way back into the kitchen. Joey turned over to him, holding out her hand, “Hey Ry, c’mon let’s go see Rachel. She’ll make you all better promise.” “Okay Mama J,” Riley said quietly as he moved towards Joey, taking her hand. Charlie yelled out, “Joey you’ll remember to--” “Call you and let you know he’s okay. Yep got it,” Joey agreed. Nodding a silent goodbye to Charlie, Joey led Riley out of the house. Charlie walked into the lounge room and collapsed on the couch, running her fingers roughly through her hair, contemplating how bad the mistakes she’s made recently had turned out...and if it was possible for her to ever fix them and get her family back.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Four

Joey entered the hospital, holding Riley by the hand, she led him to the waiting room. Letting him take a seat, and giving him a colouring in book to play with, she then made her way to the front desk keen to check if Rachel was working. Before she made it there, she bumped into Rachel herself. “Rachel, hey, sorry,” Joey apologized. “Hey Joey, that’s no trouble, I should be looking where I’m going. What brings you here?” Rachel inquired. Joey looked over at Riley quickly, then turned back to Rachel, “I know I should have made a proper appointment but I think Riley’s coming down with a cold and I was hoping you might have time to see him quickly.”

Rachel shook her head, “I wish I did Joey, but I’m just about to go into surgery. I can probably organize for one of the other doctors to see him right away if you’re happy with that.” “Sure that’d be fine,” Joey agreed, “I’m sure he’s fine and he just needs some rest and to drink lots of fluids to get over it but...” “I’d be doing the same thing if it was Harry. Trust me, you’re not alone on the panicking if your child is okay. It’s quite normal for any parent,” Rachel replied calmly. “Thanks Rach,” Joey said. “So...um is Charlie here with you two as well?” Rachel asked lightly, trying not to be nosy about her friends’ relationship.

Over the past few years, her and Tony, Leah and Roman (who never committed any crimes when in the Army or went to jail...at least in this fic – and is happily married to Leah), Martha and her new boyfriend Ryan (Hugo who? Oh that’s right he’s the guy Martha dumped years back for being a jerk and since she meet Ryan two years ago, she had no problems rubbing it in Hugo’s face until he finally left the Bay, tail between his legs for thinking that Martha would one day forgive him), and the two girls had developed a great friendship and were often found pairing up at the Surf Club on the weekends together hanging out over several drinks.

That was until a year or so back when Charlie began working constantly and kept skipping their outings, and when she did manage to make it the tension between her and Joey was painfully obvious as was their snaps at each other and small mounting arguments...that probably only got worse when they went home, away from their friends prying eyes.

The girls particularly took pity on Joey, but knew that the strong-willed girl didn’t want to open up about the problems she was experiencing in her marriage. It was Leah who finally managed to get her former housemate to discuss her problems one-on-one when she stopped by one day to see Joey, knowing Charlie was likely at work. Breaking down and confessing how bad things really were between her and Charlie, surprised both Joey and Leah. Leah hated seeing her friends in pain, but was the one that finally gave Joey the courage to make a decision about what she needed to do about her marriage to Charlie.

Leah often blamed herself when that decision led Joey to walk out on Charlie with their young son, Riley, but was constantly reminded from Rachel, Martha, and more importantly Joey herself that it wasn’t her fault. Joey made her see that had it not been for Leah’s strength to be a true friend, her and Charlie would still be stuck in their unhappy lives. Charlie, however, felt betrayed by Leah, blaming her former housemate along with Aden, for giving Joey the idea of leaving her. Doing everything possible to blame everyone except herself. It took some time but Leah and Charlie’s friendship finally stabilized after Charlie apologized, and Leah offered to host Riley’s birthday party to help make up for it.

Although all their friends could see that this separation, while painful for both Joey and Charlie, was needed if the girls ever had a chance to rekindle their relationship back to the way it had been for the last few years. Rachel, Leah, and Martha had often tried to set up Joey and Charlie, in the hopes of getting them back into one another’s lives and talking, by inviting both girls to attend their occasional nights out at the Surf Club, and forgetting to inform each of them that the other will be there. But to date it hadn’t worked, and the former couple made it quite clear for the girls to stop their intrusions.

Joey looked down at the floor, “No...ah Charlie had to work. And before you say anything, I was the one who told her to go to work because she’s better off there. I’ll call her as soon as I know Riley’s okay.” “Fair enough,” Rachel replied, then looking at the hospital’s roster board quickly, “Okay well there’s Dr Young who you’ve seen yourself several times but he might not be free for another half hour or so. Otherwise we have a new Doctor, who just started a couple days ago. She’s due to finish her shift in five minutes but I’m sure she’ll be happy to stay back and give Riley a quick check up.”

“Yeah that’s fine for a new Doctor to see him, anything to get him seen sooner,” Joey decided. “Sure thing,” Rachel nodded, “Oh there she is now. I’ll just go ask her if she can see Riley.” Rachel ran over to a woman, while Joey went back to sit next to Riley.

“Hey Kaitlyn,” Rachel greeted as she approached her colleague. “Hi Rachel,” Kaitlyn replied warmly. “Ok I know you’re shift has just about finished but I was wondering if you could do me a favour,” Rachel smiled. “Sure,” Kaitlyn agreed. “Ok I have a friend of mine who’s here with her son and he seems to be coming down with a cold and just needs a quick check up, maybe some antibiotics. I’m supposed to be going into surgery in...” Rachel looked down at her watch, then screwed up her face when she noticed the time, “five minutes ago. Is there any way you could see them for me?” “Not a problem,” Kaitlyn decided, “Do you just want to send them into my office in a couple minutes?” “I’ll let them know,” Rachel replied, “Thanks for this Kaitlyn.” “You’re welcome,” Kaitlyn said as Rachel scurried back over to Joey and Riley.

A few minutes later, Joey was standing outside the Doctor’s office, holding Riley against her hip. Knocking gently on the ajar door, she noticed the Doctor at her desk scribbling on some paper. Without looking up the woman invited, “Come in and take a seat, I’ll be with you in a sec.” Joey entered the room, closing the door behind her. Placing Riley down on one of the two seats in front of the Doctors desk, Joey then took the other seat herself. She observed briefly that the woman was writing notes on a patients chart.

Speaking up again but still not looking up at them, the Doctor apologized, “Sorry just catching up on my reports. It’s surprising that half our time is practically spent on paperwork in this job.” Kaitlyn mentally cursed herself that she hadn’t even had the chance to look at the patients file that Rachel had given her, and didn’t even know anything on their medical history...or even their name. “That’s fine,” Joey replied. Kaitlyn suddenly looked up, sensing a familiar voice speaking to her, locking eyes with Joey for the first time since she had entered the room. Joey was stunned speechless, as she recognized the woman in front of her. A half-smile crept its way across Kaitlyn’s face, “Joey Collins...as I live and breathe!”

Ten minutes later, Kaitlyn had checked over Riley and gave Joey a prescription for some antibiotics. “Couple of these tablets each day and he should be fine,” Kaitlyn promised, as Joey grabbed Riley off the table and kept a hold of his hand once his feet hit the floor. “Thanks Kaitlyn, I really appreciate you looking after him.” “Not a problem. But if he’s not any better by tomorrow night, give me a call and I can swing past and re-check him,” Kaitlyn said as she quickly scribbled her mobile number on a piece of paper and passed it to Joey. “You trying to be the best Doctor ever?” Joey teased. “Yeah well hey, new job, gotta make a good impression don’t I?” Kaitlyn joked back, “And I’m guessing it’s working pretty darn well.”

Joey grinned lightly, “Maybe just a little. I should probably get to the chemist, get these antibiotics for him, and then get Riley home to bed.” “Probably a good idea,” Kaitlyn agreed, “But...ah if you’re free later and can get someone to mind Riley maybe we could catch up...you know for a cup of coffee or something? Or um...if there’s no one that can mind him...I can always come by your place for lunch? I’ll even bring the lunch so you don’t have to lift a finger.” Joey looked at her curiously, “Sure that sounds nice. My housemate Nicole’s at home today, I’m sure she won’t mind looking after him especially since he’ll probably be asleep most of the time. We could meet at the Diner...uh the new Diner...it’s just up by the Surf Club.”

“Yeah I know the one. Gotta say there’s been about what two or three Diners that have opened and closed down since I was last in town but it sure didn’t take me long to find this one when I got back here,” Kaitlyn informed her. “Right of course. Sorry it’s just...wow can’t believe how many times the Diner has closed down and re-opened since you left. Seems to get a make-over every couple years,” Joey giggled. “Well now guess things haven’t changed much since I’ve been away,” Kaitlyn grinned. “So, did you want to meet there at say midday?” Joey suggested.

“Midday sounds great Jo. Gives me just enough time to rush home to get changed and make myself look gorgeous for you,” Kaitlyn smirked. Joey rolled her eyes, “Oh God please don't go to any trouble for me. I'll be the one feeling bad when I turn up in my...eugh 'mum' clothes 'cause I don't have time for anything else.” “Well you still look pretty good to me after all these years and I would hardly call those 'mum' clothes you’re wearing now,” Kaitlyn grinned. “Fine whatever embarrass me by looking amazing, what do I care?” Joey blushed, “I'll see you at the Diner.” “It's a da...um I mean...I...I can't wait,” Kaitlyn stuttered. Joey turned around, to hide the smile creeping across her lips, as she exited the office with Riley. Was she about to say 'date'?

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Five

At 12:10 pm Joey rushed into the Diner. Spotting Kaitlyn immediately sitting at a table alone reading a magazine, she walked over. “How's the lunch going so far?” Kaitlyn looked up at her with her smokey grey eyes, and quipped “It just got better. Good to know things never change, you never could be on time for anything could you?” “Yeah well I'm a mum now so I have a good excuse now for being late,” Joey fired back sweetly. “And knowing you, you exploit that to your full advantage,” Kaitlyn laughed. “Guess you do still know me,” Joey blushed.

“So do you plan on eating your lunch standing up or do you wanta sit down?” Kaitlyn smirked. Joey rolled her eyes, as she sat down opposite the woman, “Looks like I’m not the only one who hasn’t changed. You always loved making fun of people.” “How is it my fault when you make it so easy for me?” Kaitlyn laughed, poking out her tongue at the end. Joey shook her head, “So have you ordered yet?” “Nope. Got here a little early and ran into Colleen, so I’ve been hesitant to ask her over here in case she starts bombarding me with all her questions again,” Kaitlyn admitted.

“That’ll serve you right. So good ol’ Colleen Smart recognized you too huh, that woman never forgets anyone. Bet she had a billion questions to ask you,” Joey assumed. Kaitlyn stroked some strands of her wavy shoulder-length blonde hair behind her ear, “That she did. Where I’ve been? What did I get up to while I was away? Why I came back? And if knew you were still in town? Seems she hasn’t forgotten all the ‘trouble’ we caused all those years ago.” “We were in high school,” Joey giggled, “We didn’t get into any more trouble than any of the other kids nowadays.” “Then I guess she remembers it differently all those times we ran amuck in the restaurant and those couple of times we skipped out without paying,” Kaitlyn recalled.

“Yeah well after you left town I had to pay her back for all those meals Miss Kaitlyn, and it sure took a while before she would serve me again without thinking I would resume my old tricks. Guess she finally realized it was your bad influence that made me do it,” Joey teased. “Explains the looks she gave me when I walked in here today,” Kaitlyn mused. “Hey Joey, are you girls ready to order?” Leah interrupted as she strolled over to their table. “Hey. Yeah sure,” Joey smiled up at her, then introduced the girls, “Oh Leah this is Kaitlyn, a good friend of mine from high school. Kaitlyn, Leah owns the Diner here with Irene and I used to live with her a few years back.”

After Leah and Kaitlyn exchanged pleasantries, and the girls ordered their lunch, Joey turned back to Kaitlyn. “So when are you gonna tell me all the answers to the questions Colleen asked you? It’s hardly fair Colleen knows more about you then I do,” Joey said nervously as she fiddled with her watch. Kaitlyn grinned happily, then revealed, “Well I guess the quick answers would be that I’ve been in the City for ten years now. Studying at Uni to be a Doctor for the bulk of it which sure was hard work trying to keep up with all that. I know we might have run amuck outside of school in our days, but you know I took school pretty seriously because I was desperate to get out of Summer Bay and see what life had to offer. I spent the last few years working in one of the smaller Sydney hospitals. I came back because I wanted a change, and I figured where else to start looking but back in my home town. Gave them a call to see what my chances were of getting a position here and before I knew it I was offered a job, packed up and shifted back here in the space of a couple days.”

“Wow that’s quite a change for you. So...uh...” Joey stuttered, “You never answered if you knew I was still living here...did you...I mean is that why you came back here?” “I came back here ‘cause I was offered a new job, it was too good to resist moving back to the Bay,” Kaitlyn smiled anxiously, “And yes I knew there was a good chance you were still in town because I always remembered you saying that you wanted to settle down here and yes I thought it’d be nice to catch up with you again.” Joey’s cheeks turned red, “That’s sweet.”

“Ok so enough about me, what about you? I’m not the only one with a past you know,” Kaitlyn smiled. Joey matched her grin, “Well as you know I have a son, Riley, and the past four years have pretty much revolved around him. Before I had him I worked on trawler boats like my Dad used to, until I saved up enough money to buy my own, and got to work alongside my best friend in the whole world, Aden, and another friend, Geoff. When I had Riley, the boys took over the work on the trawler and I mainly handled the paperwork...boring side to the business. The last few weeks I’ve managed to get back out there on the boat several times and just remembered how much I miss it. I started having a few money issues a few months ago when I separated from my partner, and I guess I let my pride get in front of confiding in my partner about the troubles, so Aden helped me out by buying part of the business. Riley and I live with Aden and his girlfriend in their apartment and that’s about it.”

“Oh c’mon that can’t be it,” Kaitlyn replied lightly, “I mean wow Joey you have a son. That’s amazing, and he looks exactly like you. He’s adorable.” “He’s pretty much the best thing in my life right now,” Joey agreed. Leah silently interrupted the girls as she placed their meals and drinks on the table, but couldn’t help but notice the intense stares they were giving one another. What’s going on here? Taking a quick bite of her sandwich, Kaitlyn cleared her throat, “So...I couldn’t help but notice you said...um that you separated from your partner...I’m sorry.” Joey took a sip of her orange juice, “Yeah it’s been pretty tough especially on Riley. But it was for the best...Charlie and I just hit this place where we barely recognized each other anymore, as we were fighting all the time because Charlie was working all the time and neither of us wanted to cause the other any more pain so I left. Packed my bags and walked out.”

Kaitlyn lent her hand forward, stroking her index finger lightly against the back of Joey’s hand on the table, “I know it doesn’t seem like it now but I think you did the right thing. I gotta admit I’m a little surprised. So you...ah fell in love with a...I mean duh...?” “Huh?” Joey looked at her confused. Kaitlyn took another bite from her sandwich, “Well I just meant...it’s nice that you moved on and fell for a guy. Well the separating part isn’t nice but I’m sure deep down he must be a great guy if you...what?” Joey rolled her eyes, “You know I haven’t changed that much. Charlie’s a woman, my...ah wife...technically she still feels that way anyway...can’t exactly get an official divorce from a commitment ceremony.”

“Oh,” was all Kaitlyn could stutter. Joey slapped Kaitlyn’s hand playfully, “C’mon...me Joey Collins falling for a guy? You didn’t seriously think that could ever happen?” “Well I couldn’t just assume that you were still gay,” Kaitlyn smiled, “You know...small town, not many available and out women here for you to choose from...plus you two had Riley together...hey you try figuring out things like that.” “Ok fine I guess it’s better to never assume,” Joey giggled, “But I guess I got lucky...finding the only gay...or um bisexual...okay the only woman who refused to label herself in the Bay.” “’Refused to label herself’ huh? That’s...complicated. How long were you two together?” Kaitlyn asked curiously.

“Well we first got together over six years ago, but it was only the briefest of relationships...like worse than high-school kids getting together for several weeks brief. Some stuff happened between us and it was clear Charlie wasn’t ready to be with me publicly, and I left. Came back three months later, and Charlie convinced me she had changed. Not long after we got married, or had a commitment ceremony since we couldn’t legally marry, then had Riley and that’s my love life for the last six years...reduced to several sentences,” Joey told her softly, as she fiddled with her glass of orange juice, before nearly tipping it over, “And oh holy crap, Charlie!”

“What’s wrong?” Kaitlyn asked confused, before looking up towards the entrance to the Diner, expecting that Joey’s outburst had signalled the arrival of her ex, but found the entrance empty. Joey placed her head in between her hands, frustrated, “Damn it...I forgot to call her.” “Still a little lost here Jo,” Kaitlyn pointed out. Raising her head, Joey looked up embarrassed, “I promised to call her from the hospital, letting her know if Riley’s okay...I forgot. Great now I’ll never hear the end of it because now I’m the one that’s screwed up. Taste of my own medicine.” “C’mon it can’t be that bad. So you forgot to call her once. I’m sure she’ll just be happy to know Riley will be fine,” Kaitlyn soothed.

“You don’t know Charlie,” Joey grumbled, as she reached into her bag for her phone and switched it on after needing to turn it off at the hospital, “You don’t mind do you if I call her now?” “Not at all, it’s fine Jo,” Kaitlyn smiled. When her phone finally switched on, before she could even start dialling, Joey’s phone started beeping...and beeping...and then beeped a few more times. Joey shook her head, “Great...12 missed phone calls and 5 text messages...all from Charlie.” Kaitlyn smiled apprehensively trying to show her support. Joey started dialling in Charlie’s number but the second before she hit the ‘call’ key, her phone started ringing.

Breathing deeply, Joey answered the call, “Charlie...hi.” “Hey where are you? I tried to get a hold of Rachel but her phone was switched off too. Are you still with her?” Charlie fired off her questions. “No I uh...didn’t manage to get in to see Rachel as she was busy. Took Riley to see another Doctor at the hospital instead,” Joey answered politely. “Okay that’s fine,” Charlie replied quickly, “Which room are you guys in?” “Huh? What do you mean?” Joey asked perplexed, “Wait where are you?”

Charlie stared around the waiting room she’d just strode into, “At the hospital. Where do you think I am? Which room are you guys in? I’ll be there as quick as I can. Is he going to be okay?” “Charlie...I’m...ah...I’m not at the hospital,” Joey stuttered. “Wait what? Then where are you and where’s Riley?” Charlie demanded as she stopped walking and started pacing the room, before leaning against one of the walls. “Riley’s fine...he’s at home sleeping. Nic’s looking after him and I’m just at the Diner having lunch with...a friend,” Joey admitted as she looked over at Kaitlyn, smiling apologetically. Kaitlyn smiled back, knowing it was only the truth. Nothing more than friends.

“What the hell Joey? Why didn’t you call to tell me?” Charlie demanded, “I just broke half-a-dozen speed limits to get here because I thought you were still here. After the tenth unanswered phone call I thought our son was really sick and that’s why you hadn’t been able to call me.” “I’m sorry Charlie...I had my phone switched off when I got there...and I forgot to turn it back on when I left,” Joey apologized. “And you also forgot to call me. God Jo I was so worried,” Charlie sobbed. “I’m sorry Charlie,” Joey repeated, “He’s fine. Some rest and antibiotics, he’ll be good as new in a couple days.”

“Why didn’t you call me and tell me that?” Charlie asked aggravated. “I forgot okay...I got distracted and I forgot I hadn’t called you. Calm down Charlie...it’s not like you’ve never made a mistake before,” Joey said before she could stop herself. “Oh that’s great Jo. Don’t tell me I deserved this. You refused to let me be there for him and when I try to be you use my past to just pretend that this doesn’t matter. Well it does matter. You won’t even give me a chance to prove myself,” Charlie said harshly. “That’s not true,” Joey lied, “I just figured your work was more important to you.”

“You really think I can be that heartless don’t you? That I don’t give a crap that my son is sick?” Charlie shook her head. “It’s not like that Charlie. I know you were worried about him, but can you blame me? You’ve said it before, you’re working on a really important case right now, and it’s important to you that you’ve been spending night and day trying to solve it. I thought that’s where you’d rather be,” Joey replied lamely.

“Yeah you’re right, it is an important case. But you know something else, it’s nowhere near as important to me as the health and safety of my son,” Charlie declared, “In fact it might actually shock you to know that I was sitting in a meeting today about this case, listening to Angelo drone on about how important it is and how many leads we have. I sat there for over an hour staring at my phone, waiting for you to call, while Angelo continued droning on and on and...I realized that I really didn’t care enough anymore about this stupid case when I thought my son was in hospital. So you know what? I told Angelo to shut up, that this meeting was pointless because he could have started and ended the meeting by admitting what we all know but he’s too gutless to admit in three words: ‘We have nothing.’ Just trying to psych us up and avoiding that fact won’t change things. Then I walked out.”

“You...you walked out on your job?” Joey asked surprised, although secretly imagining the look on Angelo’s face. “What the hell did you expect me to do Joey? Of course I walked out on the meeting. You weren’t answering your phone and I thought our son was really sick. Stop shutting me out of his life,” Charlie yelled. “I’m not,” Joey tried to convince her, “Charlie please just calm down. I screwed up and forgot to call you, I am not trying to keep you away from him. I’m just trying to make things easier on us.” “I think you mean you...make things easier on you by not having me around clouding your head and confusing you,” Charlie groaned.

Joey swallowed hard, “It’s not like that. Please don’t make this argument bigger just because for once I’m the one in the wrong. If you’re that worried about him, why don’t you come over and see him--?” “Forget it...just forget it,” Charlie announced angrily, “I’m tired of trying to prove to you I can change...when it’s obvious you just don’t want me to! Enjoy your lunch with Aden!” With that Charlie hung up her phone, then collapsed into one of the waiting room chairs, not noticing Rachel standing behind her. Having heard Charlie’s side of the conversation, Rachel approached her, “Hey Charlie. Everything okay?”

“Oh it’s just perfect...guessing you heard all that,” Charlie replied. “Yeah...sorry,” Rachel admitted. “I just don’t know what to do anymore Rach,” Charlie whimpered, “She gets angry at me if I don’t show up, then if I do...same reaction just different reasons.” “Just keep pushing and show her how you really feel. Might not seem like it...but you made a good first step coming here today,” Rachel smiled. “First step for what?” Charlie questioned. “Winning your family back,” Rachel replied as she turned on her heel, walking away, to let Charlie think about what she’d just said. “First step huh? Only another fifty of sixty to go,” Charlie sighed as she stood back up, and made her way towards the exit.

Joey flipped her phone closed, slightly puzzled at Charlie’s last statement. I never said I was having lunch with Aden...guess she just assumed. Not like she gave me the chance to correct her anyway...which is why I didn’t right? “She hung up on me...great!” Joey sighed. “Yeah that kinda didn’t...go well huh?” Kaitlyn looked at her sympathetically. “Always had a knack for the obvious didn’t you Kaitlyn?” Joey groaned, “Sorry...sorry it’s not you I’m angry at. Charlie thought that since I hadn’t called her to let her know Riley was fine that he was really sick and we were still at the hospital. And she chose today of all days to start trying to be a parent...and I had to go and question why she did it? Urgh!”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself Jo. I don’t really think I have very much of an idea on what your relationship was...is like with her but it seems like she’s made some mistakes and hasn’t been there for you or Riley. It’s only natural that you would resist her trying to be there for you both now. You don’t want to get hurt again. And you’re trying to protect your son from it as well...but if you two act like that around each other...especially when he’s with you...you’re only hurting him more,” Kaitlyn replied helpfully. Joey stared at her stoically, “You got all that from one lousy phone call?” “I’m good,” Kaitlyn chuckled, poking out her tongue at the end, trying to break the tension Joey was in. Joey rolled her eyes, but was unable to stop the grin that spread across her face, “Okay we need to start talking about something else, get my mind off all that for a moment. What were we talking about before?”

Kaitlyn raised her eyebrow, “Your love life.” “Then we definitely need a change of topic,” Joey groaned. “Like...?”  Kaitlyn pushed. Joey nodded, as she smiled nervously. Why not? Can’t talk about anything worse...right? Besides I’m...kinda curious. “What about you? I mean your love life...anything changed for you?” Joey finally asked. “Please I’ve been too busy with work for something like that,” Kaitlyn dismissed. “Oh surely there’s someone special in your life,” Joey mused. “Maybe,” Kaitlyn shrugged. “You okay?” Joey asked concerned. “Yeah fine...just been back here in the Bay...brings back quite a few memories for me you know,” Kaitlyn let her know. “Good memories or bad ones,” Joey questioned lightly. Kaitlyn paused for a moment, “Mostly good ones. Growing up here, spending heaps of time at the beach and the wharf, hanging out with you...then I took off after...everything. And a part of me...regrets that...giving up...everything we...I had just because of...I mean for a stupid career. Doesn’t seem so important now than it did back then.”

“How can you possibly think being a Doctor is a stupid career?” Joey exclaimed. “Well I guess now that I can look back and see all the things we...I had to give up for it...just doesn’t quite seem worth it,” Kaitlyn replied. “Do you ever...wonder what could have happened if you hadn’t left the Bay and...?” Joey asked softly. “All the time,” Kaitlyn confessed, “You know I wanted to...call you after I took off...but I guess I just didn’t want to hurt you more. I just wanted you to know that I didn’t leave because of what happened, I wanted to stand up against him for us...but I just couldn’t do it anymore. I just thought he would go easier on you if I wasn’t around, if he thought he’d won...guess I was wrong.” Joey brushed her fingers lightly against Kaitlyn’s hand. “And I...I really wanted to call you...to see if you were okay after...I mean when I found out that...he had...” Kaitlyn trailed off nervously, “I haven’t spoken to him since. Well I went to see him once...right after I found out. Managed to get myself kicked out when I threatened to kill him. I still...I can’t even believe you’re talking to me after what you went through.”

Barely acknowledging her movements, Joey entangled her fingers with Kaitlyn’s on the table, “You had nothing to do with that. I know you feel slightly responsible because you weren’t there to protect me like all the other times...but I don’t hold you responsible. You’re nothing like him.” “How can you be so sure?” Kaitlyn whispered. “Because I know you, and I know you could never do that to anyone,” Joey affirmed, “Or at least I know who you used to be when we grew up together and...I’d kinda like the chance to get to know you again.” “I’d kinda like that too,” Kaitlyn replied softly, squeezing Joey’s hand.

“Well whatta you say we go for a walk up to the headland? You can tell me everything that’s been happening with you for the last ten years because there is no way all you can tell me is you’ve been at Uni and working,” Joey suggested happily. “Fine,” Kaitlyn agreed, “But you do realize once I spill all my secrets you have to do the same?” “Do I hafta?” Joey giggled childishly. “My God you sound exactly like you did back in school,” Kaitlyn exclaimed. “Bet you missed that. Fine I’ll tell you everything that’s happened if I must,” Joey gave in.

“This should be fun,” Kaitlyn groaned, then asked calmly, “Are you sure you don’t need to get back home to Riley?” “An extra hour or so away from him won’t hurt me...too much,” Joey admitted, “What about you? I’m sure you’re tired after your shift at the hospital.” “Well I’ve been back here nearly a week, and excluding the first two days I spent unpacking, this is the first chance I’ve had to get out and see the old town. Plus I have a whole day off tomorrow so I’m not gonna waste the bulk of it sleeping the day away. Threw the whole working-too-hard thing out the window when I took this job. More important things than work.” “Well good...this should be...good to catch up,” Joey decided.

Joey jumped out of her seat, pulled out her purse as she made her way to the register before Kaitlyn could argue. Leah took the money from Joey, then hesitated before gauging lightly for more information on the girls’ relationship, “So you two look...close.” “Yeah we are. I haven’t seen her for nearly ten years but it still feels like we’re...friends again. It’s kinda weird how that happens but yeah. We’re gonna go for a walk, do some proper catching up,” Joey informed her happily. Leah half-smiled back, “Okay well you might want to get going...don’t want Charlie to bump into you two when she comes in here for her lunch in several minutes.”

Joey looked at Leah strangely, “Why wouldn’t I want to bump into Charlie? Things have been...fine between us recently. You know we can keep our fights private, we’re not all about publicly humiliating each other...besides she just called and she’s at the hospital – she’s fine, everyone’s fine. It’s a...long story.” “That’s not exactly what I meant...never mind enjoy your afternoon,” Leah finally said. “We will,” Joey replied happily as she walked back to the table. Honestly Joey...if Charlie walked in here right now...don’t you see how much this would hurt her? Leah wondered silently.

“Ready to go?” Joey asked as she reached the table. Kaitlyn stood up, grabbing her own bag, “Sure am JC.” “God do you know how long it’s been since anyone called me that?” Joey whinged. “Hmm ten years I’m guessing,” Kaitlyn teased as she stood up. “That about sums it up KC,” Joey grinned. Kaitlyn rolled her eyes, “Let’s get outta here before anyone hears you call me that.” Joey smiled shyly, as she felt Kaitlyn gently place her hand on the small of her back as she led the way out of the Diner. This feels...different but...comfortable. Is that wrong?

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Six

A few days later, Thursday night, Charlie and Ruby were walking towards the Diner from their place, arm in arm. Several metres in front of them, Ruby’s boyfriend, Geoff, was chasing Riley who kept running around, never staying put. The boys would run for a while, then wait around for the girls to catch up. “Charlz you okay?” Ruby asked. “Why wouldn’t I be?” Charlie countered. “Because I saw the glint in your eyes when Joey came around to drop Riley off. You’re happy,” Ruby said happily, “Which is a good thing considering the mood you’ve been in since Monday.” “I wouldn’t go that far, but Joey seemed to be in a surprisingly good mood...plus we didn’t get into a fight...for like the first time in...months. So maybe things are finally looking up,” Charlie smiled, “Or maybe it’s ‘cause we just decided to not mention our last argument on Monday. I don’t want to talk about it, she obviously doesn’t want talk about it...so we didn’t...and we didn’t have another fight.”

“Well that’s progress,” Ruby announced, “Is there a hint of a possibility that things could be getting back to normal between you two? I mean that fight you had Monday aside, Joey seemed glad to give you this extra time with Riley, which thankfully you didn’t forget about. Not to mention when she came around to our place tonight she looked...” “Hot?” Charlie concluded, blushing, “She certainly did look hot. I haven’t seen her look that great in years.” “Are you blushing Charlz?” Ruby teased, “You know you are allowed to think your wife looks hot. Maybe she’s trying to tell you something by dressing up like that...like she wants you to finally notice what you’re missing out on.”

“I know what I’m missing out on Ruby but just because Joey almost made my jaw drop to the floor and I so badly wanted to make a move on her tonight...doesn’t mean she wants the same thing,” Charlie admitted sadly, “I’m just terrified of putting myself out there and getting rejected by her. What happens then? We’ll be walking around on egg shells around each other like we did after she left me.” “And what if she doesn’t reject you? Isn’t that worth the risk?” Ruby rationalized. Charlie contemplated this, “It is but I just want to be 100% sure it’s what she wants too before I do anything about it. Just because she turned up at our place tonight looking absolutely stunning doesn’t mean she’s ready to forgive me for all my mistakes yet. Besides she told me she was hanging out with a friend tonight so maybe the outfit wasn’t for my benefit.”

“Because it would totally be for Aden’s benefit...yeah right. Who else would she be trying to impress? Wake up and notice the signals she’s sending your way. I think it’s time you pulled out some of those rusty signals yourself and played her the way she’s playing you,” Ruby grinned. “Rusty signals huh? Guess it has been...a while since I’ve had to try and impress anyone. I’m not even sure I know what to do anymore,” Charlie scrunched up her face in annoyance at the thought of her putting herself out there on the market, even if Joey was the only girl she was looking to impress. “Well you could always pull the same move on her,” Ruby suggested playfully.

“Meaning...” Charlie pushed. “Meaning Joey’s coming by tomorrow morning to spend some time with you and Riley for his birthday...so maybe you could throw on your best lingerie and parade around in it while you make breakfast,” Ruby giggled. “Right because Joey so won’t think something’s going on. She’ll probably run screaming, thinking I’ve spent the night with someone else considering it’s been...well over a year since I’ve had the opportunity to impress anyone with my lingerie. It’s probably covered in dust at the bottom of my drawers that’s how long it’s been,” Charlie sighed. “You need to get laid,” Ruby joked.

“Okay we are so not talking about this,” Charlie groaned. “Hey I’m just trying to help you and Joey get back together. I’m just offering helpful suggestions. It’s not my fault that it’s been a while since you’ve had any luck in the romance department,” Ruby laughed, “Trust me, wear something tomorrow morning that’ll knock Joey’s socks off...or you know the rest of her clothes too.” “Ruby!” Charlie screeched, “I told you...we are so not talking about this.”

“Hey I’m just recalling all those times I was scared for life when I walked in on you and Jo making out or...worse. God you two could barely keep your pants on around each other. Perhaps that’s all you need. Like you said it’s been...a long time since you were together...together. Perhaps a night of hot and steamy romance is all you need to remind you what you have is special and nothing can break that apart,” Ruby replied light-heartedly. “I think we’re a long way off of enjoying a hot and streamy romance...or any kinda romance the way things are going. But we’re getting there...slowly. These things take time and I can’t push her into anything she’s not ready for,” Charlie realized, then quietly, “Besides you should know exactly what she’s going through.”

“How is my situation the same as Joey’s?” Ruby looked over at Charlie, slowing down their pace slightly behind Geoff and Riley. “Because you keep saying that you don’t want to be pushed into something you’re not ready for,” Charlie reminded her, then clarified, “Have you re-considered Geoff’s proposal?” Ruby looked down at the ground, “It...wasn’t a proposal. It was just...you know a proposal...to possibly propose. But how is that similar to you and Joey? It’s not that I’m not ready for marriage, I love Geoffrey. I just...don’t agree with the whole marriage thing. Seriously you get a piece of paper stating your married and nothing changes.”

Charlie wrapped her arm around Ruby’s shoulders, as Ruby shifted her arm around Charlie’s waist, “Trust me, it’s more than a piece of paper and your relationship does change for the better...mostly. But I gotta tell you, the idea of my twenty-two year old daughter been married kinda freaks me out a little...not that I think you’re too young for this...” “Way to be convincing Charlie!” Ruby shook her head, “So maybe marrying Geoff would strengthen our relationship but...what if it doesn’t? What if...five years down the track we end up like you and Joey?” “Ruby is that all you’re afraid of? Ending up like us?” Charlie asked concerned. “I’m just saying marriages break down Charlie...yours did. They don’t always last. There was a time I’m sure you and Joey thought nothing could ever come between you...and look at you now,” Ruby said softly.

Charlie looked out to the ocean, swallowing hard. “I’m sorry Charlie, I didn’t mean to...You are not a failure to Joey, I promise you,” Ruby insisted, “So you’re having some problems...it won’t last forever.” “You know when Joey finally returned after those three months away on the boat I tried so hard to get her back. When I finally did I thought we’d never be apart again. Then we started having problems...and instead of fighting for her again...I just thought I didn’t need to fight for anything. Joey was mine and that would never change,” Charlie whispered, “I was wrong. She left and...every night since I keep expecting her to come back to me. Don’t refuse Geoff’s marriage proposal because of me...because my marriage has broken down. Keep a hold of who you love and never let go.”

“That’s pretty good advice Charlie. Maybe you should remember that yourself. Now I’m not going to say that I will marry Geoffrey but I’ll think about it and also about moving in with him...besides I mean while he has asked me to move in with him...he hasn’t technically proposed yet,” Ruby furrowed her brow. “Good because as great a guy Geoff is...he won’t wait around forever you know,” Charlie said lightly, “You need to stop thinking that just because my marriage has had its problems...that yours will be the same.” “I know,” Ruby agreed, “It’s ridiculous to think this way but I guess I’m more terrified of losing him if things...don’t work between us. Sometimes relationships fail. I always thought you and Joey were forever.” “We are Ruby,” Charlie assured her, “We’re...just taking the long way back to forever right now. We’ll get there. I know we will.”

“Keep thinking that way and it’ll happen,” Ruby squeezed Charlie tighter, then looking up at Geoff and Riley, “God does that boy of yours ever stop running around?” “Yeah that’s ‘cause Geoff’s hanging out with him and he’s distracting Riley,” Charlie replied, “He seemed kinda upset or...sad somehow when Joey dropped him off, just not himself. He ran straight into his room, and avoided me. Joey said it wasn’t anything to do with me, he’s been moody like that for the last couple days but she’s not quite sure why. Maybe it’s just a reaction to him being sick. I tried to get him to talk to me but he wouldn’t open up. Which is why I suggested that we all go out for dinner tonight, maybe getting him out of the house will lighten his mood.”

Ruby smiled at her mother, “You really are a good mother to him you know. He’s lucky to have you. Sometimes I’m jealous that I missed out on you being there for me like that.”  “Me too. I like having a second chance at being a parent and I don’t want you to ever feel jealous of Riley, but you know I wouldn’t have been capable to look after you back then like I can now with Ry,” Charlie reminded her sadly. “And I’m sure my life could’ve been more screwed up if you had raised me. Like I said you would’ve been a crazy mother, instead of a cool big sister,” Ruby joked light-heartedly, “I guess I got lucky in the end.” “Yeah you did,” Charlie agreed happily, glad Ruby had come to terms with their relationship.

Finally Charlie and Ruby had arrived at the Diner. Geoff and Riley were waiting for them at the entrance. “You girls sure took your time didn’t they Ry?” Geoff joked. Riley looked up at Charlie, saying quietly, “C’mon Mama C, I’m hungry.” Charlie shook her head, “You’re always hungry boy. Let’s get inside and get some food. Sound good?” Riley nodded silently, and followed Geoff into the Diner. “Here I thought it’d be years before I’d have to put up with a broody, sullen son. Kid is sure growing up quicker than I thought,” Charlie realized. “Give him a break. God don’t be so overdramatic,” Ruby sighed, as she pulled Charlie inside the restaurant.

Grabbing the first table available, the four sat down quickly. Geoff reached across the table and placed his hand over Ruby’s comfortingly. “Rubes let me guess...the usual?” Geoff smiled. “Yep, don’t even need to bother looking at the menu,” Ruby agreed. “You’re so predictable,” Geoff grinned. “And yet you love me anyway,” Ruby gushed. Geoff rolled his eyes, “You’re right about that.” “Okay enough of the cutesy couple routine, we’re here to eat,” Charlie complained. “Oh you’re just miserable because for once it’s not you and Joey doing the cutesy couple routine,” Ruby teased. “Yeah well it’s been a long time since we’ve been like that Rubes...maybe I just really miss that part of our relationship,” Charlie replied miserably. “Well if it’s meant to be it’ll happen. I’m never gonna think otherwise,” Geoff told her thoughtfully.

Charlie managed a small smile, glad that Geoff surprisingly supported her relationship with Joey. She had been positive he would be against it, and remembered Ruby telling her afterwards that she had agonized over the possibility of choosing between her boyfriend and mother if he didn’t fully accept the relationship. Geoff had come into Ruby’s life as a supportive friend at a difficult point, and after she turned to him when she found out Charlie was her mother, the connection between the two only strengthened until they realized they had feelings for each other. Charlie was devastated when Ruby took off to stay at Irene and Geoff’s for nearly a year, but was thankful Joey had been there for her the whole time. Joey was the first person she ever told, besides her parents and aunt, about her incident with Grant and that Ruby was her daughter.

It happened shortly after Joey had returned to the Bay. While Joey was cautious of resuming their relationship, Charlie immediately dumped Angelo, who she had been seeing for several weeks in an attempt to get over her true love, and the two girls agreed to take things slow. As their relationship slowly progressed Charlie invited Joey out for a day on the Blaxland, to show her how much she’d missed her and wanted to be with her again, but when distracted at the thoughts of finally reclaiming the love she lost, had walked onto the street without looking and got struck by a car. Though not seriously injured, Joey refused to leave Charlie’s side, and was there when the Doctor mentioned Charlie’s previous pregnancy.

Denying any pregnancy, and making up excuses to the Doctor, whilst alone that night with Joey sitting next to her bed, Charlie broke down and confessed all. While shocked at the revelation, Joey could see the pain it had caused Charlie over the years, and was silently thrilled that Charlie finally opened up to her. Charlie’s need to keep her guard up on her emotions had broken, and she had let Joey in completely. Unable to fight their feelings for one another the pair rekindled their romantic relationship once Charlie was out of hospital. Though it took several weeks, Joey convinced Charlie she needed to tell Ruby the truth. But neither girl were fully prepared for the fallout that ensued.

Ruby instantly moved out of the place they shared with Leah and VJ, in with Irene and Geoff, and refused to talk to either Charlie or Joey for several months. As Ruby’s relationship with Geoff developed over the months and she was still struggling to come to terms with Charlie being her mother, she naively feared that the ‘Bible Boy’ wouldn’t accept her because her mother was involved in a lesbian relationship. But the ‘Bible Boy’ surprised her when he told her he never believed in that part of his religion, ‘love is love and it doesn’t matter who’s involved,’ and that it has nothing to do with their own relationship, ‘So one day I might have a gay mother-in-law...I’m okay with that.’

Eventually Ruby began talking to Joey, who informed Ruby of Charlie’s struggles over the past months without her around. Seeing Charlie around town, even without speaking to her, and avoiding her where possible, Ruby could see how conflicted she was. On the one hand, she was completely happy and honest about her relationship with Joey, but Ruby saw the pain she kept buried deep within over losing her daughter. Distressing over whether or not she could ever forgive Charlie for her betrayal, Geoff was the one that finally convinced her she needed Charlie in her life. After an awkward few weeks, the girls gradually resumed their sisterly bond, having decided it would be too difficult to try and redefine their new relationship as mother and daughter. Even to this day the pair still had trouble defining their relationship, but were happy enough to still have each other in their lives.

Geoff broke the silence again, washing away Charlie’s thoughts, “But ah...if you want I can always tell you Joey hasn’t been herself at work since she left you. Doesn’t have any sparkle in her eyes...and ah...Aden and I might have caught her...crying once or twice.” “Really?” Charlie asked hopefully, though mentally scolded herself for wanting Joey to be upset or in some kind of emotional distress from their separation. “Ah...well actually...” Geoff hesitated, “Okay so maybe I made up the part about the crying...but the rest is true. Sorry I just wanted to make you feel better...guess it didn’t work.”

Charlie nodded, “Not really...but thanks anyway for trying. But I guess I couldn’t possibly feel any worse right now...Ouch Riley what was that for? What’s wrong?” Riley was squirming around in his seat, and began kicking his legs under the table, one of which had briefly connected with Charlie’s shin. “Sorry,” Riley muttered. “Okay why are you in such a bad mood? You’ve been like this all afternoon kiddo,” Charlie asked lightly as Leah approached the group to take their orders. “Hey Leah everything okay? You look a little...distracted,” Ruby commented. “What? Oh...it’s nothing,” Leah responded quickly as her eyes glanced briefly across the room.

Ruby followed her gaze, “Oh...” “What oh?” Charlie asked before turning her head around to see what the pair, and now Geoff and Riley, were staring at. Across the room, Joey was seated comfortably, enjoying dinner and laughing happily at something her companion was saying. Charlie swallowed hard, pursing her lips hard together, to stop the small whimper that nearly escaped, as she stared at her...her Joey, dressed in the same amazing outfit Charlie had seen her in earlier, having dinner with a beautiful blonde woman. “Charlie...Mum...are you okay?” Ruby asked concerned.

Charlie snapped her eyes away from the pair, blinking away the tears threatening to fall, “I’m...Leah who is she?” “I’m sorry Charlie, I didn’t think this was my place to tell you. I’ve seen them hanging out here several times this week. I’m not too sure who she is exactly, I think she went to high school with Joey and they’re pretty close...friends,” Leah told her. “But they’re not...” Charlie trailed off miserably, then turned to her son, “Riley is this why you’ve been upset the last few days?” Riley nodded slowly. “Do you know who she is?” Charlie asked him, gripping her hands tightly together, feeling her own nails dig into her skin, as she feared the answer.

Riley looked up at her sadly, “She went to school with Mum. They were good friends and she just moved back here from the City. They’ve been spending time together a lot lately. Her name’s Kaitlyn...Mum calls her by her initials...KC. I think...I think she’s Mum’s new...” “Girlfriend,” Charlie whispered, surprised at the sound of her own voice, she was so upset at the mere thought of her Joey being on a date with another woman. It can’t be a date...she wouldn’t do that to me...to us. Leah politely excused herself from the table, feeling incredibly guilty for not been able to soften the blow Charlie had just been dealt, noticing some other patrons calling her over.

“Mum...maybe this isn’t a good time...maybe we should go home rather than sit here...staring,” Ruby suggested, knowing Charlie wasn’t even listening to her. The only times Ruby had ever seen Charlie look so completely devastated were the both times Joey had left her. The first time at the wharf to give them a three month break, and the second time when Joey walked out on their marriage...indefinitely. Charlie continued to stare at the women, then furrowed her brow, repeating, “Kaitlyn...KC...why does that sound...familiar?”

Suddenly, before Ruby or the others could react, Charlie snapped her hands apart, and stood up. Nearly knocking her chair over, as Ruby begged her, “Charlie please don’t do this.” Charlie ignored her, and stormed across the room. Without hesitating or waiting for Joey to acknowledge her presence, Charlie roughly grabbed a hold of Joey’s hand and yanked her out of her seat. So surprised by the sudden movement, Joey demanded, “What the hell are you doing?!” Charlie didn’t respond or let go of Joey’s hand, and wrenched Joey across the restaurant. Joey, unable to loosen Charlie’s grip, could do nothing but glance apologetically at Kaitlyn, as she was dragged away from her. Her look made it clear to Kaitlyn that Joey wasn’t in any danger as she was practically dragged out of the Diner furiously by Charlie...after all Joey had warned Kaitlyn that she was afraid of Charlie reacting this way. Doing what she normally does...jumping to conclusions without finding out the truth.

Outside the Diner, Joey ripped her arm from Charlie’s grip, once again demanding, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Charlie turned around to face her, “What the hell are you doing?!” Joey rubbed her wrist slightly, as the pain of Charlie’s grip settled in, “You’re kidding right? You practically assault me by pulling me out of my chair and drag me out of the Diner, and you are the one that demands what I’m doing.” Charlie noticed Joey’s actions, then in the light provided by the lamp they were standing near, saw how deeply red Joey’s wrist had turned, and knowing that the marks she made would bruise, looked away, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get so...rough with you. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Yeah you’re right about that. You’re lucky I don’t press charges for your actions,” Joey shook her head. “You’d just love that wouldn’t you? Make me lose my job on top of everything...else I’ve lost,” Charlie said without thinking. “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that,” Joey looked harshly into Charlie’s eyes, “Now what the hell Charlie?” “What are you doing with...her?” Charlie finally demanded. “Is that your business Charlie? What I do in my life doesn’t have anything to do with you anymore,” Joey pointed out insensitively. “Well if it’s involving my son it’s got everything to do with me,” Charlie reasoned, “Now tell me that you aren’t with her!” Joey sighed, “Charlie...it’s not what you think...” Charlie ran her hand through her hair, “Not what I think...so you’re telling me that you’re not on a date...with Kaitlyn Cruz...Robbo’s sister?”

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Seven

Flashback – January 2010

“Joey are you awake?” Charlie whispered into the darkness, surprised that Joey wasn’t wrapped around her and was instead lying on her stomach on the other side of the bed. “If I said no does that mean you’ll let me fall back asleep?” Joey replied quietly. A smile spread across Charlie’s face, as she shifted to embrace Joey, spooning her from behind, wrapping her arm around Joey’s waist, “Nope.” Joey turned around to face Charlie, wrapping her own arms around Charlie, and kissing her quickly on the lips, “Everything okay baby?”

Charlie stroked her hand gently against Joey’s cheek, “Guess I just missed having your arms around me. It feels lonely without you here against me.” “Sorry ‘bout that. Guess you just really tired me out tonight. You were amazing tonight,” Joey whispered happily. “Yeah that was pretty amazing,” Charlie grinned, as she pulled Joey closer, “This whole day has been perfect.” “Because Ruby finally spoke to you?” Joey realized. “Yes that too, on top of tonight with you. Although I think every single night with you makes my life perfect,” Charlie chuckled, “But yes I still can’t believe how great it feels that Ruby has finally broken her silence and spoke to me today. It’s a small step but it means the world to me.”

“You look so happy,” Joey smiled as she stroked her hand through Charlie’s hair. “I never thought I could ever be this happy. Thank you so much for being there for me over the last few months. I never would have gotten through it without you. I love you,” Charlie reminded her. Joey kissed Charlie passionately, letting their tongues explore each other’s mouth fully before pulling away, “I love you too. I’m glad I could be here for you. I know how difficult this has been for you, and you’ve let me in every time. You’ve changed so much.”

“I did it for you. You make it easy for me to open up to you. I can’t believe I almost lost you,” Charlie almost sobbed. “Baby we talked about this. I’m not going anywhere this time,” Joey comforted her, “I’ll never leave you. Things are different now between us, and that has to do with you accepting how you really feel about me.” Charlie swiftly shifted her position so she was leaning above Joey, “I must have been insane to deny how good it feels to be with you. I’m so lucky to have you back here in my life.” “It’s where I belong,” Joey whispered, “Here with you.” “I can’t imagine not having you in my life,” Charlie revealed. Joey, staring deep into Charlie’s eyes, saw a sudden glint...as a thought struck Charlie’s mind, “Everything okay Charlie?”

“I can’t imagine not having you in my life,” Charlie repeated softly, trying to ignore the niggling fears that were trying to ruin this moment for her. Charlie closed her eyes. Upon opening them, any fears were washed away as she gazed into her soul mate’s eyes, and finding nothing but love, Charlie whispered, “Marry me?”

Joey opened her mouth to respond, but no sound came out. She thought she knew everything there was to know about Charlie...but this...she never saw coming. Charlie could see that Joey was trying to work out if she was dreaming or if it was real. Stroking Joey’s cheek lightly, Charlie repeated, more confidently, “Marry me?” Joey continued to look up into Charlie’s eyes, “Charlie...I...are you serious?” Charlie nodded, swallowing hard as it wasn’t exactly the response she was looking for. “Charlie...we can’t get married...” Joey responded quietly, “I mean we can but...legally we can’t...exactly. Charlie are you sure this isn’t too soon? We’ve only been back together five months.”

Charlie breathed deeply, “And I’ve never been happier. Yes I’ve been upset over everything with Ruby, but you’ve...you’ve made my life complete. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t been together long. I know what I want...I want to spend my life with you. I love you. What I feel for you is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, and you feel it too. And maybe this proposal isn’t exactly the normal way to do it but I never want to settle for normal. What we share deep down for each other isn’t just normal love. It never has been, it’s so much more than that. You’re my everything. Marry me?”

Joey couldn’t take her eyes away from Charlie, the sincerity in her voice made this dream-like moment real, and Joey couldn’t deny everything she had said was true. “Yes,” Joey answered, her voice calm but barely even a whisper. Just loud enough for Charlie to hear. “Yes...as in yes yes?” Charlie clarified, as she tried to return her breathing to normal, almost surprised to have found that she had been holding her breath since she uttered those two little words for the first time. “Yes,” Joey said confidently, “Yes! Yes I’ll marry you!”

Charlie stared down at Joey, as she herself suddenly felt this was nothing more than a dream. But the warmth and love in Joey’s eyes convinced her it wasn’t just some random dream – I just proposed, and Joey said yes! Charlie brought her lips to Joey’s, embracing her lovingly. Pulling away, Charlie smiled, “I...I can’t believe this...you agreed to marry me.” “Yes I did Charlie. What is that not the answer you were expecting?” Joey joked lightly. “To be honest...when I asked you...I didn’t even think about what your answer would be,” Charlie sighed.

“Charlie it was only the biggest question in the world, how could you not think my answer would be important? Is this really what you want or were you just caught up in the moment?” Joey asked panicked that her ‘dream-come-true’ wasn’t real. “Joey of course I meant it,” Charlie responded assertively, “I want nothing more than to marry you. God I love you so much! I guess I just meant that in all the ways I imagined proposing to you one day I couldn’t ever see you saying ‘no.’ It never occurred to me there could be another answer.”

Joey leaned up, kissing Charlie, “I can’t believe this is happening...we’re getting married!” Charlie stroked Joey’s cheek, “We’re engaged...oh my God we’re engaged! This is so amazing. We have to go shopping tomorrow, for rings, so I can do this whole proposal thing properly on bended knee, offering you a ring to spend your life with me. We need to find a venue, set a date, work out what to wear, get time off work for our honeymoon, work out an invite list...we have to tell everyone we’re getting married. I have to tell Ruby!” Charlie reached away from Joey to her phone on her bedside table.

“Charlie, babe, calm down, what are you doing?” Joey giggled, she’d never seen her girlfriend so ecstatic before. “Calling Ruby. She has to know how completely happy I am...we are that we’re engaged,” Charlie answered as she flipped open her phone. Joey reached out, gently closing the phone in Charlie’s grasp, “Babe it’s 3 in the morning. I know you’re excited to have Ruby back in your life and you want to tell her right away. But I think we should probably leave this to the morning. We can both go see her together and tell her. Besides Ruby will kill you for waking her up like this.”

“Right...you’re right of course,” Charlie sighed, returning her phone to the bedside table, “God I just can’t even think straight right now...we’re engaged?!” “Well duh Charlz, that’s what normally happens after one person proposes and the other accepts,” Joey grinned, unable to stop smiling. “I know, I know...I just...me Charlie Buckton...settling down and getting married? I never thought that could happen...’til I met you,” Charlie confessed. “Well you better start believing it babe because I don’t care if this is legal or if people don’t accept it...I’m gonna marry you one day,” Joey replied.

Charlie grinned, as she entangled her right hand with Joey’s left. Stroking her thumb against Joey’s palm, Charlie stared down at her fingers. “Charlie what are you doing?” Charlie looked back up into Joey’s eyes, “I...am just imagining the ring I want to put on your finger tomorrow. An engagement ring to make this completely real...plus the wedding band I want to place there soon after.” Joey giggled, “Well if no one believes that Charlie Buckton is getting married and settling down...they definitely won’t believe this. You been so excited over a wedding!”

“Yeah but it’s our wedding and I want it to be perfect...for you,” Charlie declared, “You’ve given me so much.” “God you’re not gonna turn all Bridezilla on me are you?” Joey teased. Charlie looked at her, pretending to be shocked, “It’s like you don’t even know me. No I am not going to go all...Bridezilla on your ass! I just can’t help but want it to be the best day of our lives.” “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you,” Joey confessed. Charlie moved off of Joey, re-positioning herself sitting up against the headboard of their bed. Joey instantly shifted, so she was lying against Charlie, who had put her arm around her shoulders, still keeping their fingers entangled.

“So wife-to-be what type of wedding do you see us having?” Charlie enquired. “Can I be honest with you?” Joey replied, leaning her lips up against Charlie’s ear, “I’m not so much thinking about the wedding...more the wedding night. That’s the important part of the event right?” Charlie lent in close, her lips colliding with Joey’s fervently, then pulling away to chuckle, “You...have a one track mind...I love that. But first we have to plan the actual wedding, then we can think about our wedding night and honeymoon.” “Spoil my fun,” Joey grumbled, “I can’t help it if all I want is to spend a few weeks away soon on our honeymoon. You, me, together for several weeks at a hotel...naked.”

Charlie threw her head back, groaning, “Argh Joey do you have to make this harder by telling me all this? Makes me want to skip the wedding entirely and just book the honeymoon.” “I’m okay with that plan,” Joey remarked dreamily. “Don’t give me that lusty look, you know I can never refuse you,” Charlie warned jokingly, “Okay I’ll let you sort out the honeymoon...since you seem keen on that. But seriously this time...what do you see for our wedding?” Joey squeezed Charlie’s hand, “I think we’d both like a small wedding. Just you, me, Ruby, Aden, Ross, Morag and some more of our closest friends. I don’t think we need something huge, it’s about us.”

“I like that,” Charlie agreed, “A small wedding with only the most important people in our lives there. Maybe we could have it on the beach or at the park, something outdoors.” “The beach sounds amazingly romantic, but we’ll have to make sure we avoid setting the date in winter...not that it ever rains here much. Just don’t want to take our chances,” Joey decided. “Well in that case...” Charlie paused, “How long do you think it will take us to sort out our entire wedding?” “Hmmm a few weeks, maybe a month. Not sure exactly...not like I’ve ever done this before,” Joey replied, “Why?”

Charlie looked deep into Joey’s eyes, “That settles it then. I’m going to marry you one month from today.” “You sure like to rush things,” Joey teased. “No rushing whatsoever. We both agreed to only a small commitment ceremony, and I don’t think it should take too long to organise everything. With nothing holding us back...I want to marry you as soon as I can. Why waste time when we can be married instead?” Charlie declared. “I like the way you think,” Joey decided, “Life’s too short. I want to marry you as soon as I possibly can.”

Charlie squeezed her arm around Joey, pulling her closer, “I think that sounds perfect. What do you say after telling Ruby tomorrow morning, we ask Ruby to come with us to the City so we can go shopping to buy each other an engagement ring? Then maybe we can go visit my Dad and Morag and tell them.” “I guess that means you’re calling in sick to work tomorrow,” Joey grinned, “It sounds great Charlie. Just promise me one thing...don’t go spending a huge amount on my ring. And before you complain that you just want to show me how much you love me well...maybe after we get married we can...buy a place of our own to live together.”

Charlie pulled Joey into a kiss, “I barely even thought of that. You and me living together, married, in our own little place. Can life get any more perfect?” “So does that mean you won’t go spending up a storm tomorrow because our money could be better used on saving up for our own house?” Joey asked again. “Okay if that’s what you want. No big expensive rings, just one that’s absolutely perfect...like you,” Charlie agreed. “So...how do you think...Ross and Morag will take the news?” Joey broached hesitantly.

Charlie’s smile disappeared slightly, “I guess Morag will be happy for us. She’s always been pretty supportive. But my Dad...well to be honest I think he’s still getting used to the idea that we’re together and that I haven’t fallen in love with some guy so...it might take some work to get him to come around to the idea that...you and I are getting married. I just hope he doesn’t...” “You hope he doesn’t go off on another one of his rants that you can’t possibly be gay,” Joey concluded, snuggling closer to Charlie comforting her. “My father didn’t say that to hurt us...he was just confused when we sat down and told him we were together. I never actually told you but...I neglected to tell him I broke things off with Angelo and he thought...well he assumed that we were just having some fling and I was cheating on Angelo...something that would ‘ruin’ my career if Angelo found out and made trouble for me at work. It took a bit of work for me to stand up to him and tell him that you’re the person I love and that’s never going to change.”

“How come you didn’t tell me about the Angelo part? I got a little stressed when Ross accused me of ruining your life,” Joey sobbed. Charlie kissed her on the forehead, “I’m sorry. I just hate talking about Angelo. I hate that I got back together with him just to try and get over you. It felt like I was cheating on you the whole time. But you know once my Dad saw that this wasn’t just one of my typical relationships he accepted it...as much as he could anyway. He’ll come around to the idea of us getting married.” “And if he doesn’t, we’ll tell him we’ll delay the wedding until he’s ready,” Joey suggested.

“You’d really do that for me? Delay your happiness for my Dad to accept that I want to spend the rest of my life with you?” Charlie asked quietly. “Of course. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you,” Joey affirmed. “You’re going to make the perfect wife, Mrs. Joey Collins,” Charlie smiled. “Well, Mrs. Charlie Buckton, you don’t deserve anything less,” Joey commented. “So I guess that means we’ll be keeping our own names,” Charlie noted. “Does that disappoint you?” Joey asked concerned. “Course not. I don’t need you to change your name for me to know your mine and vice versa,” Charlie replied. “Good, I just never thought about changing my name before. And I’m not so sure I want to be a hyphenate – ‘Collins-Buckton.’ Well maybe...it has a good ring to it,” Joey mused.

“Babe I really am okay if we decide not to change our names,” Charlie told her, before blushing, “God I still can’t believe this is happening! I’m gonna wake up this morning and be engaged to the woman I love!” “Well start believing it,” Joey whispered, then leaned close to Charlie’s ear, “Oh and just so you know...you won’t be waking up this morning...because you’re not going back to sleep and neither am I.” “Starting our honeymoon early I see,” Charlie giggled happily. “Something like that, wife-to-be,” Joey chuckled as her lips came to rest against Charlie’s neck, “I think it’s only fair that we see if making love to one another is any different being an engaged couple.”

Joey kissed her way down Charlie’s jaw, as Charlie leaned forwards bringing their lips together. As Joey opened her mouth, allowing Charlie’s tongue to slip inside, she swiftly moved so she was straddling Charlie. Torturing each other in the most romantic ways possible, the couple spent the rest of the night exploring each other, and making love to one another. Knowing they never wanted to be with anyone else for the rest of their lives...but unaware of the struggles ahead...

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Eight

Present Day – March 2015

“Well...” Charlie stood there waiting for Joey’s answer, “Are you two together? Are you seriously telling me you’re dating Kaitlyn Cruz?” Joey shook her head, and tried to walk away from Charlie, but Charlie held her back, by the shoulders. “Answer me Joey!” Charlie demanded loudly, her heart breaking at every second Joey refused to answer. “No!” Joey yelled back, then quieter, “I...I don’t know okay.” “You don’t know?” Charlie asked incredulously. “Well it’s...it’s been a while since I’ve been on a date...I don’t know what signals I’m supposed to be looking for,” Joey replied lamely. “Has she been sending you signals?” Charlie wanted to know. “Yes,” Joey answered honestly. “Have you been returning these signals?” Charlie continued questioning. “I...well I...,” Joey refused to answer the question, “Look this is hard for me too but I promise you Charlie this isn’t what you think. It’s...not a date.”

 “I don’t care about that,” Charlie flat out lied, trying to mask the pain threatening to send her into a flood of tears, “I’m not going to cry over you if you’re seeing someone else, you’re starting to make it quite clear we don’t have a future. What I do care about is the safety of my son.” And you.  “You think Riley’s gonna get hurt if I start seeing someone?” Joey deduced. "And you think I'm the bad parent? What? You can't connect the dots as to why he's been moody and upset the last few days?" Charlie pointed out. "You're blaming me for that?" Joey accused. "Well from what he and Leah told me just then, you and...her have been spending a lot of time together the last few days. I'm guessing he's seen you two together. So yes I am blaming you. I'm not the one parading around town with your new...whatever you want to call her," Charlie said, gritting her teeth on the last sentence. "Charlie I am not parading around with her," Joey stated clearly, "It's not like that. She's a...friend.

"Very convincing," Charlie muttered sarcastically. "Charlie I don't have any reasons to lie to you. She's an old friend I went to high school with, and I bumped into her the other day. She's moved back here from the City and I've just been...hanging out with her the last couple days while she settles back in here. Yes okay she has met Riley, and he's noticed that we've been spending some time together...and I should have known how much this could affect him. I should have sat him down and explained...that...we're just...It's been nice catching up with her and..." Joey trailed off, It's been nice having someone to talk to about my problems because you're not here for me anymore. "So tonight...is just dinner between two old friends...you're not...on a date together?" Charlie pushed.

"That's all it is...I don't know if I'm ready for anything more than that yet," Joey confessed. Charlie looked away from her, "Good." Joey looked at her surprised. Just as I was about to open up and tell you I'm not ready because...because of you...typical selfish Charlie is back. "I don't want my son near that woman," Charlie said hatefully. "What?" Joey looked at her speechless. Charlie stared straight back at her, her tone serious, "I do not want my son anywhere near her. Either you stay away from her or I'll make sure Riley's safe from her."

"What the hell Charlie? Why? There's nothing to be jealous of...do you think that she could replace you--" "That's not what I meant," Charlie interrupted, "I don't want that girl near him. I'm not gonna put him in danger." "In danger of what? Charlie how is she a danger? You don't even know her," Joey pointed out. "I don't have to know her Joey. I know what her brother's done to you, there's nothing more I need to know," Charlie responded, turning to walk away.

"Hey don't just walk away from me," Joey demanded as she pulled Charlie back, "Don't you dare accuse Kaitlyn of being like Robbo. She is nothing like him." "How can you be so sure?" Charlie challenged, “She’s related to him Joey, of course she’s like him!” "Because I know her and she could never do a thing like that. She told me after she found out what he’d done to me, she went to see him in jail...to tell him she’d kill him if he ever came near me again. She’s lucky she didn’t get charged by the cops for it, instead of just getting thrown out of the place, could’ve stuffed up her whole career. Just because she's related to him or was willing to say that to him doesn't mean she meant it and it doesn’t mean she's dangerous. I’m nothing like Brett. Is that what you think? That if she’s like Robbo, then I must be like Brett!? If that’s what you really feel then why in God’s name were you ever with me in first place?” Joey demanded.

“That’s...Joey I didn’t mean it like that,” Charlie looked away, realizing she’d put her foot in her mouth, “I know you’re nothing like Brett. Brett never affected my decision to be with you. I get what you are saying but Robbo is far worse than Brett and I will never trust anyone close to him and you shouldn’t either!” “I thought someone like you would believe in giving people second chances...I gave you more than enough," Joey whispered. Charlie shook her head, "Don't go there." "I'm not...I just...Charlie you need to believe me when I tell you that Kaitlyn is the exact opposite of Robbo. She's nothing like him and I am not stupid enough to put Riley in any kind of danger like that," Joey insisted.

"Doesn't matter what you think, I still don't trust her," Charlie stated honestly. "I'm not going to stop spending time with her just because of you," Joey fought back, "And if you want to keep Riley away from her...good luck. You've got no legal means of doing so and unless you plan on giving up your job to be a full-time mum and take him away from me...stop thinking of yourself for once." "This isn't about me. It's about my son and his safety--" Charlie tried to affirm, but Joey interrupted, "Stop calling him that. He is not...your son. Riley is our son Charlie." Charlie placed her hand against her forehead in frustration, "I know that. I didn't mean..." 

"Well it sure sounded like that," Joey sighed, "Look I know this is hard...it is for both of us. But we have to stop fighting like this...we have to find another way to communicate with each other rather than fighting over everything. Or else...this isn't the environment we should be raising our son into. Can we please just try and find a way to get along better?" "I'm trying...I am," Charlie whispered, "I know I never made you happy the way I promised, I know I failed at every opportunity you gave me, and I'm not...I'm not the parent you wanted me to be to Riley. I hate that...knowing that’s the kind of parent I am...knowing I’ve turned into my father – selfish, absentee father. I promised myself I would never be like him...I would do anything to help you raise Riley ourselves...not just abandon you when you need me the most and leave it up to you. Guess I really am like my father. It's not easy for me to make up for all my mistakes...but I'm trying as hard as I can to fix that. I don't know why you can't see it." 

Charlie slumped against the wall of the building, feeling defeated. Joey hesitated but took a few steps forward, so she was standing in front of Charlie. Reaching out she took Charlie's hand in her own, squeezing it lightly. Both girls ignored the sparks that one touch caused them, knowing that they've been through too much and it's for the best that they don't complicate their feelings now. But deep down, they knew it wasn't for the best. I'll never truly stop loving her will I? they both asked themselves.

Joey’s lips turned into a small smile, as she tried to comfort Charlie, “I do see that you’ve changed. I know how hard you’re trying to make things right. Maybe I made things too difficult too, by expecting too much from you. I never really took the time to understand how important your job is and why you’ve worked so hard for it. I had it easy, you worked and I raised Riley. I guess I just started taking it personally...that you’d rather be at work than with me.” “That is not true,” Charlie appealed, “I just got caught up in it too much at first, and then before I knew it I’d lost the sense of what was important in my life. Then yes...when we started having... major problems, I didn’t want to deal with it so...I threw myself into my work even more than usual because I couldn’t be around you...knowing how much I’d failed you. I didn’t see that I was only failing you more.”

Joey squeezed Charlie’s hand again, entangling their fingers, as she realized, “You ran away from your problems? Kinda like I did when I walked out on you.” Charlie nodded slowly, “Guess we both have the same way of dealing with our problems.” “Thank you for being honest with me,” Joey replied sincerely, “I think we made a good first step tonight...in starting to re-establish our relationship.” Charlie half-smiled, as a tear slipped down her cheek, “I think you’re right.” “So do you believe me when I tell you Kaitlyn is no danger to our son?” Joey questioned.

Charlie wiped away the tear, “I don’t trust her yet. It’s not just the Robbo thing, I don’t know her, and I don’t want my son spending time with someone I don’t know so can you please just respect my decision for once?” “Okay but maybe you should come back into the Diner with me and get to know her,” Joey suggested. Charlie looked down at the ground, “I don’t think that’d be such a good idea. She probably wants to punch me for dragging you out of the Diner like that. Don’t blame her, it’s the least I deserve,” Charlie admitted, as her fingers lightly trailed up to Joey’s wrist, and she stroked the bruises she had caused, “Kinda surprised she hasn’t walked out here to come protect you.”

“Might be because I told her you’d never hurt me...physically anyway,” Joey confessed. “But I did,” Charlie said sadly as she nodded her head towards their hands, “I never wanted to be that kind of person. Maybe I’m the one that’s more like Rob--” “Don’t you ever think that! You are nothing like him either Charlie,” Joey asserted, “What you did back there, yes it was stupid and reckless...but that’s not who you are. You always have to protect the people you lov...the ah...people who...are important to you.” “Yeah I guess I do...it’s part of what you love...d about me,” Charlie sobbed miserably. Joey took Charlie by the hand, slowly leading her back to the Diner, “C’mon if you’re not ready to get to know Kaitlyn you can at least apologise for interrupting our dinner.” Charlie walked beside her, continuing to grasp her hand, “You sure it’s just dinner...it’s not a date?”

Standing at the entrance to the Diner, but still outside, away from everyone’s view, Joey stared deep into Charlie’s eyes, “It’s not a date. But if...anything was to happen...I won’t lie to you. You have a right to know who’s in your son’s life.” “Thanks,” Charlie whispered, but deep down she felt her heart was still breaking – She thinks there’s a chance something might happen between them. For one last time Joey entangled their fingers comfortably, before pulling away from their grasp, and walking back into the restaurant. Taking a quick breath, Charlie followed her.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Nine

As Charlie caught Ruby’s eyes looking over at Kaitlyn then at both girls as they re-entered the Diner, she nodded, “It’s fine Rubes.” As Joey sat back down in front of Kaitlyn, quickly apologising for leaving, Charlie made her way over to their table. Suddenly feeling very awkward, and very much like the third wheel, Charlie hesitated before getting Kaitlyn’s attention. Which wasn’t hard since Kaitlyn had had her eyes fixed on her since she walked back into the room with Joey, looking for anything telling her that their relationship wasn’t truly over, that they still loved each other...she didn’t find anything. Little did she know that the two women had spent months fighting their real emotions, and had become used to pretending their feelings for each other didn’t exist...it’s how they were convinced the other wasn’t in love with them anymore.

Charlie held out her hand, “Sorry about before...I’m Charlie Buckton. I’m Joey’s...ah...Charlie...I mean ex...I’m Joey’s ex.” God could you be more lame? Joey’s Charlie?! Where the heck did that come from? Charlie cringed. Kaitlyn took her hand, shaking it lightly, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Kaitlyn Cruz.” Joey looked at the two women, feeling the tension between them, as silence overcame the group. “So...um I’m not really hungry anymore. Did you wanta get out of here?” Joey asked Kaitlyn. “Sure,” Kaitlyn nodded. Charlie took a few steps back, as the two women stood up, “Well uh...I’ll just leave you to it.” “I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Joey said to Charlie politely. Charlie nodded, then watched as Joey led Kaitlyn out of the Diner, stopping to say ‘Goodnight’ to Riley.

Charlie bit her lip as she observed Kaitlyn placing her hand on Joey’s lower back as the two girls walked out of the restaurant, laughing at something Joey had said. Finally Charlie slunk back over to her own table, and collapsed in her seat. “Well that seemed to go...okay. In fact you three looked almost civilised,” Ruby commented, “Did you and Joey have a good talk outside?” “Sort of I guess...didn’t rip each other to shreds for once and...uh I think we started opening up to one another about our problems,” Charlie informed her. Ruby reached out, taking Charlie’s hand, “Well it’s about time.” “That’s great Charlie,” Geoff added. Charlie smiled at Riley, then leaning over to ruffle his hair, as he now seemed more interested in his dinner then the conversation.

“So who was that mystery lady Joey’s with? I mean they’re not...?” Ruby asked, giving Charlie an apologetic look. “No Ruby they’re not on a date. She’s just an old friend from high school,” Charlie smiled, then frowning slightly, “Actually you’ll never guess who the girl is.” Ruby and Geoff looked on expectantly, waiting for Charlie to continue. “Well don’t keep us in suspense Charlz,” Ruby groaned. “Just promise me you won’t give Joey a hard time about it, because trust me I’ve already made my feelings on her quite clear,” Charlie sighed, as Ruby nodded, “She’s Kaitlyn Cruz.”

Ruby looked at Charlie stunned, “That’s Kaitlyn Cruz? Kaitlyn Cruz as in...” “Yep,” Charlie answered. “No seriously...Kaitlyn Cruz as in...” Ruby repeated. “That’d be the one,” Charlie again responded. Ruby sat back in her chair, “Wow. I didn’t see that coming. Geez Charlie I’m surprised you haven’t reacted at all to this.” “Oh trust me, I reacted alright. But Joey calmed me down, and I’m...well I can’t say I’m okay about it but I trust Joey, so I guess I am sorta okay about it,” Charlie shrugged. Ruby’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, “Wait...you’re okay with this?” Charlie nodded. Ruby continued looking at her mystified by Charlie’s response, “God Charlie I at least expected some major fireworks over this. How can you be okay with it? Joey’s ex-girlfriend breezes back into town and back into Joey’s life...and you’re okay with it?”

Charlie’s face fell, the sparkle in her eyes disappeared, and as she spoke her lip trembled, “Wait what? Kaitlyn’s...Joey’s ex-girlfriend?” Geoff let go of Ruby’s hand, “I might...leave you two to talk for a minute. C’mon Riley, let’s go pick out a cake for desert.” Geoff led Riley over to the counter. “Tell me you knew this,” Ruby insisted quietly once the boys were out of earshot. “No Ruby I didn’t...I was talking about the fact that Kaitlyn’s...Robbo’s sister. What did you think I meant?” Charlie demanded upset. “Well I just assumed...you knew. I’m sorry I had to be the one who told you,” Ruby apologised.

“Are you sure? I mean Joey never mentioned her to me...not once. And...and we had the whole...ex’s conversation when we first got back together. We told each about our previous relationships because we didn’t want there to be any secrets. Didn’t matter how painful or bad they ended, if they hadn’t happened, Joey and I might not have been together,” Charlie rambled as she looked away from Ruby, avoiding her eyes for fear of bursting into tears. “Yeah I’m sure they were together,” Ruby answered honestly, “She told me about Kaitlyn a few years back...I didn’t think she wouldn’t have told you.” “Tell me what she told you about her,” Charlie demanded softly. “Charlie I really don’t think this is a good idea. You should really be talking to Joey. She’s the only one who can tell you why she didn’t...tell you...” Ruby trailed off as Charlie turned back to her, her eyes pleading with Ruby to tell her. Ruby nodded.

“Okay well she didn’t tell me much. Just that they had been close friends most of their lives, since Robbo and Brett had grown up together. They found out they had romantic feelings for each when they were seventeen and started a relationship,” Ruby told her. “So they were...high school sweethearts?” Charlie said sadly. “I guess so. She was the first girl Joey was ever...with. But they kept their relationship a secret, fearing their brother’s reactions. Just when things were going so well for them, I mean they were like madly in love...sorry,” Ruby apologised as she saw Charlie flinch, “It’s um...just how Joey described it. Anyway, well a few months into their relationship, Robbo caught them making out at their house. The girls were frightened of him, expecting him to get violent, but he...well surprisingly he was too shocked to do anything...’til he’d had some time to think about it.”

“What did he do?” Charlie asked apprehensively. Ruby breathed deeply, “Well for starters he didn’t tell Brett about it because he thought he could ‘handle’ the problem himself. A couple days after he found out, Kaitlyn rocked up at school with some bruising along her face. She refused to talk to Joey for weeks, telling Joey it was a ‘phase’ for her, Joey meant nothing to her, which is what she had told Robbo. When questioned, she used the old ‘tripped down the stairs, hit my face against the banister’ excuse for how she got the bruises. Joey didn’t believe her, it had obviously been Robbo, but Kaitlyn wouldn’t say anything about her brother. Joey eventually cornered her, and they revealed that they both still had feelings for each other.

Once again their timing sucked, and Robbo caught them in Kaitlyn’s bed together after they had obviously...you know. He went mental when he realized that Kaitlyn had lied to him, that Joey’s feelings weren’t one-sided, and his sister was gay. That it wasn’t just Joey that was ‘sick.’ He threw Joey out of the house literally, and did everything to keep them apart, still accusing Joey of ‘turning’ Kaitlyn. He kept threatening to hurt Joey if Kaitlyn went near her again. End of high school came around, and knowing Robbo was at work, Joey went to see Kaitlyn, only to find out from her parents that she’d moved to the City. It left Joey really devastated.”

“Why wouldn’t she have told me any of this?” Charlie looked at Ruby, searching for any possible answer, “She told me there was this girl in high school that she dated briefly...but she didn’t mean anything to her. Certainly didn’t describe them as being ‘madly in love’. Why would she lie to me? And again tonight, not once did she tell me Kaitlyn’s her ex?” “I can’t answer that,” Ruby said softly, “I mean maybe it was just the whole Robbo thing, having to talk about him again. Maybe she wasn’t ready for that when you two were discussing your prior relationships.” “Maybe. Joey’s never lied to me about anything. So why now? Unless...” Charlie replied, still puzzled over Joey’s actions. “Unless what Charlz?” Ruby pushed. Charlie shook her head, the thoughts swarming her head making her frustrated, “Unless she didn’t want to tell me about Kaitlyn because she never truly got over her. What if the last six years, my whole relationship with Joey has been a lie because Joey’s still in love with her?”

Ruby lent forward, taking Charlie’s hands in her own, “Don’t do this to yourself Charlie! Don’t you ever think for one second, one micro-second, that Joey doesn’t love you. So she never really got any closure on their relationship, that doesn’t mean that she was using you or anything like that until Kaitlyn came back. Joey loved you fiercely...she still does. The love you two share for one another...it’s the type of love people dream about finding all the time. Please Charlie, don’t you dare question your whole relationship because Joey neglected one detail.” Charlie nodded, “I know you’re right. I’m just...over-reacting. I can’t help that I’m terrified...of losing her. For real this time. I guess it’s just a defence mechanism that I put up...to think that what we had wasn’t real. So it hurts less if she does leave me for another woman.”

“Charlie don’t you see that is exactly why Joey left you both times? You shut down your emotions, and make up excuses so that it causes you less pain. But all you’re doing is causing yourself more pain trying to block it out,” Ruby explained, “I get that you’re confused about her actions and you have this real fear of losing her but don’t just sit here trying to hide all your emotions and how you really feel. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re pissed off, then act like it. If you want to fight for her, then damn well fight for her! I just want you to do something Charlie. Have some reaction for what you’re going through!”

“I’m trying Ruby but I’m just really confused right now. I might...um just go for a walk...see if I can clear my head,” Charlie sighed, “Will you be right to take Riley home? Unless of course you were planning on staying at Geoff’s tonight.” “That’s fine, we can take him home, and let you have some space. As long as you’re cool with Geoff staying over,” Ruby replied. “Well if you’re planning on moving in with him soon, why would I have a problem with it?” Charlie pointed out. “Good point. So are you maybe planning on going over to Joey’s to see her? See if you can get some answers from her?” Ruby questioned.

Charlie bit her lip, “I don’t think so. I’m not ready to see her again tonight and ask her what’s going on and why she lied to me. And I’m definitely not ready to see her hanging out with that woman again. If I did see them together I’d probably...try to punch my fist through a wall.” “Well at least that’s one way of showing your emotions about all this,” Ruby smiled. “I’ll see you later tonight. I won’t be gone long, I just need some time to think things through. If Joey’s...moving on with her life...I need to work out how to deal with it,” Charlie decided sadly.

“Okay but if you want to talk about this, please call me or let me know,” Ruby pleaded. “Of course I will. I’ll see you later on tonight at home. Tell Riley I’m sorry I bailed on dinner tonight and I can’t wait ‘til his birthday party tomorrow,” Charlie said as she stood up. Ruby squeezed her hands, before letting go, “Remember Charlie...just because Kaitlyn’s back in town and spending time with Joey...it doesn’t mean anything’s happening with them. It doesn’t mean you’re going to lose her.” “Thanks for being so supportive Rubes,” Charlie thanked her as she walked out of the Diner.

Making her way down to the beach, Charlie sighed heavily, trying to make sense of where her life got so complicated and wondered if she could ever get her life back. Trudging through the sand, holding her shoes in her hand, Charlie stared out at the ocean. Running her free hand through her hair, Charlie looked up back towards the Surf Club. Charlie frowned as she spotted Joey and Kaitlyn standing side by side, leaning against the wooden railing that led down to the beach. Both girls were laughing and smiling at each other.

Charlie gritted her teeth, and forced her feet to stop walking forwards, closer to them, not wanting them to know she was there watching them, or to know what they were talking about, and if Joey was as happy as she looked. But Charlie balled up her fist, as she watched Joey shivering from the cold and Kaitlyn wrap her arm around her shoulders to warm her up. Joey shifted her arm, to slip it around Kaitlyn’s waist. All of a sudden Charlie’s anger subsided, as several tears rolled down her cheeks, as she observed Joey’s embrace with her ex-girlfriend.

Charlie closed her eyes, trying to stop the tears from flowing. Upon opening them again, Charlie found herself watching the pair as they turned their heads towards each other. The tears streamed down her face as Kaitlyn inched closer bringing her lips to Joey’s...and Joey didn’t pull away. How can she do this to me...to us? Why did she lie to me? Before Charlie knew it, she was running, bolting in the opposite direction away from the pair. Running as fast as she could across the sand, her vision blurred from the tears that still flowed down her face, Charlie didn’t know where she was going, all she knew was that she wanted to get away...away from where her mistakes had lead Joey into the arms of her ex.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Ten

Charlie woke the following morning, rolling over in her empty bed, she wanted nothing more than to fall back asleep and wished that the previous nights events were all just some horrible nightmare. But as Charlie squeezed her hand in frustration, she realized it wasn’t a dream, recalling the memory of watching Kaitlyn kissing Joey. Charlie fought back more tears, shifting her head against her pillow, she felt how damp it was from crying herself to sleep. Slowly getting herself up, Charlie walked into the ensuite, staring at her reflection for several minutes.

Washing her face with water, she dried herself off. Having a quick shower, Charlie tried to forget about her problems as she knew she needed to put them aside if she didn’t want to ruin her son’s birthday. Getting out of the shower, and pulling a towel around her, Charlie grimaced as she tried to bend her fingers, feeling the pain shoot through her hand. Drying off her hair quickly, and leaving it down, Charlie then moved back into her room to get changed.

Feeling oddly motivated to take Ruby’s advice last night, to impress Joey, in an attempt to win her back, knowing if she didn’t she had every chance of really losing her, Charlie searched through her dresser drawers. Simply putting on a pair of white briefs, a white bra, and pulling her dressing gown over them but not doing it up. Shaking her head slowly as Charlie looked at herself in the mirror, Charlie groaned at the jealousness she was feeling, knowing it was right for her to be feeling that way but afraid that she would probably only end up making a fool of herself. It’s what she’d gotten used to, when Joey first left her and she’d tried to win her back a few days later.

Making her way out of her room, Charlie quickly popped her head into Riley’s room. Seeing him sleeping peacefully, she decided to leave him to sleep in, and go make them some breakfast. Hearing some noises and dishes been moved about in the kitchen, Charlie smiled at the thought of Ruby beating her to the idea of making breakfast. Charlie was surprised when she entered the room to find Joey standing at the stove, placing pancake mix into a frying pan. Charlie stood there silently watching her move about the kitchen. Charlie smiled, suddenly realizing she shouldn’t have been surprised to find her there. Where else would she be on Riley’s birthday?

Flashback – March 2013 (Riley’s 2nd Birthday)

Charlie grinned as she walked into the kitchen, finding Joey hovering above a frying pan, flipping several pancakes. Tip toeing quietly, Charlie sneaked up behind Joey, grabbing her around the waist and kissing her on the cheek, before placing her chin against Joey’s shoulder. “Morning beautiful,” Charlie greeted. Joey let go of the spatula she was holding, placing it on the bench, and entangled her hands with Charlie’s, “Morning yourself gorgeous. I love it when you sneak up on me like this.” “Hmm you have mentioned that once or twice,” Charlie giggled. Joey turned around in their embrace, wrapping her arms around Charlie’s waist, leaning up to kiss her passionately.

“Well this sure is one way to start the day,” Charlie smiled, “Making pancakes again baby?” “It’s my speciality. Expect it every year for Riley’s birthday,” Joey grinned, “Even though he’s still a little young now...so I guess we can enjoy them instead this morning.” “What about my birthday? Do I get pancake-y goodness for my birthday?” Charlie pouted. “I think that can be arranged,” Joey smirked. Turning back to the pancakes, Joey picked up the spatula and started flipping them again, as Charlie wrapped her arms back around Joey’s waist. “I can’t believe that our baby boy is two years old. How did time go so quickly?” Joey asked. “You’re asking me? I feel like it was only yesterday we got married and then started talking about having a family and now here we are,” Charlie commented.

“Are you happy with how our life has turned out together?” Joey asked happily. Charlie squeezed her waist, “I love you and I love our son. I don’t think I could be happier.” “Oh I know a way you could be happier,” Joey smirked. “Oh really?” Charlie mocked surprise. Joey placed the spatula back down on the bench, then turning around back into Charlie’s embrace, she pulled her closer, kissing her passionately. Charlie moaned excitedly as Joey’s tongue entered her mouth. “God I’ve missed this so much,” Joey groaned.

Gripping the edges of Joey’s shirt, Charlie looked down into her eyes, “I’ve been going crazy without you.” Joey wrapped her arms tightly around Charlie’s waist, leaning her forehead against Charlie’s, “You have been on the night shift now for a week, and when you do manage to come home, it’s for a couple of hours of sleep.” “I know...I’m sorry work has just started to get busy all of a sudden...and I have to go back tonight. Guess I’m lucky I managed to wrangle today off for Riley’s birthday,” Charlie sighed.

Joey pressed their lips together again, before lowering her lips to nibble along Charlie’s neck, “I know...it’s just the sucky part about your job but Charlie...you’ve barely been home all week. That is seven long nights and days I haven’t been able to feel your body against mine.” Charlie started to lift up Joey’s shirt, “Well I’m here now. Let me make it up to you.” “I’m not letting you go anytime soon,” Joey smiled, holding onto Charlie tighter.

“Hey Jo,” Charlie giggled, “Just one question.” Joey lent back up kissing Charlie, silencing her, as she began dragging Charlie away from the counter, “Mmm?” Breaking apart their lips, Charlie chuckled, “You’ve got another batch of pancake mix right?” “Hmm...oh crap! They’re burnt, so much for my speciality,” Joey groaned as she let go of Charlie, turning back to the pancakes, “But yes I have more for another batch.” Charlie lent forward, flicking the stove off. “Good you can come back and re-make them again...after I’m done with you.”

“That sounds perfect,” Joey grinned as she pulled Charlie back into their embrace, “Riley’s still asleep right?” “Yep, I’d say we should let him sleep in...I mean it is his birthday. Then you and I can have some much needed time to uh...make up for,” Charlie smirked. “Mmm but you know we have a whole week to make up for...this could take a while,” Joey replied seductively as she kissed Charlie’s neck and shoulder. “Well we’d better get started because I want to show you exactly how much I’ve missed being with you this week,” Charlie decided, “And that I never want to have to miss you like that again if I can help it.” Grabbing Joey’s hand, Charlie pulled them out of the kitchen, towards their bedroom and...

Present Day – March 2015

Charlie continued to watch as Joey stood at the stove, doing everything to resist walking up behind her and grabbing her around the hips like she’d done two years ago...and many other times. She’s not yours anymore Charlie realized sadly as she looked down at her hand then back up at Joey, recalling what she’d witnessed last night. Feeling that she wasn’t alone, Joey suddenly looked up, “Charlie! God how long have you been there? You...scared me.” “I...um...” Charlie stammered, “Ah...not long. I just...wasn’t expecting you to be here.” “Yeah...sorry I should have called first. I just wanted to surprise Riley. I hope you don’t mind that I just let myself in,” Joey said quietly.

Charlie shrugged, “If you insist on still paying your share of the mortgage...it’s your place too.” “Right,” Joey said, biting her lip at how cold Charlie seemed to act, before she turned back to the stove, and started flipping the pancakes again. “So...ah do you want me to go wake Riley?” Charlie asked, pointing her hand towards his room. Joey looked over at her again, “Pancakes should be ready in a couple...Charlie what’d you do to you hand?” Charlie cringed, bringing it back down and hiding it behind her back, “It’s nothing. I’ll go wake Ril--”

“Charlie!” Joey called out, turning the stove down, “That doesn’t look like nothing to me.” “It’s not your problem,” Charlie replied harshly. Joey sighed before taking a few steps to stand in front of Charlie, reaching out her hand. Charlie shook her head as she shifted her hand from behind her back and placed it on Joey’s palm. Joey examined it quickly, noticing Charlie’s hand was covered in bruises and the skin was grazed with traces of blood just being washed from the wounds. “Sit down at the table, I’ll get the first aid kit,” Joey whispered. “Joey it’s nothing. It’s just a few scratches,” Charlie tried to dismiss. “Yeah and that clean up job you did on it was awful. I’m getting some disinfectant and bandages. No buts Charlie. Either you let me clean it up or I’ll take you to Rachel,” Joey stipulated. Charlie finally nodded, and Joey walked out of the kitchen, “Keep flipping those pancakes for me Charlie...with your good hand.”

