"Got your post," Beth Latimer says, pushing open the front door.
Ellie Miller peeks around the corner to see her friend enter the house, birthday cake balanced between her hands, envelops on top, and Lizzie clinging to her leg.
"Thanks, Beth. For the mail and picking up the cake."
"Of course. Also, when was the last time you got the post?" Beth follows Ellie into the kitchen.
"It's Tom's chore," Ellie answers, returning to the task of chopping onions, "I'm not sure he gets it every day, and I'm often too tired to think of it when returning home."
"Must be three days here," Beth shakes her head. "Boys."
It sends a pinch through Ellie's heart, the way Beth says that. Beth hasn't had a son for years. The younger woman keeps a straight face though. Five years can close the wound, though she expected today to be hard on her friend.
"Aye," Ellie softly says.
"What do you want me to do?" Beth says after setting Lizzie at the dining room table with crayons and a coloring book.
"If you don't mind cooking the rice."
"Of course not."
The two women set to work, chatting about the meal and the upcoming party – Tom's sixteenth. He has a few days yet before his actual birthday, but the big do is planned for later that afternoon. It's supposed to be a milestone, Ellie thinks, sixteen, but Tom had simply shrugged off Ellie's insistence on its importance.
"Sixteen is just a number, mum."
"You can get a job now."
"Do I need to?"
"No," Ellie had shaken her head vigorously. "No, you don't need to do that." She'd supported the family for years with her single salary, though Tom and later Ellie's father had stepped up to take care of the household duties with Joe's departure. There was no reason for Tom to take up more responsibility.
"Lizzie, don't do that."
Ellie snaps her attention to Beth and her daughter. The four-year-old had traded her coloring book for Ellie's post, scribbling on white envelopes.
"This isn't something to color on," Beth insists, pulling the mail free. Lizzie frowns but is easily distracted by a finger tap on a fresh page in her Disney coloring book. Beth, on the other hand, is intrigued by an envelope in her hand.
"What is it?" Ellie asks, wiping her hands and walking over.
"Oh, sorry. Shouldn't pry. It's just, there's no return address."
Ellie silently asks for the envelope and Beth places it in her hand. Flipping it over a few times, Ellie can see it's normal shaped but in addition to having no return address, her own had been typed, not written. She frowns before deciding to open it.
Inside is a check for a few hundred pounds and a typed note: Tell him happy 16th from me.
"Fuck," Ellie says.
She casts a look at Lizzie, who ignores her in favor of coloring Moana green. "Sorry, Beth. It's just… it's from him."
There's no name anywhere, but who else could have sent the money other than Joe. Joe, her husband. Joe, the man who murdered Beth's son. Joe, the man the town had exiled to Scotland and told to never contact anyone in Broachchurch again.
Beth goes still. "What is it?"
"A check. For a birthday present."
"You don't have to use it."
"That's not the point," Ellie hisses. "If he had just waited another year. Fuuuudge," she prevents herself from swearing in time.
She steps away from the table, back into the kitchen, and Beth follows. "We're not properly divorced," Ellie reminds Beth after a deep breath. "It didn't cross my mind, after the trail, I just wanted him gone. And after, only Paul know where he went and I didn't want to ask for his address to send the papers. So I talked to Jocelyn, and she said if I wait long enough I can file for divorce based on abandonment."
Ellie slaps Joe's letter on the counter. "I need to wait six years before I could do that. Another eleven months. But if he's sending money, I can't claim it." She sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm her heart. "Why now, why send money now?"
Beth doesn't answer. She sets about making tea, filling the kettle and lighting the stove underneath it. "Give me the letter," she demands Ellie.
Wordlessly, she hands it over.
In a flash, Beth puts the paper in the fire. Ellie shouts, but Beth just holds the letter steady as flames creep toward her fingers.
"Dowse it, Beth!"
With a wince, Beth drops the paper. It sits on the stovetop, burning until the flames run out of fuel and all that's left is a small pile of ash.
"He never sent you anything," Beth insists, sweeping the ashes into her hand. She marches through the front door and into the road, throws the ash into the air for the sea breeze to catch. Part of it blows backwards, clinging to Beth and Ellie's hair, but most is carried into the park.
"He never sent you anything," Beth says again, looking Ellie in the eye.
Ellie nods. "I've had no contact from my husband."
Pleased, Beth pulls Ellie into a hug. "He's destroyed our lives enough. He needs to let go, let us move on."
