Chapter 1: Shock
Shock is a merciful condition.
It allows you to get through disaster with a necessary
distance between you and your feelings.
- Lisa Kleypas
The air was beginning to turn cold. The crowds that filled the beach on holiday had all but disappeared, leaving the seascape open, and vulnerable. The wind was biting, like sharp needles on the skin each time it picked up and swept through.
He could hear the waves in the distance. Each ebb and flow more harsh than the last. It was eerily soothing, like a siren's song, lapping both body and soul in a fatal lethargy.
Alec flipped up the collar of his wool coat and drew it closely to his face to keep away the chill. He hated the beach. Only ever reminded him of death and disillusion.
The sky was overcast and rain fell intermittently upon his shoulders. Bloody miserable, really, but he was glad for it. Days like these made for people staying inside. More importantly, people staying out of his business.
As he came around the corner his eyes fell upon the familiar field of green. The expanse of sod that not long ago was surrounded by friends and neighbors. Seemingly innocent people who once worried about nothing more than what to serve for afternoon tea, or who was picking up the children from football practice. How quickly lies and deceit had changed that.
He couldn't help but think about how different each walk he'd made across had been. How many times had he stood here, looking from house to house, replaying scenarios of what could have happened between the moment Beth Lattimer had checked on her son to the hour he was found on the beach below. How badly his chest had hurt and how fast his heart had pounded as he walked toward the location of the man who held Danny's mobile in his possession. Or most recently, the fear and shock he felt as he ran across the overgrown grass screaming for Claire when she'd disappeared with Lee.
So long ago it all seemed.
As he pushed the heavy thoughts aside and continued his walk, his arm brushed against his coat pocket, eliciting the sound of crumpled paper with each step he took. He had received the letter not more than an hour ago, hand delivered, in fact. He reached into his coat and ran his fingers over the edge where he'd ripped it open. He had a bad feeling he wasn't the only one who received such an ill-timed response.
The hedges had grown out of control since he'd last step foot in the garden. Nothing but horrid memories left here. He figured that's where he'd find her. Well, he hoped to, at least. She hadn't answered any of his phone calls or returned any messages since the the closing of the Sandbrook case. He couldn't really blame her, he'd have done the same.
As he reached the porch he heard a voice through the front door. A string of expletives followed by the sound of broken dishes reached his ears. He began to question his timing.
When his knocking was met by silence, he took his chances and turned the handle. Unlocked, it pushed open easily and he was shocked at the sight before him. Crumpled papers and photographs littered the living room floor. Half-filled boxes were stacked against the walls ready to be packed and moved. A pile of dishes had either been dropped or thrown against the hardwood, though the latter seemed a more reasonable explanation.
There she was, on her hands and knees picking up shards of glass and throwing them haphazardly into the rubbish. Her hair was dirty, unkempt, and wild. Her clothes seemed to hang off of her small frame, and the tired lines around her face made him wonder when last she'd slept. Sadness marred her face and her hands shook as she deposited the remaining shards into the bin.
"I love what you've done with the place, Miller," he commented dryly as he continued to look around the room.
Ellie screamed in fright, cutting her hand on a piece of glass as she startled.
"Ever heard of knocking on the bloody door, Hardy?" she yelled as she stood up and stalked down the hall to the bathroom. "It's what civilized people do."
"I knocked. You just didn't hear me over the fit you were throwing." He peered around the corner where she had disappeared, "And when have I ever been considered civilized?"
Ellie walked back into the room wrapping a plaster around her finger. "Did you come here for a reason, or just to patronize me?"
Her lips formed a tight line, frustrated with his intrusion, and mortified that he'd heard her little tirade.
Alec pulled the envelope out of his pocket and waved it at her. "Know what this is?"
Ellie's face blanched and she nodded. She raised a shaky hand and gestured to a similar envelope resting on the table.
"Unfortunately, I think I do. The bloody wanker! I didn't read through the whole thing. One paragraph in before I threw it down and started destroying the kitchen."
Alec walked to the table and picked up the offending letter. He reached in his coat pocket to retrieve his glasses. He looked up at her in question and she nodded her consent for him to read it. He cleared his throat and read the letter aloud.
Mr. Joseph F. Miller
Mrs. Ellie A. Miller
TEMPORARY ORDER FOR PROTECTION AGAINST STALKING, AGGRAVATED STALKING OR HARASSMENT (DVCVA s42(5))
Date Issued: September 21, 2013
30 days from the date of service, unless otherwise ordered by the Crown.
This cause came on for hearing on the Motion of the Applicant for a temporary restraining order by the facts contained in the Applicant's affidavit. On consideration thereof and for good cause shown, the Crown finds said motion well taken and hereby sustains the same.
1. From harassing, including telephone harassment, annoying, interfering with or doing bodily harm to this Applicant at his residence or elsewhere;
2. From selling, removing, disposing of or in any manner secreting the assets of the parties, including but not limited to the household furniture and other personal property of the parties;
3. From directly or indirectly changing beneficiaries, making loans, termination or otherwise cashing out life insurance policies on the life of the Applicant, Adverse party or their minor children during the pendency of this action.
YOU, THE ADVERSE PARTY, ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED that ANY INTENTIONAL VIOLATION OF THIS ORDER IS A CRIMINAL VIOLATION and can result in your immediate arrest or issuance of an arrest warrant. Unless a more severe penalty is prescribed by law for the act that constitutes the violation of the orders, a violation of a Temporary Order for Protection Against Stalking, Aggravated Stalking or Harassment is a gross misdemeanour which is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for not more than (1) year, or by a fine of not more than £2000, or both.
Hardy looked over to find her staring blankly at the wall. He put the letter back on the table and glanced over in the direction of the kitchen.
"Well, I hope the dishes didn't belong to him."
Ellie's head jerked up to stare angrily at him, "Is this a joke to you? I don't see the humor in being served a restraining order."
"Oi, don't get your knickers in a twist. I was just trying to lighten the mood, Miller."
"Well, you're doing a bang up job aren't you?" She yelled back at him as she marched back into the kitchen.
Ellie pulled two cups out of the cabinet and slammed the kettle on the stove top after filling it with water.
"Well, as long as you're here being useful, you might as well stay and help. You can start filling one of those boxes with the books from the living room while I fix some tea."
Alec rolled his eyes but figured he'd do as he was told. He removed his coat and laid it over an armchair. He put a box on the floor and started filling it with books from the top shelf.
Ellie absentmindedly traced her fingertips around the top of the cup as she watched Alec dutifully placing books in a box.
"What?" he mumbled without turning toward her.
"Why do you think he did it? The restraining order, I mean?"
Alec sighed as he closed the box and turned toward her. He knew that look. She wasn't asking him to placate or offer empty platitudes. She wanted the truth. An honest opinion. She'd been lied to far too long to accept any less from him.
He looked her directly in the eyes. "Because he knows he's guilty, and he's afraid. I think his defense team probably encouraged him to. That's the only way he was able to leave the court in protective custody when he was released. I'm sure he'd convinced them that there were threats against his life. It wasn't hard to prove, was it? Between you giving him a good going over in the interrogation room and my not following protocol, it's not surprising they granted it."
She grimaced, being reminded for a second time that her moment of weakness did way more harm than good. She looked back at Hardy as he continued.
"It's also a means of control. He was a closet narcissist. It's all about him, because he sees himself as a victim, and everyone else is a pawn in his game."
He gestured around the room with his hands. "This house for instance. He knows it's unlikely you're going to welcome him back with open arms, although his mental disparities tell him otherwise, so he takes everything away from you the only way he knows how, legally, by making this home uninhabitable as a punishment for not playing his game."
Ellie handed him a cup of tea. "God, you sound like my therapist, Hardy. A simple answer would have suited."
"You didn't ask me because you wanted a simple answer, Miller."
She ignored his reply and went back to the arduous task of packing up the kitchen. Alec placed his cup on the table after taking a few sips and continued packing up books.
"Do you know what it feels like?" She questioned him.
He didn't dare look up, knowing her question was rhetorical.
"It's like experiencing the death of someone you love without the decency of a funeral. It's all the pain, and horror, and residual memory, but there's no sympathy cards, no friends bringing over hot meals and telling me to sit down while they tidy up the house. It's all the anger at being left behind and left to answer for everything without the benefit of him actually being dead. It's all the sleepless nights and paralyzing nightmares without the benefit of someone coming over and volunteering to take the kids for the night so I can go out and get pissed. It's all the guilt and blame without the benefit of someone telling me it's not my fault and that there's nothing I could have done to prevent it."
Ellie dashed tears from her eyes before evidence could be seen of them on her cheeks. Silence stretched for a few moments before Alec cleared his throat.
"You want me to bring a cottage pie, then?" He questioned quite seriously.
She couldn't help but chuckle. "You daft man. Are you serious?" Ellie shook her head and turned back to task.
"Well I can't very well find you a card for the situation, can I? They don't exactly have a section for grieving wives of homicidal maniacs."
"Oh, but of course they do, it's right next to the section for emotionally detached husbands of unapologetic adulterers." Ellie wasn't sure what possessed her to offer such a response, but Alec didn't seem bothered.
As awkward silence began to set in, Alec decided a change in conversation was in order.
"So, where are Tom and...umm…" he rubbed the back of his neck trying in vain to remember the child's name.
"Fred! I swear Hardy, after all these months can you really not remember his name? I think you do it to drive me mad. Tom is out playing football with Olly, and Fred is at the childminder's. I didn't have to work today, so I figured I'd get as much done as I could. I had Tom pack up most of his things over the last few days, and I've boxed up most of my own. These two rooms are about all that's left."
Alec stacked one of the completed boxes against the wall by the door. "Do you have another place then? Moving in with your sister?" He wasn't sure how that would really pan out seeing as Ellie and Lucy had parted on uncertain terms after her blatant lie on the witness stand.
"I'm leaving Broadchurch," she stated simply.
His eyes grew wide. That was not what he was expecting. Moving in with family, or perhaps moving into a small flat outside the city maybe, but not leaving entirely.
"Don't let them do this to you," he spoke quietly.
"You're one to talk!" she barked at him. "Aren't you the one who ran away from your home because of the actions of others? You take the fall for your cheating wife, alienate yourself from your only child, nearly kill yourself trying to solve a case, and then you run away to escape it, but I shouldn't let people run me off?"
Before he could respond, she walked right up to him and met his gaze directly.
"No one is running me off. I am choosing to leave. For me, and for my children. I am tired of being stared at and hearing whispers in the middle of the market. I'm tired of being met with silence when I say hello to anyone on the street. I'm tired of hiding in my own home because I'm made to feel like a criminal every time I walk out the door. I'm tired of seeing Tom come home every day after being made fun of at school and looking at me like it's my fault his father is gone."
Ellie looked around the living room and stretched both hands into the air and gestured to the entire house. "But most of all, I'm tired of looking at these bloody walls! I'm tired of seeing all of the shit he promised me he'd get done. I'm tired of sleeping on the couch because I'm too scared to crawl into the bed we shared, because I'll have to remember. I'm tired of waiting for him make coffee in the morning, and rocking Fred to sleep. I'm tired of seeing him sleeping next to Tom every time I get home late and walk past his bedroom."
She walked to the window and looked blankly outside. She wrapped her arms around herself, as if to ward off an imagined cold.
"I'm tired of every time I look out this window, I see Beth in the street, telling me that she hopes I rot in Hell."
Angry tears coursed down her cheeks. She refused to break down in front of Hardy. He wouldn't get the satisfaction.
She felt a hand touch her shoulder and she stiffened. She felt so guilty craving his touch. She shouldn't want it.
"I'm sorry." He replied lamely as he pulled his hand away.
Ellie turned around and composed herself, clearing her throat before responding.
"We'll be out of here by the end of the week. He can have the bloody house if he wants it. One of the DS's at work owns some property, and I've already signed the paperwork. I just want to get on with my life and I can't do that here. It's not far from my patrol, a stone's throw from Lynton. I don't know why I'm telling you. It's not like you'll be around anyway."
Alec found himself a bit hurt at the implication of her words. He'd never really given her any indication he was sticking around after the trial was over. He actually wasn't really sure where he was going. For once in his life, nothing was particularly pressing on him. He didn't like it.
"Where will you go, then? Back to Sandbrook?" she asked in a hushed voice, still staring intensely at him.
He chuckled bitterly, "Can't say I'm holding out any great hope of being welcomed back there. Solving the case doesn't change the fact that bridges have already been burned. Tess has moved on, my daughter still isn't speaking to me and…" his gaze never wavered from her face as he finished speaking in a small voice, "…and, it's apparent there's nothing left for me here."
Both had left their feelings out in the open, both wishing the other would express a need, a want for the other's company.
He wished she'd say something. Miller was never short on words. His answer was met with silence. Alec reached for his coat, slipping it over his shoulders, figuring she needed time to herself without his intrusion.
He shortened the distance between them and stood not but a foot away. "I, um…I'd like to help you move," he blurted out before he could stop himself, "it's the least I could do."
She backed away from him, moving back to the bookshelf where he had just stood. She turned her back and began packing another box, knowing how dangerous it would be to meet his gaze.
"We're not some charity case, Hardy. You don't owe us anything. Your penance has been fulfilled, remember?" She knew it was a low blow.
He nodded in stone silence. It pained him to think that was all she thought she was to him.
"I guess I'll be on my way then. Goodbye, Miller."
She lifted her gaze to his and nodded briefly. "Goodbye, Sir."
Her goodbye had told him everything he needed to know about where she was emotionally. Completely unavailable. He knew what was happening because he'd been there himself. There was a familiarity that reminded him of the days following the public declaration of him being the worst cop in Britain and the betrayal of his wife.
He knew she was hanging on by a thread. That she hadn't been eating or sleeping. That at any moment the dam holding back the tremendous weight of pain and despair could burst without warning.
He remembered how suffocating the loneliness was. To be surrounded by well-meaning friends and family who offered shitty advice and a mere pat on the back. To believe you were truly alone in the world.
He had taken the blame and in turn alienated every single person that had ever meant anything to him in the pursuit of protecting his wife and daughter.
He didn't want the same for Miller.
He shared blame in the botching of the Sandbrook case, and he knew he wasn't completely innocent in the destruction of his marriage. But Ellie, she hadn't done anything wrong. All she'd ever done was love her husband and her children, love her family, and her friends.
And one by one they all alienated her.
He wouldn't do that to her. No matter how hard she pushed, he wasn't going anywhere. He wouldn't let pain and grief destroy her and harden her the way it had him.
As he walked back across the field he was reminded of the last words his mum had spoken to him. "God will put you in the right place, even if you don't know it at the time."
"I sure hope you're right," he whispered as he headed back home.
Chapter 2: Denial
"Denial is the worst kind of lie…because it is the lie you tell yourself."
The morning sunlight had just begun to peek through the windows and Ellie had already been up for hours. She sat in the middle of her bedroom floor with a small pile of photographs in her lap. Most of her room had been packed up fairly quickly. All of her clothes and personal belongings were neatly packed and set aside. All of the large furniture remained, as there was no room for it in the new flat. She was grateful for a reason to leave it all behind. Separating her things from Joe's was fairly simple, until it wasn't.
She looked down at the picture in her hand. It was the last family picture they ever taken together, from their holiday in Florida. Her eyes moved from face to face as she tried to remember the day. The boys had been so happy. It had been sunny and warm, and they had just left the beach after a day of building sandcastles and jumping in the waves. She was struck by the look on Tom's face. She'd forgotten the last time she'd seen him smile like that. With his arm around his father, he beamed at the camera.
Little Fred had been asleep in his pram, oblivious to everything going on around him. Joe's smile was just as big as Tom's, as he had one arm around Tom and the other around her. They had asked a sweet older woman to take their picture and she had graciously obliged. She had commented on what a beautiful family they were, and she could do nothing but smile in return. As Ellie's eyes fell upon her own face, she didn't recognize the woman staring back at her. She looked so content, so joyful, and so utterly oblivious.
Before her emotions threatened to drag her under she put the picture back into the album and slammed it shut.
This day wasn't about reminiscing. She refused to allow that man to control her anymore. She'd put the photos away for another day, and for no other reason but her children, for the day they might ask to see them.
Ellie put the remaining photo albums in a box and picked it up off the floor. Thankful to have the few early morning hours to herself, she tiptoed past the boys rooms and headed downstairs. She balanced the box on one hip as she slid her other hand down the wall as she descended the stairs. She couldn't help but notice her fingertips pass over the spots of discoloration on the walls, reminders of the picture frames she had just taken down a few days prior. Reminders of a life that would no longer be lived under this roof.
Ellie put the box down in the hallway by the front door. She hurried to the kitchen to make a quick cup of tea and put out cereal for the boys. This was it, their last day. The removal service had been there just yesterday and had moved most of their belongings to their new place already. All that was left were their overnight bags, a few blankets, and Joe's belongings. The boys had spent one last night in their rooms on sleeping bags and pillows. A few boxes of odds and ends sat by the door. Things she didn't want to look through just yet, but had no intention of leaving behind.
She looked up at the clock. 7:00 am. Time to get a move on. Hardy would be coming over soon enough. He'd texted her incessantly since they'd last spoken. He kept asking her to reconsider his offer to help them move. She'd relented, not because she couldn't do it herself, but because he was trying to make an effort, and it wasn't like her to deny someone offering kindness.
All that was left to be done was pack up a few boxes, spot clean the house, and lock it up tight. The utilities would be turned off in the coming days and they would be gone. The house would belong to Joe, if he ever decided to come back and claim it.
Ellie could hear babbling coming from upstairs and knew she'd better grab Fred before he decided to attempt a tumble down the stairs.
As she rounded the corner to his room she was met with a big smile, his little chubby cheeks and unruly curls tangled from sleep. How glad she was that he looked like her. She didn't think she could bear to have another stark reminder of Joe.
She scolded herself for such a selfish thought.
Fred raised his hands for her to pick him up.
She settled him on her hip and snuggled her head into his neck, eliciting a ticklish giggle.
"Good morning, love. It's going to be such a good day, yeah? We get to go on a little adventure."
Fred just clapped his hands and smiled.
Ellie carried him down the hall to wake up Tom. She knocked on his door before she pushed it open. "Tom, I know it's early, but we need to get up and get a move on." She put Fred down to let him see his brother.
Tome groaned in response and answered her in a muffled voice from under the covers.
"I'm awake, Mum! Please, don't let Fred in here."
The doorbell rang and Tom pulled the blankets from his face to look up at her in confusion. "Who's that?"
Ellie smiled nervously, "I told you yesterday that Hardy was coming to help. Maybe if you spent more time listening to what other people were saying instead of on your mobile, you'd have remembered."
Tom rolled his eyes at her. Whether he did so in response to her nagging or because of Hardy's arrival, she couldn't be sure.
"I'll get the door. I need you to help get Fred dressed, and then be downstairs as quick as you can."
"But, Mum!" he groaned as Fred ran over and jumped on top of him.
"Do as I say, Tom!" She yelled over her shoulder as she was already halfway down the stairs.
Ellie pulled the door open with a shocked expression on her face. There stood Alec Hardy carrying coffee and a bakery box. But most surprisingly, he was dressed in trainers, a pair of grey sweatpants, and a white jumper. His voice reminded her that she had not yet made an effort to invite him in.
"You do know it's rude to stare, Miller?" he asked as he raised his eyebrows at her shocked expression.
Ellie blushed as she moved out of the way and gestured for him to come in.
"I'm so sorry, it's just, I've never seen you like this. Your clothes, I mean. I guess I just expected…"
Alec put his things down on the kitchen counter.
"Expected what? That I would wear a three-piece suit to help pack?"
"I don't know, you just look…" she was having trouble coming up with the right word.
"Attractive?" he suggested.
"I was going to go with, normal, but that'll do."
Alec smirked as Ellie avoided eye contact by looking down the hall toward the stairs.
She yelled loudly, "Tom! Hurry it up! I need you and your brother down here now!"
"Blimey, you think they heard you?" Alec complained as he rubbed his ear in mocked pain.
Tom and Fred descended the stairs loudly and made their way into the living room. Fred ran straight into Alec, grabbing him around the leg tightly.
"Well good morning, wee Fred." Alec said softly as he ruffled the boys' curls. He was just thankful he'd remembered the boys name.
"He sure is taken with you. Surprising, that is." Ellie observed.
"I'm not a complete tosser, you know."
Tom had helped himself to the bakery box sitting on the counter. His mouth was full as he spoke. "Look Mum, he brought jammy doughnuts."
Alec nodded to Tom and then looked back to Ellie. "See? Not a complete tosser."
Ellie handed a doughnut to Fred as he and Tom had their fill.
"You didn't have to bring anything, you know. You're already helping us move."
"Oh, but it gave me a reason to indulge. Not often I get to do that anymore."
Ellie looked worried. "You shouldn't have, Hardy. Will it..."
"One doughnut will not send me into cardiac arrest, Miller. Take it easy." He patted the spot near his collarbone where his pacemaker rested just below the skin.
Alec nodded toward Fred as he reached for another bite. "Reminds me of when Daisy was his age. These were her favorite. Used to bring them home every Saturday. It would always drive Tess mad because Daisy would get jam all over the flat. Became sort of a tradition for us, well, for me and her, at least."
Ellie looked up to see a small smile on his face. A rarity it was. She tore her gaze away, unable to look at him any longer, afraid of the way it made her feel, and saddened as she knew the gruff exterior would soon take over once more.
"Well, you ready to get started?" Ellie asked with forced excitement.
Alec nodded as she began to dole out each ones responsibilities.
Alec was packing boxes into Ellie's car when Tom came up behind him and handed him another.
"How do you feel about moving, Tom?" Alec asked, surprising himself by bringing it up.
"Are we going to have a sit down and talk about our feelings like Mum's always asking? Is that why you're over?"
"Just making polite conversation, Tom. You don't have to answer."
Alec knew how he felt. Sometimes a man just wanted to be alone with his feelings. He'd talk when he was ready. No doubt Ellie was concerned that Tom wasn't opening up to her, but badgering the poor boy wouldn't help.
"It's okay, I guess. I know she's is doing it for me, because I get bullied at school and everything. They sent me home last week because I punched a kid in the face. I told Mum I did it because he was saying bad things about dad."
Tom rested his back against the car and looked up at the house.
Alec looked over at him. "I take it that wasn't the truth?"
Tom shook his head and spoke quietly.
"He was talking bad about Mum."
Anger flashed in Alec's eyes and he clenched his fists, but he didn't speak.
"We were in the hallway between lessons. We got into an argument and he said…" his voice dropped to a near whisper, for apparent fear his Mum might overhear, "he said 'everybody knows your mum's a slag. Heard she's been shaggin' her boss. Don't know what's worse, Miller, a dad that's a murderer or a mum that's a lying whore.'" Tom's voice shook as he finished his explanation.
Alec took a few moments to calm the rage that threatened to escape him. He knew he needed to stay calm for Tom's sake.
"Everybody says things like that about her. Even Aunt Lucy and Beth."
Tom look directly at him. "Mum didn't do any of the things they say, did she?"
Alec answered in a calm voice, "You're a good judge of character, Tom. What do you think?"
"Mum wouldn't do anything like that," quietly he added, "neither would you."
Alec looked up in surprise. He had wanted Tom to know the truth about his mum, and not really caring for his own reputation. But he found himself proud to have gained Tom's respect. He smiled slowly.
"D'you give him what for, then?" he asked curiously.
Tom smiled broadly. "Broke his nose."
Alec grinned as he put a hand to his shoulder and squeezed. "That's a good lad."
Ellie stuck her head out the door and yelled at them both. "If you two are finished standing around, I could use a little help in here!"
They both turned to walk toward the house. Tom stopped before they went in. "Umm…thanks, Alec."
After a bit more cleaning, and listening to Ellie bark out orders, they were finally finished. All that was left in the house belonged to Joe.
Ellie put on a brave face and smiled at Tom. "Well, all done, then. Feels good, yeah?"
Tom just nodded.
"You better grab your things because Aunt Lucy will be here to pick up you and Fred any minute."
Even though her relationship with her sister was strained at best, she was thankful Lucy had offered to keep the kids for the next two days so she could get the new place settled.
Tom went up to his room for the last time to gather his things.
Alec looked at Ellie and noticed tear tracks he hadn't seen before. She'd feigned excitement the whole time they'd packed the house. Talking of new adventures and fresh starts. But the joy behind her words never quite reached her eyes. He wondered if she did that for the sake of the children, or perhaps to convince herself that everything was looking up.
Alec cleared his throat. "You know, I could ride along, with you, I mean, if you'd like some help unpacking."
Ellie studied his face trying to discern his intentions. "Bit of a drive out of your way, Hardy. That's a three hour round trip for you. I'd hate for you to come all the way out just to unload a car."
"Well, actually, I no longer live in Broadchurch, either. I didn't bring much with me anyway, so it was no bother packing back up. I've been in a new flat for a few days now."
Ellie looked a bit angry. "When were you going to say something? Or were you even going to tell me? Last time we spoke, you said you had no idea where you were going, and now you're already moved into a flat in another city."
"Well it's not as if you answer my phone calls, anyway. And as I'm sure you know, a lot can happen in a week. I had a former colleague call me after he'd heard the Sandbrook case had been solved. He said that he had a few cases he'd like me to look over if I was interested. We spoke at length and after we had a conversation with his superior officer to authorize my involvement, I figured why not move closer so I could be of more assistance to his investigation."
Ellie narrowed her eyes at him. "But I thought you were pulled from active duty because of your condition?"
"I'm not an invalid, Miller. And yes, I'm still off active duty, but I can still consult."
"So where are you going to be living then? Closer to Sandbrook?
Alec cleared his throat nervously, uncertain of how she would react. "Actually this isn't a colleague from Sandbrook, this is a friend…"
Tom called over from in front of the window, interrupting his explanation. "Mum, Aunt Lucy's here."
"Alright, go on and I'll go wake Fred from his nap."
She ran upstairs and gently lifted Fred from his pallet on the floor. He woke up just long enough to see who was carrying him.
"Go back to sleep, love." She whispered softly as she pressed a kiss to his head.
As she passed Alec on her way out, she spoke softly as not to wake Fred. "Grab my bag and keys in the kitchen, will you? And lock up after me. I'll see you in the car."
Alec did as he was told, thankful to not have to endure a conversation with Ellie's sister. He could only imagine what she'd say if she knew he was there.
The first few minutes of their drive was ridden in silence. Ellie glanced over at Alec to see him staring blankly out the window.
"Well, spill it Hardy."
He continued to look away, but spoke up. "The detective I've been consulting with is someone I've known since academy. Interestingly enough, he's the very same officer that I recommended you to at your current post."
Ellie slammed on the brakes bringing the car to a screeching halt. Alec rubbed his chest where the seat belt had caught him.
"Are you bloody well kidding me?" she yelled at him. "So not only do you show up in Broadchurch to steal my job, I can't even secure my own job as a bloody constable without you setting it up for me."
"Miller, I.." he stammered before she interrupted again.
"I'm not a child, Hardy! I know how to hold down a job. I don't need a recommendation, or a babysitter, thank you very much."
"Has anyone ever told you that you can't shut your gob?" he blurted out, "for your information, I didn't call in a favor to get you a job. He called me and asked if I knew of anyone willing to transfer to Devon because they have a lot of ground to cover and a shortage of officers. I gave him your name and recommended you highly, because I knew after what happened with Joe that you wouldn't feel comfortable working in Broadchurch anymore. You got yourself the bloody job, Miller."
She didn't answer, just looked ahead at the road before her, wishing it would swallow her up.
"I found a flat in Barnstaple, so it's not like I'll be your neighbor," He looked down in his lap and wrung his hands nervously, "but I'll be close enough if you needed any help or anything."
Ellie wasn't sure how to respond to that last bit. She wasn't really sure who this man was sitting next to her. Perhaps she was beginning to catch a glimpse of who Alec Hardy used to be before the world chewed him up and spit him out.
"What about your daughter? I thought you'd decided you wanted to work on your relationship with her?"
"I spoke with Tess last week. Apparently Daisy started doing a bit of research of her own regarding the Sandbrook case since her mum and I have kept quiet about the circumstances surrounding it. She um…" Alec audibly swallowed and turned to look out his window, "she found out I'd done that interview for Olly and exposed the truth about the missing evidence. I never revealed any names to the public, but Daisy figured it out on her own."
Alec breathed out a large sigh. "She confronted Tess about it, and her mum admitted that she and another officer were having an affair, and it was the reason the evidence was compromised.
Ellie eyes widened but she didn't speak.
"Needless to say, she and Tess had it out and then I got dragged into it. I ended up having to go over and try to make some sense of it. There was a great bit of screaming and tears before Daisy threatened to leave her mum and come live with me."
"What did you say to that?" Ellie asked.
"What was I supposed to say, Miller? I can't very well raise a teenager. I can barely remember to feed myself, not to mention I didn't even have a place to live at the time. Tess and I discussed it, and I use that term lightly. We allowed Daisy some input and since she refused to live under the same roof as her mum, and I can't take her full time, she's agreed to a bit of a compromise. Tess is enrolling her in Phillips Exeter Academy. That way, while she keeps up with her studies, she can have ample time away from home to process everything, get away from the spotlight of Sandbrook, and live half-way between Tess and me."
Ellie glanced over at him. "That's a lot to take in. How do you feel about it?"
Alec tried to hide a smile, "I think its bloody brilliant." He'd missed out on so much of her life because of his senseless obsessions and stubborn pride. Knowing that his relationship with her was not lost had filled him with hope he'd not felt in long time.
They spent the next few miles in silence. Both consumed in their own thoughts.
Alec broke the silence. "So, how are you feeling about everything?" He looked over at her as she tried to concentrate on the road ahead instead of answering his question. For a moment he thought she hadn't heard him.
Ellie turned to face him with a smile. "Good. I think this will be great for me and the boys. I'll be closer to my job, Tom will be able to make some new friends. We'll be able to start our own life, brand new, no one to stop us, yeah?" She looked to him as if asking for reassurance.
Alec nodded in return. That hadn't really been the answer he was looking for. He wanted to know how she really felt about everything that had happened, not a fabricated story of how she thought she should feel.
He studied her face as her smile started to slip. "Are you getting enough sleep, Miller?"
"What bloody business is it of yours whether or not I sleep? I get enough of that talk from my therapist, thank you. I don't need any unsolicited advice." Ellie gripped the steering wheel tighter.
"I told you, everything is fine. A new start, remember?"
He wasn't sure who it was she was trying to convince.
"I can feel it, you know? It's like a weight is already lifting the farther we drive from Broadchurch. I feel like I'm thinking clearly for the first time in months. I have direction. A new home, a new life."
She scowled as she met his gaze. "And I'd appreciate it if you'd stop with the questions about my emotional stability."
As they drew closer to Ellie's new flat, Alec grew more concerned. He knew this was just another phase. Part of the process, as it were. Only Ellie didn't know that. She genuinely felt like this was the answer to her problems. She really believed that once she moved into this new life that things would dramatically change for her.
He knew that he would soon be witness to the fallout. Memories had an ugly way of presenting themselves at inopportune times. He knew it wouldn't be long before Ellie was pulled back under.
Later that evening, after all of her things had been brought in the flat, Alec had stalled his exit as long as possible. He'd had a cup of tea, tried to engage her in small talk, and made multiple inspections as to the safety of all of the windows and doors in her flat. She'd assured him if she needed anything that she had his number, knowing full well she'd never call him.
The house was eerily quiet as she went to the bedroom and opened up the small wardrobe. After changing into her dressing gown she made her way to the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. As she scrubbed her face with the soft cloth she couldn't help but notice the deep lines under her eyes from too many sleepless nights. Her eyes looked glazed over and no longer held any glint of light. Damn Hardy for noticing. She turned the water off and rested her hands on the sink as she bowed her head closed her eyes.
She could remember. Every night as she readied for bed Joe would come up behind her in the bathroom and wrap his arms around her waist. She could feel his warm hands slowly glide around her stomach. She could remember the feel of his breath on her neck as he kissed her. The sound of his voice as he told her to come to bed. Her slight giggle as she reminded him she still needed to check on the baby. His hands moved to her arms and she could feel his fingers as they traced a pattern on her skin.
Her eyes snapped open. She stared hard at her reflection in the mirror. Her hand caressed her neck as if she could feel the imprinted memory. Her hand trembled as she brought it up to cover her mouth. She was horrified. Joe had done unspeakable things to her best friend's son, and here she was fantasizing about him.
There were times when she felt blinding rage toward him, for what he'd done to their family, and what he'd done to the Latimer's. And then in moments of weakness she'd miss him, desire him. The way he'd hold her at night after the kids had gone to bed. The way he'd tell her a joke to get her to smile after a long shift. The way he'd take her for a walk on the beach late in the evening as they felt the shock of cold water hit their feet as the tide came in.
Her mind was assaulted by an image of a boy in the sand. An image of Joe running to a boat and pushing off into the dark water.
Ellie threw herself over the toilet as she heaved up what little she had in her stomach. She coughed and gasped as she hugged the cold porcelain. Her head seared with the pain of an oncoming migraine. As her stomach gave up its battle she laid her head on the cold floor. The tile dug into her cheek as she closed her eyes. She tucked her knees to her chest and began to sob. There was nowhere to go. No toddler to tend to, no teenager to nag, no pestering boss to argue with. She was completely alone. And it was suffocating.
Chapter 3: Anger
This update took a little longer, so the chapter is twice as long! I'd love to hear what you think, thanks for taking the time to read!
"Anger is the emotion we snatch up to avoid less comfortable feelings like
confusion, fear, and sadness."
"Tom, if you're not down here in 5 minutes, you are walking to school!" Ellie screamed up the stairs for the third or fourth time in the last half hour.
Tom seemed to be dragging his feet and she didn't have time for it. She was already running late for patrol. She needed an hour to drop off both boys and get to her post and she was already cutting it close. Every time she walked past Tom's room he'd either been laying on his bed half-asleep or texting on his mobile. She had half a mind to throw the bloody phone out the window, but things between her and Tom were tense, and she was trying to pick her battles.
She'd just wiped off Fred's hands and mouth after he'd painted himself and the table with yogurt. He was running through the flat with a toy car, bouncing off the furniture with ear piercing squeals of laughter. She hurried to her room to get dressed when she heard Tom descend the stairs.
"Mum! Why isn't there any breakfast?"
"I've already cleaned it up, Tom! If you'd come down when I asked you 45 minutes ago, it would have still been here. Just grab something quick from the cupboard because we don't have time!" Ellie hopped on one foot as she slipped her shoe on.
Just as she rounded the corner a loud cry sounded from the kitchen. Ellie ran into the room to find Fred's finger was caught in the hinge of the cabinet door. He continued to wail as she quickly opened the heavy door to release his finger. He clung to her neck tightly and sobbed. She lifted his finger for a look to find a small imprint and a scrape where it had been pinched.
"Shhh, it's alright love. Mummy's got you." She rocked him back and forth, looking at the clock and noticing how late it had gotten. As she shifted Fred to her hip she felt wetness on the front of her pants. She looked down at him only to realize he must have wet his pants in the commotion. "Oh, Fred. We haven't got time for this."
"Tom, I need you to get your things and wait by the car. I'm going to change Fred and then we'll leave."
When she received no response, she looked up to see him sitting on the couch with his mobile in hand and headphones covering his ears.
"TOM!" she shouted, causing him to look up, and causing poor Fred to cry.
"Bloody hell, Mum, you don't have to scream!" he shouted back angrily.
"Don't you dare use that language in this house, Thomas Miller. Hand over your phone until you can learn to be respectful when I'm speaking to you. Leave it on the counter and go wait by the car like I asked you the first time!"
Tom ripped the headphones from his ears and threw the phone across the room. He grabbed his bag and slammed the door as he walked outside. He never spared a glance to her shocked face.
Ellie quickly changed herself and Fred before grabbing both their bags and heading out the door.
The drive was made in relative silence as Ellie drove as quickly as possible to Tom's school. "I don't know what's gotten into you Tom, but I won't have it." She looked in the rear-view mirror at him as he sulked and stared out the back window.
"I know you must be feeling a lot of things, Tom. I know how confusing this all must be, but you know I'm here for you if need anything, right?"
Tom continued to stare out the window in silence.
"If you don't want to talk to me, we could find a counselor, maybe."
Ellie looked in the mirror once more, hoping to make eye contact with Tom. Fred babbled to himself as he looked out the window, oblivious to the tension in the car.
She continued to ramble on, "Maybe you could get involved in sports, or after-school activities, meet some new friends?
He mumbled something under his breath that Ellie didn't quite catch.
"What did you say?"
"I don't want to talk, Mum! Just leave me alone."
Ellie made the last turn onto the street of Tom's school.
"You will not shut me out, Tom. You don't have to talk to me right now, but I will not allow what happened with your father to tear us apart."
"What makes you think this has anything to do with dad?" Tom shouted defensively. "I just don't want to talk, okay? Why can't you understand that?"
Tom grabbed his backpack as Ellie pulled up to the front of the school. He muttered angrily as he swung it over his shoulder.
Ellie turned in her seat to look at him as he continued to speak under his breath.
"If you have something to say Tom..."
He stepped out of the car, but before closing the door he answered her.
"I said, dad would have just dropped it. He never would have bloody nagged me like you do. You don't have to pick me up after school. I'll walk."
With that, Tom slammed the door and stalked into the building, never once looking back at her.
Ellie looked into the mirror to see Fred pointing to where Tom had just left, babbling to her as if trying to ask what happened.
"I don't know Fred. Didn't go well, did it?"
After racing to the childminder's to drop of Fred, she was delayed even further as he decided to be clingy and latch onto her pant leg and scream while she was trying to leave.
As she stepped into the station after scanning her badge at the door she was stopped by her boss blocking her access to the locker room.
James Macallan was a bit intimidating. He was more than a foot taller than she, with broad shoulders and muscular arms. Ginger hair covered his face and head, although the color looked almost copper under the fluorescent lights. His eyes were narrowed as he looked down at her, a bit of a scowl drawn on his face. He was a fair superior officer, not overly personable, but he did his job well, and expected the same out of his officers.
"You're late, Miller." His deep voice growled out. His thick Scottish accent was unmistakable.
"Yes, sir, I'm so sorry, sir. Bit of trouble getting myself and the children out of the house this morning." She hated that she sounded like a child, fumbling over her words as she offered up her excuse.
"I was assured that I would have no problems with you, Miller, that you were a dependable officer. This is the second time this week that you've been late."
"I again offer my apologies sir. It won't happen again." She tried to push by him to get ready for her shift, but he didn't move.
"Look, Miller. I know that it hasn't been the easiest year for you, and I'm trying to be sympathetic. But I can't give you special liberties because of your situation."
His lips were pressed in a hard line, showing his discomfort with having to confront her on this.
"Understood sir. I'm not asking you to. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to get out on patrol."
He nodded in response as moved out of her way and without a word walked back to his office.
Ellie headed to the locker room to change. She loved being a police officer, it was one thing she knew how to do. She might have screwed up her marriage, developed a strained relationship with her son, and lost all of her friends, but she was a damn good copper. She thought back to her confrontation with Macallan. She chuckled to herself. No wonder he and Hardy got on so well. They were both brooding Scots with nothing better to do than make everyone around them miserable.
Ellie began to see houses and businesses appear up ahead as she and her partner made it back to the city limits after patrols out on the countryside. As she glanced out the window she couldn't help but compare it to Broadchurch. The people, the shops, the beach, it was all the same. Every once in a while she'd see a face and do a double-take, thinking it was someone from back home following her. She wondered if she'd ever be rid of the feelings of judgment and abandonment offered up to her by the people of Broadchurch.
As they passed through a vacant lot, she saw a few young neighborhood boys playing football. As they kicked the ball up and down the field, she couldn't help but notice someone leaning up against the stone wall bordering the property. Her senses went on high alert and she could feel her heart begin to race. He looked to be in his mid 50's, dressed in a charcoal jumper and light jacket. He watched the boys intently and smiled as they played and laughed, though it seemed the children didn't notice him. He glanced in their direction and his mouth went from a smile to a hard line. He seemed to eye her warily.
Her blood had turned cold, and she was having trouble catching her breath.
"Stop the car!" she shouted suddenly.
Sarah looked at her as if she'd gone mad. "What are you on about? I don't see anything." She followed Ellie's gaze to see a group of boys playing football. She wasn't sure what the fuss was about.
"Just stop the bloody car!"
Sarah slammed on the breaks as Ellie jumped out of the car.
Ellie marched quickly past the young boys toward the male voyeur. She wasted no time confronting him.
"Gettin' your rocks off are you? Enjoy watchin' little boys, do you?" She half shouted as she stood mere inches from his shocked face. She could feel her body shaking and her anger boiling beneath the surface.
"I beg your pardon, Miss. That is no way to speak in front of children." He looked horrified at her implication.
"Oh, don't play innocent with me. How dare you stand here and ogle these poor boys. You like that, do you?"
"Ellie!" Sarah shouted as she ran from the car. Once she saw the confrontation, she knew she needed to intervene. She grabbed Ellie's shoulders and tried to pull her back.
The man looked enraged as he rounded on her. "Is the how the Devon police force do things now? I don't know who the hell you are, officer, but I don't take kindly to being accused of being a paedophile."
The man stared her down angrily before pushing past her and walking on the field toward the boys.
Ellie went to grab him but was pulled back by Sarah's hands on her shoulders. "What the hell are you doing, Ellie! You can't just walk up to someone on the street and accuse them of something like that!"
"Did you not see him? Why would a middle-aged man being watching a group of boys play football?"
The man walked closer to the field and yelled out a young boy's name.
"Geoffrey! It's time to go! I've got to get you home to your Mum before lunch." The small boy waved goodbye to his friends and grabbed the man's hand.
The young boy looked up at her and Sarah, but didn't seem bothered by their presence.
"Grandad? Can we come play again tomorrow?" He smiled down at the boy and ruffled his hair as he answered, "As long as it's alright with your mum."
As he walked passed Ellie he shot her an angry stare. Her face mirrored shock as she realized her error in judgment.
He stopped in front of her. In a harsh whisper, low enough that his grandson didn't hear, he warned her, "I have half a mind to report you to your superior officer. I would think twice the next time you go accusing people of crimes they didn't commit. What kind of sick mind do you have to assume I was watching those boys with such disgusting intent?"
He hugged the boy closer to his side as they walked away.
Ellie and Sarah walked back to the car and left in silence. Ellie could see Sarah glance at her every few minutes, wanting to speak but not daring to open her mouth.
"What?" Ellie barked at her, startling her.
"You know Macallan could sack you, right?
Ellie shook her head. As if this day could get any worse.
"So that's it then? You're going to run to the boss and tell on me?"
Sarah shook her head as she kept her eyes on the road. "I'm serious Ellie. That man could have pressed charges. You can't just go around being suspicious of everyone you see on the street. I get what you're trying to do. You're afraid some other man is going to hurt another child like your husband did. You want to make up for the fact that you had no idea what was happening."
Ellie seethed in the seat next to her. "I'd appreciate it if you'd cut the bullshit speech, Sarah. Don't even pretend to know how I feel or what my intentions are. I'm just trying to do my job."
The rest of the ride was made in silence as both women were eager to get back and take a break.
As Ellie changed her clothes and walked to her car to leave for lunch she saw a familiar profile leaning up against the passenger side door.
Her face sagged as she let out a great sigh.
"Really, Hardy? What do you want? I'm really not in the mood today."
She went around the car and opened the door without waiting for his response.
"Good to see you too, Miller." He responded sarcastically as he rolled his eyes.
Without asking he opened the door and climbed in beside her.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I'm buying you lunch, Miller. Now if you please stop running your gob and drive we might actually have a few minutes to eat."
Without argument Ellie started the car and pulled out of the lot, deciding to head to the chippie right down the street from the station.
"How did you know when my break was, anyway?"
Alec looked down toward the floor, looking interested at whatever had found itself stuck on the bottom of his shoe, avoiding her angry stare.
Alec cleared his throat and rubbed his hand on the back of his neck. "Umm, I might have convinced Macallan to let me in the bullpen, and I may have accidently stumbled across your timecard on your desk."
Her face looked heated, as if she might burst into flames at any minute.
"You bloody wanker! Ever heard of privacy?"
"Well, it's not like you would have told me if I'd asked! You make it so damn hard to even talk to you."