A few minutes later, Charlie and Joey were seated at the kitchen table. Charlie had her hand out, while Joey was placing some disinfectant onto some cotton wool balls, “You sure you haven’t broken any bones in your hand?” “Pretty sure...can’t really feel anything in my hand yet, pain’s still numbing it...that’s probably not a good thing,” Charlie said sadly. Pointing at the biggest gash on Charlie’s knuckle, Joey told her, “This will probably sting quite a bit. You ready?” Charlie nodded. “Count of three. C’mon, one--” Joey placed the cotton wool ball straight onto Charlie’s knuckle, and Charlie growled at the stinging sensation. “I knew you were gonna do that,” Charlie hissed.

Joey rolled her eyes, “Yeah well I wanted to get you before you chickened out.” Charlie whimpered again, as Joey wiped the disinfectant over her hand, “Charlie you didn’t even whinge this much about the pain when you got hit by a car and dislocated your hip.” “I was unconscious for the most of it...and on pain medication when I wasn’t,” Charlie argued. “You’re such a wimp when it comes to any kind of pain,” Joey teased. “Makes you wonder why I became a cop?” Charlie queried. “Nope makes it obvious why you didn’t become a nurse or Doctor,” Joey answered, “Just can’t deal with pain.” “Are you done yet? My hand feels all better,” Charlie lied.

“Not yet. I still need to disinfect these scrapes, then put some bandages on it. Then if you’re good I might let you have some pain medication,” Joey told her, “How’d you do this anyway?” “Doesn’t matter,” Charlie dismissed. “Charlie...” Joey said sternly. Charlie shrugged, “I punched a wall okay.” “Trying to see if it would hit back?” Joey suddenly joked, lightening the tension, as she continued to clean up the wounds. “No to see if I could punch my hand through the wall,” Charlie replied light-heartedly. “Seriously Charlie, why’d you hurt yourself like this?” Joey said, returning to her stern tone. God why does she have to act like such a wife? Charlie thought. “I was just...pissed off is all,” she answered.

Joey scrunched up her face, keeping her voice serious, “At the wall?” “No not at the wall...” Charlie started saying before Joey broke into laughter, “Okay very funny. Make jokes at the cripple’s expense. I’m the one that has to go back to work tomorrow and explain to my boss why I won’t be able to do paperwork for the next week or so.” “Should’ve thought of that before you smashed up your writing hand Charlz,” Joey remarked casually.

“Yeah well maybe I wasn't thinking at the time...kinda the point,” Charlie sighed. “So what were you pissed off about? I thought we'd settled a few things,” Joey pushed again. “Told you...doesn't matter,” Charlie repeated, before yelling out, “Oww damn it Jo! What was that for?” Joey had wiped the disinfectant over the large graze on Charlie's knuckle again. “Sorry thought I missed a spot...and I'll just keep missing spots and cleaning it up if you don't tell me what's up,” Joey warned quietly. Charlie rolled her eyes, “You're going to threaten me with disinfectant...? Oww oww, okay stop it that stings like hell Jo! Fine I give up! Did you always used to be so cruel?” “I'm not cruel Charlz...I just know how to use disinfectant to my advantage,” Joey claimed, as she put the bottle down, and picked up the bandages, beginning to slowly wrap them around Charlie's hand.

“Do you realize what you just said?” Charlie looked at her weirdly. “Don't change the subject to my weird sense of humour,” Joey stated sharply, “I thought we'd started to sort out our issues last night. Now I find you in a distracted mood and that you got pissed off enough last night to punch a wall. That's not like you.” “Maybe you don't know me anymore,” Charlie said looking away from Joey. “You really think that?” Joey replied, the hurt evident in her voice, “I thought we were really getting somewhere yesterday.” “So, did I,” Charlie whispered. “So, what changed? When did things change?” Joey asked lightly, pulling the bandage around Charlie's hand and tightening it, as she clipped it up. Charlie looked down at their hands, as she still had her hand leaning on Joey's palm, then looked up at her, tears welling up in her eyes, “I dunno maybe when I caught you kissing your 'former'. How else did you expect me to react? Knowing that I’ve finally lost you...why didn’t you just tell me you two were together?”

Why can’t you just tell me if we’ll ever have a chance of being happy together again? Please Jo...just tell me that kiss didn’t mean anything...tell me it just made you see...that I’m the one you want to be with...

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Eleven

‘I dunno maybe when I caught you kissing your 'former'.’ Oh God...I never meant for her to find out like this. ‘Knowing that I’ve finally lost you...’ God Charlie you haven’t lost me... “You saw that?” Joey winced. Charlie nodded slowly, pursing her lips, trying desperately not to cry...not to show any emotions. Because that's just what I need to do right? Make a fool of myself by turning into a sobbing idiot now. “Why didn't you say anything?” Joey stared at her. “Hoping it was a dream...or nightmare,” Charlie tried to laugh off, “Guess it wasn't.” “It wasn't what it looked like Charl--” Joey started to say, but Charlie interrupted, “Funny...you said the same thing last night when I asked if you were on a date with her...and I believed you.” “Charlie it was the truth...at the time. I never meant for that...kiss to happen. It took me by surprise too you know,” Joey admitted. “But you still kissed her back,” Charlie pointed out. Joey nodded, then suggested, “Yeah I did. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this Charlie. If you’re not ready for this, maybe we should keep our private lives...private.” Charlie removed her hand from Joey’s, placing it out in front of her, “Joey...we’ve never held back on each other. I don’t want you to shut me out just because it might hurt me. If you’re...moving on...then I need to learn to deal with it. And I can’t do that if you try and keep me in the dark about it, so I can pretend it’s not happening.”

Or I’m really just terrified of losing you completely...I need to know if I still have a chance of winning you back. Of winning my family back. There’s still a chance right? I mean she said...she didn’t mean for the kiss to happen...so maybe it didn’t mean anything. Or maybe Kaitlyn’s a bad kisser and she doesn’t want to do it again. She looks like she could be a bad kisser...ah who am I kidding?! The woman’s gorgeous, no wonder Joey’s falling for her. Falling for her? I didn’t just think that because it can’t be...true, Charlie groaned silently as these thoughts clouded her mind.

“Charlie are you sure about this? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable or jealous by talking about her,” Joey said calmly. “Joey if you want to talk about this...I’m here to listen,” Charlie replied kindly. Joey nodded, flicking some strands of hair behind her ear, “I didn’t expect what happened last night to happen.” “Did you sleep with her?” Charlie asked sharply before she could stop herself. Joey shook her head, “Of course not. Charlie if you’re going to accuse me of something like this before giving me a chance to explain then you aren’t ready for this.” Charlie closed her eyes, breathing deeply, before opening them again, “Sorry I just...guess I’m not ready for that conversation yet. Knowing that you’ve been with... Look it was just a kiss, nothing to be jealous about.”

“You’re not jealous?” Joey questioned, “So...then why did you do this to yourself? Why’d you go out and punch a wall?” “Because...I...I was angry that you lied to me...um...about not dating her. We used to tell each other everything. It just...hurt...knowing how much things have changed between us that....there’s secrets between us...and I overreacted.  You seem disappointed that I’m not jealous,” Charlie disclosed. “No...I’m uh glad you’re not like that,” Joey smiled, “When I spoke to you last night about Kaitlyn, I was telling you the truth. We are...were just friends and maybe that dinner we had was kinda...date-like. When we left the Diner...we just went for a walk. Talking about everything, she’s a good friend. Kinda missed the fact I haven’t seen her in ten years. When we made our way down to the edge of the beach, we had started talking about why she left the Bay. Then the whole...Robbo thing came up again.” “About what he did to you when he attacked you?” Charlie realized.

“Yeah,” Joey said softly, “You know you’re not the only one with the opinion that Kaitlyn’s like him. Kaitlyn’s terrified of the fact that there’s even a small chance that she could be like her brother, and doesn’t understand how I can forgive her. So I was trying to convince her that she hasn’t done anything I need to forgive, and like I told you last night: I’m not like Brett. She still got quite emotional over it because she still blames herself on some level that she wasn’t here to stop him, and I was just trying to comfort her...in a friend kinda-way.” “But then she kissed you...and you didn’t pull away,” Charlie whispered.

Joey hesitated, before placing her hand over Charlie’s injured hand, squeezing it very lightly, not wanting to hurt her, just letting her know she was there, “I think I was too nervous to pull away...I felt like I was back in high school. The second before she lent forwards to kiss me...I froze. Like it didn’t quite feel like it was real. Reminded me about...our first kiss. When I was the one that pulled back because I was so shocked that you had been the one to make the first move...you kissed me.” “So you were thinking about me when she kissed you?” Charlie asked anxiously, with a subtle hint of hope and eagerness in her voice.

“I really wasn’t thinking much of anything when she kissed me...that’s just something I realized last night falling asleep,” Joey told her. Charlie paused before asking, “Falling asleep...alone right? I mean you and her weren’t...” “Yes alone, I told you that before. I’m not ready yet for that type of relationship. Trust me if you knew how nervous I was when she kissed me, you’d know how not ready I am to be with anyone. I’d probably be a nervous wreck,” Joey tried to laugh off. “Sorry I just guess...that since it’s been a while since you...we were together...I kinda assumed...you have a hot, gorgeous woman who’s interested in you. Everybody has needs, and it’s normal that you’re going to want to fulfil those needs,” Charlie replied honestly, “But I understand the nervousness.”

Joey stroked Charlie’s fingers, which were slightly poking out from the bandage, giggling, “Yeah I remember our first time. I thought you were going to hyperventilate at one point.” “I wasn’t that bad was I?” Charlie groaned. “No you were...unbelievable. You were just terrified that you weren’t going to be enough for me, that you could never make me happy just because you’d never been with another woman before. You didn’t even have to say anything, I could see it all written in your eyes,” Joey smiled warmly. “I miss that...you being able to know everything that I’m thinking by looking into my eyes,” Charlie confessed. “I miss it too,” Joey replied. She’s talking in the past-tense...like she can’t do it anymore...like we don’t have that connection anymore Charlie realized.

“So does this mean you two are back together again...after that kiss you shared?” Charlie asked apprehensively. “I’m not really sure to be honest. After our kiss, we didn’t really talk about it, we just stood there holding each other until she walked me home, and I haven’t had the chance to talk to her yet...” Joey paused, “You said ‘again’...’back together again’ and when you said you saw us kissing you called her my ‘former.’” “She’s your ex right?” Charlie shrugged. “Yeah she is...how did you know that?” Joey questioned softly.

“Ruby told me you two were...high school sweethearts last night when I told her who Kaitlyn was. Why didn’t you tell me about her?” Charlie asked sadly. “Well I...guess the opportunity never came up,” Joey lied. “Don’t lie to me...it’s the one thing you’re not good at,” Charlie whispered. “I should have told you last night that she’s my ex-girlfriend...or years back. I don’t know why I didn’t. I know I got hurt really bad from our relationship when she just took off without a word. I know why she did it, to stop Robbo from hassling me about ‘turning’ his sister, but it still hurt that I didn’t get any kind of closure. I guess I thought it’d be easier to just forget it ever happened,” Joey confessed. “You never forget the first person you were ever with...the first person you fell in love with,” Charlie reminded her.

“I wasn’t in love with Kaitlyn back then. I liked her and had strong feelings for her, sure, but I think I was more caught up in the...idea of her being my first love. She was the first person I fell for...but I was never ‘in love’ with her. All I know is...my whole life I’ve only ever loved one person,” Joey smiled. Charlie entangled their fingers, as much as she could ignoring the searing pain that still shot up her arm, as she smiled back. Then her smile faded slightly, as she lent forwards, “It is me...right?” Joey let her fingers drop from Charlie’s grip, then playfully smacked Charlie on the arm, “Of course it’s you, you goof.” “I was just checking,” Charlie admitted nervously. Joey shifted her chair closer to Charlie, “Come here.” Joey wrapped her arms around Charlie’s neck, as Charlie snaked her arms comfortably around Joey’s lower back.

“Thank you for letting me talk about this,” Joey whispered, “I know it’s hard for you.” Charlie pushed away several tears, threatening to spill down her cheeks, “I’ll always be here for you. No matter what.” “I don’t know how I’m feeling right now about Kaitlyn...about this whole situation. It’s really confusing for me because...I never considered the possibility of ever moving on with anyone else. I don’t know what the future holds for me and whether I am ready to move on...but I’m glad we feel comfortable enough to be honest with each other about how we really feel,” Joey comforted.

Yeah...I’m being real honest both girls shook their heads, but continued hanging onto each other. “Oh and Charlie...maybe next time we hug...you could be...I dunno wearing...actual clothes,” Joey chuckled lightly, “You know I like the whole...bra and briefs look...but it’s not exactly a look I expected from you this morning.” Jealous is she? Charlie thought. “Hey you’re the one that started hugging me knowing I was dressed like this,” Charlie giggled, “Plus you’re the one that walked in here unannounced. Wasn’t expecting company...so I can wear whatever I want.”

“Point taken,” Joey agreed, “But I will say...it’s nice to see you out of your uniform.” “I thought you loved me in my uniform,” Charlie sniggered. Joey rolled her eyes – okay, so very true. Both women continued to cling onto one another, reluctant to let go but knowing they had to soon before the awkwardness set in. Suddenly Charlie felt a small tugging on her dressing gown, and looked down to find Riley standing next to them. Finally realizing she had to let go of Joey, as she didn’t want to confuse Riley anymore about their relationship, Charlie pulled her arms away from Joey.

“Happy birthday Riley!” Charlie exclaimed, as Joey also smiled down at him, “Morning birthday boy!” Both girls reached out at the same time to ruffle his hair, their fingers grazing each other’s briefly. Without saying a word, Riley placed his hands on Charlie’s knees, and she used her good arm to help lift him up onto her lap. Wrapping her arm around his waist to keep him steady, she smiled at him, “Interrupted us ‘cause you were missing out on family hugs huh?” Riley nodded, “Yes Mama C.” “We’re sorry Ry, we didn’t mean to exclude you baby boy,” Joey apologized, as she lent forwards pulling him into a quick hug, while he was still seated on Charlie’s lap. Charlie smiled at her family in front of her. How did I lose all this?

Letting go of him, Joey pulled back but held onto his hand, “How you feeling Ry?” “Much better now Mama J,” Riley answered. “I’m so glad baby boy, we got so worried about you,” Joey told him. “So are you looking forward to your party today Riley?” Charlie asked him. Riley looked up at her, a huge grin on his face, “Yep. There’s gonna be games, presents, magicians and cake right?” “Are you kidding me? Do you think we would plan your birthday party without all those things? What kind of parents do you take us for?” Joey teased him, ruffling his hair again. “You’re the best parents ever,” Riley announced. Joey and Charlie looked over at each other, sharing a knowing look – maybe we’re not doing as badly as we thought.

Charlie wrapped her arm around him tighter, “Well you know what? As the best parents ever we’ve both got some presents for you that we’re gonna let you open now instead of waiting until this afternoon. What do you think of that Riley?” “Awesome,” Riley answered enthusiastically. “But you’re gonna be a good boy today right?” Joey clarified playfully. “Of course Mama J,” Riley agreed, before he suddenly noticed the bandage on Charlie’s hand, and looked up at her concerned, “Did you hurt yourself Mum?”

Charlie stroked his face, against his cheek, “Yeah but I’ll be okay. Just a few bruises, nothing serious I promise.” “How’d you hurt yourself? Did you get hurt at work?” Riley continued to ask worried. “No baby it had nothing to do with work. I’m good at my job remember. I just um...I hurt it when I...” Charlie struggled to explain her actions to her son without telling him the reason behind them. Joey squeezed his hand, then added calmly, “You’re mum’s...just a bit of an idiot sometimes. Doesn’t think before she acts.” Charlie raised her eyebrow at Joey, “Always such a comfort telling the truth Jo. But yes Ry, she’s right...I was just...acting like an idiot. Don’t worry about me, baby boy, I’ll be fine. You don’t need to be worried about me at all.”

“Okay Mama C,” Riley nodded, “I’m glad you’re okay.” “Trust me...this little injury wouldn’t keep me away from your party today,” Charlie promised. “Say Riley, why don’t you go get changed and when you come back we can open those presents we got for you,” Joey suggested happily. “Okay,” Riley smiled, as he slowly crawled off Charlie’s lap, and once landing on the floor, ran back to his room. “We’ve done well with him...considering...the circumstances,” Joey smiled. “Yeah we have,” Charlie nodded in agreement, as she stood up, “Thanks for...fixing my hand. You didn’t have to do that.” “’Course I did, couldn’t have all the kids today being freaked out by the scars all over your hand could we?” Joey joked. Charlie rolled her eyes, “You’re such a...” wife.

“Such a what?” Joey looked up at Charlie as she also stood up, then made her way back to the stove. “Doesn’t matter,” Charlie whispered. Joey threw out the contents in the frying pan, which had gone stone cold, and grabbed the pancake mixture to start again. “Do you always make sure you have enough mixture for two batches?” Charlie asked her. “Yep, first batch always gets interrupted by something or other, so I’ve learnt to just ensure I can make another batch,” Joey responded. Charlie smiled knowingly, “I’m just gonna check on Ry. Make sure he’s getting ready for his party.”

“Oh ah...Charlie,” Joey called out to her, and Charlie turned back, “I...ah...I thought you should know...I invited Kaitlyn to Riley’s birthday party today. I invited her yesterday morning before we...kissed. If you’re not comfortable with her being there then I can...” Charlie swallowed hard, “It’s fine...need to get used to it sooner or later.” Fine!?! It’s not fine! Why did you say it was fine? Knowing Joey might be falling for another woman is...difficult enough to deal with...but having them together in front of me...I don’t know if I can do this. But I have to...I can’t let my jealousy ‘cause another fight between us. I need to learn...that maybe Joey and I aren’t destined to be together...

Joey turned around, her eyes searching Charlie’s eyes for the truth, and all she could say is, “Thanks Charlie.” “I should...ah go check on Ry now,” Charlie said again as she exited the kitchen. God please tell me I’ll be okay seeing them...being a couple...that I won’t do something to ruin this for Joey. I can’t make a fool of myself...and let Joey know I’m still in love with her...when she’s obviously not in love with me anymore.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twelve

Charlie and Joey arrived with Riley to Leah’s a couple hours later. Most of the guests, including Riley’s friends and the girls’ friends, had already arrived. Riley was welcomed by the group, and immediately ran over to his group of friends to decide which party games they wanted to play first. Charlie and Joey gave each other a friendly smile as Joey moved across the room to see Aden and Nicole, while Charlie headed off in the opposite direction for Ruby and Geoff.

“Hey Joey, how’s Riley going?” Aden asked as he passed her a drink when she got over to them, and wrapped his arm around her shoulder in a quick hug. “He’s good Aid. Seems back to normal from his illness and had a good time with Charlie, so we can stop worrying about him,” she replied happily. “He certainly looks like he’s already having such a fun time with his friends,” Nicole grinned. “Your boy is growing up fast,” Aden laughed, “Just think he’s gonna be in high school soon enough.” “God time better not move that quickly. I don’t think I’m ready to even contemplate him going to primary school. What will I do with myself every day?” Joey asked calmly.

“Come back on the trawler with me and Geoff every day of course. It’ll stop you missing him...a little. The last five years have just blown past since you and Charlie decided to start a family, trust me, he’ll be in high school before you know it. Hope you and Charlie are prepared to fend off all the gorgeous girls that’ll be chasing him,” Aden chuckled, “’Cause if he’s anything like me...you’re in for some drama.” “Might leave that job for Charlie, I’m sure she’d be better at frightening them away since she’s a cop,” Joey grinned, “Oh and Charlie and I already decided years ago that since your his Uncle, Aid, you get to be the one to give him ‘the talk.’” “’The talk’? I can’t do that. That the parents job,” Aden moaned.

“Yeah but it’ll come better from a guy so...hey I’m giving you like 8 to 10 years or so to start planning your speech rather than just spring it on you,” Joey smiled. “She’s got a point Aid,” Nicole teased, “I mean Joey...hardly has any experience with guys so...you can tell him all about the guys’ perspective of this stuff.” Aden turned to Nicole, smirking, “Keep taking her side and I’ll let you be the one to explain to him what Joey and Charlie do...did in bed together.” Nicole’s jaw dropped, along with Joey’s. “Ok he is so never finding out about that. All he needs to know is we loved each other and fell asleep in each other’s arms. So don’t you go tell him anything else,” Joey chuckled. “Whatever you say, Collins, whatever you say,” Aden agreed, but his smile faded slightly.

At first I was happy – Joey was confident that Charlie would still be in their lives enough to want to threaten any girls trying to steal Riley’s heart...I never really thought Charlie would stick around...she’s made enough mistakes as it is letting them go...she seems silly enough to just up and leave them. Now Joey says ‘loved’...past tense...she really doesn’t think they have any future together as a couple does she? Can’t she see how much Charlie still loves her...and can’t she even feel it in her own heart that they’ll never be anyone else for her? I can’t do anything...I’m just the best friend...they need to work it out on their own when they’re ready.

Meanwhile, Charlie was chatting to Ruby and Geoff. Charlie’s injured hand hadn’t escaped the couple’s keen notice, and Charlie was forced to admit how it happened, that she had witnessed Joey kissing Kaitlyn the previous night. Ruby rushed forwards immediately pulling Charlie into a hug, “I’m so sorry Mum.” “Hey its fine...I really am okay with it,” Charlie replied weakly. “Not very convincing Charlie,” Ruby whispered. Charlie was briefly distracted as she looked across the room, and saw Aden put his arm around Joey’s shoulders, “Yeah well I gotta be okay with it Rubes...I can’t afford to lose her by getting jealous. It’s not my place anymore to be like that.” For God’s sake Charlie, if you don’t fight for her...you’re gonna lose her anyway Ruby sighed.

“You’ll always have a place in Joey’s life, Charlie,” Geoff reminded her sweetly, “Doesn’t matter what your relationship with each other is like, she’ll always listen to your opinion. So if you’re not okay with her and Kaitlyn being together...you need to tell her.” Charlie half-smiled, “Thanks Geoff. I’ll think about it. But it’s too late to say anything now, Joey invited her to the party, and I don’t want to be the bitchy ex who tells Joey she can’t invite her...maybe sorta kinda unofficial...girlfriend.” “Charlie, why put yourself through more pain seeing them together?” Ruby asked concerned. “Because if Joey is happy now...I can’t deny her that...I’ve already ruined her happiness multiple times...I can’t keep doing it,” Charlie explained, before changing the subject, “You keep this up and I’m gonna start to cry and I can’t have Riley seeing that...so enough about me, what’s new with you two?”

Geoff wrapped his arm around Ruby’s waist, smiling down at her, as Ruby stared into his eyes contently. “It’s nothing that can’t wait until after Riley’s party. It’s his special day,” Ruby replied. “You cannot just tell me that Ruby,” Charlie groaned, “Wait are you two--?” “Oh God no Charlie, we’re not engaged...yet. Do you see a ring on my finger?” Ruby pointed out. “Right, no of course not. You two just look really happy...Ruby are you pregnant?” Charlie asked lightly. “Oh my God Charlie no I’m not...pregnant,” Ruby rolled her eyes at her mother, as she whispered the last word, for fear that Colleen was about and would tell the whole town her and Geoff were starting a family.

Charlie nodded, “Well good...that’s good.” “Okay me not being pregnant is...good?” Ruby looked at Charlie puzzled. “I didn’t mean it like that Rubes, sorry. I just...” Charlie let out a grin and smacked Geoff on the shoulder, “You make me a 36 year old grandmother and they’ll be hell to pay.” Geoff smiled awkwardly, rubbing his shoulder where Charlie had hit him, trying to put on a brave face, “Oww.” Ruby shook her head, “Well you can relax...Mum. We won’t be making you a grandmother...just yet. I think we’d like to at least leave it a few years before we even consider having kids ‘cause we still feel too young for that. I love my little brother but I am so not ready to deal with one of them myself. Having the ability to give him back to you and Joey is a great feeling. But okay I guess I can’t keep it a secret. We’re ah...I’m moving in with Geoff that’s all.”

“Aww Rubes that’s fantastic!” Charlie exclaimed, as she pulled the couple into a hug. Pulling out of Charlie’s embrace, Ruby held onto her hand, “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” “Why wouldn’t I be Rubes?” Ruby shrugged, “I dunno...I guess with me gone...our place is gonna be empty a lot since you’re at work all the time. You sure you gonna be okay with that?” Charlie smiled, as she looked over at Riley, with Joey also in the corner of her eyesight, “Ruby, I’m not going to let that stop you from moving on with your life. Besides maybe it’ll give me a good chance to spend some alone time with Riley when he’s here. It’s been a while since I’ve really spent any time with him by myself. I need to stop relying on you babysitting him when I’m busy with work. Hey maybe it’ll be a good reason to try and cut down on some shifts if I no longer have anyone to look after...him...”

Ruby squeezed Charlie’s hand, “You alright Charlz?” Charlie swallowed hard and looked down at her feet. Ruby looked over to where Charlie was looking, and found the reason for Charlie’s sudden quietness, as she spotted Kaitlyn had arrived and was greeting Joey with a quick kiss on the cheek. Ruby continued to watch as Kaitlyn shyly entangled her hand with Joey, and the pair began chatting with Aden and Nicole. Turning back to Charlie, Ruby stroked her hand against Charlie’s arm, “Charlie are you okay? It’s okay if you’re not, we all understand.” Charlie tried her best to smile, “Its fine Ruby. I’ll be...okay. I just have to get used to it...can’t expect Joey to stay single forever.” “Don’t lie and say you’re okay with this when it’s hurting you,” Ruby pleaded. “So maybe it does hurt...there’s nothing I can do about it,” Charlie said sadly.

“How ‘bout we go see Riley? Geoff and I have some presents for him. Will that cheer you up a little?” Ruby suggested. “Couldn’t hurt,” Charlie decided contently, as she looked back over at Riley and frowned. Once again, Ruby and Geoff followed her gaze. Before Ruby could stop her, Charlie rushed out of the living room into the kitchen. Ruby looked up at Geoff, “I’ll be right back.” Kissing her forehead quickly, Geoff smiled, “No problem Rubes. You go make sure she’s okay.”

Ruby quickly rushed into the kitchen following Charlie, finding her leaning against the back doorframe. Standing next to her quietly, Ruby noticed Charlie wiping a few tears from her cheek, “You okay? The truth this time Mum.” Charlie brushed her hand through her hair, “I shouldn’t have rushed off like that. It’s not even a big deal.  I just need to...get used to this.” Ruby snaked her arm around Charlie’s waist, leaning her chin against Charlie’s shoulder, “Of course it’s a big deal if it upsets you like this Charlie. You have a right to be upset.” “No I don’t Rubes,” Charlie insisted, “She was just giving him a birthday present...there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.”

“Joey’s new...maybe kinda sorta unofficial...girlfriend...just gave your son a birthday present. It’s not exactly wrong...but it obviously upsets you,” Ruby comforted. “She was just being polite, doing the right thing. Guess I’m just lucky that Joey didn’t see the way I reacted,” Charlie shrugged. “Charlie don’t you see what this is about? You’re upset about seeing them together and maybe seeing Kaitlyn giving Riley a present just makes you realize...what you’ll be giving up if Joey and her do get together,” Ruby told her lightly, “That you’ll have to get used to her being in Riley’s life.”

“You know what Rubes? I really don’t want to talk about this. I spoke to Joey this morning and she doesn’t know how she feels about Kaitlyn and that they aren’t together...yet. If Joey decides to start dating her, I can’t stop it and I can’t stop her ending up being in Riley’s life either. Right now there’s nothing I can do so I’m gonna go back out there and enjoy my son’s birthday party...and try not to let all this stuff get to me because today’s about him,” Charlie decided firmly. Without another word, Charlie moved out of Ruby’s embrace and walked back into the living room. Ruby sighed, Charlie you can stop this...if that’s what you really want. Why can’t you see it?

Over the next hour or so, Charlie mingled with all the guests, including Leah, Roman, Rachel, Martha and Ryan, and hung out with Riley, Harry, VJ and the rest of Riley’s friends, playing games with them and laughing with them. Charlie made a point of letting Riley hold her hand when they brought out the magician that Leah had organised. Riley kept a strong grip on her hand, knowing that Charlie hated magicians for some unknown reason and wanted nothing more than to disappear herself during the act. Riley smiled happily, when Charlie instead stayed by his side through the whole act the magician entertained them with, knowing that Charlie was only still there for him. After the magician left, Charlie went to get them some food and came back grumbling about all the kids pinching the jelly. 

Joey and Kaitlyn did much the same, but it didn’t escape Kaitlyn’s notice that Charlie seemed to be watching them out of the corner of her eye. It bugged her at first, but she didn’t want to make a big deal of it with Joey. Instead she comfortably talked with Joey and her friends, happy that Joey seemed relaxed enough around her to hold her hand or let her wrap her arm around Joey’s waist. Is this still a friend thing? We used to be like this back in high school before we got together...is this the same thing? I should probably talk to her about what that kiss meant to her last night, Kaitlyn thought.

Throughout the afternoon Riley found himself splitting his time between Charlie and Joey, and everywhere Joey was, Kaitlyn was with her. While happy he was finally spending some time with Charlie, who had made a point of switching off her mobile so she wouldn’t get any calls from work interrupting them, he was disappointed that he didn’t get to spend time with both his parents together. Knowing that Joey seemed happy to be spending time with Kaitlyn, and while Riley liked her a lot, he still felt like he needed to protect Charlie from her. So he kept spending extra time with Charlie and trying to make sure she didn’t bump into Kaitlyn as often as possible, by distracting Charlie and getting her to join in the games the children were playing.

Of course, with a small party in Leah and Roman’s living room, it was only a matter of time before Charlie bumped into Kaitlyn at the food table. Their conversation only lasted a few seconds, of which both were friendly towards one another, before Riley ran over to Charlie. Wrapping his arms around her leg and leaning his head against her hip, he dragged her back to the game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey they had been playing. Joey grinned happily as she watched from across the room, feeling like she was watching a whole new Charlie having fun and spending time with their son. What a difference one day off work makes!

After Charlie had her turn at pinning the tail on the donkey, Riley pulled her into a hug, “You did that on purpose.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about Mister,” Charlie dismissed playfully. “You put the tail on its head so I would win,” he grinned. “Well I guess you caught me out...your mother can’t play this game at all and loses badly every time,” Charlie lied, then giggling, “Good thing you didn’t inherit my bad Pin the Tail on the Donkey skills. I vote we try another game but first I need a drink. You want anything Birthday Boy?” “An orange juice if Leah has any,” he decided. “Well I’ll see what I can do,” Charlie grinned, as she kissed him on the forehead, and made her way to the kitchen.

Grinning from ear to ear, Charlie wasn’t prepared when she walked into the kitchen to find Joey and Kaitlyn kissing each other passionately. They were standing there against the counter, arms wrapped around each other, and lips pressed firmly together. Charlie could tell that by the way that Joey was standing with her back against the counter, Kaitlyn had most likely initiated the embrace, but still bit her lip painfully as she realized Joey was kissing Kaitlyn back. Guess they’re more than friends...I’ve lost her haven’t I? Unable to make her presence known or stand there watching the woman she loves kissing her ex-girlfriend, Charlie silently ran out of the room, tears welling up in her eyes.

All the guests were too involved with their conversations or joining in with the games being played, nobody noticed as Charlie quickly passed through the room, until she bumped into Aden. “Hey Charlie everything...?” Aden started to ask, but Charlie just glared at him, and pushed him aside as she walked outside. Aden shrugged, Why does Charlie have to glare at me every time she sees me? Is it something I’ve done? But Aden wasn’t the only one to notice Charlie’s actions. Riley watched her too.

Curious as to why Charlie had ran off, he stood up and walked over to the kitchen, to find Joey placing candles on his birthday cake...and Kaitlyn standing behind her with her arms wrapped around Joey’s hips. It was an embrace he had gotten used to seeing...between his parents. He watched briefly as Kaitlyn apologised for “making a move at an inappropriate time” and Joey told her “you didn’t do anything wrong.” Kaitlyn then asked how Joey was “feeling about all this?” and Joey answering her, “It feels nice Kaitlyn, having someone I can rely on. I’m not sure I’m ready to make this...us official but I’d like to keep spending time with you...and see where it takes us.” Kaitlyn nodded, brushing her lips against Joey’s cheek, “I can wait for you to be ready.”

Riley hated what he was watching...Joey being happy. He could imagine the look in her eyes right now. All he ever wanted was for her to be happy again...with Charlie. Following Charlie’s actions he snuck through the living room, and made his way to the front door of Leah’s house. Looking out of the fly-screen door he saw Charlie sitting on the curb of the driveway. He was relieved when he pushed at the door opening it, as it hadn’t clicked closed properly, and he was too short to reach the door handle.

Cautiously making his way outside, as he neared closer to Charlie he heard her crying. Standing in front of her, Charlie looked up when she noticed him. Wiping the tears from her eyes, trying to hide the pain she was in, she struggled to talk without whimpering, “Hey...baby boy...shouldn’t you be inside? I think they’re...getting your birthday...cake ready. Don’t want to...miss out on that.” Riley looked down at her, and without another word, crawled onto Charlie’s lap, wrapping his arms around her. Hoping his action would comfort her, he was upset when instead Charlie burst into tears again. Leaning his head against her shoulder, and pulling one of his hands from her waist to grip onto her hand tightly, he relaxed into the embrace, getting used to Charlie’s chest heaving up and down as she continued crying.

As much as she tried, Charlie couldn’t stop the tears flowing down her cheeks, her vision blurred as she watched her son crawl into her lap and settle down against her. When he’d done so, Charlie couldn’t keep a hold of her emotions anymore, bursting into tears again...because she couldn’t remember the last time they had done this...the last time Riley had chosen her. Charlie remembered the many times when he was younger, Riley would always make himself comfortable sitting against her and Joey on the couch or on their bed. He hated leaving their side, and just wanted to spend hours clinging to them. When Charlie’s work started getting in the way...although she didn’t notice it at first, or really didn’t want to acknowledge the problem properly, Riley started gravitating towards Joey as she was the one who took care of him.

It pained her to watch him slowly pull away from her...knowing it was her who had caused it by working too hard and never being there for him. But as much as she wanted to change, her arguments with Joey kept increasing, pushing her further into her work, to spend time away from Joey, stupidly thinking that some space between them would keep their arguing to a minimum. By the time she realized the consequences of her actions...she almost felt like a stranger around her son. Jealous of the connection he shared with Joey, and afraid part of it had to do with the fact Joey is his biological mother, and he never saw her in the same light...just like she was the step-mother, she was slightly relieved when they began to reconnect after Joey had left her and Charlie had the opportunity to spend time alone with him when he visited her...when he wasn’t busy being babysat by Ruby because Charlie was working of course. And now here he was, wrapped up in her arms trying to comfort her. It broke Charlie’s heart watching him cuddle her...trying to do his best to protect her.

But as much as he tried, Riley couldn’t protect Charlie from the reality of Joey moving on with another woman. She deserves to be happy...and I never tried hard enough to make her happy...I never deserved the love she gave me. “Mama C,” Riley finally broke their silence, “Is Mama J...Is that woman Mama J’s new...girlfriend?” Charlie rocked them back and forth, stroking Riley’s face, finally admitting, “I think so. How did you know?” “I saw them hugging in the kitchen, and Kaitlyn kissing Mama J on the cheek. They were acting...the way you and Mum used to,” Riley nodded sadly, “Will we ever be a family again?” “I wish I knew Ry,” Charlie sobbed. “But you still want us to be family?” he asked. “More than anything,” Charlie revealed. “Then why can’t you go in there and sweep Mama J off her feet, make us a family again?” Riley whimpered.

Charlie wiped some tears from her cheek, “Because she deserves to be happy...and if I can’t give her that...I just hope this girl Kaitlyn can do that for me.” “She’s only ever happy with you,” Riley pleaded. “I know you want to believe that baby boy,” Charlie replied lightly, as she tightened her grip on him, continuing to rock them back and forth, “But I’ve been watching her all day...and she looks happy for once. I’m not the one responsible for that.” “But you can be, you just have to fight for her. You need to steal her away from Kaitlyn,” Riley begged. “What if that hurts Joey more?” Charlie pointed out quietly. “She’ll have you so there’s no reason for her being hurt anymore,” Riley sobbed.

“Baby I wish it was that simple but this is Joey’s decision to make. We can’t force her to make a decision she doesn’t want to...even if it means we get hurt in the process. She loves you so much and she doesn’t want to cause you any pain,” Charlie convinced him. “She is causing me pain,” Riley whispered, “By choosing Kaitlyn over you. I don’t want her in my life.” “I know you think that’s the right thing to say, and I wish Kaitlyn wasn’t in your mum’s life either...but it’s not up to us to decide if she’s good enough for Joey. I don’t really know much about her but she seems...like a nice person. I saw the smile on your face when she gave you the present. Maybe you just need to give her a chance,” Charlie suggested.

“I don’t want to give her a chance. I don’t want her to trick Mama J into having feelings for her,” Riley whispered. “You’re mum is one of the smartest people I know, no way would she fall for that. If Joey has feelings for her, it wouldn’t be a trick,” Charlie explained, “You just have to give her a shot. Will you do that...for me?” Riley watched as the tears continued trickling down Charlie’s cheeks as she asked him that, he agreed not wanting to cause Charlie anymore distress, “Okay.” “You’re a good boy to your mum aren’t you?” Charlie tried to smile. Riley nodded silently.

“C’mon Ry let’s get cleaned up and head back inside for your birthday cake. Everybody’ll be wondering where we’ve gotten to. Don’t want them coming out here seeing me like this do you?” Charlie said lightly, as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. Riley nodded slowly, as he slipped off her lap, “Okay we’ll go back inside and enjoy the rest of the party.” Riley lent down, holding out his hand to Charlie, which she took hold of as she stood up.

“That’s right. Don’t spend the rest of the day worrying about what’s happening between me and your mum. Just enjoy the time you get to spend with us, don’t be angry at Joey if she decides she needs to move on with Kaitlyn. Things happen for a reason, and if we’re meant to get back together...we will,” Charlie declared positively. “I know...these things take time...and I’ll try to get along with Kaitlyn for Mama J’s sake...but I don’t know if I can...because she’ll never be you,” Riley revealed. Charlie ruffled his hair, “There’s my boy. C’mon let’s get inside and forget about Joey’s...new girlfriend. Let’s just celebrate your birthday like we should.” Riley gripped onto her hand, as Charlie led the way back into the house.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirteen

That night, after Charlie had returned home from Leah’s place and the birthday party, she immediately collapsed on her bed. Groaning as she remembered she had a 5:00 am shift the following morning. That’s what I get for taking one day off work...I need to have more days like this. Closing her eyes, Charlie started to relax, until she heard her mobile beep alerting her she had a text message. Rolling over she reached out for her phone, afraid it was work, but intrigued when she noticed the message was from Joey. Opening the message, Charlie read it:

Charlie can you come over to Aden’s now? Joey.

Charlie sighed as she re-read the simple message. No explanation, no reason for why I need to be at Aden’s, and definitely no ‘Love Joey.’ When did she stop signing them ‘Love Joey’? How long did it take me to notice? Charlie messaged her back:

I’ll be there soon. What’s wrong? Charlie.

When did I stop signing my messages ‘Love Charlie’? Groaning she got back up, and walked out into the kitchen where she grabbed her handbag and keys. Making the quick drive to Aden’s, Charlie kept checking her phone for a reply from Joey but never received any reply, making her extremely worried that maybe Riley was sick again. He was just fine a few hours ago...maybe we let him eat too much junk food and he’s sick again. Nice parenting Charlie! Rushing up the pathway to Aden’s apartment, Charlie checked her watch, trying to avoid the fact that she would probably be tired tomorrow morning at work from lack of sleep...but that didn’t really matter to her if there was a problem with Riley.

Knocking on the door, Charlie was surprised when Joey immediately opened the door. As Joey stood aside, Charlie strode into the apartment. “Is Riley okay?” she demanded. “You tell me,” Joey hissed. Charlie frowned, “He was fine when I left him at the party with you. What’s up? Why’d you call me this late? I’ve got an early shift tomorrow morning. I’m not saying...look I don’t mind coming over if there’s something wrong with him but can you please get to the point?” “What did you say to him at the party?” Joey asked her, folding her arms over her stomach. Charlie looked at her searching for more, “What do you mean? When?”

“Aden told me you two spent five or ten minutes outside before we served out the birthday cake and Riley’s been in a bit of a distracted mood since. After you left the party, he was really rude to Kaitlyn, giving her back the present she bought him, and he nearly split his drink all over her on purpose. Luckily she managed to jump out of the way. That’s not like him and he liked the gift she gave him. Right now he’s up in his room, and it’s taken me over an hour to get him to go to bed because he kept refusing to go to sleep. He wouldn’t talk to me, he just kept asking to go back to your place,” Joey informed her, “So what’d you do?” “Nothing,” Charlie shook her head, “I don’t know what came over him. I saw him spending time with you two throughout the party. He didn’t seem to have a problem with her.”

“Charlie...” Joey sighed, “Did you tell...him that Kaitlyn and I...that we used to date?” “Well I...” Charlie stuttered, “Not exactly.” “Well what exactly does ‘not exactly’ mean?” Joey demanded. “Well...ah...it was more like...you and Kaitlyn are...currently dating,” Charlie confessed, before back peddling, “I mean...I didn’t tell him myself. He asked me if you two were together and I...I couldn’t lie to him. He’d already figured it out, no point hurting him any further by lying to him.” Joey stared at her, “How did you know?” “You two have bad timing when it comes to making out,” Charlie growled. “Riley saw us together?” Joey swallowed hard.

“No...I did...and afterwards...Riley saw you two hugging while putting the candles on his cake...and he just worked it out himself. He’s a bright kid,” Charlie stumbled, “You didn’t seriously think I would go and tell him something like that...to what get him on my side?” “No I just...” Joey tried to explain, as she bit her lip anxiously, “I didn’t mean for you to think that. I just didn’t know why he was acting like this and I was really worried when he wouldn’t talk to me. I didn’t want him to find out like this...I didn’t want you to find out...like this...I didn’t want to hurt you.” Charlie looked away, “Yeah well I did find out like that...and you did hurt me. So you two are now together?”

Joey sighed, “It’s not that simple Charlz. We’re...taking things slow. That’s all we’re doing right now. Nothing’s official between us.” “Is that just an easy way of trying to get out of telling me you two are really together?” Charlie accused. “No of course not,” Joey insisted, “I’m not ready for a full-on relationship and Kaitlyn understands that. Which is why I didn’t want you or Riley finding out like this. I wanted to wait until I was ready. I wanted to wait for you to be okay with it so we could tell Riley together.” “What you mean like a repeat...the way we had to sit him down and tell him we’re separating and you were leaving me? How could I be ready for that? That I could ever be okay that you’re...moving on?” Charlie demanded harshly.

“Keep your voice down Charlie!” Joey hissed, “Riley’s upstairs, I told you how hard it was to get him to go to sleep.” “Then why’d you ask me over?” Charlie continued to demand, her voice lower, “To try and blame me for his reaction when deep down you know it’s all your fault for getting involved with her? And don’t give me that ‘we’re-not-officially-together’ crap! You knew this would hurt both of us so you accuse me of telling Riley all about the two of you so he’ll hate you. Might surprise you to know that I told him the opposite. I told him to give Kaitlyn a chance because things happen for a reason and if...he truly believes we will get back together then it’ll happen. His reaction is normal and there’s nothing either of us can do to stop the fact he’s not ready for this...he’s not ready for you to be with someone else. And...he’s not the only one.”

Charlie blinked away several tears that started to well up in her eyes, as she turned to walk out of the apartment. But Joey grabbed her by the arm pulling her back. Before she could say anything, Charlie gritted her teeth, “Don’t...you’ve made it pretty clear you don’t think we could ever have a future together. I never made you happy and I realize that’s my fault. I’ve made too many mistakes, and I was never there for you. I turned out just like my father...a disappointment to my family. And I wouldn’t expect you to forgive me...I can’t even forgive me. But Joey...how can I accept the fact that you’re moving on when you’re not even convinced yourself that this is right for you?”

“I never said that...exactly,” Joey argued, “Charlie I don’t expect you to understand how hard this is for me. But I can’t stand around waiting for everyone to be okay with this. Maybe that seems a little selfish to Riley but I’m not doing anything wrong by spending time with Kaitlyn. That’s all it is right now, and yeah maybe one day soon it might turn into something serious, I don’t know, it’s too early to tell. Which is why I didn’t want to involve you or Riley yet. This isn’t your fault, you need to stop blaming yourself for all our problems or else...you’ll never have a chance to move on either.”

“You really think I could ever be ready for that?” Charlie asked miserably. “I think you’ll know when you’re ready, it’s not up to me,” Joey responded. “Obviously,” Charlie gritted. Joey shook her head, “You know what Charlie? It’s late and I’m tired, so I really don’t want to get into this anymore with you. Can you show yourself out?” Joey turned on her heels and made her way up the stairs, heading for her room. Charlie stood there watching her leave, turning to the front door, she hesitated at the doorway. Groaning slightly, Charlie turned back and followed Joey up the stairs, finding her in her bedroom shuffling through her drawers for some pajamas.

Looking up to see Charlie standing at the entry to her room, surprised Joey, “What are you still doing here?” “Look I know I shouldn’t be here,” Charlie stated calmly, as she watched Joey place her pajamas on the bed, before Joey walked over to stand in front of her, “And I know you said you were tired but we still have some issues we need to sort out.” “Can’t it wait?” Joey sighed. “No it can’t,” Charlie replied firmly, “This isn’t about me anymore. You want to see if you’re capable of moving on with Kaitlyn, that’s your choice, doesn’t affect me...much. But what you’re ignoring is how much this is affecting our son. From what you said about his actions tonight...he’s having some serious troubles adjusting to the fact you might be moving on.”

“Well I’ll talk to him about it tomorrow morning,” Joey decided. “Yeah I’m sure that’ll go well. He’s already upset with you and I don’t blame him. This is hard for him. It really hit him today...finding out that you been with Kaitlyn means...we’ll never be a family again,” Charlie said honestly. “We’ll always be a family,” Joey insisted. “Not the kind of family he wants. Jo he doesn’t want to be shuffled and shared between us anymore...he just wants us to be a family. He wants us back together...and I know you’re gonna say that he can’t always have what he wants...but it’s only natural for him to feel this way. He’s a kid and the only thing he wants is for his family to be back together...it’s what he wished for,” Charlie told her sadly.

“What do you mean?” Joey asked confused. Charlie sighed, “It was the wish he made when he blew out his candles on his cake today. You know the whole birthday tradition, make a wish and it’ll come true before your next birthday. He told me afterwards that he wished we could be a family again. Come next year...he’s gonna be pretty upset if it doesn’t happen.” “Charlie I wish that we could make his wish come true...but that’s not a good enough reason for us to be together,” Joey replied. “So our son wanting us together isn’t a good enough reason?” Charlie demanded angrily.

“No...I just meant...it would be for all the wrong reasons. Charlie if...we ever had a chance to get back together...it can’t just be for the sole reason of Riley. Yes it’s a very good reason but if we do that...we’ll only end up hurting each other...and worse Riley. I don’t want that. I know we have our problems but at least we can still talk to each other...I don’t want things to...go badly...and we can’t even stand to be around each other. I won’t do that to Riley,” Joey decided, “Charlie if we are meant to be together...it has to be for us...it’s got to be for the reason that we both want it and we’re both ready for it.”

“Joey I wasn’t suggesting we get back together just for Riley’s sake. I know it would have to be because it’s what we both want...and clearly it’s not what either of us wants right now!” Charlie argued, “I’m just saying...why are you pushing this thing with Kaitlyn? You’re not ready for anything serious...I get that, but why are you even with her...in an unofficial way when you can see how much damage this is doing to Ry? Why can’t you just take a step back with her and wait for Riley to be okay with it?” “Great Charlie so now you’re accusing me of being too selfish and putting my needs in front of our sons,” Joey shouted.

“Well that’s how it appears to me,” Charlie told her. “Charlie as much as I wish I could...I can’t just put my life on hold waiting for other people to be okay with my new relationship...because then I’ll never have a chance to move on. Of course Ry will never be completely okay with this situation because he wants his parents back together. So I can’t wait around forever. Maybe that is selfish of me...” Joey lowered her voice, “But it’s nowhere near as bad as what you’ve been up to behind our backs.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Charlie demanded. “Forget it Charlie! Go home and leave us alone. I don’t want to argue about this anymore,” Joey yelled as she tried to slam her bedroom door in Charlie’s face. “You can’t just say something like that then push me away,” Charlie said firmly standing her ground, pushing the door Joey held back gently until Joey released her grip on the door. “I mean it Charlie, get out of my room and apartment before I call your co-workers and get them to drag you out of here,” Joey shouted angrily. “No. I am not going to let you turn this into a physical fight, I could never do that. But I am not leaving until you explain what you meant before about me doing something behind your back,” Charlie decided. Joey shook her head, whispering, “More like someone.” “Huh?” Charlie asked confused. Joey ran her hand through her hair, “I’m not an idiot Charlie...I’m not completely naïve...I know you’ve been screwing Angelo behind my back!”

“WHAT!?!” Charlie raged. “Oh c’mon you didn’t seriously think I wouldn’t find out? Here you are yelling at me for possibly moving on and you’re the one that hooked up with Angelo barely a week after I left you and have probably being with him since. Tell me Charlie...did you start screwing him before or after I left?” Joey demanded harshly. “You cannot be serious! You think I’m with Angelo? Joey I have not been with anyone else since you moved back to the Bay...let alone thought about being with anyone else,” Charlie swore, “So what the hell makes you think I would ever go near Angelo?” Joey rolled her eyes, “Like I said...I’m not naïve. All the late-night shifts at work, spending as much time away from home as possible which coincidentally meant you spent all your time with him, Angelo constantly flirting with you...I should’ve known it would only be a matter of time that you left me for a man.”

“Joey I spent all that time at work because we were fighting and the less time we spent together, the less fights we could have...idiotic logic I know but that’s why I was constantly at the station. Angelo had nothing to do with that. I couldn’t care less about the jerk and there’s only so much I could’ve done about his flirting but it does not mean I betrayed you...before or after you left me,” Charlie yelled, as a tear rolled down her cheek, and she whispered despondently, “You never had any faith in me that I would stay with you? After everything we went through...every time I told you what you meant to me...you always thought this...was a phase for me and I would leave you for a man? How could you possibly still think that after I’ve spent the better part of six years loving you?”

Joey stood there quietly, watching the tear roll down Charlie’s cheek, continuing down her neck, “Charlie I didn’t mean...” “You never forgave me for sleeping with Hugo did you? Not even after all this time...after proving I love...d you. I asked you to marry me and you did. You asked me to help you have a child you desperately wanted and I did...I gave you the family you wanted. Even after all that...you still never trusted...that I could be happy and fulfilled being with only you,” Charlie urged, her voice cracking. Joey closed her eyes, quickly squashing away her own tears threatening to fall, “Charlie...I forgave you for cheating on me with Hugo a long time ago...but the Angelo thing is different.”

“Joey it’s different because I am NOT with him, and nor have I being anywhere near him since we got back together,” Charlie replied furiously. Before she could stop herself, Joey asked, “Then why did Aden see you hooking up with him at Noah’s the week after I left you?” Charlie stared at her in complete disbelief, “That is why you’re accusing me of this...because Aden told you he saw us together. That is so typical of Aden...he doesn’t like me so he goes running to you and tells you I’ve been cheating on you...and you believe him.” “So you’re telling me that Aden didn’t see you getting drunk at Noah’s that time with Angelo, with your hands all over him and him dragging your drunken ass back to his place?” Joey crossed her arms over her chest.

“I...Joey...I...” Charlie faulted. “Can’t even argue the truth...so Aden was right,” Joey gritted her teeth, “Get out Charlie! Don’t you ever accuse me of doing wrong by Riley. I was right not to trust you...and yet somehow you still expect me to believe your intentions of your real feelings for me...when they were all just some guilty lie to cover up your own trysts. It’s no wonder I turned to someone who I can at least trust. To think we ever had a chance when all this time you’ve been lying to me...and I’ve been too afraid to find out for myself that you have betrayed me...I was better off being kept in the dark.” Charlie steeled herself, “Joey that’s not...it wasn’t like that. What Aden saw...yes okay I was drunk and Angelo was there...but I didn’t have my hands all over him...well I did but only because I was pushing him away. You have to believe me.”

“Yeah sure...I’ll believe you...drunken-out-of-your-mind-Charlie over sober-best-friend-Aden,” Joey rolled her eyes, “You were probably so drunk you probably forgot me and Riley existed.” “That is not true,” Charlie pleaded, “Joey I would never have been that drunk to do that to you...to our family. I promise you...what Aden saw that night...I didn’t go home with Angelo...I have never been with--” “I don’t want to hear this anymore. I’m not going to stand here and listen to your pathetic excuses,” Joey interrupted as Charlie took several steps forward into Joey’s room once again forcing the issues they had been facing over the last few months...

Riley sat up in his bed, after he had spent the last few minutes with his hands placed on his ears, trying to drown out the sound of his parents yelling at each other in the room next door. It wasn't something that was new to him. Although they tried their best to hide their troubled relationship from him, he'd often heard many of their arguments or listened as they spoke to Ruby or Aden about their arguments, thinking he wasn't listening to them. Riley hated listening to the things they were saying to each other. He didn't understand it, they were a happy little family who loved each other then everything changed and he was never given time to adjust. Maybe because he shouldn't have to. If only Mama C would stop throwing herself into her work and Mama J would stop blaming Mama C for all their problems. That they would both stop pretending they don't have feelings for each other.

As their argument continued and they began yelling at each other, Riley got out of bed, determined not to be put in the middle again. He didn't want them fighting over him. He couldn't stand interrupting one of their fights again, looking up at them with his tearful eyes to have them promise never to fight again...only to break that promise the very next day. He could see over the last few weeks that they had tried their hardest to get along but now here they are...all the hard work gone to waste. Will it ever stop?

Riley couldn't stand it anymore, he wanted to be as far away from them as possible. He wanted to call Aden and find out when he was coming home so he could stop the former couple's argument. Tiptoeing quietly to his bedroom door, he opened it, planning on going downstairs and finding Joey’s mobile so he could call Aden. Closing his eyes, trying desperately to ignore the sounds from the room next door. As he opened them, he saw Charlie and Joey standing in Joey’s bedroom arguing through the ajar door. But they didn’t see him. Too consumed with their problems, they didn’t even notice him watching them.

Fighting back his own tears, Riley ran from the bedrooms down the hallway. As he reached the stairs he kept on running, his little feet pounding down the stairs one at a time...until halfway down he slipped, missing one of the stairs. Unable to stop himself, he fell...he kept falling until he came crashing to the bottom of the stairs. His small body limp, as he fell into unconsciousness...

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fourteen

Kaitlyn made her way towards Joey’s apartment. Anxious about bumping into Riley again after the way he reacted at the end of his party, she hoped Joey hadn’t gone to bed yet and she could try to repair any damage done with her. After the party Joey had insisted it wasn’t her fault that Riley acted the way he did, but Kaitlyn could see it was stressing Joey out, and tonight just wanted to remind her she was there for her if she needed to talk. Carrying Riley’s birthday present, planning on leaving it for him as a surprise for the next day, Kaitlyn found herself at the front door. Noticing the door was ajar, she knocked quickly, poking her head in briefly, “Jo it’s just me. You home?”

Not receiving any answer Kaitlyn pushed the door open further, instantly looking up the stairs directly in front of her as she heard the faint sounds of arguing. Joey and Charlie? What’s Charlie doing here? Shaking her head, feeling like she was intruding, she decided it might be best if she left...until her eyes landed on the small body at the bottom of the stairs. “Oh my God,” Kaitlyn gasped, as she dropped the present and rushed forwards. Kneeling down besides Riley, she immediately checked for a pulse. Feeling relieved the second she felt it, she whipped out her phone, dialing 000.

While she waited the few seconds for the operator to pick up the call, Kaitlyn checked Riley’s body for any major injuries. As she found his arm twisted slightly behind his back, the operator answered the phone. “Hi yes I need an ambulance sent to...ah Unit 3, 17 Prescott St, Summer Bay. I’ve got a four year old boy who appears to have maybe fallen down the stairs. He looks like he’s got a broken arm, and a severe concussion. His pulse is slightly weak but he’s breathing,” Kaitlyn rattled off quickly.

Hanging up the phone, Kaitlyn quickly considered rushing upstairs to get Joey, but didn’t want to leave Riley alone. “Joey!” she yelled up the stairs...but nobody answered. Now inside the house, Kaitlyn could hear the loud noises of Joey and Charlie yelling at each other. Leaning over Riley, Kaitlyn placed her jacket under his head, to use as a mock pillow, as she turned back to yell out to Joey again, noticing the sudden silence that had fallen over the apartment. Before she could open her mouth again, Charlie was at the top of the stairs.

Charlie was shaking her head, angry at the way she and Joey had argued with each other, and had stormed out of the room. Nothing but anger and frustration clouded her mind as she reached the top of the stairs...and looked down to find Riley lying on the floor, with Kaitlyn leaning over him. It didn’t take Charlie another second to spring into action, her anger and frustration now had another target. Leaping down the stairs as quick as possible, Charlie launched herself at Kaitlyn before the woman could open her mouth. Charlie tackled her to the ground, then pulling her up, slammed Kaitlyn into the front door, as it shut loudly at the impact.

“What the hell did you do to my son!?!” Charlie screamed at her. “Charlie stop, this isn’t what you think,” Kaitlyn tried to defend herself, her head throbbing from being roughed up by the police woman. Charlie, locking Kaitlyn’s arm behind her back so she couldn’t escape, yelled again, “I swear to God if you ever lay a finger on him again, I’ll kill you!” “Charlie this wasn’t me. I just walked in and found him like this,” Kaitlyn claimed. “You expect me to believe that?” Charlie questioned furiously. “Ow,” Kaitlyn groaned, as Charlie pulled her arm tighter behind her back, “Damn it Charlie check my phone, I just called 000 for him.”

Before Charlie could take a second to work out if what Kaitlyn was saying is true, Joey appeared at the top of the stairs, “What is all this noise...? Oh God!” As Kaitlyn tried to wrestle out of Charlie’s grip, Joey rushed down the stairs, to Riley’s side. “God baby!” she sobbed as she reached out to stroke his face, “Baby wake up...please wake up. Is he...?” “He’s got a pulse, Jo. It’s weak but it’s there. The ambulance is on its way,” Kaitlyn said trying to look over at her, still struggling with Charlie pinning her against the door, “He’s got a broken arm, severe concussion, and maybe a dislocated shoulder. That’s all I could work out before...argh Captain Charlz here attacked me!” “How do you know all this?” Charlie demanded. “’Cause I’m a doctor for crying out loud! So let go of me so I can help him ‘til the ambulance gets here,” Kaitlyn announced, “Don’t let this be your fault!”

Charlie relaxed her grip, as she heard the faint sounds of the ambulance siren in the distance. As Kaitlyn escaped her grip, she growled as she tried to move her arm, wincing at the pain, before rushing back over to Riley’s side. “Wait...you’re Riley’s doctor?” Charlie asked confused, unable to move closer to the pair and her son, afraid of getting in the way. “Yes, that’s how we met last week,” Joey whimpered as she cradled Riley’s head in her arms, while Kaitlyn checked his pulse again and started checking his small body for any other signs of injury. “I...I didn’t know,” Charlie whispered, “I just thought she was...what do you think happened?”

Kaitlyn looked Joey in the eyes sadly, then looked back up at Charlie, “I’m pretty certain he’s fallen down the stairs. These injuries to his arm and shoulder, I would imagine means he landed on them maybe when he first slipped, then again when he landed...here. He must have been running down the stairs to have landed so harshly.” Breathing heavily, Charlie blinked back tears, “What was he running from?” Joey burst into tears as she continued to stroke Riley’s face, comforting him, “Us. God he was running away from us...this is all our fault.” Charlie choked back more tears as they started rolling down her cheeks, as she swiftly bent down next to him, reaching out to hold his hand.

“Don’t touch him!” Joey suddenly screamed, yelling over the sounds of the sirens close by, as Charlie pulled her hand back slightly, looking over into Joey’s eyes, “I was wrong, this is all your fault. You kept pushing me Charlie, yelling at me when I told you to leave and this is what has happened to our son ‘cause you wouldn’t stop being selfish! I will never forgive you if he doesn’t...” “Joey I...” Charlie cried, but she was interrupted as the ambulance officers strode into the apartment.

Before long, the officers had placed Riley’s unconscious body on a stretcher and were wheeling him out to the ambulance. Standing next to the ambulance, Kaitlyn had her arms wrapped around Joey, who hadn’t stopped crying. Charlie was standing a small way away from them with Aden and Nicole, who had come back home from a night out at the Surf Club. They were completely devastated by what had unfolded while they weren’t there. As the officers moved Riley’s stretcher up into the vehicle, Kaitlyn whispered to Joey, “I’m gonna follow you guys to the hospital. Aden and Nicole will probably want to come with me too, Aden doesn’t look like he’s right to drive, he’s too upset. You and Charlie go with him in the ambulance.” “I can’t,” Joey sobbed, “I can’t be anywhere near her. I can’t even look at her.”

Kaitlyn wrapped her arm tighter around Joey, ignoring the pain still felt from Charlie’s attack, “Joey she’s Riley’s parent. You can’t stop her going with you two.” “She’s the reason this all happened,” Joey sobbed. Kaitlyn kissed Joey on the top of her head, “No she isn’t. This isn’t anyone’s fault.” “I shouldn’t have asked her to come over tonight. I knew she would just attack me and pick another fight. I should’ve handled Riley’s bad mood myself...like I’ve always done for the past year,” Joey whimpered. “This isn’t your fault either, don’t go blaming yourself. I’m not saying you have to talk to Charlie if you’re not ready but she needs to go with you...it’s just a ride to the hospital together,” Kaitlyn insisted.

Joey leaned into Kaitlyn’s embrace, wrapping her arms around her waist, leaning her forehead against hers, “Thank God you were here tonight. I don’t think I would have coped without you.” “Some things are just meant to be I guess. C’mon the officers are signaling for you if you want to go with them,” Kaitlyn hugged Joey again, before leading Joey to the ambulance, watching as she got in the vehicle, immediately moving to Riley’s side, reaching out her left hand, to hold his hand. Kaitlyn turned around to see Charlie hesitating as she stood next to Aden and Nicole, who were hugging each other, and both had tears in their eyes.

Walking the few steps over to her Kaitlyn motioned, “Well you gonna get over there? Ambulance will be leaving in a few seconds.” “Kaitlyn I...” Charlie stuttered, unable to process any clear thoughts enough to talk. “Yes, you can,” Kaitlyn insisted, “Go be with your family. I’ll drive these two there as well and meet you there.” “Thanks,” Charlie nodded, as she rushed over to the vehicle, then yelling to the ambulance officer as he was closing the back door, “Wait up...I’m coming with.” “Well you better hurry up,” the guy replied quickly. Charlie jumped into the vehicle, sitting down beside Joey as the officer followed her inside the vehicle, moving to the opposite side to check Riley’s condition again, as the ambulance sped off.

Charlie watched as Joey continued to cry, as she looked at their son lying unconscious in front of them. Without a word, Charlie lifted her hand, entangling it with Joey’s free hand. Joey silently gripped Charlie's hand, grateful that Kaitlyn had insisted Charlie come with her as she was now feeling slightly comforted to have someone...anyone there with her. I’m not just comforted because it’s Charlie here...right? As Charlie squeezed their fingers together lightly, Joey felt Charlie's wedding ring, steel cold against her warm skin...

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifteen

Flashback - March 2010

"So how much longer 'til we get back to the Bay?" Joey asked disappointedly. "Hmm 'bout an hour or so," Charlie sighed as she looked over at Joey, smiling as she saw her staring up at her. Charlie squeezed her hand. The two girls were seated in the front of Geoff's old vintage car he had loaned them as a honeymoon present. Charlie was at the wheel of the vehicle, with Joey seated next to her. They appreciated Geoff's sudden love for vintage cars 'cause the front seat was designed similar to a back seat, so it was one long seat, nothing stopping them from curling up next to each other. Charlie had her left arm wrapped over Joey's shoulder (two-hand driving be damned), as Joey entangled her left hand up with Charlie's, their wedding rings clinking together lightly.

"It's not fair how quickly these two weeks went by," Joey groaned. "You're the one that planned the honeymoon babe. You could have booked it for longer," Charlie teased, "Besides doesn't matter how long we were away, it'd never be enough." "I hate it when you’re right," Joey tried to say seriously. "No, you don't, you love me," Charlie grinned. "Always got to be right don't you wife?" Joey laughed. Charlie leaned forwards, pecking Joey on the lips, before turning back to concentrate on driving. "What was that for?" Joey smiled. "You said 'wife,'" Charlie gushed. Joey chuckled, "Well yeah that's what you are now. Better get used to it, wife." "I still can't believe we got married two weeks ago," Charlie said happily, "You looked so beautiful." "I was nothing compared to you babe," Joey teased, "You just about made me want to skip the wedding and drive straight to the honeymoon." "You have a one-track mind Jo," Charlie laughed. "Hey I'm just sad that our breaks over and we're heading back home," Joey sighed. "Ha! You missy wife still have a few days holidays 'cause Irene's such an awesome boss. Whereas I have to be back at work tomorrow. Reality...such a downer," Charlie groaned. "Yeah and that's exactly why I'm so miserable," Joey tried to act over-the-top upset, before whispering in Charlie's ear, "No more spending all day alone with you. No more lying on the beach in our bikinis getting tans. No more getting free cocktails from the barmen 'cause we're incredibly hot and they're oh-so-dense. And definitely no more spending all day in bed together."

"Are you trying to make me turn this car around?" Charlie groaned, "'Cause it's working." Joey giggled at her. "Your right we can't do that...'cause of reality," Charlie sighed, "But you know we can do most of that back home...just not as often." "I'd give anything to be able to spend tomorrow sleeping in and spending the whole day together...in bed," Joey admitted as she cuddled closer into Charlie's embrace. "Me too but you know I won't be able to get any time off work. Had to yell and scream at my boss to get him to give me these two weeks," Charlie complained. "I'll call in sick for you, tell them you came down with a contagious icky disease and you have to be confined...to bed rest for the rest of the week," Joey suggested happily.

"Yeah that'll work," Charlie doubted, "Trust me...work won't always be like this. It'll calm down soon...I'm sure. Don't think for a single moment I won't be itching to get back home to you tomorrow night. I love my work but you are my priority." "Yeah I know, and it'll never change," Joey smiled, squeezing their fingers together, "So...since you're going back to work tomorrow...I don't suppose this," Joey held up Charlie's hand, stroking her finger lightly against the wedding ring, "Will stop Angelo hitting on you constantly."

Charlie gritted her teeth, "I'm sorry you've had to put up with that." "It's not your fault, you're the one that's had to put up with it," Joey sighed, "I just wish the guy would take a hint." "Me too," Charlie turned around to quickly kiss Joey on the forehead, "I know I hurt him badly when I just dumped him the moment you got back. I can't help but feel bad for the guy. He loved me...still does maybe. I didn't think I'd end up hurting him this badly you know." "Sometimes I hate how compassionate you can be," Joey replied, "It's tiring knowing that he spends so much time hitting on you at work, knowing full well we're together."

"Well as long as you know I don't react to his actions whatsoever, I just ignore them. I'm not losing you just 'cause Angelo's an ass...jerk. I'm not losing you ever. I know it's been hard but there's not much else I can do since we have to work together. You know for half a second I was scared that he might show up at the wedding, and make a fool of himself trying to stop us...but it was only for a second," Charlie confessed. "You know I kinda wished he would've...then I would've seen you kick his butt," Joey grinned. Charlie laughed, "Too bad I can't do that at work. Don't worry too much about it, I'm sure he'll get over it soon. If he doesn't...not my problem. You trust me...right?" "Of course, I do...I just don't trust him," Joey decided. "Well as long as you trust me that's all I care about," Charlie declared, squeezing Joey's hand to reassure her, "Angelo has to let it go at some point. We're married now and I'm not letting him come between us."

"Can't believe we'll be back home in an hour," Joey breathed, then paused slightly, "Hey Charlz...were you serious a few weeks ago when you suggested we get our own place?" "Would I ever lie to you?" Charlie replied, "Of course we should. We can't live with Leah & VJ forever...as much as I love them, I think we need our own space." "You're right. Leah loves having us here but I have a feeling she's keen for Roman to move in with her since things are working out so well for them," Joey commented. "And you don't think he will 'cause he's my ex and won't do so until I've moved out?" Charlie asked worried.

"No I don't think it's anything like that. I think Roman's been hesitating 'cause he doesn't want to leave Aden alone...because of what he's still going through...after Belle. Nicole will still be there, and you know he's my best friend but he's relied on Roman a lot and Roman's afraid something bad could happen. Aden's starting to cope a lot better now and I think it'd be nice for Roman to move in together with Leah. Besides now we have something to look forward to as a couple, finding a place of our own. Maybe after we get back into the swing of things with work and such we can go looking for a place," Joey suggested.

Charlie bit her lip, "I kind of wanted to surprise you but before we left I checked a few places myself. I want to do this together with you but I just wanted to work out if we could really afford it first before we got our hearts set on it and found out we wouldn't be able to. Forgive me?" "Hmmm depends on what you found," Joey mused, "Of course I forgive you. That's not even a question. You didn't do anything wrong. Just being cautious."

"Well if we don't want to still be paying off our mortgage when we're in our sixties there's some nice little apartments, units down a few streets from Aden's place. Close to the beach which I know you'll love. They're not as small as they sound. They are pretty spacious...and like I said about as much as we can afford right now. But we always have the option of renting someplace else ourselves until we can afford a bigger place," Charlie informed her.

Joey looked over at her, briefly meeting Charlie's gaze before she moved her eyes back to the road, "Paying expensive rent to someone else doesn't sound like the best plan, when we get along pretty comfortably with the rent Leah asks for. Besides we'll never feel like the place is ours and that's kinda all I want. So how big are these places exactly?" "Two-bedroom, one-bathroom townhouses," Charlie answered. "That really does sound small. We're gonna be making this our house. Do you think two bedrooms is really enough?" Joey questioned. "Well it's just us and I was thinking...of maybe asking Ruby to move back in with us from Irene's...you know when she's ready. Why? What were you thinking?" Charlie asked concerned. "No that's good...about Ruby I mean...she might still need some time. Not like we'll be moved in next weekend or anything so hopefully she'll be ready when we are. But...well maybe we should be looking at something...a little bigger...you know with three bedrooms," Joey suggested calmly.

Suddenly Joey was thrown forwards slightly as the car came to abrupt screeching halt. Luckily, they were alone on the road. As the vehicle stopped Joey was then thrown back to her position, and she looked at Charlie questioningly. "Ah sorry...I just...um...my foot slipped onto the brake," Charlie stumbled as she re-started the engine as the car had now stalled. "You okay?" Joey managed to ask, confused by Charlie's actions. As the car started moving along the deserted road, Charlie wrapped her arm around Joey again, and responded distractedly, "I'm fine." "Hmmm...really? After that little...reaction back there?” Joey pushed. “My foot slipped Jo...that’s all,” Charlie tried to convince her. “You know this is me. You can talk to me. What I said before...” Joey trailed off. “Joey it’s fine, you just...took me by surprise is all,” Charlie relaxed slightly, “So when you said...three bedrooms...did you mean...what I think you mean?”

“Guess that depends on what you think...I think I mean,” Joey said hesitantly. “Storage room?” Charlie joked softly, “Guess not...so you’re thinking...you, me, Ruby and...” Joey shrugged, “And a little Collins-Buckton of our own...yeah that’s what I was thinking.” “Right,” Charlie whispered. Joey looked away from Charlie, out the window, “Charlie is this...I mean is this something you’re not...is it something we should have discussed before we got married?” “Us having kids...yeah...maybe we should’ve talked about it beforehand,” Charlie realized. “So, I’m guessing that means you’re not...keen on the idea,” Joey assumed.

“Hey look at me,” Charlie said softly, and then continued when Joey turned back to face her, “I’m not saying I’m not keen about it. I just...I guess I never really thought about it.” “Not ever?” Joey raised her eyebrows, “You never thought about...you know having a little Charlie one day?” Charlie bit her lip, “I already have a little Charlie remember. Ruby. And as much as I love her...she can be a real pain in the ass sometimes...kids are like that.” “You don’t seriously think that? Charlie you’re only seeing the negatives. I know Ruby’s your child...but you never really had the chance to...raise her yourself...sorry I didn’t mean...” Joey shook her head, feeling like an idiot for bringing that point up.

“It’s okay. I know what you meant,” Charlie whispered, “I was never there for Ruby...not the way I should’ve been.” “And it’s great that you two are slowly starting to fix your relationship but...things would be different this time...with our kid...I mean you’ll have me for starters,” Joey pointed out. “Yeah, I know, and you’ll make a fantastic mother...I just...I don’t want to screw up another child’s life,” Charlie confessed. “Charlie you could never do that. How can you possibly think that? Ruby’s life is not ‘screwed up’ ‘cause you’re her mum. You’ve done so well with her, and you would do the same with our child. We would make great parents...and it’s a small way to make up the damage our parents did to us. By raising this child, the way all kids should be raised...in a loving secure environment,” Joey insisted. Charlie nodded, “Maybe you’re right...maybe we’ll make great parents one day...wait you do just mean ‘child’ right? As in one child...not children plural?”

“What you don’t want a whole brood of Collins-Buckton’s to raise?” Joey teased, then seriously, “I’m not crazy. Although I wouldn’t like the idea of having an ‘only child,’ I do understand that it might be difficult...for us to have one child let alone more.” “How would we go about...having a child?” Charlie asked tensely. “Well...there’s plenty of options we can look into. But we don’t need to discuss any of that now. We can just...think about this some more...and talk about it when you’re ready,” Joey decided. “Right when I’m...ready,” Charlie agreed.

Joey snuggled closer to Charlie, “I know you’re scared and this is a huge decision...I just want to know that you’ll think about it...that it’ll be an option for us in the future.” Charlie nodded quietly. Joey looked away from her again, “You’re not quite ready to change your mind about all this are you?” “No...I’m not ready to change my mind from want I want right now,” Charlie slowly smiled, as she squeezed Joey’s hand, “And I don’t think you’d want me to either...yes...my answer is yes Joey...I’d love to have a child with you!”

“Wait...yes? Wow Charlie are you sure about this?” Joey asked stunned. Charlie looked down at her wife, pecking her on the lips, “Absolutely!” “But before you were...a little reluctant,” Joey reminded her. Charlie smiled, “I know...call it a momentary lapse in judgment! I guess I got carried away with my fears too much...you know that I’ll make a terrible parent, that I’d disappoint you. But you’re always here for me...convincing me not to be afraid...how do you do that?” “Kinda reminds me of when we first got together...you were so scared...and I had to remind you to let go of all your fears and just feel what you feel for me. And I can convince you to stop being afraid ’cause I know you, and I know what scares you the most...failing me. And I also know how to encourage you, and make you see that you could never fail me,” Joey whispered.

“Thank God you did convince me to accept my feelings for you...I dunno what I’d do without you around,” Charlie replied contentedly. “Crash and burn baby!” Joey laughed. Charlie giggled, “C’mon I can’t wait to get home now. ‘Cause the sooner we sort out whether we can buy that three-bedroom house we both dream of...the sooner we can choose which colour to paint the third room.” “Pink, I think pink would look nice,” Joey decided. “But blue is easier to match against the rest of the house...and I’d imagine boys are easier to raise,” Charlie grinned, “Just look at Ruby.” “Yeah but girls are so much cuter. And I’d love to have a little Charlie,” Joey told her. “No way a little Joey would be adorable, you are so carrying this kid,” Charlie teased.

“Since when did I have to sign up for that part?” Joey looked surprised. “Since I decided,” Charlie resolved. “Oh, don’t think for a second I’m gonna listen to you without seeing what you’re up to missy. You just want the cute little kid without having to deal with any of the pain,” Joey smiled. “Why I...accuse me of something like that? This baby was your idea Jo, so you can have the honours,” Charlie replied proudly. “Well I guess we have a lot of choices to make and this won’t be as easy as I thought,” Joey sighed. “We’ll get there,” Charlie re-assured her, “Now are you sure I can’t convince you that blue is a better colour?” Joey shook her head, “Not gonna work Charlz!” Both girls continued to laugh and discuss their options all the way back to Summer Bay.

Present Day – March 2015

Joey swallowed hard as these memories flooded her consciousness, as her and Charlie sat in the ambulance heading to the hospital. Staring down at her hand entangled with Charlie’s, she frowned as she once again felt Charlie’s ring against her fingers. One small gesture from Charlie brought back the memories of sitting in Geoff’s car after their honeymoon, hands entangled, rings clinking against each other’s.

We were happy then, planning our whole lives together. How did we both let it go so wrong? How did we get here? How did I get here? Sitting here next to the...love of my life...can I still call her that? Did I lose that right the day I walked out on her? If I didn’t that day...I have now...after blaming her for everything...how could I do that? I could chalk it all up to stress and been terrified of losing Riley...but that doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t excuse the things I said to her tonight when we found him...broken on the floor. I started the argument...by accusing her of telling Ry about me and Kaitlyn on purpose, maybe I told her several times to leave...but it’s still not her fault.

It’s my fault, and instead of accepting that...I blamed the one person that means the most to me. I never accept responsibility for the big things...everything that goes wrong...I always blame Charlie. Why? In some twisted way to push her away further because she deserves better than me? And yet...she’s still here. Sitting next to me, holding my hand, trying her best to comfort me in the only way she can. She’s trying to take my mind off our boy lying here in front of us, and it worked. She probably doesn’t even realize that.

Charlie squeezed Joey’s hand lightly, and Joey took her eyes off their entangled hands. So, it wasn’t just my imagination...Charlie really is still wearing her ring. I guess I just thought I was imagining it because...I can’t think of any reasons why she’s still wearing it after what I’ve put her through. It’s not possible for her to...still have feelings for me...after everything I’ve done to her. Distancing myself from her, walking out on our marriage, taking her son away from her, and driving her full pelt into her work...maybe even into the arms of...not to mention me moving on with... Or maybe the ring’s just too tight and she can’t get it off and she hasn’t had time to go to a jeweler and get it cut off?

Yeah that makes more sense...that’s more logical...I mean after everything...how could anybody still love me? Just because she’s still wearing her ring it doesn’t mean...it can’t mean...and just because my ring is still...she can’t love me. It’s not possible. I don’t deserve it. After tonight I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the last I see of her ring. The look on her face when I told her I blamed her for Riley’s accident...God how can I ever apologize for that? How can I ever make it right? How can Charlie ever forgive me? Do I really want Charlie to forgive me? If I do want her to forgive me...what’s the reason for it? Is there really some part of me that...wants things to work out between us?

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Sixteen

Charlie paced the waiting room for what seemed like hours. She couldn’t sit down, couldn’t sit still. She had to do something...anything that stopped her feeling helpless while she waited for Rachel to come in and tell them if Riley would be okay. She looked over at Joey, who was lying down over several chairs, desperate not to fall asleep, as she had her head placed on Kaitlyn’s lap, who was sitting with her and stroking her hair softly, as Joey continued to cry. That used to be my job, Charlie realized.

Joey hadn’t stopped sobbing since they first found Riley. She couldn’t believe it was possible for this many tears to be wept. At this moment the tears she was crying were tears of confusion, wondering why she felt a completely different level of comfort lying against Kaitlyn compared to having Charlie hold her hand in the ambulance. But deep down she knew the real reason – it’s just not the same, no one will ever be Charlie. Joey hated the fact that as soon as they arrived at the hospital, Charlie let go of her hand and distanced herself from Joey once again. Why couldn’t she just keep holding me? Why couldn’t I ask her too? Why couldn’t she tell what I needed...without me asking? Didn’t she see the look in my eyes when she let me go? Having Kaitlyn show up...didn’t help. Joey was too upset to turn down the comfort Kaitlyn provided, as she needed someone there for her while she tried to rationalize the thoughts and fears clouding her mind. Why couldn’t it be Charlie?

Next to them, Aden and Nicole were seated. At some point Nicole had fallen asleep in Aden’s arms, while Aden sat there silently staring off into space, thinking back at the few times he’d been at the hospital since...Belle. Every single time he’d been there had been about his nephew...biological son. He’d helped Joey and Charlie start a family, and it had never been anything more than that the way he saw it. When Riley was born Aden panicked for a moment when he thought he might have to help Joey deliver their child when Charlie got caught up at work. Wasn’t her fault, turns out in her rush to the hospital she’d nearly collided her car with some teenagers racing their cars, way over the speed limit. So, she did what Charlie Buckton did best: pulled them over, gave them several fines, then a stern yelling at for been irresponsible jerks who could’ve killed her before she could even meet her child for the first time.

Then realizing she was wasting time, she jumped back in her car, and sped all the way to the hospital...not taking any advice she’d just dished out to the kids about safe driving. Aden was thankful that she showed up in time, knowing Joey wasn’t going to cope without her around. It surprised Aden when Joey asked him to hold Riley for the first time because of the feelings that rushed through him.

Although keeping up pretenses in front of the girls, later that night he’d discussed with then friend, Nicole, that as happy as he was for the girls...he couldn’t help but feel envious...because if Belle hadn’t...he might’ve been standing there holding his child...one he would be raising himself with his wife. After spending time thinking about it, he woke up the next morning and vowed to himself he would be nothing more (or less) then the “best uncle ever.”

To this day he’d been exactly that, and although he hadn’t felt it was for the best when he allowed Joey and Riley to move in with him when Joey had left Charlie. He was beginning to wonder if he should consider stepping in and trying to get Joey to open up about her real feelings for Charlie, but part of him still felt that the two women had been through so much, and needed to find their own way back to each other, where they belonged. Some things can’t be forced back together, and if they were meant to be together – they would be, regardless of anything or anyone in their way. He would continue to support them all for as long as it took. Aden had been there for Riley his whole life...until now.

Charlie continued pacing the room, whispering harshly, “Where is Rachel? She promised she’d tell us what’s happening hours ago.” Joey wiped the tears from her eyes, “Charlie stop pacing and sit down...you’re making me more nervous.” Charlie looked over at her, and silently took her instructions, sitting down opposite the other two...couples. Trying to ignore her anger towards Joey and Kaitlyn’s actions, Charlie was starting to regret her decision to insist that Ruby and Geoff didn’t come to the hospital when she called to tell them about Riley’s accident, until they knew if he would be okay. Charlie was feeling quite alone watching the pair in front of her.

Charlie was relieved but terrified when a doctor finally walked up to the group. Joey finally sat up from her embrace with Kaitlyn, and before the guy could say anything, she asked, “Is Riley okay?” The doctor had Riley’s file in his hands, and looked down at Joey, “Joey Collins?” “Yes,” she answered quickly, “How is he?” “Rachel asked me to come see you, she’s still with him,” the doctor started, “Your son should be fine. He’s broken his arm in two places and has a cast on, and we re-set his shoulder which was dislocated but...” “But what?” Charlie demanded suddenly springing to her feet, making the doctor face her as well. The doctor sighed lightly, “But he’s still unconscious. He’s got a severe concussion. We won’t know if he has any further...damage...until he wakes up.”

Joey placed her face against Kaitlyn’s shoulder, trying to stop the tears flowing, while Charlie didn’t bother to wipe away the tears rolling down her cheeks. “Is he allowed visitors?” Aden asked for the girls. “Yes, that’s why Rachel asked me to come tell you while she’s still looking after him. But at this stage it’s only his parents allowed to see him,” the doctor informed them. Joey stood up slowly, Kaitlyn helping her steady herself as her knees almost buckled underneath her. “Well what are we waiting for? Let’s go,” Charlie demanded. The doctor frowned at her slightly, as he glanced at the paperwork in front of him, “You’re...Charlie Buckton?”

“There a problem with that?” Charlie growled. The doctor shook his head, “Absolutely not,” then nodding briefly at Aden, “Guess I just...assumed.” Charlie looked over at Aden herself, glaring at him rudely, before turning back to the doctor, “Now we’ve gotten that sorted, we’d like to see our son now.” The doctor nodded, “Follow me.” As the girls started walking behind the doctor down the hallway, Charlie noticed Joey struggling to walk. After been seated for the last few hours in the uncomfortable hospital chairs and being under such emotional distress worrying if their son would survive, Charlie saw the impact it had had on Joey.

Before Joey could stop her, or Kaitlyn could step in to disapprove, Charlie wrapped her arm behind Joey’s waist, supporting her as they made their way to Riley’s hospital room. Joey looked up into her eyes, and mouthed ‘thank-you.’ Nicole managed a small smile at their action, then turned back to Aden, who had a puzzled look on his face. Aden shrugged, then referring to the way Charlie had looked at him, asked, “What’d I ever do to her to deserve that?”

As they entered the hospital room, Joey gasped upon the sight of her son...so small and strapped up to too many tubes. Charlie however, had expected his condition, after seeing many terrible accidents in her line of work, but she was still in shock realizing this was her son lying unconscious on the hospital bed. Rachel looked up as they entered the room, “Hi girls. I’m so sorry about what happened but I promise you we are doing everything possible for him.” The girls instantly moved forwards next to Riley’s bed. Joey leaned over the edge, stroking his cheek gently, then ruffling his hair, while Charlie took his hand in her own. “Is he...gonna be...okay?” Charlie choked out.

“I wish I could give you better news but we’re not going to know much until he wakes up,” Rachel informed them softly. “When...when do you expect him to?” Charlie asked sadly, knowing she had to be the strong one and ask the hard questions because Joey had practically burst into tears again. How can I just stand here when all I want to do is wrap my arms around her again and promise her everything will be alright? Charlie thought to herself. “He was given an anaesthetic while we attended to his arm and shoulder because there was quite a bit of damage but usually...by this point he should have woken up...by now. We just need to wait and see over the next twenty-four hours how his condition improves,” Rachel explained.

Charlie nodded silently, as she squeezed Riley’s hand, begging him to open his eyes and squeeze her hand too. “Now...um Kaitlyn told us that it’s likely he fell down the stairs at your apartment. Is that what happened? I just...need this information for his patient file,” Rachel inquired. As Joey continued sobbing as she continued cradling his head, Charlie looked up at Rachel, tears in her eyes, “We think so. We weren’t...we weren’t there for him...God this is all our...my fault.” Rachel shook her head, “Charlie you cannot go blaming yourself for his accident. As much as we want to...we can’t watch over them 24/7. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how many accidents Harry’s gotten himself into. Boys will be boys.” Rachel said the last two sentences light-heartedly, trying to make her friends see that this accident couldn’t have been their fault.

Charlie stared down at Riley guiltily, stroking her fingers against his palm, “It is our fault Rach...he was running down the stairs to get away from us. We were...in the middle of an argument, we assumed he was...in bed sleeping. I’ll never forgive myself if...” “Don’t think like that Charlie! You have to be strong for him!” Rachel challenged. Both girls nodded. “Okay well I’ll let you girls have some time alone with him. It’s not visiting hours so you’re not really supposed to be here. But I’m gonna let you stay if you promise me they’ll be no...disruptions from the two of you,” Rachel pleaded. “I think we’ve learnt our lesson,” Charlie whimpered.

“Good,” Rachel nodded, “They’ll be a nurse coming in to check on him every hour or so but call me if you need anything. I know it’s hard...but you both really need to get some sleep. You can’t be there for him if you’re completely exhausted. Joey you’re--” “I’m not going anywhere,” Joey interrupted firmly. “Joey I’m not asking you to leave his side. Just pull up a chair and try and get some rest. You too, Charlie. I’ll let the others outside know they can come in and see him later this morning when visiting hours start back up,” Rachel informed them as she quietly made her way out of the room.

Once Rachel had left, Charlie looked over at Joey, who was now leaning on the edge of the bed, facing away from her...refusing to look at her. Charlie let go of Riley’s hand, pulling a chair over next to the bed, for Joey to sit down in. Joey didn’t even acknowledge Charlie’s actions. A few more tears rolled down Charlie’s eyes. I thought she was close to forgiving me...I thought something had changed between us during the ambulance ride. So much so I got...scared when we got here and...pushed away from her again. Why couldn’t I take a chance? Maybe because...she still blames me...she can’t even look at me. “Do you...ah...” Charlie stuttered, finally breaking the silence, “Do you want me to get you...anything? Food or...um a coffee? Or I could go get...Aden or...Kaitlyn for you if you want...Joey please look at me.”

“I don’t want anything from you Charlie...you’ve done enough damage,” Joey said hatefully, still not looking at her, knowing deep down that her words were only coming from a place of guilt. Guilt from blaming Charlie, guilt from knowing Charlie shouldn’t forgive her, and guilt from not being able to turn to the one person that she could still manage to count on in her time of need. And worst of all...guilt from not being able to stop what she’d just said, once again...accusing Charlie. She wiped some tears from her eyes, “You know what...I’ve changed my mind. I do want you to do something for me.” “Anything,” Charlie promised. “Go to work,” Joey whispered, silently hating herself even more the moment the words slipped out of her mouth.

“What?” Charlie choked out. “Just...go to work Charlie I don’t need you here. I can take care of him myself. Go to work...it’s where you’d rather be,” Joey ordered her, unable to stop her own guilt, once again placing it straight on Charlie by pushing her away. “How can you...think that?” Charlie cried. Joey whimpered, “Because you’ve done nothing to convince me otherwise over the past year. You keep saying you want to change but you can’t manage to prove that to me at all. I told you last night to leave, and you refused to. You always think you know what’s best but...you don’t have a clue. You wouldn’t stop last night, you kept at me. You don’t even know how much your actions affect everyone around you. So...just go...go do what you do best...leave us to cope on our own...while you go distract yourself from your failures with your work.”

