“Sometimes God redeems your story by surrounding you with people who need to hear your past, so it doesn’t become their future.”
Alec inhaled deeply, the scent of stale coffee wafting through the main room of the office. He loosened his tie and rubbed at the back of his neck as he waited impatiently for the rest of his team to finish milling about and pay attention.
Stinson had left behind a rather young group of investigators, some more experienced than others, but all adept nonetheless.
He watched as they finished up conversations about their respective weekends. First dates, double shifts, and visits out of town. He realized the normal ebb and flow of daily life was no longer an annoyance to him. The simple passing of time no longer a reminder of what he’d lost.
A cleared throat brought his head up to find the group eyeing him suspiciously. He knew they had yet to become comfortable around him as he’d made it clear his distinction as their superior. Not quite the grumpy bastard of Dorset, but not a friendly colleague either. He knew his reputation preceded him, only he wasn’t sure what part of said reputation they chose to believe.
“Right then,” he spoke sharply, “If everyone is ready to get started, I’d like to get a status report on the Jenkins case.”
The case in question had been carried over from Stinson’s last week on the job. Robert Jenkins, a middle-aged retiree, reported missing by his sister a few weeks prior. He’d been a no show for a weekly welfare check they’d made on their mother at a local convalescent home. They didn’t have much to go on as Mr. Jenkins was as straight-laced as they came. No criminal record, no entanglements with gambling or drug activity, and no uncharacteristic behavior leading up to the disappearance.
D.S. Martin, a young officer who’d transferred in from Kent a year prior, spoke up quietly, “Sir, we’ve completed the search through phone records and the interviews with the neighbors didn’t turn up much.”
The young woman straightened the watch at her wrist, fanning the folder she held in her hands as she spoke, “We did speak with the head nurse at the convalescent home and discovered that the sister has been seen arguing with Mr. Jenkins on more than one occasion during their visits, and upon further inquiry, she was overheard questioning the mother on finalizing her will, especially concerning the property her and her brother are set to inherit.”
Alec nodded approvingly and inquired further, “I’d like this information put into a report if you haven’t already done so and on my desk as soon as possible. In the meantime, take D.S. Wright with you and get a formal statement from the staff at the convalescent home. I will have a chat with Ms. Jenkins and see if we can’t get a little more information about the status of her mother’s will. If not, I’ll see about contacting the law office responsible for drawing it up directly. Could be nothing, but it's worth looking into.
Picking up his jacket from the desk behind him, he addressed the remaining staff, “The rest of you lot have assignments to continue working, as well as follow-up contacts that need to be completed by the end of the day. I will be in my office for the next hour, then afterwards I will be in and out of the building for the rest of the day.”
As the team dispersed in different directions, Alec ducked into the hallway toward his office.
Alec pulled his glasses off and rubbed the spot at the bridge of his nose where the metal pinched his skin. Leaning back in his chair, he took a long look at the office around him, the smell of new paint and furniture still lingering in the air. It had only been a couple weeks since he’d accepted the position as Devon’s newest Detective Inspector.
Stinson’s office was quite a bit larger than the room he’d taken up residence in while stationed in Dorset. There the only privacy he’d been offered there was the flip of plastic blinds to block the chaos through the glass wall. Here, his office was down the hall from where the other detectives worked and milled about, providing residual sounds of chaos at a tolerable level.
For the first time since Sandbrook, his office looked like it actually belonged to him. Personal touches left an imprint of his life for any visitor to freely observe. A part of him longed to hide it all away, as if burying any evidence of those he loved might protect them from any who sought to bring them harm.
Daisy had brought him a gaudy frame to display proudly on his new desk. It boasted a large flower on the corner, but it couldn’t take the attention away from the expression on her face. She was laughing in the photograph, hair pulled back in a ponytail, bangs plastered to her forehead. It had no doubt been taken while visiting Tess’ parents in the country. They must have gotten caught in a downpour, but Daisy was loving every minute of it.
Another frame held a collage of sorts, peppered with silly pictures of Tom and Fred, with a few blurs of Ellie trying to scamper out of the frame. He laughed at how both of them ran from the click of any camera, perhaps out of habit from their attempts to elude the media. But on the other side of his desk, out of plain view of any curious eyes, was a picture he was sure Ellie had no idea existed. She wasn’t the only one who could hide pictures away.