Ellie melts into the embrace. She wants to cry, but the guests will be coming in an hour. A dozen teens she'll have to supervise and manage. "Make me a cuppa, Beth. Then you and Lizzie can help blow up balloons."
Together, the women walk back into the house.
"Something's happened," Alec Hardy says when he corners Ellie later. Daisy might be two years older than Tom, but the teens get along better than their parents. She'd come over for the party, father in tow.
"What makes you say that?" Ellie asks. She tries to step around her boss, she needs to find the candles, but he shifts his weight to block her.
"You keep asking people to label the presents."
"We need to know who to send thank-you cards to."
"You didn't insist last year."
"Well, I want to make sure every present is claimed."
Hardy narrows his eyes, and Ellie internally winces. He's a better detective than she is, and attuned to her moods and mindset after years of working cases together.
"Are you expecting one to not be?"
Beth walks into the kitchen, asking if the cake is ready. She pauses when she sees the two of them, and Ellie is suddenly aware of how close Hardy is standing. He must too, for he hastily steps back.
"Tomorrow," Ellie tells him. She would have brought up eventually anyway, but now she'll have to. "At the station."
"I'll expect a full report."
She rolls her eyes. Detective work is ingrained in him, a side effect of it being his focus for so long. She has nothing to 'report', not really, though she'll have to be careful what she says. Destroying Joe's letter could have consequences if discovered. An action designed to keep a father away from his children, when he had all the right to have access to them.
Legally, Joe was their father and she had no grounds on which to prevent him from walking back into their lives. He'd been found not guilty.
"Yes, sir," she says, exasperated.
He frowns in response, but steps back and out into the garden. Beth pulls the cover off the cake and she and Ellie start sticking in seventeen candles – sixteen years and one for good luck.
"You gonna tell him?" Beth asks.
"I wasn't planning on it so soon, but yeah. No reason not too, and if I don't he'll treat it as a case. Watching me and asking questions."
Beth smiles. "It's his way of showing he cares, you know."
"Well, it's bloody annoying, that's what it is."
The next morning at work, as Ellie pulls off her purse, she can feel Hardy's eyes on her. Sighing, she walks into his office and closes the door.
"You going to tell me what happened yesterday?"
She wishes she made tea. Then she could stare at it instead of him.
Ellie flicks her gaze to the rest of the office. Hardy's blinds are down but open, however no one is paying attention to the two of them. It's common for them to sit in here, talking about a case. Sighing, Ellie looks at her boss, and, if she was pressed to admit it, sometimes friend.
"I got a letter from Joe. A check."
"What'd you do with it?"
"I'd say he owes you a lot of money for the pain he put you through. You could have used it to do your hair."
She frowns at him. Does he think she needs it done? After a moment, Ellie shakes her head. "Can't file for abandonment if he sends money."
"Ah." He leans back in his chair. "My divorce was messy, but at least we went through it."
"Yes, well, trying to avoid contact with him."
"Think he'll send more?" Hardy asks.
"I don't know. It was for a birthday gift for Tom."
"Sixteen is a big year."
They sit in silence for a moment. They'd help each other in a heartbeat, but there's nothing to do here. Ellie's already done it, and further action might not be needed. Still, she's glad she told him. Ellie can't hide things from Hardy, not after he's witnessed the tragedies of her life. Plus, he's good at helping her direct her emotions.
And if he's not as forthcoming about his own secrets? Well. To quote Beth from yesterday, "boys."
Two months later, there's another letter with her address typed on it and no return label. Trembling, she takes it with her over the Latimers'.
They're both home, Mark in the kitchen while Beth answers the door. She takes one look at Ellie, the white envelope in her hands and her stiff lip, and just knows.
"Do you need me to burn it?"
"You can't. Burning one letter can be blamed on the post service, but for them to misplace two? Besides," she flips the envelope over. There's a tracking number. Joe will know exactly what day it was delivered.
"Shit," Beth whispers. "What are you going do?"
"I don't know," Ellie says, "but I just, I had to tell someone. I, I can't, I can't-"
By "I can't", she really means "I can't stop". Can't stop thinking about Joe taking the boys from her. About taking her. Showing up Broadchurch, knocking on the door. Can't stop thinking about Joe's confession, how he choked the life out of Danny Latimer. How Joe had never truly loved her, had he? Not if he really liked boys, but hadn't known it.