Charlie looked down at the floor, unable to look at her family, knowing everything Joey said was true. All I ever do is hurt my family more. Unable to stand the tension between them, and not wanting Joey to see her burst into tears from her guilt, Charlie took one last look at Riley before turning around and walking away. Joey closed her eyes, trying to ignore the overwhelming guilt that she felt.

God...damn it! Why do I always have to act like such a b*tch to her? I blame her for everything wrong in my life...because I can’t admit that I’m also the one causing these problems. Why couldn’t I just do the right thing and apologize for the awful things I said and accused her of tonight? Why did I have to go and make everything worse by telling her to leave? Telling her that I don’t need her...because I do need her. I need Charlie right now more than anyone in the world. Why can’t I admit that to her? How can it be that hard?

Maybe because I can barely admit it to myself...and I’m too afraid of the real reason why I need Charlie’s support. Why I want Charlie back in my life. Instead I keep pushing her away, never giving her enough chances to prove she can change. Why? Because it hurts too much to think she’s gonna fail. Why can’t I just have some faith in her for once? Maybe because she had a chance...to stand up against me and do the right thing...convince me she doesn’t deserve to be treated like this from me...convince me that she really does love...me...convince me that she can finally be here for both of us. And what does she do?

She runs away. If she wants to fight for us so much...if she really truly had any kind of feelings for me...the way that ring might symbolize...why can’t she stay here and really fight for us? Sure...like you’ve given her any indication over the last few days...months...that you really need her to fight for you. Why does it have to be her? Why do I have to expect Charlie to be the one that makes the first move? Why can’t you just...work out how you feel about her...and be honest with her? I can’t keep doing this...saying one thing and meaning another.

If...when Riley gets better, I need to sit down and talk to Charlie about...us. I need to work out how we both feel because what we both seem to be doing...ignoring any feelings we still have...is slowing killing us. We can’t keep going like this, and we can’t raise our son like this. We’re not in the right emotional space to be making this decision yet ‘cause we’re too upset over the accident. I need to wait until we know Riley’s gonna be okay and he’s back safe at home. In the meantime...I need to give her a chance to be there for us...I need to apologize for all the awful things I’ve done...if she comes back.

As Charlie shut the hospital room door behind her, she took a few steps before sinking down against the wall, to sit down on the floor. Pulling her knees against her chest, she shifted her hands to cover her face, as more tears continued to flow down her face. Is she right about me? Do I always fail them? Do I hurt them more just by trying to be there for them? Can I ever make things right? I don’t even know how to. I love them so much...but it’s not enough. Should I just do as Joey asks...and walk away or should I find a way to fight for them?

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Seventeen

Charlie continued to cry outside Riley’s hospital room, terrified that her decision to walk away or stay and fight will ‘cause nothing but heartache for herself, along with her family. If I walk away it’ll shatter Riley’s heart and if I stay, try to be a better person to my family...it might put more of a strain on my relationship with Joey...and I could lose them anyway. “Hey...ah Charlie,” a voice said nervously. Charlie quickly tried to wipe the tears away from her face, as she looked up and saw Kaitlyn standing in front of her. Unable to find any words to respond, Charlie just nodded in acknowledgement of her presence.

Without any invitation Kaitlyn sat down next to Charlie, holding a cup of coffee between her hands. “How come you’re not in there with them?” Kaitlyn asked quietly. “’Cause Joey doesn’t want me there...and ‘cause I’m a failure to my family...always have been,” Charlie sniffled, “So I need to think about what’s best for them...and walk away.” “I don’t believe that,” Kaitlyn whispered, “You know when I bumped into Joey this week and spent some time catching up with her...Joey...told me a little bit about you...I mean what you two went through. Don’t be upset with her, she just needed someone to talk to. So, you might not have been the...model wife and mother, but that doesn’t mean you should just take off. That’ll only hurt them more.”

“At the start maybe...but they’ll get over it...they’re better off without me,” Charlie whimpered. Kaitlyn stared down at her hands, “Look I don’t know what you two argued about tonight or where your relationship with Joey really stands but...Joey’s hurt...she thought she’d almost lost her son tonight and she’s lashing out at the person closest to her. Did it ever occur to you...she’s only doing this...telling you to walk away...because she wants to see if you really will take off?” “You think she’s...testing me?” Charlie asked confused.

“I think she’s doing it...subconsciously,” Kaitlyn answered, “I think she wants you to prove to her that you’re gonna be there for them for once. She might be angry at you but she needs you in her...Riley’s life.  She just needs some reassurance that you’ll be there for him...no matter what happens between you and her. She...um told me you had some issues with your twenty-something year-old daughter...not even gonna try and do the math on that one...a few years back and she took off and wouldn’t talk to you for some time. Joey said it almost destroyed you. Do you really want to do the same to Riley? Leave him when he needs you now more than ever?”

“Of course, not but I don’t know how to stay and fight for them...when I’ve made too many mistakes as it is,” Charlie confessed. “Well the least you can do is try...so why don’t you go back in there?” Kaitlyn persuaded her, then passing her the coffee cup, “Here...I got this for Joey...you should give it to her.” Charlie took the drink from her, “Thanks. I’ll...ah...try. I just need a few minutes before I go in there.” “I’ll leave you to it,” Kaitlyn replied as she started to stand up, but was surprised to find Charlie grab hold of her shoulder stopping her moving.

“Oh...um...about tonight...I didn’t mean to...beat the crap out of you...I was just not thinking clearly about anything besides Riley and...” Charlie stumbled, as Kaitlyn looked on with a slight anticipation etched on her face. Sick of the look she was getting, Charlie sighed, “I’m trying to say ‘I’m sorry’ here. If you don’t want to hear it--” “You know this apology might actually go a little better if you actually just say those two words,” Kaitlyn pointed out light heartedly. Charlie rolled her eyes, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted like that. Is your arm okay?” “The arm is fine, no real damage done. Next time I see Riley injured and nobody else is around I’ll make sure to stand a safe distance away from him and try to help him telepathically so I don’t get accused of trying to kill him,” Kaitlyn joked.

“Do you always make jokes at the wrong time?” Charlie half-smiled. “Yeah...it’s a character flaw,” Kaitlyn confessed, “Now get in there before Joey whinges about you getting her an iced coffee instead of a hot one.” Kaitlyn stood up, as Charlie nodded, “I will...I just got to make a call first. Thanks...for being so nice to me. I don’t deserve it from you.” “Says the ex to the current. Here I thought I’d be the one not deserving any niceties from you. Look about me and Joey...” Kaitlyn trailed off, as Charlie held up her hand to stop her. “I don’t think I’m ready to hear about that so if you don’t mind...” Charlie informed her. Kaitlyn nodded, “My shift here sort of starts soon. Tell Joey I’ll come by and check how their doing as soon as I get a break.” Charlie nodded and watched as Kaitlyn walked away.

As Charlie stood up, she didn’t notice Joey shut the hospital room door closed and return to her seat next to Riley. After hearing voices just outside the room, Joey had stood at the doorway, pushing the door slightly open and managed to overhear Charlie apologizing to Kaitlyn over her actions earlier. Maybe she has changed...just a little. Like I said...I just need to have a little more faith in her.

A few minutes later, Charlie hesitantly entered the hospital room. Seeing Joey seated in one of the chairs next to Riley’s bed, holding his hand, and that Joey didn’t react to her entrance, Charlie silently sat down in the chair next to her. “No change?” Charlie asked quietly. Joey shook her head, letting go of Riley’s hand, she slumped back into her chair and Charlie passed her the cup of coffee, her fingers lingering a second longer than necessary as Joey reached out for it and their fingers grazed against each other.

“Thought you’d taken off,” Joey told her, still not looking at her, silently happy that Charlie had come back, but still unable to show her happiness to her former lover. “Yeah well I...got some good advice...from...a friend...and realized that this isn’t about us. It’s about our son who needs both of us right now. Besides thought you could use a coffee to keep you awake, and I...called Watson to tell her I won’t be in today. I didn’t exactly tell her why...I think I would’ve burst out crying if I had to explain and...re-live seeing him lying on the floor like that,” Charlie admitted. “Surprised you didn’t call Angelo to tell him instead,” Joey hissed before she could stop herself.

Charlie gritted her teeth, “You know contrary to popular belief I am not...screwing Angelo. I have not cheated on you since you came back to the Bay six years ago and will never cheat on you...no matter what. What Aden saw several months ago...it wasn’t what it looked like. I am not with Angelo.” “I don’t really want to talk about this now,” Joey decided. “I know this isn’t exactly the best time but it might be some time before Riley wakes up and...well you wouldn’t let me explain earlier last night when you bought it up during our argument and you need to hear me out if you seriously think that I’ve been back with Angelo since you left me,” Charlie said firmly. Joey nodded, realizing this was one way to give Charlie a chance, one small part of forgiveness for her own actions and accusations that night, “Go on.”

“I won’t lie to you,” Charlie sighed, “I’ve been having a few...problems with Angelo since we broke up...before that even. I don’t think he ever got over me...not completely. I don’t understand why, it’s not like I gave him any encouragement that I returned his feelings. I thought he’d moved on with that girl he’d been seeing the past couple years, Sarah, but turns out he’s just with her...’cause he can’t be with me. When we started having...problems...and I started burying myself in my work, he took that as a sign I wanted to spend more time with him. I told him he was out of his mind, tried to convince him we were as happy as ever. He saw right through me but let it go.

About a week or two after you...left me...I found myself at Noah’s bar. Decided getting drunk might help ease my pain. To say I was depressed is an understatement. Then there was Angelo sitting next to me...helping me get drunker as he started talking about how good him and I were together. I nearly threw up on him, it made me sick thinking that I was with him when you left me all those years ago and that he still wants to be with me. He took that as a sign that he should take me home...or ah back to his place but I didn’t know that. I guess that’s when Aden saw Angelo escort me out of the surf club, with me pretty much hanging off of him ‘cause I was...having trouble walking. When we got outside and he started leading me in the opposite direction of our place, I realized what he had in mind for that night. Before I could work out how to tell him I wasn’t interested in what he probably had in mind...he pulled me towards him and kissed me.”

“You kissed him?” Joey accused hurt. “Absolutely not, he kissed me. Stuck his tongue down my throat, and all I could think about how badly it could hurt you if I betrayed you,” Charlie explained as she blinked away several tears. “So, what did you do?” Joey swallowed hard, still refusing to look over at Charlie, continuing to stare at their son. “Pulled away and...ah kicked him in the balls,” Charlie answered. Joey finally looked over at her, her eyebrow raised, then replied half-jokingly, “I would’ve paid good money to see that.” Charlie snorted, “Felt pretty good too. Might’ve been too drunk to enjoy it fully but I still remember the look on his face when he was groaning in pain on the ground. Told him that if he ever tried that move again, I’d put him in hospital. Then I ran home, collapsed on our empty bed and cried myself to sleep.”

Joey placed the coffee on the bedside table, and reached out to take Charlie’s hand, “Because you realized how close you came to...cheating...again?” Charlie shook her head, “At first...but then it kind of hit me...how close I’d come to... What if it wasn’t Angelo that started chatting to me that night? I know what he did was out of line but Angelo’s decent enough to--” “You think Angelo’s decent after he tried to take advantage of you?” Joey interrupted confused. “He never would’ve done anything more then what he did without my consent. I know that. He’s not...that guy,” Charlie insisted, “But it hit me...that I’d almost found myself in...that situation again. That I was so drunk and depressed that... What if instead of Angelo that dragged me out of the bar that night...it was another...Grant or...Robbo? What if I’d put myself back in that situation and it was all my fault? I felt so alone.”

Joey squeezed her hand, “Why didn’t you tell me any of this? I could’ve helped you...deal with your demons again. The way you helped me. I could’ve...made you see that it wouldn’t have been your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.” “I didn’t want to bother you with this...I realized that you’d left me and...it was up to me to deal with it,” Charlie whimpered. “And you threw yourself into your work even more didn’t you?” Joey assumed. “Yes, I did. That’s why I wasn’t there for you...or Riley the first several months after you left. I spent practically all my time at work trying to ignore and forget about what could’ve happened...I guess...truth be told I never quite got over what Grant did to me and even the idea of being put back in that...situation...scared the hell out of me. It doesn’t make much sense because nothing happened...but I still felt terrified...that it could’ve. I couldn’t deal with it. As a result, I cut myself off from both of you because I didn’t want you to see the pain I was putting myself through. I didn’t think you’d...care. I didn’t deserve your help. It sounds weird spending all my time where Angelo works too...but I didn’t know what else to do...I didn’t know any other way to cope.

Told Angelo to keep his distance, and made it clear that I refused to work with him on any further cases. Which worked up until two months ago, when my boss set us up in charge of our current case. You know it was quite embarrassing been told by my boss that I didn’t have any other choice but to work with him, been told to grow up and get over whatever issue I had with him. Bet Angelo was behind that and loved every minute of it. I started to see the damage I was doing towards you and Riley, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fix that. Now you know the full story...why I abandoned you after you left...why I didn’t fight for you to stay. I was too busy trying to deal with my own fears of...I should’ve told you. I bet Aden had no problems running to you to tell you what I’d done...what he thought I’d done. Why didn’t you ever...ask me about it when you knew all along?” Charlie asked lightly.

“Maybe ‘cause I was afraid of the answer. Watching you over the following months completely immerse yourself in your work...forgetting about Riley and me...I thought it was the guilt of cheating on me that was eating you up. I thought you didn’t want to be near me...because I would’ve been able to see how ‘happy’ you were and you weren’t ready for everyone...me...to know about you and Angelo being back together. So I didn’t ask you about it and I told Aden I didn’t want him bringing it up with you or Angelo either...it hurt less pretending that you hadn’t spent the night with him...that all this time you weren’t hooking up with him behind my back,” Joey confessed.

“Guess that’s my fault. I didn’t give you any reason to believe that I could be there for you and win you back,” Charlie shrugged. Joey looked away from Charlie, staring back at Riley, “I have a confession to make...you were wrong. Aden didn’t want to tell me that he saw you leaving the bar with Angelo that night...he wanted to believe you would figure it out yourself. How wrong it would be. But then...he came home that night to find me...packing. I was packing my stuff...and coming home to you. I was gonna give you...us a second chance.” Charlie closed her eyes, trying to stop the tears rolling down her cheeks, as she realized how close she’d come to having her family back.

“Aden told me what he saw...because he didn’t want me going back home if there was even the slightest chance of walking in on you and...he knew it would kill me to see you were with Angelo so he did what any best friend would do...and told me the truth. I know I should have gone to you to find out if anything had happened but I felt better off not knowing. But I can see now that because I just assumed you and Angelo...I’ve taken a lot out on you, and tried to distance myself from you, as I tried to make sure that I don’t get hurt again. Part of that is also my reasoning for trying to move on...It’s not your fault...I should have seen how bad you were coping with the break up. Maybe if I had of fought harder to stay in your life, to stop you from just abandoning us...we wouldn’t be here,” Joey realized. “Or maybe if I hadn’t gone out and gotten drunk that night...I’d be waking up this morning with you in my arms,” Charlie whimpered.

Joey stroked Charlie’s palm with her fingers, “Maybe...but I guess we’ll never know. Thanks...it’s nice to know that it wasn’t entirely my fault that you disappeared into your work...even though I still feel guilty for not trying to help you. I wished you could’ve still trusted me enough to come to me about what you were going through. Something important like that...you needed all the support you could get, and I of all people understand that. I should have been there for you...I just couldn’t bear the thought of you breaking my...our hearts like that again. Charlie about tonight when I accused you of...”

Charlie stared down at their hands, “Jo, you don’t have to apologize. I know you didn’t mean it. You were stressed and needed someone to blame. In case you didn’t notice...if things had been different and I hadn’t been so...preoccupied with blaming Kaitlyn...I probably would’ve reacted the same and tried to blame you. But instead I ended up blaming Kaitlyn which was wrong of me. I understand why you feel guilty for what you said to me tonight. And you did it because you didn’t want accept responsibility that it was both our fault. Maybe it was an accident, but it could’ve been avoided if we hadn’t fought like that.”

Joey nodded softly, “We still have a lot of issues we need to sort out if we can ever find a way to stop our constant arguing and sort of...fit in each other’s lives again. We need to work out a way for us to both be there for Riley. We need to...be his parents again.” “Yeah, I’ve been...thinking about that too and I think I have the solution,” Charlie declared, “When Riley wakes up...I want you both to move back in with me so we can both look after him.”

Joey stared at Charlie completely blindsided...Wait...what???

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Eighteen

‘When Riley wakes up...I want you both to move back in with me so we can both look after him.’ “Wait what?” Joey asked confused. “I want to be there for him, and I can’t do that if he’s not living with me. I want to take care of him,” Charlie insisted. “What about your work?” Joey questioned. “Well...I can try and cut down on my shifts...so I can be there for you...to help him get better...maybe help you raise him again...like I should be doing,” Charlie suggested. Joey suddenly let go of Charlie’s hand, and stood up, walking to the other end of the room, then turned back to Charlie, “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

Okay look I know I said I needed to give Charlie a chance but...moving back in together? I don’t think I’m ready for that. I know I really need to work out exactly what my feelings are for Charlie but...I need a little space for that. I can’t have her crowding me. How am I supposed to work things out for myself if she’s always around complicating and confusing...everything? Spending so much time with her might...reignite a flame I’m not sure I want lit. I need to be sure about what my feelings are before I do anything...because if I’m not 100% sure about what I want...I could do a lot more damage between us than I already have.

Charlie looked up at her, “Look I know I’ve never really made an effort to be a better parent to Riley and you keep wanting me to change...so here I am...trying to. Why won’t you move back in with me?” Joey raised her eyebrows, “Aside from the obvious awkwardness? Okay we’re making headway on trying to stabilize our relationship so we can be better parents but...that does not mean we’re ready to live together again.”

“Look I’m not asking you to move back in with me to...be with me again. I know...you’re sorta kinda seeing Kaitlyn and this has nothing to do with that. Ruby told me at the party that she’s gonna be moving in with Geoff so you can have her room...or if Ruby can’t move straight away, I can crash on the couch and you can take our...my room. There’s always the couch if you feel that uncomfortable in my room. I just want an opportunity to look after Riley properly,” Charlie offered. Oh right...Kaitlyn? That’s our other little...complication Joey remembered silently. “I appreciate the offer Charlie, I do...but it’s not that easy. I mean can you really just cut back on your work like that? ‘Cause I’m betting when you called Watson you struggled to get today off work and if Riley doesn’t...wake up soon...you’re gonna have a harder time getting tomorrow off...a Sunday no less,” Joey pointed out.

Charlie looked over at Riley, “Okay fine you’re right. I might not be able to cut down on my work load as much as I want but at least he’ll be at home every night for me to come home to and spend some more time with him. And it’ll give you a break from looking after him every single moment. You can’t do this on your own.” “Why not Charlie? I’ve practically done this on my own...raising Riley for the last year. I’m used to feeling like...like a single parent,” Joey confessed sadly. ‘Single parent’? That sounds so cruel, Joey thought, but you need to start being honest with her. Even if it hurts.

Charlie looked at her, with tears in her eyes, “You feel like that?” “I’m sorry...I didn’t mean to say it like that...but yes I do in a way,” Joey responded softly, “Okay yes I get the reasons why you abandoned us now...but it doesn’t change the fact that you did abandon us. I do want you to change for Riley’s sake more than anything...but you can’t just do that overnight Charlie. I would never expect you to. I’m not saying you can’t be there for him...but us moving back in together...that is so not a good idea Charlie.” “Why didn’t you just tell me that’s how you feel? Like you’ve been raising him on your own?” Charlie demanded, her tears rolling down her cheeks. “Because Charlie I shouldn’t have to! You should have realized that yourself if you ever want to be the parent you’re supposed to be,” Joey reasoned.

 “But I want to be that parent and you keep...doubting me. Yes, I can see exactly how many mistakes I’ve made over the year and because of that you’ll probably never trust me again. I’m just asking for a chance here...to make things right...and help you take care of him. I don’t want you feeling like a single parent anymore,” Charlie pleaded. “Charlie, we don’t have to move back in together for you to be able to take care of him. You can spend as much time as you like visiting him at Aden’s,” Joey offered. “That’s not the same thing as taking care of him. How am I gonna tell him why I can’t be there for him when he asks?” Charlie asked. Joey shook her head, ashamed, “I dunno. I guess it...wouldn’t be any different than what he’s gotten used to so why would he question it?”

Charlie stood up, facing Joey, clutching her forehead briefly in frustration, “Joey...I’m asking you for one chance here. If it doesn’t work out, fine...at least I can know I tried. At least Riley can know that too.” “And what happens if you fail? That you realize just how important things are at work, and you start skipping out on us again for extra shifts at the station. Do you want Riley to see that firsthand and break his heart all over again?” Joey demanded, “I won’t put him through that.” “Is there another reason why you won’t do this? C’mon Joey I know there’s more going on here. You want me to be there for him, and when I offer, you refuse. Now maybe I deserve that attitude from you but just tell me the truth: Why won’t you let me take care of my son?” Charlie argued.

Joey looked at the floor, then over at Riley, her voice small as she whispered, “Because I don’t trust you to be alone with him.” Honesty! Remember honesty even though it hurts! It’s the only way things can change between us. “What!? Since when?” Charlie raged. “Since when?” Joey repeated, “I dunno Charlie maybe since you attacked my...ah...um...Kaitlyn and threw her into a door and slammed her head against it. Sure I was a hell of a lot more concerned for my son who was lying there unconscious but that does not mean I didn’t see what you did to her when I was there or the stuff she told me afterwards...when I told her I needed to know what you did. I do not trust you and your violent reactions to look after our son.” “Violent reactions? Joey what did you expect me to do? You didn’t see what I saw. I saw her leaning over his body...I thought she had hurt him...or worse...” Charlie started sobbing.

“And that makes it okay? The fact that you attacked her before you even bothered to check if he was okay? Charlie you left him lying broken on the floor while you charged after her first,” Joey argued. “I was trying to protect him, to stop her from hurting him again,” Charlie tried to explain. “No, you reacted the way you always do: jumping to conclusions. The fact that you attacked her...that’s the way you act...it scares me. Just because she could forgive you for that...it doesn’t justify what you did,” Joey told her. Charlie slumped against the wall of the room, “It scares me too. I’m a cop and that doesn’t make it right for me to react the way I did tonight. I was just so angry about our fight and...I took it out on her. That’s not an excuse...I don’t have one. Maybe you’re right...maybe I do...have a problem with the way I’ve reacted...violently to situations the past few days...dragging you out of the Diner, punching a wall, then...tonight. God what’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing’s wrong with you Charlie,” Joey replied quietly, “I never said this was a...problem. But if you try to ignore it and don’t think about your actions the last few days...then it could turn into a problem. I just want you to acknowledge it. Perhaps you should sit down and talk about it to someone. This anger thing is not healthy for yourself as well as our son. Maybe it’s my fault. We both get into these arguments Charlie, they’re not one-sided. We promised each other yesterday morning that we needed to find some balance in our relationship and we haven’t even gone one day. We have to find a way to grow up and stop finding ways to hurt each other...because it’s not just us getting hurt now.”

“You mean...” Charlie nodded towards Riley, hearing the machines beeping away with his steady heartbeat. “I think this might be the wakeup call we needed. We’ve both made mistakes and we need to look past them, stop using them as reasons to pick another fight. We need to do this for our son,” Joey realized, as she looked over at him, and suddenly burst into a small flood of tears again. Charlie hesitated, before stepping forwards and enveloping Joey into a hug. Charlie wrapped her arms around Joey’s lower back, leaning their bodies together so Joey’s head came to rest on her shoulder, and Charlie rested her cheek against Joey’s head. Okay...this is one way to work out how I feel...about being back in her arms Joey silently rationalized. Surprised when Joey fell into the embrace instead of pushing her away, Charlie sadly remembered how exhausted Joey was. She just doesn’t have the energy to fight me off.

“I’m sorry,” Joey whispered, “God I got so scared last night. I thought we’d lost him.” “Me too. I never want to feel that scared again,” Charlie whimpered, “I couldn’t handle losing him like that.” “I know you couldn’t. I know how much you love him, and that you don’t want to ever hurt him again. I love that you want to be there for him but...” Joey trailed off sadly, as she lent her face lower down against Charlie’s shoulder. “But you’re not gonna change your mind about this whole you moving back in with me so we can both look after him,” Charlie finished. “I’m sorry. I just don’t think it could work out. It might complicate things further and...that house just has too many memories for me...I’m not sure I’m ready to go back there to live,” Joey confessed, “I need time Charlie.”.

“You can’t put that aside for Riley’s sake?” Charlie pushed. Joey shook her head, “Not yet Charlie, it’s just...too soon. I’m sorry. I wish I could be stronger. I didn’t mean what I said before...about not trusting you with him...’cause of your actions today. I know you could never be like that towards him...I just wanted you to see how much your...attitude scared me last night. I just want you to talk to someone about it before...anything bad happens. I want you to believe that you can change. I wish there was another way through this. I want you to find a way to be there for Riley because I could really use your support...I don’t want to be a single parent anymore.”

Charlie kissed the top of Joey’s head, pulling her arms tighter around the younger woman, “I don’t want you to be a single parent either. I want to be able to take some of that responsibility off you. I’ll find a way. Whatever it takes. Day shifts, so I can look after him every night for you...or maybe night shifts so I can spend the days with him.” “You’ll wear yourself out Charlie, then you won’t be any good to either of us,” Joey warned lightly. “I’ll find a way,” Charlie promised, “I’ll find a way to prove to you I really can change. I don’t care what it takes. I mean it this time Jo, this isn’t just one of my...empty promises. I’ve made too many of them to you, but this time is different...I’ll make it different. I’ll be there for my family this time...don’t give up on me.”

“I never gave up on you,” Joey revealed, “I hate that it’s taken something like this to make you see it. But I believe you when you say you’ll find some way of being there for him...us. It’s all I ever wanted from you.” Charlie nodded, then repeated her promise, “I’ll find a way.” Joey looked up at Charlie, pulling slightly out of their embrace. Charlie’s hands dropped to Joey’s hips, while Joey casually placed her hands lightly against Charlie’s chest, just beneath her shoulders. So, I can...push her away if anyone walks in on us, Joey silently reasoned for placing her hands softly against Charlie’s body like that, So I can...stop her if she makes a move...do I want to stop her?

Charlie ignored the tingling sensation surging through her body, as Joey still held onto her. Even if it is a defensive action...she still can’t let go of me. Charlie raised her good hand, the other still bandaged from the damage she’d inflicted, and stroked Joey’s cheek lightly, brushing away several tears. As she slipped a few strands of her hair behind Joey’s ear, Charlie stared deep into Joey’s eyes, her mind racing. Can we ever be...us again? Charlie & Joey? The...happy couple? Will I ever be given a chance to be with the love of my life again?

“Joey I...” Charlie started to whisper, as she placed her forehead gently against Joey’s. Still not breaking eye contact with each other, Joey continued to look up at Charlie. As they started breathing heavily, both women were painfully aware how close the other girl’s lips were to their own. Before they knew it, their lips had moved from several centimeters apart to barely a centimeter apart. Neither could recall who had made the first move, by leaning in first, or even how they managed to move at all, the rest of their bodies were frozen with anticipation...and fear. Ignoring their fear, both Charlie and Joey closed their eyes, as they moved to close the gap even further...when a small croaky voice called out to them, ”Mama?”

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Nineteen

The small voice pulled both Charlie and Joey out of their...moment, as Joey whipped around to face Riley still lying in his hospital bed. His eyes were closed, and Joey was afraid she’d imagined his small voice whispering out to them. Charlie stood behind Joey silently, her hands slipped and she was still gripping Joey’s hips, herself also terrified that hearing Riley’s voice was a dream...that the moment leading up to it was also a dream. Then both women dashed forwards to his bedside, as they saw his eyes start to squint open and his hand tremble. Joey rushed to his right side, while Charlie instinctively moved to his left side, both women reaching out to hold his hand or stroke his face as they got there.

“Riley...baby boy...wake up. It’s okay we’re here,” Joey pleaded. While Charlie herself begged him, “C’mon Ry you have to wake up sweetie. We’ve been so worried about you.” Riley continued to squint his eyes until he finally opened them, looking up at his parents who were sitting on either side of his bed. He squeezed Joey’s hand, then closed his eyes again, leaning his head to the side on the pillow again, just wanting desperately to fall back asleep so he can wake up again and see them still seated next to him. “Riley wake up baby, don’t fall asleep again,” Charlie whispered as she stroked his cheek and ran her hand through his hair.

Been roused again, he opened his eyes to stare at them again. “That’s the way sweetie,” Charlie said calmly, “Baby you’re in hospital, you had an accident, but you’re okay. We’re here baby boy. We won’t leave your side again, promise. I’m just gonna go get Rachel okay? She’ll be able to tell us when we can take you home. Are you in any pain?” Riley shook his head, then opened his mouth to say something but closed it again. Joey looked over at Charlie, a worried expression on her face, before looking back down at Riley, “Baby boy if you’re hurting or you need anything, please tell us so we can help you.” Riley nodded, looking up between his two parents, then grinned, “While I was sleeping...did Uncle Aid finish up my birthday cake?”

Both women looked over at each other, then back down at their son, complete adoration and relief on their faces as they burst into smiles and laughter. “Course not,” Joey grinned. Charlie giggled, as she ruffled Riley’s hair, “We hid the cake from him baby boy so he couldn’t find it.” “That’s right we did,” Joey agreed, “And you better get better and back home soon before he finds it.” Riley laughed along with them, not able to remember the last time they all laughed together about anything, then tried to sit up, wanting them both to embrace him in a hug. Joey softly lent him back down against the bed, “Relax Riley, it’s too soon to get up. Just wait until Rachel checks you over okay.” Riley nodded once before looking down at his arm in a cast, whimpering, “What happened?” “Doesn’t matter Ry, we’re here now, and we’ve never gonna let this happen again,” Charlie promised.

Ten minutes later, Rachel and one of the other doctors, had looked over Riley. As the other doctor left the room, Rachel turned to the girls, Aden and Nicole, along with Ruby and Geoff who had just arrived. They were all standing at Riley’s bedside. Kaitlyn stood at the entrance to the room, ready to show her support if Joey needed it. Rachel explained to Charlie and Joey that they still needed to run some tests to ensure there was no major damage from the concussion. After telling them the tests would probably take several hours, Charlie interrupted to ask when they could take Riley home.

Rachel decided on a compromise, if the tests were all clear and he had someone to watch over him that night, she would release him later that evening. But that would mean that both Joey and Charlie had to go home for several hours to rest and re-cooperate so they were up to the task of being awake that night to look after him, otherwise Rachel wouldn’t release him until the following morning. After some slight arguing on the compromise Joey and Charlie finally agreed to leave the hospital and return a few hours later in the afternoon to get the test results. Charlie was disappointed when Ruby insisted on driving her home, while Aden offered the same to Joey, meaning she wasn’t going to have a chance to talk to Joey...about their almost kiss.

Several hours later after a restless sleep, Charlie drove back to the hospital, and entered Riley’s hospital room. She’d ignored several text messages from Watson and Angelo asking if she was coming in to work the next day. As she walked into the room, she saw Riley sleeping peacefully, and Joey sitting alone next to him.

Unknown to Charlie, Joey had been sitting there for the last ten minutes, thinking and trying to rationalize their actions before...their almost kiss. She’d being silently recalling the memory since the second it ended, even when she should have been focusing all her attention on Riley. It was supposed to end like that right? I mean if it was meant to be...it would’ve happened. God this is exactly why I can’t move back home with her this soon! Being thrown back into each other’s lives...and arms...complicates things too much. I need time...to sort through my feelings first. I can’t just fall into her arms and expect everything to be okay. I need to know this is the right thing for us...I need to know if this is the right thing for my family. I need to focus on Riley first until he gets better...then I can think about myself...and Charlie.

Charlie silently sat down next to her, “Any news on his results?” Joey shook her head, “Not so far. I think Rachel’s waiting to tell us together. He looks so peaceful. Almost don’t want to wake him up to take him home.” “You want him home more than anything so you know he’s safe,” Charlie reminded her, before hesitating and playing with her fingernails nervously, “Jo...about before...when we almost...”

“Charlie now’s...not a good time to discuss that,” Joey interrupted quietly. I need more time to work through my feelings before I can talk about them Joey thought. Charlie looked down at her feet, “Is that just your way of telling me you don’t want to discuss it at all?” Joey continued to stare at their son, “Charlie...there’s nothing to discuss. It was just...a moment, that’s all. It didn’t mean anything.” What the...? Now why the hell did you go and say that? It meant...see this is why I can’t talk about it. I don’t know what it meant. I need to work that out before I go and say something I probably shouldn’t...only it’s a little bit too late isn’t it? “It meant nothing to you?” Charlie asked devastated. “I didn’t say that...exactly. We were just caught up in the moment. That’s all it was,” Joey informed her. That’s all it was this time. Do I want there to be another time? “If that’s what you want to believe,” Charlie muttered under her breath.

Ignoring Charlie’s comment, Joey continued, “Look I’ve been thinking...if Rachel says Riley’s fine to go home tonight...he’s coming back to Aden’s with me and...I’ll look after him tonight...alone. You can come by and see him tomorrow morning...if you can get out of work. Otherwise you can spend some time with him tomorrow night.” See...space! We need space, I need space. It’s the only way I can sort through my feelings without hurting anyone...too much. Sometimes you need to hurt a little...to get what you really want. “You don’t want me to look after him tonight?” Charlie questioned irritably. “I’m just saying there’s no point both of us been awake all night to look after him. You can have your turn tomorrow, whenever you’re free,” Joey decided. “Your gonna make us take turns to look after him?” Charlie demanded.

“Charlie this is not a big deal. I know you want to be there for him, but I think it’ll be easier for all of us if we just take care of him and spend our time with him...alone...not together,” Joey insisted. ‘Not together’ – so I can work out if I want us to be...you know together Joey thought. Charlie shook her head, “You’ve got to be kidding me! So, we almost kiss and now you want nothing to do with me?” “We didn’t almost kiss...it was just a moment,” Joey whispered, closing her eyes, “We would have pulled away and not made the mistake of going down that path again.” Would you really have done that? Joey asked herself frustrated. Charlie balled her fists up, “Sure didn’t look like you were gonna pull away to me! And I’m sorry...’mistake’? Is that what you think of our relationship?”

Joey finally looked over at Charlie, briefly gazing into her eyes, before turning back to Riley, “I didn’t mean our past relationship was a mistake. If we weren’t together, we wouldn’t have Riley. I’m saying that us getting back together...is not a good idea after what we’ve been through...” It’s not a good idea – yet! Yet! Why couldn’t you add in the ‘yet’? It gives her some hope...maybe it’s too soon to give her any hope.

Charlie sighed, then stated defensively, “Who said anything about getting back together? It was just a ‘moment’ remember...an almost kiss that meant nothing to you.” “Charlie I...” Joey paused unable to continue. “Forget it Jo. You’re right...even if it was something...doesn’t matter. We don’t work well together anymore, and we have no chance of getting back together. I don’t need you to tell me that,” Charlie replied embarrassed that Joey might have thought she wanted them back together. That’s the last thing I need...Joey finding out that maybe I do want us back together...when she clearly doesn’t feel the same. Then she’ll never want to be near me...knowing how I feel.

Before Joey could respond, Rachel entered the room. Joey lent forwards, lightly shrugging Riley’s shoulder, waking him up so he could hopefully hear the good news Rachel had for them. Good news is exactly what Rachel came with. Several of Riley’s tests came back negative for any damage after the concussion, and while there were still a few tests that would await results for several days, it was enough to convince Rachel that he would be fine to go home that evening with Joey, provided he was rested over the next few days, and came back over the next couple weeks for checkups to make sure the cast was still in place and his shoulder hadn’t received any further damage after being set back in place after the dislocation.

Once Rachel left the room to grab Riley’s discharge paperwork, Joey helped Riley get changed into a new pair of clothes, assisting him when he had difficulty not been able to use his arm. Charlie started grabbing Riley’s things, a bag of spare clothes and toys Ruby had brought over that morning in case he wasn’t going to be released tonight, as well as several gifts everyone had bought him from the hospital gift shop to cheer him up. As Charlie zipped up the bag, she looked over at Joey who had picked up Riley, and rested him against her hip. Joey walked over to her, taking the bag from her with her spare hand.

“Thanks...Um Riley do you wanta say goodbye to Mama C? We’re going back home to Aden’s so we’ll see her tomorrow okay?” Joey smiled hesitantly, afraid of Riley’s reaction. “Why can’t you come with us Mum?” Riley whimpered. Charlie grabbed his hand, and managing a half-smile, told him, “’Cause we both think it’s best if you go back to Aden’s tonight so Joey will look after you. I’ll see you tomorrow to spend some time with you, and let Joey get some rest okay baby boy?” Riley shook his head, “Why can’t we all go back home...to Charlie’s?” Charlie stared at Joey, with a knowing look. This was your idea...you can try and explain it to him.

Joey sighed, “’Cause right now your home is with me and Aden. Charlie might have to work tomorrow and there’s not exactly enough room at Charlie’s place for me to stay there. I know it doesn’t seem fair--” “You can stay in Mama C’s room,” Riley suggested. Joey raised her eyebrows, then groaned softly as Charlie did the same action, and wanted so badly to beg Charlie: Help me! “That’s a...nice suggestion but...” Joey started, as Riley clarified, “I meant you can sleep on the floor...of Mama C’s room.”  Charlie squeezed Riley’s hand, “That’s not very fair to make her do that, sweetie. I wouldn’t ask her to. I promise I’ll work something out about work tomorrow and I’ll be over at Aden’s as soon as I can to see you, baby boy.”

Riley nodded quietly, “Okay...I wish you could come over tonight but...I understand.” “That’s my boy,” Charlie grinned slightly, trying her best to do the right thing. Joey nodded, quietly thanking Charlie for agreeing with her, knowing it was a hard thing for her to do, “So I guess we’ll...see you sometime tomorrow.” “You will,” Charlie agreed, “I’ll...sort out my work and I’ll be there as soon as I can.” “That’d be good,” Joey smiled, then turned to leave. “Oh, and Joey,” Charlie called her back as Joey opened the door, “I meant what I said before. I don’t know the answer yet but...I’ll find a way...to prove to you I can change.” Joey smiled, then nodded politely before exiting the room with Riley. Charlie sighed as she looked around the empty room. Now I just gotta figure out...how the hell I’m gonna prove I can and will change...for them. Shouldn’t be too hard...right?

Later that night, Joey walked downstairs to grab a glass of water, and bumped into Aden in the kitchen. “Hey how’s he going?” Aden asked concerned. Joey smiled happily as she poured herself a drink, “I reckon he’ll be fine. Finally got him to sleep. He was having quite some trouble lying down without resting on his broken arm or shoulder.” “Yeah I broke my arm back when I was eleven or twelve. It can be hard adjusting to not being able to use your arm well. Then when you finally work it out, your arms healed,” Aden grinned as he recalled his own injury, “He’ll survive it. How you doing?” “Little tired...can’t believe this time last night I was sitting at the bottom of the stairs...terrified that I had lost him,” Joey sobbed.

Aden pulled her into a hug, “You were lucky and so was he. I’m glad Rachel released him so soon, couldn’t bear to see him in the hospital much longer. But maybe this accident was a good thing. It’ll make both you and Charlie see exactly what’s important in life.” Joey pulled out of the embrace, taking a sip of her water, “Yeah I know what’s important and the fight Charlie and I had last night...isn’t one of them. She’s starting to change...or I least I can see she wants to. Right now, her...lack of actions speaks louder than words.” “Well you told me what she told you at the hospital tonight...she’s gonna find a way to change...you just gotta believe her,” Aden comforted.

Joey smiled nervously, “I wish I could but I can’t...not until I see her change with my own eyes. Hurts less if it doesn’t happen.” “Just give her time,” Aden suggested. “Can’t wait around forever,” Joey sighed, “Anyway I should get back upstairs, make sure he’s still asleep.” “And also relieve the good doctor from Riley watching duty,” Aden realized. “Yeah that too,” Joey smiled politely. “So, Jo is--” Aden started smirking but Joey interrupted, “That’s none of your business Mr. Jefferies. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” Aden rolled his eyes, “Night, Jo.”

As Joey walked up the stairs back to her room, Aden switched off several of the lights’ downstairs, before walking over to the stairs himself. Half-way up the stairs there was a knock at the front door. Aden glanced at his watch, surprised to find it was just after midnight. Who could that be? Trudging back down the stairs he yawned as he opened the door. His yawn turned into a slightly surprised expression as he came face to face with Charlie. Aden began to frown as he noticed Charlie seemed more...relaxed somehow. She had her wavy brunette hair down, and was wearing a pair of fashionable jeans, as well as a casual singlet top that was covered beautifully by her knee-length leather jacket. Certainly not the cop uniform he was used to seeing her in. But most importantly...she had a small suitcase seated next to her.

Before Aden could get a word in, Charlie stepped forwards, “I figured it out! I’ve been sitting at home alone for the past few hours trying to work out how to prove to Joey that I can change and I’ve found out how to do that. I asked Joey to move back in with me so we could both take care of Riley and she refused because it was too soon for her to move back to our house as there are too many memories. So, if she won’t come back to me...I’m coming to her. I’m moving in. I’m moving in with you and crashing on your couch until I can prove to Joey and Riley, I can be the person I’m meant to be. I know you probably don’t agree with what I’m doing but I don’t care. I’m gonna be here for them no matter what this time. I’m not gonna let them go. So, if you want to try and stop me, you’re just gonna have to--”

Aden held up his hand, stopping Charlie’s rant...before stepping aside, allowing Charlie room to enter the apartment. A smile appeared on Aden’s face, “Charlie...it’s about damn time! It’s about damn time you figured it out...and came to fight for them!”

Charlie swallowed hard, taking in Aden’s words, as she picked up her suitcase and stepped into the apartment, as Aden closed the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty

Aden leaned over to Charlie passing her a beer. Sitting down on the couch next to her, he opened up his own bottle. Charlie shyly passed him back her bottle for him to open for her. Without a word, he did so and gave it back to her. Both took a quick swig of the liquid, before placing the bottles in front of them on the coffee table. “So, you’re here for good? You’re not gonna take off if things get tough?” Aden inquired. “No, I’m not. I’ll stay here for as long as I’m needed,” Charlie insisted. “I really hope you mean that this time Charlie. I don’t want you hurting them again,” Aden replied softly. Charlie looked over at Aden, “I mean it. I know I’ve made so many mistakes...I’ve screwed up the two most important things in my life.”

“Not gonna disagree with you there,” Aden confessed. “I deserve that from you,” Charlie agreed, “I know this might take some time but their worth it. I don’t care how long it takes...I’m gonna be here for them, in whatever way they want. How’s Riley? Can I go up and see him?” Charlie started to stand but Aden held her arm, softly pulling her back onto the couch. Charlie stared at him confused. Aden sighed, “Riley’s fine, he’s asleep. Joey’s up there watching him...and uh...Kaitlyn’s kinda up there too.” Charlie’s confused expression turned to pain, “Kaitlyn’s up there with...Joey?”

“Well she came over tonight to check on the two of them and...Joey kinda asked her to stay the night. Not like that kinda ‘stay the night.’ Joey’s watching over him and if she gets a chance she’ll be crashing on an air-mattress in Riley’s room, and Kaitlyn’s in Joey’s room...at least I think that’s the sleeping arrangements. Joey didn’t really go into great detail about that. Look Joey only asked Kaitlyn to stay over ‘cause she’s a doctor, and Joey feels safer knowing if she has any problems with Riley then Kaitlyn’s just next door,” he explained. Charlie turned, staring up the stairs, “So, that’s the only reason she’s here?”

“Charlie...I think you should know...” Aden hesitated. “They’re seeing each other, aren’t they? For real this time,” Charlie realized. “Yes,” Aden answered, “Joey told me about it tonight when Kaitlyn was upstairs giving Riley his painkillers. They’re taking things slow...and they still don’t want to make anything official but...yes, they’re together. I’m sorry.” Charlie took her eyes away from the stairs, leaned forwards to take her drink and take another sip, “I guess I should’ve expected as much. She freaked today and goes running to her high school sweetheart...I deserve that.”

Aden looked at Charlie concerned, “What do you mean she freaked?” Charlie closed her eyes, “We shared a...moment together this morning.” “A ‘moment’...meaning?” Aden pushed. “We almost kissed,” Charlie whispered. “That’s great...or um...I mean...” Aden stuttered. “Yeah I thought so too but now I guess Joey’s realized that it was a mistake,” Charlie said sadly. “Or she’s terrified of getting hurt again...and is doing what she always does when you hurt her...runs away,” Aden suggested calmly. “You mean like the time I ruined our marriage and she walked out on me...running away to you?” Charlie said, the hurt evident in her voice.

Aden lent back on the couch, “You don’t like me very much do you?” Charlie stared over at him. “It’s fine, Charlie. I’m not blind to the way you look at me and speak to me...especially over the last few months when Joey came here to live. I just don’t know what I’ve done wrong,” Aden confessed, “I was only trying to help them.” Charlie exhaled, “You haven’t done anything wrong Aden...you’ve done everything right. You’ve been there to support Joey through everything...when I wasn’t.” Aden nodded, “You think I’ve taken your place?” Charlie nodded in agreement, “I don’t want to feel that way but...I can’t help it. Over the last year, whenever Joey had a problem...she went to you. Even before her and I started having problems. She always turned to you...and I’m jealous of that.”

“You don’t have to be. I’m her best friend Charlie, I’m not her...you. There’s nothing to be jealous of,” Aden insisted. Charlie looked away from him, “Sure...what else would I have to be jealous about?” Aden nodded, acknowledging Charlie’s question, “You think something...happened between me and Joey?” Charlie remained silent. “Charlie, c’mon you can’t seriously think that anything would ever happen between Joey and I! I’m hardly her type remember.” Charlie took another mouthful of her drink, enjoying the refreshing alcohol as it gave her a bit more courage to be honest, “So...people change. I’d spent my whole life with men until I was twenty-nine and...’switched teams.’ It’s not impossible for Joey to do the same. Maybe she’s a late bloomer like me.”

“That’s hardly the same thing,” Aden replied, “Charlie don’t be ridiculous! Joey is as gay as they come, she’s never even thought of guys as attractive. On behalf of my sex I gotta say it’s disappointing that neither of you are interested in us. But as a friend...I can’t imagine either of you dating guys. I can’t imagine you two with anyone except each other.” “Tell that to Joey about Little-Miss-High-School-Sweetheart up there,” Charlie growled.

“Wrong thing to say...sorry,” Aden apologized, “Look Joey is gay end of story. You on the other hand...refuse to label yourself. You’ve been with Joey for the better part of the last six years and yet not once have I heard you discuss your sexuality. Hadn’t really thought about it until Joey mentioned it a few months ago, but she’s always been a little...disappointed that you still seem...afraid of what people think. I get that it’s a private matter, but you two are...married...it hurt Joey that you were never 100% sure of who you are. Why are you so afraid to be who you are?”

Charlie shook her head, "I don't even know the answer myself. I'm just sick of people judging me. Not just for my relationship with Joey, for other things...getting pregnant with Ruby when I was fourteen and abandoning her, daughter to one of the best detectives and having to live up to his reputation, dating cop-killer Angelo...being a cold-hearted bitch of a cop." Aden raised his eyebrow, "Guess it's tougher to be you than I thought. And you're not a cold-hearted bitch Charlie...okay maybe on the odd occasion...but if you were like that Joey never would've fallen for you. I guess when you lost yourself into your work...maybe you lost who you are and that might just be what Joey wants - you to find her again."

"Guess that's why I'm here. Trying to work out how I managed to screw everything up and...if I can ever fix it," Charlie whimpered. "Do you want to fix it?" Aden questioned. "Of course, I do," Charlie insisted, "I mean I have to at least try with Riley...but Joey...I've already lost her." "Just 'cause she's with Kaitlyn now doesn't mean you should give up on her. Maybe you being here will make her see who she wants to be with," Aden suggested. "And what if that's not me?" Charlie sighed, "Shouldn't even bother trying...she's made it clear she doesn't want to be with me." "Do you want her back?" Aden asked straightforwardly. "I want things to be different, like they were before we split, when things were solid for our family. It's too late for that. I know I don't stand a chance at getting her back...and that's just something I have to learn to live with," Charlie realized, "But maybe if I do things right by them this time, she'll...” “You just got to give her a chance Charlie. Trust me you being here is going to change things...maybe not the way you want...but it’s a start and you need to be patient with her. Don’t push her too soon...or she’ll run away again,” Aden revealed. “Right...check no pushing too hard,” Charlie agreed.

“So, what do you plan on doing about your job? You gonna hang out here when and if you can get free time?” Aden questioned. “Honestly...I don’t know what I’m doing about my job...and for the first time in a really long time...I couldn’t care less,” Charlie smiled. “You really mean that, don’t you?” Aden realized. “Yeah I do. My work is important to me...but I’ve spent the last year missing out on Riley growing up...I don’t want to lose any more time,” Charlie decided. “I’m glad you finally realized that...’cause you’re right you have missed out on so much since he’s been here. He’s a great kid,” Aden replied. Charlie frowned, “Course he is...I mean he’s your kid after all.”

Aden crossed his arms across his chest, “Charlie, is that what you have against me? Is that why you hate me?” Charlie placed her hand against her forehead, frustrated, “I don’t hate you, Aden. I hate what you represent to Riley. You’re his father.” “Riley doesn’t even know that,” Aden argued. “He doesn’t have to...I can see it every time he looks at you,” Charlie told him. “Charlie, I’m not his parent. You and Joey are. I’ve never done anything to take your place in his life,” Aden insisted. “No of course not...that’s why Riley’s living here with his parents...his true parents,” Charlie shrugged.

Aden stood up, looking down at Charlie, “He’s here because Joey didn’t have any other place to go. He’s my godson, I wasn’t gonna turn them away. I love him like a nephew not as my son...and he loves you in the same way he loves Joey. Like any kid loves their parent. I will never be able to take your place, and nor would I want to. As much as I want you here for them, if this is the attitude you’re gonna have: hating me ‘cause I gave you the son you and Joey both wanted...then get out of my apartment!”

Charlie looked up at him, tears welling up in her eyes, “I’m sorry. It’s stupid of me for thinking like this. Being jealous of you because of the relationship you share with him. Being jealous ‘cause a part of me is afraid Riley will never love me the way he loves Joey...or you. When you first offered to help us start a family...I was terrified this could happen. But Joey convinced me that you wouldn’t be the type of person to interfere. And she was right, you never did. Even when you took them in...you would have done that regardless of if Riley was biologically your son or not. I guess part of it is because of...Ruby and the way we still act like sisters...when we’re not. She’s my daughter and it’s easier but painful...for me to treat her like she’s my sister...’cause I don’t want to hurt her. Is it painful for you...pretending he’s not your son?”

Aden sat back down, “I don’t have to pretend anything Charlie. I’m not his parent and I never will be. Okay...maybe it hurt when I first held him in my arms. The emotions overwhelmed me...but it had more to do with the fact...I wanted a son. I wanted a son with Belle to raise as our own and if she hadn’t...maybe I would’ve been standing there holding my child I was gonna be a father too. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’m not Riley’s parent...not really...and I promised myself I would be the best uncle ever to him. That I’d never let him down. And excluding not being there last night...I’ve stood by him every day watching you and Joey raise him and I won’t ever stop being there for him.”

Charlie continued staring at him, tears rolling down her eyes, then suddenly she started laughing softly. “Now’s not really the time to...I mean you’re stepping on my moment here, Charlie,” Aden told her confused by her outburst. Charlie scrunched up her face, before stroking her hands over her face wiping away her tears, still laughing, “Look at me. I’m sitting here with you of all people...crying and asking you for advice. Do you know how much crap I’ve given Joey for all the times she turned to you instead of me with her problems? And now here I am...doing the same damn thing. It’s a little funny.”

Aden shook his head, before a smile broke across his face, “That is a little funny. Since when did I become the guy lesbians come to with their problems?” Charlie rolled her eyes, “Since your best friends with one, and her stupid wife finally realized you were never the problem with their relationship. I mean maybe you didn’t exactly help things when you...forget it...I can’t blame anyone for that...it was my fault. God why didn’t I come to you sooner?” “’Cause you’re stupid,” Aden teased. “No wonder you and Joey are best friends,” Charlie pointed out. “C’mon I love our similar taste in humour. That’s why Jo and I are such good friends,” Aden agreed, “So, how you feeling now? That you’ve gotten some of your fears out and talked out your frustrations with yours truly?”

“Better, I feel relaxed...and ready to fight for them. Maybe I can’t win back my family and have things the way they used to be. But I can do this...I can be there for them in whatever way they want. If Joey doesn’t want to be with me...I’ll just have to settle for being her friend and strengthening my relationship with our son,” Charlie smiled contently. “Do you want me to tell Joey you’re here?” Aden asked. “No, I don’t want to wake Riley. Besides it’ll give him a surprise tomorrow morning, and I know he’ll love that. I just hope it doesn’t throw Joey off too much,” Charlie replied.

“Joey might get quite the surprise too finding you here...but I don’t think she’ll be as surprised as you think,” Aden said softly, “You sure you’ll be right on this couch? It’s not very comfy.” “I’ll be fine. I’ve had tougher nights struggling to sleep. I think I’ll be fine here, knowing my family’s close by. Besides you’re kinda outta spare rooms,” Charlie pointed out. “Good point. Thank you, Charlie for finally stepping up and doing this...don’t let them down,” Aden warned quietly. “I won’t. I’ve done that enough already and it’ll never happen again. I love my family too much to cause them more heartache,” Charlie confessed.

Aden stood up, nodding politely, “If you need anything, let me know. Hope to see you tomorrow morning.” “You will, I’m not going anywhere else. Promise,” Charlie told him truthfully. Aden smiled, then walking over to one of the cupboards pulled out a blanket and passed it to Charlie. Charlie took it gracefully as Aden made his way up the stairs, switching off the light. Charlie breathed deeply as she stood up, slipping off her jacket, then lying back down on the couch, pulling the blanket over her. Slowly she drifted asleep with one thought on her mind – I’m gonna fight for my family...do whatever it takes to prove how much I want to be a part of their lives...and I’m not giving up until I get them back.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-One

Charlie groaned softly as she rolled over, trying to ignore the pain in her back caused by sleeping on the couch. Refusing to open her eyes, she tried to return back to sleep, trying to think of the positives of being at Aden’s. Getting my family back together. Not a minute later she opened her eyes, blinking slightly, getting used to her new surroundings, as several voices coming from upstairs woke her up. The voices belonged to Joey and...urgh Kaitlyn as Charlie heard them coming down the stairs. But she smiled when she heard a small pair of feet clomping their way down the staircase in front of the women: Riley. Charlie pushed the blanket off her body slightly as she sat up, dragging her hand through her hair and yawning.

Riley reached the bottom of the staircase first, leaping down to miss the last step, not at all afraid after his accident, while Joey and Kaitlyn were still halfway down the staircase. Riley noticed Charlie sitting on the couch, and broke into a huge smile, as he ran straight over to her. “Mama C!” he screamed as he climbed onto the couch, wrapping his arm around Charlie in a hug. Charlie held onto him, her eyes closed, “Hey Ry I missed you!” Riley gripped onto her tighter, “I missed you too Mama C! How come you’re here? Did you come to check up on me?” As Charlie opened her eyes, she found Joey and Kaitlyn at the bottom of the stairs staring at her.

Turning to Riley, she pulled him out of the hug and he instantly sat down on her lap, cuddling against her, not wanting to let her go so she couldn’t leave. “I came ‘cause I missed you bunches and wanted to be here when you woke up. Thought you’d like the surprise baby boy!” Charlie grinned, kissing him on the forehead. “Cool! I love that you’re here!” Riley enthused. Charlie looked back over at Joey and Kaitlyn, who hadn’t moved an inch, and she whispered lightly, “Hey, Jo.” Joey forced a smile, “Charlie...what’s going on here?”

What is she doing here? What happened to the plan? The plan remember...the one where I need time and space...away from Charlie...so I can work out if I don’t want to be away from Charlie anymore. If I still have feelings for her. Ones that are too strong not to...take a chance and find out if we can be together again. It was a good plan, a great plan...plan’s not starting out too well is it? Charlie slipped some of her hair behind her ear, then smiled as she looked down at Riley, seeing him looking up at her in adoration, “I’m moving in to stay here for a while.”

Before Joey could respond, Riley jumped up, wrapping himself around Charlie again, “Really? That is the best news ever!” Charlie grinned at him, then started tickling him playfully, “Course its true baby boy! Wanted to be here to look after you, make sure you don’t get yourself into any more trouble like before and scare the life out of us.” Riley looked over at Joey and Kaitlyn, noticing their silence, “Isn’t this awesome, Mama J?! Mama C’s gonna take care of me.” “It’s great Riley. Charlie...can I maybe talk to you for a moment?” Joey asked.

Charlie frowned, “Sure. Hey Riley, why don’t you sit here and watch some cartoons for a little while? Me and your mum are just gonna make you some breakfast. Sound good?” “Make me pancakes?” Riley giggled. “Well I was more thinking bacon and eggs but if my boy wants pancakes, we’ll have pancakes,” Charlie laughed as she tickled Riley again, until he jumped off her lap and made himself comfortable sitting on the couch. Charlie leaned over passing him the TV remote, then stood up and walked into the kitchen.

Listening hard she managed to hear Kaitlyn and Joey talking. “Well I should go...get to work...leave you guys to it,” Kaitlyn told Joey. Joey took her hand and walked over to the front door. Opening it for Kaitlyn, Joey smiled, “Sorry about all this. Thanks for staying over the night. I felt much safer with you here in case something happened.” “Well looks to me that the accident didn’t spoil Riley’s mood at all and he looks like he’s adjusting to not being able to use his arm much. I’m glad I stayed over and could be there for you. Maybe we could...do it again sometime,” Kaitlyn suggested hesitantly. “Sure, sounds nice KC,” Joey grinned. Wait do I mean nice in a ‘friend’ kinda way or a more than ‘friend’ kinda way? What will she think I meant when I said ‘nice’?  “Call me later JC?” Kaitlyn asked. Joey nodded, “Absolutely.” See it’s comfortable and easy with Kaitlyn – no complications! Except for the whole...my family...Charlie and Riley...part of the equation. But then again...are they good enough reasons to be with her?

Before leaving, Kaitlyn leaned forward quickly pecking Joey on the lips, as she hoped Charlie wasn’t watching them. I don’t want Charlie to think I’m doing this ‘cause she’s here and I’m...in some way trying to prove who Joey’s with...I don’t want to hurt Joey like that. That’s not what this is about. I just want Joey to be happy. How can she be happy with Charlie...when all they do is fight? Could Joey really ever trust the woman that practically abandoned her and their son for over a year? That’s not just something you can get over in the blink of an eye and a quick apology? Charlie’s not the only one to ever make mistakes but to not care about the consequences...? I’m not jealous of Charlie being here, as long as Joey’s okay with it. If it comes down to it...Joey knows what she wants...and that’s all that matters.

Charlie saw the kiss out of the corner of her eye, and she blinked back a tear. Don’t cry now, Charlie. If you ever have a chance of getting Joey back you need to wait for her to fall back in love with you. You can’t do it by acting like the jealous ex. Joey stood against the entry to the kitchen, watching Charlie as she walked around the kitchen trying to work out where things were kept. Okay making pancakes in someone else’s kitchen...not as easy as it looks. “Frying pans in the drawer above your head,” Joey called out helpfully. Charlie blushed slightly as she opened the drawer and pulled out the frying pan, then turned around to Joey, “Thanks.”

Charlie lit the stove, placed the frying pan on it, while she moved to start mixing together the pancake mixture, painfully aware Joey was watching her the whole time, but insisted on waiting for Joey to be the first one to speak about her sudden intrusion at Joey and Aden’s place. Didn’t take long. “So...you slept on the couch last night?” Joey clarified, as she dug her hands into her jeans pockets. “Yep,” Charlie simply replied. "So, you just what...got up in the middle of the night...decided to break in here just to sleep on the couch?" Joey questioned. Charlie turned around to her, "Course not...well okay I guess it was the middle of the night. I didn't break in, Aden let me in and...told me I could crash on the couch for as long as I wanted." "Wasn't that nice of him to offer that without telling me? Guess that explains why him and Nic took off early this morning," Joey shrugged, "How long you planning on staying?" Charlie started mixing the ingredients together in a bowl, turning her back on Joey, "As long as I'm needed." "Really?" Joey asked surprised. "I told you I was gonna find a way to prove to you I can change and if you won't consider moving back in with me...then I'm gonna be here helping you to take care of our son until he's better. I'm not abandoning my family again," Charlie promised quietly. “What about your work?” Joey asked curiously.

As if answering her question, Riley suddenly yelled out to them, “Mama C, your mobile’s ringing! Can I answer it?” Charlie placed the bowl down on the counter, sighing, then yelled back out to him, “It’s fine, Ry. Just let it go to voicemail...unless it’s Ruby of course.” “Urgh it’s Angelo,” Riley groaned, “What if he wants you to go into work?” Although not knowing why...Riley had never warmed to Angelo. Maybe ‘cause it was painfully obvious how the guy felt about Charlie and Riley couldn’t stand it when he continuously tried to ruin Riley’s family. “Well in that case don’t let it go to voicemail...just cancel the call instead,” Charlie instructed, “And if he keeps calling just keep hanging up on him. Maybe he’ll get the message.” “Okay,” Riley agreed happily as he slammed down the end call button ending the ringing.

“Huh?” Joey stared at Charlie, “Well that was just...huh.” “What?” Charlie turned around to look at her. “That...what was that about?” Joey asked. Charlie shrugged, as she turned back to the stove, pouring the mixture into the frying pan, “Probably just Angelo wondering why I haven’t turned up for work today.” “Wait you’re meant to be at work now?” Joey raised her eyebrow. “Yep,” Charlie responded instantly. “And you’re not there...because...?” Joey pushed. “’Cause my family needs me more and I could care less what Angelo or my boss thinks of me for skipping out on work today,” Charlie answered.

“So, you didn’t even call to tell them you wouldn’t be coming in?” Joey continued questioning. “Nope didn’t want to waste my breath,” Charlie said, as she started flipping the pancakes. “And what happens tomorrow...or the rest of the week?” Joey queried. “Don’t care. They can figure it out without me ‘cause I’m not gonna be there,” Charlie grinned. “Well that’s...huh,” Joey replied. “Don’t seem so shocked, Joey,” Charlie told her happily. “Right...’cause when was the last time you skipped out on work...or had time to make breakfast...non-toast kinda breakfast?” Joey pointed out. “I...I can’t remember,” Charlie admitted sheepishly. Joey sighed, “Charlie look...I just don’t think this is a good--”

“Joey please...” Charlie whispered desperately, as she continued to avoid Joey’s gaze, “I’ve lost track of how many mistakes I’ve made...I just need you to give me this one chance. If I screw it up...I won’t screw it up this time. I know I can do this. I understand that this puts you in an awkward position with...Kaitlyn. I’m not here because of that. I’m happy for you if that’s what you really want because you deserve to be happy. I’m here because of our son and I want...I just want to get to know him. You have no idea what it’s like...not even knowing your child because...you never bothered to make the time to get to know him because you spent too much time at work. There is so many things I don’t know about him. I don’t know his favourite colour. I don’t know his favourite food. I don’t know his favourite bedtime story. I don’t even know how he likes his pancakes cooked...God what kind of parent does that make me?!” Charlie threw the spatula into the sink, and ran her hands through her hair roughly, as she leaned against the counter and began sobbing.

Joey looked on at the woman before her, the once strong woman was now close to crumpling to the floor and falling apart. Joey breathed deeply, her voice calm, “Add some more milk.” Charlie turned around to her confused, so Joey continued, “His pancakes...add some more milk. I always cook my set of pancakes first and his second ‘cause he likes them fresh and warm. His favourite colour is blue, just like yours is. His favourite food is chocolate ice cream...at least it is this week and he’s bound to have another favourite food next week. He loves it when I read him The Lion King, you know the Disney one which was always one of my favourites, and he loves watching the movie with me even more...and he wants to be cop.”

“He wants...what?” Charlie struggled to choke out. “He wants to be a cop when he grows up...he wants to be just like you,” Joey confessed. “Really?” Charlie sobbed. Joey nodded, “It doesn’t matter that your work has kept you out of his life for the better part of a year, he looks up to you more than you realize and he understands that your job is important and he wants to protect people from getting hurt. He might only be four years old...but he’s pretty determined to be a cop like you. Your dad’s gonna be thrilled...might have a third generation Senior Constable on our hands.”

“He wants to be a cop...he wants to be like me?” Charlie repeated, still stunned at how much that small piece of information changed her perspective of her parenting skills. Rushing her hands over her cheeks, wiping away as many tears as she could, Charlie turned back to the stove, while Joey continued to look on at Charlie’s actions. She’s changed...something about telling her that...maybe it was the confidence she needed. “So, to answer your question...that makes you the kind of parent your kid is proud of,” Joey told her quietly. “Thank you. You didn’t have to tell me any of that,” Charlie realized. “Well I think it was something you needed to hear,” Joey smiled, as she pulled her hands from her pockets, and crossed her arms in front of her, “Okay...you can stay.”

Okay...I promised I needed to give her a chance to prove she can be here for us. And maybe this is still complicated and I’m not sure if having Charlie around will make things easier or harder...but I gotta try. I need to let her have this chance...I need to give us this chance.

Charlie looked up at her, unsure if she was hearing things, “Are you sure?” Joey nodded, “You’re right about putting me in an awkward position...but I can see how much you want this. I’m doing this for our son...he deserves to get to know you too. Don’t screw this up.” I’m doing this for us as well...I hope one day you can see that. “I won’t. I promise I’ll be here for him for however long it takes,” Charlie pledged. “So, did you have any plans for today?” Joey inquired. Charlie turned back to the frying pan, dumping the burnt contents in the bin, then moved to try and cook another batch, “Just have breakfast with Riley then...Do you mind if I hang out here for the day? You know just watch some TV with Riley, play some video games, help him with some of those colouring in books that are on the coffee table...maybe read him The Lion King.”

“I think he’ll love that,” Joey smiled, “Do you mind if I hang out here too? Got more sleep last night than I expected ‘cause I didn’t have many problems with Riley waking up and it was easy to give him his painkillers, but I’m still not awake enough to go outside and do anything else. With you looking after Riley maybe I can just relax for the day...maybe even finish that book I was reading.” “The one you started about two years ago?” Charlie asked knowingly. “That’s the one. Never have had time to finish it,” Joey scrunched up her face. “Until today,” Charlie pointed out, as she poured the new pancake contents onto the frying pan, and picking up the spatula started flipping them again. Charlie and Joey both smiled for the same reason: Maybe this can work after all.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-Two

After enjoying their breakfast together, Charlie and Riley curled up on the couch to watch cartoons. Joey sat across from them, reading her book, but every now and then glanced over at the pair on the couch. She didn’t want to appear as if she was intruding on their time together, but felt she still needed to be there. She could see how relaxed Charlie was becoming, and how happy Riley was to have her there spending time with him. Joey was slightly disappointed of the fact that Charlie’s mobile kept ringing every fifteen or twenty minutes. And every time it was either Angelo or Watson, Charlie glanced at the mobile hesitantly but refused to answer it...insisting she needed to leave the phone on in case Ruby or her Dad called her.

After Joey made them all some lunch, Charlie and Riley returned to the couch to watch some DVD’s, as Joey casually observed them as she joined them again to read her book. Halfway through the first movie Riley fell asleep, clinging against Charlie. The look on Charlie’s face when she noticed nearly brought tears to Joey’s eyes. But that look disappeared when Charlie’s phone rang again for about the fiftieth time that day. Charlie groaned as she recognized the ring tone was different. Joey noticed it too, which could only mean one thing...this time it was Charlie’s big boss from the City, Simon.

The ringing didn’t have any effect on Riley, who continued to sleep soundly against Charlie.

Charlie picked up her phone, just staring at it...unsure of what to do. Joey shook her head, “Just answer it, Charlie. I’ve seen the way you keep looking at it every time it rings so just answer it and...go to work if that’s where you’re needed.” Charlie nodded shyly, shifting Riley off her, and placing his sleeping body back down on the couch, as she stood up. “Charlie Buckton,” Charlie answered the call, as she moved to the kitchen and began pacing. Joey sat on the couch, shaking her head at the idea of telling Riley that Charlie had to go back to work, as she quietly listened to Charlie’s side of the phone call.

“Charlie! Finally! Where the hell have you been? I’ve just had Angelo on the phone telling me you didn’t bother turning up for work today and haven’t been in contact all day. Not to mention that you got out of your shift yesterday with no explanation. Angelo’s been calling everyone, your daughter, your friends, even the hospital to check if you were there, and no one could tell him where you are. So, where in Gods’ name are you and why aren’t you at the station?” Simon barked down the phone loudly. Charlie sighed, “I was at the hospital all day yesterday. My son had an accident and had a severe concussion and broke his arm.” “What about today? You still at the hospital?” Simon yelled.

Charlie shook her head, noticing her boss didn’t care in the slightest if Riley was okay, “He got released last night and he’s gonna be fine...thank you for asking.” “So why aren’t you at the station?” Simon demanded. “’Cause I’m taking care of my son,” Charlie replied calmly. “What about your partner...that chick you call your ‘wife’? What’s her name? Josie or Joanna or whatever? She hit her head too?” Simon asked rudely. “No, my ex Joey is fine,” Charlie said as she started to grit her teeth. “So why ain’t she minding the kid so you can be at work where you’re supposed to be?” Simon shouted.

Charlie breathed deeply, “’Cause I’m not going to rely on her to look after him every single time. I’m a mother too and I have a responsibility to look after my family.” Simon groaned, “Fine. Whatever have the day off, but it’ll be unpaid ‘cause I’m not approving it as holidays or sick leave as you neglected to bother telling us about it. Now Charlie I’m gonna be in Summer Bay tomorrow. We need to have a meeting about what’s been happening at the station the last few months, and it’ll probably take all day so--” “I’m not coming in to work tomorrow,” Charlie interrupted. Simon pressured, “You’ve had two days off Buckton, that’s more than enough. Now about tomorrow--” But Charlie interrupted again, “I told you I won’t be coming in to the station tomorrow...in fact I won’t be there for the next few weeks.”

“Why the hell not?” Simon demanded. “’Cause I’m going to be looking after my son while he gets better and I’m taking indefinite leave from work to do so,” Charlie yelled back, the anger rising in her voice. “Do you really think I’m going to allow you time off work when we’re understaffed right now?” Simon commanded. “Well that’s not my problem anymore. I’ve been telling you for months now to hire more staff but instead you keep piling it on the rest of us and I’m done with it. I’ve got at least three months of holidays owing to me so I’m taking some right now and there’s nothing you can do to stop me,” Charlie insisted angrily.

“Buckton don’t be stubborn! You know as well as I do how much this job means to you. You’ve put your career before everything in your life. One small accident to your son is not gonna change that,” Simon pointed out. “You’re wrong about that,” Charlie whispered, “It’s made me see just how important my family is and how much they need me.” “They coped fine without you before Buckton or else you wouldn’t have spent all those hours working. And I’m not about to let one of my best officers get distracted over the next few weeks just to spend some time lazing about at home. We need you at the top of your game right now. You’re not getting holidays Buckton,” Simon argued. Charlie closed her eyes, as she lent against the fridge making her decision, “Then I quit.”

“You what?” Simon screamed. “You heard me, I quit. I don’t need this career getting in the way of my life anymore. I’ve realized how important it is for me to be with my family...I mean my son, and I don’t care about my job. I’m not choosing my job over him anymore. I mean it this time Simon...if you don’t let me have time off and keep pushing me...you’re gonna lose,” Charlie insisted confidently. Charlie smiled as she realized Simon didn’t have a comeback and imagined the look he probably had on his face, completely gob smacked.

Charlie grinned happily, “I’ll take your silence as accepting I’m not coming back into work for a while. I’ll call you when I’m ready to come back to work in a few weeks. Have fun when you visit the Bay tomorrow, I’m sure Angelo will be thrilled to take over from me while I’m away.” With that Charlie hung up her phone, assured she’d made the right decision about her job. Grinning happily, she walked back into the living room.

Joey looked up at her when she entered the room, eyebrow raised, and watched silently as Charlie picked up an old magazine on the coffee table and sat back down on the couch. At the movement, Riley yawned, waking up slightly, enough to curl back onto Charlie’s lap. Charlie ran her hand through his hair, and looked up to see Joey staring at her. “What?” she asked quietly. “Nothing...just...you threatened to quit your job?” Joey asked proudly. Charlie smiled, “I told you I was serious about all this. I’m not leaving my son...no matter what.” Joey nodded, “I believe you. Just outta curiosity how come you didn’t answer your phone earlier and just tell them straight away, rather than letting it ring continuously? I saw the way you kept glancing at it every time it rang...were you afraid you couldn’t turn them down?”

Charlie shook her head, “No. Apart from the obvious not wanting to talk to Angelo, and knowing full well when it came up with Watson’s number on my Caller ID that Angelo had more than likely convinced her to let him try and call from her number so I would pick up...I knew I had to prove to my boss just how serious I am about this. I also knew how angry he would get, and that I would probably get pretty furious with him too...I just didn’t want to get angry like that in front of Riley. I didn’t want him to see me like that.” “I’m glad to hear that...you’ve made some pretty good decisions today,” Joey told her warmly. “Thanks Jo,” Charlie whispered.

Riley yawned again, this time waking up and he gazed up at Charlie. “Where’d you go Mama C?” he asked quietly. Charlie ruffled his hair, “Just had to speak to my boss quickly so I could organize some time off work.” “Really?” Riley smiled. “You betcha Ry! I’m not going back to work for the next few weeks so I’m not going anywhere,” she informed him. “Awesome!” Riley enthused. “You really think so?” Charlie asked uncertain. Riley nodded positively, “I love spending time with you!” “Well that’s a good thing then because I have plenty of time on my hands now and I need someone to hang out with,” Charlie giggled. “This is the best day ever!” Riley laughed.

“Say if you’re not gonna go back to sleep why don’t you go up to your room and grab some of your video games and we can set them up to play for a while?” Charlie suggested. Without needing anymore encouragement, Riley jumped off the couch and raced upstairs. Charlie turned to Joey, “You don’t mind, do you? If it’s too loud we don’t have to.” “It’s fine Charlie. I’m used to having him and Aden playing video games all the time,” Joey informed her, “But I hope you’re prepared to get your ass kicked by him. He’s quite good at them. And I don’t think playing the games pretty much one-handed is gonna give him any disadvantage.”

“Great sounds like fun,” Charlie rolled her eyes. Shifting her legs underneath her, and leaning back on the couch, Charlie casually flipped open the magazine, skimming through the pages while waiting for Riley to come back. “Holy crap!” Charlie suddenly announced as she started reading one of the articles. “What’s up?” Joey asked concerned. Charlie frowned, “Says here Katie Holmes divorced Tom Cruise. That’s a shock.” “Charlie,” Joey said furrowing her brow, “Katie divorced him four months ago. It’s been all over the news and tabloids since...where’ve you been?” “Living under a rock called work it appears,” Charlie groaned, “How come you didn’t tell me?”

“’Cause everyone knew Charlie,” Joey replied, “You really have been out of the loop haven’t you?” Charlie nodded sheepishly, “Pretty sad isn’t it?” Joey closed her book, chuckling, “So you gonna move to America now that Katie’s single and try and sweep her off her feet?” “You know that’s not a bad idea. I always had a soft spot for Katie, she was kinda my celebrity girl crush,” Charlie confessed. “Yeah I noticed,” Joey replied, then teased, “You’re so gay.” “Yeah I know I am,” Charlie shrugged as she returned to her magazine.

Joey bit her lip nervously, “You know that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say that you’re gay.” “Yeah I guess it is,” Charlie realized, “I dunno what took me so long to be okay with it? That’s a lie. I know it was because I just didn’t want people judging me...the way they have most of my life for my other choices. I just didn’t want to give them another reason to judge me. It’s part of who I am and I needed to work that out for myself and accept it. I didn’t need other people influencing me on whether or not I’m comfortable with being gay.”

“And you are comfortable with it?” Joey asked. “Yeah I am. I can’t change who I am,” Charlie decided. “Well look at you...couple days off work and you’re becoming quite the grown-up,” Joey smirked. Charlie glared at her playfully as Riley came back downstairs with as many video games he could manage to hold in his good arm, “Ready to play Mama C?” “Set ‘em up baby boy. I am ready to learn how to play and...get my butt kicked by a four-year-old,” Charlie grinned.

Later that night, after Charlie had put Riley to bed, she came back downstairs to find Joey in the kitchen washing the dishes from their dinner. Collapsing against the door frame, Charlie sighed, “Riley’s asleep finally. Made me read The Lion King to him twice before he fell asleep.” Charlie yawned, and stretched her arms out in front of her. “Its tiring isn’t it? Watching over him all day long,” Joey commented. “Yeah, it’s not even eight o’clock and I’ve only been up for like twelve hours or so. But I think I’m more tired now than I am after many of those 30 plus hour shifts at the station I used to pull,” Charlie groaned, “How do you do it?”

“I dunno really. I guess at some point you just get used to it, spending all your time looking after him, never having a moment to relax. It’s just second nature to me nowadays,” Joey responded. “Well I wish you had of explained it to me or made me find out for myself. I wouldn’t have given you so much crap about always being too tired to...you know spend time with me alone when I was home from work. I’m sorry I never realized how much energy it takes to raise him the way you have,” Charlie apologized. “Oh, I spent many a time trying to explain it, you just wouldn’t listen. But that doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is your here and making things right. I’m proud of you,” Joey admitted nervously. “Thanks,” Charlie whispered.

“So, what have you two got planned for tomorrow?” Joey asked as she started drying the dishes. “Actually, he was just sort of complaining about his shoulder a little before he fell asleep, so I was gonna call Rachel first thing, see if we can get an appointment in the morning. Do you mind if I take him?” Charlie asked lightly. "Yeah course it’s fine, you don’t need to ask my permission, he’s your son too," Joey smiled. "And I will make sure I call you if it's anything serious," Charlie told her. "That'd be nice," Joey replied. "So how 'bout you? Any plans for tomorrow?" Charlie queried. "Um...well..." Joey stuttered, "I just got a text from Kaitlyn. She wants to come over for lunch tomorrow during her break." "You don't need to ask my permission either Jo," Charlie said softly. "I know...I just know it’s still gonna be a bit awkward for...all of us," Joey sighed, “But if you want...I can always cancel on the lunch with her...you know if you want me to come with you to see Rachel...or ah so we can spend another day together as a family.”

"That’s not necessary, I can handle the appointment myself. Got to get used to doing this kinda stuff on my own like the way you’ve done. Now that I won’t be going back to work for a while...we’ve got plenty of time to spend as a family. Look I know I screwed things up between us...and there's no way you'll ever forgive me. I'm okay with the fact you might be moving on. It hurts but...I just want you to be happy...it's all I've ever wanted for you. I'm not gonna stand in your way...I just thought you should know," Charlie whispered calmly. Joey half-smiled, "I don't know if 'happy' is the right word for what I'm feeling...but it's just nice you know to be hanging out with her again like old times. Guess it's just sort of natural for us to start back off where we ended. I don't know how long it'll last...or if I really want it to...but it's nice to know there is a chance for me to move on after all we've been through. I hope you have a chance too."

"I don't think I'm ready for that yet...but I guess we'll see what happens. Invite Kaitlyn over for lunch, I'm sure she'll like that. Anyway, I should probably catch up with Ruby tomorrow for lunch. Haven't even told her I'm here yet. She's probably been too busy hanging out with Geoff to even notice me gone. I can take Riley with me so you and Kaitlyn have some time alone, and you don't have to worry about his reaction to seeing you two...together," Charlie said, yawning loudly at the end, "I'm sorry. I can't believe how tiring today has been."

"Well you better get used to it now, Charlz. It's part of the job description of been a full-time parent," Joey joked, "C'mon you should get some sleep." "Sure, you don't want any help with those dishes?" Charlie offered. "And have you dropping them everywhere 'cause you look like you're about to collapse? Nah I'll be right. Go on off to bed. When I'm done here, I'll send Aden a text, tell him to be quiet when him and Nic come home so they don't wake you," Joey told her. "Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow morning," Charlie smiled, as she walked back out to the living room collapsing on the couch.

Joey placed the dishes in the cupboards, smiling to herself, she went to the fridge and poured a glass of water. Flicking off the kitchen light, she walked out to the living room. "Hey, Charlie, did you want a glass of water by your bed...or couch like you always do...? And I'm going to go with yes 'cause your already asleep," Joey grinned as she stared down at Charlie fast asleep on the couch. Shaking her head and smiling at how silly Charlie looked curled up on the couch, she walked around it and placed the glass on the coffee table. Sighing happily, she picked up the blanket lying on the ground and lightly threw it over Charlie, careful not to wake her. Pulling the blanket to Charlie's shoulders, Joey bit her lip nervously as she stared down at the woman in front of her. Leaning down slowly Joey placed a gentle kiss on Charlie's forehead, whispering, "Night, Charlz."

Standing up, her smile disappeared slightly as she noticed Aden had walked in the door and was standing there watching her quietly. Blushing profusely, she walked over to him, switching off the light. Aden wrapped his arm around her, "Looks like things are working out." "Yeah they are," Joey smiled, "Thanks Aid...you know for letting her stay. Although I still want to kill you for not telling me, and doing your disappearing act early this morning to avoid me." "You’re welcome," Aden smiled, "She really wants to change, doesn't she?"

"Yeah she does and she's already made some pretty big sacrifices today to prove it. I think this might work out for us...I mean her being here for Riley...is gonna work out," Joey said quietly. "C'mon let's let her get some sleep and get to bed ourselves. Nic's crashing at Roman and Leah's, she was too tired to come home tonight," Aden told her, as he led them upstairs, "Oh and Jo...that whole drink, blanket and kiss thing..." "You gonna tell her?" Joey cringed embarrassed at what her actions meant. Aden shook his head, grinning happily, "No. I was just gonna tell you...you're such a wife." Joey elbowed him in ribs playfully, rolling her eyes, "Shut up Aid."

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-Three

"What's wrong with this picture?" Ruby screeched happily as she bounded up to Charlie and Riley at the Diner. Charlie looked up at her, "Is that a rhetorical question Rubes or do I actually have to answer that?" Ruby glanced at her watch, "Well let's see it's 11 am on a Monday morning and your sitting here relaxed and enjoying a coffee when normally I would struggle to even get my mother on the phone when she's been slaving away at work since like 5 am in the morning, let alone manage for her to find the time to actually have an early lunch with me. Like I said - what's wrong with this picture?"

"Sit down, Ruby," Charlie chuckled, and once Ruby had done so, continued, "I'm taking some time off work." "You, Charlie Buckton...taking a day off work? Who woulda thought I'd live to see the day?" Ruby laughed. Charlie grinned as she looked down at Riley next to her, "Actually Rubes I'm taking more than a day off...I'm not going back to the station for a couple weeks." Ruby raised her eyebrows, surprised, "Did I just walk into some...bizarro other world or did you actually just say you’re taking time off work?" "I am taking some time off work while Ry gets better. Don't look so shocked Rubes," Charlie grinned.

Ruby leaned over to Riley, "Did our mum hit her head Ry? She's not acting like her normal workaholic, stubborn self." "Hey," Charlie said, leaning over the table, swatting Ruby on the arm, "I'm not stubborn...okay maybe just a little sometimes. And no, I did not hit my head. In fact, I have some more news that'll make you think I've gone completely insane. Do you want to tell her Riley?" Riley nodded happily, "Mama C's moved in with us at Aden's." "Wait what?" Ruby looked at them confused. "I'm crashing on their couch for a little while so I can help Joey look after this little monster and give her a bit of a break from being a full-time parent," Charlie explained.

"Ah wow! God Charlz, for a second there I thought you were gonna say you were crashing in with Joey...but I mean that's still...wow! When did this all happen and where was I when you did a total back flip on your attitude?" Ruby laughed. Charlie sipped on her coffee nervously, "No, Joey and I we're not...I mean crashing on the couch is fine. Umm...well the other day at the hospital Joey told me she didn't need my help raising Riley...and that really hurt. I started to see how much I'd missed out on and how much I wanted things to change and promised that I'd find some way to prove that I can really be there for Riley."

"And you decided that moving in with Joey was the answer?" Ruby asked. "Well first I sort of suggested her moving back home to live with me...but that didn't go over so well...so Saturday night I rocked up at Aden's and told him I was moving in. I wasn't gonna take no for answer and I've been there since Saturday night," Charlie explained. “And you’re just telling me now, Charlz? Charlie, this is huge! It’s about damn time you made a step in the right direction. So how did Jo take the news about her new...housemate?” Ruby fired off her questions. “I wanted to call you yesterday Rubes, but I spent the whole day just hanging out with Riley...finding out what I’d missed out on. It was the best day in a long time. I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner. Joey was a little...skeptic at first but then I kinda proved how badly I want to make this work between our family and she’s really happy that things are finally changing,” Charlie replied confidently.

“Oh yeah, how’d you prove this to her?” Ruby puzzled. Charlie bit her lip, “Threatened to quit my job.” “Okay whoa that’s huge! You did say ‘threatened’ right...I mean you’re not currently unemployed?” Ruby grinned. “Well, I had Simon my boss on the phone telling me he wasn’t gonna give me time off and he made it clear he didn’t give a damn about Riley’s accident...and I realized that I didn’t care enough to stay so...I told him if he didn’t give me time off I was done with all of it ‘cause my family’s more important to me,” Charlie revealed. “Way to go, Charlz!” Ruby announced, “What’d that jerk of a boss say to that?” “Not a thing. He was completely speechless,” Charlie laughed.

“Well, it’s about time you changed your tune about everything! I’m proud of you, Mum,” Ruby revealed. “Thanks, Rubes,” Charlie blushed, “I know I’ve still got a lot I need to make up for...and it’s gonna take some time but Ry’s worth it. Aren’t ya baby boy?” Charlie lent over running her hand against his cheek playfully. “So, what’s it like having Mama C living at Aden’s?” Ruby asked her brother. “It’s awesome. We watched movies and played video games all yesterday. I won every single game,” Riley giggled.

“Oh yeah...well you are such a cheater at the video games little man. Did Aden show you those moves?” Charlie pouted. Riley nodded, “Ah huh. Mama C can I get an ice cream?” “Sure. Do you want me to come with you or are you right to go ask Leah politely yourself?” Charlie agreed. “I’ll go,” Riley decided, as he struggled to climb off his chair, with his arm placed in a sling. Charlie stood up and helped him off his chair, sitting back down while keeping a watchful eye on her son as he bounded over to Leah in the kitchen.

“So, tell me Charlie, how’s things between you and Joey?” Ruby asked lightly. “They’re good. She seems really happy that I’m there and things are really getting better for us,” Charlie advised her. “So, does that mean what I think it does...you two...getting back together?” Ruby asked anxiously. Charlie looked away for a second, before turning back to Ruby, “No. At least not now. It’s far too soon. Besides Joey’s kinda...seeing Kaitlyn right now. Don’t feel bad for me Rubes. It’s not Joey’s fault. She deserves to be with someone...uncomplicated...someone who won’t hurt her like I did. I didn’t move into Aden’s to force us back together or make things complicated with her. It’s not about her at all. If I ever have a chance of truly making things right with her...I can’t concentrate on that right now. I need to spend this time with Riley and...be a mother again. That’s all that’s important to me right now. Who knows...maybe if I get this right...I can get my family back together.” “I really hope everything works out for you Charlie. You’ve changed...and you deserve to be happy,” Ruby replied. “Thanks Ruby,” Charlie smiled.

An hour later, Charlie was holding Riley’s hand, leading him up the driveway to Aden’s apartment. Using the key Aden had got cut for her the previous day, she unlocked the front door and Riley rushed inside, as she followed him. “Mama J...we’re home!” Riley shouted up the stairs. *Thump* Riley and Charlie both turned to the living room where a noise had startled them...to find Joey and Kaitlyn sprawled on the floor next to the couch...having fallen off the sofa when the pair walked into the apartment. Joey looked away from Charlie, guiltily, as she and Kaitlyn both stood up.

Charlie gritted her teeth, her fist instantly balled up, as she noticed Kaitlyn standing there next to Joey...holding her shirt against her bra-clad chest. Kaitlyn quickly turned around, slipping her shirt back on. “Charlie, I can explain...” Joey started but Charlie shook her head, “It’s none of my business anymore, Joey.” Kaitlyn turned back around, “I’m sorry we shouldn’t have...” But it was too late. Riley had seen...too much...and bolted up the stairs in tears. “Ry, wait,” Joey called up to him, but he didn’t stop. The three women heard him slam one of the upstairs doors shut.

Joey walked around the couch, but Charlie moved to stand in her way. “Don’t,” Charlie warned, “You’ve done enough. I’ll make sure he’s okay.” “Charlie, I’m sorry. We just got...carried away...we didn’t...” Joey tried to explain. “Joey, what you do in your personal life...it’s not my business anymore. Although next time...find another place to make out with your girlfriend! Don’t use the couch I’m using as a bed!” Charlie shouted angrily, before turning around and rushing upstairs.

Kaitlyn walked over to Joey, “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed...” Joey shook her head, “You didn’t push...or do anything wrong. I did...God, why do I keep making things too complicated!?” Kaitlyn kissed Joey on the forehead, “’Cause you don’t want to get hurt anymore. I’m sorry I should have realized this was a bad idea.” “It’s not your fault...you didn’t push me into anything...I didn’t want. It just wasn’t the right place or time. I just haven’t found the time to sit Riley down and explain this to him...he probably hates me right now!” Joey started to sob, as Kaitlyn pulled her into a hug.

