So this came to me yesterday... and I just went with it.
Lauren sat on the sofa, surrounded by used tissues. Her eyes were bloodshot and her face blotchy. She pulled her legs up to the seat and curled them under her body, more tears falling down her face. She wiped at her face quickly, brushing away the tears, trying to compose herself but it was a fruitless task as what she swiped away were quickly replaced by fresh ones.
She glanced around the room and her eyes settled on a picture of the pair of them. They were so in love with each other in that picture and now he was gone. That wasn't even the worst of it. The flat was filled with memories, everywhere she looked were touches of his presence. It had been just a few hours and she missed him intensely. She was never going to get past this… she knew that already.
She was wishing so many things right now. She was wishing there would be the sound of his keys in the door and he'd walk through it and tell her it had all been a horrible mistake. She wished she'd had a chance to say goodbye to him. She wished she hadn't been home when the police turned up at her door and broke the news to her. She wished she hadn't had to phone his parents and tell them the news that parents should never have to be told.
There were other things she regretted to. She wished they had made love this morning, like he'd wanted to but she had been too busy for. She'd had to go to work and was running late. She wished their last kiss had been more than just a quick peck as she dashed out of the front door. And more than anything she wished she'd taken the time to appreciate those last few moments with him.
Now those last memories of him were tarnished by those of viewing his body in the hospital morgue. More tears fell as an image of his face, pale and bruised flashed through her thoughts and a sob slipped from her, simply unable to stop it from escaping. Pain blossomed in her chest and she curled her arms around her body and slumped down, lying on the sofa and crying intensely all over again.
The phone had begun ringing within an hour of her getting back to the flat and she'd unplugged it not long after it had started, not wanting to speak to anyone about what had happened. When she'd got back she'd made the difficult phone call to two people she adored… and she broke their hearts… with just a few words. She'd been able to hear the devastation in their voices and she wished she'd had the strength to tell them in person rather than over the phone. They'd offered to come over and be with her but she just wanted to be alone. She couldn't handle anyone seeing her like this and she knew she would just fall apart if she had to deal with their grief too. And the thought of falling apart was something she wasn't sure she was ready for. The way she felt at the moment was enough of a problem, any more would break her completely.
It had been a long time since Lauren had stopped crying… now she just felt numb and she wished she was with him. She wished she was dead.
There was a soft knock on the door… Lauren ignored it, simply unable to move from where she lay. She had no energy whatsoever and she felt exhausted. Whoever it was knocked again, firmer this time, "Baby girl?"
His voice carried through the door and she blinked a couple of times, glancing at the door. Still though she didn't move. After a few minutes the knocking was gone but she knew he would be back.
She was right… it had been dark for hours when the knocking returned. "If you don't open up, baby girl, I'll break this door down…"
'Go away,' she thought but remained silent, her mouth not working. She closed her eyes, ignoring him again and tried to sleep. She wished she didn't see his face every time she shut her eyes. She wished she could eradicate the picture of his battered face from her thoughts. And more than anything she wished he was here with her now.
Her eyes opened quickly as she heard the door to the flat open, holding her breath as she wondered if it had all been a dream. Had she imagined it all and he was now home? She sat up, staring into the dark, hoping to see him and recognise him.
The light switched on, illuminating the room and shattering her heart all over again in the passing of a second. She stared at the person in the doorway, wishing it was someone else entirely. At the same time who she was looking at was the one person who could understand how she felt.
For a few seconds they both stared at each other and then he moved to where she was sitting and she collapsed against him, breaking down in an avalanche of tears that she'd been fighting ever since she got the news. He held her, pulling her against his chest and kissing the top of her head as she cried, making her feel safe again for the first time today.
She'd finally stopped crying and he wondered if she was asleep. "How are you feeling?" she suddenly asked, breaking the silence.
He let out a soft bark of laughter, squeezing her a little tighter. "Shouldn't I be asking you that, babe?" He whispered, "You're the one who's just lost the person they love…"
"You loved him too, Joe… he was your best friend…" she breathed, pressing her face against his chest again.
Joey looked down at her, feeling tears trying to break free. He hated seeing her upset but he could understand the devastation she was feeling. He felt the same. He'd just lost his best friend, the boy he'd known for almost all of his life. The only person he would ever trust to be with the girl he was now holding in his arms. The only other person beside her who truly knew him. "It's okay, Lo… I'm fine…"
She lifted her head and stared at him, her eyes boring into his soul and breaking through the walls he usually had erected. He tore his eyes from hers, wiping his hand across his face, "No, you're not…" she whispered and he glanced at her again, the truth of her words written all over his face. It was her turn to comfort him and she wrapped her arms around his neck, his face pressing into her chest as he broke down in tears. She kissed the back of his head, her fingers running through his hair and he felt guilty for not being strong enough for her, for being selfish and having her comfort him.