Ellie didn't respond. She wasn't really in the mood to fight with anyone else today. She pulled into the parking lot and both of them walked in the door without a word.
After ordering their food, they found a quiet booth in the corner and both began to eat.
Alec broke the silence.
"Understatement of the year, that is." She sighed as she picked at her lunch.
"Macallan not giving you a rough go, is he? I could say something to him."
She shot him a look and that was all the answer he needed.
"You want to talk about it?" He asked hopefully.
"No, I don't bloody want to talk about it!" She regretted the words the moment they left her mouth. She sounded an awful lot like Tom had this morning, and she'd scolded him for his behavior.
She looked up at Hardy to find him completely unfazed by her rudeness.
"I'm sorry, Hardy. I'm just…"
"Angry?" he supplied. "I hadn't noticed. I'm not sure if you've yet gathered from your interactions with me that I am quite familiar with deep-seeded rage. It doesn't bother me. Glad to see you like this, actually."
She looked up at him with shock across her face. Of all the stupid things to say.
"Don't give me that glare, Miller, that's not what I meant."
She raised her eyebrows in question.
"I just mean that it's good to see you being honest. Not this façade that you usually hide behind. I'd rather you yell at me than to pretend everything is fine."
They finished their meal quickly, noting the small amount of time they had left. She was thankful he had not pressed her further after her heated words with him. He understood, and he let her be. For that, she was grateful.
As they drove back, he gathered the courage to ask her something. "So, Daisy is coming to spend the weekend with me. I wanted to see if…unless you have other plans…maybe you and the boys might want to come over on Saturday evening for dinner. I'd love for you to meet her."
Ellie was shocked at the invitation. This was a bit…domestic. It reminded her of when she had invited Hardy to her home during the investigation. Backward as he was, you could tell he was rubbish at social interaction. She knew it probably took every ounce of courage to even ask them over.
She quickly answered after glancing over and seeing the uncertainty on his face. "We'd love to meet Daisy. Thank you for the invitation. It's been a bit lonely, haven't met many people here yet. I'm sure the boys would enjoy it." She didn't mention that she'd enjoy it as well, fearing he'd find out how much she was beginning to enjoy his company.
As they got back to the station, they both got out of the car and looked at each other in silence, unsure of what to say.
Alec spoke first, "So, if you want, we can talk more about details when I come round at 6 tonight."
Ellie shook her head in confusion. What was he on about?
"I'm sorry, did you say you were coming over? Is this like a date or something?"
She looked momentarily horrified. Had she agreed sometime during their lunch to have him over? She thought back to their conversation at lunch wondering if during the times she had spaced out she had agreed to something.
Alec laughed out loud. In that moment she realized it was the first time she'd ever heard that sound come from his mouth.
"I think I would have remembered asking you out, Miller." He winked at her, making her blush further. "And If I had, you'd definitely have remembered it."
He knew she had no idea what he was on about. "I take it Tom didn't tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"The day you moved from Broadchurch I gave Tom my number. Told him he was welcome to call if he needed anything. We've written back and forth a few times. He said he'd been having a bit of trouble with his homework, asked if I'd stop by to help."
Ellie's mouth was set in a hard line. She wasn't sure how she felt about that. She was grateful that Tom was confiding in someone, but she hated that he didn't feel comfortable enough to come to her.
"From the look on your face, I gather you didn't know?"
She shook her head.
"If it bothers you, I can back off. I don't want to cause any problems between the two of you. I just wanted to help. I had no idea he hadn't told you."
"I took his phone away from him this morning because he's done nothing but sit around and waste time on it. But what bothers me more is his incessant need to mouth off every time I confront him about it. He's shutting me out."
Alec smiled, but after seeing her make a face at him, he sobered up. "I'm not laughing at you. It's just…for God's sake, Miller, he's a teenage boy! For everything that's happened, I think he's doing pretty well. Just give him time."
She wasn't deterred in her anger. "Easy for you to say, just give him time. He doesn't have another parent for me to ship him off to while I get my shit together."
She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. His strained relationship with his daughter wasn't entirely his fault. Her biting words weren't fair and she knew it.
"I'm sorry, Hardy" she half whispered. She had her head down, not willing to look at him directly. Not willing to look at his face and see the pain she might have caused him. He was trying, and she wasn't making it easy for him.
"I'm just having a hard time." It was a lame excuse. She just didn't know how to express to him what was happening in her heart and mind. It was as if someone had hijacked her body and she was at their mercy.
He gave her a sad smile. "S'alright, Miller. See you at 6, then?"
She looked up and met his eyes. She saw no judgment there, no anger or frustration at her outburst or intense anger directed at him. He understood it, and it didn't scare him away, and for that she was grateful. She wished she could thank him for his patience and understanding, but she could not force words out of her traitorous mouth.
He seemed to recognize the battle waging in her mind. He began to walk away from her. He looked over his shoulder as she remained standing in the same place.
"I'll see you tonight, Miller." He grinned as he turned his back to her. He could only imagine what he'd be walking into this evening. It would be entertaining if nothing else.
Alec knocked on the door that evening just a few minutes before 6.
"Come in! It's open!" he heard her shout from the kitchen. As Alec walked in he was bombarded by sensory overload. Fred was screaming as he ran from room to room not even stopping to glance at him as he walked in. There seemed to be incredibly loud rock music coming from a room upstairs. Then there was Ellie attempting to put dinner together. He could see multiple pots on the stove top with steam rising from them all. If he was honest, the whole house looked a bit smoky, but he didn't dare say anything. He knew she did her best to take care of her family, but cooking was not her strong suit.
Without turning around to greet him, she yelled over her shoulder. "You can go on up Hardy, dinner will be ready in about a half hour."
After placing his coat and keys next to the door, he climbed the stairs to Tom's room. As he looked down the hallway he noticed there were still no pictures on the walls, no traces of living their new life as of yet. He knew Ellie had been busy, and decorating her flat was probably the last thing on her mind.
As he came around the corner he found the small room where the loud music was coming from. There was Tom sitting at his desk, engrossed in something on the computer in front of him. Alec knocked on the door to get his attention.
As soon as Alec called his name he shut the laptop to hide whatever he'd been looking at. Alec just dismissed it as normal teenage secretive behavior.
"Ready to get started then? Your mum said dinner would be ready soon." Alec crossed the room to stand next to the desk.
Tom looked nervous. He tapped his fingertips on the desk and stared past Alec toward the open door. Pots and pans could be heard banging down the stairs as Ellie finished up dinner.
"Something on your mind, Tom?" Alec questioned softly.
"I'm not having trouble with my studies. I don't actually need any help with my lessons." He looked guiltily toward Alec.
"And you thought to lie?" Alec asked as narrowed his eyes at the boy.
"Mum's been a nightmare, and I knew it would drive her mad if I told her I wanted to talk with you. She wouldn't understand."
Alec understood where Tom was going, but couldn't help being defensive for Ellie.
Alec sat on the edge of Tom's bed so he could be eye level with him. "You know that everything your mum does is in your best interest, right?
Tom nodded but didn't respond.
"I know she nags you, Tom, but she does it because she's worried about you. She's doing her best, and it's hard for her too. I don't mind coming over to talk to you, I've told you that. But you have to be honest with your mum about it. I talked to her earlier today and she had no idea I was coming over."
Tom smirked. "I bet she was angry, yeah?"
"You've no idea." Alec laughed in return. "She scares me a bit, your mum."
Alec looked seriously at Tom. "Now, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?"
Tom got up from his desk chair and crossed the room to the door. He looked in the hallway to make sure no one was there, then shut it quietly. He walked over to the bed and sat next to Alec.
"Promise you won't tell mum?" Tom looked up at him with fear in his eyes. Alec had a bad feeling about whatever Tom wanted to say to him.
"Now you know I can't make a promise like that, Tom. But I will listen and if I think it's something your mum needs to know, I'll help you talk to her about it."
Alec was afraid that his admission might cause Tom to clam up, but he didn't looked deterred.
"Since we've moved, I've been talking to dad."
Alec's face went white and his heart sped up at an alarming rate. He knew he needed to calm himself before his pacemaker decided to kick in. Whatever he'd been expecting Tom to say, this wasn't it.
Tom continued, "The week we left Broadchurch I got an email from a contact I didn't recognize. I opened it, and it was from dad. I didn't open it at first, but he sent a couple more over the next few days."
Alec wanted to remain as calm as possible so that Tom would continue to trust him with this information.
"What did he say, Tom?" he asked slowly.
"He said that he missed Fred and I, and wanted to see us. He said not to believe what everyone was saying about him, that it was all lies. And he asked after Mum." Tom looked down at the floor and shuffled his feet nervously.
Alec didn't let on how worried he was becoming at Joe's apparent need for information about his ex-wife and sons. He'd have to make sure he had eyes on Joe's movements in case he tried anything funny.
After a few seconds of silence he looked up at Alec with tears in his eyes. "I know he did it, I know he killed Danny. But, he's my dad, and I miss him. Is that wrong?" The tears tracked down his face as wiped them away with his sleeve.
"Tom, there is absolutely nothing wrong with missing your dad. While he was here he loved you and took care of you. Just because someone does a really horrific thing, it doesn't take away the love that we feel for them. But the love we have for them changes. You have to be more careful because of the things you know he's capable of. Does that make sense?"
Tom nodded his head. "Does this mean I have to tell mum?"
"Yes it does. She needs to know because she's responsible for protecting you and Fred. Your dad also has a protective order against your mum and I. If the courts thinks either of us has had any contact with your dad, we could get into legal trouble. This is nothing to mess with, Tom."
"You'll help me tell her, yeah?" Tom looked at him hopefully.
Alec placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Of course I will."
About that time they heard a loud yell from downstairs. "Dinner's ready! You lot get down here!"
Alec and Tom looked at one another with wide eyes.
"Might as well face the music." Alec said quietly as they headed downstairs.
As they hit the first floor it was chaos. Fred was in his high chair screaming and throwing his food off the tray. The room was filled with smoke from whatever had just been taken out of the oven. Ellie seemed to be muttering to herself as she walked back to the kitchen to place more food on the table. Her hair was matted to her face from the steam.
"Fred, I don't know what you want! I've given you fruit, I've given you yogurt, and I've even given you biscuits! Now hush up!" Fred screamed louder and threw his cup across the room. Ellie picked it up and took it to the kitchen, slamming it into the sink.
"That's it, Fred! You're done!" She pulled the tray off his chair and pulled him out, sitting him on the floor in the living room roughly. He ran off in search of his toys, seemingly unfazed by his mum's outburst.
She looked up to find Alec and Tom staring at her.
"What? Sit down, before it gets cold!"
They did as they were told, sitting down at the dining room table. Alec was afraid to ask what was on his plate. Some type of casserole perhaps. The outside seemed to be burned while the inside wasn't quite warm. Ellie broke the awkward silence as she pushed her food around her plate.
"So, did you get some homework done, then?"
Tom just nodded as he looked toward Alec. He stuffed a bite of food in his mouth so he didn't have to answer. He chewed with a grimace. Alec wasn't nearly as brave as Tom and didn't even attempt to consume it.
"Oh, for God's sake, give me your plates!" She grabbed them up from the table and went to scrape them into the rubbish. "I'll see if I can find something in the cupboard."
As she was putting the plates in the sink she could hear the vibration of a phone on the counter-top. She thought she'd left hers in her bedroom after she'd gotten home, but the way this day had gone she couldn't trust her memory. She normally didn't check her phone at dinner time, but there was always the possibility she could be called in to work and she was already on Macallan's s list.
She reached for the phone realizing after she'd picked it up that it was Tom's. She'd placed it on the counter when she got home after he'd thrown it that morning after their row. What she saw on the screen made her stomach turn. No, it couldn't be. No wonder Tom had been hiding in his room and spending all of his time on the phone.
She turned from the counter so quickly she knocked a plate to the floor. The sound of shattering glass caused both Tom and Alec to turn toward her.
Alec stood up and walked toward her. "Everything alright, Miller?" he looked worriedly at her pale face.
She never once acknowledge Alec was even standing there. Her darkened, wide eyes were trained on Tom.
"What is this?" she whispered angrily as her fingers clenched around the phone.
Tom looked from Alec to his mum. He'd never seen her face like that, and it scared him.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he lied quietly.
"It's an email from your dad, Tom, don't lie to me!" Her voice began to raise as she gripped the back of a chair to keep her upright.
Alec stepped forward putting his hand out. "Now Miller, I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation…"
Her anger flashed in his direction. She pointed a finger directly in his face. "You knew?!" Alec looked away from her eyes and rubbed the back of his neck nervously.
"Answer me, Hardy!"
When he didn't answer she began to pace the floor and with a strange manic energy, mumbling to herself as she walked. Her face was flushed bright red and her breathing was erratic. She stopped and turned to him again.
"I trusted you with my son, Hardy! I was glad that Tom was opening up to someone, even if it wasn't me, but you didn't think that telling me he was speaking with Joe was a good idea?"
Tom stepped in front of Alec and responded to his mum's angered retort. "Leave him alone, mum, it isn't his fault. I just…"
"I don't want to hear any more excuses Tom!" her voice began to raise even higher than before.
"But mum, just stop yelling and listen!"
"I SAID I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT, TOM!" Her voiced pierced the air so loudly that the whole house became silent.
Except for Fred. He ran up behind Alec and grabbed onto his pant leg sobbing. He was shaking, scared to death to hear his mum screaming at Tom.
Ellie's faced dropped. Her eyes filled with angry tears, realizing what she'd done, what she'd said.
Tom looked at Alec and spoke quietly. "I told you she wouldn't understand."
He ran up the stairs and slammed the door to his room, leaving the other three in the dining room.
Ellie bent down on her knees in front of Alec. She peered around him at Fred who still had a death grip on his leg and his face hidden in the fabric of his slacks. She reached out her hands to coax him to come out. "Come here sweetheart, mummy didn't mean to scare you." Tears streamed down her face as she saw the fear in his little face. The closer she got to him, the tighter he gripped Alec's legs.
Alec reached down and picked up the trembling child and tucked him into his shoulder. Fred grabbed his shirt in his fists and buried his face in his neck. He didn't dare look toward his mum.
Ellie just stood there, uncertain of what to do next. She stared past Alec while tears dripped down her face unchecked.
"Miller." He spoke gently as to not frighten Fred. "Look at me."
She met his eyes in silence. She looked so lost, so scared.
"I'm going to take Fred to bed, and then I'm going to come back down and clean all of this up." He gestured with a nod of his head to the broken dish on the floor and the remaining food on the dining table.
"Miller, nod your head if you're listening to me."
She bit her lip as she nodded in response.
"Why don't you go to your room, get cleaned up, and calm down. I'll be down in a bit."
She didn't acknowledge his request nor move to leave the room, her face was so pale and he could see the rapid rise of her chest.
Alec stepped closer to her, balancing Fred against his chest. "Ellie," her head snapped up as she heard her given name. He'd only called her that once before, when he had first told her that Joe had confessed to killing Danny.
He placed a hand on her shoulder gently, so not to scare her. "Go."
Alec left to climb the stairs as she walked slowly toward her bedroom in silence.
After changing Fred and putting him to bed, Alec checked on Tom. The light in his room was off and he could see the boy's outline in the bed. He probably needed the night to cool off before anyone tried to talk to him.
Alec quickly picked up the shards of glass left in the floor and placed all of the dishes in the dishwasher. After cleaning off the table he pushed the chairs in and turned off the kitchen light.
Heading to Ellie's bedroom door he hesitated, unsure if she was in a state to accept company. Before his nervousness got the best of him he pushed the door open. A small lamp was lit beside the bed, but as he looked around he didn't see her.
"Miller?" he asked into the empty room. He was met with the sound of muffled crying. He looked toward the closet that was covered with a curtain, where it seemed the noise was coming from. There he saw two socked feet poking out from beneath.
He didn't dare pull the curtain back. He sat down on the floor next to the closet in silence.
"You don't have to be here, Hardy." She whispered from behind the fabric. "Thank you for taking care of the boys. You don't have to stay on my account."
"I most certainly do need to be here. And I'm not leaving until I'm sure you're alright."
"I don't want to talk, Hardy."
"Well, then sitting here in silence is okay too. I'm very good at brooding, you'd know."
After a couple minutes passed, she spoke up.
"I don't like being angry. I hate the way it feels, the way it suffocates me. It can be the littlest thing, something that never would have bothered me in the past, but now I just blow up. It's one thing to yell and scream at you, or at my boss, but to my own children? What kind of shit mum am I? Tom doesn't trust me, and poor Fred, the fear on his little face. I can handle being a bad wife, or a bad cop, but a bad mum? They've already lost so much, and now they have to deal with an emotionally unstable mum."
After she finished talking she started to cry once more. A hand slipped past the curtain and held itself palm up as an invitation, he was giving her a choice. No words were needed.
Ellie tentatively put her hand in his and he squeezed it. Silent support.
"Hardy?" she whispered.
"Yeah?" he answered.
"What's wrong with me?"
He chuckled softly. "Nothing is wrong with you, Miller. You're grieving. When someone hurts you as bad as Joe has the feelings are raw, and they all seem to come at you at once. You're not really given any time to process them all. I think anger is what we use as our armor, a way to protect ourselves when we don't know how to deal with all those emotions at once. We turn the anger inward at first, I think. We're angry at ourselves because we don't know how to fix what's broken, we curse ourselves for our inability to just move on and get over it. It's crippling, I know. And when we're unable to move past that anger, we begin to direct it at other people."
He tugged at her hand as he laughed. "Which as you've seen personally, I very much excel in that department."
She gripped his hand tightly. "Well it's no wonder you were always so bloody mad."
Ellie fell silent still holding onto his hand, she feared he'd let go at any moment.
"There is one difference between you and I, Ellie." There it was again. He'd called her by name. Amazing how intimate your own name could sound.
"The grief that I've gone through, and still going through, was partly brought on by my own selfishness, my own bad decisions. I can't take the blame for Tess having an affair, and I know it wasn't my fault that the Sandbrook case was compromised, but I was the one that chose to distance myself from my daughter, to run myself nearly mad trying to solve a case, to nearly die because I was too stubborn to see a doctor."
He paused before continuing. "But you, Ellie Miller, you're much different. You did nothing wrong." He could feel her hand start to shake and pull away, but he gripped it tighter. "You were faithful to your husband, you worked hard to support your children, and you deeply loved your friends. You ran yourself ragged trying to find justice for your best friend and her family. And now here you are, alienated from all of your friends, at odds with your children, far away from home, divorced from your husband, and hiding in your bedroom closet with no one but me for company."
"My life is more depressing than I thought. Thanks for the reminder."
He smiled sadly as he answered, "You're most welcome."
Alec felt her hand drop from his own. The curtain parted and there she was. Tucked as far into the closet as she could get. Eyes shining with tears, and nose red from crying. She looked almost like a child, hiding for fear her parents would find her.
"Hello," he whispered.
"Hello," she answered.
He held his hand out to help her up, but neither looked at each other as they stood. They both quietly walked through the house, Ellie noticing the cleanliness of the kitchen and the quietness of the house as the boys were both asleep.
"I should get going," Alec said as he stopped in the living room.
Ellie twisted her hands and kept her eyes trained on the floor as they both moved to the door. "Um…thank you for taking care of the boys and cleaning up the mess."
"It's the least I could do," he answered as he waited for her to look up instead of staring at her feet.
"So, we'll see you this weekend, then? If we're still invited after tonight's ordeal."
Alec laughed. "Aye, you're still invited. As long as you're not the one cooking dinner."
With that comment she finally looked up to find him grinning at her.
"Thank you for, um, for sitting with me." Her voice grew quieter with each word until the last came out in a whisper.
He thought this would be an appropriate time to attempt something he hadn't tried since the first day of the trial. He opened up his arms as an invitation to her. Without a second's pass she walked into them and tightened her fists into the back of his shirt.
With her head rested over his chest she could hear his heartbeat, steady and comforting. His arms came up around her back and he held her tight. His hands running soft circles on her back. He rested his chin on her head, his beard scratching the soft skin beneath her curls. She'd missed this, having someone beside her, a presence stronger than herself. But he was so different than what she was used to. He asked for nothing in return, he was just, there.
Alec pulled them apart brushing a chaste kiss to her temple before they separated.
"Goodnight, Ellie," he whispered.
Chapter 4: Fear
Sorry for the wait for this update. Hope you enjoy it! There is a link to a song in this chapter, feel free to listen to it for the sake of chapter content. Please let me know what you think. Wrestled with this chapter.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
It was a brisk midmorning as Ellie stood on the porch looking at the address on the door of the flat and checking it against the scrap of paper Alec had scrawled out for her. Confident they were at the right place, she knocked tentatively. They’d decided on meeting up for lunch instead of dinner so Ellie wouldn’t be driving back home too late with the boys. With Fred babbling loudly as she balanced him on her hip, and Tom quietly sulking behind her, she hoped they’d be welcomed company.
Just then the door swung open and a young girl greeted them cheerfully. Dressed in a dark blue jumper and jeans, she looked every bit the part of a teenager who was quickly becoming a woman. She was a beautiful girl, long brown hair, and a sneaky smile that lifted at one corner. Her eyes were every bit of her father, piercing and direct.
She smiled broadly as she yelled over her shoulder. “They’re here, Dad!”
Surprising Ellie and rendering her speechless, Daisy threw her arms around her and squeezed tightly. Ellie patted her back lightly while still holding Fred in the other arm. After pulling away Daisy blushed furiously. “I’m sorry, that may have been a bit forward. Dad says I get that from mum, never met a stranger.”
Ellie smiled as she looked over Daisy’s shoulder to find Alec had come up behind her. “Yeah, physical contact and warm greetings aren’t exactly your fathers’ forte.” Alec put his hands on Daisy’s shoulders and made a face at the teasing comment.
Ellie cleared her throat and looked apologetically toward the girl. “I’m sorry, Daisy, I seem to have forgotten my manners. This is my son Tom,” she introduced as she nodded toward her eldest. Tom nodded in Daisy’s direction but offered no answer.
Fred released the hold he had on her shoulder as he lunged toward Daisy. She willingly opened her arms and smiled as she took him from her.
“And this is Fred, the little flirt.” Ellie laughed as she watched Fred gaze up at Daisy as she held him.
“You’ve found a new friend now, haven’t you?” Ellie smiled as she watched their interaction.
Alec pulled on Daisy’s shoulders to motion her into the living room and out of the doorway. After the family walked in, Alec came up behind Tom and nudged him with his elbow to catch his attention. Tom smirked and nodded at him but said nothing. Alec was curious as to how Tom and Ellie were doing since their last episode just days ago. Tom was still closed off, he could see that clearly. But he’d take what he could get.
Alec’s attention was drawn to the small dining room table as Ellie deposited a bag and began pulling items out. He smiled as she pulled out a small bouquet of flowers.
In mock seriousness he chided, “Oh, Miller, you shouldn’t have! I haven’t got a vase for them or anything.”
Ellie didn’t look amused. “You great idiot, they aren’t for you anyway.” she handed the small parcel to Daisy and the girl fawned over them. Hugging Ellie, she gently placed Fred on the floor and moved to the kitchen to find something to put them in.
“They’re beautiful, Ellie, thank you!”
Alec noticed that she also brought chocolate. Ellie met his gaze and hid the candy from him as he moved to grab it from her. “These are not for you either. You may have a new heart, but we wouldn’t want to clog it up with this rubbish would we? It’s for the kids later.”
Without pausing she placed it on the table. Alec walked toward her and peeked over her shoulder in curiosity. “Well, haven’t you got anything for me? I was the one who invited you over, surely that counts for something.”
Alec thought back to the first time he’d been invited into her home, right after Danny’s case had started. His face broke out in a grin as he remembered how daft he’d been for bringing all those things to Ellie’s house. He’d never been one to fully understand social graces, after all.
He couldn’t help but jest, “You didn’t bring wine, as well, did you?”
Ellie looked offended that he’d even suggest she’d do so. “Well seeing as there are children present, I thought I’d bring something a bit more suitable.”
She threw a box at him and he looked closely at the label. He bit back a sad smile. It was Taylor’s of Harrogate Scottish breakfast tea. His mum used to keep it in the house when he was a child. He could almost smell it, as it steeped.
Ellie looked over at him when he didn’t respond. “D’you like that kind? I figured you were still laying off coffee and preferred something a bit lighter.”
Alec cleared the lump from his throat as he answered. “Aye, it’ll do.”
Ellie looked around the room, thinking it a bit odd that he was living in a proper flat now. It was quite lovely. She hadn’t noticed when they’d walked in, but it seemed to be set up as a studio space. The living room, dining room and small kitchen were arranged in one small open room. The decoration was a bit sparse, with only a small loveseat under the front window and a comfortable looking armchair for company. It wasn’t surprising really, he’d probably left all he owned with Tess, save his clothes and a few personal items.
She looked toward the kitchen to find it clean and untouched.
“I thought we were having lunch?” she eyed him suspiciously.
Daisy poked her father and scolded him. “Dad, you didn’t actually tell them you were cooking did you? You’re absolute rubbish in the kitchen.”
Alec laughed but didn’t dare look at Ellie.
“I didn’t say I was cooking.” He defended.
Ellie answered, “But you didn’t exactly say you weren’t either. And to think of how appalled you were when I fixed dinner.”
“Not to worry,” Daisy interjected with a smile, “I planned it all out. I asked dad if we could go to the coast. I know it’s a little cold for that, but it sounded nice. Would that be alright?”
Ellie smiled at her. “That sounds lovely, Daisy.”
“Should we get on then?” Alec asked as he grabbed his coat.
Ellie walked toward the door behind Daisy and Tom. “Shall we take my car since I’ve got Fred’s seat?”
Alec nodded in answer.
Tom quietly walked out the door and Daisy followed behind holding onto Fred’s hand as he walked beside her. Ellie could hear her asking Tom about school as they moved toward the car.
As Alec locked the door, Ellie quietly spoke behind him. “She’s lovely, Hardy. Don’t know how you stayed away for so long.”
“She gets a lot of it from her mum.” he twisted the door knob to make sure it had locked as he turned toward her.
Ellie didn’t argue with him, but from her past encounters with Tess, she doubted Daisy took solely after her mum.
“Shall we go, then?” he asked as he unconsciously put his hand against her back to move her forward.
Ellie immediately stiffened and jerked away from him, walking quickly to the car. She unlocked the doors and helped Daisy get Fred buckled in his seat. Never once did she look at Alec or acknowledge her rudeness. As she started the car she glanced over only find him surprisingly unfazed. She put the car in gear but before she could pull away her mobile rang on the console. She quickly ended the call without looking at the number.
“Everything alright, then?” Alec asked quietly.
Ellie nodded as she looked in the rearview mirror to make sure everyone was buckled in and ready. She pulled away without a word.
The restaurant Daisy had chosen was lovely. A quaint little place that sat mere feet from the water. The coast was a bit of a drive, but the view was worth it. The landscape was rocky and a bit flat, nothing like the great cliffs of Broadchurch. Ellie was grateful for that. They were tucked into a booth at the back of the room, Tom and Ellie on one side, Alec and Daisy on the other, and Fred pulled up to the table in a highchair. As Ellie was cutting up Fred’s food she looked toward Daisy.
“So, how are you liking being away from home for school?”
“It’s absolutely fantastic!” Daisy smiled as she saw her dad’s glare from beside her, “Well, I do miss Mum and Dad, but I think it’s great, it’s kind of preparing me for uni, if I decide that’s what I’d like to do. I know I have a few years before I have to decide that, but a few of my classes are really exciting and it’s got me thinking about what I want to do for a career.”
Ellie smiled at the girl’s enthusiasm. She glanced up at Alec to find he was staring at his plate, paying little attention to the discussion.
“So, what is it you’d like to do?”
Daisy bit her lip, uncertain of what the reaction would be. She looked over at her dad but he looked as if he hadn’t heard the question. She looked to find Ellie’s eyes on her, warm, caring, and genuinely interested in what she had to say. She answered softly.
“Well, I’m thinking of going into law enforcement.”
Alec’s fork clattered to his plate and he began to cough loudly as he choked on a bite of salad he’d just put in his mouth. He brought his water glass to his lips and took several large gulps.
Daisy, Ellie, and even a subdued Tom dissolved into laughter at his reaction.
“You’re all trying to kill me.” Alec answered as he cleared his throat.
Handing Fred his cup as he continued to eat quietly, Ellie looked to Daisy again in question. “What class is it that’s got you interested?”
“One of my professors teaches a criminology course, and it’s been absolutely amazing. We’ve been doing a lot of studying on the mental disparities of people who commit crimes and…”
Alec cut in before she could finish, “So this is what I’m paying for, is it? For you to learn about the psychological state of mass murderers and the morally corrupt? I’d have thought you’d seen enough of that after living with your mum and I.”
“Well, my professor said that children of law enforcement officers usually have one of two opinions of the profession. Either they find it incredibly intriguing and love the mental challenge, or they separate themselves as far as possible from civil service and choose something that offers more stability.”
“Mental challenge you say? I think perhaps your professor is a bit mental, trying to convince impressionable children of the excitement of a job in law enforcement. Bloody hell, let me speak with your class, I’d be happy to talk about the fantastic benefits of a job in law enforcement.
Ellie shot him a look to shut up and let Daisy talk. “I think you should be supportive. You should be flattered that she’d want to continue in the same profession as you.”
“Easy for you to say,” He spat as he became increasingly upset, “it’s not your child that’s come up with such a daft idea. I’m sure you’d be the picture of pride if Tom came home and told you he wanted to be a copper.”
“I didn’t say you had to be thrilled about it, but you could at least do more than criticize her!”
“Oh, that’s rich, coming from someone who criticizes her child for…”
Daisy cleared her throat loudly, quieting both parties. They looked around and noticed that the restaurant had become painfully quiet and a good number of patrons had started to stare at them.
Daisy stood from the booth. “I think I’m going for a walk, get some fresh air.”
“Darling, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you upset, if you’ll just sit...” Alec tried to explain, exasperated as this was not the way this weekend was supposed to go.
Tom looked at Ellie, asking silently if he could follow. Ellie put her hand on his shoulder, “It’s alright, go on.”
Alec heaved a sigh and put his hands over his face in exhaustion. He could not believe what just happened. He looked over at Ellie to find her glaring at him.
“What’s that look for?”
“You bloody well know what it’s for! How could you do that to her, Hardy?” Ellie began clearing off Fred’s high chair and then wiping his face as she shook her head in frustration.
“You’re the one who wouldn’t stop running their gob and asking more questions.” He knew it was a lousy argument, but he would not be deterred in his anger.
Ellie did not respond but continued to clean up after Fred as he babbled and banged his cup against the table. Her phone began to vibrate in her pocket and she reached down to dismiss the call.
Alec looked at her curiously. “If it’s the station, you can answer.”
“It’s not the station, and I make it a point when I’m out with the boys not to answer if I don’t have to.”
The waitress walked over to place the check on the table. Alec grabbed his credit card and put it down on top.
“Look, Miller. I didn’t mean to get cross with you, it’s just, Daisy’s never taken an interest to things like this before, and I don’t want that kind of life for her.”
“I get it, Hardy, I really do. But save the lecture for later, you shouldn’t have attacked her like that, in public no less. She loves you and wants your support. And for the record, yes, I would have been just as mad at Tom if he said the same thing.”
Ellie pulled Fred from the highchair and held him in her lap. He looked as if he was a few minutes from falling asleep.
Alec leaned in front of the toddler and whispered seriously, “Oh, wee Fred, don’t grow up too fast, these teenagers are nothing but trouble.”
The two of them stood and walked toward the door, Ellie laughing as they neared the entrance. Alec narrowed his eyes in question.
“It’s good to have you back, Hardy. I was beginning to think you were becoming soft.”
After retrieving Fred’s pram and spotting Daisy and Tom walking further up the beach, Ellie and Alec decided to follow slowly behind with enough distance to allow for privacy.
Fred was sound asleep, tucked in tight and shielded from the cold wind by a few blankets Ellie had found in the car. It had turned out to be a lovely day, quite warm with only a slight chill coming from the water as it hit the shore.
They walked in silence, Alec pushing the pram in front of him, looking every bit the part of a father. From all outside appearances, they looked like a proper family.
Before she could stop the words from tumbling out, she quickly spoke, “Joe used to push Tom when he was this age, along the beach just like this. He was always so fussy and it was the only way to get him to stop crying. But it only worked for Joe, Tom would never quiet for me.”
The following silence seemed deafening. Ellie cleared her voice and hesitantly looked at Alec as they continued up the beach. “I wanted to apologize.”
He turned to look at her but did not speak.
“At the house, earlier today. When we were leaving, and you, um, you put your hand on my back. I shouldn’t have just jerked away and stalked off like that.”
Alec looked at her in confusion. “Did I, then? Must have not realized it. Don’t remember you stalking off, either. So you’ve nothing to apologize for.”
Ellie looked at him curiously. Had he really not realized he’d done it, nor seen her rude response, or was he just trying to make her feel better by not drawing attention to it? She still felt the need to explain.
“It wasn’t anything you’d done. It’s just that…Joe used to do that. He always put his hand on my back whenever he would stand next to me. He was very affectionate, Joe, maybe even overly so. I just can’t help but be reminded of him when you touch me.”
Alec remained quiet and it was unnerving.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I mean, here I am having a lovely day and all I can do is talk about Joe. There’s got to be something wrong with that.”
Alec chuckled quietly and offered a suggestion, “Would it make you feel better if I talked about Tess?”
“Would you really? Because I think that might help me a bit.”
After a few seconds of silence it dawned on Ellie that he was only kidding. “Oh, God, that was a piss take, wasn’t it?”
“It’s really alright, Miller.”
Alec looked at her sympathetically, trying in earnest to think of something helpful to say. So he went with what he knew, the truth.
“They ruin you for things. Things you loved to do with them. Things you once found appealing. Ordinary things they made special. When you try to enjoy the things you shared with them, you’re no longer able to separate what it was you once enjoyed from the pain of their memory. They’re inseparable, and it’s unfair.
Ellie looked ahead to see that Tom and Daisy had stopped and were sitting on the sand looking at the water. She motioned to Alec and they took a seat as well, placing Fred’s pram between them. Ellie tucked her knees into her chest and wrapped her arms tightly around her legs.
“What did Tess ruin for you?”
Alec laughed as he answered, “The Beatles.”
He brushed his hand against the rough sand, picking up handfuls and letting it slip through his fingers. He continued his explanation when she didn’t respond.
“Sounds daft when you say it out loud. You probably wouldn’t think it now, but I was a music fanatic back then. I used to listen to albums on my old wooden-boxed Steepletone record player. Tess hated it, said I played it too loudly, and she couldn’t stand it. I realized later that Tess hated anything that competed with her for my affection. Which was daft really, nothing held a candle to her.”
“So where do the Beatles come in? Must be a story behind that.”
Alec’s hand stilled in the sand as he thought back. “I can’t listen to them without thinking about living with her in that house. Music is tied to so many memories.” Moments flashed before his eyes. Their first date as he tripped over his words and blushed at each attempt to start a conversation, the innocence of young, unadulterated love, and the birth of his daughter as she laid on her mum's chest while they both cried.
He shook his head to dispel the painful memories.
“There are so many…but I guess the main reason is because I had a song for her.”
Ellie remained quiet and watched his face, he was clearly somewhere else in his head and not here sitting with her on the beach.
Alec grimaced as he stared out into the ocean. “My song for her was Something.”
He could hear the familiar strains of the guitar as he thought back to his wedding day. So long ago, nearly 16 years. He could see her clearly, in a cream colored lace dress. Her face was softer then, not yet hardened by years of work and emotional baggage. Her hair was pulled into a beautiful loose chignon that lay to one side of her shoulder. He could remember the weight of her head on his chest as they danced in a low-lit room.
All he could hear was her breathing and the soft strains of music.
“Something in the way she moves, attracts me like no other lover.
Something in the way she woos me,
I don’t want to leave her now, you know I believe and how.
Somewhere in her smile she knows, that I don’t need no other lover.
Something in her style she shows me,
I don’t want to leave her now, you know I believe and how.”
“Amazing isn’t it?” he asked as he looked over at Ellie. She had tears in her eyes, as if she’d just seen the image that was playing before his eyes.
“That for that brief moment, we loved them that much. That they held a part of our heart so great, we couldn’t bear to think of our lives as turning out any other way.”
He was so naive, so foolish to think it would last. He could no longer think of Tess without seeing her betrayal, without seeing the other man. But what hurt him the most wasn’t her going off and shagging some bloke, it was the ease in which she allowed him to take the blame, and her insistence that he was to blame for the demise of their marriage.
Ellie’s phone vibrating in her jacket pocket stirred him from his reverie. She glanced at the number but ended the call without answering.
“Miller are you sure you don’t need to…” Before Alec could finish his question, Tom had walked up to them without their notice.
“Mum, Daisy wanted to know if she could talk to you for a minute.” He looked toward Alec and added, “Without her dad.” Tom looked at Alec in apology and waited for Ellie’s response.
“Of course, I’ll only be a minute, could you keep an eye on Fred?”
Before Alec could answer she hurried over to where Daisy had been sitting moments earlier with Tom.
“Everything alright, love?” Ellie sat next to the girl, grateful to get away from Alec before their conversation turned to more personal matters.
Daisy smiled and grabbed Ellie’s hand, squeezing it tightly.
“I just wanted to thank you.”
Before Ellie could say anything in response, Daisy continued. “Even though I didn’t talk to dad much over the last couple years, I still did everything I could to keep track of him. I watched all of the news reports and read all of the articles. He always looked so sad. When I first saw him on the telly in Broadchurch, I didn’t recognize him. He was pale and shaky, and he looked ill. He called me not long after that, and he left me a voice message. He talked about how we could do video call. I listened to that message over and over, but I never called him back. I know I probably hurt him, but I didn’t know what to say, I hadn’t seen him in so long, and at that point he never gave any reason for moving out of our house.”
Daisy looked up at Ellie and continued. “After I had the fallout with mum and found out what had happened, dad came up and tried to help settle things. But he looked like a different man, acted like one too. He used to let mum yell at him and he wouldn’t say a word. He always took the blame for everything, even if it she was the one who’d done something. But that day, he stood up for himself, and stood up for me. I’d like to think that you have something to do with that. You were there for my dad when my mum and I weren’t.”
“I can’t take credit for that, Daisy. It’s the other way around really. I have your dad to thank for helping me get through the last year.”
“Tom told me about everything.”
Ellie nodded as she looked down at the hands in her lap.
“Everything about my dad, Ellie. Not everything about your family. Tom’s protective of you, as well he should be. And even if I did know everything, I wouldn’t think any less of you. Dad speaks highly of you, and he doesn’t do that for many people.”
“You’re an amazing woman, Daisy Hardy.” Ellie leaned over and gave her a quick hug. “Thank you for your kind and undeserved words.” She stood and reached out her hand to help Daisy off the ground.
“Now, shall we rescue your father?”
By the time they pulled back up at Alec’s house, all three kids were sound asleep. Ellie put the car in park, but left the engine running.
“I’d invite you in for a bit, but I think you’d have trouble on your hands if you woke up those two.”
“Yeah, I’d better get on the road and head home before it gets dark.”
Alec got out of the front seat and opened Daisy’s door, softly shaking her shoulder as not to scare her awake. Daisy took her dad’s hand and hugged his arm tiredly.
“Go on in, darling’, I’ll be there in a tic.” He handed her the keys to the flat as she waved goodbye to Ellie and headed for the front door.
Alec came around to Ellie’s window and rested his hands on the door as he leaned his head in to peer at her. “Thanks for coming, Miller.”
“We loved it. Still haven’t made many friends, so it’s nice to spend time with the two of you.”
Ellie’s phone began to ring, startling her out of her focus on Alec. He peered at her mobile screen and recognized the number. “Is that the station in Broadchurch that’s been calling all day? You could have answered.”
“I’m bloody tired of them asking me to reconsider a job there. I wish they’d just take no for an answer.”
“We’ll, I’d best let you go, I’m sure you’ve got a busy day tomorrow. Let me know when you get home.”
Ellie rolled her eyes at his protectiveness. “I’m not a bloody child, Hardy.”
“Just do it, alright?”
His seriousness surprised her. There were times after they had first met when she wondered if he had any feelings at all, if he cared for anyone but himself. It seemed the stressors that had made Alec Hardy into the grumpy bastard she knew him to be had released their hold on him. Without the fear of death, failure, and loneliness, it freed him to invest in others without feeling guilty.
“I will, Hardy.”
Alec shut the door and walked into the living space. Daisy had gone upstairs to the bedroom and had yelled down that she was going to take a kip. Alec pulled the curtain away from the window far enough to get a clear look at Ellie’s car without her noticing. She had yet to pull out of the driveway. She looked to be checking her phone, no doubt, seeing what the station in Broadchurch wanted. After typing in a code she put her mobile up to her ear to listen to the message that was left. It could be the dim light of evening casting shadows across her face but it looked as if her expression was blank. Her skin had paled and she threw her phone to the passenger seat. Her hands tightened on the steering wheel, in an anger or grief, he couldn’t be sure. She rested her head on her hands and didn’t move for a few minutes.
Alec debated whether or not to go back outside and check on her. He quickly dismissed the idea as he knew if he went out she would know he had been spying on her through the window. He hoped that whatever it was, she could trust him with it.
Tom had gone up to his room and Fred had been put to bed about an hour ago. Ellie sat on the edge of her bed staring at the screen on her mobile. She felt as if she might be ill. One arm was wrapped around her stomach attempting to convince her body to calm down. After putting her phone down she climbed under the blankets and curled in on herself as tightly as she could. As hot tears ran down her cheek she heard her mobile vibrate from atop the covers.
“Bloody hell, can’t you just leave me alone!” she cursed whoever was on the other end. Her hand snaked out from the blankets and brought the mobile to her face. The brightness of the screen momentarily blinded her eyes as they had adjusted to the darkness. It wasn’t a phone call. It was a text, from Hardy.
A: Making sure you made it home, didn’t hear from you.
E: Sorry. Just got kids to bed.
She’d been home for over 2 hours and he knew it didn’t take long to get Fred to sleep.
A: Everything alright, then?
Ellie put the phone down and buried her face in the mattress. Maybe if she just ignored him, he’d just give up, thinking she’d fallen asleep.
A few minutes passed and her mobile began to ring.
“Knew he wouldn’t give up so easily,” she mumbled into the sheets.
Ellie cleared her throat and wiped her eyes and nose, erasing all traces of emotion. She answered the call.
“I’m a bit shocked you answered. I figured you’d just ignore it and then tell me later that you fell asleep or something.”
“It’s late, Hardy, what do you want?”
She heard him expel a loud sigh before continuing. “I know something is wrong, Miller, might as well tell me.”
“I know you were peeping through the window, Hardy. I’m not blind. Bit rude, even for you.”
“What did the station want, Miller?
His question was met with silence. He knew earlier in the day that the calls from Broadchurch weren’t a plea from the current D.I. to get her back on the force. Had they been such, Miller would have promptly declined and ended the conversation. He was about to question her again when she spoke.
“Only one call was from the station.”
“And the others?”
“It was Joe.”
Whatever he had been expecting, it most certainly was not that. Those three words spoken out loud had the same effect as the first time they’d been uttered.
“Miller? You still there, you alright?”
Ellie laughed, but there was no humor in her voice.
“I’m absolutely fantastic. He called, very friendly like, as if nothing’s happened between us. Left me three very polite messages.”
Alec cursed the stupid phone. This was the absolute worst conversation to have when they weren’t face to face.
“Get to the point. What did he want, Miller?” He voice implied anger, but it was not directed toward her.
“He wants to see the boys. He’s already gotten the court involved, and I have to appear so that we can discuss arrangements. You know how lax the laws are on child custody. But I’m sure he’s found a sympathetic ear in the justice system. I have to go in on Monday. Apparently I’ve received notices to appear that Joe sent conveniently to the house in Broadchurch, knowing full well I wasn’t there anymore.”
Alec was silent. He couldn’t think of anything to say. Well, he could think of plenty to say, but none of it would help Ellie at the moment.
“That’s it, Hardy. I’ve lost them. Tom has wanted to see his dad and this is his chance. Fred doesn’t know what Joe’s done, so he can make him believe whatever he likes.”