His desperation for a photograph was evident in the lengths he went to get it. Ellie had taken the boys to Broadchurch for the weekend to visit with friends and spend time with Lucy and Olly. Alec had come down to spend a few hours with them and may have convinced Olly to put his photography skills to work for good instead of personal gain, though the cash he slipped him couldn’t hurt.
The result had been a picture taken from long range, though you’d never know it given the crisp image before him. The pair had found a perch at the base of one of the rolling hills as the grass began to mingle with the sand. The image captured him with his hands in the air in the midst of telling a story, and Ellie’s face had broken into the rarely seen wide smile that made her eyes squint as if she’d been staring into the sun. Her hand was on his thigh and he could remember the sound of her laugh as it made his heart squeeze in his chest.
Those moments of light-heartedness seemed more and more frequent. The pain and sorrow making appearances at times but not taking up residence as it had once before. He had been fearful that Ellie’s heart would be wrung once more when Joe’s sentencing hearing came to pass and a date was set for the upcoming trial.
His first official day in the office had coincided with the fateful court date. Ellie had made the decision to schedule a therapy session at the same time as the hearing, and he couldn’t have been happier to have her tucked safely away. He thought back to that afternoon, exhausted from a full day in court, wishing he’d had better news.
Alec was leaning back in his office chair arms folded over covering his eyes, foolishly attempting to block out the light streaming from the window across the room. Hearing the click of the door, he quickly straightened in his chair and brushed his hands down his shirt in a failed effort to straighten the wrinkles. A sight for sore eyes peered around the corner.
Her face was surprisingly calm, the skin around her eyes was smooth, not taught with worry. Her mouth was relaxed and her lips a light pink, not the harsh white usually present when she’d been chewing her bottom lip in anxiousness. If he was honest with himself, Ellie’s calmness frightened him much more than her rage. Hot anger could be tempered, but cool indifference was best left alone.
“I’m not interrupting, am I? Wouldn’t want to get you into trouble your first day on the job.”
She winked playfully, but the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. She knew that his asking her to come to the office instead of meeting elsewhere was a sign that the news might not be positive. He was trying to protect them both by placing them in a neutral environment where they would be more likely to keep their emotions in check.
Before he could open his mouth she spoke in haste, “So, how did he look?” Her words tumbled out in manic anger, “Remorseful, or his usual feigned indifference?”
Alec’s eyebrows raised at the biting tone of her questions, silently encouraged that her spirit remained intact. His silence must have stretched too long as she leaned in to rest her arms on his desk and lowered her voice.
“He looked in control didn’t he?”
Alec nodded almost imperceptibly as Ellie cursed under her breath.
“Well, what did they say?” Her hands nervously trembling as they drew invisible circles on the dark wood of his desk.
His hand reached out and stilled her own, meeting her stare head-on.
“7 years,” he whispered.
Ellie’s faced cocked to the side, eerily similar to the expression she gave him when he told her Joe had confessed to killing Danny.
“7 years for which charge?” she questioned nervously.
Gripping her hand tightly, he answered quietly, “For all of them, luv.”
Attempting to pull her hand from his, he gripped it with both of his own, refusing to let it go. He opened his mouth multiple times, wishing to placate her, to offer empty promises he knew he couldn’t keep.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered.
Reluctantly pulling away from her, he grabbed a file on his desk and pressed it into her hands. He knew this to be the only way to ground her.
Upon opening the thin folder her eyes grew wide at its contents. Alec had compiled numerous cases filled with statutes and charges similar to Joe’s case. He was offering answers to her unspoken questions.
Alec blew out a breath and spoke to her as if they were mere colleagues. They would have time to flesh out the emotions later.
“You were right,” Alec admitted, his gaze direct, “the single greatest benefit to Joe is the fact that he is a first time offender,” Alec’s eyes rolled as he spoke the last few words, fully knowing this was not Joe’s first crime.
“He automatically gets reduced to the minimum mandatory sentencing for each charge. In terms of specifics, he’s getting off light on what the charges concerning you because they believe his original intent was to harm himself and not you. The lesser charge is for negligence, endangerment, and evading. They don’t believe his actions were premeditated.”
Alec stopped and bowed his head. He could feel the anger rising within him as he spoke each word. His hands clenched tightly to fists, wanting desperately to destroy something or someone with their strength. His placating during their conversation on the beach had been futile. All of Ellie’s fears were becoming a reality and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
A soft hand pressed against his own, fingers caressing his wrist with feather like touches.
“What about the other charge?” her voice was soft, her concern no longer for herself, but for the children who were forced to do unspeakable things in the photos and videos Joe possessed.