They lay on the sofa, Joey's arms wrapped around her waist, his chin resting on her shoulder. Her hands were brushing over his hands as they lay there. Neither of them had said anything for a long time but there wasn't really anything left for them to say. Both of them were thinking about the person they had lost. Edward… her lover and his best friend.
"I keep thinking about how things could've been different this morning… How I wished I'd got a chance to say goodbye to him… If I'd known…"
"I know, babe…" he breathed, kissing her cheek.
Lauren turned her head and looked at him, seeing the sorrow oozing from him, "Shouldn't you be at home… with Poppy?"
"She's gone to see her mum and anyway, I'm right where I want to be…" he told her. "This is where Ed would want me to be. He'd want me to make sure you're okay."
Lauren winced and turned her face away from him again, "I think we both know I'm never going to be okay again." She whispered.
His arms tightened around her and she heard his breath falter. She knew he felt the same way. Joey, Edward and her had been best friends for what felt like forever. Joey and Edward had met when they were still in nappies and Lauren had entered the mix after she moved to the same street as Joey at the tender age of five… when her parents were trying to get over a rough patch in their marriage and had decided they needed family nearby. So her dad had turned to his eldest brother and Lauren had met Joey… her cousin. Alice had been born just a year later but she never came into their group… it was always the three of them… the three musketeers.
And Lauren had fallen in love with Edward… slowly but surely her feelings for him changed from those of friendship, to those of love. She had resisted it at first. She hadn't wanted Joey to be hurt or feel excluded and she wasn't sure Edward even liked her that way anyway. It was Joey who pushed them together though. He really knew her better than she knew herself sometimes. He approached her and asked her what was wrong and she opened up to him. The thought of hiding it from him never even entering her head. She'd looked at him worriedly after she'd finished, not sure of what his reaction would be but he just smiled at her and told her she was a fool if she didn't think Edward loved her… she was all he could talk about. He reassured her that he wanted the two of them to be happy and he couldn't think of two more perfect people for each other… after all they were both his best friends and they always would be.
So Lauren told Edward how she felt and the rest, as they say, was history… they started dating… they slept together for the first time. They moved in together. They had that moment of doubt when they wondered if they were making a mistake. They had their first huge fight and of course, both turned to Joey to help them fix things. Joey had been the person they always turned to so it was natural for her to turn to him now… Lauren just hoped she was as much of a comfort to him as he was to her.
"How did you get in anyway?" she asked him.
"I went to mum and dad's and got the spare key for your parents and then got the spare for here so I could let myself in. I would've smashed the door in if I had to though. I was worried about you."
"I know." She whispered.
"Do you want me to call your parents? Get them to come home from their holiday?"
"What's the point, Joe? There's nothing they can do, is there? Them being here isn't going to bring him back…"
"You need your family around you, don't you?"
She squeezed his hand tightly, "You're the only family I need, Joe." She murmured, feeling tears well in her eyes again.
"You should've called me, baby girl… when the police came here. I'd have gone with you…" he breathed into her hair.
"I had to break the news to Tom and Diane… I couldn't tell you as well…" she whispered. "I'm sorry, Joe… I should've been the one to tell you…"
"It's fine, babe… I understand. Tom called me just after you told them…" Joey's mouth ran dry and he held her a little tighter in his arms. "I wish I had been here with you…"
"I'm glad you weren't, Joe…" she whispered. She felt the tension in his body at her words and she brushed her hand over his arm, trying to soothe him, "I couldn't have got through it all if you were here. I would've broken down completely and I couldn't do that… not until I was certain it was him."
"Do they know what happened?" he asked her softly. She nodded her head, locked in her thoughts once more. Joey hated pushing her but he needed to know. He needed to know what had happened to Edward… the boy who'd been mistaken for his twin brother more times than he could count. He took pity on her though, realising he was asking her something she wasn't ready to talk about yet. "It's okay, baby girl. You can tell me when you're ready." He whispered.
"I miss him, Joey…" she breathed, her voice shaking at her admission.
"I know…" he said, "I do too…"
"I wish I was with him now."
Joey tightened his arms around her, fear gripping his heart as he absorbed what she'd just said, "Don't you dare ever say that again, Lauren." He growled. "I couldn't handle losing you both from my life."
"And I can't handle losing him, Joey."
"You can do this." He said, his voice breaking slightly as he tried to convince her to continue. "You are strong enough to get through this and I'll be with you every step of the way…" he promised her.
"You can't be there for me all the time though, can you?" she said, tears running down her face once more. "You won't be here in the middle of the night when I wake up here alone. You won't be here to stop me thinking about him, stop me from missing him."