Later that night, Joey sat in her room, with a book in front of her. Fiddling with her nails she looked down at the book, sighing as she realized she'd been staring at the book for hours and had only managed to read three or four pages...none of which she'd absorbed any recollection of what was happening in the story. Groaning she threw the book to the floor. Glancing up she noticed Charlie leaning against the door frame. "Hey," Joey whispered. Charlie stood there silently biting her lip. "You...ah wanta come in?" Joey asked hesitantly.

Charlie paused for a second before taking a few steps forward, closing the door behind her. Walking over to the bed, Charlie sighed as she sat down on the bed. Not comfortable looking at Joey, Charlie laid back on the bed, as she shifted her hands behind her head, and stared up at the ceiling. Joey looked down at Charlie, “How is he?” “Asleep finally,” Charlie told her, “He’s just...confused.” “I’m sorry I should have helped you with him,” Joey apologized. “Honestly Jo...I think that would’ve just made things worse. But you know it felt good to help him...you know like I can really do this. I can be the mother you both wanted me to be to him,” Charlie smiled as she continued to stare at the ceiling.

“Yeah, the old Charlie...wouldn’t have done what you did today,” Joey reminded her. “It was nothing,” Charlie shrugged. Joey shook her head, “It wasn’t nothing, Charlie. Riley locked himself in the bathroom for over three hours and you sat outside the door the entire time waiting for him to open the door and come back out. Then when he finally relented you spent hours just holding him ‘til he fell asleep...I ah...might’ve peeked into his room when I didn’t hear you outside the bathroom door talking to him.” “Hmm maybe your right...Old Charlie wouldn’t have put up with that. Old Charlie would’ve just broken down the door to get him out of there,” Charlie realized, “But remind me to rip that lock off the bathroom door ‘cause I really don’t want him doing that again. I didn’t even think he knew how to use the lock, we...I don’t have a lock on the bathroom back at...my place.”

“Well I’ve never even used the lock on the bathroom door here ‘cause its only Ry and I who use that bathroom. How’d he reach it? Isn’t he still too short for that?” Joey queried. “Probably used the stool he has to reach the bathroom sink, moved it to the door, and climbed up on it to reach it. Kids’ getting too smart for his own good. We have to find a way to stop him from climbing things now before he falls over and breaks his arm again,” Charlie groaned. “You wanted a boy,” Joey reminded her light-heartedly. “Yeah well I suppose with us as his parents he was always gonna be adventurous,” Charlie grinned.

“I heard what you said to him,” Joey suddenly told her. Charlie finally looked over at Joey, her smile fading. “How come you didn’t blame me?” Joey asked softly. “Because it wouldn’t have done any good to blame you for moving on. I don’t want him to pity me or...choose me ‘cause he’s upset with you. There are no sides in this for him to choose. We’re still a family...dysfunctional as we are...and we still need to support each other. So, he was upset with you? He’ll be okay. Besides...it’s probably as much my fault as yours,” Charlie admitted. “How’s that?” Joey asked confused. Charlie frowned, “Because of me being here...living with you two. Maybe I unintentionally gave him the impression that me moving in with you meant...well you and I would...get back together.”

“And instead he gets the carpet pulled out from under him when he sees me with Kaitlyn, shattering all his dreams of us being a family again,” Joey groaned, as she crossed her legs underneath her, and lent her head against her arm, propped up against her knee, “How could I do this to him?” “Joey, you didn’t intentionally go out to hurt him,” Charlie replied lightly, as she turned her body towards Joey, and sat up slightly against her arm, “He already knew you two were...sorta...together. I guess he just assumed with me being here...Kaitlyn would be out of the picture.”

“I wanted to tell him about Kaitlyn and I...I didn’t want him finding out like...that. But I guess by telling him...it would make it...” Joey trailed off chewing her lip nervously. “It would make your...relationship or whatever with her...really real,” Charlie concluded. “Yeah,” Joey nodded slowly. “Joey are you happy...with her? It’s okay...if you are ‘cause...that’s all I want...for you to be happy,” Charlie whispered. “I’m...comfortable with her. I don’t know how this afternoon happened. I mean one minute we were just enjoying lunch, then the next...” Joey ran her hand through her hair. “You were making out on the couch and she was shirtless?” Charlie finished, swallowing hard.

Joey raised her eyebrow, “Yeah. Yeah that’s...kinda how it happened. God it was like we were back in high school...kinda embarrassing actually. It’s like I was young again, pretending there aren’t any consequences to my actions. Am I happy with her? I like her a lot but I’m not sure if...it’s because we dated in the past. If whatever I’m feeling right now is...I dunno. It’s just nice been with someone who’s uncomplicated after...everything we went through. She makes me feel...she just...makes me feel. And that’s something...I didn’t think could be possible after you.”

“I’m glad I didn’t damage you too much that you lost faith in...finding someone else...to fall for,” Charlie whispered. “Yeah but as much as I want to believe being with Kaitlyn is uncomplicated...it is. We’re not in high school anymore. Which is probably a good thing ‘cause high school kinda sucks for everyone. We’re grown-ups now and I can’t just act like a teenager around her. I have responsibilities now to Riley and...you. This is really hurting you isn’t it?” Joey realized. Charlie nodded silently. “I don’t want to hurt anyone but that’s all I’m doing right now. I’m hurting everyone. Riley hates me right now and I’m just messing up everything and failing him because the only thing he wants is for his family back together...and we can’t give him that. I feel really bad because I’m jealous of you right now,” Joey whimpered.

“You’re jealous of me? Why? Because it took me several hours to get him to talk to me and I tried to convince him you’re not doing this to hurt him. He knows deep down that you love him...we both do. Joey, you’re everything to him, just ‘cause I’ve managed to connect with him the last few days...it doesn’t make you a failure. You’re not a failure to anyone I promise you that,” Charlie insisted. Joey nodded, sobbing, “But I am a failure. I’m twenty-eight years old, practically divorced, and can’t even afford a proper place for my son to live, instead we’re just living at Aden’s until...I figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life. And worse...I’m putting my feelings ahead of everyone else’s and it’s just selfish. I’ve always done that. I walked out on you without even considering how it might affect you or Riley. I did it because I felt abandoned and instead of talking about it or trying to find a way through it...I walked away from you.”

“So, you’re the failure because you finally did the right thing and left?” Charlie pointed out, as she lent forward, wrapping her arm around Joey, pulling her into a hug, “Joey, I was the one that let you walk out on me. I didn’t even try to stop you properly. I just sat around waiting for you to come back instead of fighting for you. Don’t even get me started on my abandonment of Riley. Several days of finally stepping up and being there for him...does not outweigh everything you’ve done for him his whole life. He’s upset right now but he’ll get over it...he’s just trying to make us feel guilty that we’re not trying to get back together. We’ve both made mistakes, but I’m telling you...you are not a failure.”

Joey lent her forehead against Charlie’s, whispering, “Why didn’t you fight for me?” A few tears trickled down Charlie’s cheek, “’Cause I couldn’t handle it if I lost you again and you deserve so much better than me. You deserve someone that can make you happy, make you laugh when you’re feeling sad, respects the fact you’re a mum, and makes Riley feel safe. Somebody who knows every detail about you and loves you even more, someone who’s not afraid to show you how much they love you and someone who’ll...go to the end of the world just to be with you...what?” Joey was staring into Charlie’s eyes. It’s you...you do all those things...and more. You’ve always been the one I deserve. The one I used to deserve...can I ever deserve you like that again Charlie? Can you ever forgive me?

Before another thought could cross Joey’s mind, trying to stop her from what she was feeling, she lent forwards...her lips colliding with Charlie’s, melting together, as they shared a searing kiss.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-Four

Charlie moaned in pleasure the moment Joey’s lips crashed against her own. Ignoring everything telling her to pull away, Charlie kissed her back, slipping her hand behind Joey’s neck, pulling her closer. The women melted into the embrace, with Joey quick to take control of their actions. Pulling out of the kiss briefly, she immediately returned her lips against Charlie’s, slipping her tongue into Charlie’s mouth, exploring her. Gripping Charlie around the waist, Joey continued to kiss and explore Charlie’s mouth, smiling at the moans Charlie was making.

Feeling Charlie trying to pull out of their kiss, Joey slipped one of her own hands behind Charlie’s neck, pulling her deeper into their kiss. Charlie, taking Joey's lead, didn't break off their kiss, instead enjoying this newfound sensation. Surprised by how much she missed the feel of Joey's lips against hers, Charlie slipped her own tongue gently into Joey’s mouth, gently caressing the younger girl passionately. Allowing Charlie slight control, Joey collapsed backwards on the bed, Charlie falling on top of her, as their lips never parted.

God I can’t believe this is happening! Charlie thought, I’m actually lying here kissing my soul mate...like I’ve never kissed her before...and she’s kissing me back like she can’t let go. This feels so amazing...I don’t want it to stop. But this isn’t right...it’ll make things too complicated if we...but if I prove to her just how much I need her...that I can be with her...and just how much I still love her...maybe this is right. I can’t ruin this moment with my insecurities...when I’ve never felt more safer than in Joey’s arms. God the way she makes me feel right now...please don’t ‘freak out’ and let this end Joey...please don’t pull away.

Joey wrapped her arm around Charlie’s waist, gently rolling her over so she was now on top, continuing their passion fueled embrace. What am I doing? What are ‘we’ doing? This feels...God I’ve missed her so much, Joey thought. Kissing her was so impulsive after my mini-breakdown but having her lips against mine...it’s just so...kissing Kaitlyn and what Charlie and I are doing now just...doesn’t compare. God it’s been too long! The things she does...she still makes me crazy. How can being with Charlie feel so...completely right...but wrong at the same time? Is ‘wrong’ the right word? Because what I’m feeling...how can being with Charlie ever be wrong? I can’t fight this...I can’t pull away...please Charlie don’t ‘freak out’ and end this.

Over the next ten minutes, neither woman said a word, their tongues tangled together, as they continued passionately making out. Too afraid to make a further move, in fear of the other woman pulling away, Joey laid on top of Charlie, caressing her fingers achingly slow along Charlie’s side. Feeling the fire burning on her skin from Joey’s movements, Charlie gripped her hands against Joey’s back, begging herself to have the strength to slip them underneath the article of clothing, and feel Joey’s body against hers.

As Joey pulled her lips apart from Charlie’s, kissing her way across Charlie’s jaw line gently, the older brunette finally found her voice. “Joey, what...what are we doing?” she whispered desperately. Joey brought her lips back to Charlie’s, kissing her softly, before pulling back, staring deep into Charlie’s eyes as she whispered lovingly, “Not thinking about tomorrow.” Charlie whimpered as Joey returned to kissing her passionately, ever so slightly rocking her hips against Charlie’s. Charlie moaned at the sensations running through her body, and the thoughts clouding her mind of what she wanted to happen that night, as she held Joey close.

Kissing her way gently down Charlie’s neck, Joey groaned as she felt Charlie’s hand slip under her shirt, scrapping tenderly against her back. Allowing Charlie to touch her lightly, Joey brought her lips back to Charlie’s, before pulling away slightly to stare into Charlie’s eyes. Charlie bit her lip nervously as Joey watched her...just looking for any reason for Charlie to pull away. Seeing the desire in Charlie’s eyes, Joey lent back down, pecking her on the lips, before slowly pulling back from their embrace. Charlie reached out to hold Joey’s hand, scared of letting go...until Joey smiled down at her.

Letting go of Charlie’s hand, Joey brought her hands to the edge of her own shirt, pulling it over her head. Throwing it to the floor, Joey settled back down against Charlie...or at least she tried to. Leaning back over Charlie, Joey found Charlie pushing her back slightly, her hands against Joey’s shoulders. Joey glanced into Charlie’s eyes, terrified that she was about to be rejected...and wasn’t prepared as she found Charlie staring up at her...tears welling up in her eyes. Tears of pain? Tears of regret? Tears of hatred? Tears of...complete happiness?

Joey closed her eyes, but slowly opened them again as she felt Charlie glide her hand over her chest, coming to rest as she gently held up the necklace that dangled from Joey’s neck. Swallowing hard, Joey returned Charlie’s gaze, seeing both the confusion and happiness etched in her eyes, as Charlie stared down at the necklace she was holding...and the small gold band that was hanging from the chain.

Charlie looked back up at Joey, tears sliding down her cheeks, as she struggled to whisper, “You’re wedding ring? You...you’ve been wearing it on your necklace...this whole time?” Joey nodded silently, moving her hand to stroke the tears from Charlie’s cheeks. “But I thought...” Charlie choked out before she burst into another small flood of tears, “I thought you took it off...because you didn’t love me anymore.” Joey smiled calmly, “I guess...I wasn’t quite ready to part with it. I still needed it...close by...next to my heart.”

Charlie stroked her finger against Joey’s ring, not quite believing what she heard, as she looked over at her own ring. Letting go of the necklace, Charlie watched as the ring dangled from Joey’s neck. Joey took this opportunity and kissed Charlie fervently as Charlie’s tears disappeared. Charlie responded with several low moans, which Joey covered with her mouth. Charlie slipped one of her hands over Joey’s back, supporting her, while her other hand slowly glided over Joey’s torso, feeling the heat beneath her fingers. Joey struggled to contain her own groans, but soon broke off their kiss as she pulled Charlie’s shirt over her head, throwing it across the room.

“No bra?” Joey giggled softly, as she sat back, admiring Charlie’s body. “Too lazy this morning,” Charlie shrugged, before she lent over undoing Joey’s bra. Taking a moment to relish in the beauty of the other’s body...something they had missed for so long. Joey bought their lips together as she slid back down on top of Charlie’s body. Both girls moaned in pleasure as their breasts were pressed together, nipples erect at the sensation. As Charlie started to slide her hand against Joey’s side, hoping to reach her destination to Joey’s breasts, she let out a low groan against Joey’s mouth, as the younger girl slipped her hand between their bodies...and glided it south reaching the edge of Charlie’s pants.

As the girls continued their passionate kissing, Joey undid the button on Charlie’s pants, sliding down the zipper, and breaking away from their kiss, she pulled back and pulled Charlie’s pants off. Sitting up, Joey removed her own pants. Breathing deeply, Joey blushed as she saw Charlie staring at her, then putting aside any fears, she slipped her underwear off. Charlie wanted to scream with excitement as Joey swiftly lifted Charlie’s hips, to pull Charlie’s underwear down her legs to join the neglected pile of clothes across the room.

Both women gazed lovingly at the other’s naked body, trying to recall the last time they had felt this way: nervous, excited, and extremely turned on. Charlie sat up, gently urging Joey to straddle her again. Joey quickly took Charlie’s advice, settling herself against Charlie’s hips, as she wrapped her arms around Charlie’s neck. Feeling the wetness between them, Charlie kissed her way up Joey’s neck, bringing their lips back together. Pulling back, Charlie threw her head back, moaning loudly as Joey began rocking her hips against Charlie’s.

Charlie steadied herself, looking deep into Joey’s eyes, “Are you sure about this?” Joey nodded, as she slipped her hand up to cup Charlie’s breast. Grunting as Joey rubbed her thumb over her nipple, Charlie managed to speak again, “What is this...we’re doing?” Joey kissed along Charlie’s jaw line, as she continued to torture Charlie’s breast, then grinned cheekily, “I thought that was obvious by now. I know it’s been a while but it’s not like you forget how--” “No I meant...what does this mean?” Charlie interrupted, gasping as Joey moved her hand to her other breast, continuing her torture. “Charlie,” Joey whispered, “Let’s not think about anything. I don’t want to think about tomorrow so let’s just...let tonight be tonight.”

Charlie nodded, too afraid to question Joey’s answer in case she pushed her wife away again. And right here in my arms is where she belongs. Charlie’s thoughts were cut off as Joey flicked her finger against the erect nipple, then bent down, catching the nipple lightly in her mouth. Charlie bucked her hips as Joey slid her tongue over the nipple, nibbling on it softly. As Charlie continued writhing underneath her, pushing her hips against Joey’s to regain some sort of control, Joey pushed them back against the bed.

Kissing her again, Joey entangled their tongues, appreciating the feel of Charlie’s body beneath hers, feeling the warmth and wetness between their legs. Pulling back and staring into Charlie’s eyes, Joey licked her lips, “I want you, Charlie.” Charlie nodded, ignoring the fact they were skipping their general foreplay routine they had developed over the years of their relationship, which at times...lasted much longer than the lovemaking itself, as the women got used to torturing each other’s bodies, waiting for the other to give in and plead to make love. As much as Charlie missed feeling Joey’s hands and tongue exploring her body, her desperate need for Joey to make love to her overwhelmed her, “Please Joey, I need you...now.”

With Charlie’s permission, Joey stroked her hand down Charlie’s body, coming to rest in between her legs. Charlie spread her legs, begging for Joey’s touch, as Joey caressed Charlie’s thighs playfully. Charlie closed her eyes, “God, Jo, please...make love to me.” Joey bought her fingers to the edge of Charlie’s folds, stroking them teasingly, as she watched Charlie bucking her hips again to be closer to Joey’s fingers, “Are you sure Charlie? Is this what you really want this time?” “Yes, God I need you so much. I need you to touch me...I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life,” Charlie pleaded. Joey lent back down kissing Charlie roughly, as she slipped a finger inside Charlie’s fire.

Feeling Charlie’s body constrict around her finger, Joey pulled her finger away, then surprised Charlie as she pushed back inside her further. Charlie’s moans escaped her mouth, breaking their kiss, as she gripped her hands against Joey’s back firmly. Joey continued to stare down at Charlie, intrigued by the expressions on her face, as Joey stroked gently in and out of Charlie. Adding a second finger, Joey slipped deeper into the folds of wetness that she had missed over the last year. Finding Charlie’s clit quickly, Joey continued to tease and torture the woman beneath her. Charlie threw her head back, as she rocked her hips gently against Joey’s hand, placing Joey’s fingers exactly where she wanted them, as Joey stroked her clit. “God, Jo...that’s it...please...I need...you!” Charlie screamed.

Joey smiled at Charlie’s words, knowing she only begged her like that when she was desperate to enjoy the orgasm that had been building up. Joey complied with Charlie’s need, fervently increasing her stroking until she felt Charlie’s body constrict again, as the orgasm hit her fast. “God...Joey!” Charlie moaned loudly, her breathing ragged. Joey slipped her fingers out of Charlie’s folds, running her fingers gently between her legs, as the wetness soaked her hand. Charlie’s breathing began to return to normal, as she looked up at Joey still lying comfortably above her. Charlie licked her lips as she watched Joey move her hand away from Charlie’s legs, bringing her hand to her mouth, gently sucking Charlie’s juices.

Once her hand was clean, Joey lent down colliding her lips with Charlie’s. Charlie groaned at the taste of herself on Joey, a passion she had missed while they had been apart. Charlie closed her eyes and moaned louder as Joey pulled away, but her anger quickly subsided as she opened her eyes and found Joey now crouching between her legs. Joey looked up at Charlie, chewing on her lip nervously, unsure if she was making the right move. Charlie smiled over to her, and spread her legs open again, “Please, Joey.”

Joey didn’t need any further encouragement as she roughly dove her head between Charlie’s legs. Charlie arched her back off the bed as Joey instantly began sucking on her clit. No more torturing, or long-winded teasing, Joey wanted to bring Charlie back to orgasm again as quickly as possible, her own body on fire, and needed Charlie’s touch. Charlie recognized Joey’s urgency as her tongue worked quickly against Charlie’s clit, and Charlie responded as such, wanting that feeling again. That feeling of bringing Joey to pleasure, watching her screaming Charlie’s name in orgasm. Charlie needed to give Joey what she was feeling and needed to do so as soon as possible.

As Charlie was bought to climax again, her hands gripped the bed hard as she struggled to contain her emotions. Trying hard not to scream out loudly, knowing her son was asleep in the room next door, Charlie whimpered quietly as she closed her eyes. Breathing deeply, she opened them again to find Joey laying back on top of her, watching her peacefully. “Hey,” Charlie whispered, unable to think of anything else to say. Joey brought her hand up, slipping some of Charlie’s hair off her face behind her ear gently, “Hey yourself.” “That was...” Charlie tried to explain. “Yeah it was,” Joey agreed, not needing Charlie to finish her sentence.

Curling up gently against Charlie, Joey looked down at their entangled naked bodies, then giggled, “Didn’t expect this when I woke up this morning.” “Me either,” Charlie said sadly, bringing her hand up to wrap her fingers around the ring on Joey’s necklace, “I thought when you took this off...we’d never...” “I know...” Joey looked back into Charlie’s eyes, “I shouldn’t have hidden it...guess I thought you wouldn’t find it here.” “Are you sorry I did find it?” Charlie questioned. Are you sorry what happened after I found it? Joey read Charlie’s thoughts in her eyes, knowing exactly what she meant. “No...I just...” Joey stuttered, “Can we not talk now? Can we just enjoy tonight...leave the talking and thinking ‘til...” “Tomorrow,” Charlie concluded. “Yeah,” Joey nodded. “Okay, no more talking,” Charlie agreed, “Just more of...this.”

Charlie crashed her lips against Joey’s, entangling their tongues together, as she gently rolled Joey onto her back, so she was lying on top of her. Gliding her hand down Joey’s body, Charlie rapidly slipped inside Joey, enjoying the sensation of making love to her. Both girls’ bodies moved in a silent rhythm together, as they spent the night exploring each other in ways they had missed for far too long.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-Five

Charlie woke up the following morning with a huge smile on her face. Rolling over in Joey's bed, her smile disappeared as she realized she was alone in the bed and Joey wasn't curled up next to her. Not letting that ruin her mood, she smiled slightly and sat up, pulling the sheets up against her naked body. Looking around the room, she spotted her clothes on the floor and dragged herself out of bed, the sheet still wrapped around her. Hearing noises downstairs in the kitchen, Charlie desperately wanted to check on Joey after their night together and ignoring her clothes, grabbed Joey's dressing gown hanging on the wardrobe door, and slipped it over her body.

Turning back to the bed, trying to remember all the amazing details from their passionate night, Charlie frowned. Walking over to the bedside table she picked up Joey's necklace which was left there, along with her wedding ring Joey had slipped onto the necklace chain. She never takes this necklace off...why would she do so now after last night? Maybe she's thinking about taking the ring off the necklace...and putting it on her finger...back where it belongs. Charlie smiled at the thought, placing the necklace back on the bedside table, and careful to check no one was in the hallway snuck out of Joey's room and practically skipped down the stairs.

Reaching the kitchen, Charlie smiled happily as she found Joey standing against the counter at the stove, cooking breakfast. Or burning breakfast as Charlie smelt the smoke in the air. Walking up behind Joey, Charlie was surprised when the younger woman didn't react to her entrance, since she wasn't trying to sneak up on her. Charlie wrapped her hands around Joey's waist, placing a light kiss on her shoulder before resting her chin on the shoulder. Joey jumped slightly at the contact.

"Morning. Sorry didn't mean to scare you," Charlie whispered. "It's fine sorry I was just...staring off into space," Joey replied distracted, as she continued to stare off into space. Charlie squeezed her tightly, "I noticed. I like my bacon cooked well...but not burnt to a crisp." "Huh?" Joey looked up at her quickly, before looking back down at the frying pan in front of her, "Oh crap!"

Pulling out of Charlie's embrace, Joey moved to dump the bacon and eggs in the bin, then placed the frying pan in the sink. Pulling another smaller frying pan out of the cupboard, not wanting to wash the previous one, Joey returned back in front of the stove with some eggs she had left over, regretting wasting the bacon she had left. As she cracked the eggs against the edge of the frying pan, letting the eggs fall into the pan, Charlie resumed her position behind Joey, cuddling up to her and again kissing her neck.

Joey looked down at the arms around her, her eyes fixed on the wedding ring on Charlie's finger. "So um...about last night..." Charlie started to say. Joey relaxed a little bit more into Charlie's embrace, as Charlie pulled them closer together, giving Charlie the encouragement to continue. "Last night was...wow...I haven't felt like that in so long," Charlie admitted quietly. "Me either," Joey sighed, "Do you...ah regret what happened last night?" Charlie kissed Joey quickly on the cheek, "Not a single moment. Last night was...God I felt like I was finally me again...like we were finally...us again. Did you feel it too?"

Joey swallowed slightly, as she started scrambling the eggs, "A little bit." "Hey, you okay?" Charlie asked. "Huh? Yeah, I'm...fine. Just a little...overwhelmed by everything that we did last night," came Joey's distant reply. "But you don't regret us sleeping together, right?" Charlie asked anxiously. Joey shook her head, "I don't regret what happened last night. I'm glad it happened." "Thank God," Charlie breathed, "I got a little scared when I woke up all alone this morning."

"Sorry 'bout that just...you know breakfast waits for no one and Riley will...um probably be up soon so we should probably..." Joey trailed off. "Right, of course. And I suppose I should get changed before Aden or Nicole catch us," Charlie realized. "They left for work early this morning so it's just us...and Riley...so you should get changed before he...sees us and thinks..." Joey stumbled over her words as she continued concentrating on not burning breakfast. Charlie frowned, "Right we...don't want him...finding out this way. But Joey I just need to say--" "Charlie I don't think now is--" Joey interrupted before Charlie interrupted her instead.

"Joey, I know last night was...a huge step for us...and it wasn't planned but I need to say this. You said you wanted last night to be last night and leaving the talking 'til today so...I just wanted you to know...last night meant everything to me," Charlie asserted, several tears rushing down her cheeks. Joey let go of the frying pan, using that hand she intertwined it with Charlie's hand around her waist. "I know we still have a huge way to go...and last night doesn't just mean we can return back to the way things were...I mean when things were great between us before I screwed them up. But I promise you, things will be different this time. I'm going to make them different," Charlie promised, "I want us to start putting our family back together. I know this will take a lot of time and effort...but I really want us to try and I still..." I still love you.

Charlie kissed Joey's neck, tightening her grip slightly. Neither girl noticed Riley walking away from the kitchen back upstairs with a huge grin on his face after he had witnessed their embrace and Charlie's promise.

Joey squeezed Charlie's hand before pulling out of their embrace, "That's sweet. I'm sorry...I ah...just remembered Aden needed me down at the trawler this morning to sign off on some repairs. Can you mind Riley for the morning?" "Doesn't Aden own the business too, why can't he sign off repairs?" Charlie queried, her cop questioning showing. "'Cause...look it's just my responsibility and I gotta go catch up with him. I'll see you later today...and we'll talk properly about last night. Tell Riley I'm sorry for yesterday afternoon and I'll talk to him too later tonight...so um...bye," Joey rapidly replied dropping the spatula and rushing past Charlie.

Charlie grabbed Joey's hand pulling her back to her, pressing their lips together, "Don't you start being the one who doesn't even have time for a kiss before rushing out to work for the morning." Joey blushed, pecking Charlie's lips again, "I'll see you." Charlie grinned, as Joey walked away, but while she thought Joey wasn’t still in earshot, still afraid of pushing Joey too fast, Charlie replied, "I love you." Joey paused for a second at the front door, not sure if she heard Charlie correctly. Did she just say...?

Charlie turned around to the frying pan which Joey had neglected and seeing the eggs had now been cooked, pulled some plates from the cupboard and started serving them up. Placing the plates on the dinner table, Charlie was about to call out to Riley, then realizing she was still dressed in Joey's dressing gown, she quietly made her way back up to Joey's room to get changed before waking up her son.

Several hours later Charlie, along with Riley, was over at Geoff's place hanging out with Ruby for lunch, while Joey was sitting down at the wharf with Aden, staring out at the ocean.

After lunch the girls convinced Riley to sit in the lounge room to watch some TV, while they were still seated at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee. Charlie had spent the last few minutes since Riley left the room fiddling with her watch, and distantly answering Ruby's questions about what she should change about Geoff's small one-bedroom apartment to make it hers as well. "Alright, Charlz, enough," Ruby announced, "C'mon spill." "Spill what?" Charlie asked nervously. "Charlie, I've known you only my whole life. And I know there's a reason you came over here for lunch and I'm betting you need to talk about something. So, what's up?" Ruby replied getting straight to the point, as she took a sip of coffee. Charlie stared at her daughter, shaking her head, "It's nothing Ruby...it's...okay so it's something. I slept with Joey last night."

"So, you gonna sit there all afternoon staring at the lunch I bought you or can I eat it?" Aden grinned cheekily at Joey. "What?" Joey asked confused. "Your lunch, can I...never mind. You're in a bad mood, what's up?" Aden asked lightly. "Who says I'm in a bad mood?" Joey demanded. "'Cause I know you...and Joey Collins does not hide behind a huge pair of sunglasses like the one's you're wearing right now," Aden replied, pointing at the glasses Joey had on, "So what's up?" Joey shook her head, "Doesn't matter." Aden hung his head, "Is this about Charlie? She left, didn't she? God, she promised she wouldn't just take off like this. What did she get called back to work or make some excuse...did she even tell you?"

"What are you talking about Aid?" Joey asked confused. Aden looked back up at her, "Well when I came downstairs this morning...she wasn't on the couch...but her stuff was still there wasn't it? Now I can't remember clearly if her stuff was there. But I know she definitely wasn’t there. I can’t believe she would take off again like that." “She didn’t...take off...last night. She just...didn’t sleep on the couch last night,” Joey told him lightly. “Ah crashed in Ry’s room I take it. Sorry I didn’t mean to get all defensive and not believe she could stick around, just completely forgot she could’ve crashed up there with him,” Aden replied, swiping Joey’s uneaten sandwich, and taking a bite out of it.

Joey looked down at water beneath her, her feet dangling over the edge of the wharf, the water splashing against her feet, “Charlie wasn’t in Riley’s room last night.” “Oh...so, where was she?” Aden managed to choke out between bites of the sandwich. Joey continued staring out to sea, “She was with me...we spent the night together.”

“You okay, Rubes?” Charlie asked concerned. Ruby was bent over the kitchen sink, coughing and spluttering. Managing to get herself back in control, Ruby turned back to face Charlie, “Yeah I’m...fine. Christ, Charlie, don’t do that ever again!” “Sorry,” Charlie apologized. Ruby sat back down at the table, “Seriously next time you want to casually tell me you slept with Joey...don’t do it when I’m drinking my coffee. God, I think I still have coffee in my lungs! Guess that’s what happens when it goes down the wrong pipe...okay I’m good now so spill. When you said you and Joey slept together did you mean...naked sleeping together?” Ruby whispered the last few words, slightly embarrassed.

Charlie blushed, “Yes I meant that kind of sleeping together.” “And...details?! Well not details details you know ‘cause your still my mum and thinking about you and...ewww. I love you two to death, but I don’t need to know every detail of your sex life...probably ‘cause I’m still trying to wipe the memories of walking in on you two a few years back...honestly Charlie were you two so horny that day you couldn’t leave the kitchen table to use your bedroom...? Ewww don’t answer that. But I can still act like a grown-up if there’s anything you want to talk about...you know the...how, where and why?”

Charlie’s cheeks were scarlet red at the memories of her and Joey enjoying several romantic moments in their kitchen several years back, and Ruby walking in on them while they were...using the kitchen table to great effect. Ruby couldn’t look at the pair for weeks afterwards. Fiddling with her fingers, Charlie replied nervously, “Well...the where would be Joey’s bed at Aden’s, the how...would be we were up there talking and...one thing lead to another and before I knew it, we were straddling each other...naked. The why...has yet to be discussed. I tried talking to Joey about it this morning but...um she had to help Aden so we’re gonna...talk this afternoon.”

“You two spent the night together? As in together together?” Aden stared at Joey. Joey nodded silently. Aden lightly punched her on the shoulder, “We’ve been hanging out for an hour now and now you finally tell me like the biggest news ever!” Joey shrugged. “Okay I knew things would change when she moved in but three days later you two have already slept together...typical lesbians...never patient are you?” Aden teased, “So tell me Collins...how’d that happen between you two?”

Joey sighed, “Riley kinda...caught me and Kaitlyn making out yesterday and he locked himself in the bathroom for hours and wouldn’t talk to me. Charlie spent the whole time sitting outside the bathroom just waiting for him to come out, waiting there patiently, and when he eventually did, she laid with him ‘til he fell asleep. After that she came into my room to let me know he’s okay, confused and upset because he just wants his family back together. We just kinda got talking about Kaitlyn, us...me being a complete failure for walking out on her...and she was hugging me trying to comfort me and then...I dunno I just looked up at her and without thinking I kissed her.”

"So, one kiss and you two were all over each other like old times?" Aden chuckled. "Something like that. It wasn't planned...it just kind of...happened. We were just talking and then...In a way it was like we'd never been apart, but in other ways it felt like it'd been so long...which it has been so long," Joey contemplated, "I just...never expected this to happen."

"So," Ruby looked over at Charlie, "How was it? Where do you guys stand now?"

"Well," Aden turned to Joey, nudging her shoulder, "How was it? Where do you guys stand now?"

Charlie blushed profusely at Ruby as she took a sip of her coffee, "It was nice...okay fine it was better than nice. It was amazing. I didn't think we could ever be like that again and then...everything sort of fell into place again. We were us again, Rubes, like we were before our problems. It felt so good Ruby...I can't believe I screwed up so much and could've lost everything. It made me see exactly how badly I want my family back together." "That's great, Charlie. I really hope this works out for you two. You're meant to be together, I know it. So how was Joey this morning...afterwards?” Ruby pushed lightly. Charlie looked down at her coffee, “She seemed...a little distracted. Last night before we...slept together...I tried to talk to her about what was happening between us...but she just kind of insisted that we just act on our feelings last night, and leave the working out what it means until today. Joey seemed good this morning, like I said distracted but...she didn’t pull away from me and even gave me a quick kiss before she left. I’m just so anxious to talk to her about where we go from here. I think I’m more nervous now than last night when we...”

Ruby took hold of Charlie’s hand, “Don’t be so nervous. I’m sure Joey was just overwhelmed by what happened between you two. It’s a big step. So, you really think she wants this as much as you do?” Charlie half-smiled, “Ruby, I know this is what she wants. Last night was a huge step but I know how right it felt between us. Besides...I know how she really feels...Ruby, she’s still wearing her wedding ring.” Ruby gave her a puzzled look, so Charlie continued, “Her wedding ring...she’s been wearing it this whole time. It’s been dangling around her necklace...’cause she couldn’t let it go.”

“Wow that’s...that certainly says something about how she feels about you,” Ruby smiled. “I know,” Charlie nodded, “Ruby last night between us was perfect. It was...the best night of my life. I felt it. I felt how much we both wanted it. It’s not something we can keep fighting anymore. It might still be complicated...but last night was the beginning for Joey and me again. We’re gonna get a second chance...I know we are.” Ruby lent forward, embracing Charlie in a hug, as Charlie grinned happily, “Ruby, I’m gonna get her back...I’m gonna get my family back.”

Joey finally looked up at Aden. Taking off her sunglasses, he instantly noticed her puffy red eyes. She’s been crying...but have they been tears of happiness? Aden thought. Joey breathed deeply, “Aden last night between me and Charlie...God Aid I hate myself for feeling this way but...I think I made a mistake.”

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-Six

“A mistake?” Aden repeated. Joey sighed, leaning her head against Aden’s shoulder, he pulled his arm around her, and she cuddled against him. “Okay ‘mistake’ is a bit harsh...bad choice of words...but I don’t think it should’ve happened,” Joey whispered. “Why, Jo? I thought this would’ve been...I thought this meant things could work out between you this time?” Aden asked confused. “It’s not that simple,” Joey sobbed, “Last night shouldn’t have happened...I shouldn’t have let it happen.” “But you girls spent the entire night together...if it felt wrong why didn’t you stop it earlier?” Aden implored.

Joey cuddled closer to him, “I couldn’t stop what was happening. One minute I was kissing her then the next...it didn’t feel wrong at all what we did...but it didn’t feel right. Not the way it should’ve if we were getting back together. It sounds awful that I just got caught up in the moment...and let last night happen but...I just did. I couldn’t turn her away, I wanted to be with her. It was right...for all the wrong reasons.” “What do you mean exactly? What reasons?” Aden pressed. “I did the one thing...I swore I would never do,” Joey whimpered.

Aden looked at her questioningly. Joey shook her head in frustration, “I cheated...Aid I cheated. When I slept with Charlie...I cheated on Kaitlyn...and I promised myself I would never put someone through that...after what Charlie put me through.” “Jo, the Hugo thing was years ago. It’s in your past and you forgave Charlie for it after she proved how much she loves you,” Aden reminded her.  “I did forgive her,” Joey agreed, “But the pain it caused me...it’s not something I ever forgot. I swore I’d never put someone through that pain...and now I have.”

“Joey, it’s a little bit different...yes technically you cheated on Kaitlyn...but you cheated on her with your wife,” Aden pointed out, “Like it or not...Charlie’s still your wife. Did you ever think that you being with Kaitlyn is...cheating on Charlie as well?” “Charlie and I aren’t together, Aid, we’re separated. Maybe we’re...legally still together but not...um...well...emotionally together...except last night. God, why did I have to mess everything up? Charlie won’t forgive me, Riley will never understand, and...Kaitlyn has done nothing wrong and doesn’t deserve this from me!” Joey yelled frustrated.

“Joey, calm down,” Aden soothed, “I know you’re confused now but you need to stop blaming yourself. There was a reason why you were with Charlie last night, and a reason why you didn’t stop it from happening. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself and focusing on the part where you cheated on Kaitlyn. Take Kaitlyn out of the picture for a moment...how did last night feel between you and Charlie?”

Joey wiped the tears from her eyes, “It felt...safe being back in her arms. It felt like it always did been with her...but different at the same time. We just have this deep connection with each other and I don’t think it’ll ever be broken. It doesn’t matter that we’re not...’in love’ with each other anymore...we’re always gonna have this bond between us.” “Joey...you and Charlie are still ‘in love’ with each other, I know it. Why are you fighting it?” Aden urged.

“Of course, I’m still in love with Charlie...partly...and that will never change. But it’s not the same ‘love’ I felt for her when I first fell for her...it’s changed...it doesn’t feel as strong. She’s always gonna be part of my life, part of Riley’s life...but it hurts too much to go back there with her. What I’ve been through this last year...Aid...if I had to go through that again...I wouldn’t survive it. It’s not worth it...the pain of losing Charlie...losing myself along the way...I can’t do that to myself,” Joey admitted, “I wouldn’t cope...and then where would that leave Riley? I cannot let myself go back to that broken...shell I’ve been the last year. If I had to go through this again...and lost Charlie all over again...I’ll lose everything.”

“And if you don’t give it another chance now...you’re gonna lose everything anyway. What if things are different this time? What if this is your chance for a whole new beginning to start over again and live the life you were meant to?” Aden asked. “Who’s to say it would be? Who’s to say that our problems wouldn’t happen all over again? I don’t want to have so much doubt in my feelings but I can’t put myself through all that pain again,” Joey decided, “I can’t put Charlie through that pain again. If we tried to make it work and...we couldn’t...she will never forgive me. What if things turn out so bad that one of us...had to walk away...for good?”

“Things will never ever be that bad between you that it could come to that. You both have so much love for each other...too much it seems that you think you wouldn’t survive without her...and your love for Riley will always stop both of you from walking away...it will never be an option. But things could really be different, Jo. Charlie’s changed this time and I’m sure she wouldn’t let anything come between you guys anymore. She’s already proved that by taking this time off work and threatening to quit her job. This could really be the start of something new for the both of you...for Riley too,” Aden pointed out, “Can’t you just be honest with your heart?”

Joey shook her head slowly, “I can’t risk it. I’m not strong enough to. I know Charlie is changing but I haven’t gotten to that stage yet. I have to change myself if we belong together or we will end up like how we have. Charlie didn’t move in with us so she could confuse things between us...so she could force us back together. I know why she moved in...she hasn’t even had to say it...but she is here to fix her relationship with Riley. It has nothing to do with fixing our own relationship. She’s sorting out her own issues with abandoning Riley and maybe she is doing that so that one day we can be a family again.

Charlie is changing and working herself out...and I need to do the same. This last year Aid...I have completely lost myself. I’m a completely different person than who I want to be. I don’t want to keep blaming my problems and my issues on Charlie. I don’t want to be the...bitch who abandons her wife and dates the first girl who’s interested in her. I don’t want to be so confused and uncertain about what I want...who I want. Aid the last few days...weeks...months I feel like my actions have been so far from the way I should be acting that I’ve been watching myself from the sidelines...and I just want to slap myself and shake myself silly until I work out what I want.

I’m sick and tired of waking up and hating the person I’ve become. If Charlie and I are ever gonna have a future together...I need to do what Charlie is doing. I need to take a step back...from her...stop focusing on our future together...or apart...I need to find a way to stop being so confused and afraid. I’m afraid...that I’m not being honest about how I really feel. I’m afraid of putting myself out there and losing everything. I have always had these problems...been too insecure to trust Charlie with my heart completely.

We were together for five years and I still always had doubts that she would leave me. I have to work out a way to fix myself. It’s not about working out how to trust Charlie again...it’s about trusting myself. I have to find a way to trust myself otherwise...I have no chance of trusting anyone else. I just...don’t know how to do that. Maybe I would feel different about our night together if we were both single...and still in love with each other...but we’re not...and...it wasn’t right what we did yesterday.

I cheated on Kaitlyn and I shouldn’t have done that...regardless if Charlie’s still...legally my wife...I should’ve stopped last night from happening. I should have realized my actions affect more people around me. Last night with Charlie...it was amazing...I won’t deny that...but...maybe it was just a way for me to realize...that I need to sort myself out and that...I’m not ready to be with her yet. I’m not saying that things will work out and we’ll be together or that things are really over between us now. I don’t know what’ll happen. Maybe after last night I was supposed to realize if I’m over her or not...but I can’t decide.”

Aden looked down at her, “Your right, Jo, you do need to sort yourself out...before you decide if you can be with Charlie again. But don’t you dare think for a second that you’re really over Charlie...I know you...and you’re just trying to protect yourself again so now you’re just trying to convince yourself you’re really over her. You’ll never be truly over her.” Joey sighed, “Can’t get anything past you, can I?” “Nope,” Aden chuckled. Joey half-smiled, “I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll always love Charlie, and that maybe she still loves me...but we can’t be together...not yet...until I start to fix myself. We’ve gone through too much and I just can’t put myself through any of that again right now. It’s too much for me to cope with at this point in my life. Maybe one day in the future...but not now. I’m not ready for this right now. I can’t live a complicated life with her. Now it’s just up to me...to tell Charlie all this...how I feel about last night...and pray I don’t break her heart all over again.” Aden kissed her on the forehead, as Joey cuddled closer in his embrace.

Ruby sat down next to Riley on the couch at Geoff’s place. “Hey, Ry,” she greeted him, “Mum’s just gone down to the Diner to get us some desert. She’ll be back soon okay.” Riley nodded happily, “Okay, Rubes. Is she getting me chocolate ice cream?” “Course she is, she’d never forget your favourite,” Ruby smiled. “Awesome!” Riley grinned. “You’re in a good mood,” Ruby chuckled as she started tickling him. Riley tried to escape her grip, giggling, “Stop it, Rubes, that’s not funny.” Ruby relaxed, pulling him into a hug on her lap, “So, what’s gotten my baby brother in a good mood huh?”

Riley pulled out of the hug, and sat himself on her lap, “My parents are getting back together!” Ruby’s eyebrows shot up, “Really? Did you hear um...?” Looking up at her, Riley smiled, “I saw them this morning in the kitchen, hugging and kissing...like old times. Are they trying to keep it a secret? It’s not working very well if they are.” “I think...they’re still trying to work through their issues. They’ve made a big step...and they might just end up back together,” Ruby said softly, “But they still have quite a lot to sort out and it doesn’t mean...I just don’t want you to get your hopes up so soon okay?”

Riley nodded, then paused, “But what other problems are standing in their way? They’re happy together...I know they are.” “Well I guess they just need to be sure about their feelings for one another...and that their problems don’t happen again. They need to do this right, no more mistakes so they don’t break each other’s hearts again...along with yours. Charlie told me that she and Joey spent some time alone last night...talking...talking they were...talking,” Ruby suddenly blushed, “Um...yeah so they talked and they worked out a few things...mainly that their not quite over each other but they still have quite a way to go before they can...resume their relationship together. They need to do this properly if they ever have any hope of being a family again. I told Mum all this before she left for the Diner. She’s really happy that she might get her family back together...but she just needs to be patient and makes sure this is what they both want.”

“You don’t want them to be together?” Riley asked, hurt. “I didn’t say that,” Ruby told him calmly, “I just told Charlie that she needs to...be positive that this is the right thing for everyone before getting her hopes up. Nobody wants to see them...broken again like they’ve been since they split...we don’t want them to go through that again if things...don’t work out this time. Of course, I want them back together as much as you do...their kinda like my parents too you know. I just don’t want you to get all your hopes up. We just need to give them a chance to work through everything and we need to support them...with whatever happens. Can you do that?” Riley nodded, smiling cheekily, “Okay Rubes...I won’t tell them how happy I am that they’re together...until they tell me their back together.” “Atta boy,” Ruby grinned, kissing him on the forehead.

As Joey wondered down from the wharf after her talk with Aden, she walked up to the Diner, hoping to grab a cup of coffee to help her work through her thoughts on the previous night before she spoke to Charlie. She suddenly stopped dead in her tracks when she spotted Kaitlyn sitting outside the Diner. Looking down at her watch Joey screwed up her face. Crap! I forgot I was supposed to have lunch with her today...like now...God today of all days...I can’t do this. I cheated on her last night and I can’t be around her now. What the hell am I supposed to say to her? I need to work things out for myself before I...God, I can’t be here! I gotta get out of here before --

“Hey, Jo,” Kaitlyn greeted, looking up and seeing Joey standing awkwardly a few meters away from her. “Oh...ah...hey,” Joey replied uncomfortably. Kaitlyn tried to smile, “Everything okay? You look a little...lost.” “Lost? No, no...everything’s fine...just fine,” Joey lied. “Um...okay. You wanna sit down and order lunch?” Kaitlyn offered friendly. Joey bit the inside of her cheek, “I guess...I mean yes, yeah sure.” Joey clumsily sat down next to Kaitlyn, avoiding her gaze. Kaitlyn lent forward, and placed her hand over Joey’s, “So...how’s things been at home?” Joey stared at her wide-eyed. Umm...awkward...great...interesting...loving...what I’ve wanted for a long time... “Not bad,” Joey settled for. Kaitlyn nodded, “Well as long as...you’re comfortable with Charlie living with you and it’s not...weird between you two...then that’s great...for Riley. He deserves both his parents getting along.” “Yeah,” Joey agreed, “He does...he deserves us to...be friends.”

As Charlie exited the Diner, with a tub of ice cream and desert in tow, she smiled happily as she spotted Joey sitting outside the restaurant at one of the tables. Making her way over she slowed down and frowned as she then noticed Kaitlyn was sitting opposite her. Charlie made a face as she observed Kaitlyn laughing at something Joey said. Unable to keep watching, Charlie started to turn her back until she noticed Joey leaning in closer, a more serious expression on her face.

Standing quietly several meters behind them, Charlie watched the pair as she considered leaving. Catching the seriousness of their conversation from their expressions, Charlie continued observing them as she realized that Joey might be breaking up with Kaitlyn or...at the very least telling her about the previous night. I mean it’s not like Joey would lie about that. She knows what it was like to be lied to about this kind of thing...wow I didn’t even think about Kaitlyn in all this. There’s always got to be someone stuck in the middle...I feel bad for her...I’d hate to be the one Joey’s about to break up with.

But it has to happen. If Joey and I are going to...I dunno maybe make a go of it...then Joey needs to end it with Kaitlyn. It’s hard but...if it means we have a chance...then it has to happen. I know I should hate her for coming between Joey and I but I don’t...losing someone like Joey isn’t easy...believe me I know. And to lose her like this...God maybe that’s why Joey was so distant this morning...knowing she had to break it off with...wait why is Kaitlyn smiling? People don’t normally smile like that when they’ve just been dumped...Joey’s smiling too.

What’s going on here? Kaitlyn should be furious with Joey and threatening me for coming between them by ‘allowing’ Joey to cheat on her. I should be standing here preparing to...fight for my girl and win...not watching them smile and laugh at each other...Oh God now they’re kissing! Charlie frowned angrily as she watched Kaitlyn lean forward, quickly kissing Joey. Little did she know...Joey awkwardly forced herself not to pull away, the guilt still weighing down on her hugely. Great...did Joey back out of breaking it off with her? Was she too scared of Kaitlyn’s reaction to finding out she slept with me last night?

Charlie turned away out of sight from the pair, moving beside the wall of the Diner. Did Joey get cold feet about breaking it off? Or maybe she's just waiting for a better time...and place. Outside the crowded Diner is hardly the right place to break up with someone and tell them you...technically cheated on them with your wife. I can respect Joey for that...she's a good enough person not to want to do that to Kaitlyn in public...why are they still kissing?!

Charlie had turned back to the couple briefly to catch Kaitlyn standing up to leave, holding her phone and appearing as if she was apologizing for cancelling on their lunch date as she had to return to work early, then bending down to peck Joey on the lips softly. Charlie’s frown deepened at the action, then watched silently as Kaitlyn walked off the other direction. Before she could move, Joey had also stood up and started to make her way towards the beach. Charlie turned around, leaning against the wall of the Diner. What the hell is going on here? Why didn’t Joey break up with her? After last night, why am I still feeling like the third wheel to their relationship? Why do I have this sinking feeling...that last night didn’t change things between me and Joey...that I’m the one Joey’s gonna break it off with?

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Joey shook her head and sighed heavily as she walked up to Aden’s apartment. She’d spent the entire afternoon and evening walking around the town, sitting at the beach and the wharf, just thinking about everything. Everything she’d made a mess of, everything she wished she could change, everything she could do to change them. And how badly she wished things were easy and...that she didn’t have to do what she was about to. Slipping the key into the keyhole, Joey slowly opened the door. Noticing all the lights were out downstairs, Joey frowned at the thought of Charlie taking Riley out that night without telling her. It’s way past Riley’s bedtime...and it’s too early for Charlie to be asleep.

Flicking on the light switch, she jumped slightly as she found Charlie seated on the couch. Knees pulled up against her chest, and her arms wrapped around her legs, curling herself up on the sofa, Charlie had been sitting there peacefully in the dark. She didn’t react to Joey’s entrance. “God Charlie...sorry I didn’t realize you were sitting there,” Joey apologized. Charlie unlocked her arms from holding up her knees against her chest slowly, as she shifted back into a normal seating position as her feet fell to the floor. Still sitting uncomfortably on the couch, Charlie refused to look up at Joey, “I thought you’d be home hours ago...Riley’s already in bed so...I made us dinner.”

Joey looked guiltily towards the kitchen, as she noticed several untouched plates on the dinner table, before looking back down at Charlie, “I’m sorry...I should’ve called. I just went for a walk along the beach...I didn’t think I’d be gone this long.” “You said you wanted us to talk tonight...I thought we could at least do so over dinner,” Charlie explained distantly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were gonna...go to so much trouble. It’s my fault, I should’ve called to say when I’d be home. Do you want me to go heat the food up?” Joey offered nervously. “Not hungry anymore,” Charlie sighed. Joey took a deep breath, “Do you still want to talk now or do you want to wait until tomorrow?” Charlie shrugged, “Might as well do this now.”

Joey placed her handbag and keys on the table next to the door, before walking over and joining Charlie on the couch. Trying to find the words to tell Charlie how she felt, Joey noticed Charlie had something gripped tightly in her right fist. Reaching out, expecting Charlie to pull away, Joey was surprised when Charlie simply let her uncurl her hand, allowing Joey’s necklace and wedding ring to fall into Joey’s palm. As Joey stared at the necklace briefly, she then looked up at Charlie. “You never take that necklace off,” Charlie whispered sadly, “Not since I bought it for you for your birthday five years ago. You love that necklace. I wasn’t snooping I just found it...with your ring...on your bedside table. You’re not taking that ring off and placing it back on your finger, are you? Last night didn’t change things...and you’re ending it with me, aren’t you?”

“Charlie, I...” Joey stuttered. “Just tell me the truth...it’s the least I deserve,” Charlie begged quietly. Joey slipped her necklace and ring back over her neck, while confused she still wasn’t sure she could part with it. Turning to Charlie, she placed her hands over Charlie’s hands, holding them softly. Looking deep into Charlie’s eyes, Joey shifted one of her hands to stroke Charlie’s cheek. “Joey, please don’t draw this out any longer...just tell me what’s going through your mind after last night,” Charlie pleaded. Joey bit her lip, “Last night was perfect.” “But?” Charlie pushed. “But...it doesn’t change things,” Joey whispered, “I know it’s not what you wanted to hear and I wish things were different...but it hurts too much to go back there with you. If anything ever...and we couldn’t make it work again...I wouldn’t survive it, Charlie. I’ve been through hell this last year and I know you have too. I can’t put myself through that...because I literally...cannot survive that again.”

“Things could be different,” Charlie whimpered. Joey closed her eyes briefly, “They already are different. You have changed so much these past few days...I am so proud of you. This is all I ever wanted from you...to put aside your work and be a mother to Riley. I wish I had the strength...that we could make this work. I don’t right now...I’m too weak...to risk everything again...I just can’t put myself through this again. And I can’t do it to Riley either...if we...and it doesn’t work...I won’t be able to cope and Riley...he’ll be the one that’ll suffer. I can’t do that to him.” Charlie stared up at her, “What if it’s not a risk? What if it works out this time? What if...you’re just letting our chance...slip through your fingers? Isn’t that...a bigger risk?”

“Charlie...I don’t have answers for any of them. I want to be strong and fight for us...I want that more than anything,” Joey promised, “All last night all I could think about was how right it felt to be in your arms again. Then I woke up this morning, wrapped up in your embrace and...” “What changed?” Charlie asked quietly. Joey squeezed Charlie’s hands, “I felt something different this morning when I woke up next to you. As perfect and right as last night felt when we were together...to me it also kinda felt like...a one last time.” One last time? No, it wasn’t...like that...damn it! Not again...why did I have to say the complete wrong thing...again? Joey groaned to herself. “One last time?” Charlie repeated.

Joey nodded her head, ashamed at lying, “I think it kinda did feel like a ‘one last time.’ We’ve been through so much this last year...and we’ve never gotten any kind of proper closure.” We haven’t gotten closure...because I’m not sure if we’re meant to. Even if we’re not meant to be together...we’ll never have closure...we can’t...because...how do you ever get closure from the love of your life? “So last night when we were together...that was nothing more than closure to you?” Charlie whimpered, trying desperately not to cry. Joey continued stroking Charlie’s cheek softly, “I don’t have a single regret about making love to you last night. Maybe it wasn’t perfect timing because of...that’s not where this is coming from. Last night will always be special to me...to both of us. It was something we both needed and something...that felt right for the first time between us after such a long time. I still love you...I always will. Nothing will ever change that.”

“I love you too,” Charlie whispered, as she suddenly raised her eyebrows, “That felt different...saying ‘I love you’...it almost didn’t...” Joey tried her best to smile, but failing easily, as she realized sadly...that maybe Charlie was...starting to get over her...and it’s all my fault...cause I’m not strong enough to stop her falling out of love with me, “It didn’t have the same meaning to it that it used to.” Charlie nodded nervously, “I haven’t fallen out of love with you but it just seems like...maybe you were right. Last night was just a ‘one last time’ so we could get the closure we needed to move...” Joey squeezed her hand, “Well it’s still nice to hear you say that you love me. You know I'm glad...I haven't damaged you completely that you can't feel anything for me at all." "That's not possible. We're always gonna love each other, aren't we?" Charlie smiled sadly.

"Yeah and I don't think that'll ever stop but right now...it's just not the right time for us," Joey admitted softly, "And that’s because of me...Charlie I...I know this wasn't how you wanted things to turn out after last night. It hurts...to know that it feels different for you to say you love me and I...I don’t want you to feel different about me. Charlie, you need to understand that I am just not ready...and it has nothing to do with you. You know when I said I was proud of you for putting Riley first ahead of your job...I meant it. You have changed so much, and I need to work out a way to do the same. You moving in with us has always about fixing your relationship with Riley, not about us.

I want to change the person that I am right now. And I have to do that without you. I’m confused about my feelings for you and I can’t keep living like this. I can’t put you and Riley through that. It may seem like I don’t trust you...that I don’t trust that things would be different this time...but the truth is...I don’t trust myself. I don’t trust what I’m feeling and before I decide between promising you, I’ll break it off with Kaitlyn and we’ll work on things or telling you it’s over for good...I have got change myself. You don’t deserve to be with the person I am right now...so I need you...to be patient with me. I don’t know how I’m gonna sort myself out but if we’re truly meant to be together...you deserve me to be true to you and know...that I will not make the same mistakes again and I will not walk out on you again."

"You’re right...it's not exactly what I wanted," Charlie confessed, "Maybe I got my hopes up too much that things could work out this time...for Riley's sake...as well as my own. I understand that...if we decide to be together...it has to be right for both of us. We both need to be ready to face our mistakes and learn from them so we don’t...go through all this pain again...you’re not the only one that won’t survive that pain. I need to let you have this opportunity to change." "I never wanted to hurt you like that," Joey said softly, "I didn't want to wake up this morning and feel like this. I wanted so badly for everything to work out but I guess..." "You guess if you want to change...you need to be honest with yourself...and me about the fact that it's still too soon because you're still not quite ready to trust me completely as you don't want to get hurt again," Charlie finished for her.

"Yeah...it sounds weak and as much as I don't want to hurt you and Riley...I can't risk going through it all again. I just can't...not now. It's too much for me to handle now. I'm still trying to get used to...my life right now. Living here without you for the past few months has been such a huge adjustment...learning to really stop relying on anyone but myself. That's changed since you've been here but I'm just not ready for...what this could be again. Maybe one day soon..." Joey whispered hopefully.

Charlie nodded her head, "Maybe one day things can change...when we're both ready for it but for now...you want us to still be friends and you're still going to be seeing..." Joey closed her eyes for a moment, ignoring Charlie's last comment because she didn't want to think about that while she was sitting there with her wife, "Is that too selfish of me to want us to be friends?" Charlie shook her head silently.

Joey continued stroking Charlie's cheek, brushing her finger lightly against a tear that had fallen down her cheek, "I wish I was strong enough to believe in our feelings. I hate putting you through this. Never know...like you said things change...and maybe one day we'll both be ready...maybe one day I can trust that I won't ever get hurt again. I don't want to make promises that it will happen...I don't want you to put your life on hold for me...because I'm too screwed up to just trust myself. If you have a chance of being happy...you need to take it. Promise me that."

Charlie nodded sadly, "I feel like I should be promising to never give up on you...but I know that's too much too soon. But I can promise...there will never be anyone I love as much as you." "Same," Joey smiled, “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me and that’ll never change. You’ll always be the love of my life...but right now’s...not our time. But who knows what the future holds. So...where does this leave us now?” Charlie sighed lightly as she bit her lip anxiously, before she inched forward, bringing her lips together with Joey’s in a soft, loving kiss. Both girls moaned quietly at the contact.

Pulling away at the same time, Charlie lent her forehead against Joey’s, smiling briefly, “This leaves us as two people in love with each other...who aren’t quite ready to be together again. You’re right...we still have a lot to work through if we ever have a chance. I get it...last night was special...but it doesn’t mean we’re meant to be together again...not yet anyway. As much as we want to be together for Riley’s sake...it’s not that simple. This hurts like hell knowing...that last night wasn’t another beginning for us. I don’t want things to be awkward between us...and if you need to work out your feelings yourself...maybe I should just go home.” “You can’t do that to Riley, you promised him. You need to stay here,” Joey pleaded.

“I don’t want to leave and as much as I can tell you that I’m okay with your decision not to be with me...I’m not okay with it. Maybe that’s my fault for getting my hopes up for us to be a family again. You know I saw you this afternoon...having coffee with Kaitlyn outside the Diner. I got over-excited at the thought of you breaking up with her to be with me...which was just stupid of me. I just wanted my family back so much...I don’t want to lose you. You and Riley are everything to me,” Charlie whispered wretchedly. “You will never lose us,” Joey promised, “Things might not work out for us...but you need to be here for him. He needs you.”

“Okay...I’ll try not to let what happened between us get in the way of us so I can still be here to look after Riley like I promised,” Charlie agreed, then pausing, “Jo...where does Kaitlyn fit in to all this? I mean when I saw you two this afternoon...I thought you were gonna tell her about what happened between us last night. I get that it probably wasn’t the right time to tell her...just you know when you do plan on telling her...maybe give me some warning so I can...you know flee the country so she doesn’t come after me for sleeping with her girl.” Charlie giggled slightly at the last sentence, letting Joey know she was only joking. Joey giggled softly too, “That might be a good idea. If you still think she’s anything like Robbo you better run while you still can...before she beats the crap out of you for trying to steal her girl.”

Charlie shrugged, teasingly, “Maybe I should stick around and let that happen so you can patch me up again. Or maybe I could just wear my wounds with pride...means I fought for my girl and I won.” “And how exactly would you win?” Joey chuckled. “‘Cause I know you could never be with her if she reacted like that and did anything to hurt me...or Riley. I know she’s not like Robbo, I get that now. But she’ll still probably be pretty pissed at me,” Charlie sighed, “Seriously, Jo...when are you planning on telling her?” Joey bit her lip, shaking her head softly, “I can’t tell her.”

Charlie pulled back suddenly, “You’re not going to tell her we slept together?” “I can’t...I don’t know what I want to happen between Kaitlyn and I while I work myself out...she’s a good friend...I need that right now,” Joey whispered, “And I need you to promise that you’ll...” Charlie pulled away further, yanking her hand from Joey’s grasp, and causing Joey’s other hand to fall from her cheek. Joey looked at her questioningly, her eyes large as she searched Charlie for a reason for her actions. Charlie stared at her angrily, “You double-standard hypocrite!” “What?” Joey managed to croak out, shocked.

Charlie stood up from the couch, taking a few steps backwards before turning back to look down at her, “You want me to lie for you? You want me to pretend last night didn’t happen? You...hypocrite!” “Charlie, I’m not...” Joey stuttered. “Don’t you see that you’re doing exactly what I did to you?” Charlie growled, her anger rising slowly. “What are you talking about?” Joey asked quietly, thrown by Charlie’s sudden reaction, after their friendly embrace. Charlie shook her head, gritting her teeth, “You want to lie to Kaitlyn and not tell her about what happened last night when you cheated on her? The way I...was too afraid to tell you...about my...night with Hugo.”

Joey looked away ashamed, “This isn’t the same thing.” “How is it not the same thing?” Charlie demanded, “We both cheated on her last night when we slept together and now you want to pretend it never happened and lie to her.” “It’s not lying...exactly. I just don’t see why she should know...we both know what last night meant to both of us. Not everyone else will understand what it meant to each of us. This will only hurt her...no good can come of it,” Joey pleaded quietly. Charlie placed her hands on her hips, “Yes it’s likely that no one will understand how special last night was to us and how it didn’t mean we’re ready to be back together until you learn to trust yourself...but that does not give you the right to lie to her. I might not be Kaitlyn’s biggest fan...because I still feel like she’s one of the reasons we’re not ready to be together...but nobody deserves to be lied to about something like this.”

“Speaking from personal experience?” Joey hissed. “Yeah which is why I can’t understand why you would want to put her through what you went through,” Charlie replied angrily, “I went through hell after you left me the first time...staying up all night wishing I could change things, not only that I never spent the night with Hugo, but the fact that I lied to you about it. I hated re-watching the look on your face when you told me not to touch you again when you realized I’d lied to you. I regretted lying to you almost as much as I hated cheating on you. I knew after you left me that...if I had only been honest...I knew you would’ve forgiven me and we could’ve worked through it. Now all you want to do is lie to Kaitlyn...and pretend last night just didn’t happen. Well it did happen. We weren’t drunk, we weren’t under any influence and you...made the first move.”

“Charlie, please I’m...trying to sort myself out...so I can work out if we have a future and...I’ve known Kaitlyn practically my whole life...I need someone like that...in a friend kinda way,” Joey tried to calm her down. Charlie held her hand up, stopping her in her tracks, “I’m right...you don’t need her like you should. You’re not gonna break up with her ‘cause you know you’ll lose your friend so you’re just gonna lead her on...’cause you don’t want to be alone. That’s not fair, Jo. You can’t string her along just so you have a friend. And what kinda friend is she to you? You certainly don’t want her to know about the fact that you kissed me last night. Or that you were the one that took the lead and...you made love to me first. Fight it all you want...you wanted me last night and you couldn’t stop your feelings for me and that is why you slept with me last night. Are you ashamed of it? That she’ll never forgive you if she finds this out?”

“I’m not trying to fight these facts, I know I made the first moves last night and I know that’s because I did want you. I’m not ashamed of that...but it doesn’t change the fact that last night wasn’t a new beginning for us. I’m not using Kaitlyn, I just...I’ve hurt you almost beyond repair. I cannot do that to another person in my life. Kaitlyn and I are not in a serious exclusive relationship...neither of us are ready for that. I know that doesn’t excuse the fact that I cheated on her but it doesn’t mean...I should give up on a relationship that could be something special...just because I’m not ready to be with you. Why are you trying to ruin my relationship with Kaitlyn by wanting to hurt her like this?” Joey asked.

“Because she deserves to know Joey. If she’s falling for you...she needs to know exactly where your heart lay last night and that certainly wasn’t with her as I doubt she even crossed your mind when we were...” Charlie swallowed hard, “Maybe she won’t forgive you but at least you’re giving her the option to. You’ve been where she is...and like it or not you...we would’ve been better off if I had told you the truth about Hugo and given you the chance to forgive me before that chance was taken from you. Why are you putting her through exactly what you’ve been through?”

Joey looked away from Charlie, “I don’t want to hurt her which is why I can’t tell her. Charlie, I’m not trying to diminish what happened last night and I know that I...am probably the most selfish person in the world for asking you this...but please Charlie...no good will come out of telling her. So please just let this be my decision...it’s not your relationship that it will affect...” Charlie ran her hand through her hair, exhaling deeply, “She doesn’t deserve to be treated this way...you of all people should know that. I can’t do it...I can’t lie to her for you. I told you I was gonna give you an opportunity to change...this is your chance. Either you tell her...or I will.”

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Joey shook her head at Charlie’s insistence to tell Kaitlyn, “Charlie this is not your decision. It’s not your relationship so you have no say in whether or not I tell--” “I do have a say in this Jo,” Charlie interrupted, “I was the one you cheated on her with so if I want to lift that off my conscience I’ll tell her the truth. You can’t do this to her if you really care about her...in a friend or girlfriend kinda way. How can you not see that you are making a really bad decision here?” “What you mean like my decision last night to sleep with you?” Joey muttered under her breath, hoping Charlie didn’t hear her.

“Well it’s nice to know what you really think about last night,” Charlie growled. Joey winced, “Charlie, I didn’t mean...” Charlie crossed her arms over her stomach, “Was that all just a bunch of crap you told me before?” “What do you mean?” Joey asked quickly. Charlie sighed, “That whole ‘last night was special and perfect,’ ‘I love you but I’m not ready to be with you again,’ and my favourite, ‘last night was just a one last time.’ Did you just spin a bunch of lies there to stop me from telling Kaitlyn?” “No of course not. I meant everything I said to you Charlie,” Joey insisted desperately.

“I don’t believe you,” Charlie whispered, “That was all just a lie to get me to be okay with what happened last night. To get me to be okay with the fact you don’t want to be with me again and so I won’t go and rat you out to your little girlfriend about who you were with last night.” Joey stood up, took a few steps forward, and placed her hand on Charlie’s arm, slowly pulling her towards her until they collapsed seated on the couch next to each other again.

“Charlie, last night meant everything to me. None of what happened last night or what I told you before is a lie,” Joey urged earnestly, “The fact that I’m just not ready for us to be a couple and a family again...that’s my issues and I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense. None of this makes any sense for me to say how amazing last night felt, and that I can’t be with you yet but...I’m not strong enough to end things with Kaitlyn yet and give us a chance to see if we can have a future together. Trust me I know how complicated this all is...it doesn’t make any sense to me either. All I know is as much as I know we share a deep connection that’ll never fade, I’m not ready to trust myself completely with you because I’m terrified of not being able to cope if we split again. And even though it might make more sense to break it off with Kaitlyn so I...we can continue to work through our issues...I can’t do that right now. I just don’t want to be alone.”

“You’re not alone, Joey. You have all your friends and you have...” Charlie tried to remind her. “Charlie, I’m not ready to tell her,” Joey stated firmly. “So, you’re just gonna start your relationship off with her based on a lie? I’m not gonna lie for you Joey, I mean it. If you’re not gonna stand up and be honest then I’ll have to do it for you,” Charlie responded equally as firm. “Why are you trying to ruin this for me? Is this some small way to get back at me for not wanting to be with you? So you can break me and Kaitlyn up in an attempt for me to come crying back into your arms?” Joey demanded.

“I’m not that desperate to have you back like that,” Charlie replied angrily, “Joey, you can’t keep this a secret. Betting you’ve already told Aden about us and believe me...these things always have a way of coming out. Do you want her to find my earring in your room or something equally as obvious to what happened? You can’t hide this, and I’m not going to walk around with a guilty conscience just to keep you happy. You can’t do this to her. I’m not gonna let you.” Joey closed her eyes, unable to look at Charlie, “Charlie, this is not your choice. I feel guilty too for doing this...but I just can’t tell her. We’ve been friends for so long and I don’t want to hurt her...you didn’t want to hurt me when you lied to me about Hugo...can’t you see that I just want the same thing? I just need you to--”

“Mama,” Riley interrupted quietly from the bottom of the stairs. Both women flicked their heads towards his direction. “Hey, what are you doing up?” Charlie asked hurriedly as she stood up. Riley took a small step back, “I uh...heard you fighting and...” Joey quickly glanced at Charlie, before looking back at Riley, “We weren’t fighting, we were just...talking about some stuff. Everything’s okay between us.” “I thought things were better between you two. I thought...you were...” getting back together...Riley started to admit sadly.

“Hey c’mon, Ry, things are better between us, we promised no more fighting. I know...that you have been hoping for us to...but things are still...a little bit complicated between your Mum and me. We’re just...trying to work out things between us...and that’s gonna take a bit of time, okay?” Charlie told him, then sitting back down next to Joey she motioned for him to join them, “Come here for a moment, sweetie.”

Riley hesitated before walking around in front of the couch. Standing in front of Charlie, she lifted him up onto her lap, so he was facing Joey. Joey took hold of his free hand, smiling down at him, as Charlie wrapped her arm tightly around his waist. “Hey buddy, we’re sorry if you thought we were fighting but we were just talking. You see I...well I...realized that I forgot to read you a story tonight before bed, so we were just deciding if I should go wake you up to read one to you,” Charlie lied playfully. “She’s right,” Joey played along, “I figured it’d be mean of us to wake you again ‘cause I know how hard it’s been for you to get to sleep now with your arm in the cast but you know your mum...doesn’t listen to me.”

Riley looked up at both of them, “Well, I couldn’t sleep...I had a nightmare about you two fighting again...so when I came down here and heard...” “We’re sorry, baby, we’re here for you now,” Charlie soothed as she kissed him on the top of his head, “No more nightmares, and Joey and I aren’t fighting. We promised we wouldn’t do that again for you. We were just...being silly with our little argument.” “Do you need one of us to go tuck you back into bed?” Joey offered. Riley bit his lip, continuing to look up at both of them, “Well...I’m up now...tell me a story.” Charlie smiled, “Sure, why don’t I take you back upstairs and I can read you The--” Riley shook his head, “I want to stay down here with you two...hang out as a family. Can you both tell me a story?” “Absolutely,” Joey agreed softly, “Which story do you want us to read you? I’ll go up to your room and get the book.”

Riley gripped onto her hand, pulling her back on the couch when Joey went to stand up, then smiling up at them again mischievously, “Um...I don’t want you to read me a story. Can you tell me a story?” Charlie nodded, “Okay then, sweetie. What kind of story do you want us to tell you?” Riley giggled playfully, “A Joey and Charlie story.” Joey eyed him suspiciously, repeating, “You want to hear a Joey and Charlie story?” Charlie stared over at Joey, then down at Riley, “Well, what kind of story do you want to know about us, Riley?” Riley looked up at her, “Umm...how come you decided to name me Riley?”

“Well, that is a good question, but there’s not much in the answer other than we both liked it,” Joey told him. “C’mon, Jo...” Charlie pleaded, “He wants us to tell him a story...so let’s tell him the story.” “Do you even remember?” Joey whispered lightly. “A huge decision on what to name our child? Yeah course I do,” Charlie replied happily. Riley continued staring between both his parents, waiting for them to tell him the story...waiting for them to remember the happy memories they had with one another. Both Charlie and Joey stared down at him lovingly as they took their turns telling him the tale.

Flashback – September 2010

Charlie slipped quietly into the house she had just recently bought with Joey. Tiptoeing through the halls, holding her shoes in her hand so she could be quieter, she inched opened her bedroom door and slipped inside. Placing her handbag and shoes down on the ground she suddenly noticed the room wasn’t flooded with darkness. “Hey,” Joey whispered. “Jesus Jo...you scared me. What are you doing up so late?” Charlie breathed a sigh of relief as she turned around and saw Joey sitting up against the bed head, with the bedside table lamp on next to her. “Trying to sneak in?” Joey smirked. “Well I thought my pretty wife would be asleep, didn’t I?” Charlie rolled her eyes.

Charlie yawned as she walked across the room to the wardrobe, pulling out a pajama shirt. Facing away from Joey she quietly removed her police uniform, and bra, before slipping the shirt over her head. Turning back to her wife, Charlie grinned, “Were you peeking?” “A wife is allowed. I’m pretty sure that’s in the vows,” Joey joked. Charlie yawned again, chuckling cheekily, “I never said you weren’t allowed, Jo. I love when you stare at me. So, you didn’t answer my question, how come you’re up late?” “Couldn’t sleep, and I was worried about you. Your shift finished hours ago,” Joey pointed out.

Charlie walked over to their dresser, pulling her hair out of its bun, she started to brush her hair, “Yeah sorry about that. I was all set to leave, but Watson wanted to go out on patrol. No bad guys to chase, just kept driving around the town. Felt bad for her, so I decided to join her. I think she’s avoiding going home, and it was either go out on patrol or go to Noah’s and get drunk with her.” “Why’s she avoiding going home?” Joey asked confused. “Something about her girlfriend breaking up with her,” Charlie said yawning again. “That sucks...wait you never told me Watson was gay,” Joey realized. “I didn’t even know until tonight,” Charlie explained, “Don’t know why she never said anything considering her boss is married to a woman but I guess she’s just a private kinda person. So yeah she was in a mood so I figured distracting her with work would...work.”

Charlie turned back to Joey, placing the brush down, she yawned again, before taking a few steps forward and crawled onto their bed, collapsing on top of Joey. “Oww,” Charlie whinged, sitting back up slightly, “Well now that just woke me up.” Charlie opened her eyes, and frowned as she pulled a book that was resting against Joey’s chest from between them. Charlie eyed her suspiciously, “What’s with the book?” Joey took the book from Charlie’s grasp, placing it next to them allowing Charlie to cuddle back against her, “Couldn’t sleep and I was missing you so I figured I’d get some reading done.”

Charlie circled her hand over Joey’s stomach, then looked up at her concerned, “I didn’t even think when I collapsed on you...I’m sorry did I squash the peanut?” “No, you squashed the Mama,” Joey giggled, “And can you please stop calling it the ‘peanut.’ Can’t you come up with anything that’s not so...cute but totally lame?” Charlie grinned happily, as she slipped her hand under Joey’s shirt and continued her comforting movement over Joey’s torso, “C’mon what’s wrong with ‘peanut’? I can’t get used to calling him or her CJ Junior like you and Ruby. How is the bubs anyway? How did the appointment go with Rachel today? God I can’t believe I had to work through my lunch break and couldn’t make it to the appointment with you.”

“It went fine, everything’s normal sweetie. And I know you wanted to be there, don’t worry so much it was just one Doctor’s appointment. Besides you worry too much, I think Rachel enjoyed not having you there asking a million questions,” Joey chuckled. Charlie blushed, “I guess since I don’t really...recall much about my own experience with Ruby because I was too... I’m sorry I can’t help but be worried about my girl...s.” Joey eyed her suspiciously, “Are you fishing for an answer? Because you know I don’t have it. We both agreed for it to be a surprise.” “Surprises suck,” Charlie groaned, “I didn’t know how hard this would be not knowing if we’re having a girl or boy. You sure you don’t want to know?”

“Well we both decided to be surprised, and I’m not going back on that this soon, babe,” Joey smiled, “’Course I want to know. It would make this easier.” Joey pointed to the book, holding it up. “Baby names,” Charlie grinned, “You just want to decide on a name so I’ll stop calling the baby ‘peanut’ huh?” “Heck yeah,” Joey laughed, “No, that’s not the only reason. It’ll just be nice to have something decided on before the kid arrives. I know some people like to wait until they meet their baby but I think we should at least be able to narrow it down a little if not make a decision...one that might be changeable when we meet our child.” “Are you afraid?” Charlie asked concerned. “I’d be lying if I said no, but I’m not that scared ‘cause I have you by my side,” Joey replied. “You are so brave, and I’m not the reason for that,” Charlie smiled, “So anyway...baby names...what are your thoughts?”

“I wish I could decide. There are too many names to consider. Why’s this got to be such a huge decision?” Joey complained. Charlie continued stroking Joey’s torso, “Probably ‘cause it affects the child’s entire life...especially if we pick a really God awful name that’ll get the kid teased all through school. It’s scary knowing we could completely traumatize our kid for the entire of his or her school years, and those type of problems continue well into adult life. It’s bad enough our child might end up getting teased for having two mums...and we’re not always gonna be around to stop it.” “Don’t be so dramatic Charlie,” Joey groaned, “Our kid will learn to deal with any kids that have a problem with us. By being raised by both of us, he or she won’t know any different or see it being wrong. Besides I’m sure we can come up with something that won’t ruin the kids’ whole life.” “So, what are your first instincts for a name?” Charlie questioned.

“For little CJ Junior...well in the spirit of our names...and the fact it’s always been something I’ve liked...I was thinking maybe we could just settle for one name that’ll suit a boy or girl. You know the whole guys’ name for a girl or a strong...not at all wimpy girls’ name for a boy,” Joey told her. “I like that...and I like that it’s something that comes from our own names...guys’ names for girls. Ooh but it has to be a name that has a shortened nick name, you know like how we have Charlz and Jo...I like nick names. Plus, then we can use the kids’ full name when we’re scolding them, makes it so much more effective. I used to hate when my parents did that to me,” Charlie frowned.

“Charlz, we do not need to think about scolding our child this early. Hello the kid hasn’t even been born yet, give him or her a chance before they do something wrong. You are gonna have to learn the innocent until proven guilty method of parenting, Senior Constable,” Joey laughed happily. “Please...with parents like us, our kid is gonna get into a world of trouble. Remind me again why I signed up for this?” Charlie whinged. “’Cause you love me. And you wanted this as much as I do,” Joey reminded her. “I know I did, I just can’t believe how quickly everything’s happening. Just under a year ago I was completely lost without you, thinking I’d never find anyone else to love...and now here we are. I have you back where you belong, we’re happily married, and now I have two people I love most in the world. You,” Charlie leaned up capturing Joey’s lips in a brief kiss, then shuffling back down to kiss Joey’s tummy, “And the ‘peanut’.”

Joey rolled her eyes, “Well me and the...’peanut’ love you too.” “You two are both the best thing that ever happened to me,” Charlie gushed. “Don’t tell Ruby,” Joey joked. “Well I ah...I meant Ruby, you, and the ‘peanut’ are all my number one best things to ever happen to me,” Charlie stuttered. "You know you can't really have three number one's you goof," Joey chuckled. "Yeah I know but life is good and I don't want it to change. Except for the fact I can't wait to meet this little person," Charlie sighed contently. "Me either," Joey agreed, as she slipped her hand underneath her own shirt, entangling it with Charlie's, "So names?"

"Right sorry keep getting distracted," Charlie apologized, then pausing, "Um well names I like for either a boy or girl...Billie or Shannon or Kim...but they don't really have shortened nicknames. How 'bout Sam? Sammy for a nickname...even though that’s technically a longer nickname?" "Hmmm," Joey hesitated, "I kinda dated a Sam for a couple months before I met you. Safe to say it didn't work out." "You don't say," Charlie laughed, "Wait was that the girl that you were with and she cheated on you with her ex?" "Yeah...guess I go for that type...sorry not going there. Besides it didn't hurt because I never really had any major feelings for her like I did for you," Joey replied.

"Ok well Sam and Sammy are out," Charlie decided. "What about Jessie?" Joey suggested, "Hmmm nah ignore that I don't really think it goes well with either Collins or Buckton." "What's wrong with Jessie Collins?" Charlie questioned. "I like it, I just don't love it," Joey admitted, "And are you sure you don't want this child to have your surname?" "Eh...I already got Ruby carrying on my name, and I'm pretty sure she'll be keeping her own name if she ever gets married. I think it's fair that you have someone continue your name too," Charlie proposed, then biting her lip and muttering, "Long as it's not a Jeffries, I'm happy."

"Charlz," Joey groaned disappointedly, "How many times do I need to tell you this baby is yours, not Aden's? Will this always be an issue for you?" Charlie furrowed her brow, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. Guess I'm still a little angry at my Dad." "How come?" Joey pushed. Charlie sighed, "You know the argument I had with him the other day about the fact he doesn't want to treat our child as his grandchild because it's not biologically mine. I told you about that." Joey looked at her confused. "I didn't tell you," Charlie realized, "I'm sorry, Jo, I thought I told you about it. Urgh it must have been Ruby I was venting about it to."

Joey squeezed Charlie's hand, "Your dad really said that? He thinks just because I'm carrying our child that it doesn't make him the kid's grandfather...or you its mother." "He didn't...say that last part...exactly," Charlie whimpered, "Probably only because Morag cut him off from saying the second part. Don't worry about it, Jo, I'm not at all bothered by his stupid thoughts. It's not my problem if that's how he thinks. Besides Morag pointed out that he'll probably forget his stupid ramblings when he sees our baby for the first time. I promise you he'll be fine. He's just still...adjusting to the fact that I'm married to a woman."

"Wish he didn't have to...'adjust' and he could just be happy for us. I really thought he would be by now...he accepted us getting married...so how can he not be happy for us that we’re starting our lives together and having a child?" Joey confessed, "Sorry I know you don't like to talk about it. Okay back to baby names...what do you think about...Max? Or Alex? Cameron? Maybe Taylor?" "Nah those names are too common, I want something different," Charlie grumbled. "Well we're running out of names here, Charlz," Joey groaned, "Guess that's kinda my fault with the whole name that will suit a boy or girl." "Yes, I blame this entirely on you," Charlie laughed, “How about Jamie? Jamie’s cute.” “What happened to something that isn’t too common?” Joey pointed out. “Okay fine,” Charlie sighed sleepily, “Last ditch effort for the night before I fall asleep. Hmmm...Riley...Riley Collins.”

Joey cocked her head to the side, “Riley?” “Yeah okay fine, we’ll talk some more about better ideas tomorrow,” Charlie yawned. “No, Charlie, that’s not what I meant,” Joey suddenly grinned, “I love it!” “Huh?” Charlie puzzled. “God, what’s up with your memory?” Joey shook her head, “Riley, I absolutely love it. It’s perfect!” “Really? I came up with the perfect name?” Charlie asked surprised. “Yes, you did,” Joey gushed, “Seriously it’s perfect. It’s an adorable name for a boy, and a tough little name for a girl. We can call him or her Ry for short and go all ‘Riley Collins’ when the kid gets into trouble as you insist he or she will. That’s it, it’s perfect. I know it is.”

“Well at least we got that sorted,” Charlie smiled, “I kinda love it too. You’re right it is perfect. Little Riley Collins. That’s our kid!” Joey stroked Charlie’s hand comfortingly, “I love it too. And I love you. See I told you that you would make a perfect mum...Charlie? Charlie?” Joey rolled her eyes, as she stared down at Charlie who had now fallen asleep against her. Leaning over softly, Joey flicked off the lamp and placed the book on the bedside table, before snuggling closer to her wife.

Present Day – March 2015

“Riley? Riley?” Joey smiled softly, as she rolled her eyes, and repeated the similar action she did years before, as she stared down at her now slumbering son, who was curled up on Charlie’s lap. Looking up at Charlie, who had her eyes closed, resting lightly, Joey’s smile widened at the image, “Did he fall asleep a while ago?” Charlie blinked her eyes open slowly, “Nah just a couple minutes ago. Sorry you seemed a little...engrossed in your part of the story. Didn’t want to stop you.” Joey looked down at the floor, still smiling contently, “That was a good night. Do you think that was the point of Riley asking us to tell him a story like this...to remember the good times?” Charlie stared at their son, curled up against her, “That’s our boy. I...should go put him back to sleep.”

Charlie shifted Riley against her hip, leaning him against her shoulder, as she stood up and walked towards the staircase. “Charlie,” Joey called out quietly, getting up and following her, “About before...” Charlie turned around, “I’m not changing my mind Joey. If you don’t go and tell Kaitlyn tomorrow...I will.” Joey nodded silently, as Charlie turned back and carried Riley up the stairs to his room. Joey stared down at the floor as she slumped against the bottom of the stairs. How did I mess everything up so badly? How will I ever learn to trust myself...enough to decide if I’m ready to get my family back?

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Charlie sat in her car outside the hospital fidgeting with her nails. She’d been sitting there for the last ten minutes and sighed heavily for the hundredth time. And about the thousandth time that day. Charlie had spent the entire morning at Aden’s apartment with Joey and Riley, keeping a careful eye on Joey. Just hoping and waiting for Joey to speak up and tell her that she’d decided to tell Kaitlyn about their night together. But she didn’t. Joey just ignored her every time she looked at her, and every time Charlie tried broaching the subject again... Joey just kept hoping Charlie would give up. But she didn’t.

Eventually Charlie got sick of Joey’s in-action, and leaving Riley with Joey, she told her former lover she was going out for a drive. Joey knew exactly where Charlie was going, and couldn’t stop her. She’d spent the entire morning, along with a sleepless night, trying to work up the courage to be honest with Kaitlyn about her infidelity...God I can’t call it that! ‘Infidelity’ makes it sound so...dirty and wrong. Yes, technically it was because I still cheated even though it was with my...wife...probably soon to be ex-wife...the way I’ve been acting. My night with Charlie was anything but an infidelity...it was beautiful and perfect and...we were Joey and Charlie again...before the problems. It didn’t matter that we’d been apart for so long...having her in my arms, kissing her passionately, making love to her tenderly all night long...why couldn’t that just be the start for us again?

Why am I so scared to just tell Kaitlyn about our night together? Why am I more scared...of letting Charlie back into my life and heart again completely? Why can’t things just work out the way they’re meant to? Are things meant to work out between me and Charlie? Or are they already working out the way they’re supposed to? Why am I so terrified to trust her again? Am I taking the easy way out? Of course I am...I’m leaving it up to Charlie to tell Kaitlyn ‘cause I’m too afraid to face up to what we’ve done. I don’t want Kaitlyn to leave me...’cause I’m afraid if she does I could end up back in an emotionally charged embrace and...back in Charlie’s arms for comfort.

I don’t want that. I can’t give her false hope by making her think I’m ready to be with her completely again and...hurt Charlie like that again. Why can’t I be ready? Why can’t I be the person she deserves and put my family back together? I hate the person I’ve become, and making Charlie do this when I should have the guts to...she’s only gonna hate me too. I don’t deserve her forgiveness...either of their forgiveness for what I’ve done. All I ever do is screw everything up...because I just can’t find it in my heart to trust Charlie completely...or myself. Will I ever find a way to? Joey closed her eyes, and curled up on the couch alone, her thoughts drowning her consciousness, as she watched Riley sitting peacefully on the ground playing video games.

Charlie ran her hand through her hair as she walked into the hospital entrance. Unsure of where Kaitlyn lived or whether she would be working at the hospital that day, Charlie figured it would be the best option to try there first. Disappointed in Joey for putting her in this situation, Charlie was still determined not to let her own guilt get the better of her and tell Kaitlyn the truth about Joey’s betrayal. Wandering through the halls, it didn’t take long for her to spot Kaitlyn and Rachel talking at the nurses’ desk. Hesitating in the hallway a few meters away from them, Charlie stood there watching them, waiting for Rachel to leave.

How the hell am I meant to tell this woman that Joey cheated on her...with me the other night? This thought continued to plague Charlie’s mind as she watched Kaitlyn standing there smiling and laughing with Rachel. Way to ruin someone’s good mood, Charlie thought sourly. Charlie continued to watch as the two Doctors were interrupted by a patient of Rachel's. As Rachel walked the patient presumably back to their room, Kaitlyn made her way in the opposite direction. Charlie chased after her, hoping to catch her alone so they could talk and not make a scene. Maybe this wasn’t such a brilliant plan to tell her here at her work...well I guess I’m here now...and I can’t put this off. As Charlie followed her quickly around a corner, she frowned as the Doctor was nowhere to be found in the hallway. Looking around the hallway, Charlie's eyes finally fell on some office doors opposite her, one of which was Kaitlyn's. Taking another deep breath Charlie walked up to the door.

The door was half-open and Charlie hesitantly peeked inside the room. Not finding Kaitlyn sitting at her desk, Charlie took a step into the office, and spotted the woman standing at a filing cabinet, pulling out some files and flipping them open. She had her pen tucked above her ear, which she hurriedly pulled down to write some notes in one of the files she had open. Taking another breath, Charlie knocked on the door softly. Kaitlyn’s pen scrawled across the page as she jumped slightly. Turning around she looked surprised to see Charlie standing alone at the door.