She questions their entire marriage now. Every day he had spent with the boys. She wants the thoughts gone.
"I've got wine," Beth says, reading her mind and pulling her inside.
At least Joe hadn't destroyed this relationship, Ellie thinks. She didn't know where she'd be without Beth some days.
Hardy looks up when Ellie places the letter on his desk. "What's this?"
"Another check from Joe."
He stares at it with interest. "You sure? It's unopened."
"No return address, typed label. Just like the other one. Only this one has tracking." She flips it so he can see.
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," she admits. "But I wanted to run something by you."
He leans forward on his desk. "I'm listening."
"Should we tell the uniforms to keep an eye out?"
"You think he'd show up in Broadchurch?"
Ellie thinks back to the day they forced him out of town. Hardy knows the details, she’d told him a few years later after his return. Joe had looked devastated, but not at his guilt. At the loss of Broadchurch, and the loss of his family. Paul had mentioned, once, he thought a driving force for Joe's switch to a not-guilty plea was the desire for things to go back to normal. And normal to Joe was playing house husband to Ellie’s breadwinner status.
Maybe she relies too much on the town’s anger to keep him away. Overestimates the threat of Mark, and Nige, and the other men in town. After all, Mark had confessed to going to see Joe and being unable to do anything but listen to him talk.
It is quite possible that now, whatever had held Joe back, has evaporated.
She hates how soft Hardy’s voice is. She also hates the idea of becoming another Claire, utterly dependent on Hardy for protection, and terrified at what her husband might do to her. Joe, for all that he tore apart her life, is not the most violent man she’s faced. She still vows to change the locks, again, on the house and make sure all the windows latch.
"I’m fine,” she smiles at Hardy, who frowns back at her. “No need to get the uniforms involved, but do you think we could reverse track this?” Ellie taps the unopened envelope. “I’d like to send him divorce papers.”
The check gets tracked back only as far as the post office that mailed it and the staff can't recall who paid for it as it had been a cash transaction. It drives Ellie mad.
She supposes, in her own way, waiting to file for divorce based on abandonment had been a healing balm. It had prevented her from the divorce process, from interacting with Joe, from having to argue about custody and ownership of the house and their shared bank accounts. Not dealing with Joe had been her goal for the first year, and after that she'd done it in small increments. Sometimes with Beth, sometimes with her parents. Most often in the small moments she got with Tom and Fred, which mean she had to work through them quickly and get over the emotions before they made a mess or did something stupid.
Now, sitting at her dining room table late at night staring at the third sent check, she realizes those five years had been fate giving her a break. If they were going to do this right, if she were going to do this right and get a divorce through the courts, she'd need to support it like any other case. Support it, and fight for what she wants to keep.
They are, in order, custody of her children, no visitation for Joe, the house. She wonders, taking a sip of her tea, if Joe might ask for spousal support. She'd always made the money, but since he had sent some to her it could be argued he didn't need it.
Ellie treats it as a thought exercise, building a case for a divorce. What does she need to show that Joe shouldn't get custody? Visitation? In the eyes of the Crown, there's no reason why he shouldn't move right back in.
Therapist, she thinks, all those sessions. Two years of talking about Joe, about how he made her feel, made Tom feel. If feeling threatened by someone could result in a restraining order, it had to be grounds for a divorce.
She looks up from her tea to see her father shuffle into the room. Slowly, easy on his knees, he sits down across from her. "What are you doing, love?"
"To throw through windows?"
Ellie smiles. "I'd be a shit detective if I went around vandalizing places."
Her father snorts before sobering. "If you need it, I have some money saved."
"Why would I need your money, Dad?"
He nods toward the envelope. "Court fees. I don't want him anywhere near you or the boys."
"Save your money," Ellie mumbles into her tea. She'd let it go lukewarm as she sat there pondering.
"I mean it, Ellie. I want you all safe."
"We will be."
Jocelyn only advises these days, her eyesight finally preventing her from doing her job as efficiently as she wants. She helps Ellie come up with a plan.
"I know we know these checks are from Joe, but he's not signed them 'Joe'. He's using a new name, Steven Laborer. Saying it's Joe who sent these is speculation, filing for divorce based on abandonment might still be on the table."
"You don't think the note with the first one means it's reasonable to assume Joe sent it?"
Ellie holds her gaze. This isn't a game she's played before – destroying evidence, lying – but she'll do it if she needs to. If Jocelyn thinks it's her best option. The letter Beth burns doesn't have to come up at all.