"I will be here, whenever you need me…" he promised her again, "You can call me, anytime of day or night. I love you, Lo and I'm going to help you with this. You believe me, right?"
"I do…" They fell silent for several minutes. "I'm so tired, Joe." She admitted.
"You should try to get some sleep…"
"I can't, Joe… I can't go in that room…" she said, starting to sob again.
Joey held her for a few minutes until she'd calmed slightly. "I'll stay with you…" he whispered. "I'm going nowhere, babe."
She sighed, relief flooding her body. She pulled away from him and sat up, turning her head to look at him. "Thanks Joe…"
He sat up and climbed off the sofa. He held his hand out towards her and helped her to her feet after she took it. She swayed slightly and he pulled her against him. Lauren turned her head and looked at the bedroom door, her face paling further as she remembered being in there with Edward just that morning. She glanced at the man holding her and saw him watching her. "You okay?" he asked her, another silly question but she knew it was well meant.
"No…" she breathed.
He squeezed her hand gently and then tugged her to the room, dragging her as she tried to not follow him. "Lauren… you can't avoid going in there…" he whispered to her, pulling her against his body and hugging her again.
"I can't, Joe…" she whispered, her eyes wide as she stared at the bedroom door.
"You can, baby girl… I'm here…"
Lauren lifted her head, staring at him intently and seeing only honesty on his face. "I know…" she whispered. It was Lauren who reached for the door handle, pausing slightly and taking a steadying breath. Joey squeezed her hand again and she glanced at him, seeing him still watching her. Another deep breath and she pushed the door open, biting her lip as she looked into the room. She inhaled, smelling the scent of Edward lingering in the air. It was familiarity and comfort. It was pain and torture. She took two steps through the door but her steps faltered again and she turned to Joey, walking back to where he stood, "I can't, Joe…" she said, burying her face in his chest and starting to cry once more.
"I've got you, baby girl…" he breathed, kissing the top of her head and running his fingers through her hair. They stood that way for a while until Joey lifted her head, tilting her chin so she was looking at his face. He lifted his hand and brushed some hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. Her eyes fixed on him and she saw the love for him on his face. "I've got you…" he repeated.
He lifted her in his arms and carried her into the room. He stood her beside the bed and slowly stripped her of her clothes, staring into her eyes, watching her start to shut down. He grabbed one of Edward's T-shirts from the laundry basket and eased it over her head and arms. He nudged her towards the bed and pulled back the duvet, pushing her down on it and helping her lie down. He pulled the duvet back over her and sat on the edge of the bed, his fingers running through her hair. She curled up into a ball and then rolled away from him, more towards Edward's side of the bed. She hugged his pillow against her and breathed in his scent. Joey watched as he saw her shoulders start to shake, his heart breaking for the most beautiful person he had ever known all over again.
She woke up with a start and saw Joey sitting beside her on the bed, watching her in concern. "Have you been there all night?" she asked, her voice hoarse which confused her somewhat.
"Not all night…" he said, "I went into the lounge after you fell asleep." He told her, "I came back in here about ten minutes ago… you were screaming in your sleep."
"I was?" she whispered, her eyes widening.
"Screaming for Edward…" he murmured.
Lauren sat up and looked around the room. Then she threw herself at Joey, wrapping her arms around his neck as she broke down in tears, "Oh, Joe… he's really gone. He's not coming back, is he? I thought I would wake up this morning and he would be here… laughing at me because I had fallen for his joke… but he's not joking this time, is he? He's left me… left us both…"
"We'll get through this, baby girl."
She curled up on his lap, resting her head on his chest. She bit the skin on her thumb as she thought everything through again. "It happened when he was on the way to work…" she whispered, finally telling him what the police had told her, "He went through an underpass near his office and there were some guys down there. They think it was a drug dealer and some customers." She paused, taking a shaky breath. "You know what Edward was like… so morally right… he hated drugs and he must've known what was going on. The police think he tried to step in and they turned on him, beating him. He was found but it was already too late. He was dead." She whispered. "I'd come home from work early, I decided to take the afternoon off and make a nice meal for us both… to apologise for running out on him that morning." She looked up at Joey and saw the question on his face, "I was running late for work and…" her face glowed a little, "he wanted sex… but I had to say no. I had to get to the gallery and prepare for a meeting with a high powered new client. I wanted to prove to him that I loved him."
Joey kissed her forehead tenderly, "He knew, babe… he's known how you felt about him, ever since you told him six years ago."
"Do you think so?" she whispered.
"I know so…" he said.
"I don't know how to do this, Joe… I don't know how to deal with this."
"I told you last night, babe… I'm here for you."
