The first time it happened Joe thought it was an isolated incident. It wasn't as if he didn't deserve it after all; he'd forgotten their six month anniversary and Jane was understandably upset. He brushed off the gang's concern by saying he'd walked into a door when he got home the previous night. They weren't sure whether to believe him; it was such a cliché after all, but he did get home late and he could have walked into something in the dark and if he hadn't, why would he lie?
Afterwards Jane had been apologetic. She hadn't meant to do it, she said. She didn't know her own strength sometimes; she never meant to hurt him. He held her and told her it was all right, he wasn't mad. He believed her when she told him it was an accident.
So the next time it happened it was a shock.
It was hard work turning Empire Records into his own store; he had a lot more to worry about, so he regularly worked late. Jane was waiting for him when he got home and they were soon fighting again. It seemed all they did these days was fight, but he was determined to make it work, so he just stood there and let her scream at him. It was understandable really; he was leaving her alone a lot and spending less time with her than he should be, but running the store was hard work. He didn't shout back because he didn't want to make things worse, but his calm just made her even angrier and she threw herself at him, slapping his face and scratching at him with her nails. He grabbed her wrists when she drew blood and she brought her knee up, hard, and then kicked him in the ribs when he fell to the ground. Afterwards she locked herself in the bedroom and he slept on the couch.
He woke up to the smell of coffee. Jane made breakfast and apologised for hurting him. She said he just made her so mad she couldn't help herself. If he'd just be more reasonable she wouldn't lose her temper so much. He smiled and nodded, telling her he was sorry, that he'd try to spend less time at work in future and he squashed the little voice deep down saying that it wasn't his fault that she'd hit him.
The scratches were harder to explain away to the gang but he just joked about being clumsy and refused to say anything else. When Deb tried to push and get a real answer from him, he growled at her to work and shut himself in his office for the rest of the day, hoping no one would notice that he was wincing every time he had to stretch or bend because of the bruise on his side.
Soon it was happening every time they fought and it seemed to Joe as if they fought all the time. He didn't spend enough time at home, he forgot 'important' dates like the anniversary of their first kiss or the first time she cooked him dinner; he didn't compliment her new hair style, he wasn't able to escort her to a party because he had to close the store or worse, he did escort her and wasn't friendly enough to her vapid friends. He learned to ignore the aches and pains so that the gang wouldn't know he was hurt and on the rare occasions she really lost it and left visible marks on his face or arms, he wore long sleeved shirts and covered the bruises with make up.
Joe looked up at the knock on his office door. "Come in," he called.
Eddie peered around the door. "Can I have a word with you, boss?"
Joe smiled at him. He liked Eddie. He liked all his strays, but, other than having to make sure he didn't give Mark too many brownies, Eddie was the easiest to deal with. He never caused trouble and got on with everyone. He could be trusted to work quietly and responsibly and his love for music, especially on vinyl, was undeniable.
"Sure, Eddie," he said. "Pull up a chair. What can I do for you?"
"I need some advice and you're the most level headed person here so I wanted to ask you," Eddie said. "I've got this friend and they're dating someone. The trouble is ever since they started dating this person they've been turning up with unexplained injuries - bruises, cuts, that kind of thing. They're often stiff and sore and they wear clothing that hides their body. I think they're even wearing make up." He looked at Joe. "Normally I'd say that it's none of my business because they're capable of taking care of themselves, but they don't seem to be doing anything about it. In fact they seem to just be accepting it. What do you think I should do?"
Joe swallowed heavily. "Have you asked this friend about it?"
"He doesn't seem to want to talk about it," Eddie said. "If anyone mentions the bruises he locks himself in his office and growls at people. Apparently he thinks none of us will put two and two together and figure out what's going on. And most of us haven't, because most of us don't realise he's human. When we have problems we go to him, but I don't think he realises that when he has a problem we all want to help."
Joe ran his hands through his hair. "It's not a problem, Eddie. Jane and I just need to work some things out. If I needed help, I'd ask. Trust me to take care of this and please don't tell the others. Lucas would overreact."
"You mean we'd need to help him bury the body when he was done with her," Eddie said. He looked at Joe seriously. "I won't say anything, but you have to sort this out, Joe. I'm not just going to watch as she keeps doing this to you."