Ellie’s heart began to pound the more she thought it over. “They’ll think I’m an unfit mum, they’ll know I work full time and the boys spend a lot of time with someone other than me. They’ll ask about my mental state, and bloody hell, we know where I stand there. What if I lose them, Hardy? What if they take them away?”
Her words chilling, but her voice was strangely calm. If he didn’t know her well, he would have thought she was merely taking everything in stride. He could hear nothing but he sound of her short, rapid breaths against the receiver.
“Miller, talk to me.” He demanded as gently as possible.
He was met with more silence, though now he could hear her chest heaving as she tried in earnest to keep sobs at bay.
“One word answers, Miller, answer my questions.”
Ellie clutched the phone tightly against her ear as she burrowed further into the mattress.
“Can you still hear me?”
He heard a soft reply that he took as an answer that she could.
“Put the phone on speaker, Miller, and put it beside you.” Alec heard the distinct sound of static and took this as confirmation that she did as he asked.
He was going to have to trust that she was going to do as he was about to tell her, because she didn’t sound as if she was in any shape to answer. He had trained himself to calm down after all of the episodes he had before his pacemaker surgery. His panic might have been physically induced, and hers psychologically, but they were debilitating just the same. He knew she probably felt like she was suffocating.
“Close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Put your hand on your chest, right above your heart. Take another deep breath. You can feel your heart slowing down, yeah?”
He hoped this was working because he couldn’t see a blasted thing.
“I want you to listen closely, Miller. No one, and I mean no one, is going to take your children away. You are a damn good mum, and there is nothing that Joe can say or do, that would convince any court that you are unfit to care for those two boys. Do you hear me?”
He could hear quiet crying as she calmed down.
“I’m taking Daisy back to Exeter tomorrow, so I will be free to come to your flat on Monday and watch the boys, so you can go to court without worrying about leaving them with someone.”
“Miller, we’re not going to talk about his right now. You are going to bed, and we will deal with this on Monday.”
Alec heard rustling and the sound of static ceased. She had taken him off speaker.
She was incredibly thankful she was going alone to meet Joe. She wasn’t worried about herself, not really. She was worried about her children. Alec knew what he was doing when he offered to stay with the boys. That was the best way he could help her.
She wiped her palms on her gray pant suit and nervously checked her watch as she walked through the glass doors of the court. She thought she was done with places like this. Her track record wasn’t very good, justice wasn’t something to be expected, certainly not here.
Ellie walked to the second floor per the directions left on her voicemail by the appointed lawyer. She read each placard as she passed, before stopping at the last office on the floor. She opened the door and the shortness of breath from before had returned. The last time she’d seen Joe was the day of the verdict. It was amazing how long you could go without seeing someone, yet the minute you find yourself in a room with them time seems to stop. He stared at her and his eyes followed her movements as she took a seat across from him. No matter how she felt inside, she didn’t dare let on, he wouldn’t get the satisfaction.
Joe nodded at her and gave a small smile.
Ellie ignored him and looked at the lawyer who had remained quiet until she sat.
“Ms. Miller, glad you could join us. We will go ahead a get started, hopefully we can get through this fairly quickly so you can both be on your way. My name is Genevieve Simmons, and I have been assigned to help mediate a possible solution for visitation for Mr. Miller with your children. As both of you know, The British Isles are not known for having a justice system that court orders families to share custody or demand visitation rights. We believe this is better decided by the parents, who know their children better than we do. But if a parent feels they are unfairly kept from their children, we are appointed to help facilitate a discussion, and if need be, create a legal agreement that will be signed by both parents.”
Ellie could feel Joe’s eyes on her as she continued to keep her gaze focused on Ms. Simmons. She felt much like did in the courtroom when he would stare at her from the box. Only now she didn’t have Alec to sit in-between them and block his view.
“I will be honest that I did not agree to take on this meeting.”
Ellie wasn’t sure where she was going with this.
“I have read all of the case files, as this situation is a bit more complicated than most. I’m all for both parents being allowed to see their children, and for one party not being ostracized for previous behavior or accused crimes.”
This was it. The bastard was going to win, he’d get to dictate when and where he saw his children. Ellie was caught between wanting to curl up in the corner and sob, and jumping across the table and strangling Joe with her bare hands.
Ms. Simmons cleared her throat, “That being said, I am not in agreement with the way things have been handled by this court system thus far, and I refuse to let this go on further.”
She turned to Joe and leaned in, voice low and tone firm. “Mr. Miller. You have expressed to the courts that it is your right to see your children and that you have been discriminated against based on allegations that were proven by the courts to be false. I understand that you were declared not-guilty in your murder trial, but the fact that you were implicated, imprisoned, and confessed to the crime, whether out of supposed duress or not, I must take all of these things into account.”
Ms. Simmons pulled her glasses low on the bridge of her nose and flipped through the papers that were sitting in front of her until she came to the one she was looking for. “In a statement you provided, Mr. Miller, you state that the mother of your children has, and I quote, “unlawfully kept my children from seeing me, forbid my son from responding to attempted contact, moved away without notice of where and how to make contact, and manipulated others into ostracizing me from my own community.”
Ellie turned to look at him and found him staring at the table in front of him. Her gaze burned into him.
“Mr. Miller, I do not take allegations lightly. After doing a bit of investigating prior to this meeting I have learned a few things. First, you filed and were granted a restraining order against your ex-wife and 3 other parties related to your criminal case. How, might I ask, was Ms. Miller supposed to allow you to visit with your children when she could be arrested or fined for having any contact with you?”
Joe opened his mouth multiple times to give an answer but couldn’t think of a proper response. He continued to look at the table, not daring to make eye contact with anyone in the room. His foot tapped quickly on the floor in nervousness and he repeatedly wrung his hands.
“My defense team thought it best to insure my safety outside the court. I didn’t want to do it. I would never choose to be away from my wife…”
“Ex-wife!” Ellie whispered angrily.
“Ex-wife and children” Joe continued.
“Mr. Miller, I must caution you. Attempting to manipulate this court into creating a legal loophole to force Ms. Miller to let you see your children is dangerous.”
Joe shook his head and rocked back in seat, quickly becoming agitated. “You can’t do this. You can’t keep me away from my children for something I had no control over.”
Ms. Simmons turned to Ellie in question. “Ms. Miller, has Mr. Miller attempted to contact you since the end of his trial?”
“Has he attempted to support your children either financially, or by providing physical needs such as clothing or food?”
Ms. Simmons rifled through her paperwork once more as Ellie and Joe sat in silence. Joe began to tap the table with this fingers as his eyes darted from one side of the room to the other, in a panic of sorts.
“Mr. Miller, when you were taken into custody you were subjected to a mental evaluation. Although you passed well enough to competently stand trial, there were a few areas of concern. I am not acquiesce to accept your current request.”
Joe stood up from the table and made to walk out when Ms. Simmons began speaking again. “Sit down, Mr. Miller, I was not finished.”
“Ms. Miller, having read over your files and seeing that you have two boys ages 13 and 2 and a half, I want to make a suggestion. Having a toddler, it is under your own discretion as to the involvement his father has with him, he is still of an age where is he is to be protected and guided by his primary caregiver. It is up to you whether or not Mr. Miller is allowed to see him. On the other hand, you have a teenager who, if I’m not mistaken, was under the direct care of Mr. Miller, for many years while you solely provided financially for your family as a Detective Sergeant. I implore you, Ms. Miller, to sit with your son and allow him to decide if he’d like to have contact with his father. With your discretion, you can come up with a suitable arrangement between the two of you. If your oldest decides he would like to see his father, we can provide a court appointed official and neutral meeting place to prevent any potential problems.”
Ellie felt somewhat relieved, but something worried her that she couldn’t place.
“Any questions for me, then?”
Both parties shook their heads. Joe pushed the chair back from the table so quickly that it toppled to the floor. He stalked from the room as door slammed behind him.
“Ms. Miller?” Ellie turned to Ms. Simmons and found her staring at her. Something akin to empathy apparent on her face.
“I just wanted to say that I think you are an incredibly brave woman. I have followed Mr. Miller’s case from its onset, and in turn, your investigation. I think they made the wrong decision, Ms. Miller. If at any time you have any concerns, or need legal assistance, please do not hesitate to call. Don’t forget to speak with your son and let me know what you both decide.”
Ellie was completely shocked. She had resolved to the fact that most people believed Joe’s defense team. That she and Hardy had an intimate relationship and both had incriminated anyone possible to keep eyes off themselves.
“Thank you, Ms. Simmons, I can’t tell you how much better I feel. I’ve been worried about what lengths Joe might go in order to see the boys.”
Ellie walked out of the building and headed toward her car. She felt the weight of eyes upon her. Standing against the passenger side door was Joe. Her breath caught in her throat and she cursed herself for not being more vigilant.
“What’s happened to you El? You’re nothing like I remembered.”
“You’re absolutely right, Joe, I am nothing like the woman you were married to. Now get away from me.”
He made to block her from getting in the car but Ellie was quite to give him a fiery warning. “I don’t know if you’ve forgotten, but I am a police officer, and I will not hesitate to have you arrested for harassment.”
Her voice quivered but the hardness in her gaze was unwavering.
“You won’t keep them from me, El. They’re my children too.”
“You lost that privilege when you chose to have a sick relationship with a 12 year old boy and then strangled him when he had the mind to tell someone what you were doing.”
Joe went to put a hand on her arm. She quickly shook him off and pushed to open the car door.
“Don’t you dare touch me!”
Joe smiled manically. “Didn’t used to have a problem with physical affection from me, El. Oh, I know what it is. You and D.I. Hardy still shagging, then? Maybe if you’d spent more time with your husband and not crawling into bed with your boss...”
The sound of a loud crack split the air. Joe put his hand to his burning cheek and looked at Ellie in shock.
“You keep telling yourself that it’s someone else’s fault, Joe. You will pay for what you’ve done, whether in this life or the next, but I will not allow you to drag me or the boys with you.”
She turned her back before hearing his last words of hate spewed out of his mouth.
“This is far from over, Miller!”
Ellie jumped into the driver’s seat and threw the car into gear. Looking in the rearview she saw him standing right where she left him, staring after the car. The feeling of calm she had felt upon exiting the court had long sense fallen away and had been quickly replaced with a deep-seeded fear.
It was close to dinner time when she walked through the front door. The flat was clean and smelled fantastic, certainly not the disaster she left it as this morning. All was relatively quiet save for the soft dialogue from the telly. After throwing her jacket and purse by the door she walked through the living room and found Fred fast asleep on the couch with a small blanket tucked around him. She kneeled next to him and ran her hands over the mass of curls on his head. She kissed him on the forehead and rested her hand on his back, feeling the reassuring rise of his chest as he breathed deeply.
Hearing footsteps behind her she turned to find Alec holding out a cup of tea.
“Thank you,” she spoke quietly as she moved to sit at the dining table. Alec retrieved a cup for himself and joined her.
“Looks like you’ve handled things well.” She couldn’t believe how quiet and clean her flat was. Maybe having Alec Hardy watch her children was something she should do more frequently.
“Well, let’s just say if you’d have come home about a half hour earlier, you wouldn’t be saying that.”
He looked more tired than she felt. She chuckled gently, knowing that look well. Wrangling a toddler was not for the faint of heart, and Alec certainly wasn’t used to chasing one around for that length of time. He rubbed his eyes and sighed.
“The house was an absolute wreck when we left to pick up Tom. Fred has the uncanny ability to dump out every toy in the flat and then play with none of them. He screamed in the car while we waited for Tom to come out. Then I thought it would be a good idea to get some takeaway, which took much longer than necessary as Tom and I couldn’t agree on something that everyone would eat. Sent Tom to his room when we got back to work on his lessons and haven’t heard a peep since. Turned on the telly for Fred and he crashed about a half hour ago. Then I spent the last few moments before you got home scrambling to clean everything up.”
He rested his head on the table. She barely heard his muffled words.
“I do not envy you, Miller. I’m exhausted.”
“Right on time with the cuppa. I’m impressed.”
He lifted his head and rested it on his hand. “Heard you pull in, so I put the kettle on. You must have sat out there for a bit.”
Ellie stared into her cup as she swirled a spoon around.
“Well, how’d it go?”
“Fine, actually. Well, better, I guess, than I thought it would go.”
Alec raised his eyebrows in question at her stumbling response. Always the investigator, he immediately took in her body language and speech pattern. Her face was flushed and her makeup smudged at the eyes. A million reasons for that. Could be the fact of having to see Joe again, or something more, perhaps.
“The solicitor was not what I expected. She sided with me, for the most part. There wasn’t any legally binding contract that says Joe gets to see the boys on a regular basis.”
“That’s good news then, yeah?”
Ellie nodded. “Mostly, yeah. But, with Tom being a teenager and already having an established relationship with his father, he has to be given the opportunity to see Joe if he chooses.”
“You think Tom will want to see him.”
“I know Tom will want to see him. They’re offering to allow for a court appointed officer to be present for precaution.”
Alec sipped his tea and watched her carefully. There was something else going on. Judging by the tone of her voice and disheveled appearance, one would think things went badly, but by her own admission, things went really well. She looked lost as she stood from the table and walked a few steps to the window. He called her name twice with no answer. He stood and gently reached a hand out and placed it on her arm.
Ellie wrenched her arm from his grasp and yelled, “I said don’t touch me, Joe!”
Alec wasn’t sure what had triggered her outburst. His only guess was that Joe had done more than ask to see his children during the meeting. If there was ever a time he wished to be in two places at once it was today. He knew Ellie could hold her own, but it didn’t stop this need he had to prevent Joe from hurting her further.
He looked at her sadly and watched as she covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh, God. Hardy, I’m so sorry.”
She turned her back to him and hugged her middle tightly.
He heard her whisper ever so quietly. “He blamed me for what happened with the investigation. Blamed us, rather.”
Alec had to bite back a rude reply.
“He confronted me in the parking lot.”
“He what? Miller, did you report him?” he came around to face her. She shook her head as she trained her eyes on the floor.
She mumbled a reply that he couldn’t quite make out.
“I didn’t quite hear you, Miller.”
“I said I hit him!”
“Not that I don’t appreciate you beating the hell out of him, but what warranted that in the first place?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Alec didn’t push it, knowing if she kept silent it was probably something extremely personal. Knowing Joe it was a low blow, something that would strike fear in Ellie’s heart and cause her to question herself.
Before he could offer her any words he was slammed backward as she launched herself at him, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist and hiding her face in his shirt. He was at a complete loss. This woman who talked as though she needed no one had finally reached a point where she couldn’t do it alone. She was finally accepting the help that stood right in front of her.
He could feel her tears soak through his shirt but she didn’t make a sound. He wrapped his arms tightly around her.
“Shh, s’alright.” He rubbed circles on her back as she tucked in tighter into his chest, like a child hiding from something that’s frightened them in the night. He whispered soft words of comfort as she continued to cry, never loosening her grip on him. He felt so incompetent in moments like this. He wracked his brain for something to say, knowing that there was nothing that could assuage the assault of emotion she was feeling. Alec tucked her in tighter and brought one hand up to cradle her head against his shoulder. He ran his fingers through her curls just as he had Fred’s not long ago. It seemed to have a calming effect just as it had on the child.
He spoke quietly as she began to calm. “I know it’s not alright. But one day, I promise you, it will be.”
Alec lifted his head to find that Tom had descended the stairs at some point. He wasn’t sure how much the boy had heard, but he was certain it was enough. Alec was afraid Tom would take one look at their position and make assumptions that he wasn’t ready to think about, much less explain. But there was no look of shock or anger on his face, merely one of sadness for himself, and for his mom.
Alec waved him over with a hand in silence. He grabbed Ellie’s hands from around his waist and turned her to face Tom. Looking at one another they seemed to understand for the first time that both were experiencing a pain they could not bear on their own. Tom crossed the room quickly and wasted no time wrapping his arms around her as they both cried together.
Chapter 5: Depression
My utmost apologies for those of you still reading this little story. It has been far too long a wait for this chapter. I really struggled with this chapter, and found myself wrestling with it. Hope you enjoy it, and as always, I would love to hear from you! And thank you to the readers who sent me messages asking for updates! I really needed the encouragement.
“Depression is such a cruel punishment.
There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern,
just the slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer.
And like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience; a room in hell with only your name on the door.”
The living room had an odd smell to it. A mix between week old food and laundry that had sat in the bin a day too long. Lucy stood in the entryway with a look halfway between disbelief and disgust on her face. The flat was a complete wreck. It was one thing to be busy with work and children, but it was another thing altogether to refuse to care. She watched as Ellie finished packing a bag for Fred as he would soon leave with her for the weekend. Ellie hadn’t had a moment to herself since they moved into the flat over two months prior and Lucy thought offering to take him might soften things between them.
With her untamed curls falling in front of her eyes, Ellie blew them back in frustration, walking from room to room gathering Fred’s things. The flat had gotten so out of control she couldn’t find anything. After grabbing a few items in the hallway she continued to the living room in a rush. As she zipped up the small bag she could feel Lucy’s gaze burning into her as she stared unapologetically.
“You look like shit, El,” Lucy blurted out abruptly as she continued to stand in the doorway in apparent judgment.
Ellie bit back a retort in annoyance as she gripped Fred’s bag tightly in her hands
“Well, you never were one to mince words were you?”
Ellie threw the bag at Lucy who barely caught it before it slammed into her chest. Lucy’s mouthed opened in shock as she stared after her sister in disbelief.
“Oh, come on El, I was shocked, alright.” Lucy gestured around the room with her arm outstretched. “Take a look around, would you? I know you were never one to put on for appearance sake, but this is a bit much, yeah?”
Ellie took a moment to look around the flat. She hadn’t thought she’d let things go that badly. She could admit that there were a few takeaway boxes left strewn on the table, and dishes piled high in the sink, but otherwise she thought it looked pretty normal for a space that occupied a teenager and a toddler.
“I wasn’t just referring to the flat, El.” Lucy spoke quietly as she looked up and down at Ellie.
Except for when she had to wear a uniform for work, Ellie found herself grabbing the same clothes off the floor of her bedroom. An old jersey knit t-shirt she’d kept from academy that was a size too big and hung loose off one shoulder. Black sweat pants that pooled at her bare feet. But the saddest piece of clothing she wore was a white terry cloth robe she’d had since Tom was born. It was worn and tattered, coming apart at the seams, much like herself.
Lucy picked up Fred from where he played on the floor and shifted him to her hip. “It’s not good for the boys to see you like this, you know?”
“As much as I appreciate you offering advice on what I should and should not do for the sake of my children, I’ll only tell you once to shove off.”
Ellie fought to keep the angry tears at bay. “What’ll you have me do, Lucy? Put on a show for them, like I usually do? Pretend that everything is okay and remain totally unaffected that we’ve had to start our life all over again? What do you suggest? How about I take a page from your book and doll myself up and throw myself at any man who so much as looks at me? Go have a random shag, shall I? Is that what works for you?"
She stopped speaking but did not apologize. “I appreciate you taking Fred for the weekend, Lucy, I really do, but quite frankly, I am done listening to everyone tell me what’s best for my life.”
Lucy looked down at Fred and snuggled him close. She looked up at her sister with a sad smile.
“Look, El. I’m sorry. I just miss my sister, you know. I want the old Ellie back. This isn’t you.”
Ellie shook her head and gave a manic laugh. “But it is me! Who I am now. I’m never gonna be naïve little Ellie Miller again.”
“Don’t you see?” she whispered as a tear escaped from her eyes, “she’s gone.”
Lucy reached over and pulled her sister into a tight hug. With Fred between them, Ellie patted her sister’s back lightly but did not tighten the embrace. Lucy pulled back and smiled.
“Little Freddie and I will have a grand time, yeah?” she asked the toddler as she bounced him on her hip.
Ellie leaned in and placed a kiss on his head and whispered in his ear. He giggled in response and kissed her back sloppily.
Lucy put the bag on her shoulder and walked toward the door. “Don’t stay in this flat all weekend, El. Get out, get some air.”
Ellie merely nodded and followed them to porch.
After watching Lucy’s car until it pulled out of sight, Ellie turned to face the quiet flat behind her. Tom was staying the weekend at a friend’s house and wouldn’t be back until Sunday evening. She’d been grateful that Tom had started making friends at school. It seemed that he’d been able to get a fair shot at meeting new people who knew nothing of his father.
Ellie wasn’t scheduled to work and wouldn’t be on call until the following week. There were lots of things she could do. The flat needed a good scrub down and the laundry could be caught up. There were still a few boxes from the move that had yet to be unpacked. She could go to the shops or see a film. Possibilities seemed endless without having to worrying about having children in tow. She thought of all the things she’d always wanted to do, given the chance to be without her children for a few hours.
Walking through the living room, she stepped over books and toys Fred had left in the floor. The takeaway boxes that had sat on the table untouched for days remained in their place as she walked past them. The kitchen was starting to smell as the dishes remained in the sink with a week’s worth of food stuck to them.
Flipping the light on in the bathroom she was momentarily struck by her own appearance. A veritable stranger staring back at her. She had never been one to dress up or think too seriously about her appearance. Always pinning her hair back while it was still wet kept her looking professional and no-nonsense. She’d let her curls go wild as of late, not caring to shape or tame them. She rubbed at the dark circles that marred her face, a reminder that sleep no longer came easy to her. But the most shocking thing to Ellie was not the glaring reminders of her current state of disorder, it was the one so subtle you’d have to be up close to notice. Her once soft and bright eyes had taken on a glassy appearance. The color seemed to dull and the whites seemed to stay bloodshot.
After using the loo, Ellie turned the light off and walked into her bedroom. Closing the blinds and pulling the curtains tight she walked over to her bed and kicked off the slippers she had been wearing. Turning off the light on her bedside table, she crawled under the covers, pulled them up to her neck and buried her face in her pillow. She did what came easiest to her, the sure fire way to forget, no matter how briefly, the pain and heaviness she felt in her heart. Closing her eyes, she let sleep claim her, in hopes her dreams would provide more peace than her waking hours.
The office chair he sat in was beginning to make his back ache. He’d sat hunched in the seat for far too many hours already. Alec looked out the window of the corner office space he’d been using at the station. Although he usually worked from home, the D.I. provided him with space at the precinct if he had any use for it, and today he gladly took advantage. It had its perks with instant access to case files and evidence, but also provided him with a comfort that came from years of sitting in offices just like this one.
He noticed the wind picking up outside and knew from his brief trek from the car into the building that the weather was turning cold. Winter was upon them, as were the holidays. The season always seem to wash over him with a weight of sadness as it approached.
As he adjusted his glasses and continued to read through the case files that sat in front of him, his phone lit up with a text message. He assumed it was Daisy, as she always confirmed a time to do Skype whenever she stayed at school on the weekends. Alec raised an eyebrow as he realized it was not his daughter, but Tom sending him a message.
He was glad to hear from him. He had been so busy with consulting that he hadn’t had the chance to visit the Miller’s and see how they were fairing. He knew that Tom had visited with Joe the week prior, as he had called saying that he had his mum’s permission to talk to him instead of her about the visit if he felt comfortable doing so. Tom had told him that Joe always wanted to talk about the family getting back together and speaking about it as if he had done nothing wrong, and as if Ellie were willing to welcome him back whole-heartedly. Tom was only visiting his father because he thought it the right thing to do. He had questioned Alec on whether or not he should return, and what Joe might do if Tom refused to see him again. It was something that Ellie needed to know, and he urged Tom to speak to his mum.
He was anxious to speak with him and see what Ellie’s response had been, if he’d actually gone and told her, that is. He’d tried to call and text Ellie but his calls always went to voicemail and his texts were always met with one word answers. He swiped his phone to read the message.
T: at a friends for the weekend. could you check on mum, if you get a chance? She’s always sad when me and Fred aren’t there. Pls don’t tell her I said anything.
Alec smiled at the message. Ellie was always so concerned that Tom wasn’t handling everything in a healthy way, but here he was, ever the caretaker, making sure him mum was looked after when he wasn’t around. His smile turned sad as he thought about Ellie without her boys. He knew the silence would suffocate her. What Tom didn’t realize was that his mum was always sad, she just put on a brave face when her boys were with her. Alec paused for a moment before responding back.
A: Sure thing. Everything good with you?
T: things are good. gtg. thx.
Alex chuckled to himself. Teenagers and their text language. It’s a wonder anyone understood it at all. Thankfully he had gained enough experience with Daisy that he could read it pretty quickly these days.
Alec looked up at the clock and realized that he’d been sitting in the office for nearly four hours poring over interviews and CCTV surveillance. Putting his arms over his head he stretched out his muscles, his shoulder still tender at times if he moved it the wrong way. He gathered up his things, but before leaving, decided to make a phone call. Picking up the receiver on the desk his dialed the number.
A sleepy voice hardly above a whisper answered after a few rings. “Miller speaking.”
He smiled, wondering why he hadn’t thought of calling from the office before.
“Fancy that, you answered the phone. Having a nice kip?” He chided her.
A great sigh met his ears as she realized she’d been caught. “Hardy, what do you want?”
“I’ve been staring at some case files all afternoon and my eyes are going a bit cross, I thought you might be interested in taking a look at them?”
Hearing her hesitate on the other end, he continued, “I’m leaving the station now, I could pick up takeaway for you and the boys.”
“The boys aren’t here. Tom is at a friends and Fred is with Lucy. Though I’m sure you already knew about Tom’s whereabouts.”
Hardy felt guilty for not being completely honest but he didn’t let on.
“I’m not a complete idiot, Hardy.” Her voice betrayed no anger, just a slight tint of humor laced with annoyance.
He continued without responding to her comment, “So, 45 minutes, your flat?”
Seconds passed in silence, Alec wondering if she had ended the call.
“Um…yeah…that’s fine. 45 minutes, you said?”
He could hear her shuffling around, no doubt having thrown the covers off and dashing around the house like mad.
He hesitated before speaking, uncertain if he should say what crossed his mind.
He leaned his head back against the chair and closed his eyes, phone still pressed tightly to his ear. “Ellie, just leave it. Don’t worry about it, alright?”
Her quiet voice came back across the line, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s just me, alright. You don’t have to…”
“I’ll see you in a bit.” She finished quietly, hanging up the phone without giving him time to say goodbye.
Alec shook his head as he heard the line go dead. He hung up the receiver and gathered his things. As he locked up the office and got into his car, he pulled out of the lot slowly, uncertain of where he was going.
He didn’t understand that woman sometimes. He was doing everything he could to show her he understood the season she found herself in. He didn’t want her to pretend around him. He could take it, she needed to know that. He knew her flat was probably a wreck, and so was she. He’d just woken her up from a kip at 5pm in the evening. No doubt she’d gone straight to bed after the kids were out of the house, and she was running around like a madwoman this very second trying to bring everything back to order before he got there.
Ellie looked around to survey her progress as she had just finished straightening up the flat as best she could. She left a few things where they lay, but it looked decent. She hadn’t the time to clean up her appearance. Her hair was a riot and her face was void of any makeup. She was still in her soft lounge pants and her soft cotton dressing gown was thrown over her t-shirt. She hoped he wouldn’t say anything, after her episode with Lucy, she just didn’t have the energy to defend herself again.
As she put the kettle on the stove she heard the doorbell. Ellie walked to the door and opened it slowly. She took in his appearance and was surprised at how much it reminded her of when she’d first met him. White dress shirt, black blazer and tie, slacks and dress shoes. But she was also struck by how different he looked from when she’d first met him. Gone was the white pallor that seemed to drain the life from him. His blazer wasn’t hung loosely on his small frame but rested comfortably on his arm as his white dress shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. His hair was shorter and tamed, and his beard was neatly trimmed. He held dinner in one hand and his bag in the other. When her eyes met his, he had one eyebrow lifted in question making her wonder how long she’d stood here in silence staring at him.
The corner of his mouth turned up in a slight smile as she opened the door wider for him to come in. She’s stared hard at him for a moment and he let her, not chiding her for the behavior. It gave him time to take in her appearance as well. What he saw both surprised and endeared him. She’d no doubt freshened up a bit, but didn’t change her clothes. She’d stayed in her comfortable sleepwear and had forgone any makeup. Good girl.
As he sat the bag on the table, he began unpacking their dinner and pulling out his paperwork from his case. Ellie was finishing up the tea and then joined him at the table.
He hadn’t asked her how she was or questioned her appearance as her sister had. If he had any concerns he kept them to himself.
“Thank you” she said quietly as he handed her the food, though he was certain by the look on her face that she was thanking him for much more than that.
He took a sip of his tea that she had placed in front of him and dove straight into the paperwork before him.
“So what are we looking at?” Ellie questioned, grateful to get her mind focused on something she had greatly missed.
Alec placed a folder in front of her. “Victim, Richard Grieves, 65 year old male, found with multiple wounds to the head, cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma. He was found by a shopkeeper in a back alley just off High Street in Croyde.
Ellie’s eyes raised skeptically as she read further through his notes. “This says Mr. Grieves was homeless. Croyde isn’t exactly crawling with a homeless population. Not to say there aren’t any.”
Alec pulled his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“One of the D.I’s investigating wants to close the case and move on to something he deems more pertinent, since our victim was homeless. But I did a little digging and the last known address for Mr. Grieves was in Ilfracombe at a local shelter. They had last seen him about two weeks before the body was found. D.I. Stinson seems to think there’s nothing for it, and our time and resources are better spent elsewhere. Local police say he was found with drug residue on his hands and he looked like his belongings had been stolen.”
“They think it was just homeless on homeless crime that was drug related, then?” she asked.
Alec nodded but didn’t look up from his notes.
“What did you find that makes you think otherwise?” she looked at him pointedly.
“Well, Miller, I’m glad you asked.”
He put a lab report in her hands.
The list of chemicals might as well have been written in another language. “What’s this then?”
“This, Miller, is a mixture of chemicals found on the clothing and shoes of our victim. More specifically, found on the back of his clothes and heels.”
“What kind of mixture do these ingredients make up?”
“A high-end cleaner used to disinfect boats after fishing. But we’re not talking about commercial fishing, we’re talking about expensive, exclusive fishing. Your everyday fisherman wouldn’t buy something of that caliber.”
Ellie looked up from the file, “Well, he could have stolen something and been caught, but homicide is a bit excessive for such a thing. I’m thinking it must have been the other way around. Maybe Mr. Grieves saw something he shouldn’t have and the suspect figured he wouldn’t be missed, so he subdued him, put him on his boat, went a few miles down the coast and dumped the body.”
Ellie took out a pen and began writing furiously on a notebook she had pulled out before Alec had arrived. As she continued to make her own notes she realized that Alec hadn’t responded to what she’d said. Looking up she was surprised to find a huge smile on his face.
“What’s all that for then?” she looked away uncomfortably.
“Good to have you back, Miller. You’ve been missed.” Alec took another few sips of his tea and rested his arm across the back of his chair, looking quite pleased with himself.
“Well, what would you recommend we do next? What would it take for Stinson to make this case priority?” he questioned as he raised an eyebrow.
Eyes trained on her paper, Ellie read off her notes. “My suggestion would be to find the best evidence that would point to the murderer being of a higher class. I’d start with the residue from the drugs, if there’s enough to test. I’d like to bet that our victim wasn’t in any possession of drugs, but that our suspect planted them. Most homeless shelters have strict policies about being clean before being allowed to stay. Check the consistency of it. Is it pure, or is it synthetic and filled with cheap substitutes? If that doesn’t pan out, I’d start checking boating records travelling between the two locations and types of boats the cleaner could have been used for.”
Alec nodded quietly and smiled as he made some notes of his own.
“I don’t know what you’re up to, but I know you didn’t need me to figure this out.”
Ellie took what was left of her food and placed it in the kitchen. After turning the kettle back on she rejoined Alec at the table.
He looked seriously at her, “Actually, you don’t give yourself enough credit. I had a couple other ideas, myself. But I like direction you’re going with this.”
He offered another grin. “Admit it, Miller. It felt good, yeah?”
Ellie pursed her lips and nodded slightly.
“Now that I’m thinking about it. What’s the real reason you’re over here, Hardy?”
Alec put a hand on his chest and feigned shock. “Can I not just ask for professional help from a colleague? Can I not just come by for a cuppa?”
Ellie crossed her arms over her chest and waited.
Alec rolled his eyes and answered, “You have a very loving son who is concerned about you and wanted to make sure you were alright.”
Before she could open her mouth to interrupt him, he continued to speak. “And, I have been trying, to no avail, thank you very much, to get ahold of you and see how you were. And yes, before you make another ridiculous comment, I am your friend, and I care about your well-being. Tom just gave me the needed push to make it happen.”
Ellie was speechless. Struck by the concern that her own son had for her, despite the reservations she had about how he was handling things.
“Don’t look so surprised. Now don’t take this moment away from me, Miller. I haven’t many friends, really. I’m not really sure how this all works. But I’m pretty sure you’re just supposed to say, ‘thank you’”.
“Thank you…Alec”. She hesitated before using his given name. But if they were solidifying a friendship, she had to do better than calling him Hardy or Sir. That just wouldn’t do.
Alec could feel his heart pick up at the sound of his name from her lips. He’d not been expecting that. He was never fond of the way his name sounded, and he’d reminded her on multiple occasions. There had only been two people who had ever called him by his given name. His mum and Tess. The season had passed and the intimacy of the two relationships was severed. There was no longer a closeness, a warmth associated with the syllables being spoken out loud. D.I. and Hardy had an authoritative note to them. He had power, control, and skill. But Alec. It was vulnerable. He couldn’t hide behind that name.
“What? You’re not going to go on and on about how much you hate the way your name sounds again? Or demand I keep referring to you as if I was still your D.S.?”
Alec merely shook his head and smiled shyly. He began gathering up his files and placing them back in his bag. He looked down at the table before looking back up to her seriously.
“And I think that it’s my turn to thank you.”
“You’re not hiding from me anymore. I know there are precious few people who are allowed to see you as you really are. So thank you…for trusting me.”
Ellie stared at this man in front of her. She had feared this for a long time. Allowing someone in, allowing someone to see the parts of herself she kept hidden, even from her own children. Months ago, this man didn’t exist. It was as if their roles had reversed.
At first meeting he was every bit a shell of a man. His face had been haggard, hair hiding his eyes, and beard untamed. The man lived at the office and never slept. Paying his penance was first priority and anything that had crossed in front of that path became collateral damage. He’d nearly died multiple times from stubbornness and had pushed away any attempt of friendship on her behalf.
She had been quite the opposite. Forever the optimist, she was. Two beautiful children and a loving husband. Fantastic job doing what she loved. She beamed about anything and everything. Broadchurch was her home, and she had built a family around herself in that community.
Fast forward to now and the differences were so shocking. She had turned into a mere shell of who she’d been before. She didn’t smile anymore, not genuinely at least. She didn’t trust anyone, and everything she had left she held so tightly none could strip it away from her. She either ran hot or cold, raving or manic. She’d been reduced to running away from everything she’d thought was home, and found herself completely and utterly alone.
And here he was sitting across from her. This strange version of Alec Hardy that she had a difficult time accepting. Gone was the weight of performance. Justice had been served and penance had been paid. Relationships repaired and hope sprung anew. Gone was the gray pallor, and in its place a healthy glow. The man was even smiling, for heaven’s sake. He gave her hope that one day things might be different for her.
Ellie heard Alec clear his throat and was brought out of her musings. “Bit far away there. You alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Alec looked down at his watch and noticed how much time had passed. He gathered the rest of his things and put them back in his bag before standing and pushing his chair in.
“I hadn’t realized the time, I really should get going.”
“Yes, of course. Um...thank you again for stopping by. I really do appreciate it, Hardy. I mean, Alec.”
That was seriously going to take some getting used to.
As Ellie followed him to the door, she found herself growing lonelier by the second. The flat was so quiet without the boys. But she knew better than to ask him to stay, what would he think of her?
Alec turned toward her as he stood on her front porch. The air had grown cold and they could both see their breath in the dark night.
“Any special plans for tomorrow, then? I figured since the boys were gone, you’d take advantage.”
“Not really. Actually hadn’t thought ahead. Probably stay home, just clean up the flat, and watch some telly maybe.”
In her mind she knew it was a lie. The only plans she had were to spend the rest of the weekend under the covers and far away from any social contact.
Alec looked at his feet and rubbed the back of his neck in obvious nervousness.
“While I’m sure cleaning the flat sounds terribly exciting, if you had some extra time, would you like to….um….I mean if you decide you do want to get out of the house…would you want to maybe get together for a bit tomorrow?”
His words were so rushed she barely understood what he was trying to say.
“I’m always happy to look over case files with you, if you need more help.”
“No, no…I didn’t mean. I’m already screwing this up…” he continued to mumble to himself.
“Ellie.” He spoke softly, gaining her attention immediately.
“Would you like to go out tomorrow evening, with me? On a date?”
The air seemed to get sucked out of the hallway she was standing in. She braced her arm on the door to keep her knees from buckling. Alec looked worse for wear, as his face had gone white as a sheet as soon as the words had escaped his lips.
What was she supposed to say to that? When did people start dating again? Was it even proper to do such a thing? What if the media got wind of them being out together and smeared their names all over the papers like before? What in the hell was she going to wear? Was he only asking because he felt sorry for her? Had Tom put him up to this?
Before her mind could go further she felt his hand on her arm gripping tightly, pulling her from her momentary panic.
“Whatever you are thinking right now, just stop. If the thought of going out with me sends you into shock, then I can give you more time. I’m not expecting anything out of you that you are not ready to give. I’m just a friend who enjoys spending time in your company who knows that time away from children is scarce.”
He smiled gently hoping to get some color back into her pale face.
“I’ll not push you to go in public or anywhere you’re uncomfortable with. If you wanted to stay home, I can respect your privacy and forget I ever asked.”
His nervousness grew by the second as she continued to remain silent.
“I’m sorry, I know I’ve probably pushed you, forgive me…”
“Alec Hardy, if you don’t shut your gob, and let me answer, I swear I will, well I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Her heart was beating out of her chest and she was so scared she was going to muck this up. She wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was. But who was to decide the right thing to do if it were not her?
“I think that sounds lovely.” She answered quietly, “But I can’t guarantee I’ll get through it without crying or yelling, or being completely irrational. But I think you’ve been around me long enough to know what you’re in for.”
Alec laughed quietly, “You have no idea.”
Adjusting his bag on his shoulder, Alec began to edge away from the door. “So, pick you up around 5 then, that alright?
“Yeah. Sounds great. See you tomorrow”
As he got in his car and made his way home he thought very carefully about the decision he’d just made. It was not only going to be a difficult go of things for Ellie, but for him as well. He didn’t know how to do this, it had been so long. So much had changed since he’d been with Tess. Both of them had children, stress, and years of emotional baggage. But the thought of not having someone to share those things with scared him more than the fear of struggling through a relationship at all.
He knew after he left her doorstep he’d stirred emotions she had buried deep. He knew that in the next 18 hours she would question herself countless times. She might even call him back and decide she’d made a mistake, and he was prepared for that. He knew she struggled with making the right decision for herself and her boys, but what Ellie Miller needed to realize was that only she could discover what that was.
It was 4:30 on Saturday afternoon and Ellie found herself pacing nervously in her bedroom. Already dressed and ready, she began for the millionth time to think about all the reasons why she shouldn’t go. She’d stayed up until 2 in the morning wavering on the decision she’d made. After going over hundreds of scenarios in her head and thinking of the statistical chances of every variable of what could happen, she had finally given up and went to sleep.
As she looked at her reflection in the mirror she thought back to the moment that gave her the encouragement she needed to go through with the date.
When she had rolled out of bed that morning around 10, she had dragged herself to the kitchen to make some tea. The house remained eerily quiet and she missed the boys terribly. The noise that she so readily complained about would be a welcome comfort. She had sat down to drink her cup in a soft chair that sat next to the front window. She wrapped her hands around the warm mug and rested her head on the back of the chair.
Her phone started to vibrate on the table next to her and she was surprised to find a text from Tom. She’d learned to leave him be when he was staying with a friend, as the times she’d badgered him only made him run farther from her. She was learning how to trust him, and in return, he was learning how to be responsible.
T: just wanted to let you know im fine. playing at the arcade in a bit, then going out for dinner.
Before she could reply he texted again.
T: if Alec comes by, please don’t yell at him. he’s only trying to help.
Ellie laughed loudly at that. Had she really adopted that reputation with those two? Alec had been right, Tom was maturing and handling things as well as any teenager could.
E: I’ll do my best, but I wont make any promises. Love you.
T: you too.
She put her phone back on the table sipped more of her tea. She had to admit, she’d fancied the idea of going out with Alec, she just struggled with whether or not it was the right thing to do. Between the media blowing up a false affair, and both of them having been thrown under the bus for Joe’s release without a conviction, she feared the backlash of being seen out with Alec Hardy.
But what was it she had been shouting at everyone lately? That she was tired of people dictating to her what she should or should not be doing. Here she was, about to fall victim to the very thing she was fighting so hard not to do. Allowing her fear of others opinion make the decision for her. So she decided that today she would do what she wanted, because if her children needed anything, it was a mum who stood up for herself.
Ellie stood in front of the mirror in the bedroom and fussed over her hair. She’d decided that morning that she would do something she never had the time for. She went and had her hair done. After many mishaps in the past, she’d learned to manage her own unruly curls. But as she ran her hands over her head she was truly impressed at the person staring back at her. Her hair was shorter than she’d had it in years, longer than a pixie cut, but not by much. Gone were the small corkscrew curls, and in its place were soft waves. It made her look younger and inviting. She’d always wore her hair the same since she’d met Joe. He liked it a bit longer and he had hated when she tried to change it. Well that solidified it, she loved her new hair.
Her outfit had been her next conundrum. She owned very little variety in her closet. Pantsuits for work, loose sweaters and jeans for days off, and the old dress or two in the back of the closet for funerals and weddings. Nothing appropriate for a date. She hadn’t needed to dress up for a date since before Tom was born.
She’d gone to the shops in a complete panic, having no idea what to do. A lovely girl helped her pick out a few things that made her feel comfortable and attractive. She’d chosen to wear the first outfit they’d picked out. A soft, navy, knee-length dress with white dots that ran together in a random pattern. The neckline dipped in a v-shape, but remained modest. She’d put on a wide brown belt to cinch at her waist and a long-sleeved navy cardigan over the dress. She’d even gone an extra step and bought a beautiful necklace that draped the length of her torso.
As she checked her appearance a final time, Ellie began pacing the floors and wringing her hands in nervousness. The last time she’d been on a night out was when she’d agreed to go out to a bar with Claire, even if her motive had only been to gain her trust and get much needed information about Lee. For the first time in her life she left a bar with a stranger and ended up feeling a thousand times worse than she had before she went out. And to think for a few moments she actually saw Claire as someone she could identify with, someone who understood her.
The doorbell rang, startling her out of her reverie. Ellie took a deep breath and walked to the door, heart pounding out of her chest and her breathing erratic.
Pulling the door open slowly she caught a glimpse of him. Heaven help her when that man wore anything other than a suit. There he stood wearing a dark charcoal gray jumper with a long collar popped up so it framed his jaw line. Slim jeans framed his legs, and black dress shoes shined in the evening light.
“Would you like me to turn round for you, then?” he teased lightly as she continued to stare with her mouth hanging open. He offered her flowers he’d been holding behind his back as she stood unresponsive in front of him.
“Only brought the flowers this time, no wine or chocolates I’m afraid.” His smile was infectious and she’d thought a moment about how little he used it, how often a scowl was in its place.
Ellie accepted the flowers gratefully. “These are beautiful, let me find a place for them and grab my bag.”
As she nervously hurried to the kitchen to find a vase, Alec strolled in behind her and shut the door behind him. He followed her to the kitchen and leaned against the wall, watching her closely. What Ellie hadn’t realized was that while she was busy staring at him on the doorstep, she had missed the look on his face when he had seen her. His eyes had grown just as big and his mouth had probably hung open as well. He’d had to calm his breathing for fear his pacemaker would send a shock to his heart.
As he stared at her she was mumbling on about some nonsense as her back was turned to him. She reached to a high shelf to grab a vase and pulled the flowers out to place them nicely in the glass holder. She filled the water and chattered on about the beautiful color and fragrance of the flowers, how they’d brighten up the place, and how she hadn’t gotten flowers since the last time he’d brought them to her house during the trial.