“Hey,” Kaitlyn greeted friendly. “Hey,” Charlie replied, “Can I...ah come in?” “Sure,” Kaitlyn agreed, still cheerful, as she closed the patient files she held and walked over to her desk. Dumping the files on her desk, she motioned for Charlie to take a seat opposite. Charlie paused but sat down opposite the woman, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you before and make you scrawl all over the papers.” “Trust me with my handwriting, nobody’ll think that huge squiggle isn’t meant to be there,” Kaitlyn grinned, “So what brings you here? Is this about Joey?”

“Ah...sort of yeah,” Charlie stuttered. “Kinda figured, since she’s who we have in common,” Kaitlyn pointed out. Charlie paused as Kaitlyn’s friendly nature kept haunting her for what she needed to tell her. Why can’t she just act like she completely hates me? After what I’ve put Joey through...and now what I’m about to tell her...why does she gotta be so friendly and make this ten times harder? Kaitlyn stared at Charlie strangely sensing that the woman didn’t want to be there, but knew that being arrogant to Joey’s ex wouldn’t solve anything, so she resolved to be as pleasant as possible.

“So, what’s up with Jo? Is this about the slightly distracted mood she was in yesterday?” Kaitlyn asked, tired of waiting for Charlie to speak. “Um yeah...well see the thing is...she’s...” Charlie continued stumbling. “She’s still worried about Riley, isn’t she?” Kaitlyn presumed, “Of course she is...but it’s more than that. God she’s not still angry with you, is she? Because I tried to convince her that it was no one’s fault if that’s why you’re here. If you want me to tell her that she needs to forgive you for the Riley’s accident.”

Charlie bit her lip, “Well actually...yeah...I mean yeah she’s still very worried about Riley...and well it’s just that...Riley hasn’t been sleeping too well the last night or two so I was thinking you could prescribe him something to help him.” WTF? Where the hell did that come from and why...in God’s name did I delay telling her? She needs to know... Kaitlyn eyed Charlie suspiciously for a moment, “Sorry that he’s having such a hard time. Sure, I should be able to arrange that. I’ll need to check it with Rachel first as she was his Doctor for the accident and she might insist on seeing him for an appointment first. If not, I should be able to get something together for him, and I can drop them off at the apartment tonight if you’d like before he goes to bed. Sound good?”

“Ah huh...sounds fine,” Charlie replied weakly, still silently cursing herself for now delaying the inevitable. Kaitlyn nodded, “So...not that I mind or anything but how come you came to me? You could’ve gone straight to Rachel since she’s the one who treated him.” “Oh ah...she looked busy with another patient when I got here so...figured I could ask you for help,” Charlie stuttered nervously. “No problems. Well I can give you a call when I speak to Rach and let you know if she’d prefer to see Riley first,” Kaitlyn replied, then asked anxiously, “Was there anything else I can do or is there another reason you’re here?”

“Umm yeah,” Charlie nodded, as she ran her hand through her hair, “There’s another reason for my visit...it’s just that Joey and I...or well Jo...” Charlie trailed off as she couldn’t ignore the slight glint in Kaitlyn’s eyes, she’d ignored it since she walked into the office, but she couldn’t do so any longer. Every time either of them mentioned Joey, Kaitlyn’s eyes lit up happily. She’s happy to be with her and it shows...how quickly will that light in her eyes flicker out when I tell her? How will Joey look at me when she blames me for Kaitlyn finding out? “Well okay...the thing is Joey and I kinda...I mean we didn’t ‘kinda,’ we actually did...it’s just...” Charlie stumbled over all her words, then taking a deep breath, she whispered confidently, “Don’t hurt her. She can’t cope with anymore hurt...so don’t hurt her...okay?”

Kaitlyn’s eyebrow raised slightly, “You came here to tell me not to hurt Joey...ah something tells me that...wasn’t what you were gonna say.” Charlie chewed on her lip, “What else did you expect me to tell you?” Kaitlyn stared at Charlie, searching her eyes for any hint, “Not sure. But I guess that makes sense...you coming out here to...do the protective ex thing and tell me...not to hurt her. At least you’re not here telling me to stop standing in your way because that would be... You still care about her enough to make sure she’ll be okay?” “I’ll always be there...looking out for her. One way or another,” Charlie whispered, “I just wanted to make sure you knew...how much Joey...means to all of us and we don’t want to see her hurting again.”

“That’s a fair call,” Kaitlyn shrugged, “You don’t know much about me except my family. And with a brother like...all you can assume is that I’ll end up hurting her. Look I never came back here to Summer Bay intent on winning Joey back. I ah...was going through a hard time after how my last relationship ended...and I just needed a change...I needed my best friend. Someone I can trust. I know that Joey’s told you she’s taking it slow with me because she doesn’t want to rush into anything but that goes for me too. Not that it’s any of your business but I’m not ready for anything too serious right now. But that doesn’t mean that I’m gonna hurt her. You don’t need to worry about her. She’s fine...and I think she’s happy for the first time in a while.”

Charlie smiled lightly, “Thank you.” Charlie stood up, and made her way to leave. Kaitlyn returned to her paperwork. Charlie paused at the doorway, “I hope you really mean what you said about not hurting her. By the way...I’m sorry you had a hard time with your last relationship ending...I know what it’s like to go through that.” “No, you don’t,” Kaitlyn suddenly replied angrily, “You’ve still got Joey in your life.” Charlie sensed some sadness behind Kaitlyn’s anger, “Well I’m sure if you wanted your last girlfriend back in your life you could--” “I can’t have her back in my life...she’s dead,” Kaitlyn revealed desolately.

Charlie was taken aback by the sadness in Kaitlyn’s voice, and the look of despair on the woman’s face, and instantly felt bad for what she had originally came to tell the woman...she’s right...I’ve still got Joey in my life...I couldn’t bear it if I lost her like that...“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean...” “Yeah well...like I said...I just needed my best friend to help me cope with my grief,” Kaitlyn told her. “When did she die?” Charlie asked quietly. “Nearly a year ago,” Kaitlyn answered miserably, “It still hurts...and it’s being hard imagining moving on...but I guess that’s something Joey and I have in common with our relationship.”

Charlie nodded sadly, still feeling a new level of respect for the woman to go through that grief and survive it, “If you don’t mind me asking...how did she die?” “I don’t really want to talk about that,” Kaitlyn interrupted softly. “Fair enough,” Charlie decided, “Once again...I’m sorry. I know that probably doesn’t help...but I’m sorry you had to go through that. Nobody should have to go through that pain...I’ll see you later on when you drop around later with Riley’s prescription.” Kaitlyn nodded, as Charlie walked out of the office.

Taking a few steps down the hallway, Charlie lent against the wall. Why the hell couldn’t I tell her? She needs to know...and now I’ve just made things worse by not telling her the truth when I had the chance to. Why couldn’t I tell her the truth about my night with Joey...what stopped me? Is it because I was so scared...that it’ll end up hurting Joey? Is it because I’ll do anything...not to hurt her again? Do I still love her...enough to do anything to protect her from any kind of pain...even though I’m now the one in pain because of it?

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty

“So, let me get this straight,” Ruby recalled lightly to Charlie, who had come over to their old house to help Ruby pack up some of her things to move in with Geoff after being at the hospital. Taking a coffee break, the girls were seated at the kitchen table. “Since I last spoke to you...when you were pretty ecstatic at the idea of you and Joey getting back together, and you getting your family back, you’re now telling me that Joey has told you that she’s still not ready to be with you? You agreed that you were okay with the fact that you’re not meant to be together yet because you also agreed that your night together was for some form of closure? Something you called a ‘one last time.’

And now you tried to do the right thing and convince Joey to tell Kaitlyn the truth about your night together, and she refused to for some unknown reason because she doesn’t want to hurt Kaitlyn. Even though she’s been in that exact situation herself after you lied to her about Hugo. You stood up for yourself and went to go tell Kaitlyn the truth because Joey wasn’t willing to. And then you baulked on telling Kaitlyn the truth about you and Joey? Does that sum everything up?”

“Yeah pretty much,” Charlie replied gloomily, taking a sip of her coffee. “What the hell, Charlie?” Ruby screeched, swatting Charlie over the head. “Oww, Rubes, what was that for?” Charlie demanded. “Well for starters why the hell did you agree with Joey that the other night was just some ridiculous...’one last time’?” Ruby asked frustrated. Charlie ran her hand over her head where Ruby had hit her, “What was I supposed to do, Rubes? Sit there and let her tell me that our night together didn’t mean as much to her as it did to me...and then tell her exactly how I feel...only for her to reject me? Not like what she did tell me wasn’t a rejection.”

“Charlie, why can’t you be honest with Joey? Don’t you owe her that? Don’t you owe yourself and Riley that too?” Ruby questioned. “C’mon, Rubes, I did try to explain to her how I feel but...it’s not that easy. Especially when she...doesn’t feel the same way,” Charlie responded quietly, “The other night meant some small kind of closure for Joey. I can’t make her feel any different about it.”

“But you told me how much it meant to you. How much you thought it meant the same to Joey, and how this could be the start of getting your family back together. Why couldn’t you just tell Joey all this? Maybe then knowing how you feel would make her...accept the feelings she has for you and openly express them. You said she’s afraid to trust you completely again, so why in God’s name didn’t you just tell her how you feel? You can still fight for her. Just because she’s not ready yet to trust you doesn’t mean you can’t still fight for her. All you gotta do is be honest with her and let her know how you feel, then just take it slowly. You don’t have to rush straight back into a relationship. You just give her sometime and things will work out between you...I’m sure of it,” Ruby suggested.

“It’s not quite that simple Ruby,” Charlie sighed, “Joey isn’t ready for any kind of relationship with me and I just...need to accept it. I can’t push her into anything and even if I suggested taking it slow until she is ready...it’s still pushing her into something she doesn’t want right now. Besides...I did tell her how I felt...a little bit anyway. I told her that I was upset with her decision because it really hurt me, and that I’d gotten my hopes up too much...that we could make things work and be a family again.” “And how’d she respond to that?” Ruby queried.

Charlie half-smiled, but the sadness was still evident in her voice, “Joey told me she loved me...and I told her that I loved her too.” “You girls told each other that you loved each other...Aww Charlie...but wait why aren’t you together if you love each other?” Ruby asked confused. Charlie stared away from Ruby, “’Cause it wasn’t like that. When I told her I loved her...it felt different somehow. I meant it full-heartedly but it didn’t seem to have the same meaning it used to. We just realized that we are in love but...we’re not ready to be together again. Not yet anyway.”

“Charlie, that is complete bull,” Ruby accused, “I know you and I know that you don’t just say ‘I love you’ to just anyone so when you do you mean it 100%. And I know you were probably just too scared to admit the real reason for the meaning behind it. Just because Joey’s not ready to be back in a relationship with you...does not diminish that meaning. You love Joey and you always will.”

Charlie sighed, shaking her head lightly, “I know. Yes, okay I am still in love with Joey in every sense of the word...and yes, I kinda lied to her when I said the meaning behind the words ‘I love you’ was different. There was nothing different at all...except it just re-affirmed for me that...I still love her as much today as I did when we got married. I love her, okay, I love Joey. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but...I love her...and that’s never gonna change. And people will probably call me crazy but I can’t help it. I love Joey. It doesn’t matter what we’ve been through, how badly she’s treated me at some points, how she’s moving on and how she feels about me...I love her. Are you happy now?”

Ruby smiled lightly at Charlie’s honesty, “I’m happy that you told me, but I’m not the one that needs to know all that.” Charlie hung her head, staring down at her coffee mug, “Rubes, she doesn’t feel the same way about me. Okay yes, she said she loves me, but she still doesn’t trust herself enough to give me a chance. And it doesn’t mean that the love she feels for me...is anything like what I share for her. We’re married, so of course some small...tiny...part of her will always love me. I can’t just tell her all this and not expect her to freak out. What then huh? Do we spend the next few weeks awkwardly avoiding each other because I promised her and Ry I wouldn’t leave? I told you, Joey can’t take any kind of pressure from me and telling her I’m still in love with her...it might not go well.”

“Fine don’t tell her now, you can tell her in a few weeks maybe when she’s more comfortable with the fact that she does trust you. Maybe you telling her how you feel...is all she needs to know she trusts you,” Ruby suggested. Charlie shrugged silently. “Hey, Charlz,” Ruby continued, “Why didn’t you tell Kaitlyn about your night with Joey? From what you said...you seemed pretty determined to do the right thing because Joey wasn’t willing to...so why didn’t you?”

Charlie frowned, “Because all I would’ve done is hurt Joey...and I can’t do that. It doesn’t matter that Joey might’ve been selfish towards me these last few months or...that she doesn’t love me anymore...the way I want her too...but I can’t hurt her. Lying to Kaitlyn is a bad idea and whether she feels it now, Joey will feel guilty about it until she’s honest with her. Joey said she’s trying to change...and she’ll realize she can’t do that if she keeps being the same person and lying to Kaitlyn. And if Kaitlyn’s unwilling to forgive her...it’s not up to me to tell Kaitlyn myself because it’s not my relationship on the line. It has to come from Joey. Who’s to say Kaitlyn would even believe me? She’d probably just think that I’m trying to butt into their relationship and break them up. Not that I’d blame her, I’ve hardly supported Joey’s decision about her new relationship. And yes, we both know that I shouldn’t support it, feeling the way I do about Joey.

Yes, Joey’s been in this situation herself and she should know that honesty is the best thing for all involved. But I also know that my first relationship with Joey might not have ended so abruptly if I had been the one to tell her about Hugo. Maybe if I had been the one to tell her about my mistake, and not lied to her, then she wouldn’t have these trust issues with me. Joey needs to realize that Kaitlyn deserves the truth, and that it has to come from her. When I saw Kaitlyn at the hospital, she looked happy, Rubes, and I couldn’t just ruin that for her. She had this glint in her eyes every time we mentioned Joey.”

“You mean like the glint in your eyes every time you see Joey?” Ruby reminded her. “Guess it’s the one that Joey doesn’t notice anymore,” Charlie shrugged, “I went there today with all intentions to...be the honest, bitchy ex and tell her Joey and I slept together but then I realized that Kaitlyn’s...happy. And all this will do is hurt Joey. I’ve spent too much time over the last year hurting Joey, and I swore to myself when I moved in to Aden’s that I was done hurting her. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the right thing to do, to lie to Kaitlyn about Joey cheating on her, but...I can’t do it. I can’t continue to hurt Joey like that. I’d never forgive myself if I did.”

“You really love her enough to do anything to protect her don’t you?” Ruby realized. Charlie smiled, “Yeah, Rubes, I do. I don’t think that’s ever gonna stop. And because I love her...I really need to accept the fact that she needs to work things out on her own and that maybe...that’ll end up with her moving on for good. I can’t keep imagining that it’s not starting to happen. I just need to stand out of her way, stop interfering like the way I insisted on breaking the news to Kaitlyn. Joey deserves to be happy, and I love her enough to do anything that’ll give her that...whether that’s with me...or without.” Ruby pulled Charlie forward into a hug, “I hope she realizes one day what you’re doing for her.”

As Charlie gripped onto Ruby tighter, neither girl noticed Joey edge away from the back door, and walk away from their sight. At the front of the house, Joey leaned against the wall of the building, smiling calmly to herself, silently happy that neither of them had spotted her. After all, how could she have explained or tried to hide the fact that she’d been standing quietly at the doorway for the past five minutes? Listening to everything the pair had been talking about...the fact that Charlie lied when she told me that it felt different telling me she loved me, that she really does still love me despite everything we’ve been through, and that she didn’t tell Kaitlyn about us...because she loves me too much to hurt me in anyway.

Having left Riley with Aden when he got home from work, Joey needed someone to talk to, and her best friend didn’t seem like the right person at the time. Her step-daughter, Ruby, did seem like the right person, so Joey had come over to talk about things with her friend. Knowing how close Charlie and Ruby are, Joey realized that she probably wouldn’t need to tell Ruby that her and Charlie had slept together, and that Ruby was never the type of person to judge anyone for their decisions. But she hadn’t expected that Charlie would be there, and she didn’t expect to overhear what she did.

Taking a walk down to the wharf Joey needed to gather her own thoughts before facing Charlie. Joey slipped her shoes off as she sat down at the end of the wharf, placing her feet in the water.

Was it only yesterday I was here with Aden upset about sleeping with Charlie? How did things change so much in two days? Everything changed the moment I kissed her. How did I let things get so complicated? I knew things would change when Charlie moved in with us...but I never expected any of this to happen. A few days ago, we were arguing over the most stupidest things, and our son could’ve...died because of it.

You’d think we’d learnt our lesson about our fighting but no we’re still arguing. And this time it’s all my fault. Too busy trying to concentrate on that fact that I cheated on Kaitlyn, and now that I was selfish enough to leave it up to Charlie to be the one to tell her. I’ve been too afraid to face my own feelings that came over me the other night. Trying desperately to convince myself and Charlie that I don’t want to be with her...when I do.

I never wanted things to end between us, I never fell out of love with her. It would make things easier for all of us to get my family back. So why am I here sitting all alone? Knowing that Charlie still loves me and that she’d do anything not to hurt me? Why did I run off after hearing what I did? Why couldn’t I just rush back into her arms and tell her that I really do love her? Tell her that being with her the other night wasn’t a mistake...it was one of the best decisions of my life.

But here I am...unable to tell her any of that...because I’m still terrified of my feelings for her. Just because we love each other completely...it doesn’t mean things will work out. We loved each other before our problems...and it didn’t stop them from happening. I didn’t lie to Charlie the other day when I said I can’t go through that again. Knowing how Charlie feels about me, knowing how I feel about her...it should be easy for us right? Why do my fears always get the better of me?

They’re the reason why I left her after she cheated on me with Hugo, and why I left her when our marriage was breaking down. Now they’re the reason why I’m not at our home, pulling her into my arms and telling her I want to make a fresh start and try again. Charlie’s right, I’m too afraid to trust my real feelings. How can I keep doing this? Living my life in regret rather than taking a chance and trying to fix things for my family.

Is that what I really want? And what am I supposed to say to Charlie when I see her? That I know how we both feel but I’m still too scared to trust that so soon. Would she tell me that she’ll wait for me to be ready? Do I want to wait and see if things really can finally work between us? Can I just trust with a little time things can go back to normal between us or is that just wishing too much? How can they go back to normal? I can’t just expect things to work out between us.

Why should they? After the way I’ve treated Charlie the last few days...months...I don’t deserve the feelings she has for me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. Do I look her in the eyes and tell her I really do love her and I’ll find a way to fight through my fears so we can be together again? Or do I pretend that I didn’t hear everything she said and--?

“Hey,” came a calm voice, pulling Joey out of her thoughts. “Hey,” Joey whispered back. Charlie stood there behind her silently for a moment, before she moved to sit down next to Joey, taking her own shoes off and letting the water splash against her feet. “How’d you know I was here?” Joey asked lightly. Charlie shrugged, “Figured you’d be in one of your ‘thinking’ moods...and this is your spot. Some things never change you know. Is Aden watching Ry?” Joey nodded, “Yeah he just got home from work and I just needed some time on my own. To think about things...like you said. You still know me that well.” “Yeah guess I do,” Charlie agreed, the sadness evident in her voice.

“So...um are you here to tell me that you...told Kaitlyn about us?” Joey asked, feigning knowledge of the answer. Charlie sighed heavily, kicking her feet softly against the waves, “I went to see her yeah...but I couldn’t tell her. I really wanted to then I got there and started talking to her and I couldn’t do it.” “How come?” Joey asked, wanting to hear Charlie tell her herself in her own words as she realized maybe Charlie would open up to her like she did with Ruby and tell her the truth about her feelings. That way I don’t have to work out how to tell her how I feel about her, I’ll just let her be honest first...then I’ll take things from there.

“Because I knew it would only hurt you,” Charlie admitted, “And I couldn’t do that. I’ve hurt you too much as it is and I can’t keep doing that. So, I just kinda lied to her about Riley not being able to sleep with his arm in a cast so she might drop ‘round later with a prescription if you just want to play along with that story. Or maybe you could take that opportunity and be honest with her.” “I know I should be honest with her. I just don’t know how,” Joey decided. “Well, it’s not like I’ve got much experience with telling you I cheated on you so...” Charlie paused, “Look I was wrong. I shouldn’t have butted in and tried to force you into telling Kaitlyn about us. It’s your relationship, not mine, and if you don’t want to tell her, I won’t hold it against you.”

“Thank you,” Joey whispered, “So, you didn’t want to hurt me anymore huh? Still being my protector. That’s sweet Charlie...it means a lot to me. And well ah...there’s something I...think we should talk about.” Okay, here goes nothing, just be honest Collins. Just tell her you know she still loves you, you love her, and you hope with enough time-- “Actually I’m glad you said that because there’s something I need to talk to you about too. Mind if I go first?” Charlie asked lightly, interrupting Joey’s thoughts. Joey shook her head.

“Okay, well see I’ve been doing some thinking since I came back from the hospital,” Charlie replied softly, still wading her feet in the water, “That wasn’t fair of you to put me in that situation. Making me be the one to tell Kaitlyn.” Joey nodded, sadly agreeing.

“And I know I didn’t actually tell her the truth, but I shouldn’t have had to. She’s your girlfriend, and you should’ve been the one there today telling her...not chickening out like I did ‘cause I’m afraid of hurting you,” Charlie continued honestly, “Now I’m the one that’s kinda hurt because I realized why I couldn’t tell her. I saw how happy she was every time I mentioned your name. She’s happy to be with you and she’s proud of you. I didn’t like that you put me in that situation, regardless if I chose to be there. I don’t like the person you’re becoming if you’re willing to lie to her like this. You do need to change and stop being this person...but so far you haven’t changed in the slightest. And as much as I hate seeing you in pain, I’m the one hurting because I couldn’t be honest today. And I’m the one in pain because I realized something today...”

‘I love you...I never stopped loving you and I want to be with you. I want to find a way through our problems so we can be a family again’...is what Joey expected to hear...

Charlie placed her hand on top of Joey’s, squeezing it lightly.

“I think maybe we need to accept that it’s over between us. You’ve moved on and you’ve made it pretty obvious...that she’s...who you want to be with right now in your life. I can’t keep clinging to some small hope that for the sake of our family things will go back to the way they were with us when we were happy together. So, unless you really decide that you can change...I think it’s about time we...you know finalize our marriage...officially...and well...legally. I think it’s time we look into getting a divorce.”

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-One

Flashback – February 2010

Ruby finally closed the front door at Leah’s, glad that the small party was finally over as the last guests left. Walking back out to the living room, she found Charlie rushing around the room, clearing up all the used drink cups and plates and throwing them into a plastic bag. “Everybody gone home?” Charlie looked up and saw Ruby standing behind her. Ruby walked over to Charlie and began helping her clean up, “Yeah, the girls all just left. It was a good night.” “Yeah it was a good night, I’m glad you suggested it,” Charlie agreed, then mused, “Though as good as it was...it wasn’t great. Felt like something was missing.”

Ruby grinned, “It didn’t feel like something was missing from tonight...but it sure felt like ‘someone’ was missing – Joey.” Charlie blushed, “Yeah...I missed her so much tonight.” Ruby shook her head laughing, “You two are pathetic! You saw her not four hours ago and you already can’t bear to be apart from each other.” “Four hours is a long time,” Charlie pouted, “You should have let Joey come to the party tonight.” Ruby rolled her eyes, “Well it was against the rules, Charlz, so she wasn’t allowed.” “Well it’s a stupid rule,” Charlie moped sadly, “I mean seriously...what genius came up with the idea of spending the night before your wedding without the person you’re gonna marry?”

“Obviously not someone who’s in love as much as you are,” Ruby chuckled, “Oh c’mon it’s just one night, Charlie, and then after tomorrow...you’ll never have to be apart again.” “But it’s a whole long night without her,” Charlie continued pouting, “What if I can’t sleep tonight without Joey...ah snuggling up against me? That could happen and then I’ll sleep in and miss my wedding or I’ll be too tired and my makeup won’t fix the bags under my eyes and I can’t get married looking like that so again I’ll miss my wedding. You know every conclusion from being apart from Joey tonight ends up with me missing my wedding. Are you really that mean?”

“Yes, I am,” Ruby smirked, “Please...you wouldn’t miss your wedding to Joey for anything in the world. So, suck it up woman and deal with the fact the next time you see your fiancé will be at your wedding tomorrow.” Charlie threw the final bits of rubbish in the bag, then tied it up, “You know payback’s a bitch, Rubes. I’m so gonna remind you of this day when you have your Hens night and are separated from the guy you love for a whole night.” “Ooh I’m so scared...Mum,” Ruby joked, “Really I’m just absolutely terrified of that prospect of spending one night apart before I get married. Besides...why are you so mopey? You and Joey spend nights apart all the time. Joey goes on two or three-day long trawler jobs, and you work plenty of night shifts so why is this night so different?”

“It just is, Rubes. It’s the night before our wedding and I just want to see her. You know...maybe find out if she’s...as nervous as I am about tomorrow,” Charlie admitted. Ruby walked over to Charlie and wrapped her arms around her, “Why are you so nervous? By this time tomorrow you’ll be married to the love of your life.” “You know me...bit of a commitment phobe. My relationship with Joey is the longest I’ve ever had and I’m...kinda scared,” Charlie revealed as she hugged her daughter tightly, content as she realized it was the first time Ruby had embraced her like this since she found out Charlie was her mother.

Ruby relaxed their embrace, and pulled away, but still stood in front of her mother, then as Ruby entangled their hands, she replied, “I know. I nearly spat out my drink when you told me you’d proposed to Joey. That Charlie Buckton had finally succumbed to romance and decided to settle down.” “Well maybe I just had to wait until the right person came along,” Charlie pointed out. “And I’m glad the right person finally did come along. You deserve to be happy Charlz,” Ruby grinned, “So, did you enjoy your party tonight?”

“I did indeed, Rubes. Thanks so much for planning it...and listening to me when I told you not to...you know,” Charlie tilted her head. “Well you’re welcome. It’s the least I could do for practically...abandoning you for the past six months...sorry ‘bout that,” Ruby said sadly. Charlie reached her hand up, stroking Ruby’s cheek, “Don’t blame yourself or feel sorry for that. It’s my fault. I should have told you that you were my daughter a long time ago...I was just too afraid of losing you.” Ruby smiled up at Charlie, “Well you’re not going to ever lose me so...you can stop being scared. I know things are still a little...weird between us...but we’re working through that and we’ll be stronger for that.”

“Hmmm smart, beautiful and forgiving...you’re definitely my kid,” Charlie chuckled. “Hmmm stubborn, a pain in the ass, and you worry too much about me...you’re definitely my mum,” Ruby teased. “Hey,” Charlie grinned as she swiped Ruby over the head gently, “You’re the pain in my ass, Rubes.” Ruby watched the smile lighten up on Charlie’s face, “Looks like you’re not nervous anymore.” “You kidding me? I’m doing everything I can not to crawl into bed and curl up into a ball...I’m so nervous. I just don’t want anything to go wrong tomorrow,” Charlie told her. Ruby hugged Charlie again briefly, “Nothing will go wrong tomorrow, promise. It’s gonna be great...you heard from Dad yet? Has he told you if he’s coming?”

Charlie shook her head sadly, “Nope. Spoke to Morag this morning and she’ll be there, and while she’s still trying to convince him to come...she’s not sure it’ll work.” “I can’t believe he’s been such an...ass about this,” Ruby gritted her teeth, “This is his only daughter’s wedding. What the hell is his problem?” “Don’t worry about it, Rubes,” Charlie sighed, “I can’t force him to be okay with my impending marriage to Joey. I know he accepts that I love her and she loves me...he’s just not okay with us...making this public commitment to each other. Guess he still thinks I’m throwing away my whole future...to a woman who’ll never be able to provide me with the life he expected for me.”

“That’s absolute crap, Charlz!” Ruby screeched, “I can’t believe you even let him say that kind of stuff. Has he said any of this to Joey?” “Not exactly,” Charlie answered, “He’s too gutless to say these things directly to her about how she’s not who he imagined me settling down with. But you know I can’t lie to Jo...so...yeah, she knows how he feels. She even drove up to the City the other day to see him and try and convince him to come to the wedding...guess it didn’t quite work. But you know what? I don’t want to think about that anymore. I just want to concentrate on tomorrow. If Dad’s not gonna accept my marriage to Joey, I don’t want him there.”

“Well at least you’ve got the right attitude,” Ruby pointed out, “You can’t let his pathetic views of your relationship get in the way of tomorrow. Tomorrow’s gonna be the best day of your life, nothing less so make sure you remember ‘cause it’ll never happen again. Tomorrow’s the start of your life together, and it’s gonna be a great life just like tomorrow.” “Thanks Rubes, at least I’ve got someone who supports me,” Charlie smiled. “You’re welcome. Now c’mon get on off to bed,” Ruby ordered, “Leah’s in the kitchen cleaning up the dishes, and I’ll finish up in here. You just get some sleep and look forward to your big day.” Charlie smiled happily, “Thanks Rubes, I will. I can’t wait ‘til tomorrow, it’s gonna be great.”

A minute later Charlie walked into her room, yawning and stretching quietly, she looked over at her bed, still upset that she had to spend the night without Joey. Though she was still ecstatic and nervous about their commitment ceremony the following day, she couldn’t wait. She knew it was the right thing for her life. Sighing gently, Charlie looked over at her bedside table and stared at a photo of Joey and her hugging each other, which they had taken just after they got back together. Charlie decided a nice long relaxing shower might help calm her nerves.

Walking into the bathroom, and closing the door behind her, she smiled as she saw the scene in front of her. And smiled even more when she felt two arms wrap around her waist from behind. “Surprise,” Joey announced. Charlie tightened her hands around Joey’s arms, “It certainly is a good surprise. You did all this?” Joey nodded, then pressed her lips gently against Charlie’s shoulder, “Well I figured you would be a ball of nerves right now...and thought I might be the only one that could help.”

Charlie looked peacefully at all the candles surrounding the room, and the bubble-filled bath, “You’re absolutely right. I’m glad you’re here.” Joey brushed her lips sensuously up Charlie’s neck, “So, you’re not mad at me for turning up like this...and breaking tradition?” Charlie turned around in Joey’s embrace, so the two girls were facing each other, and Charlie lent forwards bringing their lips together desperately, then as she pulled away, “Are you kidding me? I haven’t stopped begging Ruby to let you come home tonight so we could be together. Screw tradition, I missed you too much.”

Joey chuckled heavily, “I’m glad I’m not the only one that felt that way. Kinda snuck out of Aden’s after my party and...snuck in here to spend some time alone with you.” “I love the way you think, wife-to-be,” Charlie grinned, “So, did Aden try and stop you coming back home?” “Oh, hell yes he did!” Joey smiled, “Had to wait ‘til he finally fell asleep before I could come over here and set all this up. But it was worth it to surprise you.” “I love you so much,” Charlie replied, “You always know exactly how I feel. I didn’t want to be alone tonight.” “Well then let’s get you undressed and how ‘bout we take a relaxing bath together to calm those nerves of yours?” Joey smirked. Charlie raised her eyebrows, “I think I love you even more. Just promise me one thing...we keep this a secret from Ruby.” Joey threw her arms around Charlie, “I think I can manage that wife-to-be.”

A few minutes later, the girls were lying in the bath, with Charlie cuddling up to Joey from behind. Joey relaxed into the embrace, “So, how was your hen’s night?” Charlie kissed Joey’s shoulder lovingly, “Awful. Like I said, I spent the whole time missing you and wanting my arms around you. Never plan on doing that again. And what about your night?” “It just got better,” Joey smirked, looking up at Charlie and bringing their lips together.

“C’mon Jo, did you at least enjoy yourself a little bit?” Charlie asked. “Yeah I did actually. It wasn’t so much a Hen’s night for me though since I had all the guys there. Aden, Liam, Geoff, Xavier, Romeo, even Tony, Roman, and Alf turned up for a bit. Thankfully I did have at least Nicole and my friend from high school, Casey, there for the girls’ team. You do realize that you hogged all the girls for your party? Told you we should have had the parties on different nights or just had a joint party,” Joey pouted. “Ah c’mon you so had fun,” Charlie grinned, “Aden being your Best Man or whatever you want to call him, he would’ve made sure of it.” “Yeah you’re right, he made it a pretty good party,” Joey told her, then smirked, “The stripper was amazing.”

Charlie scoffed and started tickling Joey playfully, “That is so not funny!” “What? I wasn’t lying. C’mon this is Aden and all the guys we’re talking about. I was totally embarrassed by it but of course all the guys enjoyed watching her dance,” Joey admitted. “Was she hot?” Charlie asked worried, “Do I need to be concerned you’re leaving me for a stripper?” “Oh, she was totally hot and I’m so leaving you!” Joey teased. “You are so mean and you’re not going anywhere,” Charlie determined, “I won’t let you.”

“Well that’s a good thing for me isn’t it?” Joey chuckled, “So what about your party? Didn’t Ruby organize a stripper for you like she threatened?” “Oh yeah you wish,” Charlie rolled her eyes, “I know Ruby threatened that to embarrass me...but I think she was too embarrassed herself. Besides she didn’t know whether to hire a male or female stripper for me. I mean a male stripper would’ve entertained the girls more than me and she probably thought I’d either freak out or like it a little too much having a female stripper dancing for me.” Joey giggled, “Oh you totally would’ve loved it! Don’t think I haven’t seen you checking out some women since we’ve been together.” “It’s called ‘observing them from a distance’ thank you since I already have a girlfriend who I am completely in love with and none of those girls hold a candle to her,” Charlie revealed, “Besides turns out we didn’t need a stripper when Martha got a little trashed and did some table dancing...nearly topless.”

“No way!” Joey laughed. “Ohhh yeah, she certainly did,” Charlie giggled, then her expression turned serious, “Actually I felt really bad for her. I didn’t even realize but it’s pretty much been a year since Angelo confessed to killing Jack...and I guess knowing we’re getting married...that we’re getting the...’happily ever after’ that she never managed to get with Jack.” “Is she okay? Will she be right to come tomorrow?” Joey asked concerned. “Yeah,” Charlie replied as she started rubbing Joey’s back soothingly, “I spoke to her afterwards when Leah and I were sobering her up with some coffee. She’s happy for us and she can’t imagine anyone deserving more happiness than us. She just had a bad moment but she’ll be right. So, do you maybe want to get out of this bath? Maybe go and enjoy the luxury of our own bed for one last night as a normal couple?”

“Mmmm that sounds perfect but you know there was actually a small reason why I snuck over here,” Joey informed her. “What? So, you didn’t just come over to spend the night and calm my nerves? I’m hurt Jo,” Charlie joked. Joey looked back up into Charlie’s eyes intensely, “I thought you deserved to know tonight that...your Dad called me a couple hours ago.” “Oh,” was all Charlie could whisper in response. “You can relax babe,” Joey said sweetly, “He called to tell me that he’s coming tomorrow.” “Really?” Charlie asked disbelievingly. “Yes, he is. Turns out he really took to heart what I said to him when I visited him the other day,” Joey smiled, “He understands that we love each other and we’re ready for this commitment, and I’ll spend my life making you happy. That we’ll both spend our lives making each other happy. And he can’t wait to walk you down the aisle tomorrow...or that strip of sand we’re calling an aisle.”

Charlie’s lips curled into a huge smile, as she lent forwards, capturing Joey’s lips passionately, “I love you so much for doing this for me. This will make tomorrow even more perfect than it was gonna be. I cannot wait to marry you, Joey Collins.” “And I can’t wait to spend my life with you, Charlie Buckton,” Joey replied lovingly, “So, does this mean all your nerves about tomorrow are gone?” Charlie kissed Joey again, caressing her tongue gently, “Completely. Like you said...you’re the only person who could do that for me. I just want it to be tomorrow already so I can tell the world I’m happily married to the woman I love.”

“Well sadly for you we have at least one whole night left together before we can enjoy being married...so what would you like to do on our last night as a normal couple?” Joey asked curiously. “I...am gonna tell you how much I love you as I take you into our room and...snuggle up to you all night long,” Charlie smirked playfully. “Is that so?” Joey looked at her astounded, “The night before our commitment ceremony...and all you’re gonna offer me is a few cuddles?” “I never said I’d make the perfect wife,” Charlie laughed. “Well we’ll see about that,” Joey mused, “But I know you...and there’s no chance all we’ll do is snuggle tonight.” Charlie reached up stroking Joey’s cheek, “Well then why don’t we get out of this bath and find out?”

The following morning, after a passionate and beautiful night of love making, Charlie woke up completely content that today was gonna be the best day of her life. She frowned slightly as she realized Joey wasn’t entangled against her, but she smiled as she noticed a small card on Joey’s pillow. Charlie grinned happily as she read the card from Joey:

“I’ll see you down at the beach at 4 pm today, Mrs. Charlie Buckton.”

Charlie couldn’t wipe the smile off her face and glanced up intriguingly as there was a knock on her bedroom door. Ruby poked her head in the room, “Well are you ready for today, Charlz?” “I can’t wait to marry my soul mate. Today’s gonna be the first day of the rest of our lives together,” Charlie smiled happily.

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-Two

Present Day - Two weeks later – April 2015

Divorce. That one word had been swirling around Joey's mind, since the moment Charlie uttered it. Slamming the door behind her quietly, Joey scowled as she spotted Charlie sitting in the waiting room, reading a magazine. Walking over to her, Joey sat down silently in the chair next to her. "You're late," Charlie grunted, as she continued flicking through her magazine, not needing to look at the time. "Had to drop Riley off with Ruby on my way here. Then when I got back in my car it wouldn't start, the damn stupid thing. Didn't want to hassle Rubes for a lift so I caught the bus to Yabbie Creek and walked here from the station. Didn't think it'd take me this long. Sorry," Joey explained. "You know you could've hassled me for lift...but that would involve you asking me for help then wouldn't it?" Charlie snarked.

"Whatever," Joey huffed dismissively, then changing her mind, "You know what...not 'whatever'...I'm sick of this, Charlie." Charlie looked up her questioningly. "Don't give me that look, like you don't know what I'm talking about," Joey argued, "The last two weeks...all you've done is ignore me and pick fights with me when I try talking to you. It's childish, Charlie, and I'm not gonna keep taking the bait. I get it, I was in the wrong...my car broke down and I didn't call you for a lift. Don't make a scene out of this...especially not here."

"Should've gone in without you, might've at least accomplished something," Charlie commented harshly, ignoring Joey's words of advice. Joey nodded her head, "Might've done. You're the one that wants to be here, not me." Charlie flipped her magazine closed, "We both agreed to this. And the way we've been acting around each other for the last two weeks...this couldn't make things worse." "'Agreed'...is hardly the word I would use," Joey gritted her teeth, hating that Charlie was once again sucking her into another argument. "Fine whatever, but we both have to be here, regardless of whether we want to be so get used to it," Charlie told her, "Besides it's only for an hour today and an hour next week...or more like forty-five minutes today." "We shouldn't be here," Joey whispered frustrated. "We need to do this," Charlie reminded her, "Morag said we have to do this."

"C'mon Charlie...marriage counselling?" Joey questioned severely, "Oh wait I'm sorry...this is meant to be more like divorce counselling or whatever." "It is just two sessions with a therapist to make sure we're making the right decision before we go ahead with the divorce. It was Morag's suggestion that we do this. That's all," Charlie pointed out. "Right Morag's legal advice on divorcing," Joey sighed, "Like this isn't some plan of Morag's to get us back together." "I don't think that's what she's trying to do," Charlie insisted, "Not that it's likely to work 'cause we're too screwed up for that." "So, what this Doctor person whoever...gets to decide if we should go ahead with the divorce? What happens if he or she insists that this isn't the best option for us so we should go home and continue to work it out?" Joey shrugged, "Is this some kinda test where if we pass, they reckon we shouldn't get divorced and if we fail...?"

"I don't think it works that way, Jo," Charlie admitted sadly, "The therapist will just...help us find the best possible way through this. Probably give us some thoughts on how we need to continue communicating with each other so we can still raise our son together. Maybe give us some hints on how to handle Riley's reaction when we tell him. You know stuff like that. It's not about if the therapist thinks this is the right thing for us, that's up to us, but she or he can help us work through this...adjustment." "Adjustment? If that's what you want to refer to our divorce as..." Joey replied hurt.

"Jo, this is hard for me too," Charlie reminded her, "I don't want to do this but...there's no point hanging onto something...that's just not there. You've moved on and I...need to accept that and start doing the same." "Charlie, I..." Joey swallowed lightly, "I know it was your idea for us to get divorced but I just think...I mean can't we talk about this some more? Why are you trying to get this divorce finalized as soon as possible?" Charlie sighed, "Because I thought it was what you wanted."

Before Joey could respond and reveal that none of this is what she wanted deep down the receptionist interrupted them, "Mrs. Buckton and Mrs. Collins, Dr. Scott's ready to see you now. First office on your left down the hallway." Charlie nodded and thanked the girl. Standing up, both women made their way down the hall. On the way, Joey looked back at the receptionist, frowning slightly...Mrs. Collins? Am I ready to go back to simply being Ms. Collins? Can I really just sit back and let this all happen? I have to...this is now what Charlie wants, right? I've spent the last two weeks just trying to gain the courage to tell her...I don't want to end this. But I've left it too long...Charlie doesn't want me anymore. I've screwed up enough as it is...I at least owe it to Charlie to do the right thing for once right? She can't forgive me...she shouldn't...I have to go through this for her.

Entering the room, Joey followed Charlie in, and they stopped short as they spotted the therapist at her desk. Joey gave the woman the once over, noting the woman's short, pixie-cut, brunette hair, dark brown eyes and small, gold-studded nose ring. Okay not what I would've first pictured, Joey thought. The woman looked up at the pair, "Charlie Buckton and Joey Collins? C'mon in and take a seat, I'm Dr. Anna Scott." Charlie smiled hesitantly at Joey before leading the way to the couch in the middle of the room.

As the therapist stood up from her desk, and shifted towards her chair in front of the couch, she mentally noted the girls' actions as they sat down on the couch on opposite sides as far away as possible from each other. Once seated, Charlie lent forward holding out her hand for Dr. Scott to shake, "I'm Charlie and this is Joey. Thanks for meeting with us, Dr. Scott."

Shaking her hand firmly, she replied, "No problems, and please call me Anna. Doctor makes me feel like I should be important, and we're here to discuss you two so let's get started shall we. Now Morag called me the other day and set up this appointment for you two saying you two could use a little guidance if you decide to go ahead with your divorce. I'm not here to judge either of you for your relationship or what you've been through, I'm just here to listen and help you two either move forward with each other or take a step backwards and finalize your marriage while still being able to communicate with each other. I was thinking that today we could spend the first fifteen or so minutes together discussing things as a group, then I'll spend some time with Charlie alone, and then I'll take the rest of the time talking with you, Joey. Next week's appointment, I'd prefer to see how we go today but we'll probably spend the full hour together. Then after that if you want to continue with the counselling either together or separately, I'll be happy to help you. Does this sound okay so far?"

"Sure," Joey nodded, while Charlie replied, "Sounds fine." "Okay well now Morag didn't go into any great detail about your relationship so why don't we start there? Tell me a little bit about yourselves. When did you girls meet? How did you fall for each other? How would you define your relationship over the years?" Anna quizzed. Charlie glanced over at Joey, smiling shyly, "We met nearly six years ago. We became friends instantly and we fell for each other pretty soon after. Our relationship grew steadily over the years and up until the last year everything seemed pretty perfect between us. But we've been having...quite a few problems over the last year...and here we are."

Anna started taking notes, writing softly, then glanced up at the pair, "Okay now, Joey, would you like to elaborate on how you two met?" Joey nodded, "Okay well Charlie's a cop and I got into some trouble. Well not me but...um there was this guy who...attacked me. I didn't really want to deal with it and didn't want my sexuality being brought up because I was still in the closet as far as my brother was concerned. Charlie...helped me through all that. I kinda came to depend on her like no one else in my life. I guess I knew pretty much straight away about my feelings for her but with everything I'd been through I felt like I didn't deserve it. Charlie continued breaking down these walls around me without even realizing she was doing it. And I knew I was head over heels for her."

Anna smiled sweetly, "What about you, Charlie? What were you going through when you met?" "The last thing I was expecting was someone like Joey. At first helping Joey with her case was just a normal job for me," Charlie remembered, "Then at some point things changed. I was drawn to her. I convinced Joey to come out to her brother, and she got kicked out of her home because of it. I felt this responsibility towards her, and for the first time in my career I made quite the unprofessional decision to bring Joey home with me, my daughter, housemate and her son to live. I'd never brought anyone into my personal life like I did with Joey. I kept convincing myself it didn't mean anything but it soon became obvious that there was more going on as my feelings for her began to develop."

Anna continued writing, "So prior to your relationship with each other, both your previous relationships were with--?" "Women." "Men." Joey and Charlie answered at the same time, immediately blushing. "I see," Anna chuckled at the pair, "So how did you both react to your feelings for each other?" Joey shook her head, "Pfft Charlie pushed me away and practically ran away when I made the smallest move on her. Then she continued to drag things on--" Anna held up her hand, "Sorry, Joey, I was more looking at you answering your own experience, then Charlie discussing it from her side."

"Oh...right...sorry not used to this whole therapy thing," Joey sighed, "I was okay with my feelings for Charlie. I had already accepted my sexuality, so that part wasn't a big deal. But falling for the straight girl...that was the problem." "And Charlie...wish to respond to Joey's earlier comment?" Anna pushed lightly. Glancing away from Joey's gaze, Charlie stared out the window of the office, "No she's right. I did push her away, then when I had to acknowledge these feelings for her...I ran away to the City for a few nights to work out how I felt...then I came back and pushed her away again. I couldn't understand what I was going through. I'd never had feelings for another woman before. I couldn't keep hiding them forever and eventually I told Joey I wanted to be with her."

"And things turned out okay for you two after that?" Anna assumed. "Hardly," Joey snorted. Charlie looked down at her feet, then fiddled with her watch, "I um...when we were together...I wasn't ready for everyone to find out about us. That didn't really last long and...ah Joey's brother kinda outed us as a couple...and I..." "Oh, don't stop there, Charlz," Joey huffed irritably, not wanting to discuss the bad parts of their relationship. Charlie bit her lip painfully, "I cheated. Brett's accusations ended up with me being accused of seducing Joey, a victim in an investigation I was involved in. We were told to stay apart while I was being investigated and I...ended up trying to prove I wasn't gay...by sleeping with a guy."

"And how did that affect your relationship?" Anna quizzed. Joey rolled her eyes, "How do you think? She never told me, and spent a week pretending everything was perfect between us and that she was so happy to be with me. 'Til I figured it out myself that she'd been unfaithful." "And then you took off with barely a word for nearly four months to get away from me," Charlie concluded. "Okay...sounds like you two had a dramatic beginning," Anna noted, "So...um moving on from that...Joey you obviously forgave Charlie for this as you two got back together and got married."

Joey nodded shyly, "Yes I did. And I did get over it...I am over what she did back then. I guess just bringing it all up again... After I found out that Charlie had lied to me, I left the Bay for several months to sort through things." "And what brought you back to Summer Bay and back with Charlie?" Anna asked. Joey glanced sideways at Charlie, "My idiot of a brother ran Charlie over in his car by accident. Came back to see if he was okay, and found it was Charlie that he had hit. It took some time but eventually Charlie and I worked through our issues...I learned to trust her completely, and Charlie accepted the feelings she had for me."

Anna smiled, "Okay well it sounds like we're getting to the better parts of your relationship. Why don't you start with some of your better memories?" Charlie looked over at Joey, forming a small smile nervously, "We got married six months after we got back together, and then a year later..." "I gave birth to our son, Riley," Joey replied contentedly, "He's now four years old and he's pretty much the reason why we're here...I mean that we're trying to fix things or...finalize things in a friendly fashion because he deserves to have parents who...aren't at each other's throats every minute." "And how does Riley fit into your lives with the state of your current relationship?" Anna inquired.

"Riley's pretty much the center of our lives right now. If it wasn't for him, we probably wouldn't even be...talking to one another right now," Charlie confessed sadly. "She's right," Joey agreed miserably, "Since our separation we've never had any formal custody arrangements over Riley. Just...informal ones that Morag even...recommended. I work from home for my business whereas Charlie's job is highly stressful and takes up almost all her time and she's never around so Riley lives with me and stays with Charlie whenever...she can be bothered taking a night off."

Charlie crossed her arms over her chest angrily, "Don't you mean my job used to be stressful and time consuming? Practically unemployed for the last three weeks since I told my boss to go shove it and I'll tell him when I'll be ready to go back. You say I spend too much time at work, so I do the next best thing to quitting and now I don't have a job to go to every morning so I'm around you too much. Make up your mind and stick to it would you?"

Joey raised her eyebrow, then retaliated, "You wouldn't be around too much if you would just move back home instead of continuing to crash at Aden's with me and Riley. You've been in such a pissy mood with me the last two weeks, and despite your promise to Ry, you keep threatening to bugger off home...but you're still there on the flippin' couch every morning I wake up. So, what...are you planning on being there for the next week, month, year? Why don't you make up your mind on that?"

Charlie turned to face Joey, and opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by Anna, "Girls...back to your corners. Okay well it certainly sounds like you two have...some things we need to work through...after watching that...typical marriage-banter-blaming-each-other-for-both-your-problems scene you just played out. Now has this type of...bickering always been a problem in your marriage?" "No," Joey answered, as Charlie replied at the same time, "Yes." Glaring at each other, they looked away rolling their eyes. Anna rolled her tongue, pressing it to the side of her mouth, "I see..."

Joey looked over at Anna, "I think what Charlie meant is that it's become a problem lately ever since..." Charlie rubbed her forehead frustrated, "Ever since I asked Joey for a divorce, we've been bickering non-stop about everything...when she hasn't been ignoring me of course." "I haven't been ignoring you, Charlie, that's been all you. Don't think you can blame me for it 'cause I've been working more as business has picked up. You wanted time with Riley, to get to know your son again, so I'm giving you time with him. Are you telling me that's not what you want now?" Joey asked heatedly.

"You know that's not what I meant," Charlie claimed, "I never know what to expect from you every day. You have just been in a confused and royally pissed off slash...completely distant mood ever since... And yes, maybe I have been frustrated at you the last few weeks. But I think it’s about time that I’m entitled to be acting like this. You’ve spent the last year treating me like this…’cause you’re confused about what you want. Well for once I’m also confused about what I want and yes maybe I’m taking it out on you. I don’t want to keep doing this. But you have got to stand up and start making some decisions or else we’re never gonna fix things. God just make up your mind about what you want!"

Anna quirked her head to the side, "Ever since...?" The girls ignored her. Anna lent forward, "C'mon girls I'm here to help you and I can't do that if you don't tell me your full story. Now something must've set off this bickering part of your relationship and I'd lay odds that it's something--"

"We slept together," Charlie revealed. "Charlie!" Joey yelled. Charlie turned to Joey, "What? I'm not gonna lie about it unlike you. You've been acting like this ever since it happened and that's not like you. Why do you think we're here? You need to accept the fact that we slept together and now you need to sort out your issues about how to deal with it. It's not something you can just try and forget." "I never said I was trying to forget our night together," Joey whispered, "I just..."

Anna clasped her hands together, "Okay this seems like the perfect place to split this group meeting up so I can speak to you both privately about this latest...revelation. Joey, why don't you go back to the waiting room while I talk with Charlie for a bit? There's tea and coffee out there, and I'll be out there shortly to let you know when I've finished talking to Charlie." Joey nodded, "Fine." Joey stood up and briskly exited the office, heading towards the waiting room.

Anna turned her attention back to Charlie. "Sorry about the...um bickering and arguing...that's not us," Charlie apologized. "Trust me I've had worse things happen in this room," Anna laughed, then smiling lightly, "Okay now back to you. I need you to make sure you tell me the truth to all my questions or else this therapy is pointless." Charlie nodded, "What's your first question?" Anna's smile wavered, "Why'd you ask Joey for a divorce when you're clearly madly in love with her?"

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-Three

Charlie shook her head softly, "I am not--" "Charlie, honesty remember," Anna advised. Charlie crossed her arms in front of her chest, "Fine so what if I'm still in love with her?" "Well it obviously matters to you otherwise you wouldn't be trying to take such a drastic action like your divorce. Talk to me about your feelings," Anna persuaded.

Charlie rolled her tongue over her bottom lip nervously, "I'm not 'madly in love' with her. I still love her, sure. Joey's still my wife and even if we do dissolve our marriage nothing's gonna stop those feelings. They'll always be there for her...but that's not enough for Joey right now. She's moving on and I need to do the same."

"So, Joey is moving on by the means that she's seeing someone else?" Anna clarified. Charlie pursed her lips, "Her ex-girlfriend, Kaitlyn. Don't I feel like an absolute chump for still having feelings for her when she's off with her ex?" "How long have they been together?" Anna asked.

"'Bout three weeks I guess," Charlie answered, "I don't even know how serious it is between them. Joey never talks about her...and they hardly spend all their time together. Hell, they could probably be broken up and Joey would be too stubborn to tell me." "And when you and Joey slept together...was that before or after Joey started seeing Kaitlyn?" Anna continued. "After," Charlie revealed, rolling her eyes slightly, "Joey and I slept together one night two weeks ago. Yet here I am and she's still with her...as far as I know."

Anna continued writing notes, "I guess I can understand now why you’d be considering going through with a divorce with things so…up in the air with your relationship. It’s not simply the bickering and the trust issues between you…Joey’s seeing someone new…and I’m guessing that’s not okay with you. You and Joey have been officially separated now for--?" "Just going on seven months," Charlie interrupted, "Our problems started before that, but Joey walked out on me seven months ago."

"Seeing as though you and Joey are still legally together, do you consider Joey's new relationship with Kaitlyn to be cheating on you?" Anna asked. Charlie shrugged her shoulders, "Wouldn't be very fair if I did. We're separated, so Joey's free to...move on if that's what her heart wants. We've been over for a...long time coming. Excluding that night a few weeks back, Joey and I haven't been together...in nearly a year." Charlie blushed deeply.

"Don't be embarrassed, Charlie, I'm not judging you for any decisions you make," Anna reminded her, "Was that always an issue in your relationship? Long periods between your physical relationship?"

"Definitely not for the first few years of our relationship," Charlie answered, "We probably spent at least four years still in the...'honeymoon' phase of our relationship. I mean things came to a grinding halt during Joey's pregnancy and for the first couple months that we were new parents but that's to be expected. Things got worse at my work about twelve months ago, and I had to pull a whole range of extra shifts, so I was never home. Then when work backed off a little, things got better for us...or I thought they would have. Joey and I started arguing a lot more...about just stupid normal things couples fight about.

So, I delved straight back into my work to avoid more arguments. I didn't need to be at work that much until suddenly my work couldn't cope with me not being there. Things weren't improving with Joey and I felt that she preferred it when I wasn't home. I was always getting home at odd hours of the night, and Joey was always tired from being a full-time mum to Riley...practically raising him like a single parent...so Joey was never...interested in a physical relationship. I didn't want to push her into anything so instead I...kept letting the problem get ignored."

"So, you didn't try anything to reconnect with her on a physical level?" Anna pushed.

Charlie looked at the floor, biting her lip, "I tried a few times but she turned me down gently. I understood that she was just too tired and that it wasn't about me. Then...about a month before she left me...it was our five-year anniversary since we'd been together so I took a couple nights off work. I just had this feeling in my gut that...if I didn't make a huge effort for our five-year anniversary...six months later when we were due to celebrate our wedding anniversary...there wouldn't be anything to celebrate. I was right…that’s certainly not a date I really want to remember. So, my daughter looked after Riley, and after hours of convincing Joey we needed this time away, Joey and I drove to the City to stay at a hotel. We had dinner at a fancy restaurant just 'cause I felt like I needed to spoil her. She didn't appreciate it as much as I would've liked. The conversation between us was...unbearably strained. I think she just didn't want to be there with me."

"And what else happened that night?" Anna questioned lightly.

Charlie closed her eyes for a moment, "We checked into the hotel...Joey was probably hoping to just fall asleep on the opposite side of the bed like we had been doing at home...I guess a part of me felt the same. But...stupid me had to go and mention to the hotel it was our five-year anniversary when I made the booking. We got to the room...and it was all set out romantically. Rose petals on the bed, bottle of champagne, candles everywhere. So...we both felt an expectation to...be together. We put our bags down, silently...and nervously had several glasses of champagne, then...

We finally got comfortable sitting on the bed, and started kissing each other. It was...nice...I just didn't feel the fire we used to have. We'd been making out...slightly uncomfortably...for about an hour when we started undressing. We got under the sheets and...I noticed that Joey had...made an effort with her choice of lingerie. It kinda surprised me. Anyway, we kept making out. But as hot and stunning as Joey looked...I just didn't feel...turned on. She was lying there on top of me, kissing me...and I didn't want to be there.

I felt like we were...forcing ourselves back together 'cause we hadn't been together in so long and it was our anniversary so it was just...expected for us to be with each other. It didn't feel right to me. I didn't want us back together physically if it felt like that. I didn't know how to explain it to Joey but by the time I'd worked up the courage to tell her...I couldn't sleep with her...Joey was...ah well and truly in the mood," Charlie continued blushing, her face now scarlet red, "Before I could say anything...Joey started touching me...and that's when I told her. I chose that perfect moment to tell her to stop...and that I couldn't be with her and...I didn't want her to...make love to me.

So, she pulled away from me...she wouldn't even look at me as she threw herself on the other side of the bed and buried her head against the pillows. She had lost all self-confidence and...I don't blame her. I couldn't even say anything else to make her see that it wasn't her fault. She wanted me and I...didn't want her. I have no idea why. I wanted us to reconnect that part of our marriage, but when we got there...I just couldn't do it.

I felt this sense of vulnerability. Like she...shouldn't want to be with me. I'd hurt her quite a bit at that point...and I just felt...that she shouldn't be attracted to me. I didn't deserve the way she wanted me. I wasn't ready...and I just felt too self-conscious about letting her want me. There has to be something wrong with me to turn her down like that. You don't just stop wanting your wife...and on our anniversary which made me feel ten times worse."

"Did you talk to Joey about your feelings afterwards? Tell her that you were struggling with the fact you didn't want to force yourselves together just because it's expected of you? That you were feeling vulnerable?" Anna asked professionally.

Charlie shook her head sadly, "She wouldn't look at me, she didn't want to get her heart broken. So, I did what I always do, avoided the problem and went to sleep...stupid of me. Woke up in the middle of the night to hear Joey crying herself to sleep. I couldn't say anything or reach out and hold her hand so she knew I didn't reject her because of what she'd done.

It occurred to me then...that she was...probably in a more vulnerable place when I turned her down. She probably thought I was...disgusted at the thought of being with her. Joey's always had this small sense that she's not good enough for me, or that I'm not...satisfied with her. She probably thought that I'd finally...proved her right. She was there...wanting me for the first time in so long...and I was the one that turned her down.

I freaked out when she finally felt confidant to let down all the defenses she'd placed around her heart and body. At least when she turned me down from making moves...I expected it. I completely threw her off by rejecting her while she was practically in the middle of...God she probably thought she'd just about forced herself on me...what the hell was I thinking? I should've just let her sleep with me and maybe it might've fixed things."

Anna looked up from her notes, "Doing that could've made things much worse. Everybody experiences this issue during their relationships. One person wants physical contact, and the other doesn't. Normally it's only a small thing, but if it builds up over time it's understandable that you might feel uncomfortable resuming that part of your relationship especially when things have been strained for other reasons. So, did you ever discuss it?"

Charlie gritted her teeth, "No. I was too afraid of what she'd say to me. I just couldn't...explain my vulnerabilities to her. Woke up the next morning and Joey had already packed up our bags and if I hadn't have woken up, she probably would've taken off back home on a bus. We didn't say a single word to each other as I grabbed my stuff then drove us home. The whole time was complete silence. She didn't want to talk to me and I...I still can't even comprehend why I turned her down.

I mean...just feeling vulnerable and self-conscious...that's hardly enough to turn her down that way when she was finally ready to start mending the bridges we'd broken. My daughter was completely confused as to why we got home a few days early, but neither of us could talk about it. Then over the next month things just got worse. I barely spoke to her, and when I did manage to get nights off work or at least come home in the early hours of the morning, I just...didn't acknowledge her presence.

I didn't want to see that hurt expression on her face again when I turned her down. I was afraid that look would be on her face every time she looked at me. Eventually Joey gave up...trying to talk to me and she withdrew herself, ended up sleeping at a friend's place most nights...then lying to me about it saying she just left the house every morning to go for a run. I didn't call her on it. I just let everything stay the way it was. With the two of us...beyond disconnected.

By the time I did call her on it...and tried to break through whatever communication issues I was having...she told me she was leaving me. Our marriage breakdown is my fault. I spent too much time at work and then when Joey finally tried to be with me...I looked at her like what she wanted was wrong. Every day after that Joey looked at me like she didn't even know me anymore. How can one simple moment screw up our whole relationship?"

Anna studied Charlie carefully, "I'm not gonna lie. You obviously had some issue with resuming your relationship like that, and maybe if you had have communicated with Joey about what you were feeling, things wouldn't still be so strained between you. But you're never gonna know that. You need to stop thinking about the mistakes you made in the past and start working on the things now between you. But going back slightly, when you slept together two weeks ago, how did you yourself, Charlie, get to a place where you were comfortable with that?"

"It wasn't anything we planned to happen...it just happened one night," Charlie tilted her head to the side, "Put too much energy into thinking that it would fix things between Joey and me...that I'd get my family back if I could prove to her that I could be with her without making her feel like...she was forcing me into something I didn't want. I needed her to know that I could...forget about my insecurities and allow her back into my heart. That I could put aside my own fears for her.

Then when she woke up, she realized that it still wasn't enough. So, she told me that she loved me but she still doesn't trust me enough to be with me again. She'd rather continue on with her new girlfriend...pretending that nothing has changed between us. She even had the gall to lie to Kaitlyn about our night together. But how can I be the petty ex and tell her girlfriend that Joey cheated on her? Joey would only end up getting hurt and she'd never forgive me. Back to square one."

"And how did you react to Joey's decision not to get back together?" Anna questioned.

"Attempted to be the petty ex and tell Kaitlyn that Joey cheated her on her with me," Charlie confessed, "But when I went to see Kaitlyn...I realized the fact that I couldn't hurt Joey by being jealous. If she's not ready to be with me again, I can't hold it against her. She's trying to do what's right for her. And right now, that's just not me."

Anna stared intently at Charlie, then smiled gently, "You're still wearing your wedding ring." It wasn't a question. Charlie pursed her lips, looking down at her left hand, feeling the ring against her skin, "Yeah." "Would I be right in saying that you haven't taken your ring off...because you're not ready to end your marriage with Joey?" Anna guessed. Charlie bit her lip, "You know you're right so why ask?" "Because now I'd like you to tell me what that ring on your finger still symbolizes to you," Anna replied.

Charlie balled up her hand into a small fist, looking away from the ring, "It symbolizes the commitment I made to my wife five years ago. I promised to never let her down and love her no matter what. If I take it off...that’d be proof that I'd broken that promise and I'm not sure I'm ready for that."

"Have you told Joey that?" Anna asked, already knowing the answer. "No," Charlie answered reluctantly, confirming Anna's suspicions. Anna nodded, "At what point did you notice that Joey's no longer wearing her ring and how did that make you feel when you did realize?"

Anna was curious as a half-smile formed across Charlie's lips, as the woman responded, "I noticed the morning...right before she announced she was leaving me. It's what started our argument. I knew her taking her ring off was something huge, I guess I was fooling myself that it could mean anything other than she was leaving me. But ah...the thing is that Joey's still wearing her wedding ring. I found out she has slipped her wedding ring onto the necklace that she wears...a necklace I gave her as a present that she's never taken off since. I found the ring dangling from her necklace when...when we slept together. Joey admitted she couldn't part with it and she still needed it close to her heart."

"How did that make you feel when she told you that?" Anna asked.

"That she's not ready to let me go completely and that...I'm still in her heart," Charlie admitted nervously, "It took me by surprise...after spending months thinking she didn't give a damn about me but then knowing that deep down...she's not ready to give up on me. On us. It made me feel like as long as that ring is still attached to her...we still have a chance. Joey was pretty anxious about my reaction when I found the ring on her necklace, but it's been two weeks and she's still wearing it. She keeps it hidden but I know it's there. I just...don't have a clue what that means to Joey anymore.

Although as long as she's wearing it...she hasn't given up on me...plus as long as it's still there I know she hasn't slept with Kaitlyn 'cause that would...actually kinda be funny for Kaitlyn to find it the same way I did...'What's that there on your necklace? Oh, you're wedding ring! Ohhhh!' It'd make for a great realization on both their parts about Joey's feelings for me. It'd make for an amazing mood-killer. Awk…ward! Sorry...me being petty again about Joey and Kaitlyn. Guess I just mean that I do understand why Joey hasn't taken it off...but if she does one day...I don't know how I'll react. Just knowing that there's still a small chance, fleeting as it may be, it makes me feel secure that...maybe things will work out for us."

"So, given the opportunity, and if you could work through your own issues along with those you've had as a couple, you would want to be with Joey again?" Anna proposed.

Charlie smiled slightly, "In a heartbeat. I just want my family back. I can't imagine my life without Joey. I know we'll always have to be in each other’s lives 'cause we have to raise Riley together...it's just not the same. I've screwed up so much...I've put my wife through hell and completely destroyed her own self-confidence. I don’t blame her for wanting to move on with someone who wouldn’t treat her like that. Then I put all my hopes on that one night two weeks ago for everything to be good between us. That I'd finally put my fears behind me and proved to her that I wanted to be with her. It took me a little while to realize that it just doesn't work that way. It'll take a lot more than one night together to fix our problems. Yes, I believe that I’ve began to change…but it’s not enough yet for Joey.  There’s still so much more I want to prove to her…but I’m afraid she’ll never give me the chance."

"Well the important thing is that you've realized that now, and it's now up to you to determine if you want to fix these problems properly so you can re-establish your marriage and then find a way to prove these things to her," Anna told her.

Charlie shook her head miserably, "No it's not. It's not up to me...it's up to Joey. She's made it clear that she's not ready to be with me, and unless that changes...we're never gonna be together again."

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-Four 

Anna stared at Joey as the younger woman continued avoiding her gaze, "Joey, do you really want to be here? What is it you're hoping to achieve by being here?" Joey looked over at Anna, "A part of me doesn't want to be here. What's the point? Charlie's never gonna forgive me for the mistakes I've made, so there's hardly anything to achieve by talking about my feelings." "Some people can forgive almost anything. You yourself have previously forgiven Charlie for being unfaithful in your relationship. What is it that Charlie can't forgive you for?" Anna asked. 

"Being a stuck up, bitch of an ex, who acts like I don't give a damn about Charlie," Joey replied honestly. "So, does that mean you do give...a damn about Charlie?" Anna pointed out. Joey shrugged, "Doesn't matter if I did. Charlie hates me. I don't blame her. I've treated her so badly this last year, and even worse over the past few weeks." 

Anna stared down at her notes, "Okay, well after speaking to you both before and a little bit of what I gathered from Charlie, the two of you have had a complete breakdown in communication with each other. Is that correct? And in your opinion what sparked this breakdown, and how do you think it can be fixed?" 

"Yes, you're correct, Charlie and I don't really communicate with each other unless we have to...you know for Riley's sake," Joey answered quietly, "I can't remember the day it started. It all kinda piled up over the months of her ignoring me for her work and then one day I looked at Charlie and realized...she doesn't love me anymore. Guess my way of coping was to cut off as much communication as possible so it would hurt me less and...I don't think that can be fixed easily...if at all." 

Anna rolled her tongue over her teeth, hesitating, "The day you looked at Charlie and realized that...does that relate to...a certain anniversary you two shared?" Joey looked at Anna horrified, "Charlie told you about that?" 

Anna nodded, "If you're not comfortable talking about it, that's quite alright with me. And although I won't reveal what Charlie told me about that night, it was obviously something that affected you both...so if you truly want to fix things with Charlie – whether that is just stabilizing your friendship while you dissolve your partnership or actually resuming your relationship – we've gotta start with the hard stuff. The easy problems come later." 

Joey bit her lip hard, drawing a small amount of blood, "How could I ever be comfortable talking about this...? I pushed Charlie too far and came this close to...I felt like I nearly...forced myself on her." Joey immediately looked away, wiping the tears from her eyes threatening to fall down her cheeks. Anna breathed deeply, "That's a pretty strong feeling. Is that how you really feel about what happened?" 

"I don't know...what Charlie told you," Joey whimpered, "But I woke up that night after...and realized...if Charlie really wanted to be with me...she wouldn't have pushed me away. I mean did I not see the signs that she wasn't interested? I just assumed...with the holiday away, the nice dinner, the...romantic hotel room...I assumed she was trying to reconnect with me physically. 

It didn't even occur to me that we weren't ready for that. You don't just go from barely talking to sleeping together and thinking that it'll fix everything that's been wrong. Wish I'd remembered that when we... We needed to communicate with each other. We needed to talk to each other. That's why she was so nervous at dinner...'cause we were trying to talk...but we kept stalling and making excuses for the silence between us. 

Then at the hotel...she tried to hide it...but God she looked so embarrassed and...kinda upset when we walked into the room and saw how romantic it was. I got it wrong...it was never meant to be a romantic weekend. Charlie just wanted us to spend some time together and begin rebuilding the trust we had for one another. 

And I knew I'd gotten it wrong. Even before we...when we first kissed...I could feel that she wasn't quite into it. I wondered where the passion we shared for each other had gone. There was no fire between us. I kept thinking if we just...got through it...and we kept kissing it would be easier...we'd find that passion again. 

So I kept...kissing her...I figured by taking the lead I could…somehow prove to her that I still loved her. I thought maybe...she'd find my confidence inspiring...and an attractive turn on...the way it used to. It wasn't like she wasn't kissing me back but I still had this voice telling me she wanted to back out...then when we finally started undressing...I thought we'd made it. We'd gotten through the toughest part and she was comfortable enough to give herself to me...how wrong could I have been?" 

"Joey, you keep referring to your actions as...forcing yourself onto Charlie. Is this how Charlie described your actions?" Anna whispered. 

Joey shook her head, still whimpering, "I don't know...I never spoke to her about it. I felt disgusting...I wanted to forget it ever happened. I couldn't bear to look at myself in the mirror...knowing that Charlie didn't want me...but I forced us to try and be together. As bad as I felt about myself, the second I saw it in her eyes...that she was gonna push me away...it brought back all my insecurities. My ones about not being enough for Charlie, Charlie not being attracted to me anymore...and Charlie...'seeing the light' that she wants to be with a man. I couldn't stop my insecurities from piling up. 

What kind of relationship is it when your wife tells you she doesn't want you? She didn't even want to be there kissing me let alone... What would make her change now...we've been through worse things since I left...why should Charlie want me physically now? I know that we slept together recently but I was still afraid that Charlie wasn't ready to be with me. It really hurt me deeply when she rejected me like that. I couldn't even look at her, I  was so afraid about the fact that there was something wrong with me and that's why Charlie couldn't be with me. I hated that...and I've been taking all my frustrations and confusions out on Charlie ever since. 

I thought that trip to the City would help solve all our problems. It didn't...I made them worse. Just because we were in a different room...in a different bed...it didn't mean Charlie wanted to be with me. She was nervous, embarrassed, and I know...how to read every emotion in Charlie's eyes...I knew just by looking into them that she didn't want to be with me. But I pushed anyway...and she rejected me. I made an effort to try and be with her...she turned me down cold. There must be something wrong with me to make her feel disgusted at the thought of being with me." 

Anna gazed at Joey, watching her movements, "Maybe I'm speculating here...maybe I'm not. Did you ever think that...Charlie didn't reject you...because you were trying too hard to reconnect your intimate bond? Maybe Charlie had her own issues and was too afraid to admit them until it was too late? Perhaps...that trying to reconnect your intimate relationship in one night together after months of strained and non-existing intimacy...was too much, too soon for her and she got scared that...she wasn't prepared for it like she thought she was? Maybe her reaction had nothing to do with you." "Is that what Charlie told you?" Joey asked confused. 

Anna looked down at her notebook, scribbling notes, "I'm not supposed to discuss anything Charlie said to me. Maybe I'm just throwing out suggestions. The only way you're going to know why Charlie turned you down that night...is by asking her yourself." 

Joey screwed up her face, "Typical therapy trick huh? Trying to get us to talk to one another by revealing only a handful of what Charlie could've told you. Why should I believe you? Charlie had been trying to...reconnect with me intimately for months, but her timing was just never great and I was just too tired every time she made an effort. Then the one time I try and be with her...and she's the one that freaks...no that doesn't make any sense to me." 

"Well there's only one way to find out. You could ask her," Anna reminded her. "I'll think about it," Joey gave up. 

Anna relaxed, happy that maybe Joey would take her advice and the girls might start talking to each other...and realize just how different their thoughts were compared to how similar their insecurities were, just how badly their signals were mixed, and how being honest with each other could save their marriage. 

"Now, would you like to talk to me about your more recent relationship with Charlie? Have you had any good memories you've shared recently with Charlie? If you want to discuss Charlie crashing at your new place and trying to fix her relationship with your son, you and Charlie sleeping together, or perhaps your new relationship with Kaitlyn? Any or all of the above is fine by me." 

Joey nodded slowly, "Well ah...Kaitlyn and I...I don't know if it's really going anywhere special. She's great and I've known her my whole life...I feel guilty that my hearts not completely in it. I just can't bring myself to tell her that. Our relationship has really blurred between 'just friends' and 'girlfriends' lately...you know we just hang out and talk, and occasionally make out...I'm too gutless to ask where we stand...'cause I know she'll turn it back on me...and ask me where Charlie and I stand. I'm not ready to answer that. How pathetic am I? 

And ah...Charlie living with us...is certainly a change. It's been really good for Riley to have her there. I didn't think...I expected Charlie to break her promise to be there for him. And even though the last few weeks have been so hard on the two of us, she's been there for him regardless of what has been going on with us. I've really increased my time with my business since she's been there. I guess honestly to avoid her partly, but mainly 'cause she deserves the chance of being a mother again. She hasn't struggled too much coping alone with Riley. 

I wish I could be there and spend time with my family and help Charlie take care of him every day...I'm just afraid it will send the wrong message to Riley...that we're a family again. Plus if he was to then find out that we're looking into a divorce...he would completely reject us. If he thought for sure Charlie and I had a chance and he would have his family back, then to find out he won't...he's the type of kid that would seclude into the silent treatment. Charlie and I already have our own issues with communication, we can't pass those bad habits onto him. If we do go ahead with the divorce, telling him that...is gonna be the hardest thing we'll ever have to do. 

All that aside for the moment, I think Charlie's really stepped up to the plate with Riley, and she's probably spent more time with him over the last two weeks than she has this last year combined. I'm proud of her for changing like that. I won't lie, it has been awkward having her there since I've been trying to move on with Kaitlyn. And trying to avoid Charlie...so we don't end up back in each other’s arms like we did that one night...hasn't worked too well so far. Though I'm not gonna advertise this to Charlie or ah anyone else...there is one...kinda good memory lately...but it's good...in a bad, confusing kinda way. I might've...walked in on her while she was in the shower just this once...a couple days ago…and it certainly wasn’t your regular…accidental walk in…and walk straight back out incident." 

"Ah the perils of living together with your ex...and sharing a bathroom," Anna smirked, "And how did you react to this...encounter?" 

Joey blushed, "I was just so embarrassed and so was she. It's not like I haven't seen her like that before...I didn't want her to think that I'd walked in on her on purpose to see how she'd react. It was just kinda one of those moments...where truth be told...I completely forgot about our problems...like they didn't exist and the last year never happened. 

I was...ah running late for a...date with Kaitlyn and I realized I'd left my lipstick in the bathroom, but Charlie was already in there having a shower. I knocked on the door but she didn't hear me, and I didn't want to be late so...I snuck in...figured I could just get in and out without her noticing I was there. Boy was I wrong. The second I got to the counter to grab the lipstick...Charlie's cop instincts kicked in and she knew I was in the room. How she knew it was me...probably a good thing 'cause looking back...I'm kinda surprised that she didn't just jump out of the shower and attack her intruder... 

But anyway I stuttered and stumbled over why I was in there, and Charlie she was...just completely composed and not put off by the situation and asked if Aden was watching Riley since she was gonna go meet up with Ruby and Geoff at Noah's bar that night. And as completely...strange as it sounds...we found ourselves having a normal conversation...for the first time in ages. I...we shouldn't have felt so comfortable like that and it was kinda weird. But not weird at the same time. We used to do that kind of thing when we were happily married, rushing off for our work or me taking Riley out for the day, so we'd just talk to each other while we were getting ready in our bathroom. 

I asked her if she was looking forward to having a night away from looking after Riley, and she admitted that she was really struggling with the idea of not looking after him for the night. She'd really come to love being a full-time mum, and was contemplating how she would manage going back to work and not being able to hang out with him every day. I smiled at the thought that maybe she would give up her job for him to become a full-time mum. I think she was really considering it...but I guess the realities we discussed next put a kibosh on her ideas to give up her job." 

"And what realities were those?" Anna continued to push Joey for answers. 

"Charlie asked about how my business was going. I finally admitted to her that the business had been struggling the last year. While the amount of business hadn't slowed down too much...I'd had to ask Aden to buy me out of half the business 'cause my own expenses were causing it damage. Since I'd moved out with Aden, I refused to let up on the mortgage payments on the house Charlie and I own. I still saw the place as Riley's home so I felt I needed to share the burden of the mortgage equally with Charlie. Although Aden refused, I insisted on paying him rent money, and then you add on all the bills, and the money it takes to raise a son...I'd gotten myself into quite the amount of debt and three months ago when I realized how bad it was...I wasn't strong enough to ask for Charlie's help so I asked Aden if he'd consider buying part of the business. 

Charlie expressed regret that she hadn't realized that's why I sold the business and immediately blamed herself. So she insisted that she would sit down with me the next day and work out our expenses as a...couple I guess. She's always provided financial support to raising Riley but wanted to help out more with the bills and told me she had enough savings herself to cover the mortgage for the next couple months. Charlie told me I never need to think twice about asking her for financial help, and that we'd work out a way for us to both save the half of my business I still own...before I need to sell that too. 

The whole time we were talking...she was like a whole new Charlie. She didn't seem at all put off that we were standing there discussing...financial problems of all things while she was...naked in the shower. Like that was a normal everyday occurrence for us to be talking comfortably. While she was in the shower, I faced the mirror and I applied my lipstick...and I dunno maybe, rearranged my hair...stared at the mirror...anything to put off leaving for a moment," Joey confessed, her face a dark shade of red from blushing. 

Anna noticed the look on Joey's face, "Is there another reason you stood there staring at the mirror?" Joey fiddled with her hands nervously, "Well you know mirrors...useful for reflections of what's behind you." Anna smiled knowingly, "So you were...observing Charlie in the shower...through the mirror?" 

Joey looked up at the therapist, bewildered that the woman seemed to pick up on every small thing, then quietly argued, "No...I was not...perving on Charlie like that. I mean that's just ridiculous. Why would I do that--? Okay fine, I was totally doing that." 

Anna giggled at Joey's sudden turn around and honesty, "It's completely normal, Joey. You still feel an attraction to Charlie and you're curious if the time you slept together two weeks ago was a one-time thing. So what did you feel, watching Charlie like that?" 

Joey continued fiddling with her fingers, "Like I had to control myself from...joining her in the shower. I had to physically stand there gripping my hands tight onto the counter to stop me from...ripping my own clothes off and...God why did I all of a sudden have to feel like that? Was it just because we were finally opening up to each other about some stuff? Or because we...kinda found ourselves reliving...just some small act that we were accustomed to while we were together. I was so busy trying to keep myself controlled throughout our conversation, I'm surprised I managed to talk, but...ah I was so deep in my own thoughts...I didn't hear the shower water stop running. So I was standing there rambling on about...something...and...I don't even think Charlie registered her actions when she stepped out of the shower. 

My jaw nearly dropped to the ground when I saw her in the mirror's reflection looking all...ah hot and wet. Whatever I was rambling on about, she started replying to, as she wiped her feet on the bath mat and walked over to the other side of the room and grabbed a towel from the rack. I felt my knees start to buckle as I continuing watching her...I ah...couldn't take my eyes off her. As she picked up the towel and started unfolding it, she looked over at me...I think she was about to continue talking but...she suddenly noticed me staring at her. I've never seen her throw her towel around herself so quickly. 

She was completely embarrassed that she hadn't even realized that she'd kinda crossed a line. I wasn't even sure if she had crossed a line and when I tried to explain that to her...she didn't even let me talk, she just got angry at me. I guess she assumed I was gonna tell her that she can't just flaunt her body in front of me or that we have to have boundaries...non-nakedness boundaries. Charlie was obviously scared that I thought she'd done it on purpose, in some sense of her way to try and seduce me...she didn't need to try...and that part really threw me. 

I knew she was just so caught up in the fact that we were talking again, for ten whole minutes since we'd slept together we hadn't bickered once. I'd accepted her offer to sit down and work out our finances as a...separated couple and it just reminded us that even though we're not together, we still have other responsibilities to each other, not just our son. But before I knew it...Charlie opened the bathroom door and grabbed me by the arm gently...and pushed me out of the room. I heard her sink to the floor crying, I just wanted to tell her I wasn't offended and I knew she didn't do it on purpose. 

She finally came downstairs, thankfully Riley and Aden were upstairs playing games in his room, and she was really upset when she found out I was still there. I started apologizing because it was my fault for overstepping the boundaries, walking into the bathroom knowing she was in there. I tried to explain she shouldn't be so self-conscious around me, that I hadn't taken any offence to seeing her...like that and that it was just a natural thing for her to do...something we'd one day laugh about. 

She stood there silently then finally asked why I hadn't just left on my date. The date with Kaitlyn I was late for...and the one I'd completely forgotten about. So yeah...that's my recent good and bad memory about Charlie and me. Guess the major bad part is the fact that ever since then…Charlie’s almost been ferocious in picking fights with me…like she’s trying to push me away all over again. Safe to say we were too busy fighting to talk about my financial situation again. You gonna tell me in your therapist way what was really going on between us?" 

Anna placed her pen behind her ear, then smiled at Joey, "I think you just said everything when you said you forgot about your date after seeing Charlie like that." Joey shook her head, and glared at her, "Gee thanks!" 

"Well, we're outta time so what do you say we continue this line of discussion about your feelings for both women next week?" Anna suggested. "I thought you wanted to see both Charlie and I at next week's appointment," Joey pointed out. 

"Then I guess if this is something you feel you want to discuss or get some advice on perhaps we could make another appointment just for yourself. If you want to work out your own issues it might be something that you need to do," Anna replied, "Think it over, and give us a call if you decide that you would like to work through all this. I'll see you next week, Mrs. Collins." Joey nodded silently. 

Joey walked out of the office, biting her lip as she realized Anna was right. She needed someone's help if she wanted to sort through her feelings and decide if she could save her marriage. She understood that she couldn't keep being scared of her feelings, she had to work them out once and for all so she could stop hurting the people in her life. And though she hated the idea of talking to a therapist about all her issues, she was starting to warm up to the idea. As she approached the receptionist, Joey was surprised when she heard Charlie behind her, "Hey, you ready to go?" 

Joey spun around and noticed Charlie seated in the same chair in the waiting room when Joey first arrived, "Oh...ah Charlie...I thought you would've taken off." Charlie shrugged, putting the magazine she was reading down on the table, "You said your car broke down...didn't figure you for asking me for a lift so..." "You stayed and waited for me anyway," Joey smiled. 

"It's nothing," Charlie sighed, "We'll both be going back to Aden's after picking up Ry so...might as well go together. We'll get Aden to go look at your car when we get there, hopefully there's not too much damage." "It might not be serious, but it could be costly," Joey groaned. "I'll take care of it, don't worry about it," Charlie assured, "So, you ready?" Joey turned to the receptionist, "Um yeah...I was just...double checking next week's appointment is at the same time." 

"It certainly is, Mrs. Collins, we'll see you both at 3 pm next Friday," the receptionist chimed in. Joey nodded, "Okay...let's get out of here." I can phone them later to arrange my own appointment...not sure if I want Charlie to know about it yet. It's just something I need to do on my own. Charlie stood up and led the way out of the waiting room to the car park. 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-Five 

Charlie and Joey had barely spoken a word during their car ride. They'd sat there in complete silence. But at least that's better than fighting all the time...right? Joey thought to herself. Joey was quietly confused when Charlie didn't take the turn-off to the road that led back to Summer Bay, and instead headed for the center of Yabbie Creek. Charlie looked at Joey nervously, "Can you call Ruby...and ah tell her we're gonna be a little bit longer than expected? We'll be home in a few hours." Joey pulled out her mobile from her purse, "And what reason will I give her for us being late when she asks?" 

Charlie bit her lip, "Umm...the reason's kinda...in my jean's back pocket." Charlie then glanced down at her jeans on her left side, as she gripped the wheel tightly. Then she checked the review and side view mirrors to confirm they were the only vehicle on the road, never one to break the rules without being safe, Charlie prepared to take her hand off the wheel and dig something out of her pocket. While busy checking it was safe to drive one-handed for a moment, Charlie missed the look on Joey's face. 

Deeply curious and without thinking, Joey lent over the gear stick and slipped her right hand into Charlie's front left pocket of her jeans...to find it empty. Joey looked up at Charlie embarrassed by her sudden action and confused to find her hand grasping at nothing but the fabric of Charlie's jeans. Charlie ran her tongue over her teeth anxiously, bewildered that after five minutes of driving in absolute silence, and how strained their relationship had been recently, Joey would instinctively make a move like that. "I...I'm sorry...I didn't mean...I thought you said...and you were driving so..." Joey rapidly said flustered, as her hand still sat in Charlie's pocket. Charlie pursed her lips, then whispered, "I ah...said my back pocket, Jo." 

Joey's brow crinkled, then stumbled, "Huh? I...oh...ohhhhhhhhh." Charlie glanced down at her pocket, "Sorry I don't even know why I put them there...they didn't fit in my front pocket. I should have put them in my purse...I just...didn't think about this. How about you watch the road for a quick sec and I'll grab them out of my back pocket?" Joey blushed deep red, "It's fine, Charlie, I got it, just keep driving." "No seriously, Jo, I can just..." Charlie whispered, as she casually lifted her hips slightly off the chair. Before she could take her hand off the wheel, Charlie's eyes bulged in shock as she felt Joey swiftly remove her hand from the front pocket and slipped it into her back pocket. 

OMFG! Why did she do that? Charlie screamed in her head. OMFG! Why did I do that? Joey screamed in her head. Joey blushed a darker shade of red than Charlie had ever seen, then looked away as she grasped her fingers around some envelopes trying desperately to ignore the fact two thin pieces of fabric were separating her hand from grasping Charlie's naked ass. OMG OMG OMG! Joey panicked, Don't think about that...don't think about Charlie's ass...don't think about her nice firm...OMG just remove your hand already so you can just open the car door, jump out while the car's still moving and just wait for the earth to open up and swallow you up...'cause that would be less awkward than sitting here with your hand firmly attached to Charlie's... 

Charlie closed her eyes, attempting to forget that she could feel Joey's hand gripping her softly. OMG! What was she thinking? We're trying to sort out if we should get divorced, we fight and bicker about everything since we slept together, then we sit here unable to even talk properly...and now is the time that she makes a move and practically gropes me! No, no, she's not groping me! This is all just some big misunderstanding...you saw the look on her face...she didn't even mean...she didn't realize what she was doing. It's like the...me walking out of the shower naked in front of her moment...I didn't realize what I was doing then. Oh God why is her hand still there? 

Charlie opened her eyes to see Joey staring down at her hand. Joey finally realized that the feeling she'd had of just wanting to die from embarrassment wasn't going to happen, and started rambling, "I...oh God I didn't...I wasn't thinking when I...this isn't what I meant...uh...I..." Charlie breathed deeply, calming her own emotions, and trying to remain relaxed instead of freaking out at the contact of Joey's hand, "It's...it's fine, Jo. I know you didn't mean...it's not a big deal...unless you plan on keeping your hand attached there..." "Huh?" Joey's eyes widened, "Oh holy...I'm sorry right yes no removing hand from your...jeans now." Joey grasped the envelopes in her hand and tugged her hand out of Charlie's jeans pocket...or she attempted to tug her hand out. 

"Something wrong?" Charlie asked. "No...no...I ah...okay yes...my hand is stuck," Joey quietly whispered, as she continued tugging her hand wildly. 

Charlie raised her eyebrow, not able to look Joey in the eyes, "What do you mean your hand is stuck?" "It's just...I think my ring is caught on a thread...just give me a minute," Joey begged embarrassingly, as she kept struggling to remove her hand from Charlie's pocket. Okay this is so not effing funny anymore! I bet this is effing karma for not thinking when I grabbed her ass...no not grabbed her ass...I didn't...I just...oh God what was I thinking? What the hell could Charlie be thinking? 

Charlie felt Joey continue to yank and struggle to remove her hand, and with all her power refused to start smiling...this actually isn't the worst feeling in the world... Charlie suddenly pulled the car to the side of the road and killed the ignition. Charlie looked down at Joey, and the cute little determined look on her face as she sat there trying to remove her hand. 

Charlie calmly placed her left hand on top of Joey's over her pocket, "Joey it's fine...it's not a big deal...you don't need to be so embarrassed. The way I see it we have three options...number one you calm down, relax your hand, stop struggling, and take your time to untangle your ring from the thread carefully...number two we keep driving to the shops, we awkwardly get out of the car, walk to the newsagent with your hand firmly attached to my...and buy some scissors to either cut the thread...or God forbid just cut off my pocket from my favourite jeans..." 

