February 1998 (Age 16)
It was lunch time and Charlie had eagerly planned to go to lunch with Blake. She missed Joey with all her heart and not a day passed when she didn't think of her. But she was relieved to have at least ended up in a decent place with decent friends around her.
Pippa and Michael were exceptional parents and Charlie wondered how they managed lives and jobs and so many kids. But they did and she was pleased about that.
Sophie had proved to be a wonderful friend and sister, older and full of guidance. She liked Fin and Damian and even though he hit on her every day, she also liked Shane. But Sophie aside, Blake was her favourite. She enjoyed his company and found it easy and without pressure.
"Hey, you!" said a sharp, female voice.
Charlie turned in time to get punched in the face. She cried out in shock and pain and the wind was knocked out of her when she was slammed up against the row of lockers behind her.
"We don't like what you're doing with Blake!" the girl announced.
Charlie vaguely recognised her from classes and corridors but she had never spoken to the girl. She had no idea who she was or what her problem was.
Charlie groaned as she was kneed in the stomach. She doubled over but didn't fight back. She longed for Joey to rescue her, the way she always had before.
"Leave him alone!" the girl, with her rabble of bullies behind her, said.
"What the hell is going on?" Blake demanded, rushing up to the group and taking Charlie's arm, checking that she was okay.
"She's trying to sleep with you!" the girl declared.
Charlie stood up straighter, angry.
"That's not true!" she insisted.
"You're always hanging around him!" the girl accused.
"Because he's my friend!" Charlie protested. "Nothing else!"
"I don't believe you…" the girl said, her voice a little quieter.
"This conversation's over," Blake said, leading Charlie away and carrying her back for her. "I can't believe you'd bash someone like that!"
Joey and Aden were on their lunch break from school and headed to the park, their usual haunt. They were both loners and it was comforting to be able to stick together.
"Maybe there's a way to find her address," Aden suggested.
As usual, Charlie was the only thing on Joey's mind.
"How?" Joey asked, very open to all possibilities.
"I don't know," Aden said vaguely. "I mean, they must have files or something. In the office?"
"Mrs John will kill us if she finds us breaking in," Joey pointed out.
Aden nodded glumly and apologised.
"So, I think it's a great idea," Joey added.
He laughed at her devilish grin. They began to make a plan.
Sitting on the beach, Blake kept his arm around Charlie, who was furious with herself for crying.
"I just don't understand why they'd do that me," she said, wiping her eyes and sniffing. "I don't even know who they are."
"They're bullies," Blake said. "We'll just keep away from them, okay? Or we could go and tell Flathead…"
"No!" Charlie protested quickly, although she couldn't help but chuckle at the use of their head teacher's nickname.
But she had learned a long time ago never to trust people in authority.
"Okay," Blake said softly.
He didn't know Charlie all that well but he liked her a lot and he worried about the life she had come from, especially considering she never talked about it.
"Why did they attack me?" Charlie wondered. "What's their problem?"
"They're just stupid girls," Blake told her.
"But what's wrong with me wanting to be friends with you?"
"I think maybe they thought you were moving in on me or something," he said awkwardly. "And… well, my last girlfriend… Meg… she…"
"She died," Charlie said softly. "I know. I heard."
Blake nodded and looked stricken.
"It was only a couple of months ago," he explained. "Maybe they think I'm interested in you or… But I'm not. No offence."
"I'm not interested in you either," Charlie replied. "No offence."
They both laughed.
"I don't mean this to sound awful but one of the reasons I feel safe with you is because I know you wouldn't try anything with me," Charlie said awkwardly. "Sorry."
"That's cool," he said. "I'm glad you feel safe with me, Charlie. And don't worry about those girls. We'll deal with them. A sharp tongue lashing from Sophie should do the trick."
June 2012 (Age 30)
Charlie was reluctant to leave Joey's side but she had work to do and Flynn had advised that she would be unconscious for a while. She and Nick returned to the police station where Angelo was just hanging up the phone.
"We've got an ID on the body," he announced as they and Watson gathered around him.
"Who is he?" Nick asked, concerned by how quiet Charlie had been since the hospital.
"His name is Robert Cruze according to DNA," Angelo revealed. "He's on the system for a handful of things but he's never been charged with anything."
"What kinds of things?" Charlie wondered quietly.
Her mind was reeling at seeing Joey again, especially in the state she was. She needed to know if she was connected to their crime scene.
"Suspected rape, a couple of driving offences, the odd assault," Angelo said grimly.
Charlie heart lurched at the thought that Joey might have been around someone like that.
"We found part of a fingernail at the scene," Angelo continued. "So we bagged it and hopefully we can identify the owner. My suggestion would be some sort of fight or argument that escalated. Someone killed the guy and ran."
