There's always been, Ellie feels, a certain comfort in lists and tasks. She finds that there still is, albeit a cold one. If she can make everything into a task, something she can put a tick by on the list in her head, it's somehow easier to handle waking up each bloody day.
In the hotel room, the first night, she'd lain awake until nearly dawn, first listening to Tom's muffled sobbing until it subsided into little hiccoughing gasps that faded into wet, congested snores, then to her own racing thoughts, terrified of the nightmares she was sure would take over as soon as she closed her eyes. But there weren't any that night, nor the next. When they finally came, she felt like an idiot for worrying about them: after all, it wasn't like they were any worse than being awake.
The tasks she sets are simple enough: make sure her boys are up and dressed, make sure that everyone brushes their hair and teeth, hold them when Tom is falling apart, or Freddy's crying because he's in a strange place and doesn't know why Daddy's not there, keep herself from screaming and screaming until she doesn't have a voice left with which to scream.
They take up temporary residence at Lucy's, the boys in the spare room, Ellie in the living room on a lilo with a slow leak. Once, she went out to the shops for milk. She didn't make it past the car park. Mark and Beth's car was already there. Milk and the like are best left to Lucy and Olly. Ellie can give them the lists of what they need.
Don't talk to anyone. That was the Herald reporter's advice. It's too easy to follow it when no one you know seems to know what to say. And what in god's name is there to say, anyway? She supposes she could talk to family, but Lu wouldn't understand, would find a way to make it about her in the end, and Olly--well, Olly's Olly. The only person she talks to about any of it is Alec bloody Hardy.
She settles into a comfortable enough position on his floor this time, looping her arms around her knees. Joe confessed three weeks ago, Danny was buried not long after that, and last night she rang the removers about taking her things to storage until she can move house. "I thought you'd have left here by now."
"Nowhere else to be, not really," he answers with a slight shrug.
"I can't stop trying to make sense of things, trying to identify the signs I didn't see."
"It's likely you didn't see them because there wasn't anything for you to see."
"Maybe they were there, and I just didn't want to see."
"Sometimes there aren't answers, Miller. Keep trying to find them, and you'll wind up like me."
Ellie smiles and says ruefully, "Haven't I already?"
Back at Lucy's, she eats, does the washing up, and lays out the clothing for morning. Then it's time for Fred to have a book and a cuddle, so she pulls out the tattered and gummed copy of Where Shall We Sit that she'd grabbed while the SOCOs went through their belongings. "On a log, said the frog!" she sing-songs, while Fred giggles and bats at the pages. Once she's placed him in the travel cot, she dims the light and waits for him to fall asleep before heading back to the kitchen.
Lu's got a bottle of wine open, and pours Ellie a glass without asking. "Did you get hold of the removers?"
"Yes." Ellie takes a sip of her wine, then another. "Yesterday. They're coming next week."
"That's good, then," her sister tells her. "Starting to move on, I mean."
Moving out, more than moving on, is most likely what Lu means, and Ellie tightens her grip on the glass. "No, you're right. It is good. Thanks." She drains the rest of the wine in one swallow. "Back in a bit. Just need to get some air."
"Going to see your old boss again?" Lu's brow is furrowed, and she's worrying at her bottom lip. "Are you shagging him, Ellie?"
Dull waves of what would have felt like shock before she knew what shock could feel like ripple through her. "What the fuck are you on about? God, no. Why the hell would you even ask me that?"
"I didn't think so, only people have started to talk."
"Well it's utter bollocks. For god's sake, all I'm doing is going for a bloody walk to clear my head."
Outside, she gulps in deep breaths of brackish air and bites at her fist. Her eyes are stinging, and she tells herself it's just the wind. Right. Shoulders up, head high. Keep walking. Maybe if she pretends long enough, everything will be all right.
"Ellie." It takes a moment to register that someone's said her name.
"Brian." The last time she saw him, he was in her house, gathering evidence.
"How are you?" Three words, loaded with pity and caution.
"Doing better, I think," she lies.
There are 15,000 people in Broadchurch. It feels like fewer, the way she seems to run into someone she knows whenever she's out. And it's always the same, isn't it? Pity, pauses that go on a beat too long, the look that goes on for longer and says without ever using the words, "Surely you knew." She knows that look all too well. She sees it in the mirror when she's brushing her teeth or washing her face.
Maybe that's why she ends up at his room again, sputtering with inchoate distress and anger about what Lu said.
"Does it really bother you that much?" he asks, brows raised.
Oh, Christ. She runs her rant back through her mind. She couldn't have been more insulting if she'd meant to. "It's not... you're not. I don't mean... Shit. I mean they'll be thinking in the back of their minds that you're covering for me, that I knew or suspected all along and used you to save my own arse."
"They'll be thinking a lot of things, most of them wrong. It's what happens with cases like this. Every move you make is going to be analysed and read into, and you come here a lot."
"Do you want me to stop?" He probably does. God, she's being a needy, selfish twat, keeping him mired down in her mess.
"Did I say that, Miller?" He looks exhausted, she notes, as drained as she feels. "I didn't say that."
Packing gets added to her daily tasks. One week to pack up a dozen years of a shared life, eleven years of parenting. So much bloody stuff to deal with in such a short fucking window of time.
Joe's things she avoids until the final day. Then she puts the lot of it into boxes and bags to go to Oxfam.
Ellie only hesitates for a minute before adding her wedding rings to one of them.
On the way back to Lucy's, she pulls over and tries to remember how to breathe.
All she can think about is escape.
"It's just for a night, two tops," she tells Lu. She kisses the boys goodbye, gives them a bright and happy set of I-love-yous, and grabs the overnight bag she's been living out of for the last several weeks.
