So this is what I'd like to see when they (and I'm hoping here) get Joey and Lauren back together. I've heard a few rumours about what is going to happen so have used some of that in the storyline. This was going to be a one-shot... but was a bit long so I've broken it in two. Enjoy!
Misery Loves Company.
The world was a lonely place... or it was for Lauren Branning anyway. The last four weeks had been painful and now she was alone. Nobody really spoke to her anymore and she'd pretty much brought it on herself. She had no one to blame other than herself... and maybe her blonde ex-best friend.
Her family were despairing of her; they seemed to have given up on her completely. Every time they looked in her direction all she could see was silent judgement and pity. She could see the concern on her mum's face but every time she spoke to Lauren, all Lauren could hear was the conversation where she was accused of taking her pills. The trust was gone... in both directions it seemed. Her sister barely spoke to her since the night of the party for Jay. Lauren assumed (correctly) that she must've said something after her drink had been spiked but for the life of her she couldn't remember.
One thing she couldn't forget was seeing Joey in the pub the day after. The words he said to her that day were emblazoned on her heart. It was all she could hear every second of every day. She had laid her heart on the line for him and he'd stomped all over it. The really sad thing was Lauren couldn't really blame him. He was right about a lot of the things he'd said.
And then to top it all off she'd screwed things up with her remaining friends a few days later. Why she'd thought it was a good idea to kiss Tyler, her best friend's fiancé, was anyone's guess. She certainly had no clue. It was just the green eyed monster rearing its ugly head and she'd reacted in desperation when she saw Lucy fawning over Joey. Whatever the reasoning it caused a permanent rift between her and both friends that were affected by her moment of irrationality. And the rest of her friends steered clear of her now too. Not that she gave them the opportunity to be near her anyway. She hadn't left the house in two weeks and that wasn't going to change anytime soon.
Lauren was lying on the couch in the lounge, much like she'd done for days on end. She pulled her duvet over her and tried to lose herself in the monotony of the TV. The problem was every time she closed her eyes she remembered the host of memories tied up with where she was lying now. This was the place where they'd first made love. She could remember she was lying just like she was now and he was hovering above her. The look in his eyes as they held her gaze had taken her breath away. Lauren closed her eyes and it was almost like she was back there. She bit her lip as she remembered the way it felt as he pushed into her that first time. It had been unlike any other time before for her. And it made her miss him even more. Lauren curled up into a ball on the couch, trying to push the memories away, not wanting to make everything even more painful than it already was.
Her thoughts drifted elsewhere. They turned to her dad. She hadn't seen him for a while now; not since before Joey dumped her but he was caught up with his wife and the child they were expecting. Why would he be interested in his problem daughter? Lauren knew she was well down on his list of priorities but that didn't mean it didn't hurt. It hurt a lot in fact.
It wasn't like he was the only one though. They'd all lost interest in her. Lauren turned her attention back to the TV and stared at it blankly for almost an hour.
She needed to get out of the house. It was doing her head in staying here and it wasn't like anyone would notice if she wasn't here either. It had been days since she'd spoken to anyone and no one had made an effort to speak to her. She grabbed her mobile and fired off a text, a flash of inspiration coming to her. She didn't have to wait long until she got a reply and it made her smile.
She threw her clothes into a bag, a few keepsakes she couldn't bear to leave behind and did up the zip as she fought the tears that were threatening. She glanced around the room one last time and walked down the stairs, pausing slightly to catch her breath before going through the front door. Everyone was out for the night, having left her home on her own. She wondered briefly how long it would be before they noticed she was gone.
Abi walked into the kitchen for breakfast, finding her mum and nan already at the table. "Is your sister going to deign us with her presence this morning?"
"She's not there." Abi said softly.
"What do you mean she's not there?"
"I thought she was down in the lounge still. She's not been there all night." Abi explained.
"Then where is she?" Her mum asked loudly.
"I don't know. I'm not her keeper." She said in disgust. "Mum, calm down. You know where she probably is. She probably got drunk somewhere and ended up at some random bloke's house. She's an adult... I'm sure she's more than capable of looking after herself."
"And what exactly is it from the last few weeks, Abi, that makes you think your sister is capable of doing anything for herself?" Tanya said angrily. "Your sister is a mess. You know that. So why should I be calm about this? She's been falling to pieces for days." Tanya grabbed her mobile from the side. "Max, I need you to come to the house... Yes it's important." She said, fear clearly heard in her voice.