Alec cleared his throat, attempting to desperately separate his personal feelings from what he was about to say.
“The law for prosecution as far child pornography is concerned is that there has to be a clear line drawn between possession and receipt.”
Ellie’s eyes were clouded with confusion, “Just how clear is the line between possession and receipt?”
Alec rubbed the back of his neck in frustration as he motioned for her to turn the page in the file she held in her hands.
“In Joe’s case, there was very clear demarcation. Apparently one can possess child pornography without having receipt of accepting or distributing it. In other words, if there is no evidence of it having been downloaded, bought, or sold, they can only charge him with possession,” Alec’s eyes hardened as he finished, “and there is no minimum mandatory sentence for possession.”
Ellie nodded in finality as she read the information before her. How can one argue with the law? She whispered as she shut the folder, “Still isn’t fair though, is it?”
Alec smiled softly in return, “Not in the least.”
“Do you ever feel like the laws you work so hard to enforce end up punishing the very people they’re supposed to protect?” Ellie wondered aloud.
Alec thought of a thousand different examples that stood as a testament to the truth of her words. Most prominent in his mind was the three-ring circus of a trial they’d just endured. Innocent people had their iniquities put on display for all to mock and jeer, their reputations destroyed and their families torn apart. He and Ellie were now a part of that group who had become victims of the very justice system they claimed to protect.
Alec was startled out of his thoughts by a touch on his arm. Ellie had come around the desk and crouched beside his chair. Smiling softly as she gripped his forearm, she spoke boldly, “So what are we going to do about it?”
He smiled at the sheer tenacity of this woman. Her drive gave him reason to draw arms once more. The answer was clear, they would continue to fight.
Ellie had given him a chaste kiss on the cheek before rising and gaining her composure. He knew behind that shaky smile she was unraveling. He’d grown to recognize the signs she displayed when her walls were beginning to crumble.
He rubbed his thumb against the frame that held their picture, reminded of the raw emotion that emanated from her. Someone who felt such empathy for others, who expressed such deep love and joy, would most certainly be susceptible to bearing great pain and despair. One could not be possible without the other.
A knock on the door took attention from his musings.
“Sir? I have those files you asked for on the Miller case.”
The detective placed them in his upturned hand and quickly left the office, closing the door behind him.
Scratching anxiously at his beard, Alec set about piecing together information that would surely undo him.
Ellie wrapped her hands tightly around the steaming cup of coffee as she took a short sip, the scalding liquid burning her tongue as she pulled it quickly away. Her eyes flitted nervously from left to right as she surveyed the rapidly filling room around her.
She’d convinced herself more times than she could count in the last hour that it was in her best interest to turn around and leave. Every time she caught the gaze of another woman in the room she’d smile shyly and quickly avert her eyes, feigning interest in her mobile or excusing herself to the loo. She’d developed a type of social anxiety, for lack of a better term, no doubt caused by months of locking herself away from any type of human interaction.
The women were beginning to gather in a small circle of chairs that bordered the meeting room. A hopeful expression peeked out among the solemn faces, garnering her attention and motioning to the seat next to her with a nod.
Dr. Mead had finally convinced her to take part in what would prove to be the most difficult part of the healing process. The inevitable was to begin as Dr. Mead spoke aloud,
“Ladies, I want to thank all of you for gathering with us today. I know that you are all here under varying circumstances, but you each share a commonality. Everyone in this circle has a family member who is currently serving a sentence, or has in the past been convicted and charged for crimes as a sexual offender.”
A few heads bowed in shame, unable to look up, as if the crimes alluded to were their own. Some merely shook their heads, denial of the accusations evident in their expression. It was one thing to deal with such gross offense privately, but to hear it spoken aloud in front of others was almost unbearable.
“While there are many support groups for sex offenders during the term of their incarceration, and many programs that aid in their reentry to society upon release, there are very few, if any, safe places for the family of those individuals to seek help. There are a limited number of resources outside of private psychological counseling for them to turn. I thank you again for putting your trust in this process and bearing with us as we build this program.”
Dr. Mead smiled softly as she nodded toward Ellie. Every eye turned toward her as she felt her palms grow sweaty under their intense scrutiny. If there was anything these women had over her, it was that their privacy had remained somewhat intact. Her story, or rather a version of it, was already out in the open, her face plastered on every newspaper and television screen in the country.
“I would like to introduce all of you to our facilitator, Ms. Ellie Miller.”