"It's nothing, Eddie," Joe insisted. "Jane's just a little frustrated at how much time I spend here. Things will calm down soon and then everything will be back to normal. You'll see."
Eddie looked unconvinced, but he didn't feel comfortable interfering with his boss's life so he nodded. "I hope so, because you can't keep on like this, Joe."
"I'm fine," Joe snapped. "Thank you for being concerned, but I don't need it, Eddie. Now get back to work."
The next couple of months passed in a haze of work and painkillers for Joe. When he went home Jane would shout and scream and rain punches on his torso, if he stayed at work then she just got angrier when he did go home. Despite the pain and the frustration, leaving never seemed an option to Joe. He already had one failed marriage and one messed up serious relationship. He wasn't going to walk away just because he and Jane had problems; they just made him more determined to work at it and try and fix this. He'd come to terms with his wife leaving. It wasn't his fault, and even when things had been falling apart he'd stayed and worked at it; she was the one who had given up and left him. His ex lover ... he still wasn't sure what he'd done to mess that up. All right, things hadn't been perfect, but what relationship was? In the end she'd been the one to lose patience and order him to leave. He would just have to work harder at making Jane happy. If he could do that, she wouldn't feel the need to hit him.
Unfortunately, he couldn't seem to get it right. No matter what he did it was wrong and things finally came to a head a month later over Lucas' birthday. Since the store was closed on Sundays, the gang had all decided to celebrate Lucas' birthday then, that way no one would have to miss the party to work. They were all going to bring food and have a party on the roof. Berko was organising the music and Gina had taken a collection so they could buy him a present. Joe hadn't chipped in because he always bought Lucas something special rather than going in with the kids. Unlike the gang, who were mostly students, he wasn't short of money and could afford to get Lucas something he really wanted. Some years that was harder than others, since Lucas wasn't the type to drop hints about what he wanted but this year Joe knew exactly what to get him. His leather jacket was starting to get a little tight across the shoulders and was looking pretty beaten up. He knew Lucas wouldn't replace it himself because it had been a gift from Joe for his sixteenth birthday, so Joe had taken matters into his own hands and bought another one to replace it.
That had been where the trouble started. Jane hadn't understood why he would want to spend such a substantial amount of money on an employee. No matter how many times he tried to explain that Lucas was much more than that to him he couldn't get her to understand. She told him that she knew he had had some bad luck with women in the past and that he had replaced that part of his life with Lucas. Raising him and looking out for him, keeping him out of trouble, it all filled a hole in his life. But he had her now and he didn't need Lucas. And after all, the boy was turning twenty-two, hardly a child. He didn't need Joe any more. She pointed out that Lucas never came over any more and they only saw each other at work, but Joe refused to let her convince him not to buy it. No matter what she said he knew he was important to Lucas and Lucas was a significant part of his life. Deep down he also knew that Jane was the reason Lucas never came over any more; she made him uncomfortable in a place which had once been his home.
Just as he was about to leave for the party she confronted him. Apparently there was a music event that she needed to go to. She said she needed to be seen to help her fledgling career as an agent get off the ground and she expected Joe to go with her. He wasn't going to miss Lucas' party, especially not for an event she was springing on him at the last minute like this and he told her that. Lucas was important to him and he was going to be at his party and give him the jacket he'd bought. The slap didn't even cause him to flinch; he'd got used to it over the last few months, but the force of her anger was more than he'd ever seen before. She resented Lucas' place in his life and the fact that on this one issue he wouldn't give in and do things her way. This time she didn't stop after a few punches and storm off, she just kept attacking him. He put his hands up to defend himself and kept backing away but never once tried to strike back. He knew that he was stronger than her and bigger and that he should stop her, but that was part of the reason he wouldn't. He was the stronger one; he couldn't hit her. That would make him the bully; it would make him his father.
He sat in the ER, waiting for the doctor to come back with some drugs for him to take home. His left wrist was encased in a brand new plaster cast and he could hear his doctor arguing with a nurse outside his cubicle.
"This is the third time I've seen him this month," the doctor said. "And that's not counting the visits he's made when I haven't been on duty. Just look at his injuries - lots of superficial injuries, bruised ribs, cracked ribs, a deep laceration to his arm, and now a broken wrist."