"And number three?" Joey tensed. Charlie bit her lip hard, "I take my pants off here and hope the thread loosens without my body occupying the jeans..." Number three, number three...'cause Charlie without pants...that'll end well...Jesus Joey she wants to divorce your ass not flaunt her body in front of you, Joey thought to herself confused. "One sounds like a...reasonable option," Joey replied weakly. "Okay," Charlie agreed, "Just relax and don't struggle, you're just entangling your hand more, take your time." Joey nodded thoughtfully. 

A few minutes later, Joey had finally stopped thinking about the awkwardness of the situation and managed to release her hand from Charlie's pocket. Leaving the envelopes in the pocket, she pulled her hand away, tensely holding it up, groaning at the pain when she tried to ball her hand into a fist. Charlie immediately took the envelopes out of her pocket, to avoid a repeat performance. Glancing up she saw the pain on Joey's face, then stared at Joey's hand held out in front of the younger girl she noticed the bruising on Joey's finger around her ring. Reaching her hand out, Charlie gently squeezed Joey's hand before pulling it towards her kissing it lightly, "Feel any better?" 

Joey nodded surprisingly relaxed, "Yeah...thanks. I'm sorry about...that. I wasn't thinking straight..." "It's fine, Jo," Charlie replied, then smirked, "But I promise not to tell Kaitlyn our divorce counselling ended with you spending five minutes groping me." "Not funny," Joey rolled her eyes. "It's a little funny," Charlie teased, "If you want to feel me up you don't have to make excuses, you know." "Oh, you're just full of humour at my expense for being a..." Joey shook her head, and bit her lip, "So, are you gonna tell me what I accidentally...groped you for?" 

Charlie held out several envelopes, each envelope was numbered and appeared to have cards inside, "These...our um...homework." "Homework?" Joey reached out for them puzzled. "Yeah...Anna gave them to me before I left," Charlie explained, "Asked us to do these...exercises before the next session. Then let her know how they went I guess next week." "Ah huh," Joey replied quietly as she stared down at the envelopes, "So, any clues on what they'll include?" 

Charlie re-started the engine of her car, and accelerated slowly back onto the road, "Yeah I...okay while you were in there with Anna...I kinda got really curious and peeked at the first one. I'm sorry this is supposed to be something we're to do together so I stopped after I read the first one." 

Joey looked over at her, "Does the first one have anything to do with where you're driving us and why I have to call Ruby and tell her we'll be late?" "Pretty much yes," Charlie answered. "So...where are you driving us?" Joey asked. Charlie slipped a strand of hair behind her ear, "Just into central Yabbie Creek. Thought since we'd already taken the afternoon off and Ruby's got Riley we might as well take the time we have now and complete these exercises. Plus it'd be easier for us to do this first one in Yabbie Creek." 

"So, what does the first one say we have to do?" Joey asked nervously, "What has Anna asked us to do?" "You wanta open it and read it yourself?" Charlie suggested. "Well that doesn't make me feel at all nervous," Joey whispered, as she placed the rest of the envelopes next to her and opened the first one. Reading the card silently Joey then raised her eyebrow and looked over at Charlie, "This is part of our divorce counselling? How is this supposed to help us? Is she serious?" 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-Six 

1) Go and buy your wife a gift that means something special from your marriage. Before you exchange your gifts please complete the rest of the exercises. Please exchange your gifts at a place that means something special to the pair of you. 

Charlie looked down at the shopping bag in her hand, then back up to see Joey sitting on the park bench. Walking over to her, Charlie smiled nervously, "Hey." Joey stared up at her, "Hi. So...how'd you go?" Charlie swung the shopping bag slightly, "Good. You?" Joey shrugged, "Spending an hour in a shopping mall...just what I call the perfect end to a perfect day." 

"Yeah, I know you don't particularly like coming to the Yabbie Creek shopping center but...I figured we'd hardly find any special gifts in Summer Bay what with the lack of shops. Unless Anna wanted us to buy a special gift from the grocery store or the bait shop," Charlie pointed out nervously, "But the day's not over so I'm sure they'll be plenty of other fun exercises for us to do." 

"Great," Joey rolled her eyes. Charlie ignored Joey's action, "So, you texted and asked me to meet you here instead of at the car? You don't want to head home yet?" Joey stood up, and lent her head sideways, "Thought we could go for a walk together here instead of doing the rest of the exercises at home...I mean the card did ask us to exchange our gifts at a place special to us." Charlie smiled, and followed Joey as she started walking slowly across the park towards the small lake, "This place kinda is perfect for that." 

As they reached the lake Charlie was quietly surprised when Joey reached out and took her hand gently, and even more surprised when Joey sat down in a beautiful shady patch of grass. Charlie sat down next to her, and after placing her shopping bag next to her, she was pleasantly surprised when Joey shifted herself so she sat in Charlie's lap. Charlie looked at her questioningly, causing Joey to blush. Joey lightly pulled Charlie's hands around her waist, "Sorry...is this okay?" "You tell me," Charlie decided. 

Joey swallowed hard, "Do you remember when we were here last?" Charlie nodded happily, "We were sitting exactly like this in this spot nearly five years ago. It was one of our best days together." "You really think it was one of our best days?" Joey asked lightly looking up at Charlie. 

Charlie blushed, "Are you kidding? Of course it was...and okay fine you probably don't believe me since I was all panicking and freaking out and you brought me here to calm me down...but I was only anxious 'cause I was just worried about you." Joey rolled her eyes, "You didn't need to be so worried Charlie...you were supposed to be happy and ecstatic...we'd only just found out I was pregnant with Riley." 

"I was happy and ecstatic," Charlie smiled, "I was just shocked that all our dreams of starting a family were coming true. It was suddenly real that we'd be parents and...I..." "Was afraid that you'd make a terrible parent," Joey remembered, "Well you were worrying for nothing, you're a great parent. And before you even try it...this is not something we're gonna argue about. You've made mistakes, but you're making up for each of them. I'm proud of you." Charlie nodded, "Okay fine no arguing from me for the first time since I...asked you for this... But you know what made me stop worrying? You. You were so happy and proud and couldn't wipe that smile off your face...I was actually kinda jealous." 

"In what way?" Joey asked curiously. Charlie gripped Joey tightly, "'Cause I'd never seen you that happy. Even when we got married, you were happy that day but you didn't have that sparkle in your eyes that you did after Rachel told us you were pregnant. I was insanely jealous of this little person and knew one day you'd love him or her more than me. Is that wrong?" Joey entangled her hands with Charlie's, "Course not. I was really happy that day, but I was happy for both of us. And I've never loved Riley more than you...I mean it's a different kind of love sure...but I loved you both equally." "What about now?" Charlie ventured quietly. 

Joey frowned and bit her lip, "So, um...yeah I just thought this would be a good place for us. I remember just sitting here with you for hours like this reminding you how much you wanted a child with me, and how you'd never let our child down the way...our parents did with us. You were holding me like this while I was trying to calm you down, and then when you did..." "We discussed how amazing our future was gonna be with our family," Charlie remembered, then whispered, "Guess we were...wrong." 

Joey closed her eyes, "Well before we ruin this place for us with...not so good memories of our mistakes...I believe we still have some homework we're supposed to do." "Guess we'd better get started," Charlie decided, as she pulled out the second envelope and card from her purse, "You want to do the honours?" Joey nodded, taking the envelope from Charlie's hand, and pulling the card out, she read it silently to herself, then groaned softly, "Are you sure that Morag hasn't just set us up with Anna in an attempt to mask it as divorce counselling when we're really having some normal marriage counselling so they can try and get us back together?" 

Charlie shrugged, "Well it's not like I'm in on it if that's what they're trying to do. What gave you that idea anyway...that they're trying to use a little marriage counselling to get us back together?" Joey softly handed her the card for Charlie to read herself, "Ah...I can see why you'd be confused on what we've gotten ourselves in for..." 

2) Tell your wife three things you love about her. 

Charlie relaxed her grip on Joey, expecting her to retract from their embrace, but was surprised when Joey lent her back against Charlie's chest. Trying to ignore her growing suspicions and uncertainly about Joey's sudden actions since they'd left the therapy office, Charlie concentrated on the fact that Joey wasn't pulling away for once. 

"Okay, well I'll go first," Charlie decided after Joey had been silent for the last minute, "I love that you never gave up on me when you came back to the Bay. Not many people would forgive what I did, but you did. I know it took some time, but just knowing that I had a chance to spend my future with you...it gave me the strength to overcome my fears about being with you. I wouldn't have this life without you...I mean all the good parts...and memories...I wouldn't have them without you."  Joey nodded thoughtfully, "Okay my turn. I love how you did overcome your fears. That took a lot of strength. I don't know how I would've coped if you hadn't being 100% secure with being with me as a couple. My life would be pretty empty...more empty...than it is right now if you hadn't given us a real chance as a couple." 

"My turn again huh?" Charlie realized, "Alright well...I love how great a mother you are to Riley. You've been there for him through everything. You were born to be a mum and it shows. He has grown up so fast, he's so smart and insightful...and that's all because he's had you to support him. Giving your life up to raise him was never a doubt for you. Most kids would be a mess to be going through the things he's going through...his parents...separated and living apart...for the most part. He got all that strength to cope with our problems from you." 

Joey smiled contently, "I love how much you've changed since Riley's accident. You've put aside your career and all the bad things between us and been there for him this whole time. I know things have...kinda been at their worst for us over the last two weeks with the constant fighting...but not once was I afraid that I'd wake up one morning and you wouldn't still be sleeping on the couch. That you would've packed up your bags and taken off home. You've changed, just like you promised you would...wish I could say the same about myself." 

Charlie squeezed Joey lightly, "Well...some things take time. I know that when you told me you still weren't ready to be with me...you said it was because you needed to learn to trust yourself and work out what you want... I guess that's why I've been...angry at you and picking fights with you since then...'cause you haven't changed yet. You're still not sure how you feel, you're too afraid to find a way through our problems...and you're still with Kaitlyn...once again I got my hopes up...that if I gave you the time and space you needed...you might realize that you do want to be with me. All I wanted was our family back together...I just wanted to ignore the fact that maybe...we don't belong together. I need to accept that we can't just force ourselves back together because it's what's best for Riley...we both need to take this time and work out...if we really want to be with each other." 

"Then why did you ask me for a divorce?" Joey whispered sadly. "To see if we would both fight for each other and realize our feelings for each other once and for all," Charlie confessed sadly, "Guess it didn't work...we're both still confused about our feelings." Joey nodded, knowing she had a chance here to be honest and tell Charlie she wanted to stop going through with the divorce until she had decided if she could trust herself again...trust that she wasn't ready to give up on their marriage completely, "Charlie I--" 

"Okay, so the third thing I love about you," Charlie interrupted, not willing to hear what she assumed would be Joey admitting why she couldn't fight for their marriage. Joey closed her eyes and held her breath regretting not being able to tell Charlie the truth...regretting that Charlie was right and that she still hadn't worked out her true feelings for the woman embracing her. 

"I love how passionate and determined you can be," Charlie continued, "Your strong-minded and always got what you want. You were determined not to give up on us when you returned to the Bay, and you were determined that our future would be together and we'd have a family together. Over the last few weeks since we've been constantly fighting you've been determined not to let Riley see our problems. You don't want our problems to hurt him. You want to protect him from the truth...that we're struggling and...we might not make it back together. You don't want him to lose faith that he won't get his wish for us to be a family. Neither of us want to hurt him like that, which is why we both agreed not to tell him about the...divorce counselling. But whatever happens between us...you'll be okay. You have the strength to get through this, and to help get our son through all this. You've gotten him through the separation...and I love you for that." 

Joey wiped a small tear from her eye, "Thanks. I don't feel strong at all. I feel like I'm constantly falling apart and any minute now...I won't be strong enough to be there for him. That he'll be the one making sure I'm okay." Charlie kissed the top of Joey's head, "Then you'll just have to remember and trust...that I love how strong and passionate you are. And because of that you can face anything. So...you've got one more thing to admit that you  love about me...what's it gonna be?" Joey stared at Charlie nervously. Everything. Does everything work for you? Does it work for me? Joey bit her lip, "I love...your shirt." 

Charlie raised her eyebrow, "Huh?" Joey looked away, embarrassed for lying, "The shirt you're wearing now...I love it. Looks good on you." "Okay...well that's...one way to finish off this exercise," Charlie stated bewildered, and slightly embarrassed that she felt she had opened up to Joey only for Joey not to do the same. "Yeah...so umm how many more cards are there?" Joey asked, regretting being too scared to open up to Charlie and start working out how she really feels about her wife. "Uh...two more," Charlie grunted, still upset with Joey's last answer, as she pulled out the third card and read it aloud: 

3) Both of you are to write down your prediction of where you want to be one year from now. Keep these predictions in a safe place or give them to a trusted friend who won't let you look at the other's answer until a year from now. 

"Well no way can Ruby be trusted not to read these and spill the beans," Charlie sighed. "Then we'll give them to Aden. I trust that he won't look at them before the year is up," Joey decided. "So, I guess we're once again on the marriage counselling kick huh? Maybe you were right about Anna's intentions," Charlie realized. "Well it's not up to her to see if they'll work," Joey replied harshly. Charlie shook her head, again trying to ignore Joey's comments, "You got a pen?" "Sure," Joey answered, as she pulled a pen out of her purse. Charlie took the pen off her, "Can you lean forwards for a moment?" "Huh?" Joey asked confused. "I need to use your back to write my prediction," Charlie explained, as she placed the card against Joey's back. 

As Joey lent forwards, Charlie tapped the pen softly against Joey's back for a few seconds before she started writing down her prediction for where she hoped Joey and she would be in a year's time. Flipping the card over so Joey couldn't see what she'd written Charlie passed her the card and pen, "Now you write down your answer and we'll place the card back in the envelope without reading it. You can give it to Aden when we get home. Part of this exercise would be about trust…I trust you won’t look at it before you give it to Aden and we both trust each other that we won’t ask him for it earlier. So...in a year from now...we'll see if we were right." Joey nodded, feeling Charlie look away, fiddling with her watch, while Joey silently placed the card against her knee and wrote down her own prediction. 

Charlie looked up as she noticed Joey slipping the card back in the envelope, then placing them and the pen back in her own purse. "There, we'll see what happens in a year," Joey said slightly unsure of the outcome by that point, "So...we've only got one more card...then we can go home." Charlie nodded sadly, enjoying the comfort of holding Joey in her arms for the first time in so long, "C'mon let's get this done so we can go back to Ruby's and see Riley." Joey pulled out the final card, "Well let's see what the last thing Anna's given to us that she reckons will help us..." 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-Seven 

Joey read the card aloud: 

4) Tell your wife three things you dislike about her or things you wish she could change to save your marriage. 

"Ha!" Joey snorted, "Now this is divorce counselling. What was the point of the other three when this one could create some serious damage? Hasn't Anna learnt anything from our fights?" Charlie swallowed hard, "It doesn't really say that does it?" Joey flicked the card to Charlie who read it herself. 

Sighing heavily, Charlie sadly placed the card down, not sure of the reason for this exercise, "Well...I mean we can avoid the damage or fight...by just not doing these exercises. I mean Anna's not forcing us to...she just thought they could help. Maybe we should just...ditch this one and head back to the Bay." 

Joey pursed her lips, "I resent the fact you abandoned me and Riley." 

"Joey!" Charlie looked at her stunned, "I thought you were afraid of the damage this could cause." Joey shrugged, "Well, we were given this exercise for a reason. Either it'll help us clear the air between us or...it'll... You're the one that insisted on doing the divorce counselling Charlie, so I think we should do this exercise. I've done the rest for you, least you can do is allow us to get some truths out in the open." Charlie's eyes shifted towards the sky, trying to blink away the tears welling up in her eyes, "So you resent me?" 

Joey bit her lip nervously, "I resent that you immersed yourself in your work and abandoned us. I would change that about you. You left us for days at a time, nights at a time on our own. You left me to raise our son on my own because you...couldn't stand to be around me...what did I do that was so wrong that you preferred spending all your time away from me? You love your work more than your family, and I resent the fact that it took something like Riley nearly dying before you realized just how much we needed you around." 

"Joey, it wasn't anything you did that was wrong--" Charlie tried to explain. Joey held up her hand, "You know what? This exercise could really do some damage...so maybe we should just tell each other the truth about our resentments without any arguing at the end of each one. We be honest about our own feelings, then if we want to turn this into World War III we do that after we've completed this exercise." 

"Fine," Charlie agreed angrily, "I hate the fact you wouldn't even talk to me before you left and walked out on me. You wouldn't give me a chance to fight for my family. You just walked out and took my son with you. You had his bags all packed and you just grabbed them and him and put him in the car...you wouldn't even let me say goodbye...you wouldn't let me explain to him that this wasn't what I wanted. You just took him. So, what if you insisted that it wasn't goodbye and I'd see him soon? That wasn't good enough, he's my son too. What did you think taking him away from me would do? I wasn't the only one who made mistakes, but you took action and left me alone...without my wife or child. I didn't think fighting for you would change your mind so yes I continued working long hours at the station...I didn't have anyone to come home to. 

I mean, yes, I had Ruby and she did what she could...but she couldn't fill that void in my heart. And it's not like I could just pop over to Aden's whenever I wanted to see my son. You made things perfectly clear you wanted space...so I gave you that...but you didn't come home. I know now that's because you thought I was hooking up with Angelo, but that's not good enough. We were married, Joey, you were supposed to talk to me about feeling abandoned...not just walk out on me and take our child with you. You forced me into being the weekend parent...you didn't give me a chance for anything more. I'd change that about you...make you give our marriage a second chance before you walked away." 

Joey swallowed hard, taking in Charlie's words difficultly, but that didn't stop her from fighting back, "I resent the fact that you never let me into your decisions to turn down job promotions. You never even bothered to tell me about any of them until after I left you and you tried to use that as some kind of proof that we were more important than your work. We had a right as a family to decide whether or not we should move to the City so you could take one of these opportunities. I was happy for you when you got your promotion to Sergeant three years ago, why wouldn't I be happy that you were offered jobs at some of the stations in the City? 

I know I love this town and I love my own job but I would've given them up if you really wanted to move back to the City. Maybe it'd be great for Riley to grow up there. And maybe if you'd been working at a bigger station that was highly staffed you wouldn't have been put under the pressure you've been under here. Maybe you wouldn't have been working all the time and...I wouldn't have had to leave you. But you took it upon yourself to make these decisions without me. If this marriage can be saved you need to start including me." 

Charlie sighed, "I hate how close you and Aden are. I resent that over the past year or so you never once turned to me. Instead you went to your best friend. I know I was working too hard and I was never there for you...I just didn't realize it until it was too late. You could have come to me and told me you felt abandoned. I knew things were bad between us but if I had of known just how bad things were...that you were considering a separation...I would've given my job up in a heartbeat to be with you and Riley. I'm jealous that you kept turning to Aden for support. I know he's your best friend...but I hate the thought of you discussing our marital problems with anyone other than me. I bet he thought it was real funny and that I was just some frigid loser when you told him I couldn't even sleep with you." 

Joey raised her eyebrow, "You think I told him about that? I haven't told anyone about that, I was too embarrassed that I'm not enough for you. Trust me, I don't want anyone knowing that my wife isn't even attracted to me anymore." "Wait, you think I don't find you attractive which is why I couldn't sleep with you?" Charlie asked, "Jo...It wasn't like that...I was the one that was feeling...too self-confidant about being with you. I don't even know why. I was just...too afraid that I didn't deserve you. It was not about you." 

Joey looked down at the ground, "So, you're saying we were both too vulnerable to put ourselves in that position of being together after what we'd being through...and we've been blaming ourselves because we both thought we were too scared to admit...we had similar insecurities that the other didn't want us?" "Looks like," Charlie sighed, "I guess maybe we should've talked about this earlier." 

"Well maybe this whole talking about our problems is why we were given this task," Joey commented, then exhaling deeply, "Two down...one to go. I don't like the fact that after we separated...you made Ruby choose sides. Ruby wasn't just my step-daughter, Charlie, she was one of my best friends, and wouldn't have just stopped talking to me for several months on her own accord. I know I hurt her too when I left...but that wasn't fair of you." 

Charlie shook her head, "I didn't say anything like that to Ruby. I told her to go talk to you to get your opinion on why you left, not because I wanted her to come home and spill the beans to me. Ruby was really upset with you when you took off. It was like you'd forgotten she was part of our family...you didn't even apologize to her for breaking up...her parents. Ruby didn't just think of you as a good friend, she thought of you as a second parent, Joey...her only parent when I wasn't home. 

Besides do you think she wanted to take my side? I was the one that drove you away...and didn't stop you. Ruby hated me for that...but at least I included her and let her try to help me get over the loss of losing you and Riley. You didn't even...acknowledge her in your decision to leave me...that's why Ruby didn't speak to you for two months after you took off." 

Joey wiped the tears streaming down her face, "Can you tell her I'm sorry...when you see her next?" "I think that needs to come from you, Jo," Charlie replied. Joey sobbed, "I really made a mess of things for everyone, didn't I? I wish I could take it back...so...I want to hear it...what's the last thing you hate about me? Don't hold back Charlie, I know you've been doing that the last few times...I deserve to know the truth." 

Charlie waited until Joey finally turned around and faced her, as several tears trickled down her own cheek, "You used me." Joey frowned slightly, but immediately understood Charlie's meaning. 

"You can't even deny it, can you?" Charlie accused, "You used me that night we slept together. You knew deep down you weren't ready to make another commitment to me or to our family...but you did it anyway. You made me trust you. You made me believe all those things you whispered to me that night. You made me think I was gonna get my family back...then you tore it all away from me the second you could. You said you needed time to change who you are so you could be a better person and decide once and for all who you want in your life...well just decide already Joey. 

For the past two weeks I have tried everything to ignore the fact that you used me while you continue going off and...hanging out with Kaitlyn or whatever it is you two do together. Why do you think I've been trying to ignore you or pick petty little fights? You needed comfort that night as you'd realized all your mistakes were piling up around you and you didn't want to end up alone. I was just there that night and that's why you chose to sleep with me. It had nothing to do with me or the fact that it was a new chance for us. You used me. 

Then you say that you not wanting to be with me has nothing to do with me, but you needing to learn to trust yourself. You know just over three weeks ago when we were barely talking to one another...I told you that you weren't giving me the opportunity to change and be a better person. You know what you told me? You said I couldn't change overnight and it would take a lot more than skipping one day of work to make you believe I could be there to support you and Riley. Joey, when you told me you wanted to change...I didn't expect you to change overnight either. I didn't expect you to give me a second chance straight away. I wanted you to work through this properly so if we are truly meant to be together...it would be real this time...not just a one night stand. 

Your actions so far haven't made me think any different of you. You're still a scared, insecure girl who refuses to make choices because it'll hurt the people around her...well trying to ignore these choices is only hurting us all just as much. I don't know if you're even worth fighting for anymore, Joey...you've treated me so badly...but that's my fault. I've let you treat me this way. Now if I was selfish I would give you two ultimatums right now – me or Kaitlyn? Our marriage or a divorce? You can't have both. But forcing you into this decision will only make you choose her...'cause you're too scared to do anything else. 

I'm not saying that we don't have a lot of problems that we still need to deal with if there's ever any chance for us and I'm not even sure myself if I'm ready to face them but you cannot keep sitting here claiming that you want to change. If you want to change like I did...then damn well do something about it. We can't keep going the way we have been...both of us keeping the other at a distance, picking fights or ignoring each other, then you confusing me with your small actions of affections like sitting here in my lap, letting me embrace you... I think that was the point of this exercise...we both need to decide if this marriage is worth saving." 

Both girls stared out at the lake, tears brimming in their eyes, as they both knew how they truly felt...but fearing the other's reaction. 

One Week Later – April 2015 

Charlie and Joey entered the Doctor's office, less nervous than the previous therapy session they had with Dr. Scott. "Afternoon ladies, how are you both?" Anna greeted them. "Pretty good," Charlie smiled. Joey smiled in agreement. Anna observed how the women sat down on the couch, sitting much closer than the previous week when they had sat at the edges of the couch, as far away from each other as possible. "I'm glad to hear that," Anna grinned, "Did you manage to take some time together and complete the exercises I gave you?" 

The girls both gazed at each other nervously, as Charlie took a breath before replying, "Yeah we did the exercises...and they actually went...quite well in the end. We had our moments...but I think they really helped us start to work out where things stand between us. Thanks...for suggesting them." "It's part of the therapy," Anna grinned, "Now it's completely up to you if you want to tell me all about the answers you gave each other for the love and hate questions, but I'll admit it...I'm always partial and insist on knowing about the presents you bought each other." 

Charlie nervously flipped some strands of her hair behind her ear, "I um...it's totally stupid but...I bought Joey this model speed boat. Years back I kinda promised Joey one day I'd buy her a boat of her own...you know different than the prawn trawler type she owns as part of her business. Like I said...it was totally lame and silly...but I dunno it seemed..." 

"It was sweet, Charlie," Joey smiled, "I thought it was cute." "And what about you, Joey? What did you get Charlie?" Anna inquired. Joey bit her lip, "I ah...got Charlie this bracelet she's wearing." Charlie held up her hand, proudly showing the bracelet dangling from her wrist. 

Joey chewed on her lip, "Honestly...I um…kinda cheated on this exercise. I sort of bought the bracelet for her eight months ago...I was planning on picking it up and giving it to her for our five-year wedding anniversary...but things...changed...and I never got around to it. I'm surprised the store kept it for me this long...but I guess it was paid up-front. I got the bracelet specially made for Charlie...it's...pretty much a replica of the bracelet her mother gave to her just before her mum...passed away. Ruby borrowed the original one a year ago...and kinda lost it. I don't think I've ever seen Charlie that angry at Ruby when she found out...I practically had to pry her off of the poor girl. I know it's not the original bracelet but I figured...the gift...might mean something to Charlie." 

"It does," Charlie whispered proudly, "Thank you." 

"Well that exercise seemed to go incredibly well. And I gotta say it, you two look really happy. How have things been between the two of you since you were here last week?" Anna asked them. "Things are...actually kinda good between us. There's been a few changes over the last week," Charlie announced. "That sounds promising. So what kind of changes are we talking about?" Anna asked curiously. 

Charlie took another deep breath, "I made the decision to return back to work this week, and ah...I decided that it was time for me to move out of Aden's and move back home." "Well that's...an interesting progress," Anna simply noted. Joey anxiously took Charlie's hand in her own, "And I decided...that Riley and I...would move back home with Charlie...to keep our family together." 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-Eight 

Anna quirked her eyebrow gently, "You two have moved back home together? Well...that certainly is a huge change for the two of you. Is this something you're both comfortable with?" Both Charlie and Joey nodded, as Joey spoke up, "Yeah...we've had an interesting week and...it felt like the right thing for Riley...as well as us...so we all moved back home together yesterday." Anna nodded, then indicated their clasped hands, "So, does this mean the two of you are...?" 

Charlie reluctantly dropped Joey's hand, "No...no we're not...back together. I mean things have been really good for us this last week but...things haven't changed that much. C'mon it's only been a week. It'll...probably take a lot more work for us to get to that place...if we both wanted to, of course. But I think we're in a really good place with each other, we're beginning to trust each other more and we’re getting along a lot better like normal...friends. I mean we were really close friends before we got together...both times before we got together actually. It's really good knowing our relationship problems hasn't destroyed our friendship. 

We've decided the best thing for us right now is to hold off on the divorce. There's no reason to rush into it. There's always the small possibility this marriage could be saved and we've decided it's best if we wait a little while. If we do proceed with the divorce we want to wait until Riley's ready. Make sure he can see that we're still friends and that neither of us is gonna leave him, and that ending our marriage won't really change anything. 

In the meantime, I'm trying to get used to juggling my job as well as being a full-time parent. I'm not going to go back to that place where I was always working, and being a non-existent parent who never saw her son by her own choice. And I'm giving Joey some space while she takes some time to decide exactly what she wants. I've changed a lot in the last couple weeks, and I'm giving Joey the chance to do the same without any pressure. She needs to do what's right for her. 

Joey's still seeing Kaitlyn...and as long as she's happy...then I'm happy too. Joey's sleeping in the spare room...ah my daughter, Ruby's, old bedroom. Ruby moved in with her boyfriend Geoff several weeks ago so we...had the extra space at my...our place. We're sleeping in different rooms so people, or well Riley really, don't get too confused and think we're..." Charlie trailed off nervously, not noticing the slightly hurt expression on Joey's face when she had let go of her hand and stated firmly that they weren't together...and 'it'll probably take a lot more work for us to get to that place.' 

Anna didn't miss the look on Joey's face, and knew instantly that these arrangements were a little bit different for the younger girl, and that maybe they meant more to her, "Well then...a week ago you two were sitting here...biting each other's heads off and very much on the borderline of going ahead with a divorce to end your marriage. And now here you are, both very relaxed and comfortable in each other's presence...am I a miracle worker or is this something that you'll be taking credit for?" Anna let out a quick smile at the end, jokingly. 

Joey returned Anna's smile, "We've done a lot of work this last week...but I doubt any of it would've been possible without the guidance you gave us." "Well I'm glad to hear it," Anna grinned, "So, now don't keep me in suspense...what's happened between you two this last week?" 

Charlie smiled nervously, "We ah...took your advice...and started communicating with each other...honestly and without holding back. We went down to the lake and sat in the park and did the exercises you asked us too. World War III nearly erupted after the last exercise but...it actually helped us move forward and be a bit more honest with each other. During our drive back to Ruby's afterwards...we both geared up the courage to finally talk about...that um...awkward anniversary we last shared. We briefly touched on it during one of the exercises...but we opened up a bit more later on." 

"And we realized," Joey continued, "That we both had our own completely different fears and vulnerabilities...that ah...as it turned out really weren't all that different. We weren't ready to sleep with each other that night and we've been avoiding discussing it...because we both felt embarrassed that we did something wrong that night. And finally, after talking about it...we realized we had a lot in common with our thoughts. We just needed to take a chance and it's really helped us...develop this level of trust we have for each other now." 

"Well it's about time you both talked to each other instead of ignoring your feelings. So, what else happened this week that made you decide that moving back into your family home was the best decision for both of you and your son?" Anna questioned. The women looked at each other nervously, as Joey smiled, "I guess it started when..." 

Four Days Ago 

Joey jumped out of bed happily. Feeling content that her and Charlie had finally made some breakthroughs on been honest about their fears and vulnerabilities, she smiled as she realized things were looking up for the pair. They hadn't even had the slightest fight since the appointment with the therapist, and Joey was extremely pleased by their own progress. But she knew they still had a lot more to work through. 

Joey had a lot more progress to make if she was ever going to be honest with herself and Charlie about her feelings for her wife. Feelings that had slowly over the last few days been growing steadily until she realized as confused as she was...she couldn't keep ignoring them. It was getting easier every day to notice the subtle differences between her feelings for Charlie and Kaitlyn...with one set of feelings severely stronger. 

Afraid as she was, she needed to find the right way to get rid of all her fears, so she could decide once and for all where her heart lay - with the love of her life who had shattered her heart or the girl she'd grown up with and knew wouldn't hurt her. And she hoped her own therapy session at the end of the week would help settle her nerves whenever she was around Charlie. 

(Author's Note: Of course, Joey neglects to mention this section with Charlie sitting next to her during the therapy session as Joey still hasn't worked out whether she can tell her – it's not that easy people!) 

Joey grabbed her dressing gown, swinging it around herself, she then bounded into Riley's room but was slightly disappointed that he was obviously awake and downstairs. Joey's good mood didn't slow down as she bounded down the stairs. Spotting Riley sitting on the couch watching cartoons, she rushed up behind him, and kissed the top of his head, "Hey you're up early, baby boy!" 

Riley placed his empty cereal bowl, which he was holding in his lap, onto the coffee table. Turning around he stood up on the couch and pulled Joey into a hug, "Morning Mama J!" "Good morning to you too," Joey grinned, then pulling back she eyed him, "Well look at you, it's barely seven-thirty in the morning and you're already up, dressed, had breakfast, and judging by your damp hair...you've already had a bath. What brought all this on?" 

"Just thought I could help out a little more in the mornings," came Charlie's reply from behind them, "Do you want some coffee, Jo?" Joey spun around to accept Charlie's offer, but the smile on her face fell slightly as she looked at Charlie, "Um...no thanks...I'm fine." Riley sat back down on the couch, as Charlie walked back into the kitchen. 

After a minute of hesitating, Joey followed her. Leaning against the entryway into the kitchen, Joey watched on intently as Charlie made her own lunch. Joey bit her tongue, "So...you're in your uniform?" 

Charlie glanced down at her outfit, then turning to look up at Joey, she tried to smile, "High points for stating the obvious, Jo." "You're going back to work," Joey noted sadly. Charlie turned back to the sandwich she was making, "Yeah...I thought it was time. Riley's arm is nearly healed. He'll be getting the cast off in a week or so, and I thought I could use my time to...do some good for the world...or ah the Bay I guess...at work. So, I called my boss yesterday afternoon and told him I wanted to return back to work. This okay with you?" 

"Umm..." Joey paused, "I just thought this should be something we should've discussed is all. You said you told your boss yesterday afternoon...when did you decide...and why didn't you tell me?" 

"Guess it wasn't the kind of surprise I thought you would've liked," Charlie realized, "You're right I should have said something last night. I've been thinking about it for the last week or so...especially when we were fighting. I just guess I needed to know for myself that it was the right move...for us. Maybe I was wrong." Joey shook her head, "You can't just try and make decisions for us...without including me Charlie! I told you that the other day. A heads up would've been nice instead of just surprising me like this.” 

"I'm sorry," Charlie apologized, "I didn't think it was such a big deal." "No, of course, you didn't," Joey huffed, "Here I thought we were really working together to sort through our communication issues...then you go and do this...abandon us for your bloody work again!" 

"What?" Charlie looked at her shocked, "No, Jo, it's not like that this time I promise. I even managed to get a shift that'll--" "Oh forget it, Charlie," Joey interrupted angrily, "Argue it all you want, you'll be back at work pulling fourteen plus hour shifts within a day or two. You love that place more than us. I really thought you'd changed...guess I was wrong." "Jo, it's not even like that," Charlie tried to explain. 

"I don't want to hear it, Charlz," Joey shouted, "You'll never change. Your work always comes first and it always will. You didn't tell me you were returning to work because you knew that I would react like this. You knew that things will just end up...going back to the way they were. You slaving away at work and me trying to keep things from falling apart. Not again, Charlie, I made it clear that I am not...going through that again." 

"Joey?" Charlie begged softly. Joey placed her hands on her hips, "Don't even get me started on the fact that you knew...I had plans today. You said you were okay with looking after Riley today and now you pull this stunt to keep me from hanging out with Kaitlyn today. Forget it, Charlie, it ain't gonna work. Since you're about to become the selfish workaholic you've been for the last year, then you can forgive me for being selfish for once. I think I'm entitled to one day of selfishness. Find someone else to watch Riley today. I'm not in the mood. I'll be back to single-parent status tomorrow, if that suits you?" 

"Joey, it's not even like...that..." Charlie threw up her hands in defeat as she watched Joey turn around and walk out of the apartment, not even stopping to say goodbye to Riley. Charlie bit her lip, not believing that after a few good days...one small thing could send Joey spiraling away from her. How could this be such a big deal? We're supposed to be learning to talk to each other...why couldn't she just listen to me for once? 

Sighing loudly, Charlie grabbed her purse off the kitchen table, and made her way into the living room. Riley looked up at her, "Does Mama J hate you?" Charlie shook her head, "No, sweetie, she doesn't hate me. She's just...she didn't give me a chance to explain something. Don't worry, baby boy, she'll understand later tonight. Not like I've given her too many reasons to trust me that things are different this time. So, you all ready to go?" 

Riley nodded his head excitedly, jumped off the couch, flicking the TV off. Charlie moved towards him, then kneeled down in front of him, "You sure you're okay with this arrangement?" Riley lent forwards pulling her into a hug, "It's awesome! I can't wait! I get to spend the whole day with you at work!" 

Charlie kissed his forehead then ruffled his hair, "Well it's not actually the whole day buddy. I'm just going into the office to help clear up some paperwork for three or four hours. That's all. No patrolling, no danger...just boring paperwork. You sure you okay with this?" "I love going to your work! All the awesome stories the cops tell me...it's gonna be so much fun," Riley grinned. 

Charlie chewed the side of her mouth, "Think I'm gonna have to have a chat with my colleagues about these stories they're telling you. But like I told you this morning, Mama J's busy...and it's time I went back to work...but I am not gonna lose sight of what's important you hear me? Now promise me you won't do anything unless I tell you to. We're just gonna hang out in my office while I get some work done and you are gonna sit there quietly and...oh don't forget your hand-held computer game...I think you'll be needing that today." 

Riley grabbed his computer game off the coffee table, "Is Mama J gonna be upset with you for taking me to your work?" Charlie lent up stroking his face gently, "Course not. My work might not be the safest place in the world but I'd never let anything happen to you. Besides being locked in my office all morning doing paperwork is hardly dangerous." "Are you locking the door to keep Angelo out?" Riley grinned. 

"Heck yeah I am," Charlie chuckled, "Angelo is a continual pain in my work life. But I'm not gonna get upset about it. Oh, and Mama J will understand why I decided to take you to work today. Don't worry so much, things are slowly getting better between us and I just need to prove to her that...there's more important things in my life besides work...and helping to raise you is definitely at the top of that list." 

"You're the best Mama C!" Riley crooned. "You know Mama J told me something a few weeks ago," Charlie replied happily, "She told me that one day you want to be a cop like me. That true Ry?" Riley nodded his head enthusiastically, "I'm gonna grow up and catch the bad guys just like you." 

"I think that's great, Riley, though I gotta be honest, you know the parent in me wants to give you another dream 'cause this job can get pretty dangerous and that's the last thing I want for you...but then the parent in me also wants you to be happy 'cause whatever you decide...whatever choices you make in your life...I'm gonna be there to support you no matter what," Charlie revealed, "So will Mama J." Riley pulled her into another hug, "I love you, Mama C!" 

Charlie wiped away the small tear that fell from her eye, before pulling away, "I love you too so much. Now are you ready to go?" Riley nodded, "Yes, Mama C." Charlie smirked, "Are you sure, baby boy, ‘cause I think you're missing something." "I don't think so," Riley frowned. 

"Why don't you go up to your room quickly to check? Maybe you need to check your closet," Charlie suggested playfully. Riley eyed her suspiciously for a second before tearing away up the stairs. Standing up Charlie watched him take off, then giving him a minute she followed him upstairs. 

Standing against the entryway to his room, Charlie grinned contently, as she stared at her son standing in front of the mirror, as he held up the shirt and hat, she'd gotten him. Riley looked up at her, "This is the best present ever! My very own cop uniform! You even got my name...stit...stitched on the shirt. This is just awesome!" 

Charlie walked over to him, once again kneeling beside him, "Well I can't have you turning up at my work dressed all unprofessional. My colleagues will think I've become quite the slacker in my time away. C'mon let's change you into this new shirt. You're gonna be the coolest kid in town." Riley wrapped his arm around Charlie's neck, in another brief hug, "I can't wait to show all my friends. You're the best mum ever!" 

Present Day 

Anna continued writing notes as the girls told her about Charlie's decision to return to work, and Joey's over-reaction, "Well now...I guess the communication you built up with one another...didn't work too well in that instance. So, what happened next? Joey, how did you react when you found out Charlie was only back to work part-time and that she'd already organised to take care of Riley herself? And then how did all this lead, into you two deciding to move back to your family home?" 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Thirty-Nine 

Joey fiddled with her nails uncomfortably, "I felt like a bit of a fool when I realized that I'd over reacted about Charlie going back to work. I should have stuck around and heard her out, not yelled at her and stormed out of the house. We'd being working hard to fix our communication with each other and in about two minutes I'd almost destroyed that. I know it's no excuse but I was just afraid that I was right...that if I let Charlie back into my heart and we...that all our problems will re-surface all over again. I was just afraid of getting hurt and going through all that pain again. I shouldn't have instantly thought that, Charlie's right, she's changed and I just gotta stop thinking that she'll give up and change back." 

"Exactly right, it's the only way you two will ever move forward," Anna pointed out, "So, what happened next when you did find out that Charlie had been responsible enough when she decided to return to work?" 

Joey glanced nervously at Charlie, "I got a phone call from Riley that afternoon at about 5 pm and he asked me to come back home to Aden's for dinner. I was...um hanging out with Kaitlyn...you know just...watching DVD's and doing stupid friend stuff when he called. I was a little bit suspicious that I got asked to come home for dinner early...and I'm embarrassed to admit that I thought Charlie had just left Riley with Aden or Nicole for the day and Ry wanted at least one of his parents there that night as Charlie was probably stuck at work that night." 

Charlie pursed her lips, "It's okay...I didn't exactly give you much chance to think anything else. And you were right, my going back to work should've been a family decision. I shouldn't have just gone off on my own without thinking of the consequences, you're still a part of my life and I've gotta stop shutting you out." 

Joey nodded, smiling she reached out and took Charlie's hand again, entangling their fingers, then blushing gently as she noticed the look on Anna's face at her action, "So...um anyway I went back to Aden's and was pretty surprised when I walked in the door. Charlie wasn't just home early from work at a time I never thought she knew existed outside of work, she was in the kitchen with Riley and they were making us dinner." 

Charlie squeezed Joey's hand, "Well Riley was the one trying to get all the ingredients together and he wanted to attempt to cook the meal himself. Of course, I stood there joking with him for being too small to even be able to reach the counter let alone the stove. He was just trying to help, so while I started cooking, I sat him up on the counter...made him promise not to fall off...and he sat there watching me make dinner. We were just there together laughing and having fun...I think at one point we nearly started a food fight with each other. 

Riley was in such a good mood after hanging out with me at my work for the morning, and I was happy that he had no complaints about being stuck there in the office with me while I did work and he played computer games and did some colouring in books. I felt like I'd made the right choice about going back to work. I was really nervous when Joey got home after our little...tiff that morning and I just wanted to show her that things have changed now and I wasn't just gonna abandon them again." 

"And she did show me," Joey smiled, "I walked into the apartment and the two of them were laughing and fooling around...I kinda felt left out of this family moment...kinda started to see what I'd lost. When I walked into the kitchen, Riley looked so happy to see me, so I went over and hugged him, apologizing for walking out on him that morning and that it would never happen again. Turns out Riley had barely even remembered that I'd done that, as he started rambling about what a great day he had hanging out with Charlie at her work. 

I was a little nervous when he told me that, and Charlie was standing right next to us cooking dinner, and she explained that there wasn't any danger in having him sit in her office playing games while she caught up on some paperwork. She even admitted having him there helped her concentrate more so she could get her work done and get back home with him sooner. 

I told Charlie I was happy with that arrangement if we couldn't find a sitter for him and we both had to work. I was really impressed with Charlie's efforts to organize this while still managing to return to work part-time. I was also thankful that her return to work was currently only for paperwork, desk duty type work. I know Charlie hates that side of her job, but I've always feared that one day something could happen to her...she'd be hurt...and she wouldn't come home. 

Really made me think how selfish I was when I walked out on our marriage and she dove herself into her work unnecessarily and dangerously...I don't know what I would've done if something had happened to her and I...we never got the chance to settle our differences like we've done this past week. 

So, anyway, I apologized to Charlie for the way I reacted that morning and she didn't make a big deal out of it at all. We made a small mistake with our break down of communication again but we didn't let that cause another argument. I asked Charlie if she needed some help with dinner, and she suggested I just hang out with Riley, as she wanted to make us dinner herself. Riley didn't want to stop watching her cook and for her to stop laughing with him and well...being his mum, so I sat up on the counter too and the three of us just started talking about nothing in particular. 

I suddenly noticed that Charlie was cooking far too much food for just the three of us and Ry and I started teasing her that she was an awful cook. But then she informed us she'd invited Aden and Nicole home early and had asked them to join us for dinner. Riley loved that idea, spending time with his whole family. I had this feeling that Charlie was trying to hide something from me as she refused to look at me when I asked if she had any more surprises for us." 

"So, does that mean you did have another surprise or something you were keeping from your family Charlie?" Anna asked softly. 

Charlie bit her lip, "Yeah I did. But first we all had dinner and it went really well. I'd never really spent a great deal of time with Nicole even though she's my daughter's best friend and...Joey's best friend's partner...and my ex's daughter...long story never mind...so anyway, we really started getting along that night. I thought for sure she'd always hated me for abandoning Riley, her father had pretty much done the same when he first found out about her. She seemed really happy that things were changing for Joey and I and that we were including our son in all our decisions. 

Nicole works with Ruby at a fashion store in Yabbie Creek, and she told me they're considering either buying the store from the owner if he'll sell or even opening up their own fashion shop. I was quite impressed by the news, and felt a little weird that Ruby had kept it a secret. 

So yeah dinner with the five of us went really well. I could see Riley was really happy to have everyone getting along so it was good. After dinner Riley went up to his room, while Aden and Nic went out to Noah's bar for a drink, leaving Joey and I to do the dishes together. That gave us a chance to talk a bit more about my desire to go back to work but still play a major role in raising Riley alongside Joey. And then..." 

Four Days Ago  

"So, are you really okay with this? Me going back to work part time for a couple shifts a week?" Charlie asked quietly, "I know with a bit of time we can make this work. We don't need to give up on our career goals completely, we can both manage our jobs and raising Riley together. I know we can do this." 

Charlie passed a dish she'd been washing to Joey to dry, and Joey looked up at her briefly as she took the plate, "Charlie, I'm proud that you really have changed. I over reacted when you announced you were returning to work...I was afraid that...you'd leave us again. That we'd be right back where we started. But you're right, we don't have to give up everything we've worked so hard for. As long as we do this right, create a proper balance between work and spending time with Riley we'll be stronger." 

Charlie smiled, "This will work, I won't have it any other way. I'm gonna make this work...and if I can't...then I'll find another job." "You know you're kinda turning into the responsible parent. I'm beginning to like this side of you," Joey confessed. "Well thanks...I think," Charlie grinned, "But there's...ah something else I wanted to tell you." Joey frowned, as she took another plate from Charlie's hands, "Well that sounds vaguely ominous." 

Charlie smiled again, but the sadness evident in her voice, "I've been thinking about this all day long as I hung out with Ry at the station and I think it's the right decision for us. This dinner tonight for all of you...it wasn't just my way of saying that I can work a normal shift and come home early so I can cook dinner for my family and be there for them...it...ah...Joey, it was my way of saying thank you to all of you for letting me stay so I could fix my relationship with Riley...but I have a home...and it's time I moved back there." 

"You're leaving?" Joey whispered, absolutely crushed by the news. Charlie nodded, "I don't want to..." "Then don't," Joey suddenly begged. Charlie raised her head, staring into Joey's eyes, "It's time, Joey. I came here to spend time with Riley and become that responsible parent you've always wanted me to be...and I've done that." Joey shook her head miserably, "You're doing it again, making another major decision without me." 

Charlie sat the plate she was washing back in the sink, then slowing linking her wet fingers with Joey's, "If I had of asked for us to make this decision...you wouldn't want me to leave...and I wouldn't want to hurt you so I'd stay. I needed to do this on my own. I am not abandoning you both again, I promise you that. I'll visit Riley as often as I can...which will probably be once or twice a day...and he can start coming back to our...my place to stay a couple nights a week...if that's okay with you." 

Joey bit her lip, as she still felt the electricity passing between them from the moment Charlie took her hand, "Of course, it is. You're right...I probably would've been too selfish if you'd asked for my opinion. And you're also right that this is the right decision. Guess I'm just...a little upset. I've kinda gotten used to having you around all the time...it's a good feeling. Although I can't exactly expect you to crash on Aden's couch forever...don't know how you've managed nearly four weeks on that thing...it's painful enough to sit on. But you've put up with that all so you can be here. So, when will you...?" 

Charlie squeezed Joey's fingers, "Probably tomorrow morning. Not like I have too much stuff to pack...it's all in my suitcase or strewn across the couch. I told Watson I'd be in the office tomorrow arvo to help out with some more paperwork, and I can take Riley again if you want. Watson kinda loved the idea of him coming to work with me sometimes, she gets on so well with Ry. She's more than happy for that to mean I'll be on desk duty only during those shifts if Riley's with me, and is willing to back that up if Angelo has any problems...not that his opinion counts as I'm his boss but still..." 

"Well, as long as Riley doesn't distract you from your work or gets bored sitting there reading or doing some colouring in books or playing computer games...scratch that he'd never get bored of them...who am I to stand in the way of you two spending more time together?" Joey decided. "Thanks, Jo," Charlie whispered, "I guess I'll have to wait and see if Riley wants to come with me tomorrow after I... But first things first, I've got one big problem I've got to solve before I can move back home tomorrow." "Yeah...I know," Joey said sadly. Charlie looked up at her, several tears in her eyes, "How do I tell my son I need to move back home without him in a way that won't break his heart? How can I possibly look him in the eyes and tell him I have to leave him?" 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty 

Present Day  

Anna smiled gently at the girl's continual action of holding hands, "So, once you both decided that Charlie would be moving back home, how did you decide to tell your son about your mutual decision? Did you both help each other?"  Joey nodded, "Yeah we decided we'd both tell him. We knew he wouldn't take the news well. When we told him about our separation, he reacted pretty much how most kids would, I guess. He retreated from both of us, was very silent and not as open and happy. After a couple weeks he started talking to Aden a lot more and Aden slowly managed to get him out of his funk. It's taken a long time to get him back to the kid we knew, and he has been so positive and happy since Charlie came to live with us. We'd tried explaining the fact that Charlie and I aren't together and that Charlie being with us...it's not like we're trialling a reunion, but I guess he'll always live in hope that we'll be a family again. It's hard knowing that you can't give your child the one thing he wants." 

Charlie nodded miserably, "Riley's been so happy since I moved in with him and Joey at Aden's. Every morning he's so thrilled to see me there, always running down the stairs to greet me with a huge hug. We've gotten so close these last few weeks...and though it obviously wasn't practical for me to stay there indefinitely...he wouldn't see it that way. He'd react the same way Joey did at first, thinking that the fairy tale was over and I'd go back to abandoning him again. It was difficult to see that look on his little face." 

Anna gazed at the pair, "So Riley's reaction to you moving out is what drove the pair of you back to live together at your own place?" Charlie bit her lip as she glanced at Joey. 

Four Days Ago  

"How do I tell my son I need to move back home without him in a way that won't break his heart? How can I possibly look him in the eyes and tell him I have to leave him?" Joey watched as Charlie turned away from her. Letting go of Joey's hand, Charlie lent against the counter, bought her hands up to her own face, wiping her tears away. Closing her eyes, Joey instinctively moved behind Charlie, wrapping her arms around her waist and placing her chin against Charlie's shoulder. 

"Riley will be okay, he might not be happy about it, but he will understand. We can't live like this forever...and this does not mean that you're abandoning him again. We're getting along better now and you're welcome here anytime. And if you're only going to be at work several days a week, he can stay with you more often during the week, maybe some extra weekends. Whatever it takes for him to get used to living apart from the both of us," Joey promised. Charlie nodded, still continuing to sob, "I still don't know how to tell him...maybe this was never a good idea...maybe I should never have moved in here...I didn't think how hard it'd be to leave him." 

"You have done so good with him since you've been here. I see the way he looks at you every moment you spend with him, he absolutely adores you...I'm starting to get a little jealous. You wouldn't have been able to do that if you weren't here so don't you dare regret moving in here," Joey declared. "Okay...you're right," Charlie agreed, "So, how do I go upstairs and tell him?" 

A smile crept gently across Joey's lips, "You don't...we will. We'll tell him together, okay? We'll both go up to his room and we'll tell him together." "Do you think it'll help?" Charlie whispered. "I'm not gonna let you do this on your own," Joey decided, "C'mon let's get you cleaned up a little so you don't look like you've been crying your little heart out...and then we'll go see him and break the news to him." 

A few minutes later Charlie and Joey were standing outside Riley's room. Taking a deep breath, and feeling Joey entangle their hands again, Charlie gently knocked on the bedroom door, poking her head in the room, "Hey, sweetie, you still up?" Riley was tucked under the covers of his bed, flipping through one of his Disney books looking at the pictures, looked up at her grinning happily, "Yes, Mama C." Charlie smiled cautiously, entering the room with Joey behind her, then closing the door behind them. Riley's grin grew wider as he noticed their entangled hands, then faltered slightly as they let go of each other. 

"We were...kinda hoping we could talk to you about something, baby boy," Charlie told him quietly. Riley closed his book and placed it on his bedside table, "Okay." Charlie hesitated for a moment before she quietly sat down on Riley's bed. Shifting herself comfortably she positioned herself next to him, with her legs stretched out in front of her, she wrapped her left arm around his shoulders, squeezing them. As Riley cuddled up to her, and stared up at her hopefully, Joey moved around the other side of the bed and lent gently against the bed, facing her family, not quite sitting down on the bed. 

Seeing the saddened expressions that had crept across both his parents faces, Riley asked worriedly, "Is something wrong?" Charlie looked down at him, hugging him tightly, "No, Ry there's nothing wrong. It's just...there's something I needed to talk to you about." Joey smiled reassuringly, reaching out and taking Riley's hand. "What's going on?" Riley whispered. 

Charlie kissed him on the forehead lovingly, "Baby, you know that Mama J and I have been getting some help so we can...be friends so we can both be good parents to you? See the thing is...with me now going back to work several times a week...sweetie, you need to know that this was my decision. Mama J tried to talk me out of it, but we both realized this is for the best...you might not think it but it's in your best interests...that I...it's time that I moved back home." 

"This is your home," Riley whimpered. Charlie shook her head sadly, "No, baby boy, this is Aden's and Mama J's home. Yours too. I'm just a guest here and although all of you have treated me like this is my home...and it's felt exactly like home...it's not and as much as I wish I could, I can't spend the rest of our lives sleeping on the couch downstairs. There's not enough room for me here, and it's time I moved back home." 

"But there is plenty of room here for you, Mama C, you can stay in here with me...you can use the air mattress or I can sleep on it, I can sleep on the couch or sleep in Mama J's room. You can have my room all to yourself, that's like home," Riley pleaded. "Sweetie, I wish it was that easy...but I can't let you do that for me," Charlie told him. Riley looked away from her, then returned his gaze with tears in his eyes, "You're leaving me?" 

Charlie held him closer to her, as she began to sob, her heart breaking at every small gesture he made, "That is not what this is about. I am not abandoning you. I will never do that to you again, I promise you that. This will not change things, I am still gonna be a huge part of your life. I'm still your mother and I'll never be anything less." Joey looked on at the pair, wishing she could find a way to stop their heartache. Riley wiped the tears from his eyes, "But you will abandon me...you're going back to work...I'll never get to see you..." 

Charlie reached over with her right hand, softly stroking his cheek, "That is not true. I don't care enough about my job for that to ever happen again. When I made the decision to return to work and called my boss to discuss it...I told him he had two choices...accept my resignation...or accept the fact that work is no longer my number one priority. You are my number one priority and that is never going to change...I just regret the fact it took me this long to figure it out. You mean so much more to me than just some job and I am never going to go back to that awful parent I was before. Just because I'll be at work does not mean we will never see each other. I'm gonna visit you every single day here, and when I can't...that'll only be because you'll be staying at our place. Mama J's already agreed that you can stay with me more often than you used to so don't think for a second that we'll never see each other." 

"Is that true? Can I stay with Mama C whenever I want to?" Riley asked Joey. Joey squeezed his hand, "Of course, you can. I'll never stand in your way if you want to spend time with your mum." Riley looked up at Charlie, tears slipping down his cheeks, "Can I come with you...to live?" 

"What?" Charlie and Joey both asked surprised, never expecting this reaction from him. "I don't want to live here anymore," Riley whimpered, "I want to move back home with Mama C...and I want you to come with me Mama J." Joey closed her eyes, trying to forget the desperate look on her son's face, "Baby...we can't do that..." 

"Why?" Riley begged crestfallen, "This isn't our home, Mama J...it never has been. It's Aden's and Nic's and we just live here. I wanna go home...I wanna have one bedroom and one bed I go to sleep in every night. I don't wanna keep getting split between you...I want you both living with me...I just wanna go home." Joey opened her eyes, sobbing uncontrollably. 

Charlie reached out her right hand, leaning over so she could entangle her own hand with both Riley's and Joey's, the three smiled sadly at the contact, "I know this doesn't make a lot of sense and it's not fair but...Joey's not ready to move back home...and that's my fault for all the pain I caused her. And I can't just let you move back with me. I can't take you away from your Mum. We can't make her go through that pain alone." 

"But what about you? If you move back home without us, you'll be all alone," Riley replied, starting to get extremely upset. Charlie squeezed all their hands together, "Ry, I'll be fine. And I won't be alone. We'll get to see each other all the time. This really is for the best for all of us, and that's all I've ever wanted for you." "No, it's not for the best," Riley cried, "The only thing for the best is if we all move back home. Why won't you do this for me?" 

Charlie held onto him tightly, "Baby, I wish we could do a lot of things for you...but it can't turn out that way. You need to stay here with Joey and make sure she's okay." "I won't do that," Riley shook his head, pleading frantically, "I won't help you break this family apart further than it already is. Just put our family back together...Mama J, please...put our family back together." 

Joey couldn't take it anymore, the guilt weighing on her, deafening her fears and doubts about getting her family back together. Unable to keep looking into his eyes, begging her to make things right, Joey released her hand from Charlie's and Riley's, then standing up she took a few steps back before taking her eyes off her family in front of her, and turning her back on them she walked around the bed, heading out of the room. 

As she pulled the door open, she stopped as Charlie called out to her, "Jo? Please can you--" "I can't, Charlie," Joey interrupted pleadingly, "I can't talk about this right now. Please just...make sure he's okay tonight...and if this is what he wants...let him move back in with you. You two have gotten so close lately…and I’m not about to be the person to tear you two apart." 

Trying to blink back her tears flowing down her cheeks, Joey forced herself to walk out of the room, closing the door behind her. Taking several steps down the hallway, Joey collapsed against the wall next to Riley's bedroom, trying not to fall apart. She'd known it'd be difficult for Riley to comprehend Charlie's decision to move back home, but she had no idea how difficult he would take the news. 

She had no idea that her son would sit there begging her to do the right thing by him, put aside all her fears and doubts about moving back home with her former lover so she could give her son the family home he wanted desperately. Joey sobbed uncontrollably next to Riley's bedroom door, begging herself to be able to make the right choice for her son. Her sobbing quietened down to barely a soft whimper as she suddenly overheard Riley's voice through the door. 

"Please, Mama C...make her fix this," Riley begged. Charlie curled Riley around her, pulling him into a hug, "I can't...this isn't her fault okay? Joey wants to do everything for you...but she can't do this. I could never ask her to. I hurt her so badly and I'd do anything to take that back right now." "Why can't she do this for me?" Riley sobbed. Charlie cradled him gently, "Just give her time, baby...this isn't easy on any of us. This is where Joey feels at home now so we need to be okay with that." "I'm not okay..." Riley cried, "I just want us to be a family again. Will we ever be a family again?" 

Charlie stared down at him, wretchedly whispering, "I don't know." "Why can't you just get back together? You love each other...I know you do," Riley insisted. "Sometimes love isn't enough...sometimes other things get in the way," Charlie tried to explain. "Because you both let these things get in the way...you never even tried to put things back together," Riley claimed as he clung onto Charlie. 

Charlie kissed him on the forehead, "We did try...I did everything I could to fight for her...to fight for you...but I hurt Joey far worse than I thought possible. I'd do anything to change that for you. I messed up everything I touched...and I don't deserve to be forgiven for that. I abandoned you both for over a year...for my pathetic excuse of a job. I'll probably never get Joey back because of it...and that's my punishment." 

"Then why does it have to be my punishment?" Riley whispered. Tears streaming down her face, Charlie held him close, "Neither of us are doing this to punish you, baby boy. You're what's keeping us from falling apart completely. Joey and I are getting along well as friends now and that's all because of you. We have to be able to get along so we can both raise you the way you're supposed to." Riley looked up at her, his heart still breaking, "The way you're supposed to...is to be together." 

"I know, baby," Charlie replied softly, "But right now is not our time. This past month has meant more to me than you'll ever know. I really thought I'd lost you for good and you'd never give me a second chance. Then you did...you gave us a second chance Ry and I'm never gonna screw that up again, I promise. But it's time for me to move back home, so I can prove to myself and you that I'm capable of being your parent. Joey doesn't need to move in with us there...until she's ready. I can't make any promises because I don't know how this will all play out...but maybe if we give Joey some time...she'll come back home with us." 

"I don't want to give her time," Riley whimpered, "I want our family back together. I want our family back together. I want our family back together." Charlie pulled him back into a comforting hug, as he continued to repeat those words. Charlie closed her eyes, hating herself for deciding to leave her son, and trying to reassure herself that she was making the right decision for her family. 

‘If I hadn't decided to leave...Riley wouldn't be here begging Joey to move back with me. As much as a part of me just wants to tell Joey to suck it up and do the right thing by Riley...if I push her too hard now...she'll never come home. I just need to give her some time and...maybe then she'll be ready to give our son what he wants.’ 

Several minutes later, Joey was still leaning against the hallway wall, sobbing quietly as she listened to Charlie, who had tried not to fall apart while telling their son that Joey wasn't ready to move home with them. Joey cried harder when she overheard Riley beg Charlie to convince her to move back home with them. ‘Is time all I need? Can I really put my son through this pain while I try and work out my feelings? How can I stand by and listen to him cry like that and not do anything to stop it?’ 

As Joey was consumed with her thoughts of guilt and terror, Charlie suddenly exited the room. Closing the door behind her, Charlie nearly collided with Joey standing next to the doorway facing away from her. Joey heard the door close, sensing Charlie behind her, she then reached up wiping the tears from her eyes, trying to hide the fact she'd been standing there listening to their conversation. 

"Hey, sorry I almost didn't see you there," Charlie apologized, "You okay?" "Yeah, I'm..." Joey struggled to say, "I'm...how's Riley?" Charlie sighed, as she stood behind Joey, not needing to see Joey's face to know the younger woman had been crying uncontrollably, "He's...he's going through a hard time. Give him a couple days and he'll be...back to normal. I was just...ah...heading downstairs to get him a glass of water. I'm gonna...stay up here with him tonight, okay?" 

Joey nodded, still unable to turn around and look at Charlie, "He's not gonna be okay with this is he? He's gonna hate me for...letting you go...home...and not being strong to move back there with you...and him." 

Charlie reached out her hand, placing it gently on Joey's shoulder to show her support, "We both knew he would take my moving home hard. I guess neither of us thought he would...be that desperate to keep us living together. He'll be okay...he's just scared he's gonna lose us. We're gonna be okay...all of us we're get through this together...it doesn't matter where we live...we'll cope with this...and we're gonna be stronger for it." 

Joey bit her lip, whispering, "Okay." Charlie smiled slightly, "There...see we just need to show Riley that we'll be--" Joey turned around facing Charlie, letting her see the tears still streaming down her face, "No, I meant...okay...okay I'll...I'll move back home with you." 

"Are you sure?" Charlie asked quietly. Joey nodded her head, once again wiping the tears from her eyes, "Yes, I'm sure...Ry's right...I need to put aside my own feelings and fears...and do this for him. For all of us." "Jo, you don't have to do this if you're not ready," Charlie told her, hoping Joey wouldn't listen to her. Joey smiled softly, "I don't know if I'm ready...but I have to be. I have to do this for him." 

Charlie lent forward, wrapping her arms around Joey in a friendly hug, "Thank you. This will mean everything to him...it means everything to me." Joey sunk her head against Charlie's neck, briefly basking in the feel of Charlie's body close to hers, "C'mon...let's go tell him we're all moving back home...oh ah...is it okay if...I maybe take Ruby's old room?" Charlie glided her hands gently against Joey's back, "I think I'd be okay with that." 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-One 

Charlie and Joey continued sitting together in Anna's office. Anna smiled at them both as they recounted how they had come to their decision to move back in together, "How did Riley react to your decision and how has he coped knowing you're currently only living together as friends?" "Riley was pretty ecstatic when we told him we'd all be moving back together," Charlie beamed, then wavering, "Then of course his immediate question was if we were back together...and we were moving back home to be a proper family again." 

Joey frowned, "That was pretty hard...explaining to him that I'd be living in Ruby's old room and Charlie and I weren't together like a married couple...really made us see that he's not prepared to know we're considering getting divorced." 

Charlie squeezed Joey's hand again, "It took a couple days for him to understand that so we waited until he was ready before moving back home yesterday. I considered leaving the morning after we told him and let Joey get herself and Riley sorted for the move, but Joey asked me to stay with them and help them go through their stuff they would need and the stuff that we could collect later on when needed. So, we sorted through that and spent all of yesterday moving everything back home." 

Joey sighed, "It was quite an effort to move it all in one day. Guess I didn't realize just how much stuff I took with me when I moved out. Then when we got that all arranged, we let Riley go play games in his room while we cleaned the house a bit. Since Charlie moved into Aden's, our house has barely been lived in for the last month. We went by every so often to water the plants, that kinda stuff but that was it. So, it was all dusty and a bit of a mess...maybe a few disgusting looking things that used to qualify as food in the fridge and we spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning. Gotta say I haven't seen Charlie handle a vacuum cleaner or a mop since...well never really." 

Charlie rolled her tongue over her teeth, "So, I was never one for being a housewife, sooorrrry. Always too much work and not enough time. You always said you didn't mind doing it. I didn't do too badly, yesterday did I?" Joey scratched her forehead, then grinning playfully, "And how long did it take you to work out how to turn the vacuum cleaner on?" Charlie rolled her eyes, embarrassed, "Just...five minutes or so." 

"Heavy on the 'or so'," Joey teased. "Those things are difficult to get working. They should come with an instruction manual that you won't lose," Charlie claimed. "Well it's just lucky for you the mop wasn't electronic...although you did pause when you looked at it...trying to work out which end to use were you, Charlz?" Joey laughed hysterically. "So not funny," Charlie sulked. 

Anna joined in Joey's chuckle, "Well it sounds to me like things have really improved for the two of you. You've moved from the fighting banter of last week to the friendly" flirty "banter you seem to enjoy this week. So, things weren't awkward between the pair of you last night or this morning?" 

Charlie looked away smiling, "Yeah it was really good. It wasn't awkward at all. After we kinda cleaned the house, we just hung out together last night. The two of us and Riley. We just did stupid family stuff. Ordered some pizza, sat in front of the TV watching some DVD's, playing board games, talking and laughing. We used to do all that kinda stuff all the time. But I guess that all the time I started spending at work instead destroyed all that. It's nice to know we could get that back. It feels good. It feels like...we're on our way back to been really good friends again. Never thought that would be possible." 

"And would you agree with Charlie's comment, Joey, that the two of you are friends?" Anna questioned. Joey looked at Charlie nervously, "Well...ah...yeah. We're just...good friends...like Charlie said. I guess I thought it would be a tough adjustment but it's been easy for us. I think we both know that we have to get along with each other if we're going to both raise Riley together. So, it's good that we still have that bond...as friends." 

Charlie grinned slightly, "I really never saw Joey and I as, been just friends. But it works for us. It's all we need from each other to keep our family from been torn apart completely. We're friends, and we're both okay that that's all we mean to each other now." 

Anna nodded, staring at Joey seriously, "Now, Charlie, mentioned the fact that you're still dating Kaitlyn..." "Yeah I guess," Joey said half-heartedly, "I mean yes I am. She's a good person and I know she'd never hurt me." "How did she react when you told her when you were moving back home with your...unofficial ex-wife?" Anna asked. 

"How did she...react?" Joey repeated blankly, "Well...I mean she was a little thrown at first. Who wouldn't be? When Charlie moved into Aden's, Kaitlyn had some reservations about it but knew that she couldn't get jealous as Charlie was only doing it so she could fix her relationship with Riley. Kaitlyn took it...reasonably well when I told her I was moving back home. She knew it was because of Riley, and of course, I explained the whole sleeping in separate rooms 'cause Charlie and I are...friends. But she was still put off by it I guess ‘cause she thinks it means she won’t be able to visit me there without…Charlie getting in our way.” 

“That’s not true,” Charlie whispered sadly, “I told you…that I’ll support any decision you make. It’s your house too so…she’s more than welcome to be there. Just take things slowly with Riley. Maybe don’t invite her over when he’s there alone with you. I don’t want you to feel like you need to keep her away from him, but I also don’t want him to feel like…Kaitlyn’s been forced into his life like a…another parent. We just need to take this slowly with him so he gets used to the situation properly. If we force this huge change on him…he’s gonna withdraw from us completely…and we’ll lose him.” 

“I’m not gonna let that happen,” Joey promised, “I know when Kaitlyn and I started seeing each other Riley caught us…making out and he refused to believe I was moving on. I won’t force anything on him. We’re a family and we’ll get through this like one. If that means taking things slow with Kaitlyn…I’m okay with that.” “I’m glad you’re starting to put things into perspective…see you are changing,” Charlie whispered proudly. 

“I’d have to agree that you’re both changing,” Anna told them, “So, where will you two be taking things from here? Do you think living together in your family home could cause your relationship problems?” 

“I think we’ve already had enough problems to last us a lifetime,” Joey commented, “But you might be right. Maybe it’ll complicate things further. Right now, I think its simplified things for us.” “I agree,” Charlie decided, taking Joey’s hand in her own again, intertwining their fingers, “Most people would probably think that this is awkward for us to be living together like a family but I think it works for us. Okay I know we’ve only been living back there together now for a day but I can see us being comfortable knowing that we’re still…in some small way…sharing our lives together. Even though we’re not together.” 

“And if things do get awkward between you two…? For example…when Joey wants to spend time alone with Kaitlyn? Or when the time comes that you might meet someone yourself, Charlie…how do you think you’ll both handle that type of situation?” Anna asked seriously. 

Charlie glanced at Joey nervously, “Well I don’t think we’ll have to resort to…the scrunchie solution. You know placing a scrunchie or something on the doorknob to warn the other we have…company. Look we’re not teenagers. We both understand that we’re adults and we have our own rooms. We have a right to make our own decisions without getting into each other’s business. Just because we’re housemates now doesn’t mean we have to ask permission to have people over. If or when we come to that bridge…we’ve already decided that we’re gonna be honest with each other and talk things through if we need to. While we will respect each other’s decisions, we’re not going to ignore any issues that may arise. We ignored the problems in our marriage and look where we ended up.” 

“Well it seems to me that you two communicating properly with one another is the best way to solve a few of your problems. It takes a lot for people to admit they have problems, and being ready to make changes in your lives to try and fix them is commendable. As long as you’re prepared to begin talking to each other, and trust each other as friends, then I think you could be on your way to deciding how your future relationship with each other could turn out,” Anna advised pleasantly. 

Charlie nodded, “I think you’re right. Joey and I just need to take some time out together and learn to talk to each other. I think we’ve made a start being comfortable as friends and we’ll see what happens down the track.” 

“Well that sounds like a good plan to me. We could probably discuss this further but I believe your hour is up. Now are you two keen for more riveting sessions together or do you think you’ve sorted out the bulk of your issues together and want to try and see how things go without the therapy?” Anna asked them both. 

Charlie glanced at Joey, “I think the therapy has definitely helped us sort through some of our issues. Maybe we should just see how things go between us for the next few weeks living together and if we aren’t finding things as easy as we thought we’ll come back for more sessions.” Joey nodded her head, “We’re still yet to decide if we should go through with the divorce so it might be a good idea for us to come back when we’ve made that decision together…in a couple weeks maybe.” 

“Very well. I hope things go well with your new living arrangements. I’ll see you in a few weeks then, Charlie,” Anna replied. 

Charlie stood up and politely shook Anna’s hand, then as she turned around, she noticed Joey hadn’t stood up, “Um…you coming, Jo?” Joey glanced at her uneasily, “Actually I…um I kinda rang up the other day and asked if I could stay back a bit with Anna to…discuss some things on my own.” “Oh,” Charlie replied surprised, “Okay, yeah, that’s good…if you…need some extra help. Do you want me to wait for you? I can drive us both back home when you’ve finished your session.” 

Joey bit her lip, “Well I don’t know how long this will take…could take years to fix my head… Anyway, it’s fine if you head home, I’ll just catch the bus back. Besides I was wanting to go to the shops near the station afterwards so it’s not out of the way for me. I thought since we still need to clear out the fridge this evening I should go shopping and stock it up…maybe…cook us dinner tonight…as a family.” 

“Sure…sounds nice, Jo,” Charlie agreed, then offered, “But if you want, I can always do the shopping then come back to pick you up.” Joey raised her eyebrow, “Charlie…when was the last time you went grocery shopping? I mean proper shopping, not just skim the pre-made TV dinners isle and your done kinda shopping?” “A couple of…years ago…I think,” Charlie hesitated to reveal. “My point exactly. So, since you probably wouldn’t know what we need…and I’m sure your head would explode if you realized how expensive groceries are nowadays…how ‘bout you let me take care of that for us?” Joey decided. 

Charlie pursed her lips, “My head wouldn’t…wait so that’s where most of the money from our joint account keeps going to every week? Food for you and Riley?” Joey nodded, “Yeah…what did you think that money was getting spent on? Luxuries? New clothes? Expensive make-up or kid’s toys? We don’t all live on take out and TV dinners. No, Charlie…that money only goes to our food bill…and maybe once on a water or electricity bill…should’ve told you ‘bout that one.” 

“Boy…food sure is expensive these days…never mind doesn’t matter,” Charlie shook her head, “Anyway…you sure you’ll be okay?” “I’ll manage, Charlz…it’s just food and a bus ride home…you just go to Ruby’s and pick up Riley. Hang out with him and Ruby for a little while, you know he’ll love that,” Joey suggested. “Okay…I’ll see you later at home,” Charlie agreed, as she exited the room. 

Joey turned back to Anna once Charlie had left, “Sorry ‘bout that…boring family talk.” Anna lent forwards, “It was actually good to see the pair of you relate to one another like that. You’re still a family…and I think it’s telling that you want to cook for them and take care of them.” 

“Maybe,” Joey whispered. Anna felt as if she’d struck a nerve and Joey was shutting down on her again, “So, what would you like to talk to me about? Do you feel you’re up to discussing your relationships with both Kaitlyn and Charlie?” 

Joey suddenly let out a grunt of frustration, as she shifted her position on the couch until she was lying down on it, the way she’d seen people do in the movies when they were seeing therapists, “I want you to fix me. I want to stop being an idiot and making stupid mistakes that only hurt the people in my life!” 

“And what stupid mistake do you believe you’ve made this time?” Anna asked calmly. Joey glanced over at Anna, sighing heavily, “In the past hour here…I’ve lied to you and Charlie…twice.” 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-Two 

The clock ticked loudly as Anna waited for Joey to continue, but after a few minutes of silence she broke it peacefully, “Okay, so you’re admitting that you’ve lied to us. I’ve told you this before that the only way I can help you is if you’re honest with me about everything. But I’m not really concerned about that. I’m more concerned about the fact that you’ve lied to Charlie when you two are finally starting to connect again…on a friendship level.  Do you want to tell me what you lied about?” 

Joey shrugged, “Not really. Kinda comfortable ignoring them actually.” “Joey,” Anna scolded playfully, “C’mon you wouldn’t have bought this up if you didn’t realize that it was a mistake and that you want to fix things for yourself. So, what haven’t you been honest about?” Joey bit the inside of her cheek, “Kaitlyn doesn’t know I moved back home with Charlie.” “I see,” Anna whispered, “And you haven’t told her because…?” 

“I’ve been too busy with the moving in…to tell her,” Joey replied flippantly, before screwing up her face, “Fine…‘cause I know how she’d react. I’ve been too afraid to admit to her that I’ve moved back home with my wife.” “How do you think she will react?” Anna asked. 

“Would you take the news well if your current girlfriend told you she was moving back in with her wife? Kaitlyn’s an understanding person and she got why Charlie moved into Aden’s to be closer to Riley after…he had an accident that he could’ve died from. I know why I moved back home with her…so I wouldn’t disappoint my son to the point that he hated me…but that’s hardly something that Kaitlyn can be completely understanding about, right?” Joey explained tensely. 

Anna nodded, “So, you didn’t let Kaitlyn’s possible opinion stop you from making this decision for your family? When do you plan on telling her about your move?” “I don’t know how,” Joey whispered quietly. Anna stared across at Joey, “You can’t lie to her forever. She will find out at some point soon. How do you think she’ll feel if she finds out from someone else?” 

Joey ran her hand through her hair, “Like I don’t care about her and I’m using her.” “Are you?” Anna questioned without hesitation. Joey glared at her. “It’s a valid question,” Anna pointed out. 

Joey sighed deeply, “I’m not using her. A part of me really wants to move on and find someone who won’t hurt me like Charlie has. Kaitlyn’s been through her own troubled relationship and I know that she would never hurt me. She’s a good person…probably too good considering the pain I’ve put Charlie through and could possibly put Kaitlyn through if I don’t get help. Yes, a part of me is always gonna love Charlie but I can’t handle been hurt again by her. You recall how I told you I reacted after I found out that Charlie had decided to return to work. 

I snapped and ran off from her ‘cause I thought after all our hard work she’d gone back to been typical Charlie again. Charlie’s work is the stem from where all our problems began last time. She practically abandoned me and Riley for her job for nearly a year. She couldn’t stand to be around me that much. Her diving herself away from me was her way of ignoring our problems and…I could see it happening all over again. I could literally picture her slaving away at work and me just not giving a damn about her anymore. 

I don’t want that to happen again…I don’t want to stop caring about Charlie that much…and if that means…look I just refuse to go back there to that place of thinking Charlie will abandon me at any point. The last week has been really good for us to get our friendship back on track. I feel like it’s a new start for us…I don’t know where it’ll lead to…but I’m happy where Charlie and I are right now. Yes, Kaitlyn does complicate that but I’m not using her. I care about her. I’m just tired of letting my emotions about Charlie get the best of me.” 

“What do you mean exactly by that last statement?” Anna queried. “Nothing,” Joey lied. Anna raised her eyebrows, “Nothing…? Is this perhaps in some relation to the second lie you told?” Joey groaned at her inability to lie, “Maybe…but this…second one…it wasn’t so much a lie as it was…just not telling the entire truth.” Anna nodded, “Very well. So, would you like to tell me the entire truth?” 

Joey took a deep sigh, an anxious expression written over her face, “I nearly let my emotions about Charlie get the best of me. When I found out Charlie had returned to work without discussing it with me…I thought I was losing her…back to the previous person she was. I felt betrayed that she could do that. I was so angry at the thought of her abandoning us again…I let my emotions get the best of me…and as I told you I stormed out of the house and left my family without letting Charlie explain. But what I didn’t tell you…either of you…was that I stormed out and went to see Kaitlyn.” 

Anna looked down at her notes, “I do recall you saying that you spent the day hanging out with her until your son called and asked you to come home for the family meal.” Joey nodded, then bit her lip, “But I left out the part where I nearly slept with Kaitlyn.” 

 “You slept with Kaitlyn?” Anna repeated non-judgementally. “No, I…nearly slept with her,” Joey corrected. “And was there a specific reason you didn’t go through with it?” Anna asked curiously. Joey fiddled with her fingernails, “Apart from the fact that I knew it would’ve been a mistake…we got interrupted.” 

“So, if you hadn’t of been interrupted would you have gone through with it? You did say that you realized it would’ve been a mistake,” Anna pointed out. 

“Yes…maybe…I dunno,” Joey answered confused, “Look it would’ve been a mistake for both of us. Kaitlyn’s still kind of grieving for her last girlfriend who died a year ago, and with everything I’ve been through with Charlie…when Kaitlyn and I first got together we knew we both weren’t ready for a full-on committed relationship so we’ve been taking things slowly. It wouldn’t have been a mistake because I do care a lot about Kaitlyn…but the mistake would’ve been running away from Charlie angrily and ending up in another girls’ bed. I don’t want to be that type of person who could do that.” 

“Given the chance do you think you would’ve stopped what was happening between you and told her that?” Anna queried. 

“I would hope so but I’m not too sure,” Joey told her, “When I got to Kaitlyn’s I just wanted to forget how angry I was at Charlie for hurting me when she decided to return to work without telling me. I didn’t want Kaitlyn to think that was the only reason I was there. But after we hung out for a while at her place, curled up on the couch together watching some DVDs, we started talking and I told her how hurt I was by everything Charlie has put me through and Kaitlyn started opening up to me about what it was like to lose someone she loved and we both discussed trying to move on from our respective partners. 

We were having a bit of a deep and meaningful conversation and when we began making out it…felt like the right time for us to take the next step. Then next thing I knew we were in her bedroom…half-naked on her bed. It felt strange but also comfortable being with another woman after being with Charlie for the past six years. But then we got interrupted so…I guess I’ll never know whether or not I would’ve stopped what was happening.” 

“How did you two get interrupted?” Anna asked curiously. Joey shifted awkwardly on the couch, “I got a phone call…from Charlie. Well not from Charlie, it was actually Riley on the phone, but the screen flashed up as Charlie’s name as he was calling from her mobile. While Kaitlyn and I were about to…I heard my mobile ringing from the lounge room next door. To be honest…I just wanted to ignore it. I didn’t care who it was or what they wanted, I just wanted to be selfish and only care about my needs. Then Kaitlyn reminded me that…you know I’m a mum and I have responsibilities so convinced me to go answer it. It was Riley asking me to come home for dinner…so I cut short my evening with Kaitlyn where I went home to have dinner with my family and Charlie announced she was moving back home.” 

Anna pursed her lips, “How did you feel when you saw Charlie’s name on the screen? When you thought it was her that stopped you from sleeping with Kaitlyn?” Joey creased her brows thoughtfully, “I guess I felt…a small sense of relief. Like Charlie’s always…stopping me from making mistakes. She’s always looking out for me.” 

“And have you and Kaitlyn discussed what happened between you since?” Anna continued. 

Joey nodded, “Yes, we spoke to each other the day afterwards. It wasn’t a good time to tell her about me moving back with Charlie as I wanted to sort out where the pair of us stood and what she was thinking. We both agreed that it was probably a step we weren’t ready for and that we would try not to get too carried away next time. I wasn’t in the right head space to be making such a decision. I was just so angry at Charlie so I went to someone who I know won’t hurt me and nearly made things worse. I don’t want my relationship with Kaitlyn to be because I’m furious with Charlie and her constant abandonment. But once I got home and Charlie explained about her job no longer being her priority, I was content that I hadn’t made the rash decision and slept with Kaitlyn as I would’ve regretted it.” 

Anna stared at Joey intently, “Do you think your feelings for Charlie was another reason why you weren’t ready to sleep with Kaitlyn?” Joey chewed on her lip but didn’t answer so Anna tried again, “Do you still have feelings for Charlie? Romantic love kind of feelings I mean?” 

Joey furrowed her brow as she stared up at the ceiling puzzled, “I don’t know how to describe my feelings for Charlie. I love her…sure…but I don’t know if I still love her enough to get past all the hurt, we caused each other. I just can’t fall in love with her all over again and be hurt like that again. I’ve tried so hard to be strong this year without her. Feel like I’ve failed miserably. ‘Sides…it doesn’t matter how I feel about Charlie anymore. She’s made it quite clear over the past few days that we’re friends…and friends only…nothing more.” 

Anna nodded, “How do you feel about that? It has to be a little bit more complicated than that. Watching the pair of your sitting next to each other, holding hands and supporting each other, it’s obvious you two still share a closeness between you. How do you really feel about living with her and just being friends? And what about when…or if Charlie decides she’s ready to move on with her life?” 

Joey chewed on her lip anxiously, “The friend thing is…awkward. It’s comfortable at some points knowing we can still support each other and raise Riley together. But it’s hard being friends with someone who’s been such a huge part of my life and who I’m still confused about how I really feel about her. Living with her at Aden’s was an adjustment. I still felt like I had my independence but now that we’re living together at home…it’s like we’re a family again…only not. 

And the idea of Charlie moving on with someone new…I don’t think I’m ready to contemplate that…which is unbelievably selfish of me. I’m the one who’s moved onto a new relationship…seemingly without a care in the world of what that would do to Charlie. Yet…the idea of watching Charlie fall for someone new…I don’t know if I’m ready for that. What do you think that means?” 

“I think that means you need to find a way to work out exactly how you feel about both Charlie and Kaitlyn and stop being so scared to do so,” Anna answered. “And how do you suggest I do that?” Joey asked. 

Anna slipped her pen behind her ear, “I suggest you spend some time with both of them and try and be honest about your feelings to yourself. Then you need to work on being honest about these feelings to the women involved.” 

“You want me to spend time with the two of them together?” Joey raised her eyebrows. “Not necessarily both of them together at the same time,” Anna replied, “I realize that might make the pair of them uncomfortable, even though they may not want to admit it. I’m suggesting that you spend a little bit of time with each of them and work out how you feel about them. Try and put aside your past and only think about your present feelings for them.” 

“What you mean spend some time with them then make a pro and con list on the reasons on whether I should be with Charlie or Kaitlyn?” Joey asked questioningly. 

“If that’s what it takes,” Anna smirked, “I’m not saying you can do this in a day or two. Take your time because this is a big decision. First things first…tell Kaitlyn you and Charlie have moved back home before she finds out from someone else. Her reaction could…tell you how much she feels about you. Be honest with her about the move. It’s completely up to you on whether you decide to tell Charlie about these…lies you told today but they could end up only hurting her more. Then you need to forget about the past and focus on your future…and who that’s gonna be with. Why don’t we even do a quick test now before you leave?” 

Joey frowned slightly, “What kind of test?” 

Anna lent forwards calmly, “Okay this may or may not help you at all decide how you feel about them but I don’t think it’ll hurt to try something before you spend some time with them and try and work it out for yourself. I want you to close your eyes. I want you to imagine a moment in your future where you’re happy. It can be any moment that makes you happy. Seeing Riley grow up, achieving one of your own personal goals, being happy and in love, being old and grey and remembering the memories of your life. Anything at all that makes you feel completely content.” 

Joey took a deep breath before closing her eyes.  Anna smiled down at Joey, “Now once you imagine this moment of happiness, you’re experiencing…I want you to take a look next to you…and tell me who’s sharing this moment with you. It can be Charlie, or Kaitlyn…or even someone you’ve never even met before. Who do you want to share this moment with?” 

The corners of Joey’s lips crinkled into a small smile. 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-Three 

Later that afternoon, Charlie was standing in her kitchen re-arranging a few things and making herself feel back at home, while Riley was in his room. Opening the fridge and freezer, Charlie frowned as she noticed there were still a few items they’d forgotten to throw out the day before. Knowing that Joey was going shopping and would be likely to buy a fridge full of food, Charlie started to clear enough room for the food, contemplating what they could enjoy for dinner as a family. 

There was a knock on the front door, and Charlie yelled out, “C’mon in, the doors open.” Charlie grabbed a few groceries and threw them in the bin, turning back to the fridge she noticed Kaitlyn standing against the doorway nervously. “Hey,” Charlie greeted politely. 

“Hey…hope you don’t mind me dropping by,” Kaitlyn replied quietly. “Sure, it’s no problem,” Charlie told her in a friendly manner. Kaitlyn bit her lip, “So…ah I saw your bags out in the living room. Having fun unpacking? You, ah…glad to be back home?” Charlie smiled, “Yeah it’s kinda weird actually being back here. Feels like it’s being months since I’ve even being here…and judging by the state of this fridge I might not be wrong. I didn’t think I took much to Aden’s place…but there’s still a fair bit I need to unpack so I can settle back in here.” 

“It’s good that you’re so happy with this move. Joey told me a little bit and said that you’re not only moving back here but you’re back at work part-time,” Kaitlyn told her, trying not to sound too happy of the idea of Charlie moving out of Aden’s. 

Charlie ducked her head back into the freezer as she pulled a few old items out, “Yeah I’m back at work now part-time for the time being. It’s really great being able to do the two things I love – raise Riley and work at the station. I know it’s only been a few days but I’m really positive this is gonna work out for all of us. So…ah what brings you by here?” 

Kaitlyn bit her tongue, “I was just…looking for Joey…hoping to talk to her about…something. I went by Aden’s and no one was home so thought she might be here…helping you move back or hanging out with Riley together.” 

Charlie turned back to her, “Oh well she’s just down at the shops buying us some groceries to cook us dinner tonight. She shouldn’t be too long if you want to wait.” Kaitlyn frowned confused, “Why is Joey buying you groceries? You…didn’t have time to do that yourself? And she’s…cooking you dinner?” Charlie smiled gently at the thought of Joey coming home and cooking dinner for her family, “Yeah…it’s one of the sweet things she does. She hates that I can live off take-away food and loves being able to cook dinner for her family.” 

“Still kinda confused here,” Kaitlyn admitted, “I mean I get that she likes to cook…but she doesn’t need to cook for you here…it’s not like she lives here.” This time it was Charlie’s face that fell slightly as she whispered, “Joey told me she told you.” Kaitlyn grunted, “Told me what?” 

Charlie fiddled with her bracelet nervously, “Joey’s moved back in here with Riley and me…in the spare bedroom of course…’cause we’re not…” “Yeah…no…think I would’ve remembered being told that,” Kaitlyn sighed irritably, “So you two decided to…what…? Live her together as a family…only not?” 

Charlie crossed her arms in front of her chest, “Yeah…Riley took the news badly that I was gonna move back home…and he begged Joey to move here with us. I mean like I said Joey’s in Ruby’s old room so it’s not like we’re… It’s nothing more than two friends living together. Look I’m sorry that Joey didn’t tell you. I was under the impression that you knew and were…okay with this arrangement.” 

“Oh yeah…I’m perfectly content with my girlfriend moving in and playing wife with her…wife,” Kaitlyn snapped out in frustration before she could stop herself. “It’s not like that,” Charlie whispered. “And yet she’s out shopping and cooking for you,” Kaitlyn pointed out. 