As her gaze connected with each woman she was surprised at what she saw in their expressions. She was fully prepared for the judgmental glances but the looks on their faces held no contempt. She realized that she had finally come to a place where she was no longer the exception, but the rule.
Realizing they were waiting for her to start, she nervously cleared her throat, breathing heavily and speaking quickly in her haste, “Good afternoon, everyone. I just want to start by saying that I don’t feel in any way qualified to sit before you and offer any type of advice. I have struggled for the last two years to move past the events that have taken place in my life, and I don’t want to come across as if I’ve have any grounds to speak into your own circumstances.”
She finally looked up from her lap to look at the women seated in the circle, “I’ve only just realized that every emotion I’ve experience and every action I’ve taken, including the choice to come here today, won’t help me, or you, get over it.”
She offered a quavering smile as she finished, “It’s not possible to just get over something like this, but we can take a step forward, a step toward choosing to continue to live our lives regardless of everything that’s happened.”
Ellie quickly reached in the folder she’d been holding under her arm, its cover bent and torn where she’d picked and worried over it. She handed a stack of papers bound by paperclips to Dr. Mead as she passed them around the group.
The top of the stack boasted of its contents.
Families Of Convicts United for Support
After each woman had taken a copy, Ellie smiled nervously, “This group will meet bi-weekly at this location. This is an open group and you are welcome to come to as many or as few meetings as you see fit. You will be allowed to share as much or as little as you like. You will get out of these meetings as much as you put into them. We will attempt to address any and all issues that concern those of us who have a family member incarcerated for sex crimes.”
Her voice cracked on the last words, her mind still unable to wrap itself around the unspeakable acts her own husband had performed, much less the acts that were represented in this room.
“We will discuss topics like legal support, how to discuss complex issues with children, mental health screenings, filing for financial support, and many others. Confidentiality is paramount in this group, and any and all information is private without the express permission of the person in question. All information pertaining to the order and function of this group can be found in your packet. There is also contact information for myself and Dr. Mead if you have any questions or need any assistance at any time.”
Ellie nodded toward Dr. Mead and she smiled approvingly as she confidently addressed the group.
“Ladies, for our first meeting, we thought it might help foster an atmosphere of trust and understanding by sharing a little bit of our stories with one another. I can trust that this will remain a judgment-free zone, and that you keep any and all hurtful or discouraging comments to yourself. You are not obligated to share, but we ask that you give respect to those who choose to do so.”
A middle-aged woman lifted her hand in nervousness, bravely willing to be the first to share. Dr. Mead nodded encouragingly as the other woman gave her their attention.
Her hands trembled in her lap, fingers rubbing against each other as if they were searching for something to hold. Faded yellow stains on her nails indicated a nicotine addiction. The craving for release in the form of long drag was evident in her jittery motions. Smoking probably offered not only a reduction of momentary stress, but also a valid reason for excusing herself from people and places that caused anxiety.
“My name is Judith Byers. I’m 52 years old, recently divorced, mother of one.” She heaved a great sigh, as if the weight of her first words were physically lifted from her chest.
“Three years ago, my daughter had taken a position as a teacher at a popular boarding school just south of London,” She smiled wistfully, no doubt remembering the time vividly.
“We were so proud, her father and I. She had worked hard for the job, and it was everything she’d dreamed it would be. We heard from her less and less as classes started, and we just figured that she was too busy to call and visit.”
Judith gripped the fabric of her skirt and closed her eyes as she continued, “Meredith called us one Sunday afternoon, she was crying so hard she couldn’t get the words out. She had found out she was pregnant and was scared she might get sacked,” Judith looked at the ladies around her with a sad smile, “We just assumed she’d messed around with some idiot boyfriend and they hadn’t used protection. We tried to tell her it was going to be okay, that we would support her in any way we could. We were planning to take some time off to go up and see her.”
Her voice lowered and her eyes glazed over, her words becoming a mere recitation with emotional detachment.
“We were watching the news a few days later and it was like our worst nightmare realized. They were putting my baby in back of a police car. Turns out there was no boyfriend. She’d engaged in a sexual relationship with a 15 year old student and now she was pregnant.”
Tears tracked down her face as she quickly dashed them in embarrassment, “Meredith lost the baby during the trial. She is currently still serving her time in prison. She maintains that the relationship was consensual, that she still wants to be with him, even upon release.”