"At the expense of your own relationship?" she said, "You can't do that, Joe…"
"Poppy will understand." He said, "She knows that I need you as much as you need me right now." He lifted his hand and cupped her face, "You and I both loved him, Lauren. And we both miss him… we're both going to struggle with this. So how about we make a deal… I be there for you when you're having a hard time and you be there for me when I need my best friend."
"Okay…" she whispered. She hugged him tightly and they both took some time to let themselves feel their grief.
A week had passed and Joey walked up to the flat, staring at the door for several minutes before opening it and walking inside. Today was going to be a difficult day… for them both. "Are you ready, babe?" he called through the flat. There was no answer. He walked through to her bedroom, knowing she would be in there. Last night had been the first time he hadn't stayed here since Edward's death and he was worried about her, worried about how she had dealt with it. He walked into the room, pausing slightly when he saw her standing in just her underwear. "Babe?" he said softly, not wanting to startle her.
She turned to face him and he could see the tears running down her face, "I can't, Joe…"
"Come here…" he said, holding his hand out towards her. She ran to him, clinging to him tightly. "It's okay, baby," he whispered.
"I missed you being here…" she sobbed, "I missed knowing I was safe."
"You told me to go home, Lauren…"
"I know." She sighed.
"We need to get you ready, babe… The car will be here in a while."
"I know." She repeated. She pulled out of his arms and walked back over to where she'd previously been standing, staring at the two dresses that hung on the front of the wardrobe door. "Which one do you think?" she asked him.
"I don't know, Lauren. What do I know about which dress is the best?"
"You're a guy, Joe… or you were the last time I checked. Poppy must ask you these questions…" She glanced at him, seeing the pained expression deepen. "What is it?" she asked, ignoring her quandary for a little longer.
"Poppy's gone to stay at her mum's." He said softly.
"Joe…?" she walked over to him, "Talk to me…"
"Things haven't been working for a while," he admitted. "Months really… This… Edward… has…"
Lauren sat beside him and reached for his hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing it tightly. "I'm sorry… it's because of me, isn't it? It's my fault she's gone…" she stated.
"No, babe." He reassured her, "This has been on the cards for a long time…"
"I'm sorry, Joe. I didn't want you to trash your relationship because of me…" she whispered.
"Hey," he said softly, lifting his free hand and tilting up her chin so she was looking at him, "This. Isn't. Your. Fault." He said. "I promise… this is all my doing…"
"What happened?" she asked him.
"The bar has been really busy in the last six months which is great… it's what we wanted and what we thought was never going to happen… and I've been working extra shifts there because we've been short staffed. I told Poppy all this but she didn't like the fact I was there all the time… she hated the way I would do all the shifts myself rather than get one of the guys to do it… but they were doing some of the shifts. Two guys left and one was away for a month because his dad was sick. We were all working hard." He stared at her, "She accused me of seeing someone else… of cheating on her."
"You would never do that, Joe… she should know that…"
"She should…" he admitted.
Lauren stared at him, "I'm sorry, Joe." She whispered.
"It's no one's fault but mine, is it?" He told her, "At least this means I can put all my time into making sure you're okay, can't I? And we can both help each other." Lauren moved closer and kissed him softly on the cheek. Joey pulled her into a hug, his hand running up and down her back. He kissed her temple, "You really need to choose which one you're going to wear. I think the vicar will have kittens if you go dressed as you are…" he said softly.
"But Edward would've thought it was funny, wouldn't he?" she said, smiling for the first time in days.
"Yeah, he would… but then he thought everything you did was funny. He laughed and smiled whenever you were around. He loved you so fucking much, Lauren… you know that, right? He loved you with everything he had and if he could, I know he would be here with you now." Lauren stared at him, "And he'd tell you to wear the dress on the right because you always look fucking hot in that… and he'd want you to look like hot at his funeral…"
"You don't think it's in bad taste?" she whispered.
"I think Edward would love it," he told her.
"Thanks, Joe." She said, standing and walking over to the two dresses, selecting the one on the right and slipping it off the hanger. She eased it over her head and turned her back towards him, "Can you do me up?" she asked, lifting her hair off her back. Joey stood and walked behind her, slowly zipping the dress up. She dropped her hair and stared at her reflection in the mirror on the wall. She ran her eyes over her reflection, not particularly liking what she saw but then she never really had. "I look a mess…" she whispered.
Joey stood behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, "Like I said a minute ago, you look fucking hot."
"You're sweet, Joe… but we both know the truth…" She spent a couple of minutes touching up her make-up and then turned to face him again. "Better?"
"Perfect…" he whispered. He held his hand out towards her and she took it. "Time to go…" he told her.
"I just need my jacket and bag," she murmured, her heart lurching as she remembered where they were about to go.