“It’s not for me. She’s just trying to get Riley used to being back home with both of us…so she’s cooking us a family meal,” Charlie tried to explain, “Okay, I get how weird this might seem to you…and I’m sorry I had to be the one to tell you…but Joey and I are friends now and we’re comfortable with this arrangement. Even Anna agreed this move could be beneficial for us.” 

“Who’s Anna?” Kaitlyn questioned, once again confused. “Our marriage counsellor,” Charlie answered without thinking. Kaitlyn’s eyes bulged perplexed. Charlie swallowed deep at Kaitlyn’s action, “I…ah…yeesh…you didn’t know about the…not marriage counselling…sorry it’s divorce counselling. Joey and I have been having some divorce counselling to see if…us getting divorced…is the right thing to…do.” 

“Well if you’re not sleeping together, hey, sounds like the right move to me and you shouldn’t need a counsellor to tell you that,” Kaitlyn replied, trying to mask the hurt in her voice, “Did you talk Joey into this? Get a professional to tell you to work on your marriage together?” “It’s not…like that,” Charlie claimed, “We both thought it was a good idea. Joey stayed back late with Anna to discuss her own issues with…I dunno…moving on with you or maybe…” 

“You call Joey moving on with me an ‘issue’ for Joey?” Kaitlyn demanded, then snapped back in retaliation, “Least I didn’t screw Joey up so bad she could barely trust another person. Nice work!” Charlie looked down at the floor, not able to find a way to defend the truth, “I get that you’re angry…and that…Joey moving in here with me…and us getting marria…divorce counselling is weird but I’m sure Joey can explain her point of view about all this to you when she gets home.” 

Kaitlyn wiped away a small tear that brimmed in her eye, “Forget it…I’ve heard enough. How ‘bout you don’t tell Joey I stopped by? You two just enjoy playing house together.” “No, we’re not…” Charlie trailed off as Kaitlyn rushed out of the house, hurt by Joey’s actions of not telling her about these changes. 

Charlie slammed her fist against the fridge, “Crap!” While realizing she should’ve been angry at Joey for lying to her and not telling Kaitlyn the truth about their move and the counselling, Charlie felt guilty that she had inadvertently come between Joey and Kaitlyn’s relationship after promising herself she wouldn’t hurt Joey again. 

Fifteen minutes later Joey walked into the house carrying several bags of groceries. Charlie rushed over to her, relieving her of a few and they both put them down on the kitchen table. “Thanks,” Joey whispered. “It’s no trouble,” Charlie replied quietly, “So, you sure went food shopping. This is a lot of food. I’m sorry I didn’t even think…I should’ve picked you up from the bus station.” 

“It’s okay, Charlie. I managed pretty well with all this,” Joey told her, then as she started taking the food out of the bags, “So, what do you feel like for dinner tonight? I could cook your favourite.” Charlie tensed her body as she bit her lip, “Maybe you should…forget about dinner for now. You should go see Kaitlyn.” 

“Duh…why?” Joey looked at her surprised. Charlie began fiddling with her bracelet again, “Ah…she kinda came over here looking for you. She was pretty upset when she left. How come you didn’t tell her you moved in here with me…or about the marriage counselling?” “Oh boy,” Joey sighed. 

“That’d be my reaction,” Charlie whispered. Joey chewed on her lip, “I’m sorry. I tried to tell her…but it was just never the right time…that’s such a bad excuse I know but…I just couldn’t find the words to explain why I moved back here with you. Are you mad at me for lying to you today at the session when I told you Kaitlyn knew and was okay with all this?” 

Charlie glanced at Joey anxiously, “Depends on if you’ll forgive me for accidentally causing havoc in your relationship.” Joey frowned, “What? I don’t need to forgive you for that. I know you didn’t tell Kaitlyn about these things on purpose to hurt me. If anyone’s responsible it’s me for not being honest with her. And any havoc this may have caused…that’s up to me to…fix.” 

Charlie walked over to stand behind Joey, placing her hand on Joey’s shoulder reassuringly, “Thanks…I was kinda afraid you might think that…I did do this on purpose to drive her away.” Joey smiled, “You could never do that. Besides I know this is my fault. I should’ve been honest with her when I agreed to move in with you. You couldn’t have known that she didn’t…know.” 

Charlie squeezed Joey’s shoulder, “So, I guess…maybe this whole…you moving back home with me wasn’t such a good idea.” “Are you having regrets?” Joey asked concerned. “No of course not…I love having you here. I just…I’ve ruined your life enough as it is…I don’t want to be the one who ruins your relationship,” Charlie whispered. 

Joey bought her hand up to entangle it with Charlie’s, “You haven’t ruined my life. We’re both responsible for what happened between us, it wasn’t just you. I love being here too…it feels right.” “Yeah it does,” Charlie agreed sweetly, “So…ah you should go see Kaitlyn and sort things out tonight. I’ll handle dinner and leave you some leftovers if you want.” 

Joey looked down at the floor nervously, before glancing back up at Charlie, and squeezing her fingers, “Tomorrow. I’ll go see Kaitlyn tomorrow and see if I can explain things to her then. Tonight I’d…I’d rather cook dinner and hang out with my family.” Charlie grinned happily, “I like the sound of that.” 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-Four 

The next morning, Charlie was in the kitchen washing up the breakfast dishes. Joey rushed into the room, “Are you sure you’re okay watching Riley this morning?” Charlie grinned, “It’s fine, Jo, I told you. Aden needs you at work this morning, and then when you get back you can take over Riley watch so I can get in a few hours at the station. See I told you this would work between us.” 

“And for once I’m happy to say you were right,” Joey smirked. “So, have you spoken to Kaitlyn yet?” Charlie asked nervously. Joey lent against the counter, “Left a message on her voicemail last night. Guess she didn’t want to answer. I’ll try her again this morning. Probably best that I give her some time to cool off before I see her.” 

Charlie poured Joey a cup of coffee, and passed it to her, “Sounds like a good idea. She was pretty upset last night. She obviously cares about you.” Joey took a sip of her coffee, “Yeah I know. I’ll see how she feels about this…us moving in together.” “Do you think she’ll convince you to change your mind about this?” Charlie asked worriedly. 

“Kaitlyn may not like the idea of us living together but I’m not gonna change my mind. As long as you’re happy to have me here, I’ll stay here,” Joey decided. Charlie grinned shyly at Joey’s decision, then noticed Joey looked away from her, “You okay? Still concerned about that dream or whatever?” Joey’s eyebrows creased, “Huh?” 

Charlie turned to Joey, “That dream you told me about last night. The one you had the other day about Riley growing up and graduating and getting into the police academy. You said the pair of us were standing next to each other during his graduation watching him make some speech.” “Oh…right that…dream I had,” Joey replied, rolling her tongue over her teeth, “Yeah I’m just…wondering the meaning behind it.” 

“I told you last night that it probably means what I’ve been saying all along…that you and I are gonna be there for him for all those types of moments when he’s growing up…whether we’re together or not,” Charlie replied shyly. “So, you don’t…think it means anything more than that? The fact that we were standing there…next to each other…watching him proudly?” Joey asked curiously. 

“Like what?” Charlie asked clueless. Joey sighed, “Doesn’t matter. Just my mind driving me crazy like there has to be something more than that. Guess you were right. All it means is we’ll get through this and raise him together like we promised. So, ah…what time will you be coming home tonight?” 

“Just in time to cook you dinner to thank you for last night’s dinner,” Charlie grinned. “You want to cook me dinner? What’d I do to deserve that threat?” Joey smirked. “Hey, my cooking isn’t that bad,” Charlie pouted. Joey giggled, “No, it’s not. Close but not quite…that bad. You don’t have to make a big deal out of cooking me dinner every time I cook for you. I like cooking dinner for my family.” 

“Yeah…I remember,” Charlie replied quietly, “What do you say we both cook dinner tonight together? I can help you and you can…make sure I don’t ruin it.” Joey nodded bashfully, “Sounds good to me. I’ll look forward to it tonight. Well…I should head off…Aden and Geoff are probably waiting for me down at the wharf.” 

Joey smiled gently before she turned away and headed towards the back-kitchen door. Charlie grabbed something off the kitchen bench and chased after her, “Jo, hang on a sec.” Joey turned back to her surprised. Charlie glanced at the floor for a moment before handing Joey a small paper bag. “What’s this?” Joey asked curiously. 

“It’s ah…just um…lunch,” Charlie told her. A smile broke across Joey’s face as she reached forward and took the bag from Charlie, their fingers grazing gently, “You made me lunch?” “Yes,” Charlie blushed nervously, “It’s just a sandwich…no cooking involved. It’s safe to eat…I think. I…know you work too hard on that trawler when you’re out in the ocean…and you always forget to look after yourself. I just…like taking care of you…and my family.” 

“Like old times huh?” Joey reminisced, “I used to love how we’d do these small things for each other. Thanks, Charlie. The gesture means a lot to me.” “It’s…only lunch,” Charlie claimed nervously, “Kinda missed these small things too. I’ll…ah see you this afternoon when you get home from work.” 

Lost in their moment of reminiscing, Joey stepped forwards and pressed her lips against Charlie’s. Both women closed their eyes as they both lent forwards into the touch and brushed their lips against each other. 

Shyly pulling apart, Joey licked her lips before turning away and leaving Charlie standing at the doorway gazing after her distantly. 

Charlie was suddenly bought out of her gaze by a screech behind her. “What the heck was that, Charlz?” Ruby demanded. Charlie turned around, blinking her eyes, “Huh? What was what?” Ruby placed her hands on her waist, “Ah hello! Were you just gonna not say anything about that?” Charlie ran her hands through her hair, “Not say anything about what?” “You and Joey with the kissing! What’s up with that?” Ruby screeched. Charlie frowned, puzzled, “What kiss?” 

Ruby’s eyes bulged, “The kiss you just shared with Joey. The one I just walked in on and nearly screamed with joy!” Charlie squinted her eyes, “We kissed?” “What, was that kiss so good you lost your memory?” Ruby demanded. Charlie blushed, “Oh…ah I guess we did…it was nothing, Ruby. It didn’t mean anything it was just…force of habit.” 

“Force of habit?” Ruby repeated, “That’s it? You two just kissed…a nice, normal, non-emotionally charged kiss…and it means nothing?” Charlie fiddled with her hands, “It was just a kiss, Ruby. We were talking about the way things used to be between us so…it was just out of…habit. Nothing more.” 

“Oh c’mon! You and Joey don’t just kiss out of habit and have it not mean anything, Charlie! That was adorable watching the pair of you, you have no idea how hard it was for me to stand here and not say anything until you broke apart!” Ruby told her. Charlie shook her head, “Ruby…we’re friends now. I don’t expect anything more from Joey. And I don’t expect anything more from that kiss. I didn’t even realize we’d kissed until you pointed it out…it felt so natural because…it was out of habit.” 

Ruby rolled her eyes, “It felt natural because you and Joey are meant to be together. You’re slowly working your way back into each other’s lives. I didn’t just see the kiss you know. The whole making her lunch thing…you’re such a wife, Charlie! You both are! You still act like your married.” “Well technically we are,” Charlie tried to dismiss, as she moved to sit down at the table. 

Ruby joined her, “Why are you so afraid of this?” “I’m not afraid, Rubes, we’re friends now and I don’t want to ruin that. The kiss was just…habit. Nothing else to it and I’m not going to complicate things more,” Charlie decided. “You might want to remind yourself that next time another…force of habit attacks the pair of you,” Ruby smirked. 

Charlie glared at Ruby, “Is there a reason why you’re here?” Ruby grinned, “Just stopped by to say howdy and check things were going okay with the pair of you moving back here. Of course, I had no idea just how good things were now.” “Ruby, quit it,” Charlie sighed, “I don’t want Joey freaking out about this. We just got…caught up in the moment so please don’t make a big deal about it. And we’re not going to let any other…habits happen like that.” 

Ruby rolled her eyes, “You two are so totally starting to fall for one another again. Don’t worry I can keep my mouth shut. I’ll just make sure…that next time I come over I’ll knock on any doors before entering the room…’cause if you and Joey share an adorable wifey moment like that in your bedroom…who knows what kind of things could happen out of habit.” 

Charlie slouched down on the table, placing her face down on table, embarrassed by Ruby’s suggestion, “Ruby!” 

A few hours later, Joey, Geoff and Aden were bringing the trawler in from their morning out on the sea. Geoff was up the front tying the trawler to the wharf while Joey and Aden were sorting through their catch for the day. “Good job you asked me along, we made a killing today,” Joey grinned. Aden nodded, “Yeah it’s been busy like this all week but I didn’t want to interrupt…you and Charlie with the move back home and all. How’s that going?”  

Joey took a few steps back, then standing at the edge of the trawler she stared out at the ocean for a moment, before turning back to Aden, “Really great. It was a little weird at first but I think we’re getting back into a routine with work and taking care of Ry. And with Charlie not slaving away at work every night we’ve been able to spend some time together.” 

“Oh really?” Aden chuckled. “Not like that Aid,” Joey blushed, “Since we moved back the other day each night, we just kinda ended up curled up on the couch, drinking some wine and talking to one another…like we used to.” “Curled up on the couch together?” Aden laughed. “No, not together like that. We’re just friends now Aid,” Joey insisted. 

“Mmm hmm,” Aden smiled unconvincingly, “So, nothing has happened at all since you moved in?” Joey gazed over at him, “Yes, Aid, something happened…we’ve become friends. We talk to each other and support one another the way friends do.” 

“Oh, c’mon that can’t be all that’s happened between you,” Aden pleaded, “You’re married to each other. Surely there’s some kind of tension since you all moved back home.” Joey shook her head, “Hate to say it, Aid, but there’s been no tension at all…nothing at all to…tell…” 

Aden watched on as Joey suddenly creased her eyebrows and stared out to sea, “So, what’s the look for?” Joey frowned further as she continued looking away, “Nothing I just…I feel like I’m forgetting something…or I did something wrong…or…I dunno…there’s just something that I feel is a little…off.” 

Aden turned away from Joey as he bent down to pick up some crates, “Well I’m sure whatever it is…you’ll remember it when you need to.” Joey screwed up her face, “Yeah I guess you’re right. It’s just I feel like…oh my God!” 

Aden spun around to Joey only to find the space at the edge of the trawler where she was standing was now vacant, and before he could form a thought, he heard a loud splash.  Aden leapt over the decking and jumped up onto the edge of the trawler to find Joey breaking the surface of the water. “Are you okay? What happened?” Aden asked desperately. Joey shook her head wildly, her hair shaking the water everywhere, as her arms and legs made circles as she kept her face above the water so she could breath, “I’m fine. I just…forgot I was standing on the edge of the trawler and…fell…” 

Aden lent down and held out his hand for Joey to grab onto. Geoff heard the commotion and joined Aden as they both pulled Joey from the water, back onto the trawler. Both men looked at their boss as she shook her whole body, trying to dry out the water soaking her body and clothes. “You alright, Jo?” Aden asked again. 

“Yes, Aden I’m fine. It’s just a bit of water that’s all,” Joey suddenly replied frustratedly. “How did you fall? Did you trip over the edge? Did you hit your head?” Aden questioned worried. “Yeah, Joey, you should get checked out by a Doctor,” Geoff suggested. Joey glared at the two men, “My head is fine. I don’t need to see no Doctor.” 

“Well it’s not like you to just fall in the water,” Aden pointed out, “Did something happen?” Joey pursed her lips, “It was nothing…I just…remembered what I forget…then I was in the water. That’s all.” “What’d you remember?” Aden asked pryingly. Joey half-smiled weakly, “I ah…kissed Charlie.” 

A few minutes later, Joey and Aden were seated down in the cabin while Geoff continued their work up on deck. Joey had a big towel wrapped around her and Aden poured her a cup of coffee to warm her up. “So, how is it you forgot that you kissed Charlie?” Aden asked. 

Joey took the mug from him, taking a nervous sip, “We were just kind of reminiscing this morning about how our relationship used to be…and I kissed her. I didn’t even realize it until before. It just felt so natural and that it wasn’t a big deal so…I didn’t even notice that I’d actually kissed her…’til I remembered just before and the shock kinda…” 

“Made you take a dive into the water?” Aden grinned. Joey rolled her eyes, “I forgot where I was standing, took a step back in shock and lost my balance, okay?” Aden nodded, “Okay, you’re a klutz! So…this kiss you shared…how serious was it?” 

Joey shrugged, “Lasted a few seconds. Kinda the ‘Have a good day at work’ sort of kiss. I was leaving for work…and Charlie made me my lunch…like she used to and I just…got caught up in the moment and out of habit I kissed her. I can’t believe I kissed her!” “I can’t believe you forgot that you kissed her,” Aden added. 

“What does this mean now? What must Charlie be thinking?” Joey asked rapidly. Aden smiled gently, “You need to work out what it means for you. Whether it was just something out of habit or if there’s more meaning behind it. And, Charlie…you need to talk to her, Jo.” 

Joey placed her head in her hands, “What if I’ve given her false hope again that it meant more?” “Did it mean something more?” Aden asked. 

“I don’t know…maybe,” Joey admitted, “I don’t know what it meant or what my feelings are for Charlie anymore. I have all these feelings and they keep changing and I don’t know what to do about them anymore. All I know is I can’t bear to hurt Charlie again by giving her false hope. I don’t want it to be false hope, I would want it to be real this time. We’re friends now…and I don’t want to ruin that by the fact that I might be…” 

Aden whispered gently, “Falling in love with her all over again?” 

Joey nodded hesitantly, “And I don’t know if I’m ready to trust myself…and trust that that’s…what might be happening here. How do I know that’s what’s really happening? Not to mention…how do I deal with this…when it’s not what Charlie wants…when all Charlie wants is to be friends?” 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-Five  

Later that evening Joey was at home beginning to prepare dinner for her family. Charlie had come home several minutes ago and had jumped in the shower after her shift at the station. Once Joey had gotten the ingredients together, Charlie had re-joined her in the kitchen as they agreed to both help make dinner that night. Neither had mentioned their brief kiss that occurred that morning when Joey had come back from the trawler, allowing Charlie to go to the station. 

As Charlie was slicing up the vegetables she asked, “So, have you heard from Kaitlyn today?” Joey shook her head, “Left another message…or four…on her mobile. She’s still not answering. I might try and go see her at work tomorrow if she’s refusing my calls. I just…want to sort this out between us. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t accept the fact that I’m living with you…I’m not gonna move back out if that’s what she wants.” 

Charlie nodded, “You know all I want for you is to be happy. And if she makes you happy you need to fix this with her. I feel like I’m the person who’s once again stopping you from having that kind of happiness.” “Charlie, that’s ridiculous you’ve never stopped me from being happy. I don’t even understand why you’re being so…nice about all this. You should be angry at me for lying to you about not telling her we moved back home together,” Joey insisted. 

Charlie looked at Joey who was standing next to her, “We’re friends now, Joey, that’s why I understand why you lied. I’m not angry at you. I like this level of trust we’re starting to build up between us. Like I said…I want you to be happy. But I kinda don’t mind you coming to me if you need my help.” “I do trust you,” Joey whispered, “And…I like being friends with you. Though it may not seem like it…you’ll always be the person I turn to first.” 

Both women smiled shyly, returning to the meal they were making. After a few minutes of silence, they both spoke up at the same time, “So, about that kiss…” Glancing nervously at each other, they blushed deeply. Charlie cleared her throat, “I know, Jo…that it was only out of habit. Living back here with you…when we’re not fighting and actually learning to talk to one another…it’s like old times. So…hence the kiss. It’s not a big deal…I just didn’t want you to be worried about it being…a big deal.” 

Joey nodded sadly, “I know that’s all it was, Charlie. You’re right…being back here with you is bringing back so many memories. It’s hard to keep a check on the fact that…things have changed between us. I was just afraid that…I’d given you a sense of false hope again…that we could…and I didn’t want you to be devastated if you found out…” 

“That we’re still not ready to be with one another,” Charlie finished for her, causing Joey to grit her teeth as she struggled to make sense of her feelings for Charlie. 

Not noticing Charlie continued, “Joey, I’m happy that after everything we’ve been through, we can still be friends. I promise that I’ll support you no matter what you choose for your life. Whether or not that means we’ll never have a chance together…I don’t know. You’re not giving me false hope…I know the reality of us fixing our relationship. Right now, where we stand as friends…and with you dating Kaitlyn…I’m comfortable with that. Maybe one day I’ll meet someone…or maybe you were my only…someone. Point is I’m happy right now and I just didn’t want things to be awkward between us.” 

Joey rolled her tongue over her teeth anxiously, “They’re not awkward between us. Things are really…good between us for the first time in so long. I’m glad that you’re happy. It’s been…a long time since I’ve seen you like this. You’re working again but you’re still managing to be a carefree responsible parent. It feels like…everything’s falling into place in your life. Just wish I could say the same about my own life.” “What do you mean?” Charlie whispered. 

*Knock knock* 

The two girls spun around at the sound at their back door. Kaitlyn stood nervously at the entryway, “Hi…ah can I come in? Was hoping we could talk.” Joey nodded hesitantly, “Course you can…ah…but I’m just making dinner right now…so maybe…could I come meet you later tonight at your place?” 

Charlie had turned around and continued on making dinner when she noticed Kaitlyn at the doorway, “It’s okay, Joey. I can finish dinner if you want to…talk.” “Charlie, you don’t need to--” Joey started to protest, but Charlie interrupted, “I can cope, Joey. It’s just dinner. It’ll be ready in fifteen or so minutes so that gives you more than enough time to catch up.” 

Joey chewed on her lip but nodded, “Okay then no problems.” Kaitlyn smiled hesitantly as Joey walked over to her and pecked Joey on the lips, “Why don’t we go into your bedroom to talk?” Joey glanced over at Charlie, disappointed to see her continuing on with preparing dinner and not reacting to Kaitlyn’s obvious insinuation, “Uh…the living room’s free, Riley’s in his room, okay?” Kaitlyn shrugged and followed Joey into the living room. 

Joey sat down on the couch and smiled gently when Kaitlyn sat next to her and lent forwards into another brief kiss. Kaitlyn pulled back and slipped her hand onto Joey’s knee, “So, is this okay…me being here?” Joey slipped some strands of hair behind her ear, “Course it is. You’re welcome to come over and hang out with me.” 

Kaitlyn bit her lip, “Yet you didn’t tell me you were moving back here?” Joey placed her hand on top of Kaitlyn’s, “I know. I’m sorry. I really did mean to but the one real time we spoke after I made the decision…it wasn’t the right time. We needed to discuss us, not my living arrangements. Are you…okay with this? I mean you do realize why I moved back here? It’s just…I tried calling you to explain.” 

Kaitlyn nodded, “I was gonna call you back earlier today…but I got called into work and it was totally crazy. Sorry. I just needed some space. But I do get why you moved back here…I mean Riley asked you too right?” Joey squeezed her hand, “Yeah…he made it pretty impossible to turn him down. And it’s not much change to us all living at Aden’s. I’m in Ruby’s old room, Riley’s already set himself back into his room and…you know Charlie now has a room instead of a couch. I just…needed to do this for my family.”  “So, this isn’t…about you and Charlie at all?” Kaitlyn whispered anxiously. Joey swallowed deeply, “No it’s not. It’s about my son and what’s best for him. I don’t know if this is even a long-term thing. We just need to settle Ry back into a routine with both Charlie and I raising him…then we’ll take things from there when it happens.” 

Kaitlyn smiled gently, “I understand. I’m sorry but when I saw Charlie here last night, she kinda said you were out shopping for groceries and that you loved looking after your family…which is exactly the kind of thing I would expect from you. I dunno I guess I saw it as you still acting like Charlie’s wife…which technically you are…it just hurt to be reminded of that.”  “Charlie and I are just friends now,” Joey told her truthfully. It is the truth…it’s all Charlie wants…so that’s all we’ll be. Doesn’t matter whatever…crazy insane ridiculous…type feelings I had when we…kissed. Who am I kidding? She’s turning back into the woman I fell in love with…how could it be impossible not to fall back in love with her?  But love…surely, it’s too soon for that? 

“Well that’s good that you two can be friends after everything you’ve been through. And that’s great for Riley. He deserves to have you two getting along comfortably. If anyone knows anything about being raised by only one parent…it’s us. Not saying that we’re both…damaged from that…just things could’ve been different if we both had our mothers’ in our lives…guess I completely understand now why you moved back here for Riley,” Kaitlyn realized. 

“Didn’t want to turn into my mum…or have Charlie and I end up like both our parent’s marriages…yeah pretty much,” Joey confirmed. “I’m proud of you for changing the cycle like that. You’re not your mum…and definitely not your dad,” Kaitlyn insisted, before leaning forwards, “So…uh…marriage counselling huh? Does this mean there’s a chance…?” 

Joey ran her thumb across Kaitlyn’s hand, “Its divorce counselling, not marriage counselling.” Kaitlyn couldn’t hide the shy smile that crossed her face, “So…does this mean one day soon…I won’t be breaking any of your wedding vowels by wanting to be with you?” 

Joey lent back against the couch, deciding to be honest, “I’m not sure. Charlie and I have thrashed out our differences and we’re friends now. We’ll probably leave things as they are right now…because Riley’s not ready…for anything like us…getting divorced. That’s part of why we’ve all moved back home. Charlie and I want to prove to Riley we can raise him together and that us…maybe getting divorced in the future…it won’t affect that.” 

Kaitlyn bit her lip, “Except by doing this…he could think you two living together…it gives him hope that you will get back together and you’ll be a family again. I’m certainly not trying to overstep you or Charlie with your parenting skills…I just don’t want Riley getting hurt. You know I care about him.” 

Joey sighed, “And I appreciate you looking out for him…but you’re right…this is my decision along with Charlie’s. We think this is what’s best for him.” “Then I support you,” Kaitlyn grinned, “So…I’ve lost track of time…how long ‘til you guys are having dinner?” Joey looked at her watch, “Five minutes or so. How come?” 

“Five minutes huh? We’ll that’s just enough time,” Kaitlyn smirked. Before Joey could question what she meant, Kaitlyn pulled her into a briefly passionate kiss. Joey’s eyes fluttered closed as she fell into the kiss. Pulling apart, Joey chewed down on her bottom lip, “I’m not so sure that we should--” 

Joey was cut off by Kaitlyn’s lips pressed against her own again. Taking a few seconds Joey soon fell back into the kiss, enjoying the sensation of kissing her girlfriend…though still utterly confused at these sensations compared to the ones that coursed through her body when she had kissed Charlie that morning. 

As these confused thoughts filled Joey’s mind, she neglected to hear Charlie walk back into the room. “Oh…ah…sorry…” Charlie apologized as she spotted the pair. Joey broke apart from Kaitlyn, disappointing her girlfriend, while she was afraid of Charlie’s reaction, “Sorry we didn’t mean…” 

Charlie shrugged, “Its fine, Joey. You don’t have to be apologetic. You’re dating so it’s only natural for you to…do that. I’m perfectly fine about it.” “Thanks, Charlie,” Kaitlyn whispered, trying to shrug off the feeling that Charlie was more accepting of the incident than Joey was. “Right yes…of course. I just didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable,” Joey explained uneasily. 

Charlie smiled, “It’s all good. Anyway…uh dinner’s ready. I was gonna get Riley to wash his hands if you wanted to set the table, Jo.” Joey nodded in agreement, thrown by Charlie’s good mood considering the way Charlie acted the last time she had caught the pair making out on a couch, “Sure sounds…good.” Charlie headed towards Riley’s room. Kaitlyn sighed, “Guess that’s my cue to…might see you tomorrow, Joey.” 

Joey smiled, but was completely stunned when Charlie turned back to them, “Why don’t you stay?” “Huh?” Joey choked out. “Stay for dinner, Kaitlyn. There’s plenty of food for an extra person…so since you’re here…why don’t you join us?” Charlie offered. Joey stood there bewildered by Charlie’s request. 

“I don’t want to get in the way,” Kaitlyn told them. “Oh pfft, nothing of the sort,” Charlie told them, “It’s hardly like we’ve gotten to know each other at all so this could be a good chance for all of us.” “Okay,” Kaitlyn agreed softly, then back peddled, “I mean if it’s okay with you too, Joey.” Joey faked a small smile on her face, still shocked by Charlie’s casual attitude, “Sounds good.” 

“Okay well I’ll just go get Riley. I think he’ll be okay with you staying for dinner, Kaitlyn, so I’ll just double check. Why don’t the pair of you set the table?” Charlie decided before she headed off to Riley’s room. 

Kaitlyn took Joey’s hand, “See…she’s not so bad.” Joey smiled again as Kaitlyn stood up, pulling Joey with her and hands still entwined, she led them into the kitchen. As Joey followed her, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread. 

Well on the one hand this is a chance to spend time with both of them together and try and sort through my feelings for both of them…but why isn’t Charlie acting jealous? Do I want her to be jealous? It’s like she doesn’t even care…maybe I’ve taken too long to try and sort through some things and she’s given up.  

And now I have to spend an hour or so with both of them next to me…and my son watching on…this is gonna be a disaster!  

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-Six 

Joey smiled gently at Riley when she sat down opposite him at the dinner table, but felt self-conscious of the fact she was sitting in-between Charlie and Kaitlyn. She felt like she was stuck in-between the biggest decision of her life and she didn’t know who to choose. 

Just when she was finally repairing her relationship with Charlie and re-discovering the feelings she used to have for her wife, Charlie was beginning to make things quite clear that she was comfortable with their level of friendship with no indication that she wanted anything more. And will the feelings I have for Kaitlyn ever match up to those I share for Charlie? 

Riley stared between all three women sitting at the table with him, confused by the fact that his mother had invited Kaitlyn to join them. I thought we were becoming a family again. 

Joey cleared her throat as everyone passed around the dishes and served food onto their plates. As Charlie served food onto Riley’s plate, Riley screwed up his face when he spotted Kaitlyn slip her hand on top of Joey’s on the table. 

Joey glanced at Kaitlyn nervously, unsure if Charlie was watching, “Um…you know we…don’t say grace here.” Kaitlyn frowned, “Yeah…I was just holding your hand…’cause I thought you could do with some reassurance from your girlfriend.” Joey’s eyes bulged, “Oh…I just thought…thanks but now’s not really the time for that.” 

Riley caught the look of disappointment crossing Kaitlyn’s face at Joey’s turn down, and couldn’t contain a small snicker at her expense for Joey turning away her affections. “Something funny, sweetie?” Charlie asked him. Riley eyed Kaitlyn suspiciously, “No…so how come you’re here having dinner with us?” 

Kaitlyn blushed anxiously feeling like she was about to get the third degree from the one family member who certainly didn’t want her there. “I told you, baby boy, she’s a part of Joey’s life and we should get to know her,” Charlie answered nonchalantly, unaware of Joey’s continual confusion over her actions. Riley kept his gaze on Kaitlyn, “How’d you two meet?” 

Kaitlyn smiled gently, taking Joey’s hand again lightly, “We went to school together. We’ve been friends most of our lives. We lost contact for quite some time but we got back in touch when I moved back home for a job at the hospital. Your mum’s a really special person and we’re all lucky to have her.” 

Riley played around with the food on his plate, “Did you know Mama J was married when you started…dating?” “Riley!” Joey croaked. She was shocked at his attitude yet understood his questioning. Kaitlyn looked away and dropped Joey’s hand. Charlie ran her hands through her hair, “I don’t think that’s an appropriate question, Ry. You know Joey and I have been separated for some time now.” 

Riley ignored her, “Are you worried about them living together again? Mama J’s never been happier than the last few days and I don’t think you’re the reason.” Kaitlyn cringed at his comments, and Joey stroked her hand gently. “Riley, stop it,” Charlie warned lightly. 

Riley turned to her, “What? This is our family dinner and she’s in…um intru…ding. She’s been aff…ection…ate with Mama J and saying nice things about her and you’re just sitting here not fighting her!” “This isn’t a fight, buddy. Joey doesn’t want this to end up in some big fight so can you please just start eating your dinner?” Charlie asked him gently. 

“No!” Riley suddenly shouted, “You’re letting her ruin our family!” “Fine, you don’t want to eat…go to bed now,” Charlie ordered firmly. Riley threw his fork down on his plate, clattering loudly against it. “Charlie you can’t just discipline him like that,” Joey spoke up, “He’s just a kid and he’s not doing anything wrong.” 

“Isn’t he?” Kaitlyn whispered softly. Joey glared at her, “Don’t make me choose between you and my son.” “Joey, calm down, that’s not what I meant at all,” Kaitlyn insisted calmly, “I’m a big girl and can take his comments like one but Charlie does have a right to discipline him if she feels it’s the right thing to do.” “And I have a right to disagree with, Charlie,” Joey pointed out. 

Charlie tightened her hand into a fist, “And I don’t know about you but I could do without hearing his comments throughout dinner and Kaitlyn doesn’t deserve it either. Riley, bed now! You can take your dinner with you if you want.” Riley threw her a dirty look, “This sucks! You deserve to lose Mama J if you won’t do anything about it.” 

Charlie stared at the ceiling as Riley climbed off his chair and ran out of the kitchen towards his room. Charlie glanced at Joey, “I’m sorry. I thought he was ready for this.” “Obviously he wasn’t,” Joey replied frustrated, knowing that this was precisely how her son would react to seeing the pair together and Charlie being so casual about it. 

Charlie hung her head, “I didn’t mean to be so harsh with him. I’d just hate it if he was saying things like that about me if I was in Kaitlyn’s shoes. I’m gonna go…apologize to him.” As Charlie stood up, Joey pursed her lips, “He’ll forgive you, you know. He’s gotten angry at me like this before but he’ll get over it. He’s a smart kid and he’s just having a tough time. We’ll get him through this.” 

Charlie nodded hesitantly, “I hope so,” then followed Riley out of the room. Kaitlyn stood up as well, “I should…get going. Think I overstayed my welcome…obviously.” Joey also stood up and took her hand softly, “You don’t have to leave.” 

“Kinda think I should,” Kaitlyn replied sadly, “I just…I never wanted to come between you and your son. If he’s not ready for this…maybe I shouldn’t come around here for a little while. And he’s right I shouldn’t be acting affectionate with you or giving you compliments in front of Charlie like I did. I just…wanted you to know that I…care about you, you know.” 

Joey shifted her hands until she placed them on Kaitlyn’s hips, “I care about you, too. Riley’s confused about what’s happening. I told Charlie this would happen…that he’d think Charlie and I…sucks to be caught in the middle. But having you avoid this place and me will only give him more reason to think… Look just give us a small while to sort this out with him. I’m sure he’ll come ‘round. He can’t stay angry forever. I just hate that I’m hurting him.” 

“You’re not hurting him intentionally,” Kaitlyn tried to reason, “Yes, he’s acting out because he’s hurt but if you and Charlie continue to let him live in this dream world where his parents are together…he’ll only get hurt ten times worse. It doesn’t seem like it now but you are doing the right thing for him. I’ll see you in a couple days.” 

Joey nodded, and sensing Kaitlyn leaning forwards, she pecked her gently on the lips. As Kaitlyn left the house, Joey sunk down into her chair at the table as she continued to struggle with her compounding feelings that were becoming more obvious to her. 

That kiss with Kaitlyn…not even a spark. There weren’t any fireworks like what I feel when I kiss Charlie. I can’t keep ignoring that and expect the fireworks to come with Kaitlyn. But how can I do anything about it when Charlie doesn’t care enough about me anymore? Serves me right to take this time to finally figure it out…only for Charlie not to care… 

Charlie was sitting on Riley’s bed, tucking him into bed, “I’m sorry for how I acted out there. That was harsh of me to punish you like this. Do you want me to go get your dinner so you can eat it here…?” Charlie closed her eyes and sighed, “Are you gonna talk to me or just ignore me? I didn’t mean…” 

Riley glared at her, “Are you taking your anger of them being together out on me?” Charlie’s eyes widened, “Of course not. Sweetie, I’m not angry at them and I didn’t mean to be so harsh with you. The things you were saying…you need to stop taking things out on Joey. It’s not her fault she’s moving on.” 

“But you’re not doing anything to stop her from moving on,” Riley told her. Charlie shifted herself so she was lying next to him on the bed, and was comforted when Riley curled up against her, “I can’t force her to stay away from Kaitlyn. I’ve hurt her, Ry, and maybe it is my fault that she’s moving on, but it’s her decision on who she’s with.” 

Riley rested his head against Charlie’s chest, “Do you still love her?” “Yes,” Charlie whispered. “So, why did you sit back and watch them being all couplely and not do anything? Why can’t you just tell her you love her and want her back?” Riley begged. 

“Because I thought it’d be easier sitting back and being her friend and trying to accept, she doesn’t want to be with me…because I’m afraid,” Charlie confessed as a few tears trickled down her cheeks. “How can you be afraid of this…getting our family back?” Riley pleaded confused. Charlie stared up at the ceiling, “What if I screw it all up again? I can’t do that if I don’t tell Joey how I feel.” 

“What if you don’t screw up again? What if you tell her you still love her and you want to be together again and she wants to give it another chance?” Riley whispered. “What if I tell her I love her and she rejects me? I’ll be breaking this family up a second time round if I do that,” Charlie admitted. 

Riley crawled up to her and kissed Charlie’s forehead, “Will you do it for me?” Charlie paused for a moment, completely terrified at the suggestion, “I’ll…I’ll think about it, baby boy. But it won’t be tonight. Not after everything that happened at dinner. If I decide to tell her just how I feel about her…it needs to be at the right time, okay? If I spring this on her when she’s not expecting it…I’ll lose her forever.” 

Riley wrapped his arms around Charlie’s waist, “She loves you too. I may only be little…but I know she does. She’s just afraid too. Maybe she’s waiting for you to tell her how you feel first. I know she…knows that a part of you still loves her…but she needs to know that you’ll do whatever it takes to get her back. She needs to know you’re still in love with her.” 

“How did you get so smart, kid?” Charlie suddenly giggled, “I’m starting to think you’re gonna have a future as a therapist rather than a cop.” “Can I do both?” Riley questioned. 

Charlie cuddled up against him, “You can do whatever you want…just don’t tell your mother I said that. She’ll have a heart attack when she thinks of the fees involved with doing a uni degree and getting police training.” “So, I should tell her after you’ve mended her heart?” Riley grinned happily. 

“Yes…we’ll just hope it doesn’t take me enough time for you to be attending uni for that to happen,” Charlie replied sadly, “I’ll tell her I want us to give this marriage a proper go…when I feel there’s a chance she might want the same thing.” 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-Seven 

Later that evening after Riley had fallen asleep, Charlie left him alone and walked out to the living room to find Joey curled up on the couch reading a book. Charlie slouched down next to her, “Well I’m officially not the worst parent in the world but my name’s in the running.” Joey glanced at her, “It can’t be that bad.” 

Charlie shrugged, “No, I guess it’s not. I promise I won’t react like that and discipline him without checking with you first. I think I have fixed things with him but he’s still confused about what happened tonight. He thinks I should be jealous of you. He’s also a little uneasy about…” “Me dating Kaitlyn,” Joey finished for her, “He’s still not ready for any of this is he?” “No,” Charlie replied honestly. 

“I told her tonight after…that I wouldn’t let this affect my relationship with her. I was wrong. I should tell her we need to take a break,” Joey decided. Charlie felt suddenly elated, but swallowed hard, “You should only do that if it’s what’s right for you. Don’t do this if it’s not what you want.”  “I don’t know what I want anymore,” Joey quietly admitted, “Can I ask you something?” Charlie nodded, “Anything.” Joey closed her book and shuffled her position so she was sitting against Charlie, “Why weren’t you jealous, tonight?” 

“’Cause we’re friends and friends don’t get jealous of each other,” Charlie lied. “You think I’m not worth getting jealous over,” Joey said without stopping herself. “What? C’mon don’t be silly. You’re entirely worth getting jealous over…I just didn’t want to make things difficult for you,” Charlie explained, “I like what we have…living here like this. I don’t want any petty jealousies getting in the way of that.”  “So, you are…jealous?” Joey asked lightly. Charlie stared up at her, “I’m jealous of what I could’ve had if I didn’t stuff things up. You deserve so much better than me…and I guess it’s starting to hit me.” “Oh c’mon, Charlie, you’re not the only one who made mistakes…and I’m hardly in a position for you to deserve me,” Joey whispered, “I can’t count the number of mistakes I’ve made or the times I’ve hurt you…but you know…I don’t mind your jealous streak.” 

Charlie looked at her questioningly, “You want me to act jealous?” Joey placed her hand on top of Charlie’s, avoiding the direct question as she wasn’t sure she knew how Charlie would handle the knowledge that she wanted some emotion on how Charlie feels about her, “Do you remember when I came back to the Bay…after that four month trawler haul…? I loved how jealous you got.” “I was not…jealous,” Charlie claimed. 

Joey giggled, “Oh please…you were sidled with Angelo and you looked like your life was falling apart.  It was right before Ruby started to uncover the fact, you’re her mum and you were so very jealous that I was back and had gotten my life back on track. You were jealous of the fact you thought you couldn’t have me and would have to stick with Captain Cardboard for the rest of your life. You’d think you’d only get that way if I was dating someone else but…you were insane with jealousy when you thought I’d never give you another chance and you thought I’d end up spending my life with someone who wasn’t you. Kinda loved the jealousy streak you showed…certainly was a turn on.” 

Charlie blushed, “Maybe I was a little jealous. Couldn’t stand the idea of sitting back and watching you fall for someone else…until one day I decided to stop sitting by and act on my feelings for you.” Why can’t I do the same thing now? 

Joey ran her tongue over her teeth and squeezed Charlie’s hand, “Well if you ever plan on doing that again…make sure you find better timing this time, will you?” Charlie giggled and buried her head against Joey’s shoulder, “Thought you were proud of me.” 

Joey closed her eyes, content with feeling Charlie curled up against her, “Of the fact that you bumped into me at the Diner during rush hour and without thinking about it kissed me passionately in front of everyone…yes I was very proud of you… But the fact that you did so when you’d forgotten that Angelo had come with you to collect the stations’ lunches and was standing right behind you…when you did so…not so proud.” 

Charlie lifted her face from Joey’s shoulder, “Guess it kinda was a shock for my boyfriend to see me do that. Safe to say…kissing you like that…I’d forgotten I even had a boyfriend let alone the fact he was right there. Though it doesn’t excuse the things he said to you.” “Oh, you mean accusing me of seducing his girlfriend and making you cheat on him and calling me…a filthy dyke…not to mention…” Joey trailed off. 

Charlie intertwined their fingers, sighing gently at the memory, “When he shoved you away from me into a bunch of tables and dumped a milkshake all over you.” Joey cracked a smile, “Hey, that milkshake was entirely worth watching you kick him in the balls. I liked your style of breaking up with him. I’d gladly have milkshake thrown at me just to see you do that again.” 

Charlie blushed again, but grinned cheekily, “Plus it gave us a chance to find out just how long it takes to get milkshake out of one's hair in a shower.” “Oh, right except that you were a little bit more distracted by the fact that we were…together in that shower…to worry about the milkshake,” Joey giggled. 

“You’re right. Far too distracted by you than your milkshake covered hair. In fact, I’m sure we missed a few spots…your hair still smells like milkshake,” Charlie teased. “Chocolate or strawberry?” Joey wiggled her eyebrow. 

“Umm…okay fine so I was obviously too distracted by helping to clean you up to notice what flavour,” Charlie pouted, then smiled, “I’m kidding. It was banana. Trick question. I remember you pouting about the fact you’d have to dye your hair blonde if we couldn’t get it out.” 

Joey stared into Charlie’s eyes, “We’ve had some good times, haven’t we?” “Well I don’t think anyone else can claim they got back together over a milkshake incident but…yeah we have,” Charlie agreed shyly, “You know it’s been so long since I thought about that…the Great Milkshake Incident of ‘09.” 

Joey interlocked their fingers tightly, “Back to what I was saying before…about jealousies. I’m saying…if you’re jealous…I want you to be honest and tell me. Not just about being jealous…I want you to be honest about anything you feel.” “I will,” Charlie promised, “I’m hoping you’ll do the same.” 

Joey smiled, “I think I can do that for you. I think things are starting to get a little bit clearer for me…finally.”  “Well I’m glad,” Charlie said, then yawned lightly, “And as much as I wish we could do that tonight…I’m absolutely wiped. I’m gonna head off to bed, it’s been a long day.” 

“Oh…do you really have to?” Joey asked, disappointed at the thought of finding an opportunity to possibly open up to Charlie about her growing feelings for her wife, only to lose it. 

“Well unless you want to start talking and have your only response be my annoying snoring…I’d say we should leave this conversation to another time, hey?” Charlie decided, her instincts kicking in and trying to tell her that Joey was certain to reject her. 

“O…kay,” Joey stumbled, “Guess I’ll see you in the morning.” “Night, Jo,” Charlie whispered, then before making a move to stand up, she instinctively wrapped her arms around Joey in a light hug, then when she felt Joey’s arms encase her, she continued, “It’s been really nice sitting here and reminiscing with you like this. I love you.” 

The words tumbled out of Charlie’s mouth before she could stop them. And before Charlie could make another coherent thought, Joey whispered in her ear, “I love you too.” 

Charlie pulled back, “I…ah…I just meant…we really gotta keep a lid on these…forces of habit things before someone else catches on.” “Huh?” Joey croaked out, her mouth frozen in a jaw-dropping action, bewildered by Charlie’s response. Charlie clasped her hands together, noticing how sweaty they were and how much she was panicking over her close slip up. 

Not stopping to consider the meaning behind Joey’s words, Charlie immediately panicked that Joey would run a mile at her admission, “Just…the ah…acting like wives…kiss thing this morning…and now this. We’re not together…and I’ve gotta stop acting like we are.” “Charlie, I…” Joey stuttered. 

“No, I know…it’s not your fault and I take full responsibility for it,” Charlie interrupted, then jumping up off the couch, “You didn’t mean it the way it sounded and I…didn’t mean it like that either. Just…tiredness and reminiscing leads to crazy admissions…I’ll see you tomorrow…when I’m more myself.” 

Before Joey could utter a sound, Charlie rushed off to her room. Charlie slammed her bedroom door shut and collapsed on the bed she used to share with her wife. Angry and embarrassed by her slip up, Charlie wasn’t ready to tell Joey everything that was in her heart. She was certain that Joey didn’t mean anything further than friendship when she’d expressed her feelings…she couldn’t have been further from the truth. 

Joey was still seated on the couch in utter shock at what had nearly happened. If she could move, she would’ve smacked herself in the head for blowing yet another chance of being honest about her increasingly growing feelings for Charlie. Instead she stared at the doorway where Charlie had run off to their…her room. 

Charlie didn’t mean it the way she said it…but I did. I meant every word…didn’t I? God why couldn’t I tell her that I meant it and it wasn’t just some force of habit!? Instead I sat here looking like an idiot with my mouth hanging open…not being able to stop her from being terrified of what…might be happening between us. 

I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep these growing feelings to myself anymore…one more moment like the one we just shared…and I won’t be able to keep struggling to work out what I want. I can see myself confessing all…and waiting to get my heart broken…or at last healed. 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-Eight 

Several days later after their near couch confession, Joey and Charlie walked into their house together. Joey sighed gently as she closed and locked the door and glanced over at Charlie. The past few days had taken their toll on her and instead of finding a chance to tell Charlie the truth about how she was feeling, she had found herself busy helping Aden and Geoff on the trawler for an unusual burst in business, and taking Riley to the hospital to finally get his cast off his arm from his staircase accident. 

Charlie, meanwhile, had inadvertently gotten caught up at the station for the past few days, frustrating both herself and Joey, along with Ruby who’d spent time-out baby-sitting her little brother, at her promise not to let her work come between her and her family. Insisting to her boss and Angelo that she refused to continue on this way during her current shift, Charlie had the sense of what’s important to her slammed into her. Literally. 

As Joey watched on, Charlie grimaced as she walked through the hallway of their house. Shifting uncomfortably, Charlie dropped her handbag on the table near the front door and stiffly lent against the wall for a moment, before catching her breath and walked into the living room. Joey followed after her, “Charlie, wait up. Aren’t you even gonna tell me what happened tonight?” 

Charlie turned back to her with a painful look on her face, “It’s nothing, I’m fine. Look I’m…sorry I didn’t mean to call you tonight and…interrupt your date with Kaitlyn.” “That doesn’t matter. You don’t need to apologize for that,” Joey insisted. 

Charlie forced a small smile, “I’m sorry anyway. I forgot that you were out with her and that Riley was at the sleep over camping trip at Leah and Roman’s for VJ’s birthday. I just thought you were at home. I shouldn’t have bothered you tonight. I didn’t mean for you to…rush out on your date early just to come pick me up from the station. I just…I didn’t know who else to call.” 

Joey swallowed shyly, “You know you can call me no matter what. I’ll always be there for you and…I’m glad you called me.” Charlie placed her hand on her hip, trying to steady herself, “So, was Kaitlyn really pissed when you took off like that in the middle of dinner? I mean it’s the first date you’ve had since the disaster that was our family dinner last week and I guess you were trying to…re-establish your relationship with each other.” 

Joey shrugged, “She was a little pissed yeah…but that doesn’t matter. And whatever we were trying to…re-establish on our date tonight…that’s not important right now. You called and asked me to come get you from work so I did because you sounded awful and desperate on the phone. And if Kaitlyn didn’t believe me when I said you needed me…that’s not your fault.” 

“Like Kaitlyn needs another reason to hate me,” Charlie grimaced, “Anyway…I’m really sorry about tonight. You should…go to her place and at least attempt to finish your date…or apologize for running off on her for me.” Joey stroked her hand through her hair, “I’m not just gonna leave you here on your own when you’re in this much pain…especially when you still won’t tell me how you got hurt.” 

Charlie sighed, “It’s not important, Jo. And anyway…you don’t have to be here to look out for me. I’m just gonna have a bath and go to bed early.” “Well it’s important to me…and I want to be here to make sure you’re okay,” Joey stated honestly. 

Charlie stiffly began walking towards her room, “Just had an…incident at work. I’ll be right. Like I said…gonna go have a bath…and if I don’t die from the pain, I’m having an early night.” Joey jumped in front of Charlie’s way, “What do you mean by incident? Charlie, you look like you’re in some real pain.” “Yeah I feel like it too,” Charlie admitted as she struggled out of the room. 

Before Charlie could protest, Joey slipped her arm around Charlie’s shoulders and gently pulled her away from the hallway that led to their bedrooms, and led her towards the couch. 

Gritting her teeth, Charlie started to protest weakly, “But…bath…and dying…or falling asleep.” “Charlie, you don’t look like you can stand let alone get your clothes off and bend yourself to get into the bath,” Joey pointed out, “Tell me what happened to you.” 

Charlie looked away from Joey, and nearly stumbled forwards until Joey caught her. Wrapping her arms around Charlie’s waist, Joey stared up at Charlie gently as she held her upright, “What happened, baby?” 

Charlie raised her eyebrow at Joey’s use of the word ‘baby,’ but stuttered, “I just…ah got hurt…at work today.” “You should be in hospital,” Joey told her, “But knowing stubborn you…you refused to go, didn’t you?” “I’m just a little sore,” Charlie insisted. 

“Really? A little sore?” Joey questioned. Charlie pouted, “Okay maybe a lot sore…but not hospital sore. So, can I go struggle into the shower at least?” “No,” Joey answered immediately, “Tell me what happened to you at work.” 

“I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time is all,” Charlie tried to dismiss, “I…there was this suspect in Angelo’s grip and…the guy got lose and before Angelo or the others could control him…and handcuff him…I just walked out of my office and wasn’t looking…and the guy kinda…slammed me heavily against some filing cabinets…that’s all. Now do you mind letting me go so I can go and--” 

“Sit down on the couch,” Joey ordered. Charlie looked down at her helplessly, “Joey, I’d much rather…” “You’d much rather sit down on this comfy couch while I go and get some pain-relieving cream to put on your back,” Joey decided, “Sit. Now.” 

Charlie tried to push herself out of Joey’s grip, taking a step back, allowing Joey to simply cling to her softly, “Look I’m fine, Joey. I can cope with this myself.” The moment she said those words, Charlie nearly fell to the floor again, and allowed Joey to catch her again. “And you’re doing such a fine job of it, Charlz,” Joey smirked. 

Unable to argue, Charlie allowed Joey to walk her over to the couch. Assisting Charlie to the edge of the couch, Joey helped her gently bend down onto the couch until she was sitting on it. Charlie looked up at her and mouthed ‘thank you.’ 

Joey smiled, “Don’t mention it. Now you are gonna stay put where you are and I’m gonna go dig through the medicine cabinet for some of that pain-relieving cream we have that you usually use on sore muscles after working out too hard at the gym. I assume the stuff might help in this instance if you refuse to let me take you to the hospital. And…uh…while I go get that…you can…um…takeyourshirtoff.” Joey squawked out the last few words. 

“Huh? Do what?” Charlie asked, eyes bulging at what she thought she heard Joey say. Joey smiled politely, “Um…I’ll need you to…well ah…take…your shirt off.” “Do what?” Charlie repeated, still unsure at what she’d heard. Joey bit her lip, “Well I’m not gonna…put the cream on your clothing ‘cause that won’t make you feel any better so…shirt off.” 

“I’m fine…I can put the cream on myself thank you,” Charlie resisted. “Course you can…but unless you’ve reached a level of flexibility that I don’t know about you’re not gonna be able to reach those achy sores on your back,” Joey mocked gently, “Be back in a minute.” 

Charlie frowned as she glanced back at Joey as she ran towards their bathroom. Sighing, Charlie uncomfortably removed her shoes. Then sighing even harder, she slipped her hands down to the bottom of her shirt and began undoing each button slowly. 

Joey blushed gently as she walked back into the living room and found Charlie struggling to undo the last button on her uniform. Deciding not to let her feelings get in the way, and act like a normal friend helping her injured friend, Joey bounded back over to the couch. 

Noticing that Charlie was sitting on the edge of the couch, Joey slowly got onto the couch and positioned herself directly behind Charlie. Settling herself on her knees at either side of Charlie’s hips, Joey could sit up behind her and lean over her back. “Need a hand with that?” Joey asked, placing the cream next to her. 

“I got it,” Charlie whispered. Rolling her eyes, Joey didn’t hesitate to reach around Charlie’s front and from her position behind her, Joey undid the last button and gently dragged the shirt off Charlie’s body. Throwing the shirt on the coffee table, Joey gasped as she stared down at Charlie’s bruised back, “And how many times exactly did you get thrown into these filing cabinets?” 

“Oh…ah…three times I think,” Charlie responded guiltily. “Well lucky for you, you had Prince Angelo there to protect you…not,” Joey joked. “Yeah, he never was much of a Prince…in any way,” Charlie agreed, “Besides I got some good news today. I won’t have Angelo hassling me for the next few weeks as he’s been assigned to one of the city stations to oversee it while a sergeant, he did police training with is on holidays. Typical that my dream comes true just when I might need a couple days off ‘cause of this pain.” 

“Is Angelo really still hassling you? About wanting to get back together with you? It’s been nearly six years Charlie…and you were only with him for like a month. Are you sure you can’t do something about him?” Joey asked concerned. 

Charlie frowned, “I don’t know why he’s still ‘in love’ with me. I thought he would’ve gotten over it by now…but every day he’s there trying to creep his way into my personal life and every day I turn him down. You don’t need to worry about me, Jo…I’m used to dealing with him. Besides maybe I’ll get really lucky and he’ll love it back in the city and request a transfer.” 

Joey swallowed hard, “Charlie, I really think that you should say something to your boss about the way Angelo treats you. It’s not right the way he always hits on you. I’d call your boss myself if you’d let me.” “Joey, you don’t need to do that. It’s not important right now. I just…can you just get on with this? It’s embarrassing enough sitting here like this front of you,” Charlie confessed. “You’re embarrassed…? Sorry I didn’t realize…just you know…not like it’s anything I’ve never seen before. You don’t have to be ashamed in front of me,” Joey whispered. 

“Well I am,” Charlie admitted, “This was a bad idea. I’m just gonna get myself to the hospital?” “And have some old, hairy male-nurse rub this cream onto your back?” Joey teased. “Fine…I’ll stay,” Charlie squeaked out. 

“Good girl,” Joey smiled, then picking up the cream she squeezed some onto her palms. Charlie winced verbally as Joey’s hands touched her back. “Sorry did I hurt you?” Joey asked panicking. Charlie looked back up at her, “No…some criminal hurt me. That was just…a reminder.” “Okay well I’ll take this slower,” Joey decided, as she placed her fingers gently back against Charlie’s skin. 

Joey stroked her hands against Charlie’s back for several minutes. There was a comfortable silence between them with the exception of Charlie wincing every so often. Charlie blushed deeply every time Joey’s hands reached just south of her lower back or around her sides. Although she didn’t say anything, Joey could sense that Charlie was still in pain every time her hands glided down her back. 

“I want you to quit your job,” Joey suddenly blurted out, surprising both of them. Joey looked down at the ground, “I mean…I don’t want this to happen again…I don’t want you getting hurt.” Joey’s hand was resting on Charlie’s shoulder, so Charlie reached her own hand up and entangled them, “Have I ever asked you to quit your job even though I know you could get hurt…or worse…out on the ocean?” 

Joey shook her head, “No, but unless my trawler sinks or I fall into shark-infested waters…or we’re taken hostage by a bunch of pirates I won’t get injured like this. Every time you go to work, I worry about you not returning. You’ve got guns, weapons and criminals. And I couldn’t bare it Charlie…I couldn’t…” 

“Pirates huh?” Charlie chuckled, “You know that’s not as crazy as you suggest, Jo.” “I don’t want you getting hurt again,” Joey whispered, struggling not to burst into tears. Charlie glanced back up at her, squeezing her hand, “This is because of…this…isn’t it?” “They’re just bruises,” Joey replied, looking away. 

Charlie waited until Joey stared back into her eyes and squeezed her hand again, “This isn’t about the bruises or what happened today. This is about…this.” Charlie nodded towards their hands. Joey allowed a tear to trickle down her cheek. “You’ve been massaging and circling your hand against my shoulder blade for the last five minutes. This is about my other work injury, isn’t it? The ugly looking scar under my shoulder,” Charlie told her gently. 

“It’s not ugly…and also yes,” Joey confessed. “And about the other wounds on my body? You want me to quit my job before something like…this happens again,” Charlie realized. “It’s not stupid,” Joey swallowed hard as she continued circling her hand against Charlie’s scar. Charlie continued looking up at her, “I never said it was stupid. And it also won’t happen again.” “You don’t know that,” Joey sobbed, “You don’t know what it was like…to watch you…nearly die.” 

“Tell me,” Charlie whispered urgently. Joey frowned, “I don’t like talking about it.” Charlie nodded gently, “Yeah I know…you’ve not once told me what it was like…even when I got out of hospital…you refused to tell me what you went through. So, tell me.” Joey shrugged, “You were there when Robbo tried to drown me and you rescued me…just imagine what you went through nearly losing me then.” 

Charlie chewed on her lip, “Yes but by that stage I was just coming to terms with my feelings for you when I nearly lost you…we weren’t deeply in love and happily married…when I nearly watched you die. Let me in…and let me know what you went through when I nearly died. I want to know what you went through and how you got through it. I want to know…so I can decide if I should give up my job…if you really are that afraid of losing me.” 

Joey took a deep breath, as she continued massaging Charlie’s shoulder, feeling the scar beneath her fingers. Blinking away several tears, Joey felt transfixed as she recalled her memories to Charlie… 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Forty-Nine 

Flashback – December 2010 

*Ring ring* 

Joey fumbled around in the dark, having being awoken by the phone ringing in the middle of the night. Reaching over to the bedside table, she managed to drag the phone to her ear. Suddenly panicking at the realization that Charlie wasn’t asleep next to her and after glancing at the clock, arousing her feeling of dread when she noticed Charlie should’ve been home hours ago, she clicked the hand-held phone to answer it. 

“Charlie?” she whispered, desperate to hear her wife’s voice calmly telling her she was on her way home. But instead she sat up immediately when the voice on the other end wasn’t Charlie, “Joey, it’s Rachel. I’m sorry to call at this hour but…” 

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Joey demanded, her voice cracking as she could sense Rachel’s hesitation. “Watson called, Joey…Charlie’s on her way in to the hospital…she was hurt Joey,” Rachel whispered. “How badly? Rach please don’t tell me…” Joey began stressing. 

“I don’t know how bad her injuries are,” Rachel told her, “All I was told is that she received several gunshot wounds to her upper body in a hostage situation that went wrong and she’s on her way in an ambulance. She’ll be here in several minutes and we’re already setting up for surgery for her and one of the other officers that was injured.” 

“I’m on my way,” Joey whispered, as she struggled to untangle herself from the bed sheets. “Joey, I only called to let you know Charlie will be here. We’re gonna take good care of her. There’s nothing a woman like you in your condition can do right now but wait around for hours. Try and get some sleep, Joey, and come in here in the morning. You can then worry about her by her bedside tomorrow morning when she’s out of surgery,” Rachel advised. 

“And what if she doesn’t survive the surgery?” Joey pleaded. “She will, Jo. She’s a fighter. You know that. I’m not performing the surgery myself as there’s a more qualified doctor here but I’ll be there observing and will certainly call if…” Rachel trailed off. 

“That’s it…I’m getting down there as soon as I can,” Joey insisted. “Joey, you can’t…please we’re gonna do everything we can. Why don’t you get Ruby and let her come down here and do the waiting in the halls panicking that’s not good for you right now?” Rachel suggested. Joey nodded, scared and exhausted, “Okay…I’ll go wake Ruby and let her know. And then I’ll see if I’m up for coming down to the hospital tonight. Oh…ah thanks Rach.” 

Joey hung up the phone without waiting for Rachel’s response, and finally grunting and getting untangled from the sheets, Joey padded down to Ruby’s room, practically knocking the door down off its hinges. 

Twenty minutes later, Rachel was walking down the hallway of the hospital, about to head into Charlie’s surgery when she looked up and saw Joey, Ruby, and Aden standing at the reception desk. Rachel walked up to the group. Ruby spotted her first, “How’s Charlie? Is she gonna be okay?” “I’m just heading into her surgery now, so you guys have a bit of a wait ahead of you,” Rachel advised them, “Joey, I thought I told you to stay at home and not stress yourself out by being here.” 

Aden glanced at Rachel sheepishly from behind Joey and Ruby, “Yeah…try telling that to a pregnant woman.” Joey elbowed him in the ribs, “I let you drive us here and make sure we’re okay to cope with this. Don’t make me send you home. I’m pregnant, I’m not incapable of waiting fretfully to see if my wife is gonna live. How is she Rachel? Really? What happened?” 

Aden rubbed his ribs and whispered softly, “Hormones!” 

Rachel sighed as she looked on at the three anxious faces, “Charlie came in with three gunshot wounds. One to her lower stomach that shouldn’t be difficult to remove in surgery. The second bullet only grazed just above Charlie’s hip, so that’ll just need a few stitches to clean up the wound. But…” 

“But what?” Joey urged impatiently. Rachel gestured calmly, “The third bullet struck her in the chest on her left side. Just above her heart, but below her shoulder. This is the problem wound. The bullet did a lot of damage and we’re gonna do everything we can to save her but…it could take a while and there’s no promises. I didn’t want to tell you about this over the phone as I didn’t want you to stress out, Joey. Your body can’t take the stress. And neither can the baby. Aden, why don’t you take her home for a few hours' sleep and bring her back once Charlie’s in recovery?” 

Joey glared at him, “Don’t even think about it! I’m not gonna get any sleep at home while I worry about her. I’m here now and I’m staying!” “You heard the pregnant girl,” Aden told them guiltily. Ruby glanced at him, “What? Are you afraid of her?” “Ha ha…I think so yeah,” Aden admitted. “I’m staying, Rach, I don’t care what you say,” Joey insisted. 

Rachel sighed gently, “Okay. But there’s lots of waiting for you all. If you want to wait in the hallway, I’ll come out and gives you updates on her progress as often as I can. I better get going. Her surgery should just be starting now.” With that, the three thanked her and Rachel headed away from them. 

Aden put his arm around Joey’s waist, and led her down the halls as Ruby followed them, “C’mon, crazy pregnant lady, we’ll get you off your feet.” Joey glared at him, “Who you callin’ crazy, mister?” Aden smirked down at her, “The girl who just refused to take the Doctors’ orders.” Joey rolled her eyes, “Oh for Christ’s sake…I’m pregnant that’s all. It’s not like I’m sick. I’m not leaving Charlie when she needs me…us.” 

Aden sat her down on one of the plastic chairs, and sat down next to her, while Ruby sat down on her other side and took Joey’s hand in her own. “Maybe Rachel’s right, Jo…I mean all this stress can’t be good for the baby,” Ruby told her softly, “You’re six months pregnant, you need to think about what’s best for him or her.” 

“And what about what’s best for the Mama? If I go home, I will be a lot more stressed out and we don’t want that for the baby now do we?” Joey replied breathlessly, the stress taking its toll. “No, course not,” Aden sighed, then concluded, “So, we stay and wait.” “Thank you,” Joey told him. 

Ruby dropped Joey’s hand and stood up, “Okay well I’m just gonna go and call Dad and Morag and let them know Charlie’s here so they can drive up as soon as possible. I’m also gonna call Geoff. Aid, do you want me to call Nicole and let her know you’ll be here all night?” “Yeah that’d be great Rubes, thanks,” Aden smiled. 

“Okay well I was also thinking that I’d get some food from the cafeteria for us. Anything in particular you guys want?” Ruby suggested. “Just a coffee for me. That’ll keep me up to make sure you girls are okay,” Aden replied. Joey stared off distantly down the hallway as she kept picturing Charlie in surgery and…something going wrong. 

“Joey…you okay?” Ruby asked her. “Huh?” Joey flicked her head back to them, “Oh…yeah I’m fine.” “Joey, you don’t look fine. You look really…tired and stressed. Maybe you should--” Aden tried to suggest. “Don’t I have a right to be stressed out? Look I’m just worried…about her. I don’t need you guys to be worried about me too,” Joey told them. 

“How can we not be worried about the pair of you right now? And by pair I do mean you and the baby,” Aden replied, “Rachel is taking care of Charlie…and Charlie would want us to take care of you and your child.” Joey groaned in frustration, placing her hand over her stomach, “I am fine. In fact, the only thing wrong is that I’m kinda hungry and so is this little one.” 

“Then it’s a good thing I’m on my way to the cafeteria. What would you like, Jo?” Ruby grinned. Joey shrugged, “You know what…I have no idea. I’m sure by the time you’ve made your calls and get back here after getting the food my taste buds will change their mind so I think I might just come with you and I can work it out when I’m at the cafeteria.” 

“Are you sure you’re okay with doing that? You should be sitting here trying to relax, Joey. The next few hours…days…weeks…they could be stressful and you need to do everything to…” Aden tried to insist. 

Joey rolled her eyes, “Guys, I am fine. I am stressed as hell about my wife and I can’t possibly begin to think about what will happen if she…so I need something to distract me…even if it is only for a minute. A minute’s better than nothing. Ruby, I’m coming with you, no arguments. So, if you don’t mind…I’m gonna get up…” 

Joey suddenly trailed off as she heard a voice down the hallway. “Ruby? Aden?” Angelo asked desperately as he spotted the pair in the hallway. The two flung their heads towards his direction and were surprised when the uniformed cop ran down the hallway towards them. Aden stood up to face him. 

Angelo came to a screeching halt as he reached them. Both of them noticed the blood splattered on his shirt and his desperate expression. Angelo didn’t notice Joey sitting behind them as he started talking rapidly, “Is Charlie okay? God please tell me she’s not...I am so sorry I didn’t mean for it to go down like this tonight...”  Angelo gulped as Joey suddenly came into his view as she stood up from the seat behind Ruby and Aden. Aden shuffled awkwardly to the side, allowing Joey to step forwards in front of Angelo. “What the hell did you do? What the hell did you do to my wife?” Joey demanded of the blood-covered man in front of her. 

Angelo gritted his teeth at Joey’s last word – wife. He hated the fact that Charlie had fallen for this younger woman over him and they had decided to get married and start a family. Just seeing the pregnant woman in front of him made Angelo wish that Charlie had stayed with him and that she had instead married him as now she could’ve been pregnant with their own child...and had she been carrying his child, Angelo never would’ve allowed Charlie to be where she was that night. 

Angelo’s face was full of regret and sorrow, “Joey...I’m so sorry. Charlie told me it was too dangerous...but I assured her I’d never take my eyes off of her and that she’d be safe so she could come...home to you tonight.” Joey’s voice cracked as she began shaking, “What did YOU do?” 

Angelo couldn’t look the pregnant woman in the eyes anymore and stared up at the ceiling, “Charlie, Watson and I were called to a hostage situation at the bar in the Sands Hotel as it was being robbed and the patrons were held hostage as the robbers demanded all the cash from the bar’s takings. Charlie had finished her shift and had already changed out of her uniform and into her normal clothes when we got the call. I convinced Charlie to come with us as I didn’t know what we were walking into. Once we got there...I assessed the situation...and...I talked Charlie into letting me use her as bait. 

She was still armed with a gun on her but I told her to enter the bar like a regular patron and assess exactly how many people were armed and how many were held hostage until I could get them out. She had a wire on her and she could tell me what the situation was when they placed her away from them with the other hostages. I don’t really know what happened next...it was all kind of a blur. 

I remember one of the robbers suddenly recognized her as a cop from other minor crimes he’d committed so I rushed in to save her without thinking it through...and in my rush to save her I DIDN’T take my eyes off her. I didn’t focus on the robber and...he punched me before turning around and...seeing the desperation in my eyes to save Charlie...the guy shot her. God he just...shot her and tried to kill her before running away. I couldn’t breathe when I saw her lifeless body. God the feeling of holding her dying body in my arms...trying to comfort her and tell her I wouldn’t let her go...God this is all my fault! She shouldn’t have been there...if only I--” 

Angelo didn’t get to finish his sentence as he was suddenly thrust to the floor when Joey decked him without warning. 

Though smaller and weaker than Angelo, Joey had thrown her entire weight and emotions behind her hand when she reached forwards and slammed her fist into Angelo’s jaw. She was shocked that Angelo had stumbled over at the impact and the shock overrode the pain that immediately shot up her arm. Aden stared at Joey in amazement, “You know I was...just about to do that too.” 

Joey stared down at Angelo, fuming at him. The way he had described holding Charlie’s body left Joey with the awful picture stuck in her mind that Charlie could’ve died in his arms...instead of the arms of the wife that loved her completely. Joey couldn’t stand to look at the man that had tried to take her place in every way with regards to her relationship with Charlie and though the thought of having Charlie die in her arms was devastating to Joey, she never wanted to imagine Charlie dying in the arms of the man that tried to tear them apart. 

Angelo stared up at Joey, the guilt of his mistake weighing down on him, especially when he lowered his eyes only to see Joey’s pregnant waist and the impact of what the mistake could’ve cost both of them that night, “I’m sorry. Joey, I never meant...for Charlie to get hurt. You have to believe me.” 

Joey felt Aden and Ruby step up beside her as both of them joined her in glaring at Angelo, “You have no right to be here.” Angelo struggled to his feet, embarrassed by the fact that a pregnant woman had decked him, “Joey, please I just need to make sure Charlie’s okay and see her so I can tell her how sorry I am...” 

Joey stared up at the man, not afraid to show him she hated him, “If you ever come near this hospital while Charlie’s here, I will not hesitate to place a restraining order on you and make sure you never come near her again. And I swear to God if Charlie doesn’t...if I become a single parent because of what you’ve done...I will make sure you suffer every single day and know the full impact you’ve done to our child for not letting them have the chance of meeting his or her mother!” 

Angelo swallowed heavily, unable to find any words to defend himself. Then at Ruby’s silent indication, Angelo nodded before trudging away from them down the hallway trying to forget the guilt that was washing over him for getting Charlie injured. 

Ruby turned to Joey, “Jo...that was amazing. I’ve never seen you so scary before. Never mess with a pregnant woman huh, Aden?” Aden grinned, “Damn, Jo, I know you’ve told Angelo off many a time for trying to win Charlie back...but that was awesome! You sure showed him who Charlie cares more about and what a wanker he is to even think that anyone will actually forgive him for this.” 

Joey nodded hesitantly. Aden frowned, “You okay, Jo?” Joey looked up at him before taking a step forwards, holding her hand over her stomach protectively, “Yeah I’m…fine…I’ll be right to go get us some food, Rubes, and take a moment to call…” Joey suddenly wavered as she felt dizzy, “Or maybe I’ll just…sit back…down…” 

Before Ruby or Aden could react, Joey suddenly collapsed to the floor unconscious. 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty 

Present Day - May 2015 

Joey gripped tightly onto Charlie’s shoulders as she massaged her hands against them. Though her grip was slightly causing Charlie pain from the bruises she’d been inflicted with, Charlie was comforted by the slow rhythm of Joey’s hands over her skin. She could tell that Joey needed to hold onto her gently to make sure she was safe as Joey choked up with tears several times as she recalled the painful memory of nearly losing Charlie over four years ago. 

Flashback – December 2010 

Joey’s eyes slowly fluttered open as she took in her surroundings of the small hospital room she was in and the hospital bed she was lying in. Aden immediately hopped up from his chair next to her and took her hand, as he sat on the edge of the bed. Though he tried to hide it, she realized he’d been crying. 

“What happened?” Joey croaked out. “You collapsed from exhaustion a couple hours ago in the waiting room,” Aden answered gingerly, “Shoulda listened to your Doctor…and to us.” “Is Charlie…?” Joey suddenly asked panicked as the painful memory of being told her wife could die was bought back to her. 

Aden squeezed her hand, “Charlie’s still in surgery. Ruby’s still out there in the waiting room while I’m looking after you. She saw Rachel over half hour ago and was told that things took a turn for the worst in the surgery but they managed to stabilize Charlie and she should be due out of surgery in the next hour or so.” Joey nodded weakly, then placing her hand over her stomach, her eyes widened, “Is the baby…?” 

Aden lent forwards, stroking his best friend’s hair out of her face, “We’re not sure. The Doctors have been examining you and they took you to have an ultrasound while you were unconscious. The Doctor should be back any moment now to let us know if there’s been any complications with little Riley. So…little Riley, huh? Ruby told me while you were getting the ultrasound that’s the name you and Charlie have settled on…I like it!” 

“Thanks…it was Charlie’s suggestion…and it just felt right…whether it’s a boy or girl,” Joey blinked back tears, “I’m sorry I should’ve listened to you all when you kept telling me to go home to relax.” “Doesn’t matter now. The same thing probably would’ve happened at home as you wouldn’t have stopped stressing. You got lucky with the fact you collapsed at a hospital with staff on hand to help,” Aden told her gently. “But what if something’s wrong and the baby is…?” Joey choked out. 

Before Aden could answer her, a Doctor stepped into the room, “Glad to see you’re awake Mrs. Collins. I’m Doctor Ryan Chase. How are you feeling?” “Weak and exhausted.” Joey answered him, “Aden told me you did an ultrasound while I was asleep. Is everything okay with the baby?” 

The Doctor glanced at Aden, “You the father?” Aden nodded, “Yes…duh I mean…well sperm donor is the more appropriate term.” “My wife and I are having this child. What? Is that not in the baby’s file?” Joey shook her head anxiously. “Right…sorry must have glanced over that section,” Doctor Chase admitted, “So…do you want me to wait ‘til your wife gets here?” 

Joey fought back tears, and Aden placed his hand comfortingly on her back. “That’s why we were at the hospital when Joey collapsed. Her wife, Charlie, was in an accident earlier and is in surgery. She collapsed from the stress of it all…of thinking Charlie might…” 

The Doctor nodded understandingly, “I’m very sorry to hear that. I assume that your regular doctor, Dr. Armstrong is in surgery with Charlie which is why I had to take your case and if so, your wife is in good hands.” “Thanks…so do you think you can get to the part about whether or not my child’s okay after I collapsed?” Joey asked impatiently. “Of course,” Doctor Chase agreed as he flipped open the baby’s file, “Your baby’s fine.” 

Joey and Aden breathed sighs of relief. “Really?” Joey asked disbelievingly. “Absolutely, we couldn’t find any damage on the ultrasound. While it’s never a good thing for an unborn baby for their mother to take a fall like that, the only damage you did is that bruise on your cheek when you hit the floor and you sprained your wrist as you tried to cushion your fall with it. It also looks like you fractured two fingers…when you…um…punched some guy before you collapsed. Your nurse has already put a light bandage on your wrist and has strapped up the fractured fingers. We’ll probably ask you to come back in a few days to double check that both are healing fine. You’re very lucky, Mrs. Collins,” Doctor Chase grinned. 

Joey closed her eyes, still trying to believe what the Doctor had told her, “Really really? I mean the baby’s healthy and is perfectly fine?” Doctor Chase smiled gently at Joey’s insistence to be sure that he was right. Taking a step forwards, he handed Joey the file and chart to read through herself, “Here you can see for yourself. Your child is perfectly healthy as you’re entering your seventh month of pregnancy. Everything’s clearly written right there in the file – the baby’s size, position in the womb, heart rate, sex and--” 

“The baby’s…” Joey’s eyes widened as her eyes landed on the last item on the file Doctor Chase had mentioned, “The baby’s…sex.” Doctor Chase’s eyes filled with regret, “Oh…I’m sorry. God I’m sorry…you didn’t already know…” Joey stared at the page, “Uh no…we were gonna keep it a surprise…guess that didn’t work.” 

Doctor Chase took the file back off Joey, “I’m so sorry. I had no idea you didn’t want to know. I’m such an idiot for assuming you knew.” Aden rolled his eyes, “Maybe you better get back to your own patients then, Doc. Or maybe learn to do a bit of reading up on new patients before you see them.” “I truly am sorry,” Doctor Chase told Joey, ignoring Aden. 

Joey placed her hand on Aden’s arm, holding him back in case he got angry at the Doctor, “You know what, Aid…its fine. Seriously there’s no need to apologize, Doc. I’m surprised and didn’t expect to find out on a piece of paper…but I really am okay with knowing now. It’s weird but…it kind of gives me some kind of hope that we’re all gonna be okay…and that Charlie will make it through this.” 

Doctor Chase nodded silently at Joey’s words then exited the room. Once the doctor had left them alone, Aden smiled down at Joey, “So, you really are okay with knowing? And you’re damn right, Charlie won’t leave you now…she’ll pull through…for both of you.” 

“I know she will,” Joey said self-assured, “And I really am okay with knowing that we’re going to be having…” Aden grinned, “Well c’mon you can’t keep this big ‘ol secret to yourself. Charlie doesn’t have to know that you know yet. You can still act surprised when you see your baby for the first time.” 

Joey shrugged, “Oh yeah right because I look great acting surprised. Remember my surprise birthday party a couple months ago that Charlie spent days planning and you spoilt it when you asked me round to your place to ‘distract me’ for the day only to leave your bloody party invitation on the coffee table which I stumbled upon. And you were like, ‘It’s still okay, Jo, just act surprised when everyone jumps out at you when you walk into your darkened house tonight.’ Pfft, do you know how annoyed Charlie was when she realized I knew after all her planning? And now you want me to act surprised right after I’ve just given birth to our child…gee no pressure. I’m sure that’ll be the first thing on my mind instead of the pain!” 

Aden chuckled at the memory of Joey glaring at him like it was his fault everyone wanted to surprise her, when he found her with the invitation which he’d forgotten to put away, “Okay fine then…tell Charlie if you must. You are right, you couldn’t pretend to be surprised if you tried. Don’t blame Charlie for knowing you knew about the party. Pathetic effort, Jo, to try and act surprised…’Oh...wow a surprise party…for me…uh great.’” 

Joey smacked Aden’s arm as he impersonated her, “Quit teasing, still in a hospital bed here.” Aden smiled, “Very well. Just trying to keep the mood light. But c’mon you gotta tell me…so am I having a god-son or a god-daughter?” 

Before Joey could tell him that if anyone was gonna be the next to know it’d be Charlie, Ruby and Rachel walked into the room. Ruby flung her arms around Joey, “Joey, you’re awake. Thank God! Is everything okay with you and…?” Joey held onto Ruby tightly, “The baby’s fine, Ruby. How’s Charlie?” 

Ruby unlatched herself from Joey and took a step back next to Rachel. Rachel stepped up next to Joey’s bed, “Charlie’s in recovery. The surgery went on a lot longer than we thought as the surgeon had a difficult time getting the bullet out of Charlie’s shoulder. You should all know that…we lost her for a few seconds…but we managed to get her back for you and we hope that she’s gonna pull through this.” 

“You hope?” Joey repeated, “Is that all you’ve got for us?” Rachel sighed gently, “Charlie nearly died so we’re not sure that she will recover from this accident fully. We are very hopeful and so far, the signs are promising.” “Can I go see her?” Joey begged. 

“I’ll need to double check that’s okay with your Doctor before you start getting out of that bed. But, Joey, Charlie’s still unconscious and she probably will be for another few hours so I would recommend that you get some rest first for the baby’s sake and when it looks like she’s waking up…we can come get you,” Rachel informed her. “I need to go see her now,” Joey pleaded, her eyes wide with fear. Rachel glanced at Aden and Ruby before nodding at Joey, “Okay.” 

Joey was in a wheelchair when Rachel wheeled her into Charlie’s room. She gasped softly as she saw all the tubes and wires strapped to Charlie’s body. Rachel wheeled her up to Charlie’s bed, and Joey immediately reached out and took hold of Charlie’s hand. Rachel smiled, “I’ll leave you two alone. If you need anything or feel dizzy or weak please call for a nurse and they’ll get me here as soon as possible.” Joey nodded and thanked Rachel before the Doctor left the room. 

Once she was alone, Joey squeezed Charlie’s hand as she stared up at her wife, “C’mon, Charlie…come back to me. Don’t leave me.” Joey’s pleading fell on deaf ears as Charlie continued breathing softly in her unconscious state. Joey closed her eyes, feeling tired once more. Struggling to keep her eyes open, Joey soon rested her head against Charlie’s chest on the bed and fell asleep. 

Several hours later, Joey woke up again. Her head flicked up immediately as her memories flooded back to her. Charlie was still unconscious. Joey squeezed her hand, hoping it would convince her wife to come back to her. Joey sighed as it didn’t work and Charlie’s eyelids remained closed. 

Joey stared up at Charlie and begged her wife to wake up, “C’mon, sweetie, I need you. We need you. Don’t you dare think for one second I can do this without you. I did not want us to start a family just so I would lose you. You need to be here and help me, Charlie. I won’t do this alone…so you got no choice here…you gotta wake up.” 

Joey exhaled sharply as she thought she’d felt Charlie’s hand move but sighed miserably as she realized it was just her imagination. Looking away from Charlie, Joey’s eyes landed on Charlie’s handbag which was sitting on the table next to Charlie’s bed. Joey assumed that Charlie had it in her possession when she was shot and one of the nurses had left it in her room for her. Awkwardly standing up from her wheelchair, Joey reached out for the bag and fumbled around in it until she pulled out Charlie’s IPod. 

Slipping one of the headphones in her ear and one in Charlie’s she hoped she could find some relaxing music that would help pass the time until Charlie woke up. Sitting back down in her wheelchair, Joey lent herself forwards and took Charlie’s hand once more in her own. Joey stared up at her cautiously as she flicked the IPod onto ‘shuffle’ to select the song for her as she was too weak to decide on her own. 

Joey felt tears brimming in her eyes as the music flowed softly.  

“You were always there

Why did they take you away?

I was never scared

In your arms I felt invincible

Wanted you to see,

the world beneath my feet

I wish that you could stay 

I would tell you; you're unbelievable

And I want you to know 

You're who I wanna be 

And I'll sing with everything 

I have inside of me 

You're always in my heart 

There's no letting go 

You gotta know 

You're unforgettable”   

Joey squeezed Charlie’s hand tight as the lyrics washed over her and in a panic, she felt as if the song was preparing her for the worst...and she would need to let Charlie go... 

“They say I've got your eyes 

Still it's so much to see 

I couldn't even say goodbye 

'Cause you were taken without 

Even letting go 

This crimson runs through my veins 

It's your life 

You're the energy   

And I want you to know 

You're who I wanna be 

And I'll sing with everything 

I have inside of me 

You're always in my heart 

There's no letting go 

You gotta know” 

Joey felt the tears sliding down her cheeks as she silently imagined the horror of losing Charlie without being able to say goodbye. And even though she always reminded Charlie that she would always be in her heart no matter what...she couldn’t imagine living without her...

“I just need to hear you speak

Hold onto my hand 

There's nothing in between us 

I know you're thinking of me 

You'll be there when I reach   

And I want you to know 

You're who I wanna be 

And I'll sing with everything 

I have inside of me 

You're always in my heart 

There's no letting go 

You gotta know 

You gotta know” 

Joey entangled their fingers tightly, not wanting to let go while she quietly begged Charlie to wake up. The lyrics giving her a platform to silently plead with Charlie to hold onto her and just give her the chance to hear her voice once more...even if it was to say goodbye... 

“And I want you to know 

You're who I wanna be 

And I'll sing with everything 

I have inside of me 

You're always in my heart 

There's no letting go 

You gotta know 

You're unforgettable 

You're unforgettable 

You're unforgettable” 

As the song concluded Joey wept quietly and flicked the IPod off, unable to stand listening to another powerful song that could invoke such emotion in her. Joey’s heartbreaking sobbing nearly stopped her from hearing the croaky voice, “You’re...unfor...gettable.” 

Joey swallowed deeply and stared up at Charlie. Her tears stopped flowing as she felt Charlie squeeze her hand and watched as her eyes fluttered slowly, “Charlie? Baby, are you okay?” Charlie grunted in pain but managed to lift her hand up to pull the oxygen mask slightly off her face to the side, “Hey you...nice song.” 

Joey smiled in relief and stood up so she could lean forwards and kiss Charlie’s forehead, “Baby, don’t move...I’m gonna get one of the nurses to call for Rachel.” Charlie suddenly gripped Joey’s hand stopping her from leaving, then breathing difficultly while in obvious pain, “I’m sorry...I just...I don’t think I’m okay.” 

“What?” Joey asked seriously concerned. Charlie struggled once more to talk, “I don’t think I’m going...to be fine. Joey...I need you to know how...much I love you and...if I don’t make it...” Joey pressed her forehead against Charlie’s, “Don’t you dare talk like that!” Charlie felt the tears brimming in her eyes, along with the tears that were falling from Joey’s own cheeks, “You need to know...” 

Joey closed her eyes and pressed her lips against Charlie’s, “I know okay...but don’t you dare leave me. I don’t care how unforgettable you are...I can’t live without you, Charlie. You have to fight. I know you’re in pain...but please, Charlie...fight to live.” Charlie stared up at Joey, wide-eyed and terrified of being torn apart from her, “I want to...I’m scared I don’t have...the energy...to come back from this. I felt like I was dying and...my life was slipping away...” 

Joey opened her eyes and begged tenderly, “I can’t imagine how scared you were and I’d give anything to have been there with you...but you have to live, Charlie. I don’t know how to live without you in my life. Please don’t leave me like this...you can’t leave me alone to raise our son.” 

“Our...” Charlie took a sharp breath as she realized what Joey had just said. Joey stroked Charlie’s face, “Sorry to spoil the surprise...I just found out by accident. Please, Charlie...you’re not just fighting for me...it’s for him as well. Our son is gonna need you...I cannot do this alone...so don’t you dare give up before he even has a chance to meet the wonderful parent that I know you’re gonna be. Don’t let him grow up without you. Make him proud by fighting to be there for him and me. Charlie, please...I need you to live.” 

Charlie nodded slightly, the pain still etched on her face, “I want to...make him proud...and do this for him...for us. I won’t...give up. I can’t leave...you...I can’t tear our family apart. I can do this...I can fight to live. Joey...get Rachel.” Joey’s tears were still flowing down her face at Charlie’s declaration that she wouldn’t give up on them. 

Before Joey called for one of the nurses to get Rachel in to see Charlie, Joey pressed her lips against Charlie’s in a soft and passionate kiss. Joey promised herself that she would always be inspired by Charlie’s bravery to fight to save their family no matter how much pain she was in and that the pair of them together would never give up on their family... 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty-One 

Present Day – May 2015 

Charlie could sense the tears running down Joey’s cheeks and she too had her eyes brimming with tears, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I had no idea how much that hurt you nearly losing me like that.” Joey continued gripping tightly on Charlie’s shoulders, afraid of letting go, “It was awful…the whole time I kept thinking about what life would be like without you…and I didn’t want to live in a world without you in it. You saved us both by surviving…even now…I can’t imagine my life without you.” 

Charlie disentangled their hands from her shoulder, “I’ll think about quitting my job okay…if it hurts you that much…being so worried about me. I just…I’d like to figure out what else I can do with my life…before I consider quitting. Until I do…I’ll continue just being on desk duty only. Can you wait for that?” Joey nodded, sniffling, “Of course I’ll wait…and whatever you do next…you’ll be brilliant at it. Though now I’m feeling a little guilty…for asking this of you…when you don’t owe me anything.” 

Charlie shrugged softly, “This is for Riley as much as it is for you. Hope he doesn’t see this as a reason not to follow his own dreams. And if it’s also okay with you…I might wait until I’ve made any real decisions before I tell him.” Joey tried to smile through the tears, “Anything you want.” 

“You had a really hard time going through all that…thinking that you lost me…didn’t you? I can’t believe you never told me all this,” Charlie whispered. Joey sighed, “Well I guess by the time we got you home all we were concerned about was getting you better.” Charlie smiled, “That was a good time when I did get home, wasn’t it?” Joey rolled her eyes, “You say that now. Two weeks of strict bed rest and you nearly killed the rest of us with your complaining.” 

Charlie breathed deeply, “Okay so it wasn’t all great…but we did get to spend all of Christmas Day in bed together. Best Christmas ever.” “Yeah it was,” Joey agreed, “We spent the whole day lying in each other’s arms…just talking about what we were gonna do in the future. All the holidays we’d take, the things we wanted to do, all the plans we had for raising Riley…I don’t think I’ll ever have such a great Christmas again.” 

