Lauren was kept in hospital for a week following her admittance while they stabilised her condition. She had been given some medication to help reduce the risk of another heart attack and was told she needed to keep her blood pressure down and therefore needed to remain as stress free as possible. She had also been encouraged to slowly start increasing her physical activity, even simply just going for a very short walk to help the damaged muscle while it recovers and is replaced by scar tissue. The doctor also told her as she was regularly sexually active, she could continue to do so but like all exercise, take it slowly at first as for the first two weeks after an uncomplicated heart attack, there was still a high risk of heart-related problems during sex but slowly it becomes a smaller risk from around six weeks after the heart attack. She had to hold in a laugh when the doctor explained this as her parents were in the room; her Dad had paled considerably at the topic, despite being fully aware of her sexual relations with Joey. Being the good daughter, she felt she should assure him it wouldn't be an issue right now before he too had a heart attack. If anything, she was probably glad she and Joey weren't together because keeping their hands off each other for up to six weeks could have proved tricky. He might not be her favourite person right now in the world but you couldn't deny Joey was easy on the eye.
Speaking of Joey, she hadn't seen his since that day but he had sent her a red rose every day with the same note attached to each one: I love you. He gave them to either her Mum or Dad, whoever he saw first usually that was coming to see her. She was relieved to have had a few days to process her feelings without Joey being around. Alice had come in the following day after Lauren was admitted, bringing Abi with her, and informed her cousin how much Joey did blame himself for her going off the rails, while also explaining the whole Lucy situation in full. Lauren rolled her eyes as she listened, realizing she should have put two and two together before after Lucy's behaviour and comments. A small part, well ok a big part, of her was proud of Joey for knocking Lucy back before standing up for her and confronting Lucy once he knew the truth. It was probably a good job she couldn't get her hands on her former best friend because she wasn't so sure she'd still be breathing otherwise, given she was the one responsible for screwing up her relationship and her life. Abi had also informed her sister that Alice had taken the privilege of slapping Lucy when she saw her, knowing Lauren would have wanted to do the same if she'd had the opportunity. Lauren was actually quite proud of her cousin for having the privilege, only a small pang of jealousy running through her that she hadn't had the opportunity herself.
"You ready to go, sweetheart?" Lauren was pulled from her thoughts, hearing the soft voice. Turning she saw her Mum smiling softly as she re-entered the room. Nodding in reply, she allowed her Mum to help her into the wheelchair that was next to her bed; it felt good to finally be going home.
Joey jogged back through the square after going for his daily run to try and clear his head. He was getting frustrated because he wanted to do something to prove to Lauren how sorry he was and how much he loved her. He hated the fact that she had him so whipped without even realising it; he had never been one for grand gestures but he felt it was something he needed to do to win her trust back. And he'd do it in a heartbeat for her if he thought it would be enough.
Heading back to number twenty three, he stopped seeing Tanya pulling up and the familiar brunette in the passenger's seat. He hadn't known she was coming home today but he felt a sense of relief that she was obviously doing well if they had released her. Walking over, he opened the door for her, Tanya giving him a nod of approval to do so before walking up the steps to open the front door, giving the two some privacy.
"Thanks." Lauren accepted his awaiting hand with her good hand, placing most of her weight onto him as she stood up weakly.
Joey took this as a good sign and decided to speak up, "How you feeling? You're looking a little better."
The pale young woman shrugged, "Doctor says I'll live. Just gotta take it a bit easier with everything." She hesitated before continuing, "Thanks for the roses by the way. I loved them."
"No problem. I wanted, needed, you to know I was thinking about you still every day, even if I couldn't be there with you in person." The duo felt eyes on them and turned to see the conniving blonde across the square that had trigged the series of events that led to them being in the position they were in today. "Come on, let's get you inside."
Lauren allowed Joey to lead her into the house, her Mum passing the former couple to grab Lauren's bags. "Thanks for standing up to her; heard you put her in her place."
"Well didn't want you to think she didn't get what was coming to her. Seems my sister has a little bit of the feisty Branning trait in her too. I'm still sorry for not believing you." Lauren shook her head as Joey continued, "I should have trusted you."
"What's done is done; can't change things. I'm going to go get some rest. Thanks for helping me in. I'm sure I'll see you around." Joey knew that was her way of letting him know it was time for him to leave. He wouldn't argue because he would take what he could get from her. At least she wasn't completely shunning him like she did a few days ago.