They walked out of the house and Joey helped Lauren into the car, their brief moment of levity disappearing in an instant. She held it together until they got to the church and then the tears fell and she stopped walking. "I can't do this, Joe… I can't say goodbye to him."
"You have to, babe…" he said softly, "You need to do this."
"I don't want to." She breathed, "I don't want to because if I do I have to admit he isn't coming back… that this is all real… that my life has changed forever and I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life."
He pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly against his chest, "You are never going to be alone, Lauren Branning… you will always have me." He whispered to her, "You can't get rid of me that easily."
"Good, Joe… I can't lose you as well…"
"We need to get inside, babe." He said.
She pulled away from him and stared up at him. "If I don't say this later… thanks, Joe. I couldn't have done this… got through this without you." She whispered. He smiled at her, "Let's go and do this then, shall we?" she added.
He lifted his hand and brushed back her hair, tucking it behind her ear. "You look fucking hot, babe."
Lauren walked into the church, clutching Joey's hand tightly as they walked past their friends and family. She tried to ignore the sympathetic looks they gave her, instead her eyes focussed on the face of her second father. He swept her into a hug as she reached him, "Lauren, sweetheart… give your Uncle Derek a hug." She did as he asked, savouring the way he made her feel as safe as his son did when he hugged her too. "Has my son been looking after you, darling?"
"Course he has, Uncle Derek."
"Good…" He said. He kissed her softly on the forehead, then hugged her again. "I called your parents, told them what had happened…" He whispered to her, "They've been trying to contact you since they got home."
He stepped away from her and she saw her dad and mum watching her, concern on their faces. Her dad stepped forward and pulled her into his arms. "Babe, you should've called us…" he breathed in her ear.
"I couldn't, dad… I couldn't speak to anyone… 'cept Joe…"
"Glad he's been there for you, babe."
"It's wasn't just me that loved Edward, was it?"
"True…" He hugged her a little tighter and kissed the top of her head. Her mum and siblings stepped forward and joined the father and daughter, offering comfort to Lauren in the only way they knew how. Joey had kept back once she'd gone to his dad but Lauren was reassured of his presence, feeling his hand resting on her back, strength seeming to flow from him to her, just from his touch.
Lauren started to cry as soon as the coffin was brought into the church and it was only Joey's arm around her waist that stopped her collapsing. It was draped with some beautiful flowers that Joey had helped her choose. She couldn't look away from it, knowing that simple box contained the man she had thought she was going to spend the rest of her life with. Whenever she had thought of her future, Edward had always been there with her. The last couple of days she'd been trying to think of what her future now held and she didn't see anything; all she saw was a blank. Absolutely nothing. It scared her more than she'd thought it would.
The service started but Lauren was barely aware of it. The only thing she was aware of was Joey's arm around her waist and the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear. His fingers were brushing through her hair and every now and again he would press his lips against her head.
After the service they went outside, the coffin being carried out of church by some members of the football team Joey and Edward played for. Lauren saw Tom and Diane, Edward's parents… they were both watching her and Joey. She turned her face into Joey's chest, his hand brushed her back and he held her close.
She closed her eyes as the coffin was lowered into the ground, unable to watch those final moments. She whispered a quiet 'goodbye Edward' followed by an 'I love you' and then she heard as people started to leave the graveside. Once it fell silent she opened her eyes, automatically looking down into the grave and trying to hide the wince as her eyes ran over it. This was really it… the moment she'd been dreading for the last week. She lifted her head and found Diane and Tom standing on the other side of the grave, a picture of misery themselves. She stared at them and saw how devastated they were by the loss of their only son. She knew they viewed her and Joey as their children too, in the same way her parents and Joey's parents had done with the three of them but this wasn't the same. She couldn't imagine going through what they now were. Of course, that wasn't going to happen now anyway.
"They want to speak to you, babe…" Joey said softly.
"Huh?" His words startled her and she wondered how long she'd been standing there.
"Tom and Diane… they want to talk to you…"
"I can't, Joe… I can't speak to them."
"I'll be there with you, baby girl… I promise."
"I don't want to leave him here, Joe." Lauren whispered, tears flooding her eyes once more.
"He'll always be with you… with us both. He's in our hearts and our memories."
"You really think so?" she asked, turning her face towards him.
"I do." He said, his thumb brushing the side of her face as he pushed some hair behind her ear.
"Can you take me home… after we've spoken to Tom and Diane?" she whispered.
"What about the wake?"
"I can't face it, Joe… I'm barely hanging on as it is."
"Okay… we'll go back to yours…" he said, nodding his head. He took her hand in his, squeezing it gently and then pulling her over to Edward's grieving parents. They hugged both of their son's friends tightly and tears were shared by them all.
Lauren felt awkward as she stood with Joey staring at them both, "I'm so sorry…" she whispered.