Charlie was touched by Joey’s admission, then suddenly noticed that Joey had continued stroking her back and massaging her shoulders. All through her story Joey’s hands hadn’t left Charlie’s skin. Charlie couldn’t remember the last time Joey had actually poured more pain reliever cream onto her hands, and realized the simple act of healing had turned into a comfortable massage. Charlie glanced up at Joey, “This is nice. The massage…I can’t remember the last time you did this.” 

Joey chewed on her lip, “Hmm ‘bout eighteen months now. I miss this too. So, does this mean once I’m done with you, I get a foot massage?” Charlie chuckled, “No way. This is you helping me with my injury. I never agreed to a foot massage.” 

Joey grinned, “Aw c’mon it’s like our…silent arrangement. I remember all the times you would come home from work; you’d give me a foot massage for being on my feet all day on the trawler or looking after Ry and I’d give you a shoulder massage. Then of course we’d end up all naked together on the couch or the bed if we made it that far…” Joey blushed deeply and cleared her throat, “Um…I just meant…” 

Charlie’s cheeks turned bright red as she recalled their unwritten ritual, “You just meant…that it’s nice that we can still do these kinds of things for each other. The massages I mean! Not the…nakedness part…I just meant the…massages…and I’m gonna shut up now before you…get the wrong…idea.” Joey lent forwards and placed her mouth by Charlie’s ear, her hands still stroking Charlie’s back, “I know what you meant.” 

Charlie tapped her left hand gingerly against her knee, as she enjoyed the sensation of Joey’s fingers against her back. Joey smiled gently as she stared down and observed Charlie’s uneasiness, hoping there was a reason behind it. Joey’s smile suddenly faulted as she looked closely at Charlie’s hand. 

Joey blinked back a small tear that welled up in her eye, “Where’s your wedding ring?” Charlie frowned and squeezed her hand into a fist, “Uh…it kinda slipped off my finger this morning when I was putting some moisturizer on my hands. I didn’t really know if…I should put it back on…so I left it on top of my bedside table…so I can think about what I want to do with it.” 

Joey swallowed deeply as she felt the full emotions of what Charlie was trying to decide, “Do you want to put it back on?” Charlie shrugged slightly as she uncurled her hand and stared down at her bare finger, “You know…it doesn’t feel quite as weird as I thought it would be without it. It’s strange not wearing it…guess I thought it would feel like I’d lost a part of myself if I ever took it off.” 

“And you don’t…feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself?” Joey asked miserably. Charlie sighed gently, “I’m still waiting for that part to hit me when I least expect it, I guess. Guess you know what’s it like…when you decided to take yours off.” Joey nodded gently, “Yeah well…maybe it was a decision I rushed without thinking about what I was doing. Don’t do the same thing…okay?” 

Charlie creased her eyebrow at Joey’s request, “I wasn’t going to rush this decision…but I can’t exactly keep wearing it forever, can I?” Joey bit down hard on her lip, knowing that she had a chance here to tell Charlie why she should put her wedding ring back on. She grimaced hard as she couldn’t find her voice to tell Charlie that she didn’t want Charlie to give up hope for them. 

Charlie sighed gently as Joey remained silent. She silently closed her eyes for a brief moment, trying to accept that she’d made the right decision by taking her ring off if Joey couldn’t find a way to convince her there was a reason to keep it on. 

Joey once again blinked back tears at her cowardice, and the only thing she felt she could do was refuse to let Charlie go. She held on tighter to Charlie’s shoulders and continued rubbing her palms and fingers against them, hoping Charlie could find some comfort in her actions. While she couldn’t yet find the words, she prayed Charlie knew what she was feeling just by her actions of being unable to let her go. 

But Charlie was beginning to feel more than relaxed and comforted by Joey’s massage. Charlie could feel the heat rising in her cheeks, silently hoping that was the only place it was rising. Charlie could feel Joey’s hot breath against her neck when she spoke to her, and she swallowed deeply. Joey’s fingers glided up to Charlie’s shoulders and her massage was becoming increasingly slow. 

Charlie glanced down at the floor, trying to ignore the feelings she was having, “So…uh…you’re right…I should…start giving you that foot massage now.” Joey smirked as she observed Charlie’s action of clasping her hands together tightly in front of her, “Hmm…not quite yet…I’m not done with you…your back massage yet. There’s still a few…kinks I need to…rub out.” 

Charlie gritted her teeth together tightly. She didn’t want to admit it but Joey’s massage was making her feel…hot. Joey had talented fingers and it was one of the reasons she loved Joey giving her massages. Joey always knew where to touch her to make her feel relaxed…and turned on all in one go. 

It was part of the reason their unwritten ritual had turned into more of a torture match. It had begun shortly after they had rekindled their romance when Joey returned from her long-haul trawler job and while they had strived to avoid times when Ruby was likely to come home or they had their son to take care of, it meant it had become something less frequent but made it all the more enjoyable. 

Joey’s hands would always stroke Charlie’s body in just the right way and Charlie always teased Joey by extending her foot massage up to her thighs. They loved trying to torture the other woman just enough until one of them gave in and begged for them to make love to each other. 

Charlie was beginning to forget where she was, all she could think about was Joey’s hands rubbing against her body as she recalled all their intimate moments that occurred from such a gesture. She could feel her heart beating rapidly in her chest as the rest of her body shook gently from excitement. Her face was completely flushed and she unclasped her hands and started wiping the sweat from them on her pants. Closing her eyes, Charlie lost herself in the sensations she was unable to evade. 

Joey was still seated behind Charlie but was leaning over just enough to witness the effect she was having on Charlie. Reminiscing how she almost lost her wife had left Joey with a feeling not to let Charlie go. Her hands were gently gripping Charlie’s shoulders as she glided her hands across them. Joey smiled gently at her own feelings coursing through her body. 

As Joey raised her hands and began massaging Charlie’s neck, the sensations she felt were indescribable. It was like she was recalling all the good things about their relationship, every tender moment they had ever shared together. Joey suddenly realized she didn’t want to let go of the memories she was evoking. She didn’t want to let go of Charlie. 

Joey felt like her hands were on fire as they gently massaged Charlie’s neck, and she smirked contently when she realized Charlie’s skin felt just as hot. Joey’s eyes suddenly fixed on Charlie’s bra straps. She blushed at the thought of slipping them off Charlie’s shoulders and undoing her bra. It would only take several swift movements and she’d have more of Charlie’s body to massage. 

Joey was barely conscious to what she was doing. Her memories, like Charlie's, were that of the past and she was reacting on those actions. The only thing she did know was that it didn't feel wrong. It felt right to be gliding her hands over Charlie's back and shoulders and the fact that Charlie wasn't pushing her away. 

Without thinking Joey lent closer against Charlie's back, her lips against Charlie's ear as she purred, "Is there anything else I can do to make you feel better?" 

Charlie's eyes snapped open. She gulped hard as she suddenly remembered what they were doing. Or more specifically – when. They weren’t living in the past enjoying the pleasures of each other’s bodies. They were separated and had made a promise to be friends with one another instead of teetering on the brink of an ugly divorce. 

The feelings Charlie was experiencing as Joey continued stroking her hands along Charlie’s neck and shoulders were wrong. Not wrong in the sense that she wasn’t feeling completely comfortable being so close to her wife but wrong in the sense of their timing. Joey was dating another woman and Charlie was not the person Joey should be touching in such a manner. 

As Joey licked her lips and tilted Charlie’s head ever so slightly to the left side so she could massage her right side, Charlie had completely forgotten that Joey had asked her a question a minute ago. Her fears of what they were doing being wrong were completely washed away as she felt Joey’s fingers glide around her neck and shoulders. 

Charlie’s eyes fluttered closed again as Joey’s hands kneaded her skin delicately. She didn’t see the look Joey had in her eyes, as the younger woman, lent back against Charlie’s ear, “I want to make you feel better.” 

Before Charlie had registered what Joey had said, Joey lent forward and pressed her lips against Charlie’s shoulder. Her hands slipping back to massaging Charlie’s upper back, Joey gracefully placed small kisses along Charlie’s left shoulder. Joey then boldly licked her tongue up against Charlie’s neck and began nibbling her lips and tongue on Charlie’s neck. Joey’s kisses found their way just below Charlie’s ear to a spot she knew her wife was most ticklish.  

Charlie’s eyes were still closed and her breathing became ragged as she reached her hand up and tussled it in Joey’s hair, urging her to continue kissing her in her sensitive spot along her neck. Charlie struggled to keep breathing at a normal pace as she realized how turned on, she was from Joey’s action. This was one thing that Charlie most enjoyed about being intimate with Joey – Joey knew every way under the sun about how to make her feel perfectly loved. 

Charlie’s eyes fluttered again, this time in a small panic as she once again remembered their situation. But it was too late. Joey was more than engrossed in softly kissing Charlie’s neck, and Charlie was more than turned on from their embrace. As much as a part of her wanted to, Charlie couldn’t stop what she did next. 

Charlie moaned out loudly in pleasure, “Oh God, Joey…please Jo…I need you!” 

The second Charlie’s moan had left her lips her eyes flung open in shock. Her feelings had been at the tip of her tongue the second Joey’s hands began massaging her body but now she’d let them out and bared all to Joey by admitting she wanted her. It was one thing to keep her desires hidden while she kept her mouth gritted shut but now, she felt like she’d let everything out in the open. 

Some things were better left unsaid and Charlie’s everlasting feelings for her wife were something Charlie wanted to keep hidden. In her mind she and Joey were over and they would never find a way to rekindle their romance. Joey had moved on and didn’t return any feelings for Charlie. 

Though Charlie had promised Riley that she would tell Joey about her feelings, she secretly doubted she could ever do that. The idea of receiving a final rejection and having to live with the consequences of them were too much for Charlie. 

And now in a moment of weakness she’d let her burgeoning feelings for Joey spill out and she felt that there was no avoiding what she’d said. How did a simple massage turn into something so intimate? Why couldn’t I keep my desires to myself? What the hell must Joey be thinking after I blurted that out? 

Joey herself was also rather shaken up from Charlie’s admission. Her hands had stopped stroking Charlie’s shoulders and instead she held onto them gently. As much as her feelings for her wife were growing and that she had finally made an intimate move on Charlie, Joey was completely unprepared for Charlie’s pleasurable moan of longing. 

It had been a long time since she had heard the huskiness need in Charlie’s voice. Even during the time they’d slept together four weeks ago, Charlie was far too subdued and hesitant to open up to Joey. This time was different. Joey was sure that Charlie had meant every word and now Joey was struggling to reassure Charlie that her kisses wasn’t just an act from the past and she wanted Charlie just as desperately. 

Joey had felt Charlie’s entire body stiffen up once her moan had escaped her mouth, and she couldn’t seem to find the way to prove to Charlie that there was no reason for her to be panicking. 

Just as Joey finally found the courage to speak up and confess her own feelings, Charlie suddenly stood up brashly. Grabbing her shirt from the couch, Charlie turned away from Joey as she struggled to slip it back on. Joey swallowed deeply as Charlie briefly turned back to her, but avoided looking Joey in the eyes. 

Charlie squeezed her eyes shut as she managed to get her arms through the arm holes in the shirt. Not bothering to do up any of the buttons, Charlie turned back to Joey who was still seated in a trance on the couch, “I’m…sorry…I have to go.” 

Before Joey could stop her, Charlie rushed out of the living room into her bedroom. Joey felt tears brimming in her eyes at the thought of Charlie running away from her. Though she might not have found the courage to voice her feelings or the reasons behind her actions of intimately kissing Charlie, Joey was sure she’d made her intentions clear. 

I started kissing her…and she ran away. How could she say she wanted me and do that? Was she just imagining the past and suddenly the present caught up with her and she…realized that it wasn’t me that she wanted because her past feelings will never resurface in the present? Doesn’t she ever want to be with me again? 

Slamming the bedroom door shut behind her, Charlie threw herself onto her bed. Her shirt remained unbuttoned and Charlie buried her head against her pillow. Tears flowed down Charlie’s cheeks at her reaction of confessing her deep need to be with Joey and then to run away when Joey couldn’t respond to her confession. 

Charlie’s thoughts were clouding her mind as she continued sobbing heavily and she was so caught up in her own reactions from Joey’s massage that she didn’t stop to ask herself the one question she should’ve: 

Why did Joey kiss me like that…like she wanted to be with me? 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty-Two 

Joey breathed deeply as she paced back and forth outside Charlie’s bedroom. It felt strange having to call it that. The room had been hers and Charlie’s for nearly four years and they’d shared many special memories there. It crushed Joey when she realized that she hadn’t stepped foot in the room for nearly a year now – since she’d returned to collect all her possessions as she moved in permanently with Aden and Nicole after announcing she and Charlie were separating. 

It had been over twenty minutes since Charlie had run away from her and Joey was struggling to deal with all the emotions running through her. 

Her feelings were Charlie were now well and truly resurfacing. It seemed every moment they spent together had been leading up to one of them finally daring to make a move. Joey had stunned herself by daring to be the one to make a move when she was so positive Charlie didn’t return any of the feelings Joey had for her. And once Charlie had run away from her, Joey was sure that she was right. She’d waited too long to make a move on Charlie and it was clear now that Charlie was over her. 

Yet she continued pacing outside the room. She felt like a fool to try and make a move on her ex-wife and now Charlie was the one in their bedroom crying softly. Joey could hear her through the bedroom door and assumed that Charlie had been embarrassed and was upset by Joey’s failed attempt at rekindling their romance. 

The last time Joey had kissed Charlie, they had ended up sleeping together and afterwards Joey had decided she wasn’t ready to give their marriage another shot. Charlie had made threats to tell Kaitlyn about their night together and now Joey had put Charlie in a similar situation. Charlie had every right to once again tell Kaitlyn about Joey’s actions if Joey couldn’t tell her herself. 

Joey suddenly realized how Charlie must have felt when she had informed her that she wasn’t ready to rekindle their marriage a month ago. She felt shattered and heartbroken at the thought that Charlie was about to give her a similar speech as to why they can’t be together again. 

Joey sighed as she decided she needed to apologize to Charlie for her actions. She had been the one to make moves on her and she should have been able to control herself from turning her simple massage into something more intimate. Joey wiped a tear from her eye, as she prepared herself for Charlie’s rejection, and knocked on the bedroom door. 

Joey opened the door quietly a few inches. Joey’s heart sunk as she found Charlie lying face down on their bed, with her face buried against the pillows, crying heavily into them. Joey swallowed deeply as she heard Charlie croak out, “Go away.” 

Joey frowned sadly as she ignored Charlie’s request and stepped into the room, closing the door behind her, “I can’t. I needed to make sure you were okay.” Charlie lifted her head from the pillows and glanced her tear-filled eyes up at Joey, “I’m not. Now go away and leave me alone.” Joey closed her eyes briefly, trying to squint away the tears brimming in her own eyes, “I’m sorry…I never meant to…” 

Charlie threw her face back against the pillows. Joey watched Charlie, thinking she was trying to avoid venting her frustration at her for making a move on her and putting her in the awkward position of rejecting her. Joey turned around to leave the room but when she placed her hand on the doorknob, she had second thoughts. 

Turning back to the broken woman, Joey took several swift steps before awkwardly crawling onto the bed. She sat there behind Charlie who was facing the opposite direction. Joey let a tear fall from her eye as she placed her hand against Charlie’s hip, “I’m sorry.” Charlie reached her hand up to brush her tears out of her own eyes, continuing to avoid turning around and looking up at her ex, “You should be…you made me make a fool of myself…again.” 

Joey frowned softly, “Why would you think you made a fool of yourself? I’m the one who…made moves on you when you clearly didn’t want me to.” Charlie shook her head angrily, “You don’t have to be nice to me and pretend that that’s what happened out there.” Joey ran her free hand through her hair, “And you don’t need to be nice to me…I’ve done this before…breaking your heart…so just stop being so nice and…just do the same to me.” 

Charlie tried to shrug Joey’s hand off her hip, but Joey remained firm in her grip on Charlie, then sobbed quietly, “How can I break your heart…? You don’t even…love me anymore.” Joey stared down at Charlie, as her words tumbled out of her mouth barely louder than a whisper, “But I do love you.” 

Charlie blinked through her tears as she lifted her head from the pillow and turned over to face Joey, “You…what?” Joey squeezed Charlie’s hip as she repeated with a whimper, “I do…love you. I think I always have…I just got caught up on all our problems…I lost track of my feelings for you. Only now I’ve waited too long to tell you…and you don’t feel the same way. What you said out there…when you moaned…I get it…you were lost in the memories of our past when I kissed you…then you snapped back to the reality that…you don’t want to be with me.” 

Charlie rolled over so she was lying on her side, staring up at Joey whose hand gently rested against her hip again, “But I thought it through and the only thing that made sense to me was…you were the one that was lost in our past memories. I thought…that’s all it was when you…kissed me like that. You wanted to kiss me…? You want to…be with me?” 

Joey steeled herself as she sobbed honestly, “I want to be with you. This isn’t just some…I’ve been feeling this way…for a while now. I don’t just want to be with you…I want us to start over. I want us to…give this marriage another chance and…to be a family again.” With tears still sliding down her cheeks, the corners of Charlie’s lips crinkled into a small smile as she replied, “I want the same thing.” 

Joey felt her heart elate at Charlie’s confession and without hesitation she lent down and gingerly pressed their lips together. Joey’s eyes closed as she lost herself in the feeling of Charlie’s lips against her own. Not breaking the kiss, Joey shuffled her body so she was lying next to Charlie and squeezed her hip comfortingly. 

Charlie broke their kiss briefly and stared into Joey’s eyes, “Is this really happening?” Joey nodded and whispered, “It really is,” before bringing their lips back together. Joey could feel the tears continuing to run down both their cheeks, and it broke her heart to know that they could both feel blissfully happy and tearful all at once. The emotions running through them were powerful and Joey couldn’t believe she had almost let these feelings run away from her. 

Joey gently ran her tongue against Charlie’s lips, seeking entrance into her mouth, which Charlie soon gave her. Joey softly entangled their tongues against each other, smiling at the shy moan that escaped Charlie’s mouth. Joey began deepening their kiss, as she shifted the hand that lay on Charlie’s hip. She slipped it underneath Charlie’s unbuttoned shirt and began tenderly gliding it up Charlie’s side. 

As Joey’s hand suddenly reached the edge of her bra just underneath her armpit, Charlie unexpectedly broke their kiss and pulled away. Joey’s lip trembled as she removed her hand from under Charlie’s shirt and rested it once again on Charlie’s hip. 

Charlie quivered as she stared deep into Joey’s eyes, “I can’t…I can’t do this.” Joey’s heart sunk to a new level, “You don’t want to be with me?” Charlie tried to wipe the tears from her eyes, “We shouldn’t be doing this…you’re with Kaitlyn. And I can’t do that again…I can’t just have another one-night stand with you…that nearly destroyed me last time. Please don’t shatter my heart like that…I couldn’t bare it…” 

Joey reached her hand up and stroked Charlie’s cheek, “This is not like last time. I promise you…this is so much more than a one-night stand. I love you and I want us to put our family back together. This is our second chance. I will not hurt you like last time…I will never hurt you again…I love you.” 

Charlie nodded, acknowledging that Joey’s words had re-assured her, “I love you too. But Kaitlyn…?” Joey tentatively kissed Charlie again, as she snuggled her body closer to Charlie, “I know…and I feel bad but…I need to be with you tonight. I need you to be the one who heals my heart and puts it back together…and I can’t wait any longer for that to happen. I could call her now and break up with her over the phone if you asked me too…but you know she deserves better than that. I promise you…first thing tomorrow…I’ll go and tell her I’m ending things with her…’cause I need to be with you.” 

Charlie looked away from Joey, “This still feels like you’re cheating on her.” Joey lent forwards and kissed the tip of Charlie’s nose, “The truth is…I’ve been cheating on her the whole time we’ve been together. My heart’s never been with her…it was always with you. Even when we were at our worst…I still loved you as much as I always have. It just took been reminded of the time I nearly lost you for real…to remember how much I love you. If you’re not ready…I don’t want to push things between us. But I can’t help but want to start over again with you tonight…so I can prove to you how much I love you. Tell me you want the same thing too.” 

Charlie wrapped her left arm around Joey’s back as she stared back into her eyes and whispered, “I want the same thing too.” 

Given permission, Joey lent forwards and brushed her lips against Charlie’s. Her right hand slid back under Charlie’s shirt, this time gliding up her back. Joey suddenly pulled back from their kiss, “Wait…is your back still sore? Maybe we should…slow things down and wait until you’re healed.” 

Charlie nuzzled her nose against Joey’s, “The only thing I needed healing was my heart…and right now you’ve mended it by telling me you want to try again as a family. Although I guess my back is a little sore and while your massage did wonders…I probably shouldn’t lie directly on my back.” 

Joey blushed shyly, “So, the way we’re lying on the bed side by side against each other now…it won’t hurt you if I make love to you like this?” Charlie shook her head, “No it won’t hurt me if you make love to me like this…just maybe try and grip your free hand around my neck instead of my back.” 

Joey’s cheeks turned bright red, as she nervously confirmed that Charlie wanted her to make love to her that night. Although all the signs were there that this would be a second chance at their marriage, when Charlie had brought up their previous night of passion, Joey had been unsure if Charlie was ready for them to take this step tonight. 

Still wanting to make sure that Charlie was ready, Joey whispered, “Are you sure this is what you want?” “You know it is,” Charlie replied confidently. Joey smiled shyly, and brought her right hand over to entangle it with Charlie’s left hand, “I should have been honest earlier…I should’ve told you how much I can’t stand the idea of you not wearing your ring.” 

Charlie intertwined their fingers, “It’ll be back where it belongs tomorrow morning.” “So, will mine,” Joey promised, as she disentangled her hand from Charlie’s and reached towards her necklace, “In fact…I can place it back where it belongs now.” 

Charlie swiftly took Joey’s hand again, pulling it away from her necklace, smiling at the knowledge that Joey still kept it there close to her heart, “Tomorrow…we can both do it together tomorrow…once you’ve broken things off with Kaitlyn…and it’s real between us. We don’t need our rings to prove how much we love each other tonight.” “Okay,” Joey agreed, “We’ll just let…tonight be tonight.” 

Charlie smiled as she placed Joey’s hand back on her hip and brought their lips together. Joey soon deepened the kiss as she ran her hand gently up Charlie’s side. Charlie gripped onto Joey harder as she pulled her closer towards her. Joey slowly glided her hand up to Charlie’s shoulder, then slipping her hand inside her shirt she pulled at it. Charlie lifted her upper body off the bed allowing Joey to pull her shirt off and toss it to the floor. 

Charlie’s hand immediately reached down to the bottom of Joey’s shirt. She struggled as she tried to pull it up Joey’s body, and blushed deeply as Joey began giggling at her attempts. Joey kissed her gently, “Been a while since you’ve tried undressing someone has it?” Charlie’s cheeks reddened, “Like you didn’t know that. Now are you gonna give me a hand or are you gonna miss out on your favourite part of foreplay?” 

Now it was Joey’s turn to blush intensely at Charlie’s passionate plea, and she rapidly sat up slightly enough to pull her own shirt over her head. Lying back next to Charlie, she watched as Charlie’s eyes roamed her body timidly, and reached forward to claim Charlie’s lips once again. 

It wasn’t long before they were embraced in a passionate make out session. The heat was rising between their bodies and Joey ran her hand gently over Charlie’s stomach until she reached her bra, then nervously trailed her fingers down to the edge of Charlie’s pants. She was pleased when Charlie didn’t pull away and instead began trailing her hands along her own body. 

As they continued kissing, Joey fingers played with the button and zip of Charlie’s pants. Charlie slowly broke their kiss to smile gently at Joey, and reassure her of what she wanted, “Please…I need you.” Joey nodded nervously, “I need you too.” 

Joey stopped fiddling with Charlie’s pants and boldly un-buttoned them and slipped the zip down. Joey pressed her lips against Charlie’s briefly before laying a small trail of kisses down Charlie’s chest and stomach as she reached down to Charlie’s pants and helped Charlie struggle out of her pants. Joey then anxiously pulled her own pants down. 

Throwing them both to the floor, Joey then shuffled herself back up to meet Charlie’s lips in another passionate kiss. Charlie pressed her body against Joey’s and slipped her leg in between Joey’s legs. Joey let out a small moan at the contact and wrapped her arm around Charlie’s neck. 

Charlie entangled her tongue with Joey’s as her hands reached down and slipped Joey’s bra straps off her shoulders. Not hesitating Charlie unhooked Joey’s bra and pulled it away from the younger woman’s body. Charlie’s gasped slightly at the sight of Joey’s breasts, causing Joey to once again blush anxiously. 

Charlie smiled assertively to allay Joey’s nerves, and taking Joey’s hands in her own she led them to her own back where Joey gradually unhooked Charlie’s bra. Joey undid the garment and slipped it off Charlie’s upper body. 

As Joey admired Charlie’s body, Charlie swiftly brought their bodies together and rubbed her leg against Joey’s centre. Joey moaned softly at the contact of Charlie’s leg in between her own as well as Charlie’s breasts pressed against her own. Charlie smiled as she kissed Joey lightly and with her left hand she reached out and fingered Joey’s necklace. She grinned as she ran her fingers over Joey’s wedding ring. 

Hesitating slightly Charlie stared into Joey’s eyes as her fingers dropped the ring and gently grazed against Joey’s right nipple. She smiled as Joey arched her back at the contact and continued stroking Joey’s breast more forcefully. Joey shuddered in excitement as Charlie bent down and took the nipple in her mouth. Joey bucked her hips against Charlie’s as Charlie licked and sucked gently on Joey’s breast. 

After several minutes of Charlie torturing Joey slowly, Joey glided her hands to Charlie’s breasts and began her own exploration of Charlie’s upper body. Charlie ran her hands down to Joey’s hips and held onto them tightly as she let Joey explore her breasts. Joey glanced up at Charlie and Charlie leaned forwards and captured Joey’s lips. 

Charlie pulled apart breathless, “Please Joey…I need you now.” Joey licked her lips and nodded, “I love you so much…I can’t believe I nearly gave you up.” Tears crept into Charlie’s eyes, “That doesn’t matter anymore. We’re together…and that’s all that matters now.” Joey reached her hand up and wiped Charlie’s tears from her cheek, “Am I dreaming all this?” “It’s possible,” Charlie smirked, before reclaiming Joey’s lips. 

Joey squirmed under Charlie’s embrace, her body quivering at the feelings running through her. Charlie shifted her hand from Joey’s hip to the edge of her panties. Joey’s eyes burned into hers as Charlie inched her fingers along the elastic. Joey moaned softly as she nodded at Charlie. 

Charlie took Joey’s acceptance and with Joey’s help she slid Joey’s panties down her legs. Joey blushed slightly but as Joey slid her body back up against Charlie’s, she found that Charlie was already lifting her hips off the bed so Joey could slide her own panties off. Joey did so quietly and swiftly. 

Joey paused for a few seconds before shifting back up the bed. Joey nervously placed her hand on Charlie’s hip as the two women stared at one another’s naked body. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Joey lent forwards and crashed her lips against Charlie’s. Charlie gave into the kiss and embraced her tenderly as she matched Joey’s action and placed her hand on Joey’s hip, before slipping her other arm around Joey’s neck. 

Charlie nuzzled her lips against Joey’s jaw line and neck, eliciting a sly moan escaping Joey’s lips. As Charlie kissed back up Joey’s face and reclaimed her lips, Joey started shaking anxiously at their embrace. Charlie kissed her firmly, before settling their foreheads against each other. 

Joey stared into Charlie’s eyes and she could see the desire etched in them. Charlie nodded her head softly, then squeezing Joey’s hip she whispered, “I love you so much. I need you.” Joey found herself tightening her grip on Charlie’s hip as she replied, “I love you too…I always have. I want to be with you so badly.” Charlie lent forwards and kissed Joey softly, before asking her quietly, “Together?” Joey nodded in agreement, “Together.” 

Understanding each other completely, both women glided their own hands from the other woman’s hips to rest in between her legs. Joey let out a soft groan as Charlie’s hand came in contact with her fire, while Charlie closed her eyes at the feel of Joey’s hand in between her legs. 

Charlie’s eyes fluttered open as she felt Joey’s fingers glide against the edges of her folds, while she placed her thumb against Joey’s slit. Joey licked her lips as she burned her eyes into Charlie’s as if begging Charlie not to torture her, and she smiled gently as Charlie’s look of desire matched hers. 

Joey softly slipped two fingers into Charlie’s waiting wetness, while Charlie also entered Joey. Both women bucked their hips at the contact and groaned in desperation. Joey threw her head backwards, then lent it against the crook of Charlie’s neck. 

Charlie swiftly began stroking her fingers in and out of Joey at a rapid pace, while Joey matched her actions. Joey quickly found Charlie’s clit and stroked it, enjoying the sensations she was providing Charlie with. Joey raised her head from Charlie’s neck and pressed their lips together in a passionate kiss. 

The women continued pleasuring one another the way each of them needed and it didn’t take long for the heat to rise in their bodies as the contact of them making love to each other was driving them wild. 

Joey took a sharp intake of breath as she felt she was so close to the edge and needed Charlie to tip her over the edge into orgasmic bliss. Bucking her hips against Charlie’s hand, she whispered huskily, “Please Charlie…I need you to…oh yes that’s it…oh Charlie!! Arghhhh!!!” 

*THUMP!!!* 

Joey’s eyes shot open and she took a sharp intake of breath as her heart began beating loudly in her chest. She clasped her hand to her chest and then stroked the back of her hand to her forehead, wiping away the sweat that had formed there.  Joey sighed heavily as she stared around her before throwing her head back frustrated. 

The only thoughts that came to mind: Oh God no…please no…it can’t just be… 

Squinting her eyes shut for a moment, she finally opened them again as she stared up at the ceiling. The living room ceiling. 

As the reality set in, Joey’s eyes then settled on the couch – the one she had fallen asleep on after she had nearly cried herself to sleep when Charlie had run off on her…the one she had fallen off of during the middle of her… 

Joey winced back tears as she laid back onto the ground next to the couch. Her mind was racing as fast as her heart was beating and she hated the realization that had struck her so harshly: 

I didn’t go running after Charlie when she left me alone on the couch…Charlie and I didn’t confess our need to put our family back together…we didn’t spend a loving and tender moment together this evening…we’re not back together…it was nothing more than a dream. 

A dream that stung Joey so deeply it hurt to think about it…everything she thought she’d regained was shattered the moment her eyes had snapped open. 

But could it be a dream that proved to Joey that she knew her deep down hearts’ desire…and gave her the courage to seek out her heart’s desire...? 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty-Three 

Joey sighed gently as she clasped her hands together. She was sitting on the couch in the living room of her house. It was nearly eleven o’clock at night Joey noticed as she glanced at the clock on the book shelf. Joey felt a tear roll down her cheek and instead of wiping it away she let it fall down her cheek. 

Unclasping her hands, Joey curled her knees up against her chest and wrapped her arms around them tightly, as she continued to let her tears crawl down her cheeks. She took a deep breath as she rocked herself backwards and forwards on the couch. 

The memories of her dream were etched in her mind and kept playing repeatedly. Every word they had whispered to one another was echoing all around her. Her body was trembling from recalling Charlie’s touch. She was covered in goose bumps and sweat and she struggled with the reality that their intimacy had been nothing but a part of her imagination. 

Shaking her head and grunting in frustration, Joey couldn’t hide her anger at herself. It felt like she’d given herself so much hope for the future and then to have it taken all away like that was heartbreaking. She prayed she hadn’t screwed up her life so badly the past year to deserve such empty promises. She had come so close to having the life that she deeply desired, the one she thought she’d never have again, but none of it was real. 

And the questions that she kept repeating to herself: Did I want it to be real? Do I want this dream to come true? 

Joey rested her head against one of the pillows on the couch as she wondered why she didn’t follow Charlie to her bedroom after Charlie had run away from her. Instead she had let her confusion over her own actions while massaging Charlie overwhelm her and she was too afraid to face them. So, she’d curled herself up on the couch and fell asleep only to find herself having a dream of what could have happened had she been brave enough. 

And now she sat alone trying to work out why she couldn’t be brave enough. Why couldn’t she go after Charlie and tell her everything that was in her heart? 

Joey froze for a moment as she felt her heart beating heavily in her chest at the thought of Charlie. She knew that her heart never did that for anyone else and it wasn’t hard to admit that it never would. Well it wasn’t hard to admit it to herself while she was seated alone surrounded by the darkness in her living room. Admitting it to her girlfriend Kaitlyn would be difficult. Admitting it to Charlie even more so. 

Since the conversation she had with Charlie after she had run off was just figments of her imagination and nothing but what she wanted Charlie to tell her in her dream, Joey was still insecure about why Charlie had run away when she had kissed her delicately. Was her dream right when Charlie confessed, she thought Joey was acting out of nothing but past emotions? 

Joey knew the feelings she was experiencing for Charlie were nothing like what she felt for her in the past. Her love for Charlie had evolved and had become stronger. She could feel it consuming her and knew she’d never be able to keep her feelings hidden forever. She had already slipped up by massaging and kissing Charlie intimately. And although it was a dream, Joey could recall all the honest confessions she had made to Charlie and how easily she had spoken about them. 

It was devastating to Joey to think that when Charlie had openly moaned out about her need for her that it was possible that Charlie had been the one reliving her past experiences. Charlie had made it quite clear the past few weeks that the pair would be nothing but friends and it overwhelmed Joey to think that she’d never hear the confessions from Charlie that had been made in her dream. 

Joey released her arms around her legs and placed them back on the ground as she lent forwards. Her mind was racing over and over about everything Charlie had said to her in her dream. It was killing her that she didn’t know if any of it was real or if it was all a lie and her mind was playing tricks on her by making her believe that Charlie was still in love with her. 

Joey let out a deep sigh as she realized that she was desperate to know how Charlie honestly felt about her. She needed to know the truth because not knowing was the thing that was hurting her the most right now. If Charlie was being honest about their stance of just being friends, it would devastate Joey but at least it might give them both the courage to move on from one another for real…if that’s even possible. 

But if Joey’s dream had been anywhere near the truth and Charlie was still hopelessly in love with her, then maybe Joey could make the dream come true. Maybe they could find a way to reunite and put all their differences aside so they could put their family back together. 

Joey stared off distantly as she pondered if she had the courage to find out how Charlie really felt about her by being strong enough to reveal her own true desires. As Joey’s distant staring reminded her of something, Joey stood up from the couch walked over to one of their cabinets that shelved their CD and book collections. Above the cabinet was a range of photos displayed. 

Joey smiled gently as she reached out and pulled down her favourite photo – their first family photo. Aden had taken the photo right after Riley was born and the two women were curled up against each other on the hospital bed. They were both gazing equally at one another as well at their son who Joey held in her hands. The looks on both their faces were that of amazement, happiness and love at the family they had created. 

Joey dragged her finger across the photo and wondered how it was possible all those things could have disappeared in the space of several years. Joey placed the photo back where it belonged and scanned through the other various photos they had displayed. Many were of the three of them as Riley was growing up. 

Joey frowned as she noticed the photos taken from when Riley was a baby to when he was a toddler had both Charlie and Joey in them. But over the last year of his life, since the women had separated, the only photos taken of him were ones with him and Charlie and ones with herself and him. Joey scratched her head but realized that Ruby must have insisted on putting up the ones of her and Riley for Riley’s sake as she’d never given any of them to Charlie. 

There weren’t any photos of the family together since the separation. Joey closed her eyes and wondered if they would ever have another family photo taken together if she and Charlie never found a way back to each other. Her mind scanned to the other ‘dream’ she had had recently – the one of her and Charlie in the future watching their son graduate from the police academy. 

Joey squeezed her eyelids tight as she tried to work out what her feelings were for the woman standing next to her in their future. Were they just two good friends who had accepted they’d never be together again as they raised their son together? Or had they gotten back together and were a happy family once more? 

Although Joey knew it was nothing more than a vision of what their future could be and in no way had any proof that it was real, she continued watching the future Charlie clapping happily at their son's achievement next to her. Joey’s eyes opened and she smiled shyly as she saw what she had been looking for – future Charlie had a wedding ring on her finger. 

Joey ran her hand through her hair as she refused to get herself overwhelmed over nothing more than something, she wanted to be real in her future. It didn’t mean it would be and it sure didn’t mean the wedding ring on future Charlie’s finger was the one Joey had presented her with when they had made their wedding vows to one another five years ago. 

Joey had gotten nothing more than a one second glance at it as future Charlie had been clapping her hands at their son’s achievement and there was no denying the fact that wedding rings all looked very similar. Joey refused to continue weighing on her ‘vision’ for fear that it would consume her and the feelings of disappointment that she’d be left with if it didn’t come true. 

Joey suddenly frowned as she glanced through all the photos once more and couldn’t find the one she wanted. She reached her hand up and moved several of them aside as she tried to find it. Just as she was about to give up, she saw the photo frame she was looking for – the photo frame had been knocked over and was face down on the top of the cabinet. 

Joey sat it back up to a standing position and bit her lip as she realized Charlie had probably knocked it over, not wanting to look at it anymore. 

Joey couldn’t blame Charlie for her action as she stared at the photo of the pair of them on their wedding day. 

Joey held back a tear as she remembered Ruby taking the photo. It was taken of the pair while they were sharing their first dance together. They’d had professional photos taken throughout the ceremony and reception, which had been filed away in a photo album that neither woman had pulled out and looked at since their separation. But this one photo of them dancing together was their favourite and they were proud to show it off on display. Or they had been proud to show it off. 

Joey left the photo upright on the shelf as she glanced towards the hallway and Charlie’s bedroom. A feeling of desperate desire overwhelmed her as she realized the only thing, she wanted right now was to find out how Charlie felt about her. She breathed heavily as she knew that she might have to lay her heart on the line to get Charlie to do the same but she knew she could do it if she wanted the one thing she needed to happen – 

For her dream of Charlie and her reuniting to come true. 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty-Four 

Joey took a deep breath as she stood outside Charlie’s bedroom door. It felt like she was re-enacting her dream and while it had hurt her to find Charlie inside the room crying her heart out, she smiled at the memory of comforting her until they had confessed what she hoped was real. 

Knocking softly on the door, Joey’s smile wavered as she didn’t get a response from Charlie. Not even Charlie begging her to leave her alone. Ignoring her nerves, which Joey had chalked up to being uncertain of Charlie’s real feelings and her ability to encourage Charlie to tell her the truth, Joey opened the bedroom door and stepped inside the room. 

Joey’s heart plummeted as she looked at Charlie lying on the bed face down amongst her pillows. Everything was exactly like her dream, even the fact that Charlie’s shirt was unbuttoned and strewn around Charlie’s body untidily. 

But there was just one thing wrong that hadn’t happened in Joey’s dream – Charlie was fast asleep. 

Joey pinched the bridge of her nose as she heard Charlie’s soft snoring coming from the woman lying on the bed. Joey shook her head at the thought that she’d come to miss Charlie’s snoring next to her each night. Truth is it had taken her nearly a month to get a full night's sleep due to the silence next to her when she had moved into Aden’s apartment. 

Although missing Charlie’s soft snoring was just one small thing compared to missing the body she used to curl up against every night. When Joey had left Charlie, she didn’t think those things would have such an impact on her sleeping patterns considering the fact that during the many months leading up to her decision to leave Charlie, Charlie was never home and was working at the station for nights on end. 

Guess you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. 

Joey sighed as she thought that saying applied to most of her life since she’d left Charlie. Her hand still dangled on the doorknob as she struggled to contemplate the fact that with Charlie fast asleep, she wouldn’t have the opportunity to find a way for her dream to come true. 

Joey’s desperate need to understand their true feelings for one another overwhelmed her and she closed the bedroom door behind her before taking several steps to the bed. Joey silently sat down on the edge of the bed and gazed at Charlie’s sleeping form. 

She was nervous and hoped her movement hadn’t awoken Charlie as she didn’t want Charlie to think it was weird of her to be sitting so close to her on the bed, they’d shared many wonderful memories. Charlie hadn’t woken up at all and Joey sighed gently as she stared down at her. 

Charlie’s face was lying on the pillow and she was facing Joey’s side. Her left hand was tucked underneath the pillow next to her face while her right hand was balled up into a small fist on the doona next to her chest. Her shirt was still unbuttoned and was stretched out to each side so it wasn’t covering Charlie’s torso. Charlie’s soft snoring was constant with her breathing and Joey watched as Charlie’s back rose steadily with her breathing. 

Without thinking Joey reached out and tucked some of Charlie’s hair strands behind her ear. She smiled sadly at the contact as she kept her hand gently rested against Charlie’s face. She knew Charlie could be a deep sleeper and that it was unlikely her action would wake her up. 

A tear fell from Joey’s eye as she remembered how good it had felt to touch Charlie’s body again. While it had been amazing for her to hear the words of Charlie’s love to her in her dream, she couldn’t help but close her eyes and imagine what it had been like in her dream to make love to her wife. 

Joey squeezed her eyes shut tight as the thoughts clouded her mind then snapped them open once more when she realized she couldn’t keep living by a dream. If she wanted Charlie back like she knew she did Joey knew she had to tell Charlie what she wanted. She couldn’t just sit back and let another near confession be interrupted by anything like they had in the past. She couldn’t watch while her life went in the wrong direction instead of where she hoped it was meant to be – with Charlie. 

Joey needed to tell Charlie everything that had been building up inside her for weeks. She needed to do what she had done in her dream and tell Charlie that she wanted to be with her. 

Overwhelmed with her desire and confidence that she could finally be honest with her wife, Joey stroked her hand down from Charlie’s face to her shoulder. “Charlie…sweetie, can you wake up?” Joey whispered. 

Charlie didn’t rouse from her sleep at Joey’s whispers and continued sleeping peacefully, unaware of what Joey needed to tell her. Joey frowned as she shook Charlie’s shoulder softly, “Charlie…wake up.” Instead of waking up, Charlie sighed gently before rolling gently onto her side to get more comfortable. 

Joey flushed bright red when she observed Charlie’s open work shirt revealed her naked torso and bra-clad chest to her. It took all of Joey’s energy not to lean over and touch Charlie. Charlie’s snoring brought Joey out of her gaze as she realized Charlie was well and truly asleep and it would take more than a few words and shaking of her shoulder to wake Charlie up. 

After working several long and regretful shifts at the station, on top of the fact that her back was injured, Joey wasn’t surprised how badly Charlie needed to sleep. She sighed in disappointment as she accepted that she didn’t want to rouse her former wife from her much needed sleep. Even if it was to have the conversation, they should have had weeks ago. 

Joey rolled her tongue over her lips nervously as she tried desperately to convince herself that they would find another time for this conversation and her doubts over Charlie’s real feelings for her wouldn’t eat away at her until she knew the truth. Joey also couldn’t bear the thought of Charlie thinking that she didn’t have feelings for her when in fact she did. Feelings that had grown steadily and were now bordering on being undeniable. 

Joey gently lifted herself off the bed and stepped over to the chest of drawers she used to share with Charlie. Joey imagined they were fairly empty now, but ducked down to the drawer on the bottom. Opening it up she pulled out a light blanket and closed the drawer shut. 

Walking back over to the sleeping Charlie, Joey smiled gently as she slipped the blanket over her. Covering up Charlie’s exposed body, Joey tucked the blanket around her on the bed. Unable to resist, Joey lent forwards and kissed the top of Charlie’s head, before turning back to the door. 

As she reached the door, Joey flicked the light off and the room shrouded in darkness. She stared back at Charlie’s sleeping form once again and shook her head in disappointment at being unable to do anything to change things between them. Chewing on her lip, she turned away from Charlie and walked out of the room. 

Joey lent against the hallway and began sobbing quietly. She hated that one evening could’ve changed her whole relationship and instead left it at a standstill. Wiping her tears away, Joey took a deep breath. 

While she was completely devastated that the night didn’t end up like it had in her dream, Joey smiled softly as she accepted the truth which she’d spent months struggling to evade and a wave of courage ran through her as she realized she was ready to do whatever it took to get what she desperately wanted – 

“I want Charlie back.” 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty-Five 

The next morning, Joey stood in the kitchen at her house. Waiting for the kettle to boil so she could make herself a cup of coffee, Joey stared distantly in front of her. When she fell asleep the night before this day held so much promise for her. 

Joey had accepted that she wanted to make every effort to mend her relationship and marriage with Charlie. She knew it wasn’t going to be easy. They still had a lot of hurdles to jump through if they were going to find their way back to the happiness, they enjoyed at the beginning of their lives together. But accepting this is what she wanted was the first step right? 

Joey still knew any further steps to rekindle their relationship rested on one thing – Does Charlie want me back? 

Joey tried not to think of all the reasons Charlie could come up with for not wanting to put their marriage back together. Joey knew her actions over the past year could be seen as unforgivable. While it was fair to say Charlie had made her own mistakes as well, Joey felt that Charlie had changed and wasn’t the same women she had walked out on nearly eleven months earlier. 

And now it was up to Joey to prove that she could change and make up for all her mistakes if Charlie was willing to forgive her. Joey hoped that Charlie would give her another chance and prayed even more if she did get a chance that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes as last time. 

Joey felt that she had learnt from her mistakes and she knew there was something she needed to do before she contemplated talking to Charlie about their possible future together – break up with Kaitlyn. 

While it disappointed Joey that her moment of honesty and emotion with Charlie the night before was just a dream, she knew that had it of been real she would have been upset with herself if she had cheated on Kaitlyn – again – even if it was with Charlie. Joey had been on the other end of cheating when she and Charlie first got together and she’d sworn she’d never do that to anyone. 

It was bad enough the first time she cheated on her girlfriend for one night of passion with her former wife, and she still carried around a lot of guilt from it. For not being strong enough to tell Kaitlyn the truth, then not being able to find a way past her problems and rekindle her marriage. Joey knew that no matter how right it would’ve felt to be with Charlie again last night, she didn’t want to start their relationship back up based on a lie. 

So, if she was ever going to prove to Charlie that she truly wanted them to make a go of things she needed to be single. It saddened Joey to know that she’d be hurting Kaitlyn. She hated to think that she had been using her friend as a way to get over her problems and get back together with Charlie. She didn’t want it viewed like that. Kaitlyn was her friend and when they had first begun dating Joey desperately wanted to get over the pain her break-up had caused her and hoped that her former flame would be the right person. 

As much as Joey tried to ignore it, she knew from the moment she got together with Kaitlyn that she didn’t have such strong feelings for her like she’d experienced when she and Charlie were together. It wasn’t possible to love someone as much as she’d loved Charlie because Joey refused to love anyone like that so she didn’t get her heart broken again. 

Now here she was trying to work out the best way to break up with Kaitlyn so she could be free to be with Charlie…if Charlie wanted her. 

Not to be discouraged, Joey was determined that even if it took some work to win her wife back – Charlie was worth it and she would do whatever it took to make Charlie see that. 

Once Joey had woken up that morning, the first thing she had done was message Kaitlyn and asked her to meet her for lunch. Kaitlyn had immediately replied that she’d meet her at the Diner at midday. Joey frowned as she realized Kaitlyn probably assumed that she wanted to make up for running out on their date the previous night to help Charlie. Sighing, Joey knew she had to do the right thing for once and end the relationship with the hope that the pair could still be friends. 

The kettle boiled and started hissing at her, interrupting Joey’s thoughts. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, Joey couldn’t hide the other confusion she’d been fretting over since she’d woken up – Charlie wasn’t there. 

For a day that was supposed to bring Joey some promise for her future it wasn’t looking bright when she knew she had to break up with her girlfriend that day and the wife she wanted back was nowhere to be found. 

Joey chewed on her lip as she puzzled where Charlie could have gone. Riley was at a sleepover at Leah’s for VJ’s birthday but Joey thought it was too early for Charlie to have gone to collect him. 

It was possible Charlie had gone to the station but Joey reasoned after the injury Charlie sustained yesterday that Charlie would be reluctant to do so. Joey had pleaded with Charlie to quit her job before anything else happened to her and while not quite agreeing Charlie had decided she’d think about it. Joey realized now just how badly she needed Charlie safe and alive as she prepared to ask Charlie for a second chance. 

Joey thought that it was possible that Charlie had gone for a walk down by the beach, although she missed the way Charlie used to always write her little notes when she went out like that. After the real events of last night, it wasn’t impossible that Charlie needed some space on her own to think about things. Joey just hoped that the space Charlie could’ve taken didn’t involve deciding once and for all that Joey wasn’t the one she wanted to be with. 

As Joey took a sip of her coffee, Charlie came walking through the back door. She strode in awkwardly and it was obvious she was still in some pain from the bruises on her back. “Hey,” Joey whispered, secretly relieved that she had been panicking about Charlie’s whereabouts for nothing. 

“Morning,” Charlie replied, almost as awkwardly as her entrance. Charlie was completely confused about where she and Joey stood with each other now and wasn’t keen to find out if she was gonna be rejected. Joey noticed Charlie’s hesitation, “Do you want a coffee?” Charlie shook her head as she rested her hands on the edge of the kitchen bench, “No thanks…I had one earlier when I got up.” 

Joey nodded and turned away from Charlie, clumsily opening the cupboard above her to grab a plate before reaching for some bread, “So I…I noticed you weren’t here when I got up. Everything…okay?” Charlie watched as Joey placed the bread in the toaster, “Yeah I…my back is still giving me some trouble so I went…to the hospital this morning.” 

Joey turned back to Charlie, a look of concern all over her face, “Charlie, you should have woken me. I would’ve driven you to the hospital and waited with you ‘til you could see the Doctor.” Charlie blushed, “I know you would’ve…but really my back isn’t that bad. It’s just a few bruises and I was okay to drive. Besides I got there and back, didn’t I? It wasn’t that bad. I saw Rachel quickly and she gave me a prescription for some better cream to put on my back that’ll soothe the bruises and I just gotta take some Panadol for the pain.” 

“Do you want me to rub some of that cream into your back again?” Joey asked before she could stop herself. Charlie’s cheeks flushed bright red at the memories that Joey’s massage had invoked in her the previous night, “No…um…that’s…okay. I’ll be…okay to put it on myself.” 

Joey turned back to the toaster, avoiding looking Charlie in the eyes. If Charlie wasn’t still standing there, Joey was sure she would’ve slapped herself in the face for been so insensitive. After the revelations that had occurred, most of which Charlie was completely unaware of, Joey knew the last thing Charlie needed was a re-enactment. Joey bit her tongue as she tried to ignore the look of shame that had crossed Charlie’s face at the thought of Joey massaging her again and tried not to read too much into it. 

Charlie sighed, “So, anyway…um…sorry I didn’t let you know where I was. I…ah called Leah on the way back. I’m gonna go around to her place and bring Ry home. I might stay and have a coffee so I can catch up with Leah and Roman if that’s okay.” “That’s fine,” Joey whispered. 

Charlie chewed on her lip, “And…I was thinking I might take Riley and go hang out with Ruby and Geoff for the day. They’ve both got the day off and I haven’t hung out with them since we moved back home…so is that okay?” Joey turned back to Charlie, crossing her arms in front of her, “You sure you’re okay to do that…after what happened last night…? I mean what happened at the station…last night…your injuries.” 

Charlie nodded, “I’ll be fine…it’s just hanging out with the family and I promise I’ll tell Riley to take it easy on me. So, is that okay?” Joey took a couple steps forwards towards Charlie, “Of course it is…just I…I’m having lunch with Kaitlyn…so I guess that would work out well for you to look after Ry for the day.” 

Charlie swallowed hard at the thought of Joey spending more time with her girlfriend, unaware of the fact Joey was planning on ending the relationship, “Well…that’s good then. I’m just gonna…grab a shower before I head over to Leah’s.” Charlie turned around to leave but Joey suddenly called her back without warning, “Charlie, are you free tonight?” 

Joey blushed at the confused look Charlie gave her. “I think so…I mean I don’t have any plans…yet,” Charlie answered quietly. Joey tried to shrug off her insecurities, “Good…can we maybe…have dinner together…to talk?” Charlie opened and closed her mouth several times before answering, “Um…sure. Is this…do you want me to ask Ruby and Geoff to mind Riley while we eat and…talk?” Joey nodded, “That might be a good idea…wait what did you mean when you said you didn’t have any plans yet?” 

Charlie shrugged, “It’s nothing…just…it doesn’t matter. So…dinner tonight…sounds great.” Joey frowned at Charlie’s avoidance, “Charlie, if you have plans…we can do this another night.” Charlie shook her head, “I don’t have any plans…well now I do…dinner with you so we can…talk. Look I should really get that shower now.” 

Joey sighed and nodded, but grimaced when Charlie lifted her hands from the kitchen bench and politely pointed at the toaster to tell her that her toast was cooked. “What’s that on your hand?” Joey whispered sadly, not caring about the toast. Charlie instantly balled her hand into a fist, “It’s nothing.” 

Joey swallowed deeply as she took another step forward and reached out for Charlie’s hand. Slowly she uncoiled it from a fist and laid it flat on her own hand. Joey stared at Charlie’s hand, noticing something more than the fact Charlie still wasn’t wearing her wedding ring, “So, either this is…just a set of ten random numbers…or it’s someone’s phone number…whose is it?” 

Charlie bit her lip and looked away from Joey, “It doesn’t matter…ah…just this girl at the pharmacy when I picked up the cream. She…um…gave me her number. I left so quickly this morning I forgot to take my phone so she…wrote her number down.” “Oh,” Joey whispered heartbroken, “Did you like her?” 

Charlie bounced awkwardly from foot to foot, “Um…yeah. I mean I dunno…she seems nice. I only spoke with her for a couple minutes while she got my medication but…she was cute and funny and…I guess she’s only a few years younger than me. I don’t exactly see myself ever going back and dating men so…I was a little surprised that she knew I’m gay…then again I’ve never had any luck with my so-called gaydar.” 

“She asked you out,” Joey stated miserably, realizing there was no point asking Charlie if that’s what happened. Charlie gently pulled her hand from Joey’s grasp, “Yeah…I mean she gave me her number and asked me to call her…you know if I wanted to hook up sometime.” “So, you want to hook up with her?” Joey asked brashly. 

Charlie took a step back, turning away from Joey she lent against the fridge, “I wouldn’t say ‘hook up’ are the right words but…I dunno maybe go out to dinner with her.” Without Charlie facing her, Joey scrunched up her face, “That’s…great. I just…you know thought you weren’t ready for…dating.” “I’m not getting any younger,” Charlie dismissed. 

“Charlie, you’re thirty-six it’s not like your dating years will be over soon,” Joey tried to point out. Charlie shrugged, “I know that…but I don’t want to…wake up in a few years' time and still be alone. I love my life right now with our son and…the way things are going with…work. But I don’t want to keep waiting around if there’s…someone out there that can give me what I’m missing.” 

I can give you what you’re missing, Joey desperately wanted to admit but was too heartbroken by what Charlie was telling her that she couldn’t find a way for the words to be spoken out loud. 

Unaware of Joey’s reactions Charlie continued, “It’s just a date, Joey, that’s all. I mean if I can…work up the courage to actually phone her…and then find the words to ask her that is. I just…I don’t want to end up alone. I know I’m not exactly ‘too old’ for dating but I can’t just wait until I am. You’re lucky…you’re barely twenty-nine. You’ve got years left for all of that. And if things don’t work out with you and Kaitlyn, there’s plenty of time left for you to meet someone new. Or maybe things will work out for you and Kaitlyn. You’re both so young compared to me and in five years from now you could wake up with her and a kid or two of your own that you have with her.” 

“KIDS!?!?!” Joey squawked out unable to stop herself, then clearing her throat, “I ah…um…never thought about…you know having more kids before. I mean I know…um…we discussed it and hoped by this stage that we’d have a sibling for Riley but all our…problems kinda got in the way. So, anyway…I don’t really imagine you know…having more kids…with anyone else.” 

Charlie creased her eyebrows as she stared outside the kitchen window, “Right…sorry I guess that’s a bit too personal for me to…bring up. It’s none of my business.” Joey ran her hand through her hair, “Well that’s not…I mean it would be your business. You’re still Riley’s mum and if I did…you know…you’d be…” “What? The evil other woman? Play the evil stepmother kinda role in the other child’s life?” Charlie tried to laugh off, as she silently struggled with the concept of Joey moving on in a relationship that seriously. 

Joey sighed, “Well even if that did happen…you’d never be evil…that’s not you. And you’re thinking way too far in advance…I am definitely not planning that far in my future…I can barely think about any further than the rest of today.” Charlie tapped her fingers against the fridge, “Right…yeah of course. Sorry guess I’m just…thinking too much about my future. I was kinda thrown when the girl…hit on me. Wasn’t exactly how I expected my day to start…especially after…um…yesterday.” 

Joey tucked some strands of hair behind her ear, “Charlie, are you sure…that this is what you want? That you’re really ready to begin dating again? I know how scary it is and at the start it can feel like it’s what you should be doing because it’s what everyone expects of you. Just if you’re not ready…” 

“I don’t know if I’m ready,” Charlie admitted, “But I’m never gonna find out if I just sit around, will I? All I know is that the whole drive back here I kept remembering the look the woman gave me when she wrote her number down on my hand…and I’m curious…if she’s the kind of person that can give me what I need. So maybe I will try and work up the courage to call her…we can still do dinner tonight…so perhaps she’ll be free another night. My social calendar is rather…empty at the moment. Or maybe I’ll chicken out and just wash her number off my hand in the shower before I write it down elsewhere. Who knows what’ll happen today?” 

At that point Joey bit her lip, as she imagined grabbing Charlie by the arm and placing her hand under the tap in the kitchen sink and scrubbing away until the phone number was unrecognizable to Charlie, then telling Charlie that she was the one that could give Charlie what she needed. She realized it would’ve been an action that was out of character for her, but she could sense ever so slowly that Charlie was slipping away from her. 

Charlie shrugged slowly, again avoiding turning around and looking at her former wife, “Anyways…I’ll see you for dinner tonight, okay?” Joey nodded, “Sure that sounds…great.” Charlie finally turned back to her and smiled shyly before leaving Joey alone in the kitchen. 

As Charlie left, she wanted desperately to turn back and ask Joey if she was jealous. A part of her knew it was wrong to consider going on a date with another woman when she was in love with Joey, but knew she couldn’t wait around forever in the hope things could change. 

Joey lent against the kitchen counter, and stared up at the ceiling with tears brimming in her eyes. Joey knew deep down that she didn’t have a right to be jealous. Technically she was still with Kaitlyn but it hit her hard knowing what it felt like for Charlie to consider moving on. For the first time Joey realized how hard it must have been for Charlie to accept that she had gotten into a new relationship. And now after deciding that she would finally do what it takes to find a way to win Charlie back…it could all be for nothing. 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty-Six 

Several hours later Joey sat outside the Diner. She sipped quietly on a chocolate milkshake and stared out at the sea beyond the beach. She’d arrived nearly twenty minutes early to when she was supposed to meet Kaitlyn and had been distantly absorbed in her thoughts ever since she’d sat down at the table. 

Well if she was honest, she’d been absorbed in her thoughts since the events of last night. But the ones this morning gave her greater concern. It frustrated her to think at the exact time that she was prepared to end her current relationship so she could see if Charlie would give their marriage another chance, Charlie could be moving on with someone new. 

A tear slipped down Joey’s cheek and she was thankful that she was wearing a large pair of sunglasses to hide her saddened eyes. Wiping away the tear, Joey grunted in frustration at the situation she was now in. 

Joey had two options – Accept the idea that Charlie wanted to move on as she therefore wasn’t interested in her and continue her relationship with Kaitlyn in the hope, she could one day feel the same love for her that she did for Charlie. Or she could go ahead with her decision to break up with Kaitlyn, and find a way to prove to Charlie how much she wanted them to be together. 

Joey still wasn’t sure which one she wanted to do. She hated how indecisive she could be. It was one of her character traits that she couldn’t find a way to shake, along with constantly being so insecure. She knew Charlie hated those traits as well and Joey freely admitted to herself that they were two of the main reasons why she was sitting alone outside the Diner trying to decide her future. 

If she hadn’t being so insecure, she never would have left Charlie in the first place, she would’ve talked about their problems like their marriage deserved. And had she not being so indecisive she wouldn’t have spent the last few months torn between her high school sweetheart and the love of her life. It was such an important decision and it had come close to ripping her family apart many times. 

Joey closed her eyes as she tried to ignore the look on her son’s face when he found out that she and Charlie were separating. That look returned on Riley’s face each and every time he saw his parents fighting, when he found out that Joey was seeing Kaitlyn, and most importantly every time he’d gotten his hopes up that his parents would be reconciling only to find out he wouldn’t be getting his family back together. 

Taking a sip of her milkshake, Joey suddenly imagined the look on Riley’s face if he found out her and Charlie were giving their marriage another shot. It’s all he’d wanted since their problems first began. He’d practically grown-up around their fighting and Joey was even surprised that he could remember any of the good times they had shared together. Even if he didn’t, he was a normal kid and the only thing he wanted was to feel safe with his family together. 

And that’s what Joey wanted to give him. More than anything in the world she wanted to see him happy again at the prospect of life returning to normal for the family. It wasn’t just about her and Charlie and it never should’ve been. It should have always been about their son and what was best for him. She couldn’t just do whatever it took to win Charlie back, she needed to fight to win her family back. 

Joey smiled boldly as she knew what she had to do. It didn’t matter that Charlie might be moving on with another woman or that Charlie had made the decision to remove her wedding ring. Joey should’ve done something the moment she noticed that Charlie’s ring was missing and she hated that it had taken two significant things for her to realize how close she was coming to losing Charlie. She couldn’t lose her. If she did…Joey didn’t think she could survive the pain. 

So, her decision was made and Joey knew the first steps she needed to take if she was ever gonna save her family. 

Chewing on her lip, Joey swallowed hard. Now all I have to do is...find the right words to break up with Kaitlyn. Shouldn’t be too hard to find the courage to do the right thing. The only time in my life that I‘ve ever broken up with someone was when I broke up with...Charlie. Finding the right words to break your girlfriends’ heart shouldn’t be that hard compared to the soul shattering speech I gave my wife when I announced I wanted us to separate...right? 

Joey was suddenly brought out of her thoughts when Kaitlyn walked up to her. “Hey Joey,” Kaitlyn greeted awkwardly. Joey looked up at her, “Hi…how’s things?” Kaitlyn lent over and pecked Joey on the lips before sitting down opposite her, “Yeah they’re good…day off work so it’s been good so far. How are things with you? Um…how’s Charlie?” 

Joey smiled sadly at Kaitlyn’s ability to still care about if Charlie was okay even after Joey had abandoned her on their date the previous night to go and care for her former wife. The guilt struck Joey hard about how Kaitlyn would react if she knew about what Joey had dreamed about during her sleep. It was then that Joey was relieved that it had only been a dream, because no matter how amazing it would’ve been to make love to Charlie like she did, she still would’ve cheated on her girlfriend and Joey knew there was no way she could save her marriage by starting it like that. She needed to do the right thing this time and maybe that’s what her dream was supposed to tell her. 

Joey took a sip of her milkshake, “Charlie’s good. I mean she’s still…she got banged up a bit at work. Something about some criminal throwing her against some filing cabinets several times before her colleagues could restrain him. I’m sorry I kinda…left dinner early last night but Charlie needed a lift home from work. She could barely walk let alone drive.” Kaitlyn nodded and picked up the menu, “It's okay…she needed help and you couldn’t just leave her stranded. Has she been to the hospital?” 

Joey lifted her sunglasses and placed them on top of her head, “Yeah she…um went this morning. Tried to convince her to go last night but she’s stubborn as hell. She just got some cream to help the swelling go down. You should see the massive bruises she’s got all over her back…I mean we’re talking…” Kaitlyn swallowed hard, “She showed you her injuries…all over her…naked back?” 

Joey looked away from Kaitlyn, “Well I…she needed…we had some cream in our bathroom cabinet last night that I thought could help with the pain so I…um…applied it to her. It wasn’t what you think.” Joey bit her tongue at her lie, knowing full well it was what Kaitlyn was thinking. 

Kaitlyn stared at the menu, “No, of course, it wasn’t like…what I could be thinking. No point me getting jealous, you were only helping Charlie and it’s not like you’ve never seen her undressed like that before.” Joey cringed, “You know…just for the record…she wasn’t undressed…I mean she had to take her shirt off but she was still wearing her…um…bra. I just…it was just putting some cream on her bruises…that’s all.” 

Oh, it was so much more than that, Joey groaned to herself. Joey chewed on her lip as she struggled to think of the best way to explain to Kaitlyn that she needed to end their relationship to try and give her marriage another chance without destroying her friend. Kaitlyn just nodded silently; her eyes still fixed on the menu.  Joey took another sip of her milkshake, “Oh…I um got here a bit early so ordered this. I know what I want for lunch so whenever you’ve made up your mind I can go in and give our orders to Leah. Then maybe after we’ve finished eating, we can…talk some more.” Kaitlyn placed the menu down on the table and looked up at Joey, “I’ve made up my mind. I’ll have the chicken and avocado focaccia with a salad. I’ll take an orange juice…and I want to break up with you.” 

Joey froze at Kaitlyn’s words, “You wanta…what?” Kaitlyn sighed, “I’m guessing you don’t mean my lunch order…I want us to break up.” “Why?” Joey asked weakly, suddenly thrown by what her girlfriend wanted after spending all morning trying to decide how to say the same words. Kaitlyn lent forwards against the table, “’Cause I know how I feel about you…and I can tell you don’t know how you feel about me…so I think it’s best that we end things now…before I’m madly in love with you.” 

Joey opened and closed her mouth feebly. All morning she had tried working out the best way to break things off between them and suddenly she was the one on the receiving end of the speeches she had tried rehearsing. This wasn’t at all what she had planned and she was surprised at how stunned and disappointed she was that Kaitlyn was the one strong enough to do the right thing and end their relationship. 

“I…um…” Joey stuttered. Kaitlyn gently reached out and took Joey’s hand, “Look this isn’t about you seeing Charlie nearly naked to help her soothe her bruises. It’s not even about last night when you left our date to rescue her…although that helped me see where your priorities lie. I’m not saying I wanted to be your number one priority ‘cause that one will always be your son…but whether you’re ready to admit it…Charlie will always be next after Riley. And I can’t wait around until you figure that out. This has been a long-time coming, Jo…you and I…we’re just not the kind of couple that lasts.” 

Joey closed her eyes and took a deep breath, “I’m sorry.” Kaitlyn squeezed her hand, “There’s nothing to be sorry for. I told you this has been a long time coming…probably since the moment I first kissed you. I guess I always hoped things would change but they haven’t…we’re still where we were when I came back to town with me wanting more than you’re prepared to give me…and you in love with Charlie.” 

Joey nodded slowly, “I do love her.” Kaitlyn blinked back some tears, “I hoped that you had finally realized that yes…didn’t want to be the one who had to tell you. How long have you…known that you were still in love with her…? And if you say the entire time we were together…I won’t hold it against you.” 

Joey smiled desolately, “I think I have been in love with her the entire time. I just didn’t realize how much I loved her until recently. I didn’t want to fall back in love with her. The things that happened in our marriage breakdown…they’re still with me. I know I still have some work to do if Charlie and I have a real chance of saving our marriage. But I need to give it another chance…if I don’t try again with her…I’ll always regret it.” 

“I think you’re right,” Kaitlyn agreed, “It’s what I always felt when we were together. That you had to give Charlie another chance and try again otherwise you’d never truly be over her. I have no idea how Charlie feels about you…but I’m pretty sure she wants to make things right with you as well.” Joey ran her hand through her hair, “That’s what I keep hoping. You know in a way this has turned out all wrong.”  Kaitlyn creased her eyebrows waiting for Joey to continue. Joey entangled her fingers with Kaitlyn’s, “I asked you to meet me here today so I could break up with you…before I could ask Charlie for another chance.” Kaitlyn smiled knowingly, “Beat you to the punch, huh? Sorry...I just didn’t want to draw this out any longer than we needed to...while you tried to work out the best way to break-up with me. I guess this means it’s a mutual break-up…which suits me as I was hoping we could still be friends.” Joey smiled, “Of course, we can still be friends.” 

Kaitlyn sighed in relief, “You know I pictured this going another way all together. I thought when I broke up with you and told you that you were still in love with Charlie, you’d be denying it. And I’d end up pissing you off by trying to make you see how you really feel.” 

Joey tilted her head to the side, “See that’s real friendship. Not being afraid of pissing me off to tell me what I might not have wanted to accept. But I promise you…if things don’t quite work out for Charlie and me…I won’t, you know…come crying to you about it and ask you as my friend to help me deal with it. It’s too close to home for what we’ve been through and…I’ve already screwed up my marriage…don’t want to screw up my friendship too.” 

Kaitlyn took a deep breath, “That’s probably a good idea. ‘Sides you’ve got Aden and Nicole and Leah and everyone else to help you if it doesn’t work out. But something tells me you won’t need them like that and you and Charlie will get through your problems together. Um…but Jo…I know I might not like the answer to this…but I guess…I need to know. When exactly did you realize you’re in love with Charlie again and wanted to give your marriage another chance? Did you…have you slept with her?” 

Joey inhaled sharply knowing Kaitlyn needed her honesty, “Yes…I have slept with her. But it wasn’t…it happened over a month ago when we…had just started dating…before we made things exclusive between us. And I know that is not a good enough excuse. There is no excuse for what happened. I let a lot of things building up get to me one night…and I let Charlie in…I spent one night with her…I let her consume everything about me for a few moments of passion because I needed to feel something real. 

Then when it was all said and done…I nearly broke her…because I couldn’t find a way to give our relationship another chance. I wasn’t ready…that’s when Charlie started asking me for a divorce. Believe me when I tell you that I wanted to tell you…but I was so scared I was gonna lose you. I’d already lost Charlie after I couldn’t give Charlie another chance…I didn’t want to lose you too. I can’t count the ways I screwed up when I slept with her. I…I’d understand if you didn’t want to continue being friends. I don’t deserve your friendship. But I needed to tell you about what happened between Charlie and me…’cause I need to learn to tell people the truth…no matter how much it hurts.” 

Kaitlyn blinked back a few tears, “Well…I asked for the truth. It all kinda makes sense to me now. Guess I understand where a lot of Charlie’s anger stems from in regards to our relationship and wanting divorce counselling to discuss your problems. Doesn’t quite make sense to me why…you know she’d be so okay with you moving back home…and why she was so casual about us being together last week at the dinner.” 

Joey shook her head frustrated, “You’re about as confused as I am. I mean ever since the divorce counselling Charlie’s been on a one-way bender insisting that the two of us are friends…nothing more. That’s why it’s taken me so long to realize that…I want a second chance with her. I don’t know exactly at which point I fell back in love with her…it’s just been something building up over the past few weeks since I moved home. Last night we were just…discussing some things that we went through together when we were married…and it hit me how much I couldn’t bear to lose her.” 

“And now you have no idea if this whole…’just friends’ thing that Charlie is telling you is…what she wants or…just her way of trying to protect herself from getting hurt again and she really does want you back,” Kaitlyn summarized. Joey slumped back in her chair, “Exactly…and I have no way of knowing which one it is and it’s driving me crazy.”  “You could always ask her,” Kaitlyn suggested helpfully. “Oh, gee Kaitlyn…wish I’d thought of that,” Joey groaned. Kaitlyn exhaled, “Okay I get it…if you ask her, she’ll want to know why and get all defensive…which might be the way to tell if she’s protecting herself. But if you don’t ask her…you’ll never know so…” “So, I have to lay everything on the line and pray she feels the same way and I don’t…scare her off?” Joey asked. 

Kaitlyn bit her lip, “Yeah…I think you need to do something like that. Look I’m…I want us to be friends…and I…I can’t do that if I’m sitting here devising ways for you to try and get back together with Charlie so soon when we only broke up…ten minutes ago. I’m sorry.” Joey stroked Kaitlyn’s hand comfortingly, “Of course…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be dumping all this on you. It’s not right. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking so soon of trying to get back together with her anyway. I should be taking some time…let the dust settle on our relationship before I…consider getting back together with Charlie.” 

“You don’t have to do that for my sake you know,” Kaitlyn whispered, “I mean it hurts knowing that…we’ve only just split and you could be back with Charlie as soon as tonight…but I knew when I came here today that I was gonna end things with you. It wasn’t easy but I honestly believe that Charlie and you deserve another chance. There’s no point you wasting time for my benefit when you could be on your way to fixing things between you.” 

Joey lent her head back and stared at the sky, “This is so not how I pictured this lunch going at all. I thought for sure you’d get angry at me for admitting that I’m still in love with Charlie. And here you are…trying to encourage me to take a chance on her sooner rather than later.” Kaitlyn shrugged, “I guess you can’t fight fate.” 

Joey nodded in agreement, “I guess you can’t…can you? So, are you…gonna be okay now?” Kaitlyn smiled but the sadness was evident in her voice, “Sure I will. I’ll probably head home, curl up on the couch…have a bit of a cry…and then by tomorrow I’ll be alright.” “It’s not easy doing the right thing and ending a relationship…thank you,” Joey whispered. 

Kaitlyn tried to put a brave face on, “It’s what I had to do…stop standing in your way. Anyway, I should…” Joey squeezed her hand, “Will I see you around?” Kaitlyn stood up and stared down at her, “Well I won’t be leaving town again like the last time things ended between us…so this town might just be stuck with me...for a little while anyway.” “Then I’ll see you ‘round,” Joey replied contently. 

Kaitlyn lent down and pressed her lips against Joey’s cheek, “Good luck tonight…with however things turn out. Don’t be discouraged if Charlie doesn’t want to make a go of things. Give her time…she’ll come ‘round. The important thing you need to do is go fight for your girl!” Joey entangled her fingers one last time with Kaitlyn before letting go, “Thanks…I hope you’re right…and I’ll fight the hardest that I can.” 

Joey then watched as her friend left and walked down to the beach. 

Turning her thoughts back to Charlie, Joey wished that her dinner with Charlie that night would go as well as her lunch had gone…and by the end of the night she’d have her family back. 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty-Seven 

That evening Charlie arrived home earlier than she’d expected. She was overcome with a sense of dread about Joey wanting them to have a talk after the previous nights’ events. Deciding that not knowing what Joey wanted to tell her was hurting her more than facing probable definite rejection Charlie left Ruby and Geoff’s earlier than planned. Charlie had left Riley in the care of his sister and (hopefully) future-brother-in-law for the evening so she and Joey could have dinner alone. 

And after the events of the previous night, Charlie was unsure if she trusted herself to be alone with her former wife. She prayed that after coming so close and confessing her desirable need for Joey that she wasn’t about to tell her that the two off them needed to put more space between them. 

Charlie panicked about the idea of Joey been so embarrassed by their actions that she would consider moving back out of their home and back in with Aden. Charlie would be devastated at the idea of losing her son all over again, not to mention Joey. Though things had certainly changed in Charlie’s relationships between herself and both Riley and Joey and she knew that she would never ‘lose them,’ she couldn’t help but worry about the worst-case scenario if Joey decided it was no longer a comfortable arrangement for them to be living together. 

When Charlie entered the house and walked down the hallway towards the living room her fears were heightened when she heard several noises and compounded even more when she entered the living room and her eyes landed on the woman she was madly in love with. 

Joey was seated on the couch, holding a box of tissues in her hand and sniffling gently into a handful of tissues. Charlie didn’t need to look at Joey to know that the younger woman was crying. 

Charlie hesitantly walked over to the couch, “Hey…what’s wrong?” Joey immediately looked up at Charlie. She lifted the handful of tissues and dabbed at her face before dropping them and the box on the coffee table. Slightly embarrassed, Joey wiped away the remaining tears on her cheeks, “Ah…you’re home early. I haven’t even got dinner started yet.” 

“That’s okay…I was getting a little restless at Ruby and Geoff’s so…I thought you could use some help making dinner. Are you alright?” Charlie whispered as she moved around to the front of the couch next to Joey. “I’m fine,” Joey dismissed, “I should…go get dinner started. You just…relax here.” 

Charlie watched as Joey poised to get up, but Charlie suddenly shot her hand out to take Joey’s hand stopping her from getting up. Charlie awkwardly sat down next to Joey and entangled their hands, “I can’t relax when I don’t know why you were sitting here crying. What happened, Jo?” “It’s not important,” Joey whimpered. 

Charlie reached her other hand out and stroked Joey’s hair back behind her ear, “If it’s got to do with you…it’s important to me, okay.” Joey looked away from Charlie, guiltily trying to change the subject, “How’s your injuries? Is your back okay? Were you okay to look after Ry?” Charlie smiled sadly, “Riley was fine. I mean sure he’s just so full of energy but the upside is that Geoff’s like that too…so the boys had fun playing games while I sat and chatted to Ruby. And yeah…my back’s getting better. I can already feel the bruises going down after using that cream, I picked up this morning.” 

Joey bit her lip as she was reminded of Charlie being hit on by the woman at the pharmacy, “Did you…um…end up calling that woman back…to ask her out?” 

Charlie shook her head and sighed, “No. I got…too scared. I tried to call her. Kept keying in her number in my phone but every time I got to hitting the ‘call’ button…I couldn’t do it. Then finally I did only to hang up the second it starting ringing. I couldn’t even imagine forming words to speak if she’d answered so…guess you were right this morning. I’m not ready to be dating someone new right now. It’s a huge step…maybe one day I’ll be ready for it. So…now that you’ve tried distracting me about myself…can you please tell me why you’re sitting here crying?” 

Joey lent forwards and grabbed another tissue to wipe away the new tears that were forming in her eyes, “Kaitlyn broke up with me at lunch today.” Charlie wasn’t sure if her heart was elated at the thought that Joey was no longer in a relationship or if it was dejected that Joey was upset enough about the breakup to be crying her heart out. 

Charlie tried to smile bravely through her confusion, “I’m sorry.” Joey blew her nose into the tissues, “It’s fine…and that’s the part that gets me. I accepted it when she broke up with me as I knew it had to happen. Then I was starting to make dinner and without warning I burst into tears. I haven’t been able to stop crying since…was kinda hoping I could get over my crying outburst before you saw me.” 

Charlie looked on at Joey compassionately, “There’s nothing to be ashamed of by being upset that your relationship just ended, Jo. It’s normal to react this way. You are allowed to shed a few tears over the girl. You liked her, Jo…and you’re hurt that she’s ended things.” 

Joey chewed on her lip, “Yeah but I saw it coming…the breakup…everyone saw it coming. I agreed with her that it was the best thing for us not to continue seeing each other so it was a mutual decision…and now all of a sudden, I’m sitting here…with all these tears and I’m doing the crying thing. I did the crying thing…you remember the unexpected burst into tears at any moment emotional thing when I was pregnant with Riley but that was because of hormones! And now I’m doing the crying thing again and can’t use hormones as an excuse!” 

Charlie stroked Joey’s hand as she tried not to let Joey’s reaction get to her. She was now firmly accepting that Joey was distraught over the end of her relationship which seemingly proved to Charlie just how much Joey cared about the other woman, even if she’d only just realized it. Ignoring her own heartbreak, Charlie continued to comfort her former wife to support her, “There doesn’t have to be an excuse for crying about this. Maybe you didn’t really want the relationship to end…and now that it has, you’re upset about not being able to make her change her mind about it.” 

Joey wiped away more tears, “If only it were that simple…it was a mutual decision. I um…I was planning on breaking up with her…and was trying to find the words to do so when she surprised me and dumped me instead. Now I’m unexpectedly upset about it…with all the crying…pathetic.” 

Charlie wrapped her arm around Joey’s shoulder, pulling the younger woman into a brief hug. Charlie was surprised when Joey didn’t pull out of the embrace and instead settled herself against Charlie’s body. Joey nuzzled her face against Charlie’s shoulder as she tried to stop her tears from flowing but Charlie could still feel them seeping against her shirt. Joey’s right hand wrapped around Charlie’s hip and Charlie entangled their hands softly. 

Charlie stared down at the upset woman, “Oh you wanted to break things off…um…wow. Sorry I wasn’t expecting…I…Jo…it’s not pathetic to be upset over being dumped. It’s hard accepting the person doesn’t want to be with you…so you are allowed a bit of time to mourn the relationship.” Joey sniffled and looked up at Charlie, “It shouldn’t be this hard when it’s what I wanted too. Maybe I’m just scared…’cause now there’s nothing standing in my way.” 

Charlie creased her eyebrows, desperate to know what Joey meant. Joey swallowed deeply, “I…uh…that part doesn’t matter right now.” Charlie nodded sadly at the fact Joey was closing up again, “Um…so this probably isn’t any of my business…but why did you both end things with each other? I thought you really liked her…is this about last night? ‘Cause you left your date with her to come help me? I’m so sorry. I didn’t think I’d be risking your relationship by being so selfish and asking for your help. This is all my fault. I’ll go talk to Kaitlyn and tell her I’ll stop being so dependent on you. I want to fix this, Jo…I’ll go to her place and see her and…I don’t know where she lives…you’re not gonna tell me are you?” 

Joey smiled sadly at Charlie’s ramblings. She was thankful that Charlie had ignored her first question about why she and Kaitlyn had ended things but now felt guilty that Charlie immediately blamed herself for the breakup. Joey snuggled against Charlie’ body, “No, I’m not gonna tell you where she lives because you don’t have to go and try and fix my relationship for me, Charlie. It’s not your fault. I know I’m…confused and upset about the way things ended…but this really was the right thing…for both of us.” 

Charlie lent down and brushed her lips against Joey’s forehead, “Okay…if that’s how you really feel. I won’t try and fix this. Why don’t I…go and get us some ice cream and instead of dinner we’ll have a girlie night and pig out on ice cream and watch some sappy DVD’s?” Joey sighed gently, “That sounds nice, Charlie…but…um…can we just…stay here like this for a little while? I just…can you just hold me?” 

Charlie tenderly maneuvered herself and curled her legs up on the side of the couch. She lent her head against the top of Joey’s, silently unsure if she could console the woman in her arms without breaking down herself, “Of course I can…anything for you. Just tell me when you’re ready…I’ve got your favourite ice cream in the freezer.” Joey clung to Charlie, “Cookies ‘n’ cream?” Charlie couldn’t help but breathe in Joey’s scent, “Could it be any other flavour? I love that I still know you.” 

“I love it too,” Joey confessed, before she frowned, “Charlie…you said before in your ramblings that you’re…dependent on me. Is that how you feel?” Charlie closed her eyes as she continued to hold the woman close to her, “I do kinda…but I don’t mean it in a bad way. I like depending on someone just to get me through things. Before you…I never let myself depend on anyone except for me. I like the way that we both help each other no matter what. We’re not…too dependent on each other, are we?” Joey shrugged, “Maybe we are…but it’s one of the things I loved when we were together.” 

Charlie blinked back a tear, “Maybe it’s why we took our break-up so badly. One day we were each other’s everything’s…the next…it was hard been torn apart like that. Days gone by huh? Did you ever think we’d end up here, back then?” “I’d thought I’d lost you for good…when I walked out on you with Riley…I wish I could take it back,” Joey confessed timidly. 

Charlie squeezed Joey’s hand, “There’s a lot of things I wish I could take back too…losing you…it’s at the top of my list no question. So…ah since I’m not really feeling guilty anymore for being the reason Kaitlyn broke up with you…you know for being pissed off at you for coming to my rescue last night…it’s just you never answered my question on why the pair of you broke up. So…why did you?” 

Joey closed her eyes and took a deep breath, knowing that there was no possible way she could avoid the question without Charlie probing further for the truth. Joey bit her lip, “Because I wasn’t in love with her and I never would be...when I’m…” “Oh…when you’re…?” Charlie whispered trying to entice Joey to continue. 

When I’m still in love with you, Joey thought, willing Charlie to read her mind for fear she wasn’t gonna be able to voice the truth. 

Charlie stared deep into Joey’s eyes, pleading to know what was behind the sadness in them, “When you’re…?” 

Joey didn’t falter when she finally found the courage, she needed in Charlie’s loving expression, “When I’m still in love with you…” 

Chapter Text

Happily Never After

Chapter Fifty-Eight  

Charlie’s eyes widened at Joey’s confession. Her mouth opened and closed several times and she was embarrassed to admit that she was shocked into speechlessness. It was everything she dreamed of for Joey to be admitting to her that she still loved her and now her dream was coming true…and she had no idea how to respond.  

Joey’s expression fell at Charlie’s silence, “I…uh…” Charlie could see the look on Joey’s face and knew if she didn’t do anything she was about to lose her, so forced herself to form words out of the ones clouding her mind, “I…can you repeat that?”  

Joey fought back tears as she confessed her hearts’ desire for the second time in a minute, “I’m…I’m still in love with you.” Charlie disentangled her hand from Joey’s and brought it up to stroke Joey’s cheek, “I might need you…to tell me that one more time…so I know this is really happe--” “I love you…I always have,” Joey interrupted in a hushed tone.  

Charlie continued staring at Joey wide-eyed, “I don’t know what to say.” Joey found her empty hand fiddling anxiously with the edge of Charlie’s shirt, “Saying…I love you too…would be a good place to start.”  

Charlie suddenly relaxed against the woman she was holding, “I can think of a better one.” Joey frowned in confusion but closed her eyes when she felt Charlie press her lips against her own. The kiss was soft and tender, only lasting several seconds, and Joey felt a sense of loss when Charlie withdrew from the kiss. Charlie pressed their foreheads together, as several tears slipped down her cheek, “I love you too.”  

Joey smiled shyly, “I kinda think you need to repeat that too.” Charlie stroked her fingers against Joey’s cheek, “I love you…do you need me to say it again?” Joey nodded boldly. “I love you…I never stopped loving you,” Charlie whispered. Joey closed her eyes, but smiled softly as she felt Charlie graze their noses against each other, “I thought you hated me.”  

Another tear slipped down Charlie’s cheek, “I never hated you…not at any time. Even when we were at our worst…I still loved you.” Joey nodded gently and opened her eyes to stare into Charlie’s eyes, “But…the last few weeks…I thought you’d given up…” Charlie held Joey close, “I was trying to move on…but I couldn’t…so then I just pretended I was okay with the fact you’d never love me back. I couldn’t pretend anymore…I wanted to tell you how I feel so many times.”  

Joey bit her lip, “Sounds like what I’ve been going through…it’s why I intended to break up with Kaitlyn…I couldn’t pretend anymore. I needed to tell you how I really feel…even if it meant I could lose you if you didn’t…feel the same way.” “I do feel the same way,” Charlie reassured her, then pausing, “What…what does this mean for us now? I mean…just saying we love each other doesn’t…fix things.”  

Joey licked her lips, “That’s part of why I wanted to talk to you tonight…only we were supposed to do this over dinner instead of us crying on the couch together…I want a second chance, Charlie. I want to try again with you…and see if we can fix this marriage…and our family…together.”  

Charlie gingerly grazed her finger along Joey’s cheek and followed across to her lips, “I’ll give you a second chance…will you be giving me a second chance?” As Charlie’s finger travelled along Joey’s lips, Joey lent forward and kissed it gently, “I want this to work between us…so yes I can forget the past and only concentrate on our future.”  

The corners of Charlie’s lips curled into a smile, “The past doesn’t matter anymore…we have to work on our marriage to save it. Only…can we…maybe take things slow?” “If that’s what we need to do to help save our family…of course we can. So…how slow exactly?” Joey queried.  

Charlie shrugged, “Like I said before…saying ‘I love you’ doesn’t fix things. We still have to talk about all this properly…I know we have to concentrate on the future…but we have to discuss our problems we had in the past and still have now honestly otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for another breakdown in our marriage. We just need to communicate more about what we want and how we can fix things. Goes without saying but we need to trust each other. Does that…sound alright with you?”  

Joey nodded and breathed deeply, “Yes…we’ll sit down and talk this through so we know what we have to face to get through this…together. Only…can we maybe have this talk tomorrow? I just…I want you to hold me so I can fall asleep in your arms…or is that moving too fast?”  

Charlie stared deeply into Joey’s eyes, “That sounds perfect. It’s not moving too fast at all. When I say ‘take things slow’…I’m not just talking about the physical side of our relationship…I more mean the emotional side. The physical side comes naturally…but we have to balance our emotional side so we can really make things work.”  

“That’s smart Charlie…it’s what we have to do,” Joey agreed, then chewing on the inside of her mouth, “We can’t tell Riley about this yet…can we?” Charlie squeezed Joey’s shoulder, “I think we need to keep our…reconciliation a bit…quiet. I know he'll be beyond thrilled if we can make this work...I just don't want to...” Joey sighed, “You don't want to disappoint him if we can't make this work again and we end up...back where we were eleven months ago.”  

“I don't want to get his hopes up too soon...we still have to talk about all this properly...I think we just need to take things as they come and...maybe give it a few weeks and once we know that we've gotten through the hardest parts...then we'll tell him together,” Charlie suggested.  

“I know he would want to know straight away so he can get back to been the happy kid that we’ve sort of lost this year…but you’re right. We need to take this at our own pace…if we try too hard to make this only about Riley and the other people who want us back together…we’ll be putting too much pressure on ourselves. And that’s the last thing we need when we’re trying to do this right,” Joey replied gently, then raising her eyebrow, “You know this…could get…difficult…trying to keep this a secret.”  

Charlie frowned, “It won’t be…that difficult…will it?” Joey ran her tongue over her bottom lip, “Well let’s see…while we try and work on repairing our marriage without letting our son know too soon. I guess that means we’re not allowed to kiss each other when he’s around…which is nearly all the time…hugging each other too much could give him a big hint and…”  

“So, pretty much we’re not allowed to be overly close to each other when he’s at home even though that closeness could help us work through our problems…? This will be fun,” Charlie pouted. “It’s just for a couple weeks and then we can tell him. We just have to be a bit careful when all three of us are home. I want us to sit him down properly and explain tha