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.