Diane stepped forward, brushing away the young girl's tears, "Don't be silly, Lauren… you weren't there, were you?" Lauren shook her head, releasing yet more tears. "Then you have done nothing wrong…"
"I should've come over and told you in person… not chickened out, telling you both over the phone."
"Lauren, babe…" Joey said, squeezing her hand as tight as he could.
"No… I was weak and Edward would be angry with me… for causing you extra pain." She whispered.
"Lauren, however you told us, it was going to hurt… just like it hurt you when you found out from the police," Diane said, "Don't punish yourself for this. Edward wouldn't want you to do that. He would want you… both of you…" she glanced at Joey, "to be happy. I just wish you hadn't had to go through all of that on your own." She hugged the traumatised girl again, seeing Joey watching the both of them. She knew, in her heart, that the only person who could help Lauren now was her cousin and best friend.
Tom and Diane dropped them both back off at Lauren's flat before they headed off to the wake. Joey took the keys out of her handbag and opened the door, pulling her inside and closing the door again. "Do you want a drink?" he asked.
"Please…" she murmured. She walked into the bedroom and took off the dress, pulling on one of Edward's white shirts and some of her pyjama shorts. She walked back into the lounge and found Joey shirking off his jacket and throwing it onto the armchair. He heeled off his shoes and then sat down on the sofa. He looked at her and passed her one of the glasses, a bottle of vodka on the table next to where they'd been sitting. "Thanks." She whispered, taking a large gulp of the clear liquid and wincing as it burned its way down her throat. She took another mouthful and coughed as she swallowed it, "God, I hate this stuff…" she told him softly.
"I can get something else…"
"No, it's fine, Joey…" She sat beside him, leaning her head against his shoulder. "I feel so tired." She whispered.
"It's been a long day, babe…" he replied, "I can leave you… give you some space, if you want me to…"
"NO!" she said quickly. "I don't want to be alone…" She lifted her head and looked into his eyes, "Please don't leave me…" she whispered.
"Okay…" he said, smiling at her softly. "Not much to go home to anyway…" he added, taking his own gulp of vodka. "Wow, this is strong stuff…" He picked up the bottle and held it out towards her, "More?"
"Absolutely…" she whispered.
After another thirty minutes and two more glasses of vodka each, they were both feeling much mellower… and a bit more maudlin. "So you're sure things are really over with Poppy?" Lauren asked him, her hand fiddling with the top button on his shirt.
"She's taken all her stuff with her…"
"She could still come back to you… You and her were perfect together, Joe… Fight for her…" Lauren scolded him.
"I'm too tired of it…" he said, staring into his glass sadly. "It shouldn't be that difficult, you know? I shouldn't have to try so hard to keep her happy and she shouldn't always be disappointed by me." He said, another mouthful of vodka being swallowed, wishing it would wash away the pain of his words.
"You've been together for almost three years, Joey… you can't give up on it so easy…" Lauren said again, not understanding why he was giving up on Poppy so quickly.
"I'm not giving up, Lauren." He sighed, "To be honest, babe… me and Poppy haven't been working for almost a year."
"You always seemed so good together…"
"We weren't… not in the way you and Edward were anyway…" He laughed, a slightly bitter edge to his voice as he took another drink. "We were never like the two of you… and that was what I wanted." He admitted.
"A relationship like what Edward and I had?" she asked, surprised by seeing her cousin like this. He rarely spoke to her about himself. It's not that he was hiding it from everyone, he just didn't talk about himself very often.
"Well, yeah, I guess…" he said, looking at the carpet at his feet.
"You're lying to me." She accused him.
"I'm really not, babe…"
"Yes, you are…" She shook her head when he picked up the bottle of vodka. He shrugged and poured a generous drink into his glass.
He lifted the glass to his lips, his eyes meeting hers for several seconds. The glass was lowered without anything being drunk, "For the first time ever I'm not lying, Lauren." He whispered.
"What do you mean?" she asked him, pulling away from him and staring at him. He went to take another mouthful of vodka but she took the glass off him and put it and hers down on the table, "Tell me…"
"You don't want to hear it…" he said.
Lauren stared at him, seeing the tension in his whole frame and hating seeing him that way. "Tell me…" she whispered to him, taking one of his hands in hers and squeezing it.
"I didn't want a relationship like you and Edward had, babe…" he breathed. "I wanted…" he sighed, leaning forward and shaking his hand free of hers. He leant his elbows on his knees, resting his head on his hands. His shoulders started to shake and Lauren watched as whatever emotion he was feeling was released. She was confused and yet there was a tiny part of her that knew what he was trying to say… what he was trying to tell her.