"Oh come on," the nurse argued. "Look at the guy. He's not exactly defenceless, is he? He's probably getting into bar fights or something. He's perfectly capable of giving as good as he gets."
"That's what I'm saying," the doctor insisted. "He isn't giving as good as he gets. I've never seen any kind of offensive injuries on his hands. If he were hitting back or even if he were using a weapon there'd be something, abrasions on the knuckles or cuts to the hands. Everything is defensive. Look at the injuries and tell me we'd even be discussing this if he were a woman."
Joe heard the voices stop and then the nurse spoke again. "You're right. He has all the symptoms, it just didn't occur to me. I didn't put them together because he's not your typical victim. I'll call the counsellor if you try and keep him here till she can speak to him. The injuries are getting worse; I don't want to see him come in by ambulance next time."
Quietly Joe pulled his jacket on. He could manage without the drugs if he had to. He didn't want anyone interfering in his life. They were wrong anyway, he wasn't a victim; he just needed to learn to deal with Jane better. If he were a better boyfriend she wouldn't keep doing this to him. He slipped out of the department and headed for his car. Driving in the cast was going to be difficult but it was bound to be easier than driving without it as he had on the way to the hospital. He was just grateful he didn't drive a stick shift.
He checked his watch as he pulled up outside the store. Damn it, he was two hours late. Lucas was going to be pissed. He grabbed the brightly wrapped package from the trunk and slipped down the alleyway to the back of the store. He could hear the music from the roof and he climbed the fire escape quickly, hoping Lucas wasn't too upset that he'd missed most of the party.
Lucas called his name the instant he stepped onto the roof and then he saw the cast.
"Joe, what happened?" he worried. "Are you all right? Sit down, I'll get you a beer or no you're probably on painkillers, right? I'll find you a soft drink. Sit down and tell us what happened."
He opened his mouth to lie to the gang and insist he was fine, but before he could say anything, he met Eddie's eyes over their heads and realised the time he had been given to 'handle' Jane had just run out.
"I fell," he said, trying to use his eyes to convey the message that now wasn't the time to tell the gang the truth. Unfortunately, he hadn't yes mastered the art of telepathy, either that or Eddie was ignoring him.
"No, you didn't," Eddie said softly, his voice quiet but determined. Joe tried to interrupt but Eddie just kept talking. "No. I tried doing things your way and I can see exactly how well that worked and don't try telling me it's none of our business." By now the gang were all looking between Joe and Eddie in confusion. "If it were Gina or Corey or even one of the guys, you'd make sure they told you what was happening and then you'd make sure it stopped. And don't say it's different because you're older because that's bullshit and you know it."
"Joe?" Lucas asked timidly. "What's Eddie talking about? What happened to you? Why won't you tell us?"
Joe looked down into Lucas' eyes and was lost. He'd never learned to deny Lucas when he really wanted something. Sighing, he looked away.
"It's nothing. Jane and I had a fight," he said. "I made her mad."
"Jane did this?" Lucas asked coldly. "The bitch!" His voice was so vehement, despite it's low volume, that it cut through the various exclamations and shouts from the gang.
"It's not like that," Joe said hurriedly before Lucas could run off and do something stupid. "She didn't mean to break my wrist. We were fighting and I fell."
Eddie folded his arms and tried his own version of Joe's glare. It didn't have quite the intensity but the contrast with his normal easygoing nature made its impact just as great.
"Just like she didn't mean any of the other injuries you've had over the last few weeks?" he asked. "Joe, you're going through a bottle of pain killers a week, at least. You wear long sleeves so no one will notice the damage she's doing. You're even wearing make up to cover the black eye she gave you last time you fought. I know you don't think it's anyone's business, but she's hurting you and it's getting worse every time. Next time she won't just stop at a broken wrist; how badly does she have to injure you before you admit it's not your fault that she gets mad? She has a problem, Joe, and you need to throw her out before it's too late."
Lucas walked up to him and poked at his eye to see if Eddie was right about the make up.
"Ow!" Joe snapped, grabbing his wrist. "What the hell are you doing?"
"It hurts," Lucas said. "Eddie was right."
"It hurts because you poked it," Joe complained. He looked down. "Eddie is right about the make up, but it's the other eye, so please stop trying to poke me before you do something to that one as well."
"Ooops," Lucas said, not sounding particularly repentant. "Why do you let her do it?"