"If you need me for anything, anything at all, just call me anytime." Lauren smiled and allowed him a brief hug, his arms encircling her waist as her head rested on his strong chest, allowing her to take in his scent. She didn't want to pull away when she did but she knew she had to; she wouldn't lead him on and give him hope when she wasn't prepared to think about their relationship right now.
"I will." Just before walking out the door, Lauren caught his arm and stopped him once more, "Just for the record, I don't blame you. It's not your fault in the slightest; you tried to warn me to stop before and I didn't, I brought it on myself and let family pressures get on top of me. But you, us, it wasn't even close to being the main factor in this."
Squeezing her hand in thanks, Joey gave her one last smile and left while he still could, before he pushed her too much because he couldn't control his emotions.
"You going to forgive him? That boy's crazy about you." Tanya asked, watching her daughter follow Joey with her eyes from the doorstep.
"I don't know."
Shaking her head, the elder woman, pulled her daughter from the door knowing she needed a rest, "Just do whatever makes you happy, Lauren. If this has taught you anything, life's not a game to be played around with as it can end sooner than you think. You need to live everyday like it's your last and be happy."
Could she be happy without Joey?
"Whoa, Abs, not so loud. I was only upstairs. What's wrong?" Lauren walked down the stairs, dressed in a pair of sweats with a vest top underneath one of Joey's jumpers she still possessed. She had slowly been getting stronger day by day and was following her new strict routine of keeping healthy while increasing her physical activity, slowly.
"You have a delivery." Abi thrust the bouquet of roses into her sister's arms. "Tell Joey to just give them to you himself rather than keeping getting them delivered. What's he saying this time?"
Joey was still keeping his daily rose deliveries up but today was different; it was the first time he had sent her a full bouquet. Pulling the wrapper down so she could get the card, Lauren noticed the single white rose in the middle of the red bunch of roses. The two siblings exchanged a confused look before Lauren opened the card hoping it would make things clearer, "In every bunch there's one that stands out - you are that one that stands out in my world. I love you. Joey."
"Aww." Abi cooed over the card and the flowers, wishing her boyfriend was as sweet and thoughtful as Joey; well actually he was but it had been a while since he'd done something sweet for her.
Lauren rolled her eyes, "Abs, can you sort these out for me please?"
Confusion crossed the younger Branning sister's face, "Why, where you going? You know Mum said you shouldn't go out alone."
"Abs, I'm just going a few steps to Joey's. I can make it to the park ok now so I think I can make it over the road. Watch me if you like."
The blonde sighed, "Fine, just remember you're not allowed to over-exert yourself."
Lauren chose to ignore the double barrelled meaning behind her younger sister's comment, "I won't, I promise. Thanks, Abs."
"Hi." Lauren had just stepped off the bottom step outside number five when she caught off guard by the familiar voice.
"Lucy." Her voice was filled with disgust but she didn't care. Her so called friend had set out to destroy her relationship and nearly made her kill herself in the process. If she wasn't as weak as she was, she would have been slapping the bitch for nearly destroying everything for her but she knew, unfortunately, Lucy would be stronger than her. Didn't stop herself from letting her imagination run wild, picturing herself slapping the blonde hard round the face, a resounding smack echoing and her own hand throbbing from the intensity.
Getting back to reality, the two former best friends stared at each other in silence until the blonde broke it, "I'm sorry."
"But that's the thing, Lucy, I know you're not. You always say you're sorry but when are you actually going to mean it? You'd of probably been celebrating if that heart attack had of killed me; got rid of me once and for all. You know, I thought we could be friends; that we'd moved past silly playground games and rules but obviously not. Did you really think if Joey broke up with me he would jump straight back into your bed? That he would just pretend like we never happened? Is that what you wanted? Well guess what, Luce; it's never going to happen. You need to grow up and except this is life." Lauren saw Joey walk out of number twenty three and head in their direction but she didn't stop; she might not have the physical energy and strength but her mind was working perfectly fine, thankfully. "I've realised I'm done thinking you'll change. I don't need people like you in my life, someone ready to point out and pounce on my every flaw and failure."
Joey had moved next to Lauren, seeing her wincing in slight pain obviously, her heart being overexerted, "Lucy, I think you better go now, don't you? You've already done enough damage."
"No, I don't need you to defend me; I can do it perfectly fine on my own, thank you." Joey rolled his eyes as Lauren jabbed his chest with her finger, turning back to the girl in front of her, "You know, I actually feel sorry for you and how sad and pathetic your life is. Clinging to anyone who shows even a slight interest in you. Think that sums up how desperate you are. Stay the hell out of my life or next time, you won't be walking away so scratch free."
