"You can't hide your lyin' eyes, and your smile is a thin disguise. I thought by now you'd realize there ain't no way to hide your lyin' eyes." The Eagles (who also wrote the chapters' quote 'I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me' in their song 'Take it Easy')
There, on his own bed, in a sunny room, Joe broke down. "Cathy." He started, and once he began he couldn't stop. "She…she did everything."
Frank had thought, had suspected, but the admittance made him pull back until he said, reflexively, stupidly, "She couldn't have."
"She did." The blond boy turned away. "I'm sorry." His entire body was shaking with sobs, where just hours before they were trembling from the cold.
Frank was sorry, too, but for different reasons, better reasons. He was supposed to protect Joe, had spent most of his life doing just that, and had let him down. Even worse, he'd somehow conveyed that he was okay with the abuse, that he wouldn't care if Joe told him what was going on. How could Joe have believed that?
"There's nothing to be sorry about, bro." He mindlessly patted Joe's hand, already transferring his anger from Joe to himself. To Cathy.
Cathy, who had persuaded Joe to come outside to help her with her car, who had pulled Frank away from the fight, who had given Joe too many pills and locked the door and had probably been (here Frank turned red, too angry to even think it) about to beat up a boy who wouldn't fight back, even if he could, out of an inbred respect for the fair sex.
"I should have known…God, Joe, why didn't you tell me? How long has this been going on?" Joe shrugged, composing himself. "I knew I should have stayed broken up with her after the pill thing…after she got you beat up." He looked at his brother, wary, "Did she arrange that?"
Joe nodded once. "I shouldn't have taken six pills. That was stupid."
"She shouldn't have given you six pills. Don't you see? It should've never even been an option." He ran a hand through his hair, putting a hand on Joe's arm, careful not to press to hard, careful not to hurt. "How did I ever even…"
"She's a really good liar." Joe muttered, "she had me fooled."
Frank brought his eyebrows together. "What'd she say to you?"
Joe struggled up to his elbows, realized he really didn't feel good enough to do that, and fell back onto the bed, "Nothing…just…kept telling me I was useless, a cripple….stuff like that." He left out whore. He didn't look forward to telling that part of the story. It would come out soon, anyway. He couldn't look at Frank, especially when he admitted, quietly, "She said you felt that way, too."
"You didn't believe her?" But it was so obvious he had. Frank shook his head, carefully maneuvering himself so he could hug Joe, doing it as carefully as possible. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her. "Why would you trust anything she said? Joe, you know I don't think that. Not at all." He measured each word for emphasis. "You, little brother, are the bravest person I know. Really. You're strong and funny and kind. You always have your heart in the right place."
"Fat lot of good it did me." Joe whispered. "I really screwed up, Frank."
"I'll take care of it. She won't get anywhere near you again." Frank smiled wryly, "Maybe Biff will speak to me again if I told him where Cathy lives."
"You can't do that, Frank." But his heart wasn't in it, and he smiled a little.
The two were quiet for a minute. Frank was in no hurry to get out of the room….Cathy was surely long gone by now. "Hey, Joe." He asked, "Why did she have it in for you? She just moved here…did you spit in her coffee or something?"
This was the part that Joe had been dreading. "She didn't hate me when you first started going out…remember the day you were stuck at the school because the van had overheated and I caught a ride home with Biff?"
"Well, right after I got home Cathy stopped by. I figured you two had a date planned so I let her in." he paused, twisting his hands in the sheets. "She…kept coming on to me. Really strong. I told her to back off and she told me to sleep with her."
"What?" Frank couldn't believe something like this actually happened in real life, in his life.
"I told her I wouldn't, I mean," Joe blushed, his face and ears turning scarlet, "She's your girlfriend, but not even that…I never even slept with Iola. I just don't think that's how it's supposed to work."
"Did anything happen?" Because then he'd have to hunt down Cathy himself, shake her, scream, hate himself again for bringing her into Joe's life, then he'd go back and hold Joe until he made his baby brother believe the truth: that he loved him more. More than anything.
Joe shook his head. "She tried – I tried to fight her off, but after the surgeries and everything -- I was just so tired, so – she's bigger than me, though. Got me down on the couch…" he trailed off, remembering his fists flailing, Cathy's laugh, terrible to his ears don't tell me you don't want this. "She heard your car in the driveway and got off. Told me she wasn't finished."
Frank shook his head, trying to understand. "So she tried to kill you because you wouldn't fool around with her?"
"You really know how to pick them, bro." Joe smiled a little, even though it wasn't funny. Not even close. He had avoided Cathy's advances then, but she'd attempted to engage him every time they met, with an icy, dangerous smile that sent chills up his spine. He knew that, the way they were going, Cathy would one day catch him completely alone, and there was nothing he could do when that day came.