Joe glared at him again, but didn't let go of his hand. "I don't 'let' her do anything. She never means to hurt me; she just gets carried away when she's angry. You know me, Lucas, I'm not the easiest person to live with and I'm not exactly great at relationships. I keep pissing her off. If I didn't get her mad I wouldn't get hurt."
"Joe, listen to yourself," Lucas said exasperatedly. "So you're not the sunniest of room-mates all the time. It doesn't give her the right to attack you. We lived together for eight years, Joe, and in all that time I can only remember us getting into it physically once." Unconsciously, he reached up and rubbed his eyebrow where it had been cut when he fell and hit it on a cymbal the day after his trip to Atlantic City.
Joe looked guilty. "I'm sorry about that. I shouldn't have ..."
"No," Lucas said firmly. "You shouldn't have, but neither should she and I provoked you a damn sight harder than you ever provoke her, I'm certain of it. What did you do to deserve that?" He gestured at the cast.
"It was nothing," Joe denied hastily.
"Joe, she broke your wrist; it must have been something," Lucas said patiently.
"Let me guess," Gina interrupted. "You came here instead of doing something she wanted to. You wanted to spend time with your friends, instead of her. That's something I learned from my father. If you want to make sure your punch bag doesn't wake up and realise they deserve better, make sure they don't spend time with other people unless you're there. Especially if those other people care about them a lot. By the time we finally left, I don't think my mom had any friends left. No one to see the bruises and ask about them that way."
Joe pulled away from Lucas and glared at Gina. "Enough! It isn't your business, any of you. Either get back to celebrating Lucas' birthday and leave me alone, or I'm leaving." He tossed the brightly wrapped present he was still carrying at Lucas. "In fact I don't think I'm in the mood for a party any more. I'll see you all on Monday." He stormed off, leaving the gang too stunned to move for a minute.
Taking advantage of their confusion, he jumped back in his car, intending to be gone before they could recover. His love life wasn't their business and he wasn't going to let them interfere and make Jane even more pissed off with him. He slammed the car door and turned the key in the ignition, cursing when the car made a rather pathetic sound and the engine refused to turn over. He tried again and nothing happened.
Warren stepped out of the shadows and held something up. "You're not going anywhere without these, so you might as well stop trying."
Joe growled under his breath. "You vandalised my car? That is it! I have had enough. You're fired, Warren. Now give me the damn plugs back so I can go home."
Warren flinched and stepped back but didn't give up the plugs. "No. If I do you'll just go straight home to Jane and she'll hurt you again."
Joe got out of the car and started walking towards him, stopping when Warren went pale and backed away. "Please, Warren, just give me the plugs."
The rest of the gang caught up with them and stepped forward one by one, surrounding him.
"You keep saying it's not out business, but it is," Berko insisted. "You're in trouble and we're your friends; that makes it our business."
"Just like my speed habit was your business," Corey pointed out. "I never asked you to get involved, but every time I turned around you were there, whether I wanted you to be or not. I couldn't have got clean without you."
"I didn't want anyone to know when I tried to kill myself," Deb said. "But none of you would leave me alone. You insisted on 'helping' me. Because that's what friends do."
"My mother broke my wrist once," Lucas said softly. "It was right before she threw me out. You can't expect us to just watch as Jane treats you like this. Please let us help you." He took hold of Joe's sleeve and looks up at him. "Don't let her keep doing this to you; you deserve so much better."
Joe looked at all the earnest, worried faces around him, including Warren, who was still holding his spark plugs and trying to look like he didn't care that Joe had fired him, and he sighed. He still didn't really believe that he wasn't to blame for Jane's fits of temper, but he knew that if he told them all to go to hell and carried on seeing her, continued turning up for work with bruises and broken bones, they'd be hurt even more than he was. It hadn't occurred to him that Jane's anger could harm them as much as him, and while he could write off his own injuries as justifiable punishment for his shortcomings, he wasn't able to ignore anything that hurt his kids.
"All right," he sighed. "I'll do it your way. I'm not saying you're right, but I'll ask her to move out."
"Warren, put his spark plugs back," Berko said. "I think I'll come with you, just in case."
"I don't need a babysitter," Joe snapped.