Lucy shook her head at the harsh words that left the brown eyed girl's mouth and the only thing that stopped her from slapping her was Joey hand catching her wrist as she went to swing it, "You'll be making an even bigger mistake if you do that. Now get out of here and don't come near either of us again." The blonde scoffed at his dark warning and stormed off, Joey instantly turning and wrapping a collapsing Lauren in his arms. "Come on."
Too weak to argue, Joey lifted her into his arms without protest. She couldn't believe how weak she felt but more importantly, she felt a sense of relief wash over her as the thought of having to face Lucy Beale was gone, "Sorry."
"Why are you apologising; you've done nothing wrong." Carefully making his way up the steps, Joey knocked the door with his foot, not wanting to even try and get Lauren to find her key because she was too exhausted to move. He knew she was still getting used to how so little could wear her out so much. Feeling her snuggle into his chest, he placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head.
Abi opened the door and instantly look horrified, "What happened?"
"Lucy Beale happened. She's fine, just wore herself out defending herself, silly girl." Moving into the house, Joey tried to place her down on the sofa but she just tightened her grip with her good hand around his neck and let out a groan of protest.
"Doesn't look like you're going anywhere."
"Wouldn't want to be anywhere else." Joey moved to sit down; keeping the girl he loved securely on his lap, locked in his arms. He knew she wasn't asleep on him but more just resting right now.
"Are you ok to stay with her? I've got to get back to college and she was supposed to be resting until Mum get's back later." Abi asked, not sure Lauren was safe to be left now.
Joey nodded, "Haven't got work tonight so I can stay as long as needed."
Abi grabbed her things and left the couple to it, knowing her sister was safe with Joey and she didn't seem to be kicking him out like she had done previously.
"I was coming to see you." Looking down at the girl in his arms, he smiled at her grumble, her chocolate brown eyes still closed, "I was going to tell you as much as I love the gesture, and the bouquet was simply gorgeous, stop with the roses. Firstly, you must be spending a fortune on them."
"I'll send them every day until you are ready to talk or forgive me."
Eyes fluttering open, brown eyes met brown eyes, "I already told you I forgive you."
"I meant what I said as well; you're it, Lauren. Nobody else even comes close to you. I was an idiot for forgetting that. You know, I never told you before but I'm proud of you for giving up the drink."
"Even before." Joey confirmed. "It wasn't your choice to start drinking again. The only weak person out of the two of us is me for giving up on you. If you ever find it in yourself to give me a second chance, I won't make the same mistake twice." Taking her uninjured hand in his, he lifted it to his lips and placed a gentle kiss on the back of it while staring deep into her chocolate orbs.
Leaning her head off his chest, Lauren lifted her head so she could look at him properly, "I also owe you an apology for forgetting your marathon. I am so proud of you too for doing it. Bet you never expected to be doing it for people like me?"
"I'd run a marathon everyday for you if needed. So if I'm sorry and your sorry, how about a truce?"
"Will you stop with the roses?"
"Yes I'll stop with the roses."
"You can keep the notes coming though." Joey rolled his eyes. "Truce. So boyfriend, get comfy because we're not moving off this sofa all day."
"I've got some pretty good memories involving this sofa."
This time it was Lauren who rolled her eyes as she moved to allow Joey to lie behind her before curling into him, "Don't even go there yet, Mr Branning, I'm sticking to my advice so you've got another three weeks to wait before I'll even start to consider going there again."
"Three weeks?" Joey sounded disgusted at the thought.
"Yep, Doctor's orders. Now find yourself something to watch because I need a sleep." Handing him the remote control, Lauren rested her head back down on his comforting chest.
"Two things, one I don't need this, I've already got something even better, more beautiful, to watch and secondly, before you sleep, there is one thing I need to do." Lauren furrowed her eyebrows, looking up at Joey confused but soon picking up on his intentions as he dipped his head down and captured her lips in his own again. Yep, she was having another heart attack but this one she could live with experiencing every day.
And just like her recovery, she was going to take things just a day at a time and savour every minute with the man she loved.
A/N: Thank you for all the reviews! I've been amazed at how well this story has been received. Hope you all enjoyed the last chapter; was it realistic enough? If I'd of had more time, I would have dragged it out a bit longer but I've got other stories I'm working on now. Anyway, let me know your thoughts and hopefully I'll be back again soon with a new story! Bye! :)