With a hardened expression, Judith took a deep breath and finished, “Long story short, my husband and I got divorced shortly after my daughter's incarceration began. Most of my friends disowned me out of disgust. The news media followed us and would harass us for information, asking if Meredith had been abused as a child.”
Judith’s lip trembled as tears streamed down her cheek, “But the worst thing that happened was when the mother of the young boy came to our house to confront us. The mother screamed obscenities and grabbed my shirt with her fist. She called me all kinds of horrific names and threatened to send her husband over to physically and sexually harm me.”
Others in the circle had begun to cry in empathy. Ellie couldn’t help but think of her encounter with Beth as she watched this poor, suffering woman.
“The funny thing is,” she whispered, “I don’t blame her for what she did. I felt that I deserved it. The only answer I had for Meredith’s behavior was that I had done something terribly wrong in the way I raised her, and at that moment, I would do anything to take the punishment for her crimes.”
The group collectively gave Judith smiles of encouragement, a few of them reaching over to pat her shoulder or squeeze her hand in support.
Dr. Mead spoke quietly to Judith, “It took great strength to share that story, Judith, and I want you to know that it has probably encouraged many in this circle to know they are not alone, and that they too have the ability to voice their own stories.”
A young girl with strikingly red hair raised her hand. Her freckles stood out in stark contrast to her pale and lifeless face. She brushed her thin hair from her forehead as she spoke softly.
“My name is Iris and I’m here because my dad is in jail for sexually abusing my little brother.”
The girl remained quiet for a few minutes, the class giving her time to continue if she chose to do so.
“My dad…he umm…he abused my brother for about 5 years. He abused him for years and I knew the whole time. I knew and I didn’t tell anyone.”
Iris pulled her feet into the chair and hugged her knees to her chest. Her eyes remained hidden from the group, her face tucked in tight to her legs. Her muffled voice continued,
“Sometimes he would make me come in the room and watch. I know that was his way of keeping me quiet. He made me become part of the abuse, convincing me that I was an abuser like him, because I refused to tell anyone.”
Quiet crying could be heard throughout the room as she told her story. Many women leaned closer to Iris, desperate to offer support as she struggled through.
“Do you know what the sick part of it was, though?” her rhetorical question hanging in the silence, “I used to wonder why he never abused me. Was I not good enough? Was I not attractive, or beautiful enough for him?”
Her voice broke and her words tumbled out in a heaping mess. She laughed deprecatingly, “Who thinks things like that? My little brother was being abused and I had some sick sense of jealousy. It made me feel like I was just as vile as he was.”
Iris broke down in sobs as a few women knelt down in front of her to grip her hands and hug her shoulders. Ellie stayed seated, feeling the temptation to build a wall of protection around her heart and mind. As she watched Iris, she could only see Tom. The girl was at least 10 years older than him, but her eyes held the same despair. Two children who desperately wanted the love of their father even while those feelings made war with the truth of who they knew their fathers to be. This girl made her question everything Tom had ever told her. Had Joe hurt him? Had Joe hurt Fred? Was there a part of Tom that wished he’d been in Danny’s place?
She swallowed hard as she realized more and more the suffering that Tom was dealing with. The warring thoughts in his mind.
A cleared throat garnered her attention as she realized the ladies were smiling softly at her. The tears had been dried and it seemed they were waiting for her.
Dr. Mead placed her hand gently on her shoulder, “Ellie, we were wondering if you’d like to share your story with us?”
There it was. The turning of her stomach. The need to bolt from the room. Her face felt hot and she immediately broke out in a sweat.
“I really don’t know if that’s necessary,” she hurriedly spoke, “I don’t know that there’s anything about my story that anyone in this room doesn’t already know.”
Her head hung in shame. All of the feelings of worthlessness and discouragement assaulted her. After everything these women had heard of her, how could they possibly want to sit in the same room?
A steady voice spoke her name with such compassion it make her breath catch. A woman sat on the other side of Dr. Mead that Ellie hadn’t noticed before. A woman she had not seen since her Gran had passed. Tears of remembrance filled her eyes as the woman reached over and gripped her hand.
“We’ve heard everything except for your side, dear."
Ellie squeezed the woman’s hand in return and looked at the group around her, stopping to really study each one as she passed. These were women not unlike her. Women who, through no fault of their own, had their lives destroyed by the selfish acts of those they loved. Women who had been followed, threatened, and abandoned.
She remembered the words she’d uttered to Beth the night she’d stormed into their home looking for someone to blame. And at that moment, Ellie realized she needed the same reminder, that she did not own a monopoly on suffering.