"Maybe not, but I don't have any problem hitting a woman provided she throws the first punch," Berko retorted. "So I'm coming with you to make sure she doesn't break your other wrist. And tell Warren you're not mad at him, because he did the right thing in keeping you here until we could talk sense into you and you're still glaring at him."
"I could fire you as well," Joe complained. "I'm the boss, not you."
"You could, but I wouldn't believe you," Berko pointed out dryly.
Joe wasn't quite sure when he'd so totally lost control of the situation and his wrist was hurting too much for him to care about figuring it out right now. "Fine, get in the car, Berko," he grumbled. "In fact, drive the car because I only have one working arm and driving is a pain in the ass." He looked over at Warren, who was expertly replacing the plugs. The kid had a grease smudge on one cheek and Joe couldn't stop the small smile that sprung to his lips. "Warren, you're not fired, but next time find a better way of stopping me; don't sabotage my car."
Warren grinned. "There's going to be a next time you're this stupid?"
The girls laughed as Lucas reached over and smacked the back of Warren's head. Joe just sighed again and got in the car. He wasn't going to admit it, but the two of them messing around had lightened his mood considerably.
The drive to Joe's house was tense and quiet, both of them wondering how the confrontation with Jane would, go but their arrival was something of an anticlimax. The house was dark and empty; Jane was nowhere to be seen.
"She said she had some music event tonight she wanted me to go to with her," Joe said. "But to be honest I thought she was just making it up to stop me going to Lucas' party."
Berko sprawled comfortably on the couch and grabbed the remote, flicking through the channels until he found a music channel playing older rock music. Joe looked at him and sighed, heading into the kitchen to get them each a beer.
"Make yourself at home, Richard," he said dryly.
"I am," the other man answered with a grin. "Look, if I leave, you'll change your mind about making her move out, either that or she'll attack you again and my life wouldn't be worth living if you came in tomorrow with more injuries because I wasn't here. The girls alone would make my life miserable and it's probably better not to consider what Lucas would do to me. So you're stuck with me until she's gone. Fortunately you have the world's most comfortable couch, so I'm good here." He looked at the beer. "Should you be drinking that?"
"Don't pretend you're my mother, please," Joe grumbled. "Besides I walked out of the ER before they could fill my prescription, so I'll have to pick the drugs up tomorrow. Until then, one beer won't kill me."
Joe couldn't believe how relaxed he was. He hadn't realised until now, but he hadn't been able to relax in his own home since Jane moved in; he was always on edge, trying not to say or do anything that would set her off. Sitting here with Berko, listening to music, chatting, and drinking felt so good. It was nice to be able to relax and just enjoy himself. The thought struck him like a kick in the pants - why had he put so much effort into a relationship that he didn't enjoy. They weren't married and neither had made any real promises to the other, but he had been turning himself inside out to keep it going and now he couldn't remember a single time that he had been happy with his life since his second date with Jane. Why was he letting her make him miserable? Just to prove that he wasn't his father? He groaned and Berko looked at him searchingly.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "You're not hurt anywhere other than your wrist?"
Joe ran a hand through his hair. "Honestly, Berko, I don't think there's anything that doesn't at least ache, but that wasn't what I was thinking about. I was thinking how nice it is just to sit here and relax and that this is the first time I've felt really at home in my own house since I asked Jane to move in. I am such an idiot."
Berko reached out and squeezed his arm gently. "You're not an idiot, Joe. But you do have a tendency to get caught up in making sure everyone else gets what they want and forget to worry about what you want. Which is why you were so busy trying to make sure we didn't worry about losing our jobs that you forgot to tell us you wanted to buy the store and needed some help." He grinned. "Just remember, every time you keep stuff to yourself, Lucas runs off to Atlantic City with the takings."
Surprised into a laugh, Joe smiled wryly at Berko. "Thank you so very much for reminding me about that." He smiled more sincerely. "And thank you for helping smack some sense into me," he paused. "Probably a bad metaphor in this case."
They were both laughing at that when the door opened and Jane let herself in. She saw Berko and scowled.
"What's he doing here?" she snapped. "You know I don't like you having people over without asking me first, Joe. It's inconsiderate."
Berko's eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to reply, but Joe stopped him.