She turned slowly to find him staring at her, a look of something she couldn’t identify. A look somewhere between wonder and desire.
She took his silence as indifference and put her head down as her face flushed in fear and embarrassment. Before he could say anything she began to talk in excess, “I’m probably overdressed, yeah? Not one for fashion, me. Usually just throw something on and hope for the best. I wasn’t really sure what would be appropriate, I just…”
A warm hand on her arm stopped her nervous rant and she looked up to find warm eyes that held no humor in them.
“You look beautiful.”
His hand reached up, unbidden and touched a wave of soft hair that rested on her forehead. “It’s different. I like it. Makes you look…softer.”
He lowered his hand and they both looked down in embarrassment. “Shall we then?” he asked as he motioned to the door.
As they walked out she stopped him, “I’m sorry, I didn’t tell you how nice you looked, as well.”
Alec laughed out loud, his next words thick with his Scottish accent, “Oh, Miller, you said everything I needed to hear when you opened the door.”
“But I didn’t say anything.” She answered in confusion.
He smiled in return. “No, you most certainly did not.”
Those eyes had wandered enough in the span of 30 seconds to solidify the idea in his mind that she was attracted to him. Lofty words had never meant much to him. Oh, but those looks of hers, they said more than words ever could.
As they pulled up to a restaurant a ways out of town Ellie was surprised at what she saw when she exited the car. She hadn’t paid much attention to where they were going, so preoccupied with acting as normal as possible, she was. She could feel her anxiety mounting and panic increasing the longer they drove and she wasn’t sure why. They had sat in comfortable silence, each talking intermittently, but both were okay when conversation came to a quiet rest.
Alec looked to her face and then up at the restaurant. “I know we’ve been here before, and it’s not exactly fancy, but I figured a bit of normalcy was in order. He rubbed the back of his neck as he always did when he was uncomfortable or uncertain of what to say.
“I um…after Sandbrook happened, and I started having more heart problems, and well, you know the rest, I started getting panic attacks and they always seemed to get worse when I had to go someplace new or be around large groups of people. I hope this is alright.”
Bless him, he’d been thinking for himself, but happened to be thinking for her without even knowing it.
“It’s perfect. We had fun last time anyway, at least before you and Daisy got into an altercation.” She began to laugh as they walked toward the door.
This is what made her comfortable. Teasing and laughing. It was when things turned more serious that she worried. She didn’t want to ruin tonight with sadness and emotions she couldn’t keep in check.
They’d been eating their meal for a bit and enjoying light conversation about the case Hardy had been working on and the issues she was dealing with on her patrols during the week.
The restaurant was mildly loud, seeing as it was a Saturday night. Her heart had finally settled and the anxiousness had tamped down enough for her to enjoy herself. She was laughing at a story Alec was telling her about McCallan when they were younger in academy.
From where Ellie was seated she had a direct view of the door. Alec’s seat across from her gave him a look toward the back of the restaurant and a couple tables behind them.
A loud voice pulled her from her interest in Alec’s story.
She looked up toward the entrance and her heart stopped. All of the color drained from her face.
Alec took one look at Ellie and then turned around to face the door. A man was shouting her name, but Alec didn’t recognize him. But from a distance he could be mistaken for none other than Joe Miller, much like Nigel had been identified that night in Broadchurch. He glanced back toward Ellie and saw a young woman sitting directly behind them waving at the man excitedly.
But Ellie was somewhere else, and saw someone else entirely.
Her hands were shaking and her eyes were beginning to fill with tears, whether in anger or sadness, he wasn’t sure. To keep from startling her, he lightly touched her hand as the man came closer to them. He also knew this was not a good time to address her with her given name.
“Miller? Look at me. It’s not him.”
The look on her face was heartbreaking. He could see the myriad of emotions in her eyes. Fear that Joe had followed them here. Anger that he wouldn’t leave her alone. Embarrassment at the realization that this man was not Joe, just someone who looked an awful lot like him.
She looked up at Alec’s face. She saw an apology on his face, an apology for something that wasn’t even his fault. It was her that couldn’t even go out with another man without having an emotional breakdown. She knew this was a bad idea. The walls were closing in and she could hear her breath coming in short gasps and heart pounding against her chest.
She abruptly stood up and looked apologetically down at Alec.
“I..I’m sorry..I’m so sorry.”
She hurriedly walked through the restaurant and out the door.
Alec sat at the table for a few minutes in silence. The waitress had asked if everything was okay and he’d assured her it was fine. He paid for their meal and headed outside himself. With his hands in his pockets he walked toward the beach, reminded of the last time they were here. The only difference was it was Daisy who had taken off running out of the restaurant. He chuckled softly. Perhaps he was the problem.
He had prepared himself for anything. He knew Ellie was still grieving, that she was still depressed, and that the panic and anxiety could choose to consume her at any time. Perhaps he had pushed her into doing something she wasn’t ready for when he asked her out.
She wasn’t hard to find. The sun was low on the coast, just beginning to set. Her shoes had been pulled off and she sat close to the water, close enough that it brushed her toes as it washed against the sand. It had to be cold, but it didn’t seem to faze her. Her dress was pulled tight over her knees as she pulled them close to her chest. Tears ran down her face unchecked and he hesitated to sit beside her, unsure if she wanted to be alone.
He sat down about a foot away, taking off his own shoes and digging his feet into the sand. For a man who hated beaches, he had found himself on more of them than he could count in the last year.
Alec pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her silently. She took it without question and dabbed her face with it.
“Thought I’d come prepared,” he said quietly.
Ellie laughed bitterly, “Expected me to lose it, did you?”
“I wanted to be prepared in case I said the wrong thing.”
“I’m sorry, Alec.”
“Tonight wasn’t supposed to be about Joe, wasn’t supposed to be about this.” She gestured to herself as she spoke.
Alec turned to face her as she looked straight ahead. “Look, Miller.”
She turned to him so fast it startled him.
“Don’t you dare go back to calling me Miller! It took you this long, and I won’t let one stupid man shouting my name in a restaurant scare you out of doing it anymore.”
He didn’t respond to her request, but gazed out at the ocean as she had been doing just before.
“Ellie, I don’t want you to think that I have expectations of you. I know that you’re still dealing with things, as am I, and I just want you to know that this, as you described it, doesn’t bother me. I’ve spent too much of my life hiding behind fear and anger, and I don’t want to watch someone that I care about do the same thing.”
She listened silently as he continued.
“I’m not looking for a declaration, or any promise of commitment. I just want you to know that you, Tom, and Fred are important to me, and I’d like to be part of your lives, in any way that you’re comfortable with.”
Ellie looked at him with shining eyes. “I compare you to him sometimes, in my mind.”
She shivered as darkness had descended and warmth of the sun disappeared. He scooted closer to her but kept his hands to his side as he rested his shoulder against hers.
She studied his profile in the darkness. Sharp cheekbones and beautiful eyes. His hair ruffled in the breeze and he just looked so peaceful. So unlike Joe.
“When will I forget those things? When will I be able to go places or look at people without thinking of him and our life together?”
“You sure you want to ask me for advice? I haven’t been the best example of moving on.”
Alec thought seriously for a moment. When had he stopped thinking of Tess so often? When had he stopped comparing other people to her?
“We’re never going to forget them. But a time will come when we don’t think of them as often. You make new memories. Good memories to replace the painful ones.”
“Like what?” she whispered.
The water washed against his toes each time the waves crashed. The cold shocked him each time it ran across his feet.
“When I was a wee lad, my mum used to take us to the beach often. We used to search the sand for sea glass and look for treasures in rock pools. I loved to swim, loved the water.”
He tightened his fists and closed his eyes as he remembered the day that his love of the water was taken away.
“When I woke up the day after finding Pippa in the water, I knew I’d never be able to enjoy it again. I’d always see her, floating on the surface, and sometimes imagine it was Daisy. When I came to Broadchurch, I hated it. It was everywhere. I know you probably thought me daft for not wanting to get on a boat, but I just couldn’t do it. I’d go into a panic every time.”
He grabbed her hand without pause before continuing.
“When Danny’s body was found on the beach, I knew that it would ruin the memories of the water in Broadchurch for so many people as it had for me. Would the Lattimer’s, or would you, ever really be able to walk down that beach again without picturing his body in the sand? I’m sure, like me, you pictured your own child there, and couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to lose your child like that. But that only taught me that leaving Sandbrook didn’t rid me of the dreams or the memories. It only made me forget for a time.”
Ellie squeezed his hand and began to speak quietly.
“I thought that leaving Broadchurch would make everything better. I thought the nightmares would stop if I was out of our house, away from all of the places that reminded me of our life. I thought if we could just get away from the source of all of our pain, that everything would instantly get better.”
She looked down at the clothes she was wearing, thinking how lovely she had looked in the mirror just hours prior. She laughed sadly. “I thought if I went out and bought a new outfit, changed my hair to something that Joe would never like, that I’d forget how horrible I felt about myself. That it would get rid of this feeling I had of wanting nothing more than to wear my bath robe at all hours of the day and just sleep.”
“I rather like that bathrobe.” Alec teased as he winked at her.
She elbowed him in the side as she wiped the remaining tears from her face.
“Do you ever compare me to Tess?” she asked him selfishly.
Alec was quiet for a time, letting go of her hand in that moment. Ellie had thought perhaps she had upset him for bringing it up and began to chastise herself for asking such a stupid question.
Looking over and noticing her distress, he quietly answered her.
“I do, and I have in the past. The first time I can remember is when Sandbrook was reopened and I was speaking highly of you in front of her, and she was noticeably irritated.” He smiled at the memory as he continued. “I remember thinking, you would never have been so petty about who received credit for solving a case, or finding a new lead. Your focus is always on the victims, their families, and allowing nothing to stand in your way of attaining the justice they deserve. I lost tremendous amounts of respect for Tess when she had the affair. Not just because she was unfaithful to me and to Daisy, but because a quick shag was more important to her than protecting evidence in a case where two innocent girls were murdered.”
He turned toward her as his voice broke a bit, having never been able to share those thoughts with anyone. “The only part of Tess that I still love is Daisy. I’m thankful for the time we had when Daisy was younger, and for the things she’s done that’s made my daughter into the woman she is.”
The pair sat in silence after Alec finished speaking, both lost in thoughts of the circumstances that brought them to this point.
Alec finally broke the silence. “Well, you don’t have to say it, I know this was a bloody awful date.”
Ellie laughed loudly. “Oh, but those are the best kinds of dates!”
“Now you’re just trying to make me feel better.”
“No, no, just think about it. If your relationship with Tess was anything like my relationship with Joe, it started off kind of perfect. You fell head over heels in a matter of a few weeks. You were passionate and naïve, believing nothing could tear you apart. It’s lovely while it’s happening, but it’s not realistic. You get married with this false sense of security. And then life happens. All of that time you spent hiding your weaknesses and highlighting your strengths. All that time you spent trying to be the person they wanted instead of who you really were.”
Ellie stood abruptly and grabbed her shoes while dusting off her dress. Alec did the same and offered his arm as they walked in the sand back up to the car.
“But this, bloody awful date, as you called it, was perfect.”
He looked at her with both eyebrows raised in question.
“Or rather, imperfect, really. Which I think we both need. Someone who lets us be imperfect.”
Alec looked at his watch realizing it was only 8pm. “What do you say we get some ice cream and go back to your flat and watch some telly? Probably what we should have planned in the first place.”
Pulling up to the flat, Alec got out and quietly shut his door. Ellie had fallen asleep in the passenger seat a few minutes before arriving home. Opening her door, he debated waking her up or carrying her in the house. The latter possibly resulting in bodily injury. As he reached over to unbuckle her seatbelt her eyes snapped open and she stared hard at him.
“Alec Hardy, if you even so much as think of carrying me in that flat…”
He laughed as he eased back from her door and walked toward the front of the flat. After letting them both in, Ellie went to her room to change into her pajamas and then settled on the couch to find something mindless to watch on the telly. Alec set about getting ice cream for them both.
Both ate in silence, just enjoying each other’s presence without feeling the need to fill the room with empty conversation. Ellie could feel herself drifting off as she felt herself lean closer to Alec’s side. Her head had come to rest on his side as his arm was wrapped on the back of the couch behind her head. He had absentmindedly been running his fingers through the short waves in her hair and it had made her terribly sleepy. She vaguely remembered his arm being tucked around her and the feel of his sweater against her cheek. The sound of his heartbeat was a comforting pattern that lulled her to sleep. Before she surrendered to darkness she felt his beard brush against her forehead as he pressed a chaste kiss against her temple.
Ellie woke to a cold and empty living room. Glancing at the clock in the darkness it read 3am. The telly had been turned off and the blanket from her bedroom had been brought to the living room and tucked tightly around her. She hadn’t remembered Alec leave, but she hadn’t really expected him to stay the night. She could still smell him as she laid her head back down where he had been a few hours before. The peaceful feeling she’d had as he sat beside her on the couch was gone. She was alone again. Tears gathered in her eyes as she pulled the blanket over her shoulders and tucked as closely into the back of the couch as she could, falling fitfully asleep before her children returned the next day, and real life came crashing back to meet her.
Chapter 6: New Relationships
Author's Notes: Thank you to all of you who continue to leave comments and kudos! Thank you also to those who read and haven't left comments, it is an honor to have so many read this little story. Sorry for the time between updates, and thank you for hanging in there with me. Struggled with the chapter...All mistakes are my own.
“I no longer want someone who promises to always love me and never leave me. I need someone who understands that life happens and sometimes things don’t work out. I don’t want someone who sugar coats things and never gets angry with me. I need someone to tell me how it really is and put me in my place. I need to be able to go five hours without talking to you and not feel lost or incomplete. I am complete without you. But with you, I want to be so much better.”
Daisy stared out the window as the train drew closer to the station. It was the final days of her winter break as Christmas and New Year had just passed. She’d spent the last week with her mum and extended family, but had waited with anticipation for the brief weekend she was able to spend with her dad.
She smiled as she dialed a newly familiar number on her mobile. The voice picked up after one short ring.
“Hello, Daisy Hardy.” the excited voice of Ellie Miller met her ears.
Daisy laughed and spoke quickly, realizing her stop was minutes away. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m just arriving now, and Dad should be here already. You and the boys can go to the flat anytime. I convinced Dad that I wanted to spend my Christmas money and have lunch with him, so he’ll be none the wiser. Plus, you know how oblivious he can be.”
Ellie laughed loudly across the line. “Well, we’re all ready to go. We’re heading out to the car and will be there shortly. We’ll make sure everything is ready! Just keep your dad busy for at least an hour or two. Don’t forget to text when you’re headed back!”
“Thank you for helping me with this, Ellie, I know Dad will love it.”
An unconvinced Ellie replied, “We’ll see about that.”
Alec stood leaning against his car in the brisk air. As much as he hated the cold, he always felt like he could breathe better, had more control over the steadiness of his own heart. He smiled as he saw Daisy waving from a small crowd of people exiting the train. What a sight for sore eyes she was. He’d let Tess have her way and take her for Christmas, he had been busy with a case anyway and wouldn’t have been able to entertain her like he would want.
Daisy dropped her bag and gave him a great hug, squeezing him tightly around the middle, the same as she had since she was a toddler.
“Happy Birthday, Dad” she whispered, as if it was a secret meant for no other to hear.
Alec scowled at her greeting. “I was hoping to avoid that.”
Daisy grabbed her bag and slung it over her shoulder. She linked her arm in his own as they walked a few yards to the car.
“Oh, come off it, Dad! You make it sound like its some terrible thing. You’re not ancient or anything.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, “That makes me feel loads better.”
Alec hadn’t liked celebrating his birthday in general, but it became much worse when his mum died. When he was younger his birthday always tended to get passed up in the busyness of the holiday season. They may not have had much, but she always made sure to set aside a special present just for him.
He’d pleaded that they not make a big deal out of it when he and Tess married and Daisy came along. He didn’t see the point in celebrating childish things. It wasn’t as if Tess was going to go out of her way to do anything anyway. He’d been glad that Daisy had wanted to go out for the day. It would take his mind off things and allow him to enjoy the precious little time he had with his daughter.
“Alright, where to?”
“I wanted to go to this little bookstore I found online. I’ve already got tons of clothes and other things from mum, so I thought it would be fun to do some digging in an old bookstore. Then we can find somewhere to eat. Would it be alright to go back to your flat after that? I’m still tired from getting up early to catch the train.”
“I’m up for whatever you’d like. The weekend is yours.”
Daisy read him the directions to the small bookstore. It was about a 20 minute drive away from his flat, giving them time to talk.
“So, Dad…” Daisy stretched out the words as she smiled teasingly.
Alec raised his eyebrows in question. That phrase never led anywhere he wanted to go.
“How are the Miller’s?”
After a couple seconds of silence he spoke. “Well, I’ve been a bit busy with work, so I’m not sure. I think they spent the holiday with Ellie’s sister in Broadchurch, though I’m not for certain. I haven’t spoken to them for a couple weeks.”
Alec gripped the steering wheel hoping Daisy wouldn’t pry. He wasn’t ready to answer any questions that he didn’t quite have an answer for yet.
Daisy smirked after hearing her dad use Ellie’s given name. She tucked that bit of information away for later prodding. She could tell by the sheen of sweat on his forehead that he was a bit nervous with the topic of choice.
“Tom still visiting with his dad?”
“That I know of, he’s only seen him once. Tom stays pretty quiet about it, so he could have seen him more often than that. I know he was questioning whether or not it was a good idea to meet with him.”
Daisy looked over at him, “How is Ellie dealing with that?”
Alec looked over at Daisy and stared at her for a moment, not breathing a word. She was about to apologize for overstepping any boundaries by asking such a question, when her dad offered a soft smile.
“Sometimes I forget you’re not a child anymore.”
Alec made a few more turns but remained quiet, contemplating Daisy’s question. It was another few minutes of silence before he spoke.
“She’s…struggling. But that’s to be expected in her circumstances.”
“Well, it’s good that she’s got you then, yeah?”
Daisy smiled at her father’s silence. He was apparently still trying to figure out how exactly he fit into Ellie Miller’s life.
“Is this it, then?”
Alec’s voice brought her wandering mind to attention. They’d reached the small shop and were parked on the street directly across from the front.
It wasn’t what he had expected in the least. He had pictured some new retail bookshop with espresso machines and teenage cashiers with attitude problems. It was the opposite. Small, quaint, and mysterious.
As they ambled into the shop Alec was overwhelmed by the scent of vanilla and aging parchment, a smell that had once been a familiar comfort. His mum was an avid reader and had loved ducking in to small bookshops. She almost never bought anything, but would walk through the shop with her fingertips brushing the spines of novels twice her age. She’d find an overstuffed chair and snuggle in with him and read poems and short stories.
As Daisy browsed in the back, he found himself with a familiar book in hand and seated in an overstuffed chair. The store was quiet save for the shopkeeper shelving books. He turned each page delicately for fear they’d turn to dust. The familiar words stood still before him, begging to be spoken aloud. Placing a hand on the page he closed his eyes and listened as his mum's voice washed over him in a memory buried long ago. As she came to the last lines, he joined with her in a soft voice,
And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve,
And fare-thee-weel, a while.
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile.
Alec looked up to find Daisy standing just in front of him, a gentle smile on her face.
“Gran would be happy to see you celebrate your birthday. I know she always made them special for you.”
He quickly closed the book and placed it gently on the shelf.
“I thought it a bit odd that you wanted to spend your time in a dusty old book shop.” Alec pulled her into a quick hug.
“You are a lot like your Gran, always looking out for me.”
He placed a gentle kiss to her head.
“Did you find what you needed?” he asked.
“Yeah, I already paid for it. Knew what I needed and called ahead to see if it was in stock.” She had a parcel tucked tightly under her arm, not giving him a chance to see what she’d purchased.
“Ready for lunch, then?” he questioned as they walked toward the front of the shop.
Daisy linked her arm with his and they thanked the shopkeeper as they left. Alec smiled as he walked into the brisk air. It had been a long time since he’d celebrated his birthday, and spending time with his Daisy was the perfect way to start.
Ellie unlocked Alec’s door with great difficulty after the third attempt. They’d traded flat keys a month prior when Alec had started picking up the boys on occasion and having his own key seemed easier than having to give hers up each time. She hadn’t really been sure why he’d given her one as well, seeing as there was never a reason for her to be at his flat. But for today’s purposes, it had worked out quite perfectly.
When Daisy had called a few weeks prior to wish them a happy Christmas, she had thrown the idea out that they do something special for Alec’s birthday. Ellie had no idea that his birthday was around the holidays and scolded herself for not knowing. They began forming their plans in earnest, throwing ideas back and forth as the time drew closer. They had agreed that Alec’s flat would be the best place, as that was his own space and where he felt most comfortable. Going out for dinner was quickly nixed, as Alec was not one for socializing outside those he knew well, and the last couple times he’d been out with either one of them had not gone well.
Ellie had come up with the plan that Daisy take her dad out and keep him occupied for a few hours while they set up. Thankfully, she had opted not to cook, but instead order pizza, that way there would be little mess and the food would actually be edible. Ellie had decided that she wanted to do something special and practiced baking over the last few weeks in order to make him a proper birthday cake. She’d changed her mind a dozen times on what type to make. Her first idea had been to make something traditional from Scotland, but Alec never talked about having an affinity for such things, nor did she want to look like she was trying too hard. She’d looked at Dundee cake recipes and quickly changed her mind as cake stuffed with large amounts of fruit made her feel ill. Remembering a recipe she had seen from a cooking show on the telly reminded her of the Scottish favorite but with less fruit and lots of frosting. A hummingbird cake sounded divine. She’d had a taste once when they visited America, and she’d craved one often after they’d returned.
The three layered cake was a bit wonky and misshapen, and the frosting wasn’t as smooth as she’d like, but she had never been more proud. Ellie insisted that only she carry it from the car to the door, so she enlisted Tom to carry Fred in behind her.
As the three of them stumbled through the door, Ellie was surprised at what she saw. The flat was immaculate. Not a speck of dust to be found, no odd smells wafting from the kitchen.
Tom piped up behind her, “It looks like a picture from magazine.”
She nodded in agreement and mumbled to herself, “He probably thinks I’m a bloody slob.”
The house was indeed magazine material, but there was a sadness about it. It didn’t look lived in. There was comfortable furniture and decorations on the wall, no doubt put there by Alec in an effort to make the flat more like a home for when Daisy visited. But the house was void of personal touches, photos, and clothes lying about. It seemed lonely.
Ellie sent Tom out to the car to bring in the gifts they’d brought and the decorations. She put Fred in the floor next to the coffee table and placed a mat that she’d brought so he wouldn’t make a mess. She placed colorful pieces of construction paper on the surface and laid out a few crayons. She crouched down in front of him to get his attention.
“Now Fred, how would you like to make some lovely pictures for Alec to put on his fridge?” she smiled encouragingly at him and he gladly picked up the colors and set to work.
“Awec,” he repeated as he scribbled shapes on his paper.
Ellie grinned at the sweet name. Fred had just started getting the hang of names and titles over the last few weeks. Tom and Mumma had been his first, but Awec made a close third. It made her realize how much a part of her family he was becoming, and how much her children looked up to him.
Ellie looked at her watch and saw that they had another hour to finish preparations. She and Tom had decided to put streamers up in the kitchen and mix them with white fairy lights they still had left from Christmas. It looked beautiful, and took away the childish look of the streamers. The cake was placed on the counter with a few sparkler candles placed on top. Ellie placed the presents they had bought for Alec on the table on top of an ivory tablecloth. A special decoration was placed in the middle. A framed picture proudly facing the door where Daisy would walk through with Alec in tow.
The frame had been made by Daisy and Tom. Ellie had let Tom visit with Daisy one weekend when Alec was working and had been none the wiser. Daisy had been looking through some old things at her mums and had come across a jar of beautiful Scottish sea glass. She and Alec had explored the beach during their visits and would bring the treasures back each time. Tom and Daisy carefully placed each piece of glass around the frame and then placed grout around them to keep them from moving. The result was a beautiful frame that would remind Alec of the precious memories he had with his daughter. The picture in the frame was of Daisy sitting on the beach in the evening sunlight. She was smiling brightly as the wind whipped her hair. Ellie had gladly taken the picture before Daisy had to go back with Tess.
About the time they’d finished getting everything ready, Ellie received a text from Daisy letting her know they were about 15 minutes away. Ellie cleaned up the mess they’d made, and called to place their order for dinner. She made sure it would be at least an hour before it arrived, giving them enough time to settle before eating. When they first arrived she’d parked a little down the street as not to give away their presence at the house. She locked the front door and went back to the living room. Now all they could do was hurry up and wait.
After having a light lunch, Daisy and Alec had went to a few more shops before Daisy feigned tiredness and wanted to head back for a kip. Alec pulled in the drive and opened Daisy’s door before heading to the front landing. As he turned his key in the lock he stopped for a moment, lost in a thought. Something smelled familiar, like citrus and honeysuckle. Like a hand lotion he smelled often. Not just any kind, but the kind that Ellie put on her hands incessantly when it was cold out. She always said it kept her hands from cracking in the winter, but for him it just proved to be a distraction.
His eyes shot up at Daisy’s confused face.
“Sorry. Just having delusional thoughts over here. You know, getting old and all that.”
Daisy laughed as he turned the handle and pushed the door open.
Before Tom or Ellie could shout in surprise, little Fred ran straight at Alec’s legs wrapping himself firmly around him.
Alec picked up the toddler and looked skeptically at Tom and Ellie.
“Shall I go back outside and come in again so you can shout ‘Happy Birthday’ or something?”
Ellie came toward him to try and take Fred back. “Don’t be daft! Fred just beat us to it, didn’t you?” She smiled as she kissed him on the cheek. He promptly wiped off the kiss and pointed to the kitchen to distract them.
He wiggled out of Alec’s arms and back on to the floor. He looked up at Alec and reached for him.
“Hand, Awec!” he stretched out his grubby fingers to grab Alec’s tightly within his own.
As he was being pulled to the kitchen by Ellie’s youngest he looked around and was genuinely surprised at what he saw. The kitchen was decorated simply, but it was festive and happy. There were things lying everywhere. A cake and presents on the table, toys in the floor of the hallway, and crayons all over the carpet. Alec smiled at the sight, not able to remember the last time people got together on his behalf solely for the purpose of spending time with him.
He glanced over to the entryway to find Daisy hugging Ellie and chatting excitedly about something she had bought while they were out. He knew Daisy needed another woman in her life besides Tess. Someone she felt comfortable sharing things with when she couldn’t confide in him or her mum. It warmed him to realize that they had planned this without his knowledge, and did so knowing there was a good chance he’d hate it.
Fred had come to a stop and Alec looked to where the child was pointing. They stood in front of the refrigerator, but not much of the appliance was visible as it had been covered in the drawings of the small boy grasping his fingers. Something so simple made his heart twist. No doubt he’d been encouraged to draw by his mum, but the sentiment behind the act was just the same.
“Oh, Fred, these are absolutely fantastic! Did you draw them all by yourself?”
Fred nodded his head excitedly.
Alec kneeled next to him and looked at him very seriously. “I think this might be one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever gotten.”
Fred leaned in and gave Alec an unexpected sloppy kiss on the cheek and then took off in an apparent search for his mum.
Alec stood and walked over to where Tom was standing. Before he could say anything, Tom spoke up.
“This wasn’t my idea. I told them if you wanted to celebrate your birthday you’d have said something.” He looked toward Daisy and his mum before whispering, “but you know how girls are.”
Alec laughed before patting him on the back. “Yes I do. But I’ll say this, sometimes they know what you need more than you do.”
Ellie and Daisy entered the kitchen, all smiles.
It was a welcome sight, especially in Ellie’s case. It wasn’t often anymore that she grinned so freely. She used to have one plastered on her face at all times when he first arrived in Broadchurch. Now he’d give almost anything to see even a few heartfelt smiles on her face.
“Happy Birthday, old man!” Ellie teased.
“Old? Last time I checked you weren’t far from the top of the hill yourself.”
She grinned in response. “Oh, you have at least 4 years on me yet, that’s an absolute eternity. Besides, you’re only as old as you feel.”
His eyebrow raised as he winked discreetly, “Well in that case, I’m too old for you.”
As an awkward silence passed, Ellie was quick to make up for it.
“Pizza should be here shortly, I wanted there to be enough time to settle before dinner.”
Alec chuckled, “Is that your gift to me, then? Not having to suffer your fare? That’s very generous of you, Miller.”
Ellie jabbed him with her elbow as rolled her eyes, knowing he was only teasing, but feeling exposed none the less.
Daisy and Tom watched the exchange curiously. Something was going on between them, and it was only a matter a time before they both realized it.
After dinner Alec was ready to have a rest and enjoy the evening, but Ellie and the kids wouldn’t hear of it, there were still presents and cake to be had.
Daisy shoved a gift in front of him before he’d even had a moment to sit down at the table. The look on her face was priceless. She was lit up like it was Christmas. He internally scolded himself for not letting her help him celebrate his birthday in the past years, it was a treat for her, and she truly enjoyed it.
He slowly unwrapped the gift, meticulously lifting each piece of tape and folding the edges of paper down as he came to each corner.
Ellie made a sound of exasperation. “By the time you get it open, it won’t be your birthday anymore.”
“Oi, hush up or I’ll just take longer.” He shot back.
As he peeled the last of the paper away he was struck silent by the gift in his hands.
Ellie watched the emotion flicker across Alec’s face. It seemed to drift from sadness to elation and back again. He opened his mouth multiple times but no sound came out.
It was a very old book, at least a hundred years old, if not older, by appearance.
“Gran’s favorite.” He whispered.
Daisy stood up and hugged his neck from behind. “And yours too, remember?”
Alec squeezed her hand as it lay above his heart.
“I knew you had ulterior motives for dragging me to a bookstore right after you got here. You’re not one to make me suffer without cause.”
Daisy sat back down and opened the book, showing her dad the different details.
“I was looking for the same version that Gran read when I was little, and it wasn’t easy. I found this one online and it just so happened that the owner lived in Scotland, but had a friend who was a bookseller not far from here. So I bought it a while back, but I couldn’t pick it up until I got here. I was worried you wouldn’t like it until I saw you reading the very same book in the store while you were waiting for me to finish up.”
Ellie turned the book toward her to get a look at the cover. It was a collection of Robert Burns poetry, an edition from 1885, adorned with gold leaf rubbing on the cover. It was in great condition for its age, but would need considerable care to keep it from deteriorating.
“I didn’t know you liked poetry, Hardy. You’ll have to do a reading for us sometime.”
He looked to find her face free of any teasing. Her comment had not been in jest as she knew the gift had sentimental value to him.
“Alright, it’s Ellie’s turn now!” Daisy sat down excitedly as Ellie stood up to retrieve her gift from the counter.
It was quite large and heavy as she carefully laid it on the table in front of Alec.
He looked over top of the box at her skeptically, as if trying to gauge what this monstrosity could possibly be.
Her grin stretched across her face and she beamed in pride.
“If there is a bright orange windbreaker in here, Miller, so help me…”
“Don’t ruin the surprise, just open it already.”
Alec opened the gift agonizingly slow, knowing full well it would just irritate Ellie further. She remained silent, looking both excited and nervous.
As the wrapping fell away Alec once again stared at the gift. For a split second Ellie questioned her choice, wondering if it had been an inappropriate gift.
His face broke out in a huge grin and he opened the box inside with a look of childlike delight on his face.
“I haven’t seen one of these since…” his voice drifted off as he remembered a memory he’d shared with Ellie a few months back.
There on the table sat an exact replica of the record player he’d owned before he’d met Tess, the one she’d gotten rid of after they’d separated.
He looked up at Ellie who was biting her lip in nervousness.
“It’s absolutely fantastic, Miller. But I haven’t got anything to play on it.”
Tom walked over to the counter and placed a stack of thin, square-shaped gifts in front of him.
“I told mum to just buy you some cd’s or something, but she wouldn’t listen.”
He tore through the wrappings unabashedly, no hesitation in his fingertips. He laughed loudly as he opened each one. They were all Beatles records, all early albums, shying away from the ones she knew bothered him greatly.
“Figured you could start slow, work your way back into it, yeah?” Ellie spoke quietly.
He looked up to find every eye on him, realizing he had been silent as he’d opened the records. He stood up and walked over to Ellie giving her a chaste kiss on the cheek before walking back to his seat, picking up his record player and walking quickly to the living room.
“Oi, Tom! Give me a hand setting this up, will you?”
Ellie’s face was flush with embarrassment as Daisy and Tom shared looks of shock.
Their expressions slowly turned to smirks directed at Ellie. Daisy got up and hugged Ellie tightly and pressed a quick kiss to her cheek next to the spot Alec had just claimed.
“Thank you.” She whispered, walked quickly to the living room. “Come on, Tom, let’s help the old man out.”
Tom followed after Daisy but looked quickly over at his mum with a small smile on his face. He wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about Alec Hardy, sometimes, but he made his mum happy, and that was all that mattered to him.
After receiving multiple compliments on her cake from the kids and from Alec, Ellie quickly cleaned up the kitchen as the kids took to the living room to play with Alec’s record player, a seemingly foreign piece of technology for them.
Ellie was drying the last of the dishes as Alec leaned against the counter and watched. She reached on her tip-toes to place dishes back in the cabinet. He didn’t dare offer to do it for her, it was far more entertaining to watch. He listened to the sounds in the flat. Daisy and Tom laughing as they dropped the needle of the record player roughly against the old 45, making terrible screeching noises. Fred banging toys together on the kitchen floor, babbling happily in his own little world. He looked over at Ellie to find her putting the kettle on to boil and then searching the cabinets for tea and sugar. She moved quietly, with purpose, as if she’d lived in this flat long enough to know where everything was.
She turned toward him, looking as if she had felt him staring at her.
“Well, how was your birthday, then? As terrible as you had imagined?” she smiled as she questioned him.
“It was absolutely horrific.” He said quietly, making an exaggerated face of horror. “So bad, I might just have to celebrate next year as well, just to make up for it.”
“I’m glad for that. There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching you suffer.” She laughed as she took the kettle off the burner and filled a cup for them both.
Alec looked toward the living room, observing the rare smile on Tom’s face as he joked with Daisy.
“So, how are things then? Haven’t had the chance to ask the last month or so.” He took a seat at the table and put a small amount of sugar in his cup, stirring as he waiting for her to answer.
“As well as they can be, I guess. Tom is really enjoying school, Fred has finally settled into a schedule since we’ve moved, and I’m staying busy.”
Alec was about to press her further but stayed silent as she opened her mouth to continue.
“It’s been quiet. I feel like the bottom is about to drop out, you know?”
Ellie stared at her cup as she ran her fingers along the edges, something she did frequently when she was thinking about what to say. She glanced in the other room, making sure the kids were okay.
“Joe has missed his last two meetings with Tom.” She stated so quietly he barely heard her.
“How’s Tom with that, then?”
“He’s great.” She laughed sadly. “After their first meeting Tom seemed unsure of how to proceed. He wanted to see Joe only for the simple fact that he thought it was the right thing to do.”
Ellie sipped her tea and sighed. “I feel like I can breathe, like we can move on, without him dragging us back down with him. I’m glad he’s been gone, but I can’t help but think this is so unlike Joe. He’s not one to just give up on having control over others. I just wonder what he’s up to.”
Alec nodded silently but offered no words. He often wondered the same thing, but he knew whatever the man was up to, it couldn’t be good.
A tired cry interrupted their quiet conversation and Ellie emptied her cup in the sink before going to collect Fred from the floor. He rubbed his eyes and leaned into Ellie’s shoulder as she picked him up. She kissed his head as he snuggled up to her neck and closed his eyes.
“Tom, get your things together, we probably need to get going before it gets too late.” Ellie adjusted Fred more comfortably on her hip as Tom nodded and went to collect his bag.
Daisy hugged Tom and Ellie before retreating to her room in exhaustion. Alec walked the three to the door and offered his thanks for everything. He wasn’t one for eloquent words, but he didn’t want them to leave without expressing his gratitude.
Ellie grabbed him in a quick hug as she held onto Fred with one arm. She reached up and pressed a quick kiss to his cheek, not brave enough for anything more with the kids present.
“Happy Birthday, Alec.” She whispered as she pulled away.
As their little family departed, Alec stood at the door until their car turned down the street and out of sight. He heard a creak on the stairs behind him.
“I know you’re there, Daisy.” He said with a smile.
She came up beside him and hugged his side. “You know I wasn’t tired, just wanted to give you some privacy.”
“Privacy? Did you forget there was another teenager and a toddler standing here as well? Did you think we were going to snog on the front porch or something?”
Daisy laughed as she tucked closer into his side. “It would have made for an exciting end to your birthday,” she teased.
He led her back in the flat as he locked the door and turned the lights out in the kitchen and living room.
“Thank you.” He said simply before he walked up the stairs to head to bed.
Daisy kissed her dad on the forehead before giving him one more tight hug and slipping into her own room.
Alec smiled to himself as he closed his bedroom door, wondering what he did to deserve so many people who cared for him so.
It had been a few weeks since Alec’s birthday and Ellie had been drowning in work ever since. Their schedules had not allowed for much time together outside of texts and brief phone calls, but it seemed tonight would be an exception. She happened to have the day off and Alec was wrapping up paperwork on a newly solved case. She was excited to have a night out and was ready to get home and get ready.
It was nearing 4 in the afternoon and she had just picked up Tom from school and Fred was babbling about his day in the backseat. As she turned the corner and pulled in the drive to their flat she was met with a sight that made her blood run cold. Parked outside her home were close to a dozen press vehicles with reporters and journalists alike holding microphones and recorders in hand. Her shaky hands kept on the wheel as she reached down to put the car in park. Blinding flashes started to go off before she had time to shut off the engine.
“Mum?” Tom’s voice echoed in the back seat.
“I don’t know what’s happening, Tom.”
Fred started to scream in fear and her heart felt as if it were going to leap out of her chest. She had to remain calm for her boys.
“Tom, when you open your door I want you to put your jacket over your head and walk straight to the flat, do you understand me? Don’t look at them, don’t listen to them, and don’t speak to them. I’m going to grab Fred, and we are going in. We’re going to be okay, alright?”
Tom nodded shakily as he put his backpack on and pulled his jacket to hide his face. Ellie and Tom opened their doors at the same time. As quickly as possible Ellie opened the back door and grabbed her frightened child from his car seat. She took a blanket from the floor of the back seat and threw it over his head.
Ignoring shouts for her attention she made a mad dash for the front door. As Fred tucked into her shoulder shaking and crying she couldn’t help but hear questions thrown at her.
“Ms. Miller, is it true your that your ex-husband is wanted for sexual misconduct with a minor?”
“Did you have any knowledge of his extensive collection of pornographic material?”
“Have you been in contact with Mr. Miller or have any ideas of his whereabouts?”
She hoped with all that was within her that Tom and Fred were too shocked or scared to hear what these vultures were saying. After getting the door open she pushed Tom inside and slammed it shut, locking both locks.
“Tom, I need you to help me make sure all the windows are locked and curtains are pulled.”
She didn’t have time to break down and panic. She needed to keep her boys safe until she figured out what was happening. After securing the house and peeking through the curtains to find the crowd had not dispersed, she took the boys upstairs and shut them all in Fred’s bedroom.
She didn’t bother turning the light on, the only light in the room was Fred’s small night light and the soft orange tones of the afternoon sun seeping through the closed curtain. She straightened out a blanket that had been left in the floor and tucked herself and her boys beside her on the floor. Fred curled up on her chest, grasping her shirt tightly in his little fingers. Tom leaned against her shoulder, shuffling quietly as he searched for his mobile.
“Should I call Alec?” he whispered.
“No,” she answered. “When he finds out, he’ll be here.”
Alec was almost finished with the paperwork on his desk. A few more documents to read and then a final signature and he could file it away and forget about it. He looked to his wrist to check the time realizing it was quarter to 4. Only a few remained in the office, most had left as the workday slowed, save for officers coming and going for patrols.
The phone rang across the room and one of the detectives he’d been working with picked up the receiver.
“I’m sorry sir, Officer Macallan and D.I. Stinson are both currently out of the office, is there anything I can do for you? Yes sir, he’s right here, would you like to speak with him?”
The detective motioned for Alec to pick up the phone.
“Yes sir, this is Deputy Chief Williams from the Taunton station in Somerset. I am calling to notify all local divisions within a 100 mile radius of our location of an individual we’re on the lookout for who has evaded arrest.”
Alec was confused as to why the Deputy was making a personal phone call.
“Don’t you normally just fax the information to the division unless the fugitive has personal connection to precincts outside the search area?”
“Of course, sir. The information has already been faxed to the senior officer in your office, but I made the decision to contact you personally.”
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“You might want to turn on the telly, Mr. Hardy.”
Alec frustratingly ended the call and flipped on the television. The first thing he saw was the face of Joe Miller behind the glass in court during trial last year. The next face he saw was his own. Pale, haggard, and looking years beyond his true age, giving testimony.
He turned the volume up as other officers entered the room and looked up at the screen with him.
“If you are just joining us, we are reporting on breaking news here in the last hour. No stranger to controversy, Joe Miller, recently found innocent of charges in the murder of 11 year old Daniel Lattimer of Broadchurch in Dorset. We are told by the Somerset police department that there is a warrant out for Miller’s arrest pertaining to charges that include possession of child pornography, corruption of a minor, and sexual harassment/molestation. Police are asking the public if they have any information that might lead to the arrest of Miller that they please call their local police department.”
Alec turned toward his desk and began to throw his things in his case. The television continued to blare behind him.
“We’ve reached out to Joe Miller’s ex-wife, former D.S., Ellie Miller, but she was unavailable for comment.”
Alec looked in horror as the news played a brief clip of Ellie clutching Fred to her shoulder with a blanket draped over his head, pushing Tom in front of her as they neared the door to their flat. He could hear Fred’s cries of fear and see Ellie’s face, a torrent of emotion, as they quickly made it inside. Before the door closed behind them, he could hear the reporters firing off questions in rapid succession, hoping to get information at any cost.
Alec clenched his fists tightly, his knuckles turning white.
“What the hell are all of you standing around for?” he shouted at the officers standing closest to him.
He rushed out of the room while quickly dialing a number on his phone.
“McCallan.” The gruff voice answered.
“I need you to authorize sending officers to P.C. Miller’s residence.”
“I just saw the news report. I’ll send them out immediately, and I’ll make sure a car is stationed outside the home until we know more.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Alec grabbed the fax from the machine in McCallan’s office and quickly scanned over it. He ran out of the building in a panic and headed to his car. He threw his case in the back and slammed the door, proceeding to slam him fist repeatedly on the dashboard.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
He breathed heavily, feeling his heart rate increase dramatically. He lay his head back against the seat and loosened his tie as he clutched at his dress shirt, trying earnestly to unbutton the collar. He knew seconds before it happened that he hadn’t calmed down fast enough. His pacemaker fired and he groaned loudly. With closed eyes he willed himself to breathe slowly. It felt like someone had kicked him in the chest.
As his heart slowed and his breathing regulated he put the car in drive. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and laughed depreciatingly. His skin had a sickly pallor and sweat covered his face.
“I’m getting a little tired of your shit, Joe.” He spoke to the silence in the car.
He sighed loudly as he squeezed the steering wheel tightly. “We all are.”
Pulling up to the Miller’s flat, Alec had already prepared himself on the drive over to deal with the press. Lights began to flash as he opened the door and headed for the flat. He knew he’d be instantly recognized as he left the car. Who didn’t know the worst cop in Britain?
“Mr. Hardy, should we take this as evidence that it was true that you and Ellie Miller were having an affair during the Daniel Lattimer murder investigation?”
“Do you believe that Joe Miller is responsible for the crimes in question?”
“Is your professional misconduct the reason for Joe Miller’s release in the first place?”
He pushed their words aside, his only goal to reach the family inside. They couldn’t say anything he hadn’t already heard. He turned to face them before he opened the door.
“Police units from the nearest precinct are on their way to this residence. If you do not want to face criminal charges for trespassing and invasion of privacy, I suggest you all piss off.”
As he heard sirens in the background he unlocked the door and closed it quietly behind him. The house was dark and eerily quiet. He heard steps on the stairs and saw Tom peek around the corner.
“We’re up in Fred’s room.” He whispered, his tone displaying no surprise at finding Alec walking into the flat uninvited.