Suddenly she had a moment of clarity and a million memories flashed through her thoughts. A thousand times when there had been a moment between them that they'd both tried to ignore. Maybe she had more than him. She looked at him, her hand brushing across his shoulders and hating how tense he was. "Me…" she whispered, finishing his sentence for him. He turned his head and she saw the shame, fear… and love… written across it. "You wanted me…?" she breathed.
"Always…" he sighed.
"But you encouraged me and Edward to get together…?"
"You liked him and he liked you… I wanted you to be happy… and anyway, you and me… is complicated."
"Complicated how?" she asked, tilting her head to one side.
"We're cousins, babe… and Edward was like a brother to me…" He laughed, sounding even more bitter than he had before, "You're practically a sister to me… and you don't feel the same way about me…"
"Who said?" she asked softly.
"Don't, babe…" he growled. He slumped back on the couch and pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes.
"Joe… I'm being serious… There's always been something more to our relationship than just friendship. I love you… I always have."
"Not the same way you loved Edward…"
"No, you're right… it's different… but it's more than just friendship."
"This is just the grief talking…"
Lauren shook her head, "I feel the most normal I have in a week." She said. "Why did you never say anything?"
"Babe, you were with Edward… and you were happy. What was I supposed to do? Rock up here one day and pour my heart out to you. Tear our friendships apart… forever…"
"So why are you telling me now?" she asked. "Is this because he's no longer around… so you think I'm free?"
"Lauren!" he gasped. He downed the remnants of his glass and hers, pushing himself to his feet, slipping on his shoes and grabbing his jacket before walking towards the door. "I can't believe you would think I would do that…" he said softly. His hand settled on the door handle and he paused, taking a couple of deep breaths. "Call me if you need me…" he whispered, then opening the door and leaving the flat.
Lauren stood at the window, watching as Joey stood outside, waiting for the taxi he'd just called. She reached for her mobile and dialled his number. She saw him take his phone back out of his pocket, staring at the screen and seeing her name on it. Lauren counted the seconds that he stared at it, willing him to take her call. He didn't say anything as he pressed accept and lifted it to his ear. "I need you…" she whispered, her heart racing as she admitted how she felt to him, wondering if he would hear what she was trying to say.
"No, you don't…" he said softly.
"You promised me, you wouldn't leave me…" she said, a tear running down her face. "Joey…" She had stopped watching him out of the window and it surprised her when the door of her flat opened again. She looked at him as he stood in the doorway and she lowered the phone from her ear. "Hi…" she whispered.
"You came back…"
"I can never stay away from you too long," he said with a shrug.
"Can we forget the last few minutes happened?" she asked him.
"Which bits exactly? The bits when I poured my heart out to you?" he asked, staring at her intently.
"No, I meant the bits when I accused you like I did…"
"You do know I would never do that…"
"Of course I do, Joe." She said. She walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her face into his neck and breathing in his scent. "You're my best friend… and the person I love. I can't lose you as well." She whispered to him. She lifted her head and looked at him, "I meant what I said…" she breathed, her eyes dropping down to his mouth briefly. "I need you." She stared into his eyes again, biting her lip as she saw the depth of his emotions there.
Time seemed to stand still and then they were moving. His mouth met hers in a frantic kiss, both of them giving everything to that moment of passion. Yes, it may have been brought on by grief but it was the most intense kiss of Lauren's life. She filed that fact away for some future time, running her hands up his chest and holding his head in place as he continued to worship her mouth. One of them moaned but Lauren couldn't say who it was. His hands ran down her body and swept under the shirt she was wearing that swamped her, cupping her bum and pulling her against his body. This time it was definitely Lauren who moaned as she felt the definition of his body against hers. He lifted her in his arms and she wrapped her legs around his waist, sweeping her tongue around his mouth. She could feel him hardening beneath her and her pulse started racing. He tore his mouth from hers, looking deeply into her dark eyes, "Are you sure this is what you want?" he asked her. She bit her lip and nodded her head. "Say it…" he pleaded with her.
"I want you…" she breathed, kissing him again, softer this time. "I want you so badly… and I didn't even know how much…" she admitted. "Please Joe…" she begged.
It was just seconds and he was pressing her against the wall of the room, his hands making quick work of her pyjama shorts and knickers and his own trousers and underwear. He thrust inside her and they both sighed as he pushed into her in one smooth movement. He stilled, staring into her eyes, his eyes wide as he looked at her. "You have no idea how much I've longed to do this…" he told her softly.
"Make it good and we'll be doing it again…" she said, smiling at him.