"It's my house, Jane," he said. "I can invite my friends over if I want. Berko is welcome here any time, as are the rest of my friends. You, on the other hand, I think have worn out your welcome. It's over, Jane. I want you to move out. I'll pay for a hotel room for tonight and after that you can find somewhere else."
"What?" She turned and fixed Berko with an evil glare. "What have you been telling him?" She took a deep breath and started to speak more calmly and with a cajoling note to her voice. "Darling, I don't know what he's been saying, but you can't be going to throw me out just because of one of your employees. They may act like they control your life but where are they when the shop closes? I'm the one who's here for you when you come home. I know things have been difficult lately, but you're working hard and you're all stressed. I know you're trying to be more considerate and you're getting better."
Joe shook his head. "I'm not the one who needs to learn to be more considerate, Jane. You broke my wrist and it's about time we faced up to the fact that this isn't working, it never really did. Please get your things and leave."
"Look, Joe, you'll feel better once he's out of here and it's just us," Jane insisted. "They're all young and they don't understand what a real relationship is like. It's why I don't want you spending so much time with them. They're filling your head with nonsense. No relationship is perfect; you just have to work a little harder at it to make it work. If you hadn't gone to that stupid party, we wouldn't be fighting. It's his fault. Him and those other brats. God knows I had a hard enough time convincing your little screw up to stay away; I didn't realise the others were going to start interfering as well."
Joe got up and walked around the couch so he could confront her and Berko followed, shadowing him, ready to intervene if Jane attacked him. "Those are my friends you're talking about. I don't want to fight about this, Jane. I've made my mind up. Please, just leave."
"No!" she argued. "I'm staying right here and we're going to work this out." She turned to face Berko. "Get out, you're not welcome here."
He just smiled at her. "It's not your house, Jane, and I distinctly heard Joe ask you to leave. If you don't I'm going to call the police and have them make you leave."
She snarled and tried to slap him, but he grabbed her wrist before she could make contact. Curling her fingers she scratched her nails across his cheek and he jerked his face away, tightening his grip on her wrist.
"I'm not Joe. If you try that again, I'll hit you back," he told her.
"That's it," Joe said firmly. "I've had enough. You're getting your things and leaving or you can leave without them, Jane. I don't want to see you again. If I do, I'll call the police. You don't contact me or any of my employees; you don't come here and you don't go to the shop."
She kicked out at him and he had to step backwards rapidly to avoid her. Berko grabbed both her arms and held her tightly.
"Open the door, Joe," he said. "You can pack her things up and give them to her later." Joe opened the front door and Berko pushed her out, jumping back inside before she could retaliate, and slamming the door. "All right, let's get her things while we think of it and she can pick them up tomorrow. This way she doesn't have an excuse to hang around."
Joe leaned against the wall and ran his hands through his hair. "I am so sorry about that. Are you all right? I never thought she'd go for you."
Berko shook his head. "No problem, boss." He grinned. "I'm fine, now let's get her stuff." He winced as Jane started screaming abuse through the closed door and a particularly strong kick made it shake. "Damn, she's insane."
"She'll calm down eventually," Joe said. "She always does." He led the way to the bedroom and together they packed her things into a couple of suitcases. Looking at them when he was done, he couldn't believe how few things she'd brought with her.
"She doesn't have much, does she?" Berko commented.
Shrugging, Joe said, "She believes in travelling light. She doesn't like being tied down to one place. It's one of the reasons she hates the store so much."
"She hates the store because it's yours," Berko pointed out. "It gives you something that she isn't a part of and that she can't control."
Before Joe could answer there was a determined pounding on the door. Thinking it was Jane he was going to ignore it but then he heard "Fieldsboro PD, open the door please."
"The cops?" Joe said. "Damn, one of the neighbours must have called."
He opened the door and pasted a smile on his face. "Officer," he said neutrally. "How can I help you?"
"We were called regarding a disturbance at these premises," the police officer told him. "This lady tells me that she was forcibly thrown out and I also have a record of a suspected domestic violence report being filed by a doctor in regards to this address. Can we all perhaps come inside and discuss the matter?"
Joe opened his mouth to answer but was stopped by Berko, who opened the door further and stood next to him. "Officer, this 'lady' broke my friend's wrist this afternoon. That would be why the doctor filed a report. If he wants to discuss matters with you, that's his business, but I really don't think he should let her back into the house."
"And you would be?" the officer asked.
