What about Joe

Joe snored deeply, his subconcious buried within a well earned sleep. It had been a hard week - he had been working long hours, thinking for long hours, and trying to juggle getting the girls to school and getting dinner on the table. Alison had been working on a difficult case and spending early mornings and late nights with Devalos and Scanlon. At least, by this stage, Ariel was able to supervise the two younger girls in the afternoons and start dinner. Not that she should have to, at her age, Ariel should have been going out with friends and arguing with her parents. And this level of responsibility on Ariel was another thing that had been bothering Joe this week. But still, while he had the chance, he was sleeping peacefully.

His peace didn't last long. He was roused from his slumber by a sudden shaking and a heavy arm across his chest. Alison was having another night terror. Here we go again. He jumped up at the same time as she did, grabbing at her arm and becoming instantly alert. Her eyes were blank and wild - she wasn't yet fully awake. Her heart was thumping wildly and her breath came in short ragged gasps.

"Are you ok?" he asked, as usual. She didn't answer. Not yet. He patiently asked again.

"Alison - what's going on?"

She turned to him slowly, eyes beginning to register. Her breathing began to slow, and her heart rate return to normal.

"Joe! I - I have to call Scanlon!" Alison gulped. Joe sighed, handing her the phone and rolling over to go back to sleep. The same story every night.

The following morning, Joe unwillingly got up when the alarm went off, and walked stiffly into the kitchen to start the coffee machine. Alison was already long gone, chasing ghosts and murderers. Joe poured himself a strong coffee, and stared out the kitchen slider while sipping at his hot drink. The backyard was overgrown and jungle-like. The girls' old play equipment was buried somewhere beneath the weeds and leaf piles. Joe sighed in frustration. Whatever happened to those days when he could come home from work and tend the yard, those weekends where they could all go out as a family. Whatever happened to those fun times?

Suddenly a small pair of arms circled his waist from behind, startling Joe out of his thoughts and making him almost spill his coffee. He turned slightly and put an arm around his 11 year old daughter Bridget.

"Morning, Daddy," she said, "where's Mommy?"

"Morning, sweetie." Joe said, "Mommy had to leave early again. I'm in charge of breakfast."

"I miss Mommy." Bridget mumbled into his shirt.

Joe said nothing, only rested his hand on top of her head, stroking her hair.

In the short space of thirty minutes, the whole house was noisy - Ariel was attempting to pack school lunches - the contents of which Bridget was furiously debating, and Marie sat at the table tapping her spoon musically against the side of her cereal dish. Joe had stepped in for a quick shower while he had the chance, and could hear the chaos rising even above the sound of the running water.

"GIRLS!" He yelled, "Knock it off!"

It didn't make a speck of difference. He sighed, once again that morning, and turned the water off. He dried and dressed quickly, not looking at what he was putting on. It didn't matter. Nobody looked at him, only his work. And at this point, he seriously doubted if anyone was looking at that either. Time to step in and referee. He bowled back into the kitchen, grabbing his laptop off of the counter and stuffing it into its case.

"How's progress, Ariel?" he asked in a commanding tone.

Ariel looked up at her father, exasperation etched all over her face. "Bridget says she can't have peanut butter sandwiches but I've already made them and it's all we have and she had them yesterday so i can't see why she can't have them today and -" - Bridget started to cut in, but Joe held up a hand indicating them both to stop.

"Bridget, peanut butter sandwiches or nothing ok, swap them at school if you have to." Ordinarily Joe would have tried to find an alternate solution, but time was running short and he wasn't in the mood. Bridget's lower lip came down in a pout, as Ariel shot a victorious glance in her direction.

"OK, everybody, five minutes and counting, we will be in the car and on the way to school!" Joe announced. The girls all knew better than to argue back when their dad was in this mood. It was his no-nonsense mood. They obediently collected their things, and within the specified five minutes the grey 4WD was pulling out of the driveway on the way to school.