The idea of it isn't as attractive as it had been five years previously. Now that Ellie's committed to getting her divorce, she wants it done as fast as possible. There's no overlooking the facts though. "Steve" is sending money through the bank, there's no address on the checks, the post system can't help, and the bank only will if they make an official inquiry through the station. Which can't be done without connecting the money to a crime.
Ellie wants this done clean. No procedural error that could draw out the process or make the divorce not happen. She doesn't want to drag Danny's death through town a third time if the divorce goes to court.
She'll wait and build the case for abandonment.
"Here." Ellie automatically takes the bundle of chips Hardy gives her, then frowns.
"What's this for?"
"It's been a week since you tried to feed me."
"So now you're trying to feed me so I can go on doing it?"
"Just eat it, Miller."
She complies, taking out a chip and nibbling at it. Normally, she loves the combo of grease and salt, but it sits painfully in her stomach, a growing ball of non-want. Ellie forces herself to eat more than she wants to. Hardy never gets her things, and the fact that he has means she's ringing his alarm bells.
"Is it Joe?" he asks softly as they walk down the boardwalk.
"The waiting," she answers. "Eight months now, till I can get divorced. I want it to go fast, but it's not. I want to be rid of him."
Ellie shakes her head. "I know, but I want it done now." She wants to ask about his own divorce but knows it's not the same. Hardy had dug his heels in initially until Tess told him her night of infidelity hadn't been a mistake or a one-time thing. Ellie wants to jump in feet first.
"I want to hunt him down," she says, turning north. Turning toward Joe. "I want him to sign the bloody papers. I want to change my name. But it won't go quick, if I do that. He'll push back. And it means I'll have to look him in the eyes."
Her shoulders sag. She contemplates throwing away the chips. Hardy would yell at her. Now that she thinks about it, she hadn't paused for lunch all week, stomach too knotty.
"I can do it for you," Hardy offers.
Ellie looks at him. There's an earnestness in his gaze she doesn't often see. It only comes out when he's telling victims, or victim families, he'll get justice. She doesn't like it. She's not a victim.
"Let check the CCTV. We have a hit-n-run to solve, remember."
And that's that. If anyone knows how to dive into work to keep the churn of personal emotions away, it's Alec Hardy.
When Ellie gets the call she's surprised at how it relaxes her, but she has been waiting months for Joe to do something more than send checks via a pseudonym. Knowing that something is here releases a tension she hadn't been holding on to for a while.
The call comes from Aaron Mayford of all people via the public police line. Apparently he does go fishing at night on occasion and last night he'd seen someone who might be Joe enter one of the mobile home rentals near shore.
"Think I can meet him?" He asks. Ellie hangs up her phone and throws it on her desk.
The noise, no surprise, catches Hardy's attention. He looks through the doorway of his office at her. She waves her hand at him, dismissing his concern. Then she picks up her phone and walks outside to call home.
Her father picks up on the second ring. "David Barret."
Ellie lets out her breath. "Is Fred home?"
"Yeah, but we've got a play date in an hour. Did you want to talk to him?"
"No. Yes. I mean," she makes a noise of frustration.
She looks around, making sure she's not overheard, before making her request. "Take Fred and go somewhere for a few days, yeah? "
"Joe's here, isn't he?" David immediately askes.
"Might be, yeah."
"What about Tom?"
Ellie frowns. Her eldest son is at school and she knows he's been studying hard for the maths exam his last period. "I'll see if he can stay with a friend the next few days. Tell the school he's sick, in case Joe goes looking." She can't text him Joe's in town, not if she wants to do this cleanly and still try for abandonment, but Ellie has talked to her son. He's less keen to have his father back than she is.
"I'll be fine."
"I'll be fine. Everyone in this town has my back, you know that."
David sighs. "Be careful. I'll call when we're settled somewhere."
From there, Ellie makes several calls and texts. A fellow parent, who agrees to look after Tom for a few days. Tom, to tell him not to go home. The school, to keep an eye out for a suspicious man. Beth, to keep Mark from the house for a few days. Joclyen, on the off chance that now Joe is here means a shift in her advice.
When she turns around, debating as to whether to ask SOCO if they could access the CCTV for the mobile homes, she's surprised to see Hardy come out onto the balcony. What's more, he's holding two mugs of tea.
Wordlessly, she takes it.