Frank didn't know what to say. How do you apologize for bringing a psychopath, a murderer, into someone's life? "I'm sorry." He said again, "I should have been paying more attention."
Joe shrugged, "You were in love. It's understandable." He raised an eyebrow, a symbol of disapproval, "Not that I'm encouraging you to do it again. I don't think I'll survive another go." He was only half-joking; he was sure that another hell-week with Cathy would have left him scarred for life, if not actually dead.
Frank didn't reply to that, he couldn't think of a way he could. Instead, he gently patted Joe's arm, just barely hearing his brother whisper, "I think we should call dad."
"I was thinking more along the lines of Chief Collig, but dad works, too." They had to get Cathy for…something. She had attempted to kill Joe. There was no way she should get away with it. He picked up the phone, dialed the number, memorized in childhood, got connected instantly with Con Riley on the Bayport Police Force, who connected them with the Chief.
"When you get off the phone, let me call Biff. He's wanted to know the story for weeks now." Joe didn't make an attempt to move; his body was sore, still burning with fever. His throat was still on fire, but the knowledge that he wouldn't be subjected to any more attacks any time soon was so soothing he could think past the pain.
He dozed off, the traumatic events of the morning and the night before…all the nights before…catching up with him. When Frank walked back in the room fifteen minutes later, Joe's blond hair was flopping in front of his eyes, his near-translucent hand in a death grip around the sheets.
Frank tried to place the phone gently down on the bedside, but either his entrance or his movement made Joe stir, open his eyes. "So what happened with the Chief?"
Nothing good, Frank knew. It was a mess of borders and cross-jurisdiction and Frank knew from experience that by the time a warrant for Cathy's arrest came out, the girl in question would be away, out of the state. "Don't worry about it." He told the ill and injured boy, rubbing the blonde's head gently, "I've got it covered."
And Joe smiled, because he knew that Frank always had it covered. "Good." He picked up the phone, dialed Biff's number, but looked up at his brother before pressing the CALL button. "Hey, Frank?" He asked quietly, one hand reaching out to hold Frank's. "Are we… okay?"
Joe's hand felt like a child's – it's skin stretched tight, soft after months of inactivity. Frank squeezed it, like he used to when Joe climbed into his bed seeking comfort from the monsters of the night. "Yeah, Joe. Of course. We're good." He sat down, enveloped his brother in a hug that was so long overdue, felt Joe relax against him. "We're going to be fine."
For the rest of the day after Joe's confession, Frank never left his brother's side. They played countless games of Jenga, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Clue, Monopoly. Joe accused him of cheating at every one. They took frequent breaks, and Joe would doze off while Frank made him things to eat – tiny sandwiches, a cup of soup, numerous cups of tea. Joe ate it all ravenously.
The next day, two days before the Hardy parents were due home, Biff, Chet, Tony, and Nicco came over, laden with movies and food, itching to hear the story. Joe told Biff first, and the seventeen-year-old's jaw literally fell.
"You could have told me, buddy. I would never think you were any of those things." Biff hugged his best friend fiercely, working to blink back tears that would have seriously damaged his reputation.
"Yeah, we love you man." Chet said, reaching out one hand to comfort the blond boy who had been like a brother to him, especially after his own sister died.
Tony was standing next to his best friend and was watching Frank's jaw tighten every time a different angle of Joe would reveal more injuries, more bruises. "You couldn't have known, Frank. None of us knew."
Nicco, who was watching them very closely, signed something too quickly for anyone but his brother to pick up. "He was good at hiding it." Tony interpreted. "Even Nicco didn't know, and he's, like, clairvoyant about people."
Just like Joe, who always had those gut instincts about the bad guys they used to catch, who had turned to stone at the first sight of Cathy, though Frank had just chalked it up to a being around a pretty girl so soon after Iola's death.
"Hey buddy," Tony's slight frame bumped against Frank's, settled there, his expressive, dark eyes revealing emotions he couldn't voice, "Are you okay? I know that she wasn't caught, but she's gone now, she can't hurt you."
"Yeah." Frank murmured, still watching Joe carefully. "Yeah, she can't hurt us."
He didn't know if that was true. He didn't know if the psychopath he'd once called the love of his life would dare to take another swipe at his brother. He didn't know if he or Joe would ever be truly safe, because of the sheer number of people they'd incriminated and put behind bars. All he knew was that he would look after Joe, that he would always have his back, that the partnership worked both ways.
And he just had to hope that that was enough.
This was a little rushed, mostly because the denouement is not our forte, if you catch the drift, but it's also open ended, in case anyone else wants to take Cathy out for a spin, or we want to use her again.
Anyways, please review.