Taking a deep breath, she took another step toward healing,
“My name is Ellie Miller…”
Alec was seconds away from ripping the phone from its cords and throwing it in the bin. The slow start to his morning had been but a tease. The file he had placed on his desk had not been touched, and his plans for the day thrown out the window. His meeting had gone on longer than he’d planned, causing him to miss an important call from one of the barristers in Joe’s upcoming trial. His return calls were all sent to voicemail where he was sure he accidentally left a string of obscenities after the tone sounded.
Every five minutes a knock would sound on the door, breaking his concentration and distracting him from the task at hand. When the door wasn't revolving, the phone was ringing incessantly. The red lights lit up at random and gave him no hope of salvaging what time he had left.
As opened the folder in front of him, he got one paragraph in before the phone shrilled beside him.
“Sir, there’s a representative from the academy wondering if they could speak with you about allowing cadets to come and observe sometime this week…”
“Olivia, I told you the last time they called that I wasn’t interested at this time,” his annoyance evident.
“I know sir, but she insisted that I ask again.”
Shaking his head, Alec quickly mumbled a negative answer and hung up on her.
Putting his glasses on, he settled back in where he left off. A knock on the door caused him to slam the folder onto the desk.
“Um...sir?” one of the officers bumbled as the peeked around the corner.
“Did you um, get a chance to write that recommendation, sir, the board needs it before they can make a decision by the end of the week.”
Alec looked up in frustration, “If I told you I would have it, you needn’t pester me incessantly, if you would just…”
Before he could finish his sentence, the phone rang once more. He put his hand up to excuse the officer as he answered.
“This better be important,” he growled angrily.
“Sir, the paper is wanting an update on the Jenkin’s case.”
As Alec answered with the phone tucked under his chin, he waved off the detective standing idly in front of his desk, “For the last time, we know nothing more than we did yesterday. Did you tell them that?”
She answered firmly, “I did, sir, but you told me to always check with you first before releasing information to the press.”
“Of course I did,” he answered, rolling his eyes and hanging up the phone without giving her a directive.
Breathing out a long sigh, he leaned back in his desk chair as he read further down the report. He’d gotten into some particularly interesting information when the phone ringing startled him once more.
“Bloody hell, can you not hold a call?”
A familiar voice laughed quietly in reply, “Remind me to send Olivia some flowers, that girl is a saint.”
Alec’s face heated with embarrassment as he quickly apologized.
Ellie brushed it off and answered, “Must be a rough day to have you this worked up.”
He smiled deprecatingly as he balanced the phone between his chin and shoulder, “Not enough time in the day is all.”
“Maybe if you stuck to just the cases on the docket, it wouldn’t be as bad,” she chided gently, her tone far from accusatory.
Alec closed his eyes and shook his head in frustration.
Ellie continued to speak in his silence, “The arrest was made, charges brought up, he made a plea, and that’s where it ends for you,” she added quietly, “where it ends for us.”
Before he could reply, she cut him off, “You have all the evidence in front of you Alec, as do the individuals conducting the trial. You took all the statements you could and handed over everything your team came up with. Let it go.”
Clearing his throat, he teased, “May I ask who I’m speaking with?”
Her sobered voice came across the line, “Maybe it’s time we let someone else shoulder the burden.”
The light on Alec’s phone kept flashing, reminding him he still had business to tend to. This was a conversation he’d rather have in person.
“I’ll see you tonight, alright?”
Ellie agreed and said her goodbye’s with a final piece of advice, “Give them a break, will you? It’s not easy working for the worst cop in Britain.”
He heard her stifled giggles as she hung up on him. Looking back at his desk he picked up the folder in question and stared at its cover. Tracing the ragged edges of the file, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and dropped it unceremoniously on top of paperwork that needed to be archived.
Picking up the phone, he got back to work.
Ellie sat in the garden, comfortably tucked into a quaint bench she’d placed among the flowers a little over a month ago. Her short legs were no match for its height, her toes barely grazing the cool grass of the yard when she sat up straight. A slight breeze brushed against her skin, causing her to shiver in her thin sweater. A cup of tea sat next to her, barely touched, growing colder by the second. Her fingers ran in circles as she traced its shape. She glanced through the window, offering her a scant view inside. She could hear Tom and Daisy laughing inside. Ellie was grateful Daisy had come to visit. She’d offered to stay with Fred until Ellie returned from her meeting. The young woman had wrapped herself around her family’s heart, and it was hard to imagine their life without her.