Hardy leans on the door jab, blocking her way inside, and despite his demanding posture his face is full of nervousness. It reminds Ellie of the time he cornered her in a woman's bath, eager to help her feel better but not sure how. He's learned since then. Picked up on Ellie's own way of providing support and care.
The tea is infinity better than the fries he fed her a month ago.
He stares at her and she sips her tea without looking at him. While this time feels more charged than previous times they've been in this situation, Hardy's gaze more attentive than ever, they're at the same stalemate. Ellie is in some desperate need of emotional comfort, but Hardy's rubbish at providing it. In the past, she also never really wanted it from him, from her boss. But as she sips her tea, made as she likes it, Ellie thinks she doesn't mind, just a little, that Hardy is offering support in his own way.
She won't ask for anything more though. She doesn't want Hardy to whisk her away from a troublesome husband, stashing her in an isolated cottage. Ellie wants things done and that means confrontation. She's not sure Hardy is the one to help her with that. Oh, he'd get in Joe's face alright, she thinks, but Hardy's the type to crank up the aggressiveness and protectiveness when someone he's vowed to help is in a tough situation. She doesn't want Hardy in Joe's face, she wants herself in Joe's face, and Hardy might not let her.
"Who called?" Hardy eventually asks.
Hardy starts. Mayford wasn't well-liked by the station. He often toed the line between creepy and predator but hadn't done anything warranting an arrest.
"What did he want?"
Now that they're talking, that Ellie is looking at Hardy, she sees he hasn't touched his tea. The DI spent Ellie's entire silence simply looking at her. Cheeks pink, she turns her head again.
"Miller," Hardy presses, and there it is. That insistence that she tell him details about a case, to feed his need for knowledge. And also under it all, a touch of concern.
Ellie shakes her head. "He had a tip."
"A potential break-in at one of the mobile homes by the beach."
"We'll send a uniform around."
"Unless you think we should check it out."
Ellie shakes her head. "No, I don't think it's worth our time."
Hardy might be her boss, might be more used to hardness and asking pressing questions of witnesses, but Ellie's gone through her own trials. She's fielded personal inquiries since she was twelve, and that's what this really is.
"Yes." Ellie drains her tea. "Thanks for this, sir."
She makes to go inside, and Hardy pulls himself up to allow her to pass. They still brush bodies, her right shoulder and arm grazing his chest with a silken touch – smooth and cool from the Fall air.
"Any time, Miller," he says, falling into step behind her.
She's positive he means more than just giving her tea.
Ellie freezes when she inserts her key into the front door and turns. She'd met no resistance. Someone had unlocked it before her.
Gripping the knob tightly, she steps inside. Instantly she's assaulted by the smell of apple chicken. The dish used to be her favorite, Joe catering to her love of the fruit. Apple pie, apple cake, apples in various meals. At some point, the flavor stopped invoking childhood nostalgia and instead brought up the love Joe had for her. Until those memories went sour and apple treats made her stomach roll as much as rotten fish.
There are noises from the kitchen, a low bit of humming. Joe either doesn't care to stop cooking, or hadn't heard her enter.
Slowly, moving around the creaky floorboards, she walks down the front hall, turns the corner, and finally can peek into the kitchen.
It's Joe alright. He looks a little heavier but less muscular in the arms. Working, she assumes, ate into his gym time. What Joe doesn't look like is apologetic, haunted, or nervous.
He looks comfortable. Happy. Content. All things he shouldn't be because it took Ellie years of therapy to get that way again. And here her bastard, murdering husband is looking like he never left.
He's even wearing an old, familiar jumper.
Ellie's glad the kids aren't here.
"What are you doing here, Joe?" she snaps.
His head jerks up. He stares at her in surprise before his face softens. It's the look of a man in love, with a gentle heart and pleased as punch just to see her. In the past, Ellie returned the look. Now, it makes her stomach shrivel and her adrenaline spike.
"Ellie, I thought I'd make dinner. See the kids. It's been five years."
"We don't want you here."
"Ellie, we're married. We love each other. We have kids. Can't we go back to being a family? Can't we put this behind us?"
"Danny is permanently dead, Joe. There's no going back from that. And you gave him gifts, like a mistress."
"He was just a kid, we never-"
"If you did that with a woman, it'd be an affair."
"I would never do that to you, Ellie."
