“Go on!” James Hathaway shouted. “Do it, if it’s going to make you feel better!”
Jean Innocent loosened her grip on James’ shirt, slowly lowering the fist she’d had drawn back, ready to deliver a blow to his face. He shuffled himself upright, no longer leaning away from her into the back of the sofa. Her hand shook as it unwillingly left James’ chest; all she wanted was to strike.
She’d been back at work for nearly a month, after having six weeks off to recover from her tumble down the stairs. It had started out alright. Everyday business passed as normal. It was her police station once more, under her command as it ought to be.
But it lingered. It simmered. The sentencing hearing was fast approaching and, after giving evidence and facing her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Jean’s head was imploding in on itself. It was crushed in pools of anger, hurt and fear. Anger – real, undiluted fury – was not something Jean Innocent was used to feeling. She was normally a woman whose head talked sense and whose heart submitted to that sense. And suddenly, her head wasn’t talking sense but her heart continued to submit; the anger drowned her, and she allowed it to.
James reached out to put his hand on Jean’s arm, but she batted him away and snapped, “Don’t touch me!”
“What on Earth has got into you, ma’am?” James asked her.
“Go,” Jean replied, her voice hoarse. “Just get back to work.”
When he left, Jean fell onto the sofa with her hands over her face. It was a blur. She couldn’t remember pinning him down or pulling back her fist. All she could recall was his incessant concern and questioning, like he didn’t trust her to be back in the workplace. James had tried to stop her walking away from him – and the next thing Jean had known was his order to hit him.
In the two and a half months since that fall, Jean had been subjected to a psychological evaluation – which she had passed – and floods of concern and care from James Hathaway, Robbie Lewis, Laura Hobson, and, of course, her own family. They didn’t seem to understand how it riled her. She couldn’t fathom her own reactions, never mind expect anyone else to; it was the reason she wasn’t entirely sure how she’d managed to pass the psychologist’s tests. Her anger always simmered away, waiting for its opportunity to boil.
But to make to hit James Hathaway? That wasn’t something she had ever thought herself capable of. It wasn’t something she had ever thought about doing to anyone, not even Thomas. And James was not anything like Thomas; he was probably the person least deserving of a punch, after all he had done for her.
And yet, she had wanted to do it. She had wanted nothing more than to let her fist fly. It had been the answer to the problem, even though she was not entirely sure of exactly what the problem was. Was this how Thomas had felt when he laid into her? Did she drive him to feel like this?
If she did, all this was her fault. The fact she had almost died, and that he was now awaiting his sentencing, was her doing. She had done this to her husband. She had got him in such bother that he was now waiting to find out how long he was going to have to spend in prison. What was worse was that she wanted him to be there. Even though she had brought about these events, she was relieved to know he had been convicted. She was a terrible wife.
Knuckles rapped at the door. “Come,” called Jean, though she would rather have been left to stew in her own juices.
Robert Lewis walked in. “Ma’am,” he said as a habit of professional respect.
“Please tell me you haven’t started any riots.”
“Then what is it?” she asked impatiently.
“Just wanted to check you’re okay.”
The answer was robotic. Automatic, without thought or emotion. She didn’t have the thought or emotion required to give a truthful answer.
It showed in Robbie’s reaction; his face was a sceptical frown, for he blatantly did not believe or trust her answer. Objectively, she could not blame him, but objectivity seemed to be difficult to come by these days. “You’re sure about that, are you, ma’am?”
He sighed. There wasn’t anything he could do, and they both knew that. However, Robbie was like James: reluctant to accept the idea that Jean Innocent was not who they thought she was. Or perhaps she had been playing the part so long she had worn out her ability to continue. Whatever it was, there was no recovery in sight, for any of them. That was another thing for which she was to blame – the damage the past few months had inflicted upon those she worked with, and who had befriended her. They were not the same, forever changed by the events her stupidity and selfishness had brought about.
But still Robbie did not accept her answer, even if he could accept she would not tell him anything different. She had a feeling James might have told him about their encounter.
“Is that all?”
He took that as his dismissal and left her office.
The silence drowned her in a substance thicker than water, and acidic enough to burn through her bones, but it was something she was familiar with, like it was all she’d ever known.
She wondered if she should have gone home as soon as she was able to manage the stairs on her own; so focused was she on her physical recovery, she had forgotten there was still an ordeal to go through before Thomas saw the inside of a jail cell with any degree of permanence. Perhaps she ought to have taken the help when it was offered to her, rather than accepting just enough to get by and eventually rejecting it altogether.