He took the stairs slowly, wondering the state of which he’d find them. As he turned the corner he saw a soft light coming from Fred’s room. The only sound was cool air circulating the room from a humidifier on the small dresser next to Fred’s bed.
His heart twisted at the sight before him. Tucked in the corner on a small blanket in the floor were the three people he had grown to care for so deeply. Fred was sound asleep on Ellie’s chest as she absentmindedly ran her hand in soothing circles on his back. She seemed to stare past him, her face void of emotion. Tom sat next to her leaning his head on her shoulder.
Alec kicked off his shoes and stepped quietly toward them. Before he made it to the other side of the room, Tom stood up and stepped nervously toward him. For a moment he just stared up at him, eyes glassy, looking as if he would break down at any second. Tom quickly threw his arms around Alec, surprising them both. Silent tears ran unchecked. Tom never made a sound, just grabbed the back of Alec’s shirt as if it were a lifeline.
Alec offered no words, just held him close.
After a few minutes Tom released him and wiped his shirt sleeve across his eyes and nose, sniffing loudly.
“I’m going to my room.” He announced quietly, walking down the hall and quietly shutting the door.
Ellie had stood up and walked toward Fred’s bed. She turned toward Alec and whispered quietly.
“I’m just gonna put him down. Mind putting on the kettle?”
Alec nodded with a small smile and headed downstairs.
He pulled the shades and glanced outside, finding it had turned dark and most of the press had dispersed. Two patrol cars were parked on the street and one officer was speaking with a remaining reporter.
He turned on a small lamp in the living area but left the kitchen light off. He turned the burner on to heat the water, pulling out two cups and placing them quietly on the counter.
Two small arms reached around him and clung to his back, her hands over his chest, resting over his heart. As she squeezed him tightly he let out a small groan of pain.
Ellie let go and grabbed his arm turning him to face her. She looked him over, a worried frown marring her face. She reached out and grabbed his face with both hands looking closely at his eyes and then pulling him down and pressing her lips to his forehead.
“You’re clammy, and you’re pale,” she stated quietly. She quickly grabbed his wrist and pressed her fingers tightly to his pulse point.
His heartrate was normal, but she knew what must have happened to make him look so dreadful.
She pressed her hand gently to his heart, her usually firm grasp shaking in fear and uncertainty. He placed a steady hand over her own.
“When?” she whispered in question.
“After I saw the news footage, when I got to the car.” He answered calmly.
She lifted her face to stare directly into his eyes, her own brimming with unshed tears. She brought her hand up to his cheek, running her fingertips over the rough surface.
“Are you okay?” she asked as a single tear traced down her cheek.
He pulled her close and tucked her tightly into his chest.
“I think that’s supposed to be my line.”
She pressed into his chest, reminding herself he was here, that he was okay, his heart thundering loudly in her ear, reminding her of his strength.
The kettle whistled quietly, startling them out of seeking comfort.
Ellie poured water in each cup and placed a top over both to let the tea steep. She ushered him into the living room and they sat together on the love seat. Pulling her legs tightly to her chest she turned to face him, her sock feet burrowing under his leg to keep warm.
“So, what do we know?” she asked, her tone all business.
Alec looked forward, wishing he didn’t have to go over details like this with her. But her mind worked like his, she needed to know the facts, to formulate a plan.
“I grabbed the information that was faxed to the office before I stormed out. I scanned over it a bit before I left. There’s not a lot of detail other than listed charges.”
He swallowed visibly before turning to look at her directly.
“It’s alright, Alec. You can tell me. I’d rather hear it from you than from some scummy reporter on the 6 o’ clock news. I know it’s going to hurt, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. And, before you say it, I know it’s not my fault, even though we both know I’m going to struggle with that guilt for a long time.”
She smiled bravely at him. Tears now dry and face determined.
He cleared his throat and began giving her information as if he was speaking to a work colleague.
“Joe hasn’t been coming to his visitations with Tom because he found employment with some type of health club in Somerset. Apparently management started realizing he was giving excessive attention to underage boys who worked part-time at the gym.”
Alec swallowed visibly and reached for Ellie’s hand as he continued to speak.
“A young boy came forward and claimed that Joe had inappropriate physical contact with him outside the workplace and had been harassing him sexually.”
Ellie squeezed his hand tightly.
“After reporting the accusation to the local police, Joe disappeared. He didn’t show up at work and abandoned his flat. A search was conducted at his apartment and a frightening amount of child pornography was found in his possession.”
He looked at Ellie, wondering what she was thinking, how she was processing everything.
Her face was emotionless, her shoulder hunched, as if he had just placed a heavy weight upon them.
She looked at him and offered a shaky smile, her lower lip quivering.
“I’m so sorry, luv.”
A few tears slipped out as the endearment met her ears.
She wiped the moisture from her face with her sleeve, just like Tom had done. She straightened her shoulders and looked at him seriously.
“We’re going to make sure he’s found and that he’s punished to the fullest extent.” It was a statement, not a question, as her voice became stronger.
She glanced up the stairs as she continued, her voice a mere whisper, “And we’re going to keep them safe, right?”
Alec nodded in agreement. “You know I would never let him anywhere near you or those boys.”
“Good.” She stated simply.
She took one of his hands and traced his palm lightly. Hands worn from years of work, fatherhood, and age. She lifted it and placed it against her face, kissing it gently, before putting it back down and bowing her head in embarrassment as she caught him watching her.
He inched closer to her, lifting her head with his finger. He traced her lips with his thumb, feeling her breath puffing out in short bursts. Before he talked himself out of it he leaned in close, his mouth just inches from her own. He looked into her eyes, searching for permission there.
He pressed his lips to hers gently, testing her readiness, not wishing to take advantage in any way. He buried his hand in her soft hair as he probed her mouth gently. Placing light kisses on each corner of her mouth before returning to capture them in their fullness. He parted briefly to catch his breath and looked to find a blush on her cheeks and her eyes tightly closed. He closed in to brush his lips against her once more, whispering in between kisses.
“Is this okay?”
She answered by gripping the lapels of his shirt and pulling him closer and pressing her tongue past his lips to deepen the kiss. They took their time, savoring the taste, the sound, that each made as they explored this new intimacy.
Alec pulled away to get a good look at her. The short waves of dark hair were mussed and her lips swollen and red. Her eyes were still closed and her mouth upturned in nervous smile.
He knew great pain hid behind those beautiful eyes. He feared that all they had worked through in the last few months might unravel in the face of the more devastating news. Tomorrow would come soon enough, but for now he was content to hold tight to this precious woman who laid claim to his heart.
Poem referenced above is from "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns (1794)
Chapter 7: Empowerment
Second chapter up within a week...I must be crazy.
"At any given moment, you have the power to say: this is not how the story is going to end."
A week had passed since news broke of the accusations against Joe and the manhunt that followed. A week since her and the boys had holed themselves up in the flat while the news media threatened at the door. A week since something changed between her and Alec Hardy.
They’d been dancing around each other for months. Dinner without the kids, coffee after work, family trips to the beach, and silly texts and emails. Comfort shared during threatening emotion, and laughter passed back and forth in moments of happiness. Gentle touches and stolen whispers. A light hand on her shoulder, a calloused hand brushing her cheek. Her fingers running through his hair and her hand pressed to his heart.
He had become more to her than she ever dared admit. He’d become their protector, comforter, and hope.
And he was lying on her couch snoring loud enough to wake the neighbors.
Ellie laughed to herself as she poured tea and finished breakfast. Fred was sitting quietly at the table, stuffing cereal in his mouth and kicking his chair as his feet swung back and forth.
Alec had taken up temporary residence on her couch since the news broke.
He’d left the morning after finding her and the boys upstairs with nothing more than a word that he was going to pack a bag, and he’d be back. He’d not asked her permission, nor her opinion on the matter. The look in his eyes told her all she needed to know. It was a done deal and there would be no changing his mind.
Until Joe was found, he would be staying.
It was just as well, Ellie had been put on a temporary leave from work. They believed she needed some time to process recent events and plan for next steps or some rubbish like that. They were probably just sick of the news media camping outside the station and figured they’d get some relief if she wasn’t around. She was going stir crazy cooped up in the flat. She needed to get out and burn off some energy.
Tom had been temporarily excused from school, as long as he kept up with his lessons. The teacher had been gracious enough to send home enough work for the entire month, saving Ellie from having to run back and forth. Tom didn’t complain, he seemed grateful to not have to return. He knew as well as she that the students would be ruthless upon his return. He’d been so glad to be at a school where no one knew him, where no one would judge him for his father’s mistakes, but their appearance on the nightly news had outed them.
Ellie took a cup of tea and placed it on the table in front of the couch. She retrieved Alec’s medicine and placed it next to the cup. She gently squeezed his knee to rouse him from his uncomfortable rest.
Fred had been up in the wee hours of the morning with night terrors. She’d rocked him, sang to him, and walked the floor for what seemed like hours. She had never seen him so inconsolable. When she’d reached the point of giving up, Alec appeared in the doorway and gestured for her to give Fred to him. He latched on to Alec’s neck in a vice-like grip and buried his face in his neck. She heard him humming a tune that was unfamiliar to her. Probably something he used to sing to calm Daisy as a baby. He had waved her off, quietly murmuring that she return to bed and get some sleep.
Fred’s crying had quieted before her head even hit the pillow. She’d woken up this morning to find Fred splayed out on Alec’s chest downstairs. Alec's head was turned at an odd angle and she knew he’d pay for it when he woke up. Fred got up in his usual cheerful mood a few minutes after she came downstairs and slipped down from his perch to retrieve his breakfast.
Ellie went upstairs and peeked in Tom’s room. It was dark, save for a small sliver of light peeking from behind his blackout curtains.
“Tom?” she questioned.
An incoherent mumble was the response she was given.
“Breakfast is about ready if you’re hungry, love.”
She heard his shuffling, but closed his door to offer him privacy. Over the last few days she had not pushed him. If he wanted to sleep, she let him. If he wanted to sulk, she let him. She knew the patterns of Tom’s behavior because she had experienced them herself. He had spoken with Alec a time or two in passing, but mostly kept to himself.
As Ellie entered the kitchen, the sight before her made her laugh. Alec must have taken his medicine, picked up his tea, and joined Fred at the table. His head rested on his hand and was propped up on the table. His eyes were shut and his hair stuck out all over his head.
“Good morning, sunshine!” she greeting loudly.
He groaned and pressed his hand to his forehead as if to rub away a bad headache.
“I’ll be needin’ something a wee bit stronger than tea, if ye start that up this mornin'.”
She laughed loudly as his deep brogue fleshed out in his tiredness. She placed a plate of toast and eggs in front of him and pulled Fred from his seat to let him play in the living room.
“Do you mind looking after the boys for a bit, while I make a trip to the shops?”
Alec’s eyebrows raised at her request. “Make me a list,” he responded, “I’ll go.”
“What if the things I need from the shop are feminine in nature?” she countered as she looked at him over top of her steaming cup.
His face blanched at the thought.
“I guess you can be trusted to go out on your own this once.” He admitted grudgingly.
“Just be careful, and come straight back. Don’t linger, and stay in public areas.”
Ellie rolled her eyes as she grabbed her purse and keys.
“I think I know how this works, Alec. I’ll be fine.”
She kissed Fred on the cheek and opened the door.
“Call me if you need anything.” She offered as she shut the door.
Alec began to eat his breakfast in silence, when his mobile went off with a text alert.
E – I was just takin the piss about feminine products. We just needed milk and tea.
A winking face came at the end of her message.
“Bloody stubborn woman.” He mumbled in response as he texted back.
A – I’ll have a word with you when you get back.
E – Can’t wait!
A – smart-arse
E – knob
Fred’s little voice interrupted his texting.
Alec got up and ambled over to the television and found something suitable for him to watch. It had stayed off for days for fear of catching a news broadcast droning on and on about Sandbrook, Broadchurch, and other such nonsense.
He hoped there would be a break soon. Ellie and the kids were stir crazy, prisoners in their own home. She was planning on going back on patrols in just a few days, which proved to be a sore spot between the two of them. She was right, though, they couldn’t stay locked in their flat forever. Joe might not be anywhere near Devon, or he could be close by, waiting for an opportune moment to show up. Whatever he was doing, Alec wished he’d hurry up.
Ellie had taken much more time out than she had intended. A couple hours at least. It was just nice to be out of the flat for a while. She had received at least a half-dozen texts from Alec making sure she was okay. She pushed the door open to find him sitting at the table with Tom working on his homework. Noting the silence throughout the flat, she figured Fred must have been put down for a nap.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to take so long. I picked up some things from a couple different places and then grabbed lunch for us on the way back.”
She put her things down on the counter then turned her hands from front to back in front of Alec and then circled a few times for inspection. “Look, all in one piece. Not a scratch on me. It’s a wonder I’ve survived this long without your obsessive hovering.”
“It’s a thankless job, but somebody’s got to do it.” He responded with a smirk on his face.
Tom and Alec tucked in and continued working while they ate.
Ellie put the groceries away and cleaned up the dishes left over from breakfast.
A light but successive knock at the door startled them all.
Alec got up and waved Ellie away as he approached the door. He unlocked the latch and gently pried the door open, pushing it just far enough to see who stood on the other side.
“Beth.” He stated, his voice sounding detached and uncertain.
Her eyes were glassy, dark circles just below. She looked calm and poised, save for the slight tremble in her hands. Alec could not tell if it was due to fear or anger, but if he had to guess it would probably be the latter.
“Fancy coming all this way to speak with Ellie only to have D.I. Hardy open the door. Guess it is true then? Playing house and shacking up while other people’s children are being seduced and groomed for some pedophile’s sick fantasies.”
Alec gripped the door handle so hard his knuckles turned white. He could handle the brunt of anger upon himself, but he had very little tolerance when others spoke of Ellie that way. His fingers gripped tighter until he felt Ellie’s hand on top of his, prying his hand away and pulling the door open completely, to stand before Beth herself.
“Ah, there she is.” Beth ground out.
“I don’t think this is a good idea…” Alec started to defend. Ellie’s hand squeezed his own, causing him to pause mid-sentence.
She turned to him and offered a shaky smile. “Why don’t you and Tom finish his homework upstairs? Check on Fred for me?”
Ellie trusted him to do as she asked and not make a scene. She could handle Beth Lattimer on her own, had already done so many times before. She needed him to keep her boys out of it.
Whatever stresses they could be shielded from, he would do it.
He squeezed her hand back and silently retrieved Tom’s things from the table, gesturing upstairs and pushing Tom in front of him.
Ellie took a deep breath and spoke calmly. “Would you like to come in, Beth?”
Taking her up on the offer, Beth walked into the flat, taking her time to observe the photos displayed on the walls and the odds and ends that lay messily in the living room and kitchen. Beth picked up a frame that displayed a picture from a few months back. Tom and Fred where sitting in the sand with Daisy, chatting happily with no knowledge their picture was being taken. She and Alec had been sitting a good distance away, happy to watch them play in silence.
“Isn’t that lovely.” She commented dryly. “And here I thought I’d find you curled up in a corner somewhere, alone and depressed over all of the lives you helped ruin.”
Not long ago, Beth would have found her doing that very thing. Holed up in her flat, alienated from her friends and family, and in a state of constant emotional distress.
The bitterness and anger in Beth’s voice was unmistakable, but what surprised Ellie was the slight tremble in her words, as if she’d said something out loud that she’d merely been thinking.
“What do you want, Beth?”
Beth paced the room before coming to a stop at the window looking out over the front garden. “I was doing better. I was back at work. Mark and I settled what differences we could for the sake of Chloe and the baby. Things were happier, better, if you want to call it that.”
She turned around, her hard stare pinning Ellie down where she stood. “Turned on the telly and there he was. That monster that killed my Danny. And then there you were, running into your flat without saying a word. How could innocent little Ellie Miller have known what her ex-husband was doing this time?”
Ellie heard an almost indiscernible creak of the top stairs. No doubt Alec was perched at the top, ready and willing to step in if needed.
“The experts on the news were saying that there was no way this was a first time offense for Joe. That he must have been preying on young boys for years, and looking at that filth online long before he ever got involved with Danny.”
Beth walked up to Ellie and stood right in front of her. “You can tell me El. We were friends once, right? Tell me you knew something, that you just kept your mouth shut because you were too scared to tell anyone.”
Ellie stood still and returned Beth's direct stare, “I didn’t know, Beth.”
A loud crack was heard throughout the house as Beth’s open palm met Ellie’s cheek.
Her hand went directly to her face, the burning on her cheek feeling as if someone had whipped her with a cord. She could hear Alec creep further down the stairs, but still remaining out of sight.
“Sit down.” Ellie said calmly as she looked into Beth’s haunted eyes.
“Don’t tell me…”
“I said sit down!” Ellie’s voice rang throughout the small flat. Her normally gentle voice firm and unyielding.
Beth sat quietly on the couch, rubbing her hand to ward off the sting from connecting with Ellie’s face.
“You don’t own a monopoly on suffering, Beth.” Ellie whispered.
“You are not the only person in this flat, in this situation, who is desperately hurting.”
Beth opened her mouth, but Ellie continued to speak.
“My husband killed my best friend’s son. He kept a secret life from me for God knows how long. He carried on a relationship with an 11 year old boy, and I slept next to him every night, including the night he took his life. I’ve been alienated by every single person that I’ve ever called a friend. I was chased out of my own home. I watched as my sons grieved, trying in earnest to hide my own pain for their sake. I tried to rebuild a life on my own and all the while watching the man that caused that pain walk free. I worry that he’ll take my boys away, and I worry that he will hurt me. But most of all I worry about the other children he’s hurt and is continuing to hurt. And I wonder all along if I could have stopped it.”
She breathed deeply and continued, “There is a man upstairs who has also suffered greatly. He was manipulated and put before a firing squad of his own colleagues because he was trying to protect his wife and daughter. He pulled a dead child from the water, broken by the fact that it could have been his own child, and run ragged by the fact that his case was dropped because of the betrayal of the person he loved the most. He suffered from a heart condition that nearly killed him when he got to Broadchurch, complicated by the fact that he would not rest until he found justice for your son.”
“There are countless others, Beth, who have hurts of their own, people whose lives have been ruined by one man’s choices. I know you blame me. Hell, I’ve blamed myself since Joe was arrested, wondering what I could have done differently, how I could have missed something so obvious. You can never make me feel guiltier than I already do. You can never punish me more than I’ve already punished myself.”
Ellie kneeled in the floor in front of Beth, forcing her to look at her.
“I could never imagine the kind of pain you’ve faced over the last year. To lose a child at the hands of someone you trusted. To lose a child because they were taken advantage of by a sick and twisted individual. No one should have to bury their child, Beth, no one. And I’m so sorry.”
Tears ran unchecked down Beth’s face, but Ellie remained calm.
“I will tell you as many times as it takes. I had no idea of what Joe was doing with Danny. I saw no signs, no evidence, nothing that would make me suspect he was doing anything of the sort. But I will tell you this. If I had, Beth, I would have put an end to it. He would have been behind bars or dead in the street before he even thought about putting a hand on your precious boy.”
Ellie stood and took a few steps away from Beth before turning to face her once more.
“But do not walk in here acting as if you are the only person who has bourn grief from this. And if you ever come into my home, speak lies and insults in front of my children, or put your hands on me again, I will not hesitate to have you forcefully removed from my home...You were my best friend, Beth, but I will not stand here and wait to be graciously accepted back into your life. If you wish continue our friendship, I will always be here for you. But the sooner you realize that I am not the enemy, the better off you will be.”
Ellie walked to the door and opened it, her implication that it was time for her guest to leave. Beth’s hands shook from the unexpected response from Ellie. She looked up and spoke quietly. “I’m sorry for what I said, what I implied, about you and D.I. Hardy.”
Beth looked toward the stairs where she knew he stood quietly. “Is he treating you well?”
Ellie smiled shyly as she motioned with her head toward the hallway, “Let’s just say he’s not as much of a grumpy bastard as everyone originally thought.”
She looked at her seriously. “He’s done everything possible to make sure me and the boys are safe. He cares for us, and I don’t know how we would have survived the last year without him.”
Beth grabbed Ellie in a tight hug before she had a chance to process what was happening. Ellie squeezed her back and quickly pulled away.
Beth whispered before walking out, “Maybe when this is all over, we could get together, try again maybe?”
“I’d like that.” Ellie answered.
As Beth walked out the door and Ellie locked it up tight behind her, she let out a great sigh she had been holding.
She turned to find Alec at the bottom of the stairs with Fred tucked into his shoulder. She gently pried him from Alec’s arms and hugged him tight, pressing a kiss to his curls. She placed Fred in his chair and placed some food on his tray, chattering on about how hungry he must be and asking whether or not he had a good kip.
Alec grabbed her arm and turned her toward him. A worried frown marred his face as his eyes took in the hand-shaped welt that covered her cheek. He took a cold cloth and pressed it against her face without asking. He kept his hand tight against it and grimaced for fear it might bruise.
Before she could second-guess herself she lifted herself up on her toes and pressed a firm kiss to his lips in thanks. Pulling the cloth from her face, she wrapped her arm around him and tucked her head in his neck where Fred had just been. She placed a feather-light kiss at the hollow of his throat and whispered a thank you. He squeezed her tightly in return, dropping a quick kiss on her forehead as she pulled away to tend to Fred.
He watched her closely, for any sign that she might need him. He couldn’t imagine the emotion that must be coursing through her.
He was distracted from his thoughts as his mobile vibrated on the table.
Ellie watched him closely as he checked the caller ID.
“It’s McCallan, I’m gonna take this.” He answered as he stepped outside.
Ellie’s gaze followed him all the way out the door, her eyes betraying her calm exterior, wondering if it was about Joe, or another case that would take Alec away from them.
“Alec, I was just calling with an update on Joe Miller. Stinson's team poured through recent purchases and changes of hand in his assets. As you probably already know, Ellie gave rights to the home to Joe when she left Broadchurch. As of 4 weeks ago, the house was sold and after cashing a large check, Joe pulled all of his money out of the account and all credit/debit cards have been cancelled. That was the day before charges were drawn up. His landlord said he left without notice but left him an envelope of money for his trouble. His mobile was left at the flat, so nothing to track there. We’ve had a couple citizens call local tip-lines reporting sightings, but so far, no leads.”
Alec was silent as he processed the minimal amount of information they had at their disposal.
“Your thoughts on going forward?” Alec asked.
“Alec, we’ve known each other a long time. I’ve always had nothing but respect for you, even through the last few years between Sandbrook and Broadchurch, so I’ll be frank with you. For all of our sakes, we need to find Miller before he terrorizes anyone else, his family included.”
He could hear his friend breathe out a large sigh.
“We’ve got the police in Dorset working with residents and checking various locations that he’s familiar with. But if we haven’t heard anything within 48 hours, Stinson is suggesting we use Ellie or her son to contact him.”
“I really don’t think…”
“Alec, unless you can provide us with another option in the next 48 hours, we will be speaking about this to Ellie when she reports back to work. Perhaps you should come in as well, I’m sure you’re both ready to get back to work.”
“I guess I’ll see you then. Thank you, sir.”
Alec stood outside for a few minutes, wracking his brain to think of an alternative to using Ellie and Tom as glorified bait. He feared 2 days wasn’t enough time to come up with a new plan.
As he re-entered the house Ellie was talking animatedly on the phone as she cleaned up the living room.
“Everything else going alright then?” she asked the caller on the other end. She smiled into the phone as she listened to the response.
Ellie turned around to find Alec behind her. “Ah, here he is, would you like to talk to him?”
Alec gave her a confused look.
Ellie put her hand over the receiver and mouthed, “Daisy. She was getting a busy signal when she tried your mobile.”
He took the phone and answered.
“Hi, Darlin, everything alright?”
“I guess so. I was just calling since it’s Friday, and we usually figure out if I'm coming for a visit or doing video chat or what have you.”
“I’m sorry, I forgot all about it. Did you need me to pick you up and bring you here? I don’t have to be back in the office for a couple days, you could stay here if you like.”
There was brief silence on the other end as Alec waited for a response.
“Mum won’t let me come visit you.”
“She what!?” his voice raised and Ellie looked over with wide eyes.
“She said as long as Joe Miller is on the run, she doesn’t want me anywhere near Ellie, Tom, or Fred.”
He could hear a sniff on the other end. “Are they okay, Dad?”
He nodded as if she could see him and spoke quietly into the phone, “They’re all fine, love, everyone’s safe. In fact, Ellie’s about put out with me as it is.”
That one earned him a slap to the shoulder as Ellie passed him on her way up the stairs.
“I told her what Mum said, and Ellie agreed.”
Alec shook his head. Of course she would agree.
“Ellie said she didn’t want to cause any issues with you or Mum, that it would be okay if you came and visited down here if you wanted this weekend.”
He began to panic at the thought. He wasn’t comfortable leaving them here for any amount of time without his vigilance. He knew there were still officers camped out on the street corner, but it didn’t stop him from worrying about them.
“I miss you Dad, I haven’t seen you for a bit. Ellie said it would be good for us both. She said that there were police stationed outside the house and that you were driving her mad. You could visit for a few hours, then you could go right back.”
He heard the pleading in her voice and couldn’t help but be concerned. It wasn’t like her to ask him to visit. She usually just gave him the option and was okay when things didn’t work out.
“Has anything happened at school? Are people bothering you? I didn’t think anything about your friends and teachers seeing the news reports with my face plastered all over the screen.”
“I’m fine, Dad. A few people have asked me questions, but for the most part I just get stares. I’m more worried about you. The news here brought up all of your old cases and said some not so flattering things about you. I just wanted to see you, make sure you were okay.”
“I’ll, um…I’ll talk to Ellie, and I’ll call you back, alright?”
“Alright. I love you, Dad.”
“Love you, Darlin.”
“Oi! What’s this about me driving you mad?” he shouted up the stairs.
He could hear her laughter drift down from outside the bathroom door. She came around the corner with a freshly bathed Fred who was giggling and shaking the water from his curls.
Alec followed her into Fred’s room as she dried him off and set out to find some clothes.
“I thought you already knew you drove me mad. I thought I made it fairly obvious.”
He looked over at her seriously and was met with a huge smile.
“Alec, I am thankful that you are staying with us and doing everything you can to keep us safe, but you can’t keep us all locked up here for weeks on end. We can’t let Joe dictate what we can and cannot do.”
He opened his mouth to respond, only to have her cut him off. “No, buts. You are going to visit your daughter, give her a big hug and kiss from me, and you will enjoy yourself. You don’t have to stay gone all weekend, or even all day, just take a break, alright?”
She placed Fred on the floor and he ran over to his bookshelf to pull a few out for her to read.
“Fred, you start reading and mummy will be right back okay?” he nodded excitedly as he pulled a book down and started turning the pages.
Ellie pushed Alec in front of her, down the stairs and toward the door.
“You’re kicking me out?” he asked.
“No. I’m suggesting that you go to your flat, pack your things, get a good night’s rest away from night terror stricken toddlers, and go see your daughter tomorrow.”
Tom’s exasperated voice blared loudly down the stairs, “Give it up already, you know you won’t win. Mum will break you eventually.”
Alec laughed quietly, “Well, on that note, I guess my mind has been made for me.”
He collected the few things he needed for the next day and stood at the door.
Alec pulled Ellie closely and buried his head against her neck. “Be safe, you” he whispered.
His facial hair tickled her neck and she laughed in a breathless way that made his heart tighten.
“I’ll call you. Promise.”
He tugged at a curl before tucking it back behind her ear. He cupped her cheek before kissing her softly. She deepened the kiss and put her hands on his chest as her fingers gripped tightly to the fabric of his shirt. She could feel his heartbeat racing beneath her fingertips. Both of them breathed heavily, gasping for breath between kisses. A moan escaped from the back of her throat as he pulled her flush against him. His hands drifted from her head to her shoulders and then further down to grip her waist.
“Mum! Fred’s dumped his books in the bath water!” Tom yelled down the stairs, causing them to pull away quite suddenly.
She laughed as she hid her face in his chest. “And there’s reality calling again.”
She looked up to see a very different Alec Hardy than most people witnessed. His hair was ruffled, but brushed away from his eyes. His usual pale pallor had a healthy blush. His eyes were tightly closed as he tried to catch his breath and he had a cheeky smile on his face. She gave him a peck on the cheek before pulling away.
“I guess that’s my cue to leave. See you soon.” He winked as he stole another kiss and shut the door behind him.
As Alec got in his car he couldn’t help but feel lighter, more content than he had in a long time. He knew she could take care of herself, but his feelings for her made it hard to allow her to do it on her own. As he pulled out of the drive he looked up to see her and Fred peeping out of his bedroom window. Both were waving as he pulled away.
He’d be back soon as he could, he just hoped it was before Joe Miller made his appearance.
Chapter 8: Strength
We are reaching the pinnacle of this story. Things are about to get real, my friends. I really hope you enjoy this chapter. I'd love to hear any feedback.
“I never knew how strong I was until I had to forgive someone who wasn’t sorry, and accept and apology I never received.”
It was still early in the morning, the breakfast rush coming and going in waves. They’d been sitting in the café for over an hour, Alec listening as Daisy spoke animatedly about a lecture in one of her classes last week. He absentmindedly circled a fingertip along the rim of his cup, much in the same way that Ellie did when she was worried or thinking. A warm hand stilled his movements.
Daisy smiled softly at him as he realized she must have asked him a question and he hadn’t heard.
“What’s that? I'm sorry, luv.”
She squeezed his hand, “I know you’re a million miles away. I’m beginning to think maybe I shouldn’t have pushed you into coming out and spending the weekend with me.”
Alec shook his head vigorously, not wanting Daisy to believe she had done anything wrong.
“You did no such thing. We haven’t seen much of each other as it is, and I’ve been worried about you since everything happened last week.”
He smiled smugly, “Plus, I’ve been hovering a bit, as far as Ellie is concerned, so it was probably best I got out of her hair for a while.”
“Hovering a bit? Smothering seems a bit more like it, at least the way Ellie was describing it.”
Daisy giggled at the look of outrage on his face.
“I see the thanks I get for trying to protect the people I love.”
Her eyebrows went up at his choice of words. He didn’t notice the slip, but she thought it best not to tease him.
“Well, it’s one of the things we all love about you, Dad, even if it does drive us absolutely mad.”
Alec brought his attention back to his cup. He sipped his coffee slowly, savoring the taste. He hadn’t had much caffeine since the week leading up to his surgery. He’d forgotten how calming it could be to sit and enjoy a drink. He’d grown accustomed to knocking them back to stay awake during investigations, grabbing a cup in a rush and finishing it quickly. He had to admit, Daisy and Ellie were right, he needed to get away, rest for a spell.
Before he could ask Daisy more about her lessons, her mobile started ringing and she answered, giving him a look of apology.
Alec found himself distractedly observing other patrons in order to give Daisy a bit of privacy. Everyone seemed to be wrapped up in their own mundane lives. Couples, study groups, and business people all completely oblivious to the potential threats to their perfect little lives. Loud and mindless conversation assaulted his ears. He wasn’t made for social outings and engaging in public life. He’d always had his circle of friends and family he was close enough to be comfortable with, but that was the extent of it. He didn’t take kindly to being forced into attending parties, or large public events. Tess had ruined him for such things. She insisted on an active social life and dragged him along for the ride. Dinner parties, double dates, and a flat full of people every weekend had drained him. He was thankful when Daisy came along and he was given an excuse to leave the noise and hide from the crowd.
Daisy’s raised voice shook him from his thoughts. Whatever she and Tess were talking about, it didn’t sound good.
She ended the call and groaned as she ran her hand through her hair.
Alec raised his eyebrows in question.
“Mum decided she’d come and visit today, without calling and seeing if I had plans first. She knows it’s one of your usual weekends, but she assumed you wouldn’t be here because of everything that's going on.”
Alec grimaced at the thought of seeing Tess. He’d not been in the same room with her since she and Daisy had their fight after the details of the Sandbrook case came to light.
“I’m sorry, Dad.”
Alec laughed quietly, “Darlin’, there’s nothing your mum can say or do anymore to rile me up.”
“Don’t be so sure,” she replied.
The bell attached to the door of the café rang as another customer walked in. Tess quickly spotted them and sauntered over. Alec was struck by how different she looked from the last few times he'd seen her. Her appearance had always been somewhat severe. Dressed in dark colored pant suits, hair pulled straight back, and scowl marring her face. Today she wore an off-white blouse and brown pencil skirt. Hair loose and reaching beyond her shoulders. She smiled brightly as she met Daisy’s gaze. As her eyes drifted over to Alec, her demeanor changed. Her eyes hardened and her mouth changed to a thin line.
“Tess,” he stated quietly.
“Alec,” she answered as she nodded politely.
Tess grabbed some money from her wallet and handed it to Daisy.
“Sweetheart, would you mind getting me a cuppa? I need to speak with your father.”
Daisy did as she was asked without complaint, knowing that if she refused, it would just make an even bigger scene.
Tess seated herself directly across from Alec, staring at him directly with an annoyed look on her face.
Alec cleared his throat, “Well, are you going to speak what’s on your mind, or just continue burning a hole through me in silence?”
Tess crossed her arms and answered him. “What are you doing here, Alec?”
“I thought it obvious that I was spending time with my daughter. Last time I checked it was my weekend to do so.”
She raised her eyebrows at his quick response. “I was under the assumption that you wouldn’t be giving our daughter the attention she needs as your commitment seems to lie elsewhere.”
“I don’t believe I know what you’re talking about, Tess. I’ve spent every weekend that I possibly can with Daisy, apart from days I have responsibilities with work. This sounds like you have a personal problem to me.”
Lowering her voice and leaning in closer to him she spoke, “Don’t you take a tone with me, Alec. This little love affair you have going on with your little DS is putting our daughter in danger, and I will not stand for her to be anywhere near that woman. God knows what was going on under that roof before you showed up.”
Alec’s body stiffened and his eyes grew dark. He knew better than to make a scene in a public place, even more to do it while their daughter was in earshot.
He leaned in close and spoke in a calm but deadly tone.
“Tess, you lost the right to tell me what to do and who to spend my time with when you decided to indulge in a quick shag during a child's murder investigation. Your words no longer hold any weight. I will be civil to you because we have a child together and for the simple fact that I wouldn’t do anything to hurt my relationship with her, including purposefully hurting you.”
Tess smiled smugly and edged her hand close to his, as if taunting him. He snatched up her wrist and held it tightly. She grimaced as she tried to pull away.
“But I will only say this once, Tess, so I suggest you listen close. I am fully within my rights to see my daughter as often as I do. I have been nothing but respectful of your wishes concerning Daisy thus far. And as far as my personal life goes, her name is Ellie, and yes, I care a great deal for her and her boys. Not that it’s any of your business what we do, but our relationship has been nothing but honorable, and it has in no way led to any misconduct or infringed on our work responsibilities.”
Tess stiffened as his words hit their mark.
“I would never knowingly put Daisy in any type of danger, and I'm appalled that you even believe for a second that I would do so. If you really care to know, it was Ellie’s idea that I come up here in the first place, because she agreed with you, and wanted to respect your wishes. So you can wipe that smug look off your face before I say something I’ll regret.”
Daisy returned with Tess’ cup of tea and sat down next to her.
Alec knew she had heard the exchange, but remained quiet. He looked at his watch and then up at Daisy.
“Well, Darlin’, I think it’s about time that I get going.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead and stood up.
Before she could protest he put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed gently to quiet her.
“You have a good visit with you mum, and I’ll see you next week. Hopefully everything will be back to normal by then and you can come down for a visit.”
Daisy hugged him tightly around the waist. She leaned close to his ear to whisper so her mum couldn’t hear.
“Tell Ellie and the boys I love them. Keep them safe, alright?”
Alec squeezed her tighter and nodded in answer.
“Love you, too, Dad.”
He nodded in Tess’ direction but didn’t bid her goodbye. They had dispensed with pleasantries a long time ago.
“I really can’t thank you enough for coming on such short notice, Lucy.”
Ellie quickly grabbed her things in a rush, worried she would be late for patrols on her first day back. She'd been called in a day early seeing as they were short staffed and knew she was itching to get back to work.
Tom and Fred had already finished breakfast and were laying comfortably on the couch watching the telly. She gave them both a quick kiss and reminded them to be on their best behavior.
She hadn’t been sure who to leave them with, seeing as the childminder probably wouldn’t take kindly to being stuck in the house with two boys all day long while a patrol car kept watch outside. She knew Alec had been spending time with Daisy, but had to return to work the same as she. None of her coworkers were close enough to the boys for her to feel comfortable enough to leave them.
She’d hesitantly called Lucy the night before. Surprisingly, her sister didn’t question it. There were no snide comments or teasing. She said she missed the boys and would be glad to do it. Perhaps she was doing it out of guilt after their conversation the last time she visited. Maybe she wanted to be in the middle of the gossip, so she could go back to Broadchurch and tell them what was really going on. At this point, Ellie couldn't care less for her reasons, she was just glad to go back to work.
As she got close to the station her mobile vibrated, startling her. The familiar name made her smile.
“So tell me I was right. You're enjoying your time with Daisy. You know you really should listen to me more often.”
His voice came back across the line but there was no humor in his tone.
“I was just calling to let you know I wouldn’t be in the office today. McCallan called a little while ago. He sent two officers to Dorset early this morning and asked me to join up with them.”
Ellie had a confused look on her face as she answered him.
“Last time I checked, Dorset had its own police force that had the capability to do their job without outside help.”
Alec blew out a frustrated sigh. “Well, we’re not there to carry on normal duties, we’re being sent in as part of a potential manhunt.”
This time Ellie gasped across the line.
“He’s in Broadchurch?” she whispered.
“Not confirmed, no. But McCallan seems to think they have a couple tips worth following up on. He wanted me to go along because he assumed I had a good rapport with the townspeople of Broadchurch.”
The loud laugh that sounded from Ellie’s end of the phone made him grimace.
“Thank you for your vote of confidence.”
“Well, they didn’t call you Grumpy Bastard for nothing. Listen, I just pulled up at the station. If I don’t get a move on, I’ll be late. Keep me updated."
"Just remember, they can smell fear.”
“Oi, watch it Miller.”
“Seriously though, be careful, alright?”
As she donned her uniform her mobile buzzed with a text.
A - You were right.
She smiled as she put the phone in her locker.
“Of course I was right.” she spoke loudly in the empty room.
Alec found himself atop a familiar cliff in Broadchurch. It was a warmer day, the chill of winter was dissipating and the sun had made an overdue appearance. The glare of the sunlight off the waves below was so bright he had to shield his eyes. He could see people walking along the coast, looking for shells and tiptoeing into the water before racing back out away from its frigid temperature. The town seemed to be gaining popularity again. Perhaps they were far enough out from the Danny’s murder that people who weren’t directly involved started to forget. That was always hard part for the families and investigators of heinous crimes. The sights, sounds, and smells never truly went away, like a residual haunting they taunted and overwhelmed. But everyone else seemed to move on to the next big news story, happy to become obsessed with new people and places.
He was glad Ellie wasn’t here. He’d come across his fair share of strange looks and whispers. In the past 5 hours they’d uncovered a whole lot of nothing. The interviews they’d conducted thus far offered them nothing more than an insight into people fears and reservations. It seemed the tips the station had received were nothing more than sightings from paranoid people with overactive imaginations. He was becoming increasingly frustrated. The detective within him needed to act, to investigate, pressure people into talking, and make things happen.
His mobile rang and he quickly answered.
“Alec, I just received your message about the findings in Broadchurch. I’m afraid I jumped the gun on this one. I’m sorry to waste your time chasing ghosts.”
“I’d rather be safe than sorry. You were right to take the information seriously.”
“If you want to head back here, you can file a report. I’d like to pull you and Miller into a meeting with Stinson this afternoon when she returns from patrols. You can take your time getting back, it’ll be a few hours yet before I’m back in the office.”
Alec put his phone away and began the long walk back to his car. He wanted to get away as quickly as possible. The only thing that had the power to keep him here had left the same time as he. The feeling he got each time he returned was the same as when he went to Sandbrook. Nothing but nightmares and shadows remained.
His mobile went off again as he approached the car.
The boy’s voice was just above a whisper. It sounded like he was trying to control his breathing.
“Alec, I tried to call Mum, but she doesn’t answer when she’s outside the office. I didn’t know who to talk to.”
“Just calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”
“I got a message on my phone, it was from a blocked caller. But I know who it was. It was Dad.”
Alec cursed under his breath. It was just like Joe to make an appearance by attempting to manipulate his own child.
“What did it say, Tom?”
Alec couldn’t be sure, but Tom seemed to be close to tears.
“It said that he was going to see me and Fred soon, he just needed to talk to Mum first.”
Alec bit back a curse and reminded himself to stay calm for Tom’s sake.
“Tom, who are you staying with while your mum’s at work?”
“Aunt Lucy is here, but I haven’t said anything to her.”
“Put her on the phone, Tom.”
Alec could hear shuffling as Tom walked down the stairs. He could hear muffled conversation before she answered.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. Hardy.”
Alec rolled his eyes at the sultry tone that met his ears. Lucy was not one of his favorite people. She was always motivated by what she could gain from relationships and events. She never missed an opportunity to manipulate. She couldn't be any different than her sister. He sometimes had a hard time believing they were related.
Without bringing attention to her answer he moved straight to the point.
“Look, I need you to make sure all the doors and windows are locked and don’t open for anyone unless it’s me, Ellie, or the patrol officer stationed outside the driveway. Do you understand?”
“He’s here isn’t he?” she whispered.
“I really don’t know, Lucy. I just need you to stay with the boys, keep them calm, and call me back if anything happens, alright?”
“Yeah, I can do that.”
Alec was about to hang up when Lucy spoke again.
“Look, I know you don’t think much of me, and I haven’t given you or El much reason to trust me over the last year. But I will do everything I can to see that the boys are safe.”
“Well, Ellie wouldn’t have asked you to stay with them if she didn’t trust you. Stay safe.”
Alec ended the call and focused on the drive. He would call McCallan on the way and let him know of the development. Perhaps they could get a trace on the number from Tom’s phone, or at the very least be able to communicate back.
Thank goodness Ellie was back on patrol, at least she had access to a weapon and radio communication with the precinct if something were to come up. If he were a betting man, he’d guess that Joe’s plan was to get to his children first, and manipulate others into doing his bidding from there.
Ellie rotated her neck from side to side and stretched as well as she could while driving the squad car. Five hours into her patrol and she was beginning to regret coming in to work at all. Taking a entry level position as a patrol officer sounded good a year ago, but it was starting to wear on her. Writing traffic tickets and responding to calls about petty theft or vandalism bored her to tears. She hadn’t realized how much she missed work as a detective until now.
They had her out on a rural route today, normally one reserved for the newer recruits who were being slowly introduced into the line of work. But they’d split three sets of partners up in order to cover all local areas since one officer was stationed at her residence and a few had left early that morning for Dorset. She’d been tempted to call the station to see if Alec was back multiple times, but knew that he’d check in as soon as he knew anything. It probably didn’t matter anyway, being this far out in the county meant reception was spotty, and she was likely to get a weak connection if any at all.
Her radio crackled to life and she had a hard time making out the call. Dispatch was looking for an available officer to check out a report of trespassing. The address was Derriford West Way and she was close to 10 minutes from there. She called in a response and headed that direction.
As Ellie pulled up to a farm, an older gentleman with salt and pepper hair leaned against a cane as he walked toward her.
“Good afternoon, sir, I’m PC Miller.” Ellie offered politely offering out a hand.
The man grasped it tightly and shook it firmly. “Edwin Watson, ma’am.”
“What seems to be the trouble, Mr. Watson?”
Edwin lifted a hand and pointed in the distance toward the West.
“About 3 or 4 miles down the road is part of our pasture. A few of our sheep graze out that way. That building there is one of our harvesting barns. Stays mostly empty in the winter and early spring. Just a few days ago I saw a man walk out of the barn and walk a ways down the road. I was too far away to get a good look at him. Just this morning I saw him again. About 20 years ago I’d march down there and take care of him myself, but seeing as I have a hard enough time just walking through the garden, I thought it better to contact the authorities.”
Ellie shaded her eyes with her hand and looked in the direction of the barn. Her guess was some squatter was moving through the area and taking up residence in his barn in the evenings when the temperature dropped.