She crosses her arms and glares at him. It's true, adultry was not his crime. But it could have been, eventually. If Danny had been older than eleven, would Joe had asked for more than a hug? Would he ask for a kiss at fourteen, a strip at fifteen, a touch at sixteen? Or would Joe had moved on, picked someone younger?
She'd debated with her therapist, gone to groups, read the books, trying and trying to understand her husband. Why he did what he did. The nearest she'd gotten before her therapist made her realize that her inability to understand meant she wasn't like him and that was a good thing, was that Joe was at heart a pedophile but had too strong a moral code to actually do something against the law.
It gives him a partial good core, which Ellie likes to claim was the part she had loved before it got swallowed up.
"Where are Tom and Fred?" Joe asks after a stretch of silence.
"Who's living in the guest room?"
"A renter." She hopes the thought of them being interrupted makes Joe leave.
Enough is enough. She can't stand here and stare at Joe, it makes her stomach knot. Things are over between them, over in any way that matters, and the sooner the last tie is snipped the sooner she can live a free life.
"If you do something for me, I won't tell Mark you're in town."
"Mark wouldn't hurt me. He doesn't have the courage."
"Like you don't have the courage to off yourself? You should've. By god, you should've, Joe. Because all I want to do right now it bloody kill you for what you did, and not just killing your best friend's kid!"
Ellie storms across the room. There's only the kitchen island between her and Joe now, the smell of apples strong enough she wants to gag but she girds her stomach.
"You ripped the Latimers apart, you ripped us apart, and you choked the life out of Danny. I have watched Beth fall to pieces, witnessed Mark recover from a suicide attempt. Tom destroyed your photos, ripped them to pieces, and he avoids children worried he'll do what you did. He wouldn't go near Fred for a full year!"
If feels good, to yell at Joe. She's had fantasies about this. Letting all the vitriol that built inside out, putting him in his place, thinking that if he doesn't regret murder maybe he can at least regret the fallout. She thinks maybe he does, hence the checks and the dinner. But she doesn't want to kiss and make up, as Joe seems to. She wants to take his hope for a happy, normal marriage and slam dunk it in the bin because that's exactly what he did to her.
Revenge isn't pretty, but it's something she wants regardless. And she'll get it.
Turning on her heel, she marches upstairs. There's the frantic click of the cooktop being turned off, and then Joe's heavy steps behind her. It makes her move faster.
"Ellie, Ellie," he calls after her.
She keeps going until she walks into her bedroom. Hers, not theirs, because obviously he put as much effort into it as their marriage in its last six months.
"You painted-" Joe says, but Ellie's not really listening to him. On the other side of the room is a desk, and on top of that a manila folder, and inside that...inside that is what will truly make all of this end. Her guilt over Danny, her self-disgust at not seeing what was happening, the feeling that she failed as a wife, dedicated, gave herself to the wrong person because of bad judgment.
Divorce wouldn't erase everything, she knows. But it'd help. A lot.
She tosses the manila folder on the bed between her and Joe. "It's divorce papers. You're signing them."
Joe's gaze flickers from her, to the packet, and back to her. "No."
"Yes you bloody are!"
"I'm a good husband, Ellie."
"You're a murderer," she snarls the answer, teeth bared, but Joe just shakes his head.
"I can get past that –"
"Well, I can't, and Danny's not the only reason why I'm divorcing you."
That is the only thing that gives Joe a serious pause. "You found someone else."
"I bloody well did not! I'm divorcing you, Joe, because I don't like you. You, not me ended his marriage."
"And I can fix it-"
"How, Joe, how are you going to fix it? With dinner? Taking care of the kids? Fred doesn't even remember he had a father, and Tom tries to forget you all the time. Are you going to buy them gifts? New cell phones? Rolls of cash?"
"We're family!" Joe shouts back. "All I've wanted is to be with you all again, that's why I pled not guilty."
Ellie laughs. "You what, thought the Crown would find you not guilty and you could come home?"
Ellie shakes her head. Like that could happen. She'd read his confessions, and while she regrets attacking him in the interview room because it meant the confession got thrown out of court due to police brutality, she doesn't regret leaving those bruises.
"That was never, never going to happen, Joe. Because I know you're guilty. Plus, you went to a child, a child, for hugs and fell in love with him. Did you even love me, Joe? Or was I just a front? You couldn't give in to your wants, so you hid behind me?"