The sound of a car door closing garnered her attention. She heard footsteps rounding the corner, knowing by the footfalls it was Alec.
It had become routine for them to spend time in the garden while the kids were occupied inside. It gave them time to decompress, to vent, to sit in silence if need be. Their children had been subjected to enough hardships and they’d decided that any and all work conversation would be kept private unless it directly involved them. It also gave them some much needed privacy from prying eyes and giggles, or the more popular eye rolling and retching sounds.
He must have changed at work or stopped by his flat before driving over. Well-fitted dark jeans graced his long legs, and a dark blue jumper framed his torso. A suit jacket always seemed to make him look larger than he really was. Now he looked slim, slightly fragile, but ever in control.
Alec picked up her cold tea, making room for himself and sitting heavily. They sat in silence, Ellie leaning into his shoulder, arm threaded through his.
He spoke softly, as not to startle her, “I forgot all about your meeting today. Didn’t remember until after you got off the phone,” the apology in his tone evident.
Alec leaned gently into her side, giving her space to speak or support to remain silent.
He watched as she stared forward, her small frame close enough that her curls brushed his face with each breeze that passed through.
A warm tear streaked down her cheek, alone in its pursuit. Her tongue darted out, unconsciously tasting the saltiness as it reached her lips.
He could see the exhaustion in her eyes, it was the same expression she wore after leaving therapy. Peace was warring with strife.
She turned sideways on the bench, tucking her chilled bare feet under his leg. He secretly loved when she did so. She needed to touch him, but at the same time remain autonomous from him.
He placed a hand on her knee as she tucked them to her chest.
“There are so many people,” she breathed, struggling to form the right words, “who’ve done such evil things.”
Her eyes sought his and gave her a sad smile.
“But there are so many people,” she whispered, emotion straining her voice, “who’ve done such wonderful things.”
Ellie placed her hand on top of his own, tracing his calloused fingers with her own.
“I wanted so much to hold onto my anger,” she whispered, gripping his hand tightly, “to hold on to my grief.”
Her eyes stared through his chest, thinking back to earlier in the day, “I watched as other women shared these horrific stories, such needless pain they endured, but each one experienced a turning point of sorts, a moment when they decided they no longer wanted to identify themselves as the victim, but as an advocate.”
Her gaze returned to his, patient and steady, as he listened, “So many of them pushed away friends and family, or new experiences, because they’d buried their feelings so deep, they no longer recognized their own need to be loved...wondering if they still had the capacity to love,” she finished in a whisper.
Placing her hands on either side of his face, she leaned in and kissed him ever so softly. His hands finally moved from their resting place, one held tightly to her hip and the other brushing the soft skin of her neck.
Dropping kisses along her jawline, her eyes closed tightly as she sucked in a gasp as his warm breath tickled the sensitive skin. Alec’s hand slid higher up her torso, stopping to rest at her rib-cage, gently probing the skin where her wounds had finally healed. He rubbed the skin reverently, his hands ghosting over the soft fabric of her sweater, as if reminding himself she was okay.
His mouth claimed her bottom lip, his soft beard scratching at her skin, a mix of pleasure and pain each time he deepened the kiss. Pulling away with light kisses until he could meet her gaze, he brushed her errant curls behind her ears, trailing his fingers along her cheek before settling to hold her face in his hands.
“Can I tell you something?” He whispered, his closeness causing her to shiver.
She nodded in acquiesce, unable to vocalize the affirmation.
Continuing to rub her cheek with his thumb, he spoke thoughtfully, “Before my mum passed, she said something to me that I didn’t understand at the time.”
Alec watched as Ellie’s eyes grew wide in concern, her hand grasping his wrist in support.
“She said, ‘God will put you in the right place, even if you don’t know it at the time.’”
Pulling his hands from her face, he held her hands as he continued his story, “When she first said it, I’d brushed it off, thinking she was spouting some existential nonsense, maybe her impending passing had sparked thoughts to search for meaning in her life.”
He looked down, ashamed of his next words, “The next few years were my undoing, and not once did I think back to what my mum had said to me. The words held no meaning for me.”
He caught sight of tears glittering in her eyes as she listened supportively as he bared his heart.
“After Sandbrook, losing my wife and daughter, my illness, and Joe’s trial, I had reached the end of myself...of who I knew myself to be.”
He smiled sadly at her, “In that moment I still thought nothing of the words my mum deemed so important to impart to me before her death.”