Maybe if she had let someone help her, rage wouldn’t soar through her body. Maybe she would be more settled. Or maybe it would have made no difference at all, and she would have ended up like this no matter how she chose to deal with matters. Perhaps it had always been inevitable that Jean would fail to live with the results of her marriage. That notion, however, provided no comfort. Even if it was never a choice, it was still a failure to cope. A failure to thrive, as they would have put it in the old days.
What was there to be so angry about, though? She was getting her own way. Her assailant was convicted and was probably going to prison for years. Even her son did not hate her, as she had feared he might. Her anger was unjustified.
And she regretted that anger. She hated its very existence. All she wanted to do was find James and tell him she was sorry for wanting to harm him. It was what she would do if she had it in her to face him.
“No,” she whispered to herself rather frantically. “No, I’m fine. I’ve got to be fine. They said I was fine.”
But they – the psychologist – hadn’t said she was fine. No, that psychologist had said she had passed the test to return to work. Nothing about being fine had been mentioned. The anger was real.
It came out when she was around James. He reminded her of what she had done and failed to do, and that she took more than she gave. One of them had to go. There was no possibility of their continued friendship. She didn’t think they could even continue working together. It wasn’t his fault, of course. He just did as he always did – tried to be the best version of himself. He tried to help her. It was not his fault she resented that help, and herself for wanting to accept it.
Jean had no other option. Either she transferred to another division herself, or she transferred James, or made him redundant. She could not risk actually delivering the blow she had prepared for today. And as cowardly as she was, she felt unable to uproot any part of her own life while she knew her state of mind to be fragile.
If she was going to do this to James, she had to at least summon the human decency to do it face to face. So she steeled herself, and set foot out the door. When she reached Lewis and Hathaway’s office, she was unsurprised to find James examining evidence while Robbie was out speaking to people. Jean closed the door and leaned against Robbie’s desk, well away from James. He looked up from his work, his expression questioning but without fear. “Ma’am?” he asked.
“There’s no nice way to put this,” Jean said quickly, “so I’ll just spit it out. I’m transferring you, sergeant. They’re always looking for decent DI prospects over at Organised Crime.”
“What?” he demanded sharply.
“You heard me.”
He didn’t stand up, but his back straightened like he was ready to challenge her. “Why?”
“It’s good for your career.”
“I’m fine here.”
“You should be better than just fine.”
James glared at Jean, his eyes working like an x-ray as they scanned her face. “You’re lying. What’s this really about?”
Jean hesitated. If she opened the door to the conversation she knew he wanted to have, she would be drawing him into a black hole she alone had to endure. But he was not a stupid man; indeed, her life would have been much simpler and lonelier if he were stupid, but he wasn’t. One way or another, he was going to force her to have this conversation. “I almost punched you, James,” she said tonelessly.
“But you didn’t.”
“But I wanted to.”
“But you didn’t,” repeated James. “You didn’t do it.”
“And what about the next time?”
“Will there be a next time?”
“How can I know the answer to that?” she snapped.
As she said it, she let her hand fall onto her left arm, where the scars of her husband’s anger remained. It was a movement James clocked, as his eyes followed her hand until it rested. Jean looked away from him. “You have every reason to be angry,” he said quietly. “You’ve taken years of emotional, mental and physical abuse. You almost died. You’ve been left with scars on just about every level. Your marriage has disintegrated. You’re allowed to be angry, Jean.”
She turned her head to glower at him for using her first name, and remembered with a sickening jolt how she had once asked him to use it after her husband told her she didn’t deserve a name or rank or vocation at all.
“But don’t be angry with me,” he implored her. “I’m trying to help in any way I can. In any way I know how to, which admittedly isn’t many. I’m not the enemy.”
But even as the words left his mouth, she loathed them. He was the enemy. Everyone was the enemy. She was her own enemy. James could not understand that, of course – she didn’t understand it herself – but there were no allies. Only enemies. There was always an enemy, a monster, lurking, and there was no knowing who it was; everyone, therefore, was the enemy.
“Don’t transfer me,” he said gently. “It’s not the way to deal with things. And don’t you leave, either,” he added, like he could see into the depths of her clockwork mind.
Jean didn’t answer. To back down was not in her nature, especially with a sergeant. His judgement, however, was probably sounder than her own in that moment. He was not ravaged by fear and fury, and his soul was not frozen in the pits of Hell. Regardless of rank, Jean was not stupid enough to believe herself superior to James Hathaway.
So she simply left without giving him any answer at all. She could feel the anger turn inwards; suddenly she hated nobody more than she hated herself. It was not a new sensation, for she had felt it often recently, but it still shook her legs and quickened her heart, and it was all she could do to run to her office for privacy and solitude while her raving head continued to keep its grip on her livid heart.