"He's a friend," Joe said. "And he's here to make sure I don't do something foolish like let her talk me into letting her stay."
"She broke your wrist?" the officer asked.
Joe looked over his shoulder to where the other officer was talking to Jane. "Yes, sir, she did. I've been to the ER half a dozen times in the last month thanks to Jane and my friends finally convinced me to throw her out. When I asked her to leave, she tried to attack me again and when Berko here stopped her, she attacked him as well. That's why she was physically removed from the house. I gave her a chance to pack her things and I even offered to pay or a hotel room, but she attacked us instead."
The officer looked at the cast he had and back at Jane, who didn't have a mark on her. When he turned back, Joe wiped the make up off his face to show his black eye.
"Sir, would you like to press charges against her?" he asked sympathetically, finally believing that despite appearances, Joe was the victim. "If you don't I would recommend filing a complaint of domestic violence and getting a TRO. We can get you one of those tonight and it will mean if we're called again because of her we can arrest her even without you having to press charges."
"I don't want to press charges," Joe said emphatically. He looked back at Berko. "Can I get the restraining order though? For here and for my workplace. I'm worried she might try to attack some of the kids I have working for me if I refuse to talk to her."
The officer nodded understandingly. "Let me talk to my partner. We'll have to escort her back here after the order is granted to collect her things, but we'll be with her the whole time."
"We already packed her stuff," Berko said. "I didn't want her using the opportunity to hang around and talk him into changing his mind." He grinned a little. "Joe's a nice guy; he hates saying no to people he feels responsible for and since he's dating her, she falls into that category unfortunately."
The police officers conferred. Joe could see the one he hadn't spoken to looking over at him and eventually nodding. While it might be the first time these officers had ever dealt with a domestic violence complaint where the woman was the attacker, his injuries and her complete lack of damage enforced his story.
It was gone midnight by the time he and Berko could finally collapse onto the couch again and finish their drinks. The police had called for a second cruiser and escorted Joe and Jane to a hearing in front of the judge who was on call for domestic violence cases. Berko had testified to what he'd seen and Joe had listed the injuries he'd incurred over the last couple of months. The complaint filed by the doctor backed up his evidence and the judge had no problem granting him a TRO for both his home and Empire Records. If Jane turned up at either place, she'd be arrested. Jane had flatly denied hurting him but the cast and the bruises made her story look ridiculous.
When the hearing was over, the police took them all back to Joe's place and Jane collected her things under the watchful eyes of two police officers, both of whom had lost any sympathy they might have had for her when she had launched a spiteful tirade at Joe outside the court room. Once her bags had been removed from the house, the police took her back to the car and insisted on driving her to a hotel. The other officers hung back and made sure Joe understood how the restraining order worked and that he could call any time if he was worried.
Joe held his bottle out and clinked it against Berko's gently. "Thank you, Richard. I hadn't realised how out of control things were getting. Listing it all for the court really put things in perspective for me."
Berko shrugged. "Don't thank me; I'm just playing big, dumb, bodyguard. Wouldn't even be doing that if we could trust Lucas to do it without ending up in jail." He grinned. "Eddie's the one need's thanking. I can't believe we never saw what she was doing to you. Can't believe Eddie did."
"It's the quiet ones you need to watch out for," Joe said. "Eddie's so responsible and hard working sometimes you just forget he's there. He doesn't draw attention to himself like the rest of you. It makes it easier for him to see things the rest of us miss."
Berko nodded. "It's true. We always underestimate him because he's not jumping up and down and making us look at him."
The doorbell rang, startling both of them. Joe started to get up but Berko pushed him back onto the couch. "Stay there until I see who it is," he ordered.
Joe groaned. "How long are you planning on staying? Because this is going to get old very quickly."
Berko looked through the peep-hole on he door and grinned. "Looks like I might be going home any minute, boss." He opened the door. "Hey, Lucas, bit late for you to be out and about, isn't it? Or are you just stopping off on your way to Atlantic City?"
"If he gets within twenty miles of Atlantic City without me he's fired and he knows it," Joe said hurriedly, getting up and walking over to the door with a smile on his face. "Checking up on me, kid?"