"I don't suppose you noticed the girl's fingers in the hospital?" Nick asked.
Charlie looked stricken.
"No," she said. "And she'd never do anything like that anyway."
"Who?" Watson wondered.
"What girl?" Angelo asked at the same time.
"We have an unconscious woman at the hospital that could possibly be connected to the scene," Nick said. "We need her to wake up and then we can take some samples. See if her blood matches."
"Do you know her, Charlie?" Watson asked.
"I used to," Charlie confirmed before heading off into her office.
February 1998 (Age 16)
"Have I mentioned that you're never going to amount to anything in your life?" Mrs John demanded.
Joey had been caught trying to break into her office in the middle of the night. Aden had fortunately escaped but Joey had been retained and forced to explain herself.
"I just wanted Charlie's address," Joey told her.
"Doesn't the fact that she hasn't bothered to keep in touch since she left tell you anything or are you really that stupid?" Mrs John snapped. "That girl is going places. She was always going to leave you. I'm just glad she did before you dragged her too far down to your level. Now get to bed while I figure out what to do with you."
Joey gritted her teeth, trying not to show how much her guardian's words hurt. She hurried off to her room and wept.
June 2012 (Age 30)
Charlie couldn't stop picturing Joey lying in her hospital bed. She stared at the computer in front of her, wondering how she was meant to concentrate. All she wanted was to go to the hospital to be with her, to be waiting for her when she woke up.
Sighing heavily, she pulled up the police database and typed in her ex-girlfriend's details. She had committed no crimes and wasn't present. They had no DNA or fingerprints or anything to formally identify her.
Don't think about her as if she's dead, Charlie warned herself. Don't think about it as if it's too late.
"Charlie, are you okay?" Nick asked, knocking and entering.
Charlie looked up sharply and tried to smile. It looked more like a wince.
"I'm fine," she lied.
He shut the door and sat opposite her.
"Do you want to tell me who that girl is?" Nick asked,
Not really, Charlie thought to herself but she knew it wasn't optional.
"We grew up in care together," she explained. "Before I moved here. We were in a childrens home."
"And you were… close?" he probed.
"She's the best thing that ever happened to me," Charlie said, hoping not to have to go into too much detail.
"But you didn't keep in touch?"
"No," she said softly. "She didn't want to. I never knew why."
"Maybe she felt like you were leaving her behind?" Nick suggested.
"Maybe," she agreed.
"Charlie, are you able to work in this case or do I need to swap you for another member of the team?" Nick asked, getting right to the point.
"I can work on it," Charlie said quickly. "I need to. I need to help her."
She frowned when she realised she had said exactly the wrong thing.
"But I do understand that I need to be impartial," she corrected herself quickly. "I need to understand that anyone could be responsible for Cruze's death."
Nick nodded and stood.
"That's what I wanted to hear," he told her, striding back out of the room.
November 1996 (Age 14)
Charlie couldn't bear to sleep in her own room that night. Ignoring the fact that if caught, she could get into a lot of trouble, she headed into Joey's room with her instead. The two girls got changed and cuddled up in bed together. Thinking about all that had happened that night and all that she had lost, Charlie burst into tears.
Joey held her close and kissed the top of her head as they pictured baby Ruby so small and fragile. She knew how much Charlie had wanted to be her Mum and they both hated to think of the little girl growing up in care, unloved, just like they had. But what else could they have done?
"I feel like I'm dying," Charlie admitted sadly.
Joey shifted to look at her properly, cupping her face and gazing into her eyes.
"I have no way of understanding what you've been through tonight," the teenager said sincerely. "But I can promise you right here, right now that I love you more than anything else in the whole world. I will love you and support you for the rest of my life. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you."
Charlie smiled softly at her, tears rolling down her cheeks.
"And one day, when you and I are grown up and we've made all our dreams come true, we'll find baby Ruby and we'll make everything up to her," Joey continued. "We'll let her know that you didn't leave her there because you didn't love her, that you did it because you do love her. So much. And you want her to have a better life than either of us got."
Charlie nodded, clinging onto Joey's every word.
"I love you so much, Charlie," Joey confessed.
Charlie leant in and kissed her for the very first time.
June 2012 (Age 30)
On her lunch break, Charlie headed straight over to the hospital and convinced Flynn to let her in to see Joey. The love of her life was still unconscious, lying somewhat peacefully on the bed as the machines around her continued to monitor her heart and the oxygen in her blood.
Charlie sat down beside her and gently took her hand.
"Oh, Joey," she sighed sadly. "What happened to you?"
Slowly, Joey began to stir.
Next time… Adult Joey is surprised to find Charlie in her hospital room and we find out a little bit more about her past…