It's only when she standing in a dated standard double in Bournemouth that she realises she has no idea what the hell she's going to do now that she's there. She walks over the bricks of The Square, past the High Street shops, waiting to feel the relief of anonymity, but all she can feel are the imagined disapproving stares.
The temptation to go down the pub and drink until she can gather the nerve to walk off Boscombe Pier isn't overwhelming--she wouldn't, couldn't do that to the boys--but it's still enough for her to go back to the hotel and ring his mobile.
"Sorry to ask," she says with a shaky laugh. "But I don't suppose you could come down to Bournemouth and keep me from doing something incredibly stupid?"
"Why here?" It's the first thing he says beyond the curt and mumbled greetings they exchanged in the lobby.
He looks around awkwardly for a minute like he's waiting for her to give him an indication of what to do next before sitting in the room's only chair, a small sad thing that looks as if it can barely handle even his slight frame. Ellie toes off her shoes and sits on the edge of the bed, hands bunching and smoothing the polyester coverlet.
"The removers were coming." The brittle notes of forced cheer that have seen her through the last few weeks haven't quite left her voice, even though she's been crying off and on since half six, and she winces at the tone. "My sister and Olly are looking after Tom and Fred, and I'm supposed to be handling everything, only I'm not. I'm here. I couldn't be there, so I'm here. Running away. I'm a grown woman. I'm not supposed to run away."
The carpet is rough against her bare feet. It's a horrid rust-brown that someone deluded themselves into thinking a perfect match for the equally horrid mustard of the walls. She gives up on sitting, pulls up her legs and slumps on the bed instead.
"It's overwhelming, the bureaucracy. All I want to do is bury my head in the sand and keep a stiff upper lip for the boys, only there's the divorce petition form to fill out, the fees to pay. He destroys our lives, and I have to fill out fucking paperwork. How is that fair?" She focuses on the blandly tasteful painting of the seaside hung over the telly. "I don't want to kill him, not anymore. I wish he'd just kill himself and be done with it. Not make us deal with a trial, or the waiting, or the sodding paperwork. I wish he'd done it right after he'd killed Danny, that he hadn't been able to live with the fucking guilt, that he'd just ended it, ripped everything apart quickly. It's supposed to hurt less, isn't it? Ripping the plaster off quickly."
His reply is gentle, more gentle than she thinks she deserves. "This isn't the sort of thing that you can make hurt less, Ellie. It's not."
If he's calling her Ellie, she must look a complete mess. She feels it. "There'd have been a hell of a lot less collateral damage." And then she's sobbing again, drowning under the sheer fucking weight of it all.
She doesn't hear him get up, doesn't even notice he's moved until the bed sags slightly under his weight and she feels his hand settle gently on her arm. Such a small fucking thing, touch. She's starved for it, and hadn't even realised. She and Joe were always touching. Ellie grasps his wrist, tugging until he's stretched out beside her and she's collapsing against him.
The bed springs creak as she curls her body around his. She imagines the sound leaking through the paper-thin walls, giving the impression of a different sort of human contact. He strokes her shoulders, her hair, and she buries her face in the crook of his neck.
"Don't tell me it will be all right." The words are muffled against his collar. "I'm sick of being lied to."
The point of his chin digs slightly into the top of her head as he tightens his hold on her "It won't be all right."
She lets out a watery laugh and shifts so she can see his face. "I'm so fucking tired. I can't do this. How the hell do I do this?" His body's so warm, and she's so, so cold, she wishes she could crawl inside him.
His right hand cups her cheek, thumb brushing away tear tracks, while his left keeps a gentle pressure on her back. "I wish I knew. I'm sorry."
There's a line she knows she could cross now and shouldn't, and it's all wrong, but then, everything's all wrong, so she does it anyway and brushes her mouth against his.
"You'll hate yourself tomorrow if we do this," he cautions, but doesn't let go of her or move away.
"I will anyway."
It's so different to kissing Joe: awkward and unfamiliar, the rasp of his beard against her face, the harshness of his breathing as he pushes against her, the buckle of his belt digging into her belly. His chest, when she unbuttons his shirt, is pale and hollow.
She spreads her hand over it, feeling his pulse under her palm. "Is this something you should be doing?"
"Probably not," he acknowledges, fumbling at the zip of her trousers. She lifts her hips and helps him push them down along with her pants. "But that's my choice to make."
"OK." His fingers brush over her clit, and she bites back a gasp. "OK."
For a while, the only sounds are the disharmony of their breathing and the rhythmic complaints of the mattress. "Christ," he mutters. "I don't suppose you happen to have a condom on you?"
"No, but I've got a coil and, as of last week, a clean screen for STIs." Just in case there'd been other betrayals, other lies. If there were, they hadn't left anything behind. "What about you?"
"No medical issues you don't already know about."
Ellie nods, wraps her legs around hips that feel sharp enough to bruise, and slips her hand between their bodies to guide him inside. Legally, she thinks, this is adultery. It bothers her that it doesn't bother her, but that doesn't stop her from gripping him tighter with her thighs, nor from digging her nails into the skin of his back when he rubs her clit while he fucks her. Her orgasm's a shattered thing that takes her by surprise in a way that his a half minute later does not. Somehow, she hadn't expected to come.
Afterwards, there's more kissing, aimless and unhurried, until he's drifted off next to her, the pulse at his wrist slow and steady again under her fingertips. Ellie inhales, exhales, adds handling the fallout that's sure to come from this to tomorrow's list of tasks, then she closes her eyes and wills herself to do the same.