“Has he damaged any property or threatened you in any way, sir?” she asked.
“No ma’am. Not that I know of, at least.”
Ellie asked a few more questions, filling out a report as she spoke with him.
“Well, Mr. Watson, I believe that’s all I need from you. I’ll go down and check your property, and I’ll let you know what I find.”
As Ellie got back in the car and pulled out onto the road she hit the call button on the radio attached to her uniform. Nothing but static met her ears as she attempted to contact the station to inform them she had made contact with the complainant.
She pulled up to the large pasture and parked a little ways into the dirt. The grass was tall, up to her waist in places. Most of it was brown and dead, left over from the frost of the last couple months. The animals must have been placed in another pasture for fear of being bothered by the squatter in question.
It was eerily quiet out. Neighbors out here were few and far between. It was at least 3-5 miles between houses, if not more. Ellie concentrated on pushing the tall grass aside as she made her way to the large barn. As she stepped closer to the wide doors, she could hear rustling inside. She pressed her back up against the outside wall and drew her gun. She attempted to peek through the slight cracks in the old wood panels, but the movement had ceased. Slowly she edged closer to the door, keeping as quiet as possible. As she turned the corner her radio crackled loudly, garbled voices speaking unintelligibly.
Ellie cursed under her breath and quickly silenced the radio. She held her breath, listening for any movement. That’s when she heard it, the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked.
In the most controlled voice she could muster she spoke to the person inside.
“This is an officer with the Devon & Cornwall Police, you are trespassing on private property. Come out slowly with your hands up.”
A low chuckle sounded from inside the barn. Whoever was inside seemed to be amused by her little speech.
Surprisingly, the trespasser slowly pushed the large door open, the hinges creaking as they swung open. Ellie kept her gun trained in the direction of the footsteps leading out of the barn.
With her weapon up she watched as a man slowly walked backward out of the barn, head down and hands up. He wore a wool cap over his head. From the side she could see he had an untamed beard, dirty blonde in color, hiding his face. His clothes were covered in grass and dirt, and a putrid smell assaulted her as he stepped closer. He looked like a typical homeless man who hadn’t bathed in weeks. But from the look of his body, he had not missed a meal, in fact, despite being covered in dirt and not having trimmed his facial hair, he was in good shape. Muscular arms and straight posture. As his hand moved slightly above his head, something on his hand glinted in the sunlight. A thick golden band shone in the light off his left hand.
Ellie’s hands began to shake as she gripped tighter to her weapon.
“Turn around and face me,” she demanded.
He remained stock still, acting as if he hadn’t heard her request. Ellie stepped closer with her gun trained on his back.
“Turn around, or this is going to ugly very quickly.”
The man chuckled once more and Ellie’s blood ran cold. It couldn’t be.
As he turned to face her he retorted, “Always one for threats weren’t you, El?”
His face met hers and he smiled eerily. It was the face of a man half-mad.
Ellie refused to be taunted. This couldn’t get personal, she had a job to do. She lifted her eyes to stare at him directly, her voice strong and clear.
“Joe Miller, you are under arrest for possession of child pornography, evading an officer, sexual misconduct with a minor, and corruption of a minor. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may…”
Faster than she could finish reading him his rights he reached down to his front pocket.
“Get your hands up! Or so help me God, I will shoot you where you stand.”
“Would you El? Shoot the father of your children? What would you say to Tom, to Fred?”
She pinned him down with a look full of pain and rage, “If you knew how many times I thought about shooting you, how many ways I could make you die slowly, and painfully, you’d be a lot quicker to shut your mouth and do as I tell you.”
As Joe pulled his hand from his pocket, he pulled out a weapon of his own.
Only he didn’t point it at her, he pointed it at himself.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The look on his face mirrored the one she’d seen only one time, when Alec escorted her into the interrogation room after Joe had confessed to killing Danny.
“I can’t go to jail, El. Do you have any idea what they’ll do to me?”
“Nothing that you wouldn't deserve, Joe.”
Shakily lifting the gun to his head he began to talk manically. “I didn’t do what they’re saying, El. How could you believe that? I was just trying to befriend some boys who had no father figure in their life. They needed me, El. But everyone wants to cheapen it, make it look like I’ve hurt them.”
“Joe, put the gun down, we can talk about this.” Ellie holstered her own gun and put her hands up, “Just put it away, and we’ll talk about it.”
“We can be a family again, El. I miss you so much. I miss the boys. I just want to see my boys.”
Ellie stepped closer to Joe, close enough to see sweat dripping rapidly from his forehead and his chest shook with each breath that he took. Tears coursed down his face.
“Joe, if I have any say in it, you will never see those boys again. You have a warrant out for your arrest, and there is only one way that this is going to end, and that’s with you putting down the gun and getting into that squad car.”
“You’re wrong El. I can end it right now.”
Joe closed his eyes and pressed the gun tight to his temple. As he went to pull the trigger he was tackled. Ellie grabbed the gun as they both tumbled to the grass below. Attempting to wrestle the weapon from his grasp was nearly impossible, his grip on the gun did not release. As she rolled on top of him the gun went off and a loud crack reverberated through the quiet field like lightening on a clear day.
Ellie looked down to see blood covering both their hands. The gun had fallen haphazardly on the ground beside them. Joe’s eyes had grown large and she was sure he was going into shock. As she attempted to stand her legs wouldn’t hold and she found herself kneeling on the ground. White-hot pain shot through her side and chest. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably and her chest was beginning to tighten. She could hear gasping and wheezing, realizing it was coming from her own lips.
Joe stood up in front of her staring at the blood on his hands and then looking back down at her. He looked around nervously, as if trying to decide what to do. His whole body shook as he slowly stepped away from her.
“I can’t…I can’t…” he repeated over and over as he wrung his hands and began to pace.
“Joe, you need to go and get help.” she whispered painfully.
“I can’t stay here. They’ll think I tried to kill you. I’ll never get to see the boys again.”
Ellie found herself on the ground, trying in vain to hold herself up on one arm. Her vision was starting to spin and her heart was beating out of her chest. She looked down to find her uniform stained with blood on the left side of her body. She reached down to touch the area and immediately pulled her hand back as pain radiated when she made contact.
Joe continued to mumble incoherently. He began to back away from her, his gaze never leaving her face, but she could tell he wasn’t seeing her at all, he was stuck somewhere inside of his own head.
“I have to get out of here.”
And with that, she watched him run.
She may not have been there the night Danny had been killed, but she wondered if something similar had happened. In a moment of rage, Joe had done something deadly, and in response, the part of his brain that screamed for self-preservation made a plan to protect himself. The person he had hurt, who he claimed to love so much was left behind as he did whatever possible to save himself.
For a moment she was stunned. This man that had once been the love of her life, the father of her children, was choosing once more to abandon her, to leave her. His own life meant more than her own.
She watched in fear as he ran off down the road. Thankfully she had pulled the keys out of the car and tucked them into her uniform jacket.
She lifted a bloody hand to the radio on her shoulder, pushing it earnestly in an attempt to contact the station.
Each time she pressed it, nothing but static met her ears.
She pushed the button and would repeat the same few words each time. “PC Miller. Send Medical. Joe Miller escaped capture.”
After a few minutes she gave up. With no response from the radio, she knew she needed to get as close to the road as possible. After several minutes she managed to get to her feet. The earth seemed to stand on its end as her vision blurred and then cleared. Her head was pulsing, like the onset of a debilitating migraine, and she could hear her rapid heartbeat like a drum. She pressed her hand tightly to her side in a vain attempt to stop any further blood loss. She wasn’t sure how long it took her to walk 20 feet to the squad car, but she made it. Ellie leaned up against the driver’s door and sunk down until she hit the ground. She knew the short walk to the car had made the bleeding worse, but she feared if she had stayed, no one would have seen her.
She knew that if an officer didn’t report back between 45 minutes to an hour after a call, that the station would follow up. She didn’t know how long it had been since she responded to the complaint, but she hoped someone was on their way.
Alec rushed into the office looking for Ellie, thinking she’d be back from patrols at any time. He’d spoken with McCallan on the phone and he had requested one of their tech officer’s head to Miller’s house in order to trace any information on Tom’s phone. He had also asked that Alec and Ellie meet him in D.I. Stinson's office as soon as she returned from her shift.
Alec headed over to dispatch to question them on Ellie’s current location.
They notified him that she had taken a call out on Derriford West Way about an accusation of trespassing. She’d been gone about an hour and they hadn’t received a response.
“Do any of you think it odd that PC Miller hasn’t called back with an update after meeting with the complainant?”
One of the officers just shrugged his shoulders before answering. “It’s not uncommon for calls to take that long, sir. Plus, the reception out there is spotty at best. She’s probably already on her way back.”
The officers seemed unconcerned, but he couldn’t help but worry at the timing. But then again, what were the odds of Joe Miller being that far out in the county?
As Alec turned to walk out of the office a call came in on the radio.
One of the officer’s had turned chalk white as he turned to Alec.
“Sir, one of the patrol officers just picked up someone that matches the description of Joe Miller.”
“A couple miles from Wexford, sir.”
Alec’s chest began to tighten. “How far is that from PC Miller’s location?
“3 miles, sir.”
Alec turned to rush out of the room when one of the dispatchers spoke up.
“The officer mentioned that Mr. Miller had blood all over his hands, but no noticeable injuries, sir.”
He stilled himself from letting his mind go to hundreds of dark places. Scenarios that he didn’t want to give voice to.
“Call McCallan, update him as soon as possible. He’ll want to be there for Joe’s booking.” Alec grabbed his keys and headed toward the door. “I’m going to find PC Miller, and I advise you to have medical in the area in case of emergency.”
The officers didn’t argue. Technically, Alec didn’t have the jurisdiction to give orders to the officers here, as he was only a consultant. But there seemed to be a common respect among the officers in the building for his past work as a detective. He only hoped he wasn’t too late this time.
Ellie was shivering as she laid her head against the car. She wasn’t sure if it was from the temperature or the loss of blood. She had lost track of the time that had passed and was focused on trying to keep air in her lungs. Her chest felt so heavy, like someone had pressed a large weight on top of it. She had taken to gasping because her lungs weren’t expanding like they were supposed to. She continued to hold a hand to her side, feeling the sticky liquid drip down her fingers as she pressed harder. All she could think of was her boys, wondering if they were safe, or if Joe had managed to get to them.
She could hear a car door shut somewhere in the distance and feet pound the pavement as they grew closer to her. In her fear she curled in on herself and put her hands over her head.
Warm, steady hands pulled her arms down and brushed a curl away from her face. She could hear them talking, demanding for her to open her eyes and look at them. She lifted her heavy lids and met a beautiful pair of dark brown eyes.
“Ellie, can you hear me, luv?” he whispered as she stared blankly at him.
As Alec had pulled up behind her squad car it had only taken him a second to realize she was hurt. She was curled up against the driver’s door, attempting to make herself as small as possible. For fear of being hurt further or from delirium he couldn’t be sure.
As he rounded the car and dropped down in front of her his heart leapt up in his throat. She was eerily still and pale, he had to put a hand to her chest to make sure she was still breathing. Short gasps were coming from her lips which had taken on a sickly blue color. He looked down to see that her entire left side was covered in blood, her hand pressed tight against the wound, failing to staunch the loss of live-giving fluid. He put his hand to her cheek, calling out her name over and over, begging her to open her eyes. Her skin was cold to the touch, the normally warm and golden skin had a deathly pallor to it.
He saw her eyes move beneath her lids and slowly open at the sound of his voice. He wasn’t sure if she really saw him or not. Her eyes were unfocused and glassy. All he could read across them was fear and pain.
“Alec?” she whispered, so quietly he thought he’d imagined it. He’d never heard a more beautiful sound.
“Shhh. Try not to talk. Everything’s gonna be fine, alright? Help will be here soon.”
Alec needed to get a better look at her side, to see the damage and see if he could do anything to help while they waited for medics.
He took a moment to stare at this precious woman who held such a grip on his heart. The fear and helplessness he felt at this moment was a testament to the depth of his feelings for her. A sharp gasp brought him out of his musings. He tried to steady his trembling hands to slowly unbutton her uniform, trying in earnest not to pull or tug in any way that would hurt her further. She took her bloodstained hand and grabbed his wrist stilling his movements. For a moment he panicked, thinking she was scared he would hurt her.
A small grin covered her face and he leant closer to hear her words.
“If you wanted to take my clothes off, all you had to do was ask.”
A broken laugh sounded from his chest.
“That’s enough cheek from you, Miller. Tell me that again when you’re not bleeding to death.”
“I am not bleeding to death, you knob.”
Alec didn’t dignify the comment with an answer. As he pulled away the rest of her uniform jacket, he lifted her t-shirt underneath to find a bullet wound in her lower chest toward the bottom of her ribcage. He prodded gently behind her back eliciting a painful groan from Ellie.
“M’sorry, luv.” He whispered.
The bullet had gone all the way through. He tried not to think about the amount of blood on her body and on the ground beneath her. Nor did he think about how much blood was probably on Joe Miller.
Before he could think any more on all the horrible things he wanted to do to Joe, Ellie grabbed at his wrist once more.
“The boys…are they...” she was getting weaker, her sentences broken and her breath coming in short gasps.
“Shh…Tom and Fred are fine, they’re at the house with Lucy, safe and sound.”
She looked desperately at him, in an attempt to ask him another question. “Joe?” she whispered.
There was a storm behind his eyes, and he knew that this was not a safe subject for either of them right now.
“We’ll talk about him later. They picked him up, he’s in custody.”
Tears began to course down her cheeks. "I was trying to get the gun away from him...I couldn't let..."
"Shh...don't talk. There'll be time for that later."
Alec had one hand pressed tightly to her side and the other came up to brush the moisture from her face.
Her grip on his wrist started to loosen and her eyes started to close.
He put a hand against her face and leaned in close. “Ellie, look at me. Look at me, luv.”
He could hear her breaths coming out weakly, her chest audibly wheezing each time it would rise.
Her eyes opened in a panic, full blown fear written across her face. He knew what was happening. She couldn’t draw a breath. Her hands grabbed at his shirt, twisting the fabric between her fingers.
Alec lowered her to the ground and laid her flat, attempting to take any pressure off her chest. He could hear the faint sound of sirens coming up the road behind him.
Ellie's hold on him faltered as desperately tried to reach out to him. He caught her hand in his own and gripped it tightly. The fear of not being able to breathe, not knowing if it was the last time you’d ever take a breath was a familiar one to him.
Her wild eyes met his own as she tried to convey the things she had no time to say. There were things he wanted to say in return, but this was neither the time nor the place. She deserved better than that. He brushed her damp hair back from her face with bloodstained hands.
“I know…I know,” was all he could offer her, his own words caught in his throat. “I won’t leave you. I’ll be right here.”
Her eyes closed and her hand went limp in his own. He faintly felt the hands of the medics as they pulled Ellie from his grasp. They were speaking to him, but in his fog he heard none of it.
They lifted her lifeless body onto the trolley and shut the doors behind her. The driver told him where they were taking her. He nodded numbly and watched as the vehicle screamed down the road. He looked toward Ellie’s squad car and was struck by the amount of blood that soaked the ground. He looked down at his own hands and white dress shirt to find them covered. The metallic smell sickened him and he found himself kneeling by the side of the road emptying his stomach. He stood shakily and secured Ellie’s car before returning to his own. As he looked around the front seat for anything he needing to take, his eyes fell on a picture pressed against the dashboard. He’d never seen this particular one, but he knew when it had been taken. It was from the same day as the picture that sat in Ellie’s living room. Tom, Fred, and Daisy had been playing in the sand on their trip to the beach. But this picture had one difference. There, in the middle of the photograph, was Alec, bending down next to little Fred, helping him dig in the sand. Fred’s little face beamed at him, his little hand resting on Alec’s thigh. The sight made his heart ache.
He took the picture and placed it in his front shirt pocket. Walking back to his car he dropped his body heavily into the driver’s seat. He knew there were calls he needed to make, to the station, the hospital, to Lucy, and to Daisy. He placed the picture on the dash of his car, a bloody fingerprint now marring its shiny surface. It struck him that this was how Ellie saw him. What he meant to her. He brought his hands to his face, leaning against the steering wheel and began to sob.
Chapter 9: Relapse
Alright, my dear ones. This is a massive chapter, over 10,000 words. I couldn't find a stopping point I felt comfortable with, and didn't feel that separating it into two chapters would do it justice. Hope you enjoy it, and if you can spare a moment, please let me know what you thought, I really do appreciate your kinds words.
“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
- Margaret Thatcher
Why did everything have to be so damn bright? He kept his head down, eyes following the pattern of off-white tile on the floor of the hallway. The fluorescent lights overhead were giving him a headache and the incessant squeal of shoes as staff passed him was starting to drive him mad. And the smell, God the smell. Something about the scent of chemicals, medicines, and bodily fluid, made him ill. It was setting his nerves on edge, and he had to keep his feet moving forward to keep from tucking tail and running the other way.
He could hear physicians being paged across the intercom, and nurses’ idle chatter. He’d already been stopped twice on his way upstairs since checking in at the information desk on the ground floor. It seemed a man covered in blood couldn’t get too far in a hospital, not without a few concerned glances, at least. He’d been directed to the ICU and notified that he needed to speak with the charge nurse on duty. Rounding the corner, he located the nurses’ station and waited patiently behind an elderly man asking directions to another department in the building. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. He closed his eyes, willing his headache to ebb long enough to get through the rest of this god-awful day. The sound of a throat being cleared brought his attention forward. The nurse looked him up and down worriedly before settling on his face.
“Are you alright, sir?” the woman questioned. She looked to be in her early to mid-sixties, laugh lines pleasantly framed her mouth and eyes, a gentleness in her voice. Her nametag boasted the name Eleanor, and her salt-and-pepper hair was pulled into a braid that draped down her left shoulder. She looked weary herself, probably at the end of an incredibly long and stressful shift, but she smiled reassuringly just the same.
“It’s not mine, if that’s what you’re asking,” he replied as gestured to his shirt as he rubbed at the dried blood on his hands.
He didn’t form the question on his heart for a time, not certain he wanted to know the answer. He’d been a police officer and an investigator long enough to have a hatred of walking into places like this. He’d been privy to far too many unnecessary deaths and couldn’t fathom bearing witness to another, certainly not for...
“Are you here about Ms. Miller, then?”
His head snapped up and eyes grew wide, his face a mask of confusion. He began to wonder if perhaps he’d said something out loud and hadn’t realized.
She continued in his silence.
“You’re not hard to recognize Mr. Hardy. Anyone who hasn’t seen you or Ms. Miller on the telly has got to be living under a rock. We were contacted by your superior, letting us know that you would be arriving and we’ve been notified to keep a low profile concerning the two of you. The media has a nasty habit of turning this hospital into a three ring circus when someone of importance is admitted, and for both our sakes, I’d rather them be none the wiser. There are a very small number of people who are authorized to receive information regarding Ms. Miller’s condition and treatment. We are not allowed to give out any information to anyone outside her next of kin and emergency contacts.”
He nodded sadly, but understood protocol. He wasn’t sure who would be listed, except maybe Lucy. He turned away from the desk, but the nurse called out to him.
He turned back to see a sad smile as she held a small bag in her hand.
“Ms. Miller has you listed as her emergency contact. Any and all personal possessions she had with her at the time she was brought in are now in your possession.”
She handed the small parcel to him, its contents nothing more than the key to her patrol car, a small amount of money she must have hand stuffed in her pocket, and a necklace. He gripped it tightly in his fist, the uncertainty of the condition of its owner gnawing at him.
“If you could just sign that you’ve received it, sir,” she spoke quietly as she handed him a clipboard.
After she took it out of his hands she typed something into her computer and looked up at him hopefully.
“Ms. Miller was taken straight to theatre when she was brought in. As far as we know, they haven’t updated her condition. We’ll let you know something as soon as we hear anything, dear. You’re welcome to wash up in the waiting room lavatory, and we have coffee or tea if you like.”
He nodded his head in momentary relief and thanked her for her help.
Looking around the ICU waiting room, he was surprised to find it drab and sparsely populated. Gone was the stark white and chemical wash of the hallway, and instead he was greeted with neutral tones of brown and dark green. The carpet and wallpaper were badly outdated, and month old issues of magazines sat haphazardly on coffee tables and chairs. The lighting was dim in this part of the hospital, perhaps offering a brief reprieve from the headache inducing brightness of the rest of the building.
A small family huddled in the middle of the room, their faces tired and drawn, perhaps having already been here waiting for hours for news of their loved one. A few sat in silence, staring into nothing, while others drew comfort from one another, holding hands and whispering words of comfort he could not hear.
He ambled over to an empty chair in the corner closest to a large window that looked out from the front of the hospital. It had started to rain since he’d arrived. Nature seemed to be mocking his current emotional state. Moisture pooled and ran down the thick glass, his eyes following the rivulets as they ran wildly and joined together at random intervals. The air outside had grown warm, at least more so than the chilled hospital, as it caused the glass to steam and left a cloud of condensation in its wake.
He wasn’t good at this. Waiting. He had half a mind to drive down to the police station and book Joe Miller himself, knowing full well his motives were far more menacing than simply being present to read his charges. But he couldn’t, he’d promised her he wouldn’t leave, and he wasn’t about to break his word because of his own discomfort.
Instead, he set out to do something that he’d put off since watching Ellie be put into the back of the ambulance. He pulled out his mobile and pressed a familiar number.
The receiver picked up on the third ring. He could hear laughter and squeals in the background along with fast footsteps hitting the hardwood floor, no doubt Tom was chasing Fred around the room, eliciting exited screams from the small boy. They’d probably already had dinner and were burning off Fred’s energy waiting for Ellie to get home.
Lucy answered simply, no emotion in her voice.
“Lucy, its Alec. I need you to keep your voice low and sit down for a moment.”
“Why the hell would I need to do that?” she answered angrily, her angry tone giving way to fear as it trembled slightly.
“I’m at the hospital, Ellie’s been hurt. I need you to take a deep breath and talk to me as calmly as possible. I don’t want to scare the boys.”
“Alright.” He heard her whisper, as she pulled a chair out from the dining room table to brace herself.
“Joe has been taken into custody, but Ellie was shot during the confrontation…” before he could continue the rest of his explanation, she butted in.
“That son of a bitch, I’m going to kill that fuc…”
His throat cleared loudly as he attempted to direct her attention back to the conversation. She realized her mistake when she turned to find two sets of eyes staring worriedly at her.
Alec’s voice brought her attention back.
“As soon as I hear something, I’ll let you know. All the boys need to know is that their mum is getting checked out at the hospital. I’ll be over as soon as I know she’s alright. This isn’t something I want to explain to Tom over the phone. If you or the boys need anythin’, please…please call, alright?”
Lucy agreed and quickly ended the call. He trusted that she could pacify the boys long enough for him to get some answers, though he knew he couldn’t wave Tom off for long.
Alec stood up and stretched his aching muscles, his neck popping as he rolled his head from side to side. He went in search of the loo to clean up as best he could. Finding the room unoccupied, he caught his reflection for the first time since he’d arrived at the hospital. He wasn’t prepared to see the man before him. It was like looking back a year in time. He flashed back to a moment of panic when he’d rushed frantically for his pills, unable to stop himself from another episode, eventually losing consciousness and injuring himself on the concrete floor. This time there was no racing heart in his chest, nor was there shortness of breath or swimming vision. Only a deathly pallor.
It was no wonder so many people had stared at him worriedly as he made his way through the hospital. The front of his once white shirt was covered in crimson, but more than that, the shape of a handprint could be easily recognized in the middle of his chest where Ellie had desperately grasped for him in fear. He traced the mark with a trembling hand, noticing his fingers were caked with dried blood and knew it would be nearly impossible to scrub it off. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair stuck out in every direction from running his hand through it incessantly in nervousness. He unbuttoned the top of his shirt and splashed water on his neck and face. Alec breathed deeply and dried his skin with a towel.
Settling back in his seat in the corner of the waiting room, Alec rested his elbows on his knees and bowed his head in exhaustion.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting in quiet contemplation, but his head snapped up at a familiar voice.
Daisy was hurriedly moving through the room with Tess following behind her. As Alec stood, she took one look at him and burst into tears. He had called to tell her that Ellie was in the hospital, but he hadn’t let on how bad it was. She hadn’t been prepared for the sight that met her. Daisy embraced him tightly, trembling at the fear she’d seen in his eyes.
“What are you doing here? You should be back at school by now. I thought I told you I’d call as soon as I heard something?”
He looked up at Tess to find her wide eyes staring at his shirt. She was clutching a small bag in her hands. She looked up at him, the glare in her eyes from this morning now gone and replaced by something akin to sympathy.
“I told her the same, but she insisted we stop by, that there as something you weren’t telling her. From the look of you, she was right.”
Alec couldn’t identify the feelings that he saw coursing silently through Tess. It was written all over her face that she was struggling with something. Regret perhaps, that she had been so quick to replace him in her life. Jealousy, that Alec cared so deeply for another woman. Or maybe it was regret at the terrible things she had implied concerning him and Ellie just hours before.
She offered him the parcel from her hand. “We stopped by your flat, Daisy seemed to think you might need a change of clothes. Good God, Alec. What the hell happened?”
He wasn’t sure he wanted to discuss the details quite yet, especially with Tess.
“All I know is that she was involved in an altercation during a routine call, and ended up on the wrong end of a handgun.”
Both women stood silent, neither knowing what to say. It had been ages since either of them had seen him look like this.
He looked up at them before speaking, “I’m not sure how long it will be before we hear anything, why don’t you both go on home, I’ll be alright here.”
Daisy sat down in a chair next to the one he had occupied in response to his suggestion. “I already contacted the school and they excused me a few days for a family emergency. I don’t fancy being out in public anyway, not after they start plastering your face all over the telly again.”
He kissed her temple and squeezed her shoulder in silent thanks. He excused himself to change out of his bloodied clothes, not trusting himself to say anything further.
Tess stared at the sight before her. Alec sat slumped in the waiting room chair, head resting against Daisy as she curled into his side, fast asleep. She had a tight grip on his shirt with her head tucked under his chin, just like she had when she was a baby He’d finally fallen asleep sitting straight up after a lengthy visit from a couple police officers from the station, checking in on Ellie’s condition. It was nearing 1am when Tess was startled by the quick footsteps walking up from behind.
A weary looking doctor in surgical scrubs looked from her to the sleeping duo across from her. She gently squeezed Alec’s knee and called his name to get his attention.
He shot up quickly, disoriented in his exhaustion.
“Mr. Hardy?” the doctor questioned.
“Yes.” Alec’s voice shook in response.
“I’m Dr. Fielding, I’ve been in charge of Ms. Miller’s care since she was brought in early this evening.”
The doctor took a seat beside Tess, his large frame dwarfing the small chair. He turned his attention to Alec, speaking in low tones, as to not disrupt any other families in the room.
“Ms. Miller sustained some very serious injuries as a result of the gunshot wound. I will tell you that I did not have exceedingly high expectations for recovery when she was brought in. Before we took her into theatre she went in to cardiac arrest. Once we stabilized her and got into surgery, we realized the bleeding was extensive. The bullet struck her lower left chest area at the base of the rib cage. Although the bullet made a clean exit, it did some extensive damage. Her left lung had collapsed and her chest cavity began to fill up with blood and other fluids. Ms. Miller also sustained a perforated spleen, which we were able to repair instead of taking out. Because of our attempts to resuscitate and the impact of the bullet, she also has a few severely bruised ribs. We still have her on a ventilator and plan to keep her on it until we see improvement in lung function. She also has a chest tube in place that will continue to drain the blood from her chest cavity. She’s been out of surgery for close to an hour, but we are monitoring her closely as she is currently undergoing a blood transfusion.”
Alec looked to be in shock, not certain if the doctor’s words were meant to be encouraging or not.
“Your expectations of survival and recovery post-op?” Alec questioned him, his eyes searching the doctors’.
The man rubbed his chin wearily and sighed. “Barring no infection sets up in the chest, if we can successfully get her blood count back up, and lung function improving, I don’t see why she couldn’t make a full recovery. But she’ll be very limited during that recovery. That kind of damage to the chest and the spleen can take a long time to fully heal without residual pain.”
Alec put a hand out to the doctor and shook his hand firmly, thanking him for everything.
“In another hour or so, if she’s still responding to the transfusion positively, you’re welcome to see her. We have a pretty open policy for visitation whilst in the ICU, we find it beneficial to the recovery of most of our patients. You and any family members of Ms. Miller are welcome to stay. Though until she is off the ventilator we ask that no children under the age of 15 be allowed in the room. If you have any questions, be sure to let myself or the charge nurse know.”
Tess looked from Alec’s worn face to Daisy’s look of concern for her father.
“I think maybe I should get her home.” Daisy looked ready to argue, but Alec put a hand to her shoulder.
“Your Mum is right. You won’t be allowed to go back anyway, and I don’t want you sitting for hours out here,” Alec looked up at Tess, “Daisy is welcome to stay at my flat, as are you, if you wanted to be a bit closer, either just for tonight, or a couple days.”
Tess was surprised at the offer, but didn’t answer immediately. She walked up to him, stopping to catch his gaze. She hadn’t seen him this heartbroken since his mum had passed away. His eyes were lifeless, and his color was gone. Before thinking twice she reached out and pulled him into an embrace. He was slow to respond, uncertainty in his shaking hands as he brought them around her back. He held tight, burrowing in the comfort, but hesitant to accept it. For a moment she stood there holding him tightly, transported back to another time, before murder investigations and infidelity tore them apart. A time when she had needed nothing more than him to make her happy. He pulled away abruptly and looked down at the floor. His face flushed in embarrassment.
She knew this wasn’t her place. She smiled sadly as she motioned for Daisy to come along.
“Call us if anything changes. I’m sure Daisy would appreciate it.”
He pressed a quick kiss to her temple and whispered a broken, “Thanks,” as he pulled away. Daisy gave him a quick hug and followed her mum sleepily out of the waiting room.
“Mr. Hardy?” a timid voice called from across the room.
He turned to find the nurse he’d spoken with hours before.
“Ms. Miller is settled in her room, if you’d like to go back. Third door on the left just through there,” she gestured to the double doors situated next to the nurse’s station, “Room 423.”
He followed her through the doors and was surprised at how quiet it was. The lights were dimmed and there was a calmness throughout the unit. The nurses’ desk extended through the hallway, giving them direct access to patient rooms. She stopped in front of the door and gently pushed it open.
“I know this will be a bit of a shock, especially since she’s still on the ventilator, but just remember, she’s stable and doing as well as can be expected. She’s still undergoing her transfusion, so I’ll be back in a bit to check on her progress. You can touch her and talk to her, it will probably do her a world of good,” she put a hand to his shoulder and squeezed him gently, “let me know if you need anything, love, I’ll be Ms. Miller’s nurse until 6am shift change.”
He nodded silently as she turned and left. He pushed the door open the rest of the way and had to adjust his eyes to the darkness that fell over the room. The lights were off, save for two small screens next to the bed. One was giving out readings for oxygenation and lung function from the ventilator, while the other monitored her heart rate and blood pressure. The nurse must have turned the sounds on the monitors off to keep the room quiet and calm, as the only noise he heard was the gentle hiss of the ventilator as it pumped her lungs with oxygen and simultaneously drew out the carbon dioxide. He stood rooted at the door, as if his feet would take him no further.
As he stepped closer to the bed, his eyes began to adjust to the darkness and he could see her clearly. Her body looked so small and frail beneath the mounds of white blankets. He pulled a chair up to the right side of the bed and just stared. Her brown curls were plastered to her head, and her face a deathly gray. He could see the chest tube running from her side under the sheets that covered her small frame. Her head was tilted to the side, as if she were attempting to look directly at him. One hand was covered with an IV line, so he tentatively grasped the other. Her hand was like ice, and he found himself rubbing it between his own hands. He could still see remnants of blood under her fingernails as she had tried in vain to stop the blood flow. Bruises peppered her arms from attempts to draw blood. He looked closer at her fingers to find a few scrapes and cuts he hadn’t noticed before. She must have gotten those from Joe during the altercation.
He leaned in and brushed her face with his fingers, not noticing how hard his hand was trembling.
“I don’t know how to do this,” he whispered aloud, not sure if he was speaking to her or himself.
“You know I’m absolute rubbish with words,” he took his free hand and rubbed at the back of his neck in nervousness.
“I know I have no right to ask anything of you. But if you can hear me, I need you to be alright. Not for me, but for those boys. They need you, desperately.”
He looked at her face to find she hadn’t shown any sign of having heard him, nor did the monitors note any change.
“You know if you wanted to run your gob, now would be a bloody good time to do it,” he whispered angrily. He traced her fingertips and closed his eyes, not able to look at ghostly figure that occupied the bed, who was so incredibly unlike the woman who was so full of life that he knew.
“The boys are okay. I know you’re probably worried. Lucy is still with them at the flat. How’d you like to see them tomorrow?” he rushed over his words, sentence after sentence spilling out in the silence. “Well, Tom at least. He might be a little bit under the visiting age, but I don’t think they’ll say anything. But wee Fred, I think you may have to wait a bit, I don’t want him seeing you like this.”
He leaned his head on the bed and pressed her palm to his cheek. “I don’t know how to do this,” he repeated.
He kept his head pressed close to her side, allowing the sound of the ventilator breathing in and out, lull him to sleep.
Alec woke up two more times at 3 and 5 that morning. A young nurse, looking to be barely out of school had waltz into the room to get a blood draw. Alec had watched her closely as she explained that the doctor had ordered her panels be checked every 4 hours to monitor her platelet count, as well as to check the function of her spleen. He stared at the nervous girl as she tried and failed to get a vain. She had left multiple bruises on Ellie’s arm already. As she attempted to stick the needle in a third time, blood dripped down Ellie’s forearm, elicited a string of obscenities from Alec. He’d covered Ellie’s arm and demanded that another nurse who wasn’t a half-wit do the job correctly. The girl burst into tears and promptly ran from the room. Eleanor, the charge nurse, came in without a word and took the blood quickly, finding a vein and drawing the blood with no complications. She cleaned Ellie’s arm, squeezing it gently, and left the room without a word to Alec.
At 5, Alec made his way to the nurses’ station to berate whoever happened to be on duty.
“I don’t know what kind of operation you’re running here, but I’ve pressed the call button 4 times and not a bloody one of you has even dared darken that door. Oi, except for this wee scunner, over here.” He gestured to the young nurse who had run from Ellie’s room just hours earlier.
“Her IV is about run dry, and no one’s been in to check on her for hours.”
“Mr. Hardy, first of all, I need you to lower your voice, as we have patients trying to get rest. I understand your frustration, but we have 12 other patients we are caring for in addition to Ms. Miller. One of the nurses is getting an IV bag now, as we saw on the monitor it was getting low. Also, we came in and checked on Ms. Miller at 4, sir, which you didn’t realize because you were snoring in the chair next to the bed.”
His hands that had been gripping the nurses’ station slowly loosened.
“Why don’t you go downstairs and grab a cup of coffee, sir?
He nodded dejectedly and turned from the desk.
Eleanor was getting ready to leave at the end of her shift but ducked into Ellie’s room to check on her one last time. After looking over the monitors and seeing a marked improvement in lung function she spoke aloud, “Looks like we’ll be taking you off the ventilator soon, love. Perhaps Mr. Hardy won’t look like he’s ready to pass out at any moment once we do.”
She chuckled quietly to herself as she checked Ellie’s bandage and chest tube. When she looked up she was surprised to find a pair of eyes staring blearily up at her. Eleanor reached over to the call button and pressed it gently. When the static reached her ear she spoke quietly.
“Can you page the doctor to Ms. Miller’s room, please? She’s just opened her eyes, and I think they’d like to take a look at her. And if Mr. Hardy is close, let him know, as well.”
A look of momentary panic flashed across Ellie’s face. The nurse grabbed her hand and squeezed it gently. “S’alright, love. I know it’s a little overwhelming. My name is Eleanor, I’ve been the charge nurse on duty since you got here.”
Ellie’s face seemed to fall and her eyes filled with tears. They began to run down her face unchecked.
“Oh, love. It’s alright. I know all this can give you a bit of a fright. The doctor will be in soon to look you over, and I’m sure Mr. Hardy will be happy to hear you’re awake.”
Ellie’s eyebrows went up in question.
Eleanor laughed out loud. “He’s a keeper, Ms. Miller. A bit of a brood, he is. But I’m sure he’s just worried.”
She leaned in close to Ellie and whispered, “He scared off one of our new girls early this morning. Poor thing came running out of the room crying. He’s a bit overprotective, that one.”
Her eyes wouldn’t stay open, and she couldn’t seem to concentrate. The nurse continued to squeeze her hand until sleep overtook her once more.
When the nurse had recommended Alec take a break and go downstairs, he figured it was as good a time as any to check on Lucy and the boys. He let the nurses station know he was leaving and to call him with any news. He also notified them that Ellie’s sister and children would probably be in soon.
Halfway to Ellie’s flat he received a call that she was awake and the doctor was in with her. They notified him that if all went well, they would be taking out the breathing tube in the next hour or so. He was glad for that, it would make talking to Tom and Lucy much easier.
Opening the door as quietly as possible, Alec walked in to find a crying Fred in Lucy’s arms as she walked down the stairs. Tom looked as if he had taken up residence on the couch and had just woken up.
Lucy pinned him down with a glare, “We’ll it’s been one hell of a night, as I’m sure you can see.”
Alec hadn’t had a chance to look around, but his eyes grew wide when he did. The flat was absolutely destroyed. Dishes piled high in the sink and toys strewn everywhere. If he didn’t fear the wrath of Ellie’s sister, he might have laughed.
Fred ran over to Alec and grabbed him tightly. He scooped him up and held him tight to his chest.
“I was up all night with him, there was no quieting him.”
Alec rubbed his back and whispered to him gently.
“He’s been like that since the news media showed up at the house. Ellie’s had a time of it herself.”
At the sound of her name, Lucy’s face turned serious.
“How is she then?”
Alec sat down on the couch, next to a pajama-clad Tom.
“Sit down, because I don’t want to go over this more than once.”
Tom leaned in close, almost touching Alec’s shoulder, his need for comfort almost as strong as Fred’s.
“I’m not sure exactly what took place, that’s something only your mum can tell us. But, we’re not going to push her about it, alright?” he waited until Tom and Lucy nodded before continuing, “She was responding to a call out in the county that happened to be concerning Joe.”
Tom’s eyes grew wide as he listened.
“I don’t know what happened next, but your mum was shot in the lower chest, about right here,” he gestured to his left side, to give them an idea of what to expect.
“I found her and called for medics. They took her straight to theatre last night and she was back there until the wee hours of this morning. When they let me see her she was on a ventilator to help her breathe, and they had a chest tube in to drain the remaining blood from her chest cavity.”
Both Tom and Lucy looked shell-shocked, neither of them had realized how bad it actually was.
“After I left this morning, she woke up, and they should be taking the breathing tube out as we speak.”
He reached over and squeezed Tom’s shoulder. “You did the right thing calling me yesterday, Tom. If you hadn’t, I don’t know if I would have reached your mum in time.”
He looked over at Lucy, who’d grown deathly silent. “If you and Tom would like to go see her, I can stay here with Fred, let him get some sleep.”
Lucy nodded and motioned up the stairs. “Tom, why don’t you go get ready, and we’ll head straight out, alright?”
After Tom had left the room, Alec looked at Lucy and posed a question, “I was thinking Ellie might like some things of her own, at the hospital, maybe some clothes and things. Do you think, maybe you could…?”
She laughed as she turned and walked toward Ellie’s room. “You want me to pack the knickers don’t you?”
His face turned red as he followed behind her.
“You don’t strike me as a prig, Mr. Hardy, I mean it’s not as if you two haven’t…”
She turned around abruptly and stared him down.
“You haven’t have you?”
“I really don’t think this is the time…”
Lucy just laughed and set about packing a back for Ellie. Alec sat on the side of the bed, still holding Fred in his arms.
“You know, I’ve got to hand it to you, I never pegged you for such a gentleman.”
After packing a few changes of loose clothing and her old house coat, Lucy went to the bathroom to collect Ellie’s toothbrush, lotion, and a few odds and ends. When she came back out of the bathroom she stopped still in the doorway.
There in the middle of her sister’s bed was Alec Hardy, flat on his back and fast asleep, little Fred tucked tightly to his chest, sleeping just as sound. She grabbed the bag off the bed and turned the light out. She laughed to herself as she pulled a blanket over the two of them, leaving the room in silence to find Tom.
Ellie hid a grimace as pain shot through her side when she tried to find a more comfortable position. The doctor had just left after taking out her breathing tube. Her throat was dry and seared in pain every time she tried to swallow. She’s slowly taken inventory of the pain throughout her body. She could feel a large bandage wrapped around her left side, but what she hadn’t expected was the chest tube. The stitch holding it in place pulled at the slightest movement, causing burning pain to run up the tender skin. Every breath was labored and shallow, the pain keeping her from drawing complete breaths and letting her lungs completely expand. A light knock on the door startled her.
“Up for some company?” Lucy asked quietly, motioning for someone behind her to come through the door.
Before Ellie could answer, Tom nervously stepped forward. He had his hands stuffed in his pockets, his eyes trained to the floor.
“Go on, it’s alright” Lucy whispered.
He stepped closer to the bed, stopping just a foot away from her right side. She lifted her hand tentatively toward him, the IV pulling at her arm.
“You won’t hurt me, love, promise” her voice broke as she spoke, the dryness in her throat from the ventilator caused her voice to come out as nothing more than a rasp. He leaned down and hugged her as gently as he could, though he pulled away quickly in discomfort at the wires and tubes surrounding his mum.
Lucy sat in the chair on the opposite side of the bed.
“You look like shit, El.”
“That’s the second time you’ve said that to me,” she whispered.
Lucy laughed and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “Yeah, but this time I mean it.”
Tom spoke up nervously, “Is it alright if I leave the room for a bit?”
“S’alright, love, course you can. Love you.”
“More than chocolate?” he asked shyly, feeling a bit too old for the saying.
Ellie nodded, not trusting her words.
Lucy started talking but couldn’t hold Ellie’s attention. She kept looking toward the door expectantly.
“You can stop making mooning eyes at the door, he’s a bit busy at the moment. Oh, I almost forgot, brought you some things.”
Lucy began unpacking her back, placing Ellie’s clothes in a small closet across from the bed, and putting her lotion on the bedside table.
“He’s been here all night you know. Showed up at the flat this morning looking almost as bad as you.”
That comment earned her an eye roll from Ellie.
“I was up all night with Fred, thank you very much, and then he waltz in this morning and Fred was out in a matter of minutes. Fell asleep right there in your bed along with him while I was gathering your things. He asked me to do it you know, didn’t want to be caught looking through your knickers, though if you ask me that man needs a good shag…”
“Lucy!” Ellie squeaked, trying in earnest to get her to shut up.
“What? It’s the truth and you know it. There’s enough sexual tension between the two of you to burn the whole place down.”
Ellie was tired and had no energy to chastise her sister. Before Lucy could start up on another embarrassing subject, there was a firm knock on the door.
An officer from Ellie’s precinct stood in uniform in the doorway. Harrison, she thought his name was. From what she remembered from the few times they’d interacted, he was a royal prick, always involving himself in other people’s business while sticking his nose up McCallan’s arse.
“Ms. Miller, is this a good time?” Not waiting for an answer, the man walked closer to the bed.
“We need to get a statement about yesterday’s events as soon as possible. We’re needing to solidify the charges against Mr. Miller. I understand that you must be exhausted, but the sooner we get this done, the better.”
Lucy stood up abruptly, “Who do you think you are you little….”
“Its fine, Lucy. He’s right. Just go check on Tom for a bit, and this won’t take long at all.”
“Don’t you think that Alec would want to be here for this?”
“No, there’s no need for that. It’ll be fine. I’ll see you in a bit, yeah?”
Lucy could see the distance in her eyes, her thoughts already returning to the events from the day before. She squeezed Ellie’s hand and kissed her cheek.
“I won’t be far if you need anything, alright?”
Lucy glared at Harrison as she left the room, not certain of the state Ellie would be in when she returned.