“After things began to settle down in Broadchurch, I found myself at your doorstep,” Ellie’s eyes narrowed in curiosity, “listening to the shattering of glass and your cursing through the front door,” both of them laughing softly at the observation.
“But all I remember is walking in, with Joe’s restraining order in my hand and there you were, crouched in the floor, literally and figuratively picking up the pieces of your shattered life, alone.”
The tears began in earnest, Ellie caught off guard at the detail of such an intimate memory. Alec put his arm around her shoulder, allowing her to rest her head against his chest as he recounted that day.
“The house was in shambles, boxes piled everywhere, and you looked so broken. I tried riling you up with the usual banter and your retorts were quick, but they were half-hearted at best. I wanted to help you and you pushed me away. I knew I’d given you no indication I was planned on sticking around. But as I turned to walk out, I took one last look at you, and for the first time I realized, I wasn’t the only one who had suffered greatly.”
His hand drew circles on her shoulder as he continued, “I heard my mum's words come back to me for the first time in so many years. I knew God had put me in the right place, and that place was with you.”
He felt her face turn toward him, moisture pooling in those eyes. He quickly kissed the corner of each eye before speaking, “I knew that day, that I wouldn’t leave you, no matter how hard you pushed me away, because I remember how it felt to be betrayed, abandoned, and unloved.”
Putting his lips to her temple, he continued, “I think now my mum’s message is for you. Even though Joe and these other offenders meant their actions for evil, you have the opportunity to use it for good. You have a chance to take the pain and suffering he has inflicted upon you, and use it to help others who have been hurt in the past, who are being hurt now, and those who have yet to be hurt.”
Ellie tipped her head to capture his lips, unable to articulate in words her love for him. As their lips touched they were both distracted by the flickering of a lamp that lit the side door to the flat. The light flipped on and off, as if the inhabitants inside were beating out a message in morse code.
Alec chuckled as he kissed her cheek and stood to help her from her seat, “I think that’s our cue. I will say, I rather prefer the light switch to the yelling and retching.”
Ellie joined in his laughter as she watched three sets of eyes disappear from the window as they walked back into the house.
“It’s mine turn to pick!” Tom yelled loudly as they settled to watch a film after dinner.
Daisy piped up in exasperation, “Can we please watch something other than action or sports?”
Tom countered, “As long as it's not some romantic rubbish!”
Alec mumbled under his breath to Ellie, “Well, that surely narrows it down.”
Her voice, speaking volumes louder than the two arguers, handed an ultimatum, “If you both can’t compromise, we’ll let Fred pick this time.”
Both children quickly called a truce, and decided on a mystery, much to Alec’s delight. He knew he’d spend the entire movie picking apart the investigations, balking at missed evidence, and laughing the portrayal of law enforcement, but that was half the fun.
Daisy was comfortably bundled in a soft blanket in an over-sized chair that sat to the left of the sofa. Tom was sprawled in the floor, curled around a pillow he’d grabbed from upstairs. Fred lay in his favorite spot, curled up on Alec’s chest, eyes blinking ever so slowly as he approached sleep.
Alec had one hand on Fred’s back, while the other rubbed the curls on the top of the boy's head. The texture was similar to Ellie’s, and it comforted Alec as much as it did Fred.
Ellie was beside Alec on the sofa, leaned up against his shoulder, nails scratching the sensitive skin of his neck where his hairline ended.
Midway through the film, quiet chatter could be heard as Daisy and Tom discussed their theories on the plot.
Fred’s soft snores filled the room as he fell into a deep sleep. Ellie continued her ministrations, moving further up to Alec’s hair. Ellie rest her head on the back of the sofa, watching Alec breathe in and out, knowing he too was close to falling asleep. Sensing her eyes upon him, he opened his own, staring softly into her face, silent concern in his eyes. Averting her eyes shyly, she took a ragged breath and silently mouthed the words she had feared for so long.
“I love you.”
Alec’s eyes softened, growing wet at the corners, unable to reciprocate. His hands tightened on Fred’s back, unable to hold her properly.
She tucked into his side tightly, avoiding his gaze and regaining control of her racing heart. Alec’s arm dropped from Fred and circled her tightly. His hold was desperate, for fear she’d run from him. She only continued to burrow deeper into his side, as his mouth ghosted against her ear, repeating the words she’d just spoken.
Her eyes closed in contentment as she rested in the knowledge that she was loved and able to love in return. Alec’s mum had been right, God will put you in the right place, even if you don’t know it at the time.