He growled and started moving, slowly making love to her gently and tenderly. He stared into her eyes, seeing a passion he had never thought he would see directed at him. There was a part of him that hated what they were doing, knowing this was demeaning the relationship she'd shared with Edward by sleeping with him on the day of his funeral and yet, he couldn't help but hope they would do this again… that he would get a chance at a relationship with his best friend. She moaned and bit her lip, her eyes closing as he moved a little quicker. It was too intense to watch her, especially if she was going to do that so he kissed her, pouring every emotion into his action. Her nails scratched at his shoulders and she moaned again, louder this time. A minute later they both came, tears running down Lauren's face that concerned Joey but he was too caught up in what he was experiencing to give it much thought. He leant against her heavily, pressing her into the wall and she was clinging to him, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. He pulled from her, sighing softly as he left her and it was then he realised she was crying. He walked over to the sofa and sat down, Lauren on his lap. She wouldn't look at him so he just hugged her tightly, hoping to hell he hadn't just ruined the best thing in his life. "Did I hurt you?" he asked her after several minutes, worried his enthusiasm had been more than she wanted. "I'm really sorry if I did…" he said, "I got a little carried away… I'm so sorry…"
Lauren pulled away from him and pressed a finger to his lips, stopping him from saying any more. "Stop, Joe…" She stared at him. "I liked it…" she told him, her face flushing at her admission, "I liked it more than I thought I would." She lowered her eyes, closing them as she saw the impressive length that was partially hidden by her thigh. He kissed her forehead tenderly and she looked up at him again, "It was better than with him..." she whispered. "Does it make me bad to say that? Do you think he would hate us for what we just did?"
"I would hope he wouldn't… You heard Diane earlier, she said he would want us to be happy…"
"But we only buried him today, Joe. I don't want anyone to think this was going on when he was still alive." She said softly, tears flooding her eyes, "I love him, Joe… more than I even thought it was possible to love someone. I still love him, even though he's no longer here…" Her words faded and she took a deep breath.
"I know that, baby girl…" he said softly. "I love him too… probably always will." He added, "And I love you too." He smiled at her, "Probably always will…" he added, smirking at her. They fell silent for some time. "So did you enjoy it?"
She giggled and smacked his chest, "Joey!" she said, "You start being all romantic and lovely and then ruin the moment completely."
"What?" He laughed, "You said if it was good, we'd do it again… I just wanted to see if you were up for round two…"
"I could be convinced," she told him with a small smile.
Joey pushed himself to his feet, his arms under her body and knees, carrying her towards her bedroom. "Then I feel it's my duty… as your best friend… to convince you…" he breathed in her ear.
Lauren lay in Joey's arms the next morning, "Having second thoughts?" Joey asked her softly.
"Second, third and fourth…" she murmured, feeling the tension run through Joey's body. "Still can't think of a reason why this is wrong… apart from the obvious…" she added.
Joey rolled them so he was lying on top of her, "So you want us to do this?" he asked her, watching her face intently.
"Yes, Joe…" she confirmed, "I want you… We just might have to keep it between the two of us for a while."
"Agreed." He said.
"Should I feel guilty about what we're doing?" Lauren whispered.
"A little… but not enough to stop…" she said.
"I think Edward would be pleased we're looking after each other," Joey told her, his mouth dotting kisses over her face.
"I don't think this would be what he meant about us looking after each other, Joe…" she giggled, sighing as he eased himself into her body again.
"He wouldn't want us to be sad though, would he?" Joey breathed. "That would be the last thing he'd want."
"You're right, he wouldn't… but he probably wouldn't want you fucking me in his bed either." She said.
"Do you want me to stop?" he asked her, "And I'm not fucking you… I'm making love to the person I love most in the world." His hips stopped moving and he stared into her eyes, "Are you done feeling guilty now?" he asked her. She shrugged, not wanting to lie to him. "I'm not expecting anything from you, baby girl. If, in a couple of weeks we decide this is a mistake, then we're done. We will always be friends, even if that happens. Right now though, it feels about the rightest thing I've done… ever…" She smiled at him, her hand reaching up and brushing the side of his face. "I know the timing sucks… and if Edward was here, this would never happen… I can live with that… but the one thing I can't live without is you, babe."
"And I don't want to live without you," she told him. "I love you and need you. And I think you're right, I think Edward would want us to be with each other."
"So no more guilt?"
"Not now… I can't promise I won't feel guilty again at some time…" she whispered.
"Then I will have to find a way convince you that you don't need to feel guilty." He said, kissing her tenderly.
"Well, you convinced me earlier… so I think you're the man for the job." She breathed. She stared into his eyes, her body edging towards its peak as he began to make love to her again, "I love you, Joe."
"I love you back…" he said, kissing her deeply.
A/N: Hands up if you thought I'd killed Joey? I wrote the first section yesterday morning and emailed it to Eastendersfan444, then left my house to go to Leicester... so she spent the whole day thinking I'd killed him... in fact she only discovered the truth a little while ago... Oopsie! Let me know what you think. Send me a review.