Alec walked off the elevator holding Fred’s hand tightly. The boy was excited, the hospital seeming to be a veritable adventure for the young boy. His little fingers traced the wall as he skipped alongside Alec. He would point things out excitedly and squeeze Alec’s hands as he chattered on and on. He was that much like his mum, a little ball of energy with the ability to make anyone smile.
As they turned the corner to the waiting room they found Lucy and Tom sitting in the same corner that Alec had occupied the night before. He looked at them worriedly and released Fred’s hand as the boy went to the large window to look outside.
“What’s happened then?”
“Some little shit from the police station came in to take a statement. He was in there for almost an hour. When he left, we went back in the room and she was in a right state. They had to give her a sedative and made us leave the room.”
“Why didn’t she have someone in there with her, why didn’t someone call me?”
Lucy shook her hands in exasperation.
“I did! I told her I could stay or that she should wait for you and she said it was fine, it wouldn’t take long.”
He looked up at the front desk and without looking back at Lucy he stated, “I’m going back there, keep an eye on Fred.”
Without bothering to talk to anyone at the nurse’s station, Alec walked to Ellie’s door. He pushed it open quietly, eyes once again straining to adjust to the dim room. The lights must have been turned off after everyone had been removed from the room. Gone was the mechanical hiss of the ventilator, replaced by the uneven breaths of the bed’s occupant. Unable to turn to her side, Ellie had turned her head away from the door to face the wall. She had brought her arm that was clear of wires up to cover her face, shielding herself from anyone that sought to bother her.
The door squealed as he closed it behind him.
“Go away, Lucy, please,” she begged in a whisper. Her voice, raw from surgery, made his heart ache, but it had never sounded more beautiful to him.
He sat in the chair she was facing and pulled her arm away from her face. She started at his touch and curled in on herself in fear. Her heart rate going up momentarily.
“Ellie, look at me,” he spoke as softly as he could manage.
Her swollen eyes opened and her gaze softened when she realized it was him. She attempted to reach up and touch his face when she hit her chest tube by mistake and bit back a scream. Her face had blanched and sweat broke out on her face.
“Do you want me to call the nurse?” Alec questioned worriedly.
“No, I just need a minute. They gave me something, it’s starting to kick in.”
She took steadying breaths, squeezing Alec hands each time she breathed in and her lungs burned.
He held a cup of water to her lips and offered her a drink in silence. She sipped greedily and thanked him quietly.
“Well, aren’t you going to ask me?” Ellie whispered drowsily as her eyes blinked slowly.
“Ask you what?”
“What happened yesterday, with Joe?” Her voice trembling as she reached his name.
“Is it something you want to talk about?” he countered.
She shook her head firmly as fresh tears coursed down her cheeks. He brushed them away as he continued to speak.
“I didn’t come in here to interrogate you. I came to make sure you were alright. So I’m just gonna sit here and hold your hand, and if you need anything, all you need to do is ask, alright?”
Her eyes started to shut as she nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Get some rest, then when you wake up, I think wee Fred wants to give his mummy a big kiss.”
She smiled weakly at that and closed her eyes, breathing deeply.
Alec leaned in and kissed her forehead gently, noticing the slight tensing of her body when he did so. It had been a long time since she’d flinched at his touch, but he was willing to give her the space she needed. He sat for a long time, watching over her as she slept, protecting her from anyone who intended to cause her more pain.
After 3 more days in hospital, Ellie was cleared to return home. Lucy had already headed back home the day before, unable to stay away from work any longer. A steady wave of visitors had come in and out of her room once she’d been moved to a regular floor. Coworkers, a few friends from Broadchurch, and even Daisy stopped by with Tess in tow. Her room had started to look like a floral shop, or a funeral parlor, depending on how you wanted to look at it. Most notably was a gift from the Lattimers, with a note attached. They expressed their apologies for not visiting in person, they feared their presence would add to the stress or start a media firestorm. And for that, they were grateful.
Ellie sat in a wheelchair just outside her room. All of her belongings had been packed and the majority of the gifts that littered the room had already been taken to the flat by Alec. She had just finished signing off on some paperwork, most of it detailing her treatment plan once she returned home. Recovery would be slow, her ribs and spleen still tender and in need of gentle ministration. She wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 4 kilograms for at least 6 weeks. Her wound still needed to be checked and redressed for at least another week, and her chest tube wound cleaned until the stitches dissolved.
She sat restlessly in the chair, waiting for Alec to retrieve her. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and was shaken at the sight before her. The dark circles had returned and her curls hung limply on her head. Even though her blood count was up, her color had not returned and she remained ghostly pale. A laugh from down the hall stole her attention. Daisy was speaking with Tess and Alec by the elevators. She smiled at her father and leaned in to his side before pulling away. Alec looked at Tess and smiled sadly at something she said to him. He leaned in and kissed her cheek chastely before pulling away and waving a goodbye to them both. Ellie turned away quickly, uncertain of what she’d just witnessed. They looked happy, well, happier than they’d been in a long time. Perhaps Tess was finally coming around and repairing her relationship with Alec. As she tortured herself with self-loathing thoughts, she was startled when she felt her chair start to move.
“You should have said something, I didn’t realize that you’d finished up with the doctor. I was just saying goodbye to Daisy, since she’s going back to school tomorrow.”
When she didn’t answer, he placed a hand on her shoulder, only to have her pull away from his touch.
He pushed her toward the elevators, making small talk as they left the hospital.
“Don’t let me forget to stop by and pick up the boys. It was a good idea to have them both stay with the childminder long enough to get you home.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want to take care of three children, would you?” Ellie answered bitterly.
Alec ignored her comment and got her safely to the car. She snapped at him again when he attempted to buckle her seatbelt for her.
As they road in silence Ellie eventually spoke up. “Once we get to the flat and I get settled, you’re welcome to go back to your flat. I’m sure you’re tired of having to take care of us all. You’ve been at the hospital all day and with the boys every night. You can go home, there’s no reason to stay and babysit me.”
He looked over at her to find her gaze fixed out the window. Her shoulders were slumped and her tone defeated.
“I want to stay. I’m not doing it because I have to. I’m doing it because I want to.”
“Have it your way then,” her bitter voice shot back at him.
He didn’t know how much more he could handle. Four days of this mess and he still had no idea what was happening. Ellie was recovering physically but she was burrowing deeper and deeper inside herself emotionally. She was either high or low, never falling in between. One moment she would be in the kitchen, doing her best to fix the boys something to eat, then the next she would retreat to her room when she was unable to complete a simple task due to her physical limitations.
She would make sarcastic comments and they would banter back and forth, at times he was almost sure she was returning to her old self, then he would touch her hand or her cheek and she would close in on herself, rejecting his advances and striking out at him verbally. They hadn’t kissed since the night before she got shot, hadn’t embraced since that moment they pulled away from each other warm and flushed as she went to tend Fred and he left to visit Daisy.
Tom had started to lock himself in his room and refuse to talk to his mum. Fred clung to Alec desperately in his confusion. He knew Ellie was heartbroken that her sons were seeking out comfort from him.
Alec had left the flat a few hours ago to have a meeting with McCallan. There were some issues of importance he wanted to discuss that included Joe Miller’s court date, Ellie’s recovery, and staff changes at the office.
Alec had just left the station when a voicemail from Tom lit up on his mobile. He pressed play and put the speaker to his ear.
“Sorry to bother you at work, but I’m worried about Mum. She fixed us dinner and everything was fine. She went upstairs to put Fred down for bed. I think she carried him, and I wasn’t sure she was supposed to do that. She went to her room but she was hunched over, like she was hiding something. I asked her if she was alright and she said she was. But I can hear her in her room crying and she won’t answer.”
The message continued, but Alec hung up the phone. He’d take care of it when he got back.
After speaking with Tom and reassuring him everything was going to be alright, he looked in to find Fred was still fast asleep. Alec headed toward Ellie’s bedroom and was surprised to find the door unlocked and soft light coming from her bedside lamp.
But what he wasn’t expecting was the sight before him. She had her back to him, sitting on the side of the bed, facing the wall. Her back was bare, and there was nothing covering her torso. She’d taken to wearing only pajama bottoms and a housecoat, finding shirts and undergarments too restrictive for her healing body. She was clad only in her pajama pants as she stared straight ahead. He could see the exit wound from the bullet on her back, the skin bruised and mottled black and blue. She had refused to let him change her bandages, stating she was a big girl and didn’t need him to take care of her. The gauze and tape lie abandoned on the bedside table, her pain pills resting unopened beside them. He called her name tentatively to no answer. He knocked against the door and spoke her name louder. After no response he walked toward her and kneeled down in the floor in front of her. She continued to stare past him, her right arm across her chest, shielding herself from him.
“Do you need help?” he whispered, gesturing to the bandages on the table.
She continued to stare forward, arm still tightly wrapped around her chest.
He tentatively reached out and touched the skin surrounding her wound. It was the first time he’d seen it since he found her bleeding on the side of the road. Four stitches bound her skin together, the surrounding skin red and angry from being irritated. Her entire left side was covered in bruises, the front of her chest fairing far worse than the back. There was a gray circular pattern surrounding the skin where the bullet had entered. He knew well enough from his time as an investigator that this was the result of a gunshot at point blank range. Powder and debris was forced into the skin at a high rate of speed on impact. As his fingers touched the skin he could feel her ribs through the skin, having lost weight over the last few weeks.
He hadn’t realized he’d been staring at her exposed skin for so long until her voice startled him.
Her broken voice cut the silence, “I look terrible, I know. I didn’t want anyone to see it.”
Alec placed his hand over the bruised skin, Ellie pulling away slightly at his touch.
“It’s alright, I’m fine,” she announced, uncertain of who she was trying to convince.
For the first time since he entered the room, he caught her gaze as she looked at him under hooded eyes.
Alec tempered his anger and answered in a hushed tone, “No, it’s not alright. None of this,” gesturing to her broken body, “is alright.”
She mistook his anger for repulsion, trying in vain to cover herself up. She cursed herself for not putting her housecoat back on before he walked in.
He put his warm hands over her arm that she was using as a shield. He pulled it away, never once taking his eyes off her face.
“Please don’t hide from me.” He lifted her chin to look at him.
“This is not a face of disgust, Ellie. This is a face of frustration, and anger, at the person who dared attempt to break this beautiful body.”
The gentleness in his voice caused tears to course down her face.
“Now, let’s get you fixed up.”
The moment of intimacy had passed, and Alec’s face was all business.
He took the bandages and placed them gently over each wound, apologizing quietly each time a gasp or moan escaped her throat. He wrapped them tightly, securing the tape to her skin. When he was finished he grabbed her housecoat off the end of the bed and gently drew the sleeves up each arm, careful not to pull where the bruising was at its worst.
He placed his hands on both sides of her face and kissed her cheek gently, she stiffened as she thought of the chaste kiss he shared with Tess at the hospital. As he pulled away she grabbed his wrists.
“I’m sorry,” she said sadly.
He smiled in return, “Nothing to be sorry for, luv.”
She didn’t understand why he was still here. She had done nothing to encourage his love or tenderness with her. Based on the way she’d been treating him the last few days, he should have been long gone by now.
She laid down on the bed, resting on her right side, facing the wall.
“Why are you still here?” she asked in a mere whisper.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and answered with a question of his own, “Why are you so certain I shouldn’t be?”
She pulled her legs in toward her chest, not sure which was hurting her more, her body or her heart.
“Talk to me, Ellie, please.”
She patted the place on the bed behind her and Alec took his shoes off, laying down on the bed behind her. He didn’t dare touch her for fear of hurting her, or pushing her away.
She reached behind her, the movement eliciting a small whimper of pain, attempting to reach his arm. He lifted it and she pulled it toward her until in rested across her chest, his hand coming to rest just above her breasts. The weight of his arm pressed on her upper ribcage, allowing her to lay comfortably, and be held at the same time.
Time passed in silence, nothing but the sound of their synchronized breathing could be heard. His thumb traced over the skin of her collarbone, the beat of her heart under his arm, steady and calm. He was beginning to think she’d fallen asleep when she sighed deeply and began to speak.
“I thought I was doing alright, you know. I hadn’t been feeling depressed or angry, I could think about the past without bursting into tears, I felt like I was finally moving on, moving past all of it.”
Tears began to course silently down her cheeks as she began to talk faster, “But now I’m so scared, and angry, and bitter. I’m letting everyone down, and I just feel so weak. It took me over an hour to fix the boys dinner. I didn’t have the heart to tell Fred I couldn’t carry him up the stairs. I cried the whole time we read stories because it hurt so badly. I feel like I’ve pushed Tom away, and I’ve been an absolute arse to you. I’m jealous because I saw you with Tess, and I’m afraid I won’t have a job to go back to, I have nightmares that Joe will get out again and come back for me and the boys. I think back to things that happened in the past and I worry that if I had just…”
Alec pressed a kiss to the back of her shoulder where her housecoat had dropped down.
“Shhh…one at a time, luv. I know I can’t take away the things you’re scared and angry about, but I can listen.”
The tears flowed more heavily at the thought of how patient Alec was being with her, and how she felt she didn’t deserve it.
“Start with the boys, why are you upset about the boys?”
“Tom is suffering too, and I feel like he’s getting pushed to the side because everyone is having to deal with my shit. I haven’t even gotten to talk to him about everything.”
“First of all, he’s handling things a lot better than you think. I think his brooding that you’ve noticed has more to do with his worry for you, than it does with anything that’s bothering him at the moment. He’s talked to me the last few evenings, and he’s doing alright, he understands it’s hard for you.”
She didn’t answer, just nodded her head slowly.
“What about Fred, why are you worried about him?”
“Do you ever notice how little he talks? He’s almost three and a half, Alec, but he barely says more than a toddler. I just keep thinking that everything that’s happened with Joe, and moving, and him having to stay with someone during the day, maybe it’s hurting him.”
Alec chuckled softly. “Wee Fred is strong and independent, just like his mum, but he only talks when he has something important to say. Fred’s speech has nothing to do with ability, it has everything to do with whether or not he wants to make the effort. Believe me, if he wants something bad enough, he knows exactly how to say it. He’s resilient Ellie, and he’s a good lad.”
He leaned in close to Ellie’s ear and his voice tickled the sensitive skin there.
“Now, why in the world you’d be jealous of Tess is beyond me. Unless of course you are referring to the fact that I kissed her on the cheek before she left. It was merely a thank you, Ellie. She actually came to the hospital with Daisy and brought me a few things when you were still unconscious. They both stayed and kept me from going mad, waiting to hear if you were going to be alright. Before they left the day you were released, Tess has told me that she was willing to let Daisy visit whenever she’d like, even if it wasn’t my weekend. She even apologized for some remarks she made concerning our relationship the week before.”
He brushed her soft skin with his hand and kissed the sensitive skin in the hollow of her neck. “You’ve nothing to worry about, alright?”
Ellie began to shake slightly, her tears dripping in earnest and her chest heaving as she attempted to stifle sobs. He changed positions and went to the other side of the bed to lay face to face with her.
“What’s this all about then?”
“Can I tell you something?” she looked up to find his eyes boring into her, concern and compassion written all over his face.
He nodded but remained silent.
“Do you ever think back and wonder where things went wrong?” He knew it was a rhetorical question, and he was assuming she was speaking about the demise of his marriage, as well as Joe’s interest in young boys.
“You wonder if there was a moment you missed, or something you said that started it all.”
Her eyes stared through his chest, as if she was watching a scene from her past play out in real time. Her voice sounded far away, an almost ethereal tone to it.
“Did you ever wonder why there was such a large age gap between Tom and Fred? About 10 years between the two of them.”
He wasn’t sure where this was going, but he didn’t think he was going like it when they got there.
“After Tom came along, Joe and I both continued to work. Joe took third shift with the emergency service and I worked evenings as a patrol officer in Dorset. We both loved our jobs, but we loved spending time with Tom, as well.”
She took a deep breath and her voice dropped to a whisper, she began to speak as if telling him a secret than no one had ever heard before. Perhaps that wasn’t far from the truth.
“When Tom was 3, about the same age Fred is now, we found out we were pregnant.”
Alec’s eyes grew large, reaching out for Ellie’s hand in preparation for what was about to come.
“We decided to wait and not tell anyone until well after the first trimester. I had an awful pregnancy with Tom, and we wanted to be safe. We went to our 20 week appointment to find out what the baby was. They told us it was a beautiful baby girl. Joe had always talked about how much he wanted a daughter.”
Her eyes met his for the first time since she began telling the story. A heartbreaking smile on her face. He smiled back sadly as he squeezed her hand.
“The nurse did the sonogram and had a worried look on her face the entire time. She said she was having a hard time finding the heartbeat. That’s normal with pregnancies at that stage. But she turned the screen away from me and Joe, and then turned off the monitor. The next words out of her mouth were an apology.”
She was squeezing his hand so tightly he thought it might bruise, but he didn’t dare pull away. Her eyes took on that far away stare once more as she walked through a memory she had buried deeply so many years ago.
“She died sometime that week, and I had no idea. The doctor admitted me to the hospital and I was told that they would induce labor. I gave birth to a beautiful little girl 10 hours later. They laid her on my chest, but she was no bigger than the palm of my hand. It was quite possibly the worst 10 hours of my entire life. Knowing that all of the pain and sacrifice of labor wouldn’t change a thing, she was still dead.”
Ellie looked up to find tears running down Alec’s face as he reached up and brushed her curls back from her face. She continued, knowing she had to finish.
“Joe kind of checked out at that point. He put everything he had into caring for Tom. I put everything I had into work. I didn’t want to be around my own child, it just hurt so much to look at him, because I always saw her. Joe quit his job to stay at home full time with Tom and I took on more hours and went back to school so that I could become a detective. I don’t know that either of us really dealt with her death very well, we just pushed it down and moved on. That’s when things changed for us. Joe started to hide things from me, go out on his own in the evenings, just to the pub with the guys, he’d say. But I wonder sometimes if that was it, if that was the starting point. I wonder if I had just…”
“No.” Alec whispered with finality. “You did nothing wrong. You were grieving the death of your child. Nothing Joe did after that was any of your doing, do you understand?”
She nodded but looked down and their intertwined hands silently. After a few moments he spoke quietly.
“What was her name?” he asked gently.
Ellie smiled as she looked up at him. “Eleanor. I named her after my Gran. I didn’t have a good relationship with my mum, she left when Lucy and I were teenagers. But Gran always took care of us. I was named after her as well, but Mum just thought I needed a nickname instead of her full given name. I always thought my name sounded childish. When I looked at that baby in the palm of my hand it was the only name I could think of. Strong, wise, and destined for someplace much greater than here.”
Alec continued to run his fingers through her hair, their feet becoming tangled at some point during her story.
“I don’t think about her very often anymore. But when I woke up in the hospital room, there was a nurse standing over me, and the first thing she said was, “My name is Eleanor,” and everything came crashing back.”
There were no words that could heal the kind of pain that was coursing through her. Alec was content to just be with her.
“You know, when Danny died, Beth always threw it in my face that I couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to lose a child. And she was right in that I didn’t know what it was like to lose a child like Tom, that I had poured years of time and love into, that had been bound to me with memories and emotions. But each time I watched her sink further and further into despair, all I could think of was Eleanor, and how she deserved every bit of the same love and sorrow as Danny.”
Alec leaned in and kissed her softly on the lips. Pouring every bit of love he had within him, to help her understand she was not alone. She responded back with fervor, her tongue running along his bottom lip. His hand slipped from her cheek to her chest. He tugged at the top of her housecoat, loosening it enough to slip his palm inside. His calloused hand brushed past the sensitive flesh of her breast and she pressed her hand on top of his own as he touched her. His mouth moved to her neck to drop kisses as she hummed in pleasure. As his hand touched the soft skin of her stomach he felt a drop of moisture against his face. He stopped abruptly to find Ellie’s eyes tightly shut, and tears coursing down her cheeks.
He cursed himself as he gently pulled her housecoat back up and tied the belt loosely to secure it. He kissed both of her eyes and gently pressed a kiss to her lips before pulling her as gently as possible to rest on his chest. He rubbed her back in circles, whispering words of comfort, and holding her as the tears continued to fall.
His silent tears joined her own. For the grief of their past, present, and whatever was to come.
Chapter 10: Trust
Sorry for the delay in posting this chapter, my friends. All errors are mine, as always. This is a bit of a transition chapter. If on schedule, two more chapters after this! Thanks for hanging in there with me, and encouraging me with so many kind words.
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
C.S. Lewis - “The Four Loves”
Sweat dripped from her brow and slid along her cheek, creating an itch as it traced across her warm skin. She was overheated, the humid air in the tactical training center causing her clothes to stick tight to her body, complicating an already difficult task before her.
Regulations stated that any officer involved in a shooting where one or both parties were injured was just cause for temporary suspension until investigations cleared them for duty. In her case, regulations went a bit further. Due to the traumatic nature of the shooting, before she was allowed to return to active duty, she had to pass a gun recertification and a mental evaluation. Donned in all black, her vest heavy on her chest, she’d pinned her curls back from her face. With noise cancelling headphones in place, she stood stock still for the last of her two hour test.
In the last year, Devon Police Authority built a state-of-the-art 100-metre indoor training facility equipped for live firing. Instead of static shooting ranges, the tactical centre offered training exercises, simulated targets, and a tactical house equipped for conducting room searches in complete darkness.
Her eyes closed in exhaustion, rolling her head from side to side as she stretched the taught muscles in her neck. She was already stretched thin as it was, her fragile psyche on the verse of implosion. The recoil from her weapon shot a twinge of pain through her side each time it discharged. Her still healing wound burned each time she moved her body in anticipation. Never once did her face give way to the tumult of emotion raging through her. By all outside appearance, she remained unmoved.
The last portion of the recertification was what most deemed the easiest, unmoving targets. But for some reason, this one seemed the most mentally exhausting for her, almost intimate in nature.
Five metres in front of her stood the simple black outline of a man’s upper torso. Four circles in varying width began at mid chest and expanded outward until they reached the edges of the target. She looked to her left and right out of habit, remembering it was only her standing in the small white cubical that separated her from other shooters. A small camera hung at the top left corner of the booth, giving real-time display and relaying target results simultaneously. An appointed officer sat behind two-way glass, observing the range and keeping an eye on the video feed.
Holding her gun tightly in her right hand, she lifted it slowly until it met her line of vision. The target stared at her, steady and unmoving, silently taunting. Her previous training exercises had tested her with emergency disaster scenarios and faux criminals fleeing crime scenes in a haze of gunfire, but this target did none of that.
Squinting her eyes as if she were looking into the sun, Ellie brought her left hand to steady the right. Her finger shook as she slowly depressed the trigger. Three shots rang out in rapid succession and her arm kicked back at the small recoil. She closed her eyes, willing the ache behind her temple to dissipate. She wiped the sweat off of her forehead with back of her sleeve and pulled her weapon back once more as the next target was set. Her stomach was in knots and her breathing was becoming shallow. The sound of the shots and the smell of residue from the discharged gun was beginning to make her ill. She bit back bile that rose in her throat. After repeating her actions at 10 and 15 metres, the buzzer sounded, marking the end of her session. She took off her head-gear, put her gun away and blew out a breath. She was fairly sure her review would be positive and it would bring her one step closer to getting back out on patrol. A voice came over the speaker,
“P.C. Miller, I believe that’s all we’ll be needing from you. Please sign out at the door and collect your belongings. We’ll be sending our recommendation to your Chief Administrator as soon as we finish the reports.” She looked up at the two-way glass and nodded in affirmation at the figure whose voice had just called out. She packed her things quickly, wanting to get as far as possible from the sounds of gunfire.
Alec looked over at the officer to his right, making detailed notes in his log book. His eyes strayed back to the scene on the other side of the two way glass. A trainee had gone out to the range to retrieve the targets from the last session. Alec’s eyebrows went up as he observed their present state. Every shot, from every distance, was a kill shot. She’d not missed one.
He knew the officer would recommend she be placed back on active duty as soon as possible, but he couldn’t help but hesitate in affirming such a decision. Whereas the men filing the reports looked at accuracy and weapon control, he was observing something completely different.
His eyes had been trained on her expressions, the stance of her body and the eccentricities that the casual observer might overlook.
What looked like mere sweat dripping down her face had been mixed with tears. He had no doubt that Ellie could handle herself with a weapon, that wasn’t the issue, had never been the issue. He was more concerned with what passed behind her eyes each time she heard the discharge of the weapon, the face that swam in her nightmares every time she smelled the acrid scent of a bullet leaving the chamber.
He didn’t dare show his face as she’d looked straight into the two-way glass. For a brief moment he feared she saw him. Her gaze burned through him, and she hadn’t even realized it. He’d never hear the end of it if she thought for a second he was following her. He had needed to see this for himself, and no report would have given him the information he sought.
Alec found himself heading to the second floor at the station. He’d received a call before he’d arrived at the training centre early that morning notifying him that Superintendent Stinson needed to speak with him concerning the charges that had been brought forward against Joe. He hadn’t given any details over the phone, only vague notions of why he needed him to come in.
Stinson was an older officer, mid-sixties and headed for retirement. He was heavy-set, health having declined after years of pushing paper behind a desk. He was a man of few words who need not demand respect, it was merely given by the reputation that preceded him.
Alec hadn’t worked with him personally, only in conjunction with various detectives under his leadership over the last few months. Rumor had it that positions at the station would be opening up, though no details on just what positions that included. Just a week prior, McCallan had pulled Alec into his office, encouraging him to look into being reinstated to active duty in case a criminal investigation position came available.
Thinking it couldn’t hurt to at least look into it, Alec had begun taking the steps to do just that. He’d already met with a physician and cleared his physical examination. He filed all the necessary paperwork and could do nothing but wait. Being reinstated wouldn’t mean he had to take a position right away, it just meant he would be eligible to do so if one came about. There were moments he questioned if he should have discussed it with Ellie, but it seemed that each time he went to bring it up, something else took precedence. Between busyness with work, mending his relationship with Daisy, Ellie’s fragile emotional state, and the impending charges on Joe, Alec didn’t seem to think his applying to be reinstated rated very high on the scale of topics of importance.
The elevator doors opened and Alec stepped down the familiar hallway until he came to the Superintendent’s office. He tentatively knocked at the open door and was waved in as Stinson was finishing up a phone call.
Taking a quick look around the office, Alec was surprised to find it warm and inviting. Most offices he’d been in as a detective were stark and cold, piled high with paperwork and reeked of coffee and cigarette smoke. Stinson’s desk was tidy, a frame that sat atop a stack of books boasted a large family. The chairs facing his desk were comfortable and the air was clean and crisp, as if the room had just been cleaned.
When he had first called, Alec assumed it had something to do with his application for reinstatement, as his paperwork would make its way through Stinson’s office at some point. But he knew from the earlier phone call it was far more serious than that.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
Stinson heaved a great sigh and rubbed his hands over his eyes.
“Hardy, the main reason I called you in was to enlist your help on a very sensitive matter. As you know we are currently working with the local prosecutor on completing a charge sheet for Mr. Miller, and devising recommendations for sentencing if convicted.”
Alec nodded silently. “I’ve already provided a sworn statement of my knowledge of the crimes, sir. Am I needed for further questioning?”
“No, no, nothing like that. We’ve already gathered eye-witness reports from all parties involved.”
Stinson studied Alec carefully before explaining himself.
“Mr. Hardy, are you aware that P.C. Miller was wearing a body cam on the day of the alleged crime?”
He was momentarily startled at the thought, but shook his head in answer. He tried to think back, but the images had been pushed to the recesses of his mind, a place he had no need to revisit.
“Myself and another officer have viewed the footage and it corroborates with the testimony provided by yourself and Ms. Miller.”
“I don’t understand what you’re asking of me, sir.”
Stinson folded his hands over and clasped them tightly, leaning in and speaking quietly to Alec.
“I know you are aware that this is a chance to make sure Mr. Miller is punished to the fullest extent for his crimes. This is your opportunity, Mr. Hardy, to help solidify evidence against him, and make certain he does not cheat his way out of the justice system. You know that the evidence we hand over to the court has to be condemning, we have to show without a shadow of a doubt, Mr. Miller carried out these crimes knowingly, or we jeopardize an already precarious case.”
“You want me to go back over the body cam footage.” Alec made the statement, no question as to Stinson’s intent.
“You are not being ordered to do so, Mr. Hardy. You do not officially work for this department, though your consultation in our investigations has been without a doubt, some of the best work I’ve ever witnessed. I understand if you wish to refuse my request based on the personal nature of your relationship with Ms. Miller. But the reason I wanted you specifically is because there may be mal-intent on Mr. Miller’s behalf that those of us removed from the situation may not have caught, something Mr. Miller may have alluded to that we have no reference for.”
Alec countered, “Aren’t you afraid any report I offer to the courts will be seen as a conflict of interest? That it won’t be taken seriously because of the widely held belief that P.C. Miller and I compromised a murder trial due to allegations of an affair?”
“I thought you might say that, but we are not asking you to sign off officially on any documentation. We want you to look at the footage, compare it with the charge sheet we’ve drawn up and make any addendums necessary.”
He tentatively nodded in agreement. His pursuit of justice, as far as Joe was concerned, outweighed any other warring emotion in his heart and mind. He was ushered to a small room a few doors down the hall. It reminded him of a media room he’d used in Dorset when a tech specialist went over the contents of the computer taken from the Miller residence during Danny’s murder investigation.
Stinson dismissed himself from the room, quietly shutting the door behind him. Alec pulled the disc from the evidence folder that had been handed to him and placed it in the player. Taking a set of headphones, he rested them around his neck as he quickly looked through the paperwork before him. The current charge sheet listed 7 separate charges, 4 of which specifically dealt with the crimes that he had personal knowledge of. He went through each one, noting the specificity of the descriptions, nodding as he silently agreed with what he was reading.
MG4 Charge Sheet
Person Charged MILLER JOSEPH F.
Address 1578, Highland Park, Meare Green, Somerset
Self-Defined Ethnicity WHITE-BRITISH
Colour WHITE EUROPEAN
Place of Birth WEST SUSSEX
You are charged with the offence(s) shown below. You do not have to say anything.
But it may harm your defense if you do not mention now something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.
Sequential No. Charges
1 Use threatening / abusive words / behavior or disorderly behavior likely to cause harassment alarm or distress
On 15/03/2014 at 220 DERRIFORD WEST WAY, DEVON used threatening or abusive words or behavior or disorderly behavior within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. CONTRARY TO SECTION 5(1) AND (6) OF THE PUBLIC ORDER ACT 1986. H.O. 125/12 Local None CJS PU86525
2 Possession of firearm with intent to endanger life
On 15/03/2014 at 220 DERRIFORD WEST WAY, DEVON possessed firearm and threatened or used firearm to bodily injure another person. CONTRARY TO SECTION 16(A) OF THE FIREARMS ACT 1968. H.O. 125/12 Local None CJS PU865256
3 Possession of firearm with intent to cause fear or violence
On 15/03/2014 at 220 DERRIFORD WEST WAY, DEVON possessed firearm and operated with negligence within the hearing or sight of a person likely to result in intimidation or violence. CONTRARY TO SECTION 16(A) OF THE FIREARMS ACT 1968. H.O. 125/12 Local None CJS PU865234
4 Wounding or grievous bodily harm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
On 15/03/2014 at 220 DERRIFORD WEST WAY, DEVON caused grievous bodily harm to one ELLIE A. MILLER with evidentiary intent. CONTRARY TO SECTION 18 OF THE OFFENCES AGAINST THE PERSON ACT 1861. H.O. 125/12 Local None CJS PU865455
5 Abuse of position of trust: Corruption of a minor
On 04/02/2014 at 1181 WEXFORD CT., SOMERSET caused corruption of minor (under age 18) wherefore minor was exposed to and/or encouraged to perform acts of a physical nature. CONTRARY TO SECTION 17 OF THE SEXUAL OFFENCES ACT 2003. H.O. 125/12 Local None CJS PU865475
6 Meeting a child following sexual grooming etc.
On 04/02/2014 at WEXFORD CT., SOMERSET intentionally met with alleged victim Timothy R. Scott on at least two occasions immediately following the previous charge of corruption. CONTRARY TO SECTION 15 OF THE SEXUAL OFFENCES ACT 2003. H.O. 125/12 Local None CJS PU865476
7 Possession of indecent photograph of a minor
On 05/02/2014 at 1578 HIGHLAND PARK, SOMERSET possession of electronic images/media involving erotic posing and/or sexual activity of a minor (under age 18) CONTRARY TO SECTION 160 OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT 1988. H.O. 125/12 Local None CJS PU867352
Alec wanted to take it back. He did not want to do this. He’d done a fair job when he’d worked as a detective at removing himself from the emotion of the crimes he was investigating. It was easier to look at static words on a page and graphic descriptions of violence when you had no relationship or investment with the victims in question.
That way of thinking changed the day he pulled a dead child out of the water. His job was no longer a duty to be performed, it was a contract, a debt to the victims and their families. What he was about to do was not a routine viewing of CCTV footage. This was a first person view of a particularly intimate crime.
As he queued the disc he looked toward the door, as if half expecting Ellie to burst through at any moment. He absentmindedly ran his hands over his mobile, wondering if he should call and tell her before he did this. But what would he say? And what explanation would suffice? What reason could he really give her that would make his actions look like anything other than an invasion of privacy? He’d wondered, ever since finding her bleeding against the car what that bastard had done. Her only explanation to him had been that it was an accident. But what did that really mean? She’d had massive blood loss at that point. Had she been trying to protect him?
He had been adamant that he would not pressure her into talking about what happened, but other than giving a statement in the hospital, she had not breathed a word of it to anyone. He knew it was haunting her. This was trauma in its most unadulterated form. He heard her at night when he’d stay over to help take care of her after leaving the hospital. He knew the sound of night terrors. The gasp of shock as she was pulled beneath the shadow of fear with no way of escape. The faces that whispered unspeakable things in her ear. The silent scream that wouldn’t escape her throat, nor the attempt to flee that left her standing in the very place she began.
At this point, he was willing to take whatever punishment she doled out if it meant he could help shoulder the burden she was carrying.
The footage began to play as he placed the headset tightly over his ears. The sounds were close, and the view was stomach turning, the camera pitching and turning with each step Ellie made. He could remember the warmth of the day, the sun high in the midday hour.
He couldn’t tell what she’d seen but he watched as she quickly pressed herself up against a barn. The camera offered nothing more than a view of her holding her gun as it pointed toward the ground. Her radio crackled to life loudly and he heard her whisper a curse. She silenced it and moved closer to the door. He listened as she gave an ultimatum, her stance strong and unwavering. The camera was now trained on the door, with nothing obstructing the view save for the gun at the bottom of the screen.
Surprisingly, the door opened and a man backed toward her, never showing his face. Had he not known the full story, he’d have never guessed that this was Joe Miller. From his observations, Ellie had not figured that out either.
The man that turned around and faced the camera was unnerving. His smile, half hidden by the hair on his face, held a sinister quality. She gave no indication that she finally recognized the identity of the man who stood before her, save for the slight tremble of her hand as it held the gun aloft. Alec listened as Ellie read Joe his rights and listed his charges. Her voice strong, giving no evidence of fear.
The moment that Joe reached into his pocket, Alec felt the breath leave his lungs. But what happened next was not what he had expected.
He watched in shock as Joe held the gun to his temple, hands shaking and manic smile in place. His voice came out hurried and nervous. His eyes held the same fear as the day Alec took his statement the first time. A man who knew he was guilty and was feeling the weight of his sins.
It was at that moment that Ellie did the unthinkable, she put down her weapon. Alec cursed at her, for daring to put her life at stake for that man. He could see her hands out in front of her, waving them at Joe and trying in earnest to get him to lower his weapon.
Joe launched into his diatribe about how the police had it all wrong, that he had done nothing that would implicate him of a crime so heinous. Things hadn’t changed with Joe, he was a man who would deny his crimes to the bitter end, never giving the satisfaction of a confession, much less repentance.
Alec cursed as he heard Joe attempting to use the boys against Ellie, to manipulate her into dropping her guard and letting him go.
She held her ground in defiance, reminding him that she was here to do a job, and she wasn’t leaving until he was in custody. Joe brought the gun closer to his skin and closed his eyes tightly, finger pulling on the trigger. Alec’s heart was beating quickly, a cold sweat enveloping him.
The next few seconds were a blur. All he could see were moving lights and colors and all he could hear were the struggling breaths of both parties. As the camera focused on Joe’s face he jumped as the sound of the gunshot went off at point blank range. The noise was deafening and he could almost feel the reverberation of the recoil.
As Ellie rose he could see blood on both of their hands. The camera began to sway as Ellie sagged and hit the ground. He saw her hands grip the grass at her feet and her breath begin to labor.
Joe’s voice repeated a phrase in the background, almost as a mantra: “I can’t, I can’t…”
Alec’s hands began to shake as the camera focused on Joe once again to find him pacing and trying in earnest to scratch the blood off of his hands. Here was a man who had years of professional medical training, and he had not once spared a glance at Ellie as she kneeled before him, bleeding profusely.
Ellie desperately begged Joe to get help. Alec watched helplessly as Joe turned away and ran.
Alec closed his eyes and bowed his head as he listened to Ellie. He could hear her quiet cries of pain. Not only had she just been shot, she had been abandoned once more by the man who once boasted of his love for her. His gaze had only flittered back in forth in worry of what would happen to him if he was caught.
Alec continued to listen with his eyes tightly closed. She called for help on her radio numerous times, but was left with companionable silence.
He looked at the timestamp on the footage and realized that he wouldn’t arrive on scene for another 20 minutes. She had somehow managed to push to her feet and stumble toward her car. He listened painfully as her breaths became louder and a wheeze developed deep in her chest. She’d made it to the patrol car and sat in the position he’d found her. He moved his hand to turn off the tape when he heard her whispering. She was crying as she had turned in on herself in pain. He heard her whisper Tom and Fred’s names over and over, her fear for their safety evident in her tone. But it was the last whisper, muffled by sobs that broke him down as he pulled his headset off. Just a name. His name.
Ellie cursed as she burnt her finger on a piping hot pan before letting it clatter to the counter. Running her hand under the faucet, she looked at her finished work with pride. She’d never been one to garner praise for her cooking abilities, but she had been looking for ways to keep herself occupied while on the mend. She’d already read through multiple books, caught up the laundry, and even attempted to work on the garden before Alec threatened to take her back to the hospital if he ever caught her pulling weeds before her stitches had healed again.
She placed the biscuits on a plate and quickly dropped the pan in the sink. The house was deafeningly silent. Tom was gone for a few days with Lucy and Ollie, the presence of reporters coupled with her extreme emotional fluctuations had set him on edge. She didn’t blame him for wanting to leave.
Fred was happily occupied with the childminder, none the wiser of the tumultuous events unfolding around him.
She momentarily tensed as two rapid knocks on the door garnered her attention. She knew it was Alec without having to turn around. A few days after she’d returned home from the hospital, he’d unlocked the door and walked in like normal, only she hadn’t heard him come in. Ellie had come around the corner and nearly had a panic attack from the fright. She’d screamed and dropped to the floor, causing Alec to grow pale and Fred to burst into tears. Ever since, Alec had chosen to knock twice successively whenever he entered to give her ample time to prepare. She was surprised he was here at this hour. He'd promised to watch Fred while she went to her appointment for the psychological evaluation, but that was hours away.
She heard him put his things down by the door in silence, the sound of his jacket as he threw it unceremoniously on a chair.
“You’ll have to try one of these, yeah? A few more days and I’ll be a regular domestic,” she laughed quietly to herself as she heard him come up behind her.
Before she could turn around his arms came around her waist and held her tightly. He tucked his face into her neck, his facial hair scratching the sensitive skin at the hollow of her throat. He placed a soft kiss on her shoulder as he mumbled incoherently in a soft whisper. His body trembled slightly, his normally steady presence wavering.
“What’s happened?” she questioned him, trying in earnest to turn in his arms and see his face. He held her tightly, stilling her movements.
He didn’t speak, only continued gripping her tightly.
She finally managed to turn in his arms, his hands continuing to rest on her waist as she turned to face him. Her eyes sought his and what she found there was unexpected. They looked haunted and fearful, a red rim tracing each one.
“Talk to me, Alec. You’re scaring me.”
His eyes lost their softness, instead taking on a direct stare, almost in judgment.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he questioned as he loosened his hold on her waist.
Confusion enveloped her face as she shook her head, “Tell you what? I’ve no idea what you’re on about.”
His voice dripped with unbridled rage as he answered, “You should have let him do it. It should have been him lying on the side of the road, not you.”
Alec turned his back to her, putting a few steps between the two of them. His anger had been building minute by minute since he’d left the station.
He heard her sharp intake of breath at the realization of what he was referring to.
“You went and dug up the report, didn’t you?” she whispered, the contempt thinly veiled. “All this talk about waiting until I felt comfortable enough to talk to you about it, just for show was it?”
“I didn’t go looking for the report, Miller.” The old nickname slipped out before he could catch it. It always seemed to roll of his tongue when they were in the midst of a row.
Ellie’s face hardened at the response as she crossed her arms protectively around herself. “Then just how did you come across that information, sir?”
Alec threw his arms up in frustration, “Look, Stinson asked me to look at the body cam footage and review the charge sheet for Joe. They didn’t want any holes in the investigation, so they asked me if I was willing to have a go at it.”
Ellie took a few steps toward Alec, stopping a mere foot away. “Oh, and I bet you just jumped at the chance didn’t you?”
“Damn right, I did! It wasn’t as if you were going to tell me a bloody thing about it!”
He could feel the words falling from his lips unfiltered. Weeks of pent up frustration and fear making its way out in most inappropriate way possible.
“Dammit, Ellie, I listen to you scream in the middle of the night and I wonder what you see, or what you hear, what you’re running from or where you hide. You lock the door and no one could get to you if they tried. I watch you put on a show for the boys and act like everything is okay, and then snap at me every time I ask after you. You won’t talk to anyone and I don’t know how to help you! You aren’t dealing with what happened, you’re just pushing it down and finding ways to avoid it. That’s why you’re so adamant about getting back to work.”
Ellie’s head shot up as his last words hit her. “You said something to McCallan, didn’t you?”
Alec remained silent, his answer evident.
“He called me not long before you got in saying I’d gotten a positive review on my recert but an unnamed officer had expressed some other concerns. He said we’d address it after my meeting with the psychologist.”
There was only one explanation for knowing that type of information.
“You son of a bitch.”
His shocked gaze met her own. “You were there weren’t you? Bloody spying on me. Afraid I wouldn’t tell you about that either, had to find out for yourself?” her voice was slowly rising with each word, “You’re the one that’s always telling me what I’m going through is normal, that I can talk about it in my own time. Has everything suddenly become too much for you?” her voice dripping with cynicism.
Alec braced his hand on the dining room chair, “Maybe it has,” he said simply, head down in defeat.
Ellie’s eyes misted over at the unexpected confession. She lifted her head up in mock pride. “I think maybe you need to leave.”
His head shot up in confusion. He expected her anger, but not this.
“Ellie, listen, that’s not what I meant. It’s just, I’m tired. Between helping out with the boys, working late at the station, and taking care of you since you’ve been out of hospital, it’s just been a bit much.”
She nodded solemnly. “Well, I’m sorry that we’ve become such a burden for you. It won’t happen again.”
“That’s not what I mean, Ellie, stop putting words in my mouth.”
Ellie ignored his protests and walked toward the door. She picked up his jacket and his bag, shoving them both into his arms.
He knew there was nothing to say at this point, nothing that she’d accept at least. All he could do is respect her wishes. He took his things from her and silently walked out the door.
Ellie slammed the door behind him, forehead pressed against the hardwood. She sunk down to the floor and tucked her knees to her chest, but not a tear dropped from her eyes, not anymore.
Ellie was tucked tight into the plush red settee. The large piece of furniture seemed to dwarf her small frame as it faced the small desk in front of her. A small fireplace was burning a few feet away, its presence more for comfort than for warmth. Her shaking hands held a warm cup of tea that had been pressed into her hands mere seconds before. She stared into the swirling steam as it escaped the hot liquid. It had been months since she’d last stepped foot in this office, the conversations held here were raw and uncensored, their content locked and left behind each time she left. As soon as her feet had hit the front step it was as if a heaviness enveloped her. The pain she thought she’d left behind greeted her like an unwelcomed friend.
“Ellie?” a gentle voice broke through her thundering thoughts.