"No. That's not-"
"It certainly feels that way! Why else would you do it? Thank God you never did any of that stuff with Tom, but I won't let you near him. And after tonight, you won't be near me either. Sign the bloody divorce papers!" She jabs at the envelope.
Joe ignores them to circle the bed, and Ellie suddenly realizes she's trapped. The door is on the other side, behind Joe, and even if Joe had been slacking in his fitness routine and Ellie had kept with hers, she questions if she could get around him. Joe is taller. Joe is heavier.
She regrets not telling Hardy a thing earlier today.
"We were happy, Ellie. Let's go back to that." Joe's moving softly, gently, like she's a stray dog in need of feeding. She's having none of it.
"Were, Joe. Past tense. Until you did two things I never thought you could, kill a child and fall in love with someone else. We're done." She reaches for her phone. It's not too late, she can call Hardy. Brian. Anyone from the station.
"What are you doing?" Joe asks, and now he sounds threatened and isn't that funny.
"Making a call."
Joe lunges for the phone, knocking it out of Ellie's hand. It lands on the bed with a soft whump.
"Why are you doing that, Ellie? We can work this out. You, me. Maybe David. We can figure out how to be a family, be happy. What about a vacation? We can go back to Florida. We had a good time, yeah? I have a job, I can help pay."
Ellie can see it in Joe's eyes, he is desperate. This is honestly what he wants, to return to where they were five years ago. Why, she won't waste the time guessing, but Joe's taped confession comes back to her. It's more chilling than his signed statement, those always sound dry. But audio…
Joe had wanted the same thing too, hadn't he, from Danny. For the status quo of his life to stay the same. Hugging Danny, loving Ellie, feeding Tom and Fred. All he'd wanted to do, in that detached mindset he reported in, was make Danny not tell. He just wanted Danny to listen and do what he wanted and while he shouted his demands his hands had been around Danny's throat until he stopped breathing.
You're Danny, Ellie's mind screams, You're Danny, You're Danny, You're Danny.
She lunges, not for Joe, but for the bed. For her phone. It's hard to do, he's got on hand on her wrist, but she manages to get her hand around it.
"We can work this out," Joe repeats. "Ellie, please, just listen. We can have it all."
Still clutching her phone, she slams her free hand into the side of Joe's head. "Let me go, Joe!"
It doesn't daze him as she expected. Instead, he captures her other wrist, holds them both in front of Ellie as effectively as handcuffs. "Be reasonable."
"Signing the papers is a nice way to end this, Joe. It's a simple divorce. You get all your assents back. Sign it, and I won't show Hardy my bruises tomorrow, I won't divorce you due to abuse."
"Ellie, no. No, don't do that." He releases her wrists to cup her face between his hands.
Ellie flinches at the touch, how did she ever think him gentle, and tries to look at her phone without actually looking at it. Her fingerprint will unlock it, but she needs to get to the phone app, call Hardy.
"We're getting a divorce, Joe. One way or another, you will leave my life, this time for good, and I'll be glad for it."
"You don't mean that."
He steps forward, Ellie steps back. A flick down gives her the chance to navigate toward recent calls.
"I do mean that. I, we, you…we can't go back." She presses the phone symbol under Hardy's name. The sudden ringing through the speakers makes both of them jump.
"What are you doing?" Joe asks. He's panicked, eyes wide, face white.
Ellie drops her phone and kicks it under the bed. Hopefully Hardy picks up. Hopefully he can hear, understand. She raises her voice.
"Calling the police."
"Why?" he sounds betrayed, and isn't that something. Worse, his fingernails are starting to dig into Ellie's cheeks.
"Let go of me, Joe."
"I can't, you're my wife. We made vows-"
"You're hurting me! Let go!" She tries to reel backward, but she forgot where they were in the room. Her head hits the sloped ceiling and her vision swims.
"Ellie! I didn't, I didn't,"
"We're getting divorced, Joe. Sign the papers now or later, but it's happening."
"No, no, no."
His hands are still on her face. She pulls them off, flinging them away from her body. He places them on her shoulders. She brushes them off, tripping on the rug as she tries to get around him at the same time.
She doesn't know if Joe reaches out to catch her or push her. All she knows is he says "We're not getting divorced" just as a hand on her side changes the direction of her fall. Her head hits the side of the hope chest at the end of the bed.
You're Danny, she tells herself again before everything explodes in pain followed swiftly by darkness.
Joe Miller takes one look at his wife's still form, sprawled at his feet, cries "Oh God," and flees.