"No," Lucas denied. "I just wanted to thank you for the jacket. I didn't get to open it until after you left. It's perfect." He hugged Joe impulsively and was hugged back tightly. Berko could see the look of pain on Joe's face as Lucas squeezed him but Lucas couldn't. Shaking his head slightly, Joe warned Berko with a look to keep quiet. It had been too long since he'd been able to spend time with Lucas, between Jane making him unwelcome here and Joe hiding in his office at work.
Joe pulled back and smiled at Lucas. "I'm really glad you like it. Your old one was wearing out and getting too tight. Come and sit down, I'll get you a drink."
Lucas grinned. "I can find my own drink unless you've moved the kitchen. You're meant to be resting."
"I broke my wrist not my leg," Joe grumbled. "You and Berko are incorrigible."
Berko just smiled. "We're just trying to take care of you. You're not used to it, that's the problem. Now sit down. Lucas will probably stay the night so I'm going home. See you tomorrow boss. After you visit a lawyer. If we see you in the store before you have everything sorted out about Jane, I'm going to make Warren babysit you; maybe I'll even get Mark to help."
Joe shuddered theatrically. "Evil, Richard, very evil." He laughed. "Go on, clear out of here. I'll be fine with the idiot to look after me. Take my car. I can't drive it properly anyway and it's too late for you to walk."
"Thanks, boss," Berko said with a happy smile; it wasn't often any of them got to drive Joe's car, especially not without him being in it. "I'll take real good care of it."
"You better," Joe growled, but he was still smiling.
When Berko was gone Lucas came back with two glasses of coke. "You shouldn't be drinking," he said firmly.
"I don't have any painkillers yet," Joe told him. "I should be allowed a beer if I want one."
Lucas pushed him down onto the couch and curled up next to him. "Just be glad I'm letting you have Coke and not insisting you have something calming like herbal tea. I know you have some camomile hidden in the back of one of those cabinets."
Joe sighed but wrapped his good arm around Lucas' shoulders. "I'm sorry I messed up your birthday party."
"Don't say that," Lucas told him. "You bought me the best present and it's not your fault you attract psychotic bitches whenever you date." He leaned against him and smiled. "I'm not going to let her hurt you again. What was Berko saying about a lawyer?"
"She tried to attack me again tonight and the police were called," Joe admitted. "We went to court and got a temporary restraining order. I need to get to a lawyer tomorrow and make sure we can renew it. Jane isn't allowed anywhere near my home or the store. I was scared she'd try and hurt one of you."
Lucas glared. "If she comes anywhere near you again, I'll kill her." He looked up at Joe seriously. "You didn't deserve it, Joe. Any of it. You're the kindest, most generous person I know. I hate that she was hurting you and I didn't even notice. I'm never letting her near you again."
Joe was touched. "Lucas, it's not your job to protect me, but thank you. I promise I won't let her come back."
Lucas looked up at him and smiled. This was the longest he'd been able to be alone with Joe since Jane had moved in and he'd missed him. He knew Joe didn't look at him in the same way he looked at Joe, but he missed the closeness they had always had. He wasn't going to risk losing that again.
He looked down at his jeans and picked at a hole in the knee thoughtfully. "Could I ... " He hesitated. "Could I move back in again?" he asked in a rush.
Joe was surprised but he couldn't help smiling. The idea made him very happy. "You know I probably should insist I want to live on my own for a while and try and remember what I was like before Jane came along, but I would love to have you come back home where you belong, kid. I've missed having you underfoot all the time."
Lucas smiled. "I'll try not to bug you all the time, but I like living with you better than I like living alone and you need someone to spoil you a bit and show you how much we all love you. I can do that so much easier if I'm living here. I'll even cook you dinner tomorrow night as a thank you."
Joe hesitated. "Uh, you don't have to. Really," he said, forcing a smile onto his face.
Lucas pouted. "I've got a lot better since I've had to live off my own cooking," he said. "You could always supervise if you don't trust me. I wouldn't mind learning some of your recipes. I could never get my cooking to taste like yours."
Joe laughed and hugged him a little closer. It was funny how Jane living here had made everything so tense but the idea of Lucas moving back in helped him relax. "All right. You can cook and I'll teach you anything you want." He leaned back and sighed in satisfaction. For the first time in a very long time he felt himself again and could look ahead without worrying about the future. Things weren't right, not yet, but they were going to be. He was certain of it.