She looked up at patient face of her therapist. She’d probably asked her a question and was expecting an answer, but Ellie couldn’t remember hearing such a request.
“You know you need not apologize to me. If there is a place to speak freely without need of watching our words, it would be here.”
Dr. Elizabeth Mead had been her therapist since the year prior. She’d looked high and low for someone who specialized in marriage and family trauma, someone who wasn’t looking for a news story. She’d specifically looked for someone not recommended through the police department. She was just thankful they were allowing her to be evaluated by Dr. Mead in order to be cleared for active duty. She had worried needlessly that she would have to relay her entire last two years to someone she’d never met.
Ellie looked at the woman apologetically. She’d skipped out on her last few sessions and that had been months ago. She’d never called to reschedule or explain her absence.
“I know what you’re thinking Ellie,” she responded gently as she came around her desk and sat in a soft arm chair directly across from Ellie’s perch. She poured herself a cup of tea and poured a bit of cream in before stirring it quietly.
“You know this space is open to you whenever you have need of it. Yes, I would have liked to have heard from you, but you are an adult who is able to make decisions for herself about whether or not she attends therapy sessions.”
Silence filled the room. Nothing but the sound of a grandfather clock ticking away the minutes and the crackling of the fireplace could be heard.
Ellie placed her cup on the table beside her and lifted her socked feet to tuck them beneath her. She’d long ago gave up decorum during these visits. Dr. Mead had seen her very soul and been privy to thoughts she’d never spoken to another human being. She might as well get comfortable.
“Well, I’m sure you know why I’m here. My superior officer probably filled you in, or at least sent you the reports, I’m not really sure what I need to talk about, what you do or don’t know...” Ellie’s words began to tumble out in a panic, “I know that I have to pass a mental evaluation to go back to work, and I really need to get back to work, Dr. Mead, I just need to get out of the house…I’m not really sure what to say…”
Ellie’s hands shook as she clasped them in her lap. She looked out the window to her left, the evening sun having already dropped below the horizon. Evening had set in and the room was beginning to feel chilled.
“Ellie, this session will be no different than our others alright? You are right, I have been given the details of the events in question, your statement from the hospital, as well as Mr. Hardy’s. But I haven’t talked to you personally. You tell me about whatever you’d like, and if I have any questions, we’ll go from there, okay?”
She had no idea how this woman did it. Ellie knew she was not her only client, but she sat here each time hearing stories of grief and trauma, stories of despair and horror, and each time her face mirrored nothing but acceptance and empathy.
Ellie nodded and looked toward her.
“Do you remember what you used to ask me at the beginning of each session?”
“About the frequency of your murderous thoughts toward your then husband?” she replied without hesitation, as if knowing Ellie would be asking that question.
“I always thought about what I would say or do if I was put in a situation like that. If I had an opportunity to kill him, to punish him for all of the horrific things he did those boys, to our children.”
“To you?” she whispered in question.
Ellie just shook her head as she continued.
“I finally got my chance, and do you know what I did?” she smiled sadly as she spoke, “I put my gun away, and I did everything I told myself I’d never do.”
“What did you tell yourself you’d never do, Ellie?”
Tears dropped in earnest from her eyes as she swallowed back sobs that tore from her chest. “Care for him.”
A handkerchief was pressed to her hands as she continued to cry. Dr. Mead gave her a few minutes to compose herself before continuing.
“Ellie, your decision to spare Joe’s life. Are you upset because you think you made the wrong decision, or because others think you made the wrong decision?”
She shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know, both, I guess.”
“And you think the reason you wrestled that gun away from Joe was because you still care for him?”
“Some part of him, I don’t know!” her voice hard and direct, “I don’t think of him like that, not anymore.”
“Then why, Ellie? Why would you put your own life in danger to protect a man you no longer care for, a man you want to see suffer?”
“Because I couldn’t have the boys thinking I was responsible for their father’s death.”
Dr. Mead cleared her throat and spoke in a serious tone, one Ellie hadn’t heard in many months.
“No, Ellie. Those are Joe’s words. Why would you prevent him from killing himself?”
She remained silent for a time. The question echoing in her mind. The question she already knew the answer to.
“Because it wouldn’t be fair.”
“To whom, Ellie?”
“To Danny, to those boys, to Fred and Tom...” shakily she added in a whisper, “to me.”
Ellie’s eyes glossed over with anger, the sadness momentarily abating. “Because death isn’t punishment enough for him. Because I want him to suffer in isolation every day for the rest of his life having to live out his days remembering the unspeakable things he’s done and knowing there’s no possible way he’ll ever get any of it back.”
Dr. Mead took a few notes as Ellie calmed her breathing. The woman’s face bore no sign of what she was feeling, whether she was surprised at what Ellie had confessed.
“That’s it then, it’s not gonna happen is it? Not like the Devon Constabulary wants a murderous copper on the streets.”
A calming voice washed over her, Dr. Mead continued, as if she hadn’t heard a thing Ellie had just said.
“Ellie, when we met previously, what did we establish was the greatest thing that Joe stole from you?”
She answered as she stared into the dying fire. “Control.”
“Everything in your life that you’ve ever felt remotely in control over was stripped away from you. Your home, your future dreams, your identity as a respectable citizen of your community, your competence as a police officer, your desirability as a woman, the safety and security of your children…Ellie, do you believe that Joe’s attempt to take his life was solely about him?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why didn’t he kill himself when news broke of his suspected crimes? Why wasn’t he found dead in his flat weeks ago? Why now, Ellie?”
She remained silent, thinking of all the reasons Joe could possibly have had for seeking her out.
“Why did he need an audience, Ellie? Why did he need you?” Dr. Mead leaned in, her elbows resting on her knees as she clasped her hands in front of her, quietly awaiting a response.
“Because he wants me to know he’s still in control…” she whispered as she closed her eyes in understanding.
“It may not have been his initial intent, but why put you in such a position? There could only be two outcomes in this instance. One, If you had shot him, then he’s won, you’ve taken action in accordance with your murderous thoughts, leaving you to blame yourself for his injury or death, and removing the attention from his own wrongdoing. Two, you protect him, spare his life, allowing him to believe he still has the ability to manipulate you. In either case, he seeks control, Ellie.”
Before she could dwell on this revelation, Dr. Mead asked another question.
“Why do you think it is that you haven’t told anyone about what’s happened?”
Minutes ticked by as Ellie stared a hole in the carpet. She thought about the only person who deserved to know what happened, and all the times she lashed out instead of opening up to him.
“Do you remember before I stopped coming, you encouraged me to open up to someone, a person that I deemed trustworthy, in order to start building trust again?”
The woman nodded silently, encouraging Ellie to continue.
“Well, D.I. Hardy, I mean Alec, we’ve been spending a great bit of time together. It’s not what it looks like, we weren’t…”
Dr. Mead’s hands went up to stop her from an explanation. “Ellie, we’ve been through this, I have no preconceived ideas of your relationship with Mr. Hardy, I only go by the things you have shared with me thus far, not the weekly gossip rag.”
“I haven’t told him what’s happened.”
“Do you think he needs to know?”
“He already does.”
The woman shook her head in confusion. “I’m not following, Ellie.”
“He’s been taking care of us, the boys and me, especially since I’ve been out of hospital. He’s never asked about it, though I know he wonders.”
Ellie picked at loose thread from her jumper, the fabric at her wrist fraying under the picking of her nervous fingers.
“He saw the body cam footage this morning. One of the detectives asked him to take a look at it, in hopes of solidifying the case against Joe.”
“You think he went behind your back purposefully, because you were holding out on him” the response had not been a question but a statement of truth.
Ellie did not respond. Only continued to pick at her sleeve.
Dr. Mead stood and walked toward her desk. Opening up a file she lifted out piece of paper that boasted Ellie’s handwriting. It was apparent she was holding one of the many lists they’d compiled during her previous sessions.
Placing two sheets of paper in front of Ellie, she began to speak.
“After our first few meetings I had you make two lists. Perceived risk and actual risk, do you remember this?”
Ellie nodded as she stared at the papers in front of her.
“We talked about how perceived fear comes from a mix of experienced trauma and learned behavior. Events in your past, such as your relationship with your mother and father, coupled with recent events with Joe have created deeply ingrained fears. When you create a bond with someone, start a life with them, you build the relationship on a series of non-negotiables. You assume that the other person is committed and that their actions in the beginning of the relationship will continue. When that bond is broken, when lies, deceit, and trauma enter, the hope and trust we once had in relationships in general starts to wane. You have learned that you can be married to a man for over a decade, be intimate with him in every way possible, and yet find out one day that maybe you didn’t really know him at all. A single lie was enough to create doubt in a thousand truths expressed.”
Dr. Mead placed her hands atop the papers that Ellie couldn’t take her eyes from.
“These are things that are passed. I want to know about how this is affecting you presently. Perceived fear, Ellie. What is it you fear most?”
Her eyes strayed back to the window, where sunlight was all but gone, darkness permeating the surrounding street.
“That he’ll leave us, too.”
Ellie tucked her legs tight to her chest and pulled them in tight with her arms.
“I’ve made lists, of how he’s different from Joe. I’ve reminded myself that he’s been with us through the worst of it, but no matter how hard I try, I just want to push him away. I don’t want to go through that again.”
Dr. Mead stood up from her chair and moved to pour herself another cup of tea. She silently refilled Ellie’s cup as she moved to sit next to her on the settee instead of returning to her chair.
“Ellie, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share something with you, if I may. Off the record, so to speak. As a friend, not a therapist. Only because I think it might prove helpful to you.”
She nodded in acquiesce.
“Ten years ago I met the kind of man I had dreamt about building a life with. He was kind, loving, and he made me laugh,” she smiled as she took a sip from the steaming cup.
“We got married and began to build a life together. He promised me the world, but all I wanted was him. As time went on things started to change. He had a quick temper, prone to outburst of anger, but he always recovered quickly. I didn’t think much of it, we all have our vices, our eccentricities. It started slowly, almost so steadily that I didn’t notice. He was controlling, wanting to dictate what I did and who I spoke to, what I ate, and how I spoke. But the funny thing was, he was only that way with me. His coworkers and family spoke so highly of him. He was the prime example of humbleness and wisdom to everyone who ever met him. I couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped and told how lucky I was to be married to such a man. It was then I started to believe that the things that were happening were caused by me. What other reason could there be?”
Ellie stared at her as she spoke, noting the darkening of her eyes and the change in her voice. The calm confidence turning shaky and vulnerable. Dr. Mead looked up from her cup and her eyes were shining.
“He became abusive. He would scream and rant and call me all sorts of horrid names. He’d criticize my body and compare me to women he worked with. He confessed he had lost all attraction to me. He was no longer affectionate and would reject all attempts at physical contact. He’d back me into the corner and shake me, grab my arm and twist it…”
She smiled sadly at Ellie and waved her hand as she continued, “Details aside, we divorced after having a child together. My son was just a few months old when we separated. I found myself dealing with issues of custody, grief at the loss of my marriage, and the process of putting my life back together after being mentally and emotionally destroyed. I met someone a couple years later. He was everything my ex-husband was not. He was gentle, patient, and so very kind. He took care of us. He became a father to my son, and a great friend to me.”
She placed her cup on the table and folded her hands in her lap. “But I pushed him away. I was convinced that one day the shoe would drop. He would hurt me, just like my ex-husband had. Even though he had given me no reason to believe he’d ever do that, I perceived differently. I was afraid. Afraid to let someone love me, because I couldn’t go through hurt like that again, I couldn’t put my son through that.”
Her hand reached out and gripped Ellie’s. “Every relationship comes with risk. You are right to be circumspect, to take things slow. But it isn’t fair to transfer our distrust from those who have hurt us to those who are now seeking to love us.”
She blew out a loud breath, “Ellie, I tell you this as a woman who has pushed away a very deserving man because I was so wrapped up in who he might turn into, instead of seeing the man he truly was.
Ellie squeezed her hand in return but did not respond. Her thoughts were numerous and threatened to overwhelm her.
Dr. Mead stood and returned to her desk. She took a paper from the file Ellie had brought to her and began making quick notes. She didn’t look up from her writing as she spoke to Ellie.
“I’m recommending you return to active duty as soon as you’re cleared by your doctor for your bodily injuries. I will fax this over to your superior officer first thing in the morning.”
She peered up at Ellie’s shocked face. “Just promise me something, Ellie? Come in and have a chat every once in a while, don’t hold it all in.”
She stood and walked around her desk, holding a document in her hand. She offered it to Ellie and she took it silently. Her eyebrows rose in question as she skimmed its content.
“Just think about it, alright?”
Ellie nodded and gathered her things. She quickly and quietly thanked Dr. Mead before rushing out the door. Her thoughts were not on her reinstatement with the force, but on the man who was well deserving of an apology.
By the time she arrived home it was late evening. The house was dark save for the glow of a soft lamp in the living room. She opened the door quietly, mentally preparing herself for an encounter with Alec. Her expression softened when she was met with a precious sight. Alec was seated on the sofa with his head tipped back, arms resting on Fred’s back as the boy snored softly.
Ellie put her things down by the door and quietly moved toward the pair. Moving swiftly she gently removed Alec’s hands from Fred and picked up the sleeping boy with skill that only comes with years of practice. Fred snuggled into her neck as she turned to take him upstairs. After putting him to bed and she quickly moved to her own room and dressed for bed. Putting on her comfortable sweats and gray off-shoulder nightshirt, she headed back to the living room.
He heard her enter the living room as he kept his eyes tightly shut. Well honestly, he knew the minute she’d walked in the door. He’d closed his eyes to pretend to sleep in order to convince Fred he needed to do the same. He’d just rested his head against the back of the couch when he heard her key enter the lock. He took the cowards way out and pretended to be asleep. He didn’t make a move as Ellie’s hands had brushed his own in order to take Fred to bed. He had no idea what state the evening would find her in, so he figured he’d be safer if he appeared unresponsive.
As her bare feet padded across the room he struggled to keep his breaths even and his eyes shut. Her weight dipped on the seat next to him and his breath stilled. He could smell the faint scent of her lotion mixed with the cream her doctor had given her for muscle pain. Her hand lightly feathered through his hair, her touch so light he barely felt its presence. He cursed himself for his inability to open his eyes and look at her. The light touch increased its pressure, her fingernails scratching his scalp as they ran the full length of his head. He could feel his breath hitch and his eyes roll back at the way it made him feel.
Her hand stopped its ministrations abruptly and before he could open his eyes she thumped him painfully on the head with her finger.
Alec hissed in pain, “Oi, what was that for?”
He peered out of narrowed eyes at her face, her expression unreadable.
“I knew you were awake when I got home, you knob. You aren’t quite as clever as you think.”
He ran his hand through his mussed up hair. He looked her over skeptically. Her appointment must have went well, seeing as she no longer looked as if she wanted to rip him apart limb from limb. He’d had time to think about their conversation earlier in the day, to come up with something to say in answer to his behavior.
As if knowing his thoughts Ellie placed her fingers gently over his mouth to keep him from uttering a word. She faced him and sat cross-legged on the cushion next to him, much like Fred had been seated just hours earlier.
“I owe you an apology.”
Before he could open his mouth to rebut, she waved him off.
“There are a few things I need to tell you, a few things I should have told you long before now. So if you can just let me get this out before I change my mind.”
He nodded as he heard her take a deep breath to calm herself.
“I know you didn’t go behind my back to watch the footage, and I know it wasn’t your intent to upset me. I understand that I put you in a tough position. Instead of seeing your actions for what they were, I saw them as a way to manipulate me, a way to punish me for not telling you beforehand what had happened.”
Her hand reached tentatively toward his and grasped it lightly. Her eyes stared into her lap where her hands clasped his tightly.
“Earlier you said something about my nightmares, hearing me scream, and being frustrated that I wouldn’t let you in.”
Alec tightened his hand around her own as she continued.
“I have a reoccurring dream. It always starts the same way. It’s kind of a replay of that day. Everything happens just as I remember it, except for one thing.”
Her eyes were tightly closed, remembering in sordid detail the images in her mind. Sadly, Alec didn’t have to imagine, he could see them as well.
“In my dream, I’m kneeling on the ground, blood covering my hands. I can hear Joe pacing and mumbling to himself, and I keep trying to get him to listen, to help me. But when I look up, Joe isn’t there.”
Her hands begin to shake as she absentmindedly runs her fingertips along Alec’s hand. Her haunted eyes look up and meet his.
His heart dropped in his chest in horror at her confession. How could he blame her for pushing him away? She’d locked her door during the night for fear of facing him.
“You’re what, Alec? Sorry? You haven’t done anything wrong.”
She reached up and placed her hand on his scruffy cheek. His own hand stilled atop her own.
“I finally figured out why I always see you in my dream. I’m scared that just like Joe, you’ll walk away. That one day, maybe not today or next week, you’ll discover that this isn’t what you want, that I’m not what you want.”
“But Ellie, I never said…”
“Let me finish,” she pleaded quietly, “please.”
“Everything in my heart tells me to trust you. You take care of us like we’re your own family. You take shit from me that you don’t deserve, and you love on my boys,” her eyes started to fill as she continued, “but my head tells me to push you away. That no matter how much I care about you, you’ll do the same thing as Joe. How horrific is that? You deserve someone who isn’t constantly looking over their shoulder, someone who isn’t an emotional wreck. Alec, you deserve so much better than this,” she gestured to herself as she finished speaking.
He patted the cushion directly beside him, motioning her to sit closer. Ellie moved over as Alec wrapped his arm around her shoulders. He leaned in, brushing a feather light kiss to her lips.
“Do I have any say in what I deserve?”
She smiled shyly as his whispered words tickled her cheek, “Because I’m pretty sure if anyone isn’t deserving, it’s me.”
Ellie made to argue but was stopped as Alec mirrored her previous gesture and placed his fingertips across her lips.
“My turn,” he whispered.
“You know I have never been one to placate. It’s never my intent to present myself as anything other than what I am. I can’t take away the doubt in your mind, Ellie, and I know that might never go away. But I will spend whatever time I have with you, showing you how deserving you truly are.”
She smiled cheekily as she leaned in close, “Deserving of what?”
His hands went to her hair as he pulled her face close enough to touch his own. His eyes darted to her lips as he closed his eyes.
“This,” he whispered.
His kisses were forceful as they claimed her. They were desperate and bold, like a man taking possession of something long lost. His mouth nipped at the spot just under her ear and she gasped at the way his lips felt brushed against the sensitive skin. His hand absentmindedly drifted up her leg, caressing the skin in rhythm with his kisses. He maneuvered them until he was half lying on the couch, with her leaning over him. Being careful of her still healing body he gripped her right hip tightly as he continued to kiss down her shoulder where her shirt hung off her small frame. Ellie’s stared at him as he continued his ministrations. Looking at the expression on his face, the emotion in his eyes. He caught her studying him and abruptly stopped. She crossed her arms on his chest and looked down at him with shining eyes.
He brushed her curls back from her face, “What’s wrong?” he asked worriedly.
“I trust you.”
Her whispered confession made his chest tighten. This brave, vulnerable woman, had been hurt so deeply, and it was an honor that she would entrust her heart to him.
He wrapped her in his arms and held her tightly. He rubbed her back, her muscles letting go of their tension under his fingers. His hands lulling her to sleep, much like a small child. There would be time for expressing affections later, but for now, he needed to remind her that he could be trusted.
Chapter 11: Closure
Utmost apologies for the long delay. Thank you to all who are still interested in this little story. One chapter to go after this. Thank you to practicallycanon and InterGalactic_SpaceLion for some much needed encouragement/kick in the pants to get the chapter up. Enjoy!
“I wanted to write down exactly what I felt, but somehow the paper stayed empty and I could not
have described it any better.”
Ellie was escorted down the narrow hallway by two officers, one flanking on each side. The building was eerily silent, save for the jingle of keys on the officer’s belt and the squeak of boots as they slid across the concrete floor. She’d already been briefed by multiple officials on how this meeting would go. She was surprised they even agreed to her request, seeing as the hearing was two days away.
The judge who would preside over the plea hearing had granted a brief meeting only if all parties agreed to the stipulations. She would have only a few minutes in which to speak. The room would be partitioned by bulletproof glass. Two or more officers would be present on each side and an appointed legal aid would observe. She wasn’t sure if they were afraid he would do something to her, or she would do something to him. Now that she thought about it, she didn’t exactly have a good track record for these types of visits.
As she rounded the corner, a court official stood next to an open door. The woman made no move to greet Ellie, her posture giving evidence to annoyance and inconvenience. Hair knotted tightly in a bun, makeup flawlessly applied, she got straight to the point.
“Ms. Miller. You are aware that this request is a bit unorthodox. But I guess for people such as yourself, sometimes the law just doesn’t apply.”
Her sickeningly sweet smile unnerved Ellie, but she wasn’t going to let some courtroom secretary rile her up.
Ellie smiled politely, ignoring the sharp jab. “You’re too kind.”
“10 minutes, Ms. Miller.”
Alec leaned against the car and checked his watch for the tenth time since dropping Ellie off at the door 45 ago.
His thoughts were a like a recording played on loop, events streaming over and over like they’d happened yesterday. The last time Ellie had been allowed into a room with Joe was not one he wanted to remember. His walk down the hallway where she’d been interviewing Nigel Carter had been one filled with dread. The certainty of Joe’s confession rang in his ears and put him in a position he wanted to flee from. He remembered the outrage on Ellie's face when he walked into her interrogation unannounced, turned the recording off, and told Nigel he was free to go. The look on her face spoke of betrayal of his trust, that once again he was infringing on her duties as a detective. The speed at which her expression turned from annoyance to anguish happened in the length of time it took to question her whereabouts that night.
She never even had time to process the events that had taken place that day, and he wished desperately he could have given it to her. Her first warning that something was amiss was when he'd slipped and used her given name. She'd been quick to call him on his mistake with a sharp retort. His second mistake had been moving to her side of the interrogation table and leaning in close. When he told her about the confession it was as if a light switched on in her mind. As her eyes misted over and her hands turned to fists he could see the wheels turning in her head, trying to go back and replay the timeline with Joe as a suspect. But he could tell that her mind had not the capability to process such a horrific thing. As she would tell him later, her thoughts had been consumed with the words she’d carelessly uttered the day they questioned Susan Wright, “How could you not know?”
He thought he’d been around Ellie long enough to know what her reaction would be upon seeing her husband in the interrogation room. This woman who never met a stranger and had full trust in the fidelity of each and every person in her life. Her heart was shattering right in front of him and he felt like an intruder watching the last of her innocence die. She'd agreed that she wouldn't touch him. Joe was bigger than she, and the room was under surveillance.
Taking her into that room had been a mistake. One he wished he could have taken back. Years of strictly followed protocol went out the window when she brokenly asked to see him. How could he deny her that? She never asked of anything of anyone. It was the least he could do, to let her have that closure before charges were pressed and a trial date booked.
Ellie had done quite the opposite of what he had imagined. Instead of running to him and begging to touch him, to comfort him and plead his innocence, she blazed into that room like a woman possessed. He realized that this was not a detective wishing to get a confession from a suspect, this was a wife looking into the eyes of her husband, and finding no innocence there, only guilt and shame. Rage for her best friend, for Danny, and for her children. Even then he knew she had not yet given herself the right to be angry for the damage done to her.
He may have apologized for his error in judgment in letting her see Joe and the subsequent beating that followed, but inside he was glad he did it. Joe deserved more than the pain that Ellie inflicted in the brief seconds she attacked him.
He hadn’t realized how deeply that moment would affect each of them, that each of their names would be dragged incessantly through the mud after Joe’s plea. What had been a moment of grief turned into a contesting of police brutality, forced confessions, and accusations of an affair.
Alec was worried for her. Everything within him wanted to go inside, stand next to her, and stare down Joe Miller in an attempt to keep him from manipulating her anymore. But he knew this was something she needed to do on her own, something she had discussed with her therapist as part of getting closure. He had a few words for her on that front, but he kept it to himself. Mostly he feared that the woman walking out of the door would be much different than the one who walked in. He couldn’t bear it if this visit caused her to pull away from him again.
The sound of loud voices and camera flashes firing drew his gaze to the front of the building. Ellie hurriedly walked out of the double doors and made a beeline for the car. Without question he opened the passenger door and closed her safely inside. Ignoring the questions being hurled at him, he silently made his way to the driver’s side and jumped in. Pulling away, he breathed a sigh of relief as the press retreated and did not follow.
When they had left the flat earlier that morning she had asked him to drive. That was his first warning that she wasn’t okay. Ever since he’d been banned from driving because of his heart condition, she was adamant that he allow her to drive. It had been quite some time since he’d been cleared for driving, but if she was in the car, she drove, and he didn’t ask questions. It was her way of protecting him, or perhaps maintaining control, he couldn’t be sure which.
He turned to look at her, catching sight of the back of her head as she gazed out the window. Thinking she was just lost in her thoughts he was surprised to find her eyes turning forward. He followed her line of sight and found a familiar statuesque figure made of black maul willow, with arms outstretched. Every time he'd made the drive to Sandbrook, he would pass the looming statue. He had grown to hate the sight of it, its presence reminding him of the tumultuous time in his life.
Her voice startled him, lost in his thoughts he was.
“What do you see when you look at it?” her trembling voice whispered as emotion threatened to overwhelm her.
Not knowing if she needed him to answer, he stretched his hand out toward her in offering. She took his hand in her own without a word and held it tightly.
“When we drove through here together the first time, I remembered how you would just stare at it as we passed. When I looked at it this morning I can imagine that my face looked just like yours did that day. Uncertain. Lost. Bound.”
He continued to hold tightly to her hand as he kept his eyes on the road before him. Emotion threatened to burst from his chest as he thought back to that time.
“It’s almost as if he was being held back. As if the branches are tightening around his arms and chest, squeezing and pulling, cutting off his breath as he grows weaker and weaker. And all we can do is pass by and stare.”
She pulled his hand to her face and he felt the wetness from her tears as they dripped down his palm. She cleared her throat and seemed to calm her wavering voice.
“But from this side he looks different. The branches aren’t pulling at him at all. They’re part of him, strengthening him. He’s strong and free. Not merely the Willow Man, but a protector, an Angel of the South.
They continued the drive back in silence, the mere presence of one another enough to keep the emotions at bay. He knew from that day on that each time he passed the Withy Man, it would no longer be a reminder of pain, but of healing.
“Dad, you’ve already called twice and you’ve only been gone an hour, we’re fine!”
The exasperation in Daisy’s voice was evident. He could hear the telly blasting cartoons and Fred singing along to the theme song of a television show that he had already watched a hundred times. Tom was no doubt close by as he could also hear him pleading with wee Fred to change the channel.
“M’sorry, love, just wanted to make sure you were all okay.”
Daisy could hear the question he wasn't asking.
“She’s already left, Dad. She’ll be fine.”
He was aware of how sad it was that a teenage girl had to reassure her emotionally distraught father. The day of Joe’s plea hearing had arrived and after much thought and many tears, Ellie had decided that she wasn’t going this time. He had debated not going himself, but knew that he should go and stand in on her behalf. He wanted to be there when the plea was entered, because he wanted Ellie to hear it from him and not the media.
After a few more minutes of idle chatter, Alec got off the phone and walked inside. He kept his gaze downcast as he walked through the building, not interested in conversing with anyone. He showed his ID badge to the officer in front of the courtroom and was let in without a word. Due to the special interest of this case, the list of people allowed into the hearing were few. The media was not allowed in and had to remain outside the building. Authorized police personnel, alleged victims and their families, and court officials made up the small crowd that filled the room. He found himself five seats to the left of the box, quite eerily close to where he’d sat the first go around. Looking around the room he realized he didn’t recognize many faces, though he was sure they all knew who he was. As he stared at the empty box lost in thought, the sound of someone clearing their throat drew his attention.
An elderly woman had walked up and taken a seat on his right. She boasted a warm smile, laugh lines peppering her face. There was a sadness in her eyes, no doubt a family member to one of the victims.
“Mr. Hardy, I’m terribly sorry to disturb you, but I was wondering if you had a moment?”
Normally he would have brushed her off and asked to be left in peace, but something in her voice urged him to indulge her. Her hands shook in nervousness as she grasped a weathered handkerchief between her fingers.
“I had hoped to speak with Ms. Miller, but when I saw you arrive alone, I realized I wouldn’t get the chance.”
Alec’s defenses went up as he wondered if this was just another person wanting to blame Ellie for Joe’s actions against their family members.
“I’m not here to confront her, Mr. Hardy, quite the opposite in fact,” she smiled softly as she tentatively pressed her hand to his forearm.
“My name is Agnes Scott. My grandson Timothy was one of the young men that Mr. Miller was involved with.”
Her hand trembled as emotion coursed through her. He placed a hand over her own.
“This is not to Ms. Miller’s knowledge, but I was good friends with her grandmother, Eleanor. She always spoke so highly of her granddaughter, how she cared for her mum after her dad passed, the way she took responsibility of herself and sister after her mum left, and every time she was promoted at work. Always so proud of that girl.”
She smiled sadly as she continued, “I’ve watched her on the telly and in the papers over the last two years, Mr. Hardy. Watched her suffer as so many spread evil things about her. I grieved as I watched this beautiful woman, so much like her grandmother, doubt herself.”
She squeezed his hand as she continued, “I don't know that it would make much difference, but could you just tell her that she’s not alone, Mr. Hardy? That the voices that are the loudest are not necessarily the ones that are right. That there are others out there who love her and hope that there will be swift justice for Mr. Miller, and that she would finally be granted peace.”
The room began to quiet as the court officials entered. He quickly nodded to Mrs. Scott and gripped her hand tightly, “It would be my pleasure.”
Just as quickly as she came up, she left and returned to sit with her family. A few of the others, including a distraught woman who looked to be the boy’s mother, looked at him sharply, affirming that she did not share the same sentiment as her mother. Breaking the gaze, he looked toward the judge, dressed in red robes, reminding him of the seriousness of the charges against Joe. Normally this would be held in Magistrate Court, but seeing as Crown Court had a wider jurisdiction for sentencing, it had been decided that they would proceed as such.
Alec turned as he heard a door close behind him. Two officers flanked one Joe Miller into the glass box and seated him accordingly. He had not laid eyes on the man since before his attack on Ellie. Joe looked up and met his steely eyes. Noting the simmering anger in Alec’s face, Joe looked around him, no doubt searching for Ellie. Alec was surprised to find a look of disappointment on Joe’s face as he was reminded to look straightforward and await the judge’s order.
The entirety of the room stood as the judge made his way to the bench. The room settled as he explained the steps of the hearing to the parties in the room, pleaded with them for their cooperation during the process and asked that no information be given to media outlets until official statements were released.
Alec watched the family of the boys in question. Watched the fear on their faces as they shared a room with the man who hurt them in unimaginable ways. He prayed, for their sake, that no trial faced them. Hell, who was he kidding, he prayed for all their sakes, that there would not be a trial. If he had to stand by and watch those boys recount the material they were forced to watch, or the humiliation Joe put them through. Or if he had watch while Ellie sat in front of Joe one more time to recount the terror of being shot at point-blank range, he might as well put in his resignation now.
Alec looked back up as the charges were read.
“The charges against one, Mr. Joseph F. Miller of 1578 Highland Park, Meare Green, are as follows:
One count of use of threatening/abusive words/behavior or disorderly behavior likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress. One count of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life. One count of possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear or violence. One count of wounding or grievous bodily harm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Two counts of abuse of position of trust: corruption of a minor. Two counts of meeting a child following sexual grooming. Forty(+) counts of possession of indecent photographs of a minor.”
All eyes turned accusingly to Joe. Alec held his breath.
“Mr. Miller, we will begin with the most serious charges first. On the charge of wounding or grievous bodily harm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, how do you plea?”
Alec closed his eyes as he heard Joe enter his plea.
Ellie listened to the sounds around her as she kept her eyes tightly closed. She could hear the waves crash as they beat against the sand beneath her feet. She dug her toes deeper beneath its weight, searching for warmth as it was heated from the sun’s gaze. Birds soared above and would swoop down intermittently in hopes of catching their midday meal. She pulled her cardigan tighter around her body as a cool breeze blew through the alcove. Actually, it was Alec’s sweater that she had borrowed after he’d stayed over weeks ago. She remembered thinking it was so unlike him to wear something like that, but it suited him so well. It softened his normally gruff appearance and gave him an air of domesticity. The charcoal color soaked in the warmth of the sun and the softness of the wool blanketed her in comfort. She pulled the soft collar closer, breathing in his scent.
She began to question her decision to come here. Surely this was the last place she should be on a day like this. She ran the risk of being exposed. Surely everyone knew the hearing was today. Broadchurch would be reminded once again of Danny, the beautiful boy whose life ended so early. The boy who was preyed upon by the husband of a local police officer, and close friend of the family. The subsequent investigation and trial had left this town in shambles. Friends accusing friends, neighbors inciting vigilante justice, and families being torn apart. The media had left a bad taste in the mouths of the people of Broadchurch, especially when it came to Alec and Ellie. She knew her face was not one others would be happy to see.
Hidden in an alcove about a mile from the public beach, she assumed she’d be at peace as no foot traffic frequented the area. The smell of the beach enveloped her, the salty air taunted her, a constant reminder of the things she once loved, a life she once lived. So many memories wrapped up in this small town. But had it really been the town she’d fell in love with? Or the people, for that matter? Perhaps it was all just a façade. Maybe she fell in love with an idea. Broadchurch had become her home because of the memories she’d associated with it. Love, friendship, family, and a career. The familiarity no longer comforted her, only left her feeling more lost than before.
The sound of footsteps on the wet sand drew her attention. Shading her eyes from the sun, she’d recognize that silhouette anywhere. A familiar scowl filled her vision. Here was the Alec Hardy she’d become accustomed to. So out of place, that man. Wearing his familiar dress clothes. At least he had the sense to leave his jacket behind and carry his shoes. Sleeves and pant legs rolled up, he looked more like a castaway than a beach lounger.
“That predictable, am I?” she questioned him with a gentle smile.
“Maybe I’m just that good of a detective,” he added smugly.
Ellie laughed as her face broke into a genuine smile.
“Ollie told you, didn’t he?”
“Lucy actually. I would have been here sooner, but she insisted on interrogating me before I made it halfway down the cliff.”
Alec sat down next to her in silence, his body touching hers as they sat in companionable silence.
“Strange being back, isn’t it? After so much has changed.”
Ellie continued to stare into the water, her heart thundering with questions she didn’t feel she was ready to ask. She knew he was looking at her, concern at her silence.
Her thoughts were racing faster than her heart could process. So many worries about what was to come. So many ways the plea hearing could have went.
Feeling a tug on her hand she turned to find Alec with his eyebrows raised in question. Realizing she hadn’t heard him, he repeated the question.
“Do you want me to leave?”
As soon as the words left his mouth, she gripped his hand painfully as she shook her head in answer.
Turning sideways to face him she kept her eyes pinned to his chest. Ellie trembled with nervousness as Alec reached out and tightened the sweater around her shoulders, trying in earnest to comfort her without pushing.
“When I went to see him the other day, I had this whole speech memorized. All the things I’ve kept inside, all the things I wanted to say if I ever got the chance.”
She smiled sadly at him, “But you know what I did?”
Alec shook his head in silence.
“I didn’t say any of it. I stood there staring at him, begging my mouth to open and lay into him. To scream, to cry, to blame him for the hell he’s put us through. But none of those things came out. In the end I just told him that from this point on I was no longer going to blame myself for the choices that he’s made. That he no longer held any control over me. And then I said goodbye. He just stared at me, as if I wasn't even there. I was inside there all that time for a visit that lasted less than 30 seconds. It was very anti-climactic.”
Tracing her fingers in the sand, she continued, “I’ve been sitting here wondering if I should have gone with you, show him that he doesn’t affect me to the point that I have to hide myself away.”
Alec knew where her real fear resided, it wasn’t in facing Joe during a plea hearing, it was the fear of hearing him deny his crimes and then subsequently force her to relive them in front of complete strangers.
Ellie looked into his eyes, searching for answers that were well hidden. She leaned in and brokenly whispered, “Tell me what happened.”
Alec took both of her hands, rubbing them to ward of the chill that had set in from her incessant worry.
“Good news, or bad news?” he asked as he grimaced.
Ellie’s eyes began to cloud with emotion as she gripped tightly to his outstretched hands.
Lifting one of her hands to his lips, he kissed it reverently as he answered, “On the charges of grievous bodily harm and possession of a firearm with intent, he pled guilty.”
Ellie gasped loudly in shock, her eyes brimming with tears at the news.
“They’re looking to punish him to the fullest extent and are pushing for the maximum amount of prison time, as you were not only an ex-spouse, but also an on-duty police officer. He also pled guilty to the child pornography charges, which would have been difficult to deny, seeing as the evidence from his hard drive and material found in the flat were damning.”
Alec was watching her closely, her eyes betraying her true emotions. Although she was thankful that Joe was getting what he deserved, she knew that there were other charges they hadn’t discussed yet, ones that involved the lives of two very innocent boys.
“And the bad news?”
“Joe pled not guilty to all charges brought against him by the boys.”
Ellie released his hands and pulled her legs to her chest. Closing her eyes she whispered, “I knew it was too much to hope for.”
The silence grew heavy as they both continued looking out at the empty sea. Ellie contemplated out loud, “Am I supposed to feel something? Some type of finality? Because I feel just as shitty as I did before I came out here.”
Tears tracked down her face silently as she cursed under her breath and dashed them away with her sleeve.
“Would you have felt finality, or gotten a sense of closure if he’d pled guilty to all charges?”
“I guess I just thought that I would feel better, safer, that the grief wouldn’t feel as heavy.”
Alec lifted her chin to meet her gaze.
“Ellie, Joe getting a prison sentence doesn’t change the fact that he’s already committed the crimes. It doesn’t take back the inflicted pain and it doesn’t erase feelings that you still have toward him.”
Alec reached toward her and drew her to him, settling her in between his legs as they both faced the sea. He wrapped his arms around her tightly, burrowing his face into the crook of her neck.
“I think we should be encouraged. We may not have seen him punished to the extent we deem necessary, but he will serve time for his actions.”
“How long do you think, though? What if he gets the minimum sentence because he’s a first time offender, or some new hotshot barrister decides they want to make a name for themselves and take his case, what if…”
Alec squeezed her gently to get her to quiet.
“One thing at a time, luv. Sentencing is a few weeks away yet, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Ellie turned in his arms, “Oh, will we now? Who says we’ll even being seeing that much of each other?” a small smile graced her face that Alec couldn’t see. The familiar banter giving her a sense of comfort.
Alec shot her an incredulous look.
“I’m just saying, with you taking the new D.I. position and all…”
Alec pulled her completely around to face him, “Now wait just a bloody minute, I never said anything of the sort.”
She smiled cheekily at him, “You will take it won’t you? I did write a recommendation and all that rubbish.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“Well, there have been rumors for a while that a position was opening up, and I heard your name tossed around more than once. Stinson called me into his office a few weeks back and wanted my honest opinion on your experience as a D.I. since I’m the only person at this precinct who worked under you in Dorset.”
Alec was speechless, realizing all that time he hid it from her, she already knew.
“You did take the job, didn’t you?”
“I planned to, but I wouldn’t start for a while yet. And I wanted to discuss it with you.”
Ellie leaned into him and smiled. “Well, you already try to tell me what to do, you might as well get paid for it.”
Alec swallowed nervously. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Stinson advised me that in order to take the D.I. position, at least in the foreseeable future, it would be in my best interest to not hire any detectives that I was romantically involved in.”
Ellie turned a shocked face to him, “You’re involved with someone romantically? Why didn’t you tell me?”
She smiled brightly as she laughed. Alec looked at her with a great scowl.
“That’s enough cheek, you. I’m being serious.”
“Alec, I’ve been doing some thinking too. As much as I miss working on cases, I’d like to stay on as a police constable, at least for a while. It will give me more time with the boys, and I think we’re all going to need each other over the next few months.”
He pushed himself out from behind her so he could see her face. “Does that include me?”
The question came out softer than he intended, more uncertain than it sounded in his head. Ellie leaned into him, wrapping her arm around his and resting her head on his shoulder. Words seemed stuck in her throat, her fear of admitting her desperate need for him stifled her speech.
Alec squeezed her arm in return, reaching his empty hand into his pocket to search for something. Ellie felt a small parcel pressed into her hand. She looked up at him questioningly.
“I didn’t know how today would turn out, and I knew it would be a hard for you no matter what. I thought you might need a little reminder…”
Ellie held the small package nervously in her shaking hands. Alec was always the practical one. Never one for grand displays of affection. He showed how much he cared by doing what needed to be done. Cleaning the house, watching the boys, making sure she got enough rest, and checking the house to make sure it was safe.
As she opened the box, Alec laughed nervously. “It was partly Daisy’s idea, she had to help her clueless dad.”
With a small gasp she lifted a beautiful silver bracelet out and watched as the sun shone off of its smooth surface. She’d never been one for jewelry, as it wasn’t very practical for her line of work. The only thing she’d ever worn was her wedding ring and a necklace her gran had given her years ago. She hadn’t worn the necklace since she’d been shot and the emergency personnel took it off before taking her to theatre.
“Alec…” she whispered as she looked closer. The bracelet boasted numerous charms of differing shapes and sizes. Her heart twisted tighter as she looked to each one.
The first two were similar, both circles with names stamped on each. Tom on one and Fred on the other, each with their birth date on the back. She smiled as she traced the dates with her thumb.
“Someone’s been doing a bit of detective work,” she teased as she looked up at his face shyly. Alec looked to be holding his breath in nervousness. He relaxed at her words and smiled back.
The next was a familiar flower, no doubt chosen by Daisy. That one made her lip tremble, to think that Daisy thought that much of her, to be part of her family.
While most of the charms were simple silver, one stood out with a pop of color. A beautiful burnt orange amber gleamed as she turned it in her hands. Silver rays extended from the amber, creating a beautiful sunburst. Alec was quiet, letting her trace her fingertips over it, figuring out its significance. Turning the charm over it boasted a single cursive letter “E”. Her grip tightened and her gaze lowered to the sand.
Alec took her silence as a bad sign. “If you don’t like it, I can find something else. I thought if you were afraid of the boys seeing it, you could say that one's for your gran...Ellie, I’m…”
His words never made it out as she threw herself toward him and wrapped her arms tight around his neck. “You daft man,” she whispered against his neck. Tears streamed down her face and splashed against his now wrinkled shirt. He held her tight, placing a palm at the back of her head, threading his fingers through her curls. “Thank you,” she breathed against his neck.
"I'll help you remember her," he whispered.
As she continued to cling to him, he pulled her back slowly
“As much as I’d like to stay right where we are, there’s one more for you to look at.”
Pulling away while still leaning in to him she turned the bracelet to find the last one. It was a simple silver heart with a pulse running across it. Laughter bubbled from her before she could control it.
“Now I cannot imagine what this one is for.”
Alec took it from her hand and undid the clasp. He bound the bracelet around her wrist and squeezed her hand gently.
Before she could thank him again he pulled her flush against him and kissed her deeply. With both hands he held her face still as he deepened the kiss. Ellie’s hand drifted to his chest where she placed her palm flush with his heart, steady as always. Breaking the kiss, Alec placed his hand atop her own.
“I love you.”
The revelation shocked her so that she gasped loudly. Her eyes filled once more as she stared at this precious man. It had been so long since she’d heard those words. So many nights she lay alone aching to hear them whispered in her ear. She knew this man loved her, he’d shown her in so many ways, but to hear those words uttered from his lips, it nearly undid her. The depth of emotion she’d seen from this man. So much had been done to him, things that would cause any other man to become callous and cruel, but his capacity to love floored her. She was proud to be loved by such a man.
“You don’t have to say anything, Ellie,” he whispered patiently.
He knew she loved him, but he also knew those words did not flow flippantly from her lips. She needed to be ready, to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt she was indeed worth loving. It was only a matter of time before she realized it.
“I’ll be here as long as it takes.”
Standing up, he dusted the sand from his pants and reached for her hand. She took it without a word and leaned heavily against him as he led her down the beach.
Chapter 12: Reinvest
This is it my friends. Last chapter. I want to think everyone who has stuck around to finish this story with me, seeing as how long it has taken! Thank you for taken this journey with me, as it has proven to help heal the wounds in my own heart. Please enjoy!
“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.