Max knocked on the door and Tanya opened it quickly. "What's going on?" he asked.
"It's Lauren. She's missing..." Tanya said softly.
"What do you mean she's missing?"
"She's been gone since last night. She was here when we went out and we didn't realise until we got up this morning. I assumed she was up in her room when I got home from the pub and Abi thought she was down in the lounge when she went up to bed after her date with Jay."
"So you're telling me no one noticed that she's been gone all night?" Max accused.
"And where have you been, Max, eh?" She shot back at him. "You haven't been here the past few weeks, have you? You haven't seen the state she's been in since Joey broke her heart for a second time. Don't start judging me for my parenting skills... I suggest you look closer to home before you look at me." She glared at him, remembering once again why things hadn't worked between them.
"You could've called me..."
"I shouldn't have to, Max. She's your daughter. She needed her dad."
"The two of you fighting isn't going to help find her, is it?" Cora said as she joined them in the kitchen.
"We should start looking for her..." Max said. "Did she take anything with her?" he asked.
"Yeah, some of her clothes are gone." Tanya said softly.
"Right, I'll go to the Vic and R&R's and see if she's been in." Max said. "You go and speak to her friends and the people in the market." He turned to Cora. "Can you stay here and let us know if she comes home?"
The parents separated and went to see if they could find their eldest daughter. Tanya spoke to each of the market traders but no one had seen Lauren for days. She then went into the cafe and spoke to Lucy and Whitney. "Have either of you seen Lauren?"
"Nope." Lucy said, smiling at her.
"Not for a couple of weeks..." she replied.
"Which is only what she deserves after what she did..." Lucy murmured.
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Tanya asked sharply.
"She kissed Tyler in the middle of the pub... because she was drunk." Lucy said, a smug look on her face. "Again..."
Tanya's heart sank. She looked at Whitney and she saw the anger in her eyes. Anger focused at her daughter. "Lauren has disappeared... we haven't seen her since last night and we're worried about her."
"Such a shame..." Lucy said in a mocking tone.
"I thought you were supposed to be her best friends."
"That was before she kissed my fiancé." Whitney said, not looking quite as happy about the subject matter as the blonde girl was.
"And after the way she treated Joey and has been behaving... she doesn't deserve our friendship." Lucy said scornfully.
"Well, I hope you still feel that way when we find her dead in a gutter somewhere..." Tanya said softly, her own words upsetting her as much as anything the girls had said, "because I'm sure you both know that Lauren has needed her friends more than ever in the last month. As for Joey... he broke her heart for a second time... and he seems to have all her friends helping him through his time of trauma, so excuse me if I'm not quite so sympathetic towards him." Tanya said, getting angrier the longer she spoke. She turned and walked quickly out of the cafe, heading towards Booty. She needed to speak to Poppy.
Poppy and Alice were both in the salon. "Hi Auntie Tanya..." Alice said, smiling at her.
"Have either of you seen Lauren?" she asked.
"No, not for a couple of weeks." They both replied.
"Is everything okay, Tanya?" Poppy asked.
Tanya shook her head, "No, she's gone missing." Tears welled in her eyes as she looked at the two young girls. "I never realised she was on her own... Now I find out her friends have all abandoned her when she needed them the most." She was sobbing by the time she'd finished. "You must think I'm an awful mother for not realising how unhappy and alone she was."
"No, Auntie Tanya... we know Lauren. She keeps things to herself. She didn't even open up to Joey when they were together." Alice said softly, putting her arm around her aunt's shoulders.
"She wouldn't let us anywhere near her, Tanya," Poppy said softly. "She stopped coming out and seeing us... I guess we should've made an effort to go and see her."
"It wouldn't have made any difference..." Tanya whispered.
"Do you think Joey knows where she is?" Alice asked.
"I don't know, Alice." Tanya sighed.
Max had had no joy in the Vic, although he'd discovered from Fatboy and Tyler that Lauren had been pretty much ostracized by her friends in the last few weeks. His only hope now was R&R's. He walked into the club and down the stairs.
"We're closed. Come back later." A voice called out and Max quickly recognised it as his nephew.
"Uncle Max. Alright?" he asked as he continued to bottle up and prepare for the night ahead.
"Joey, I'm looking for Lauren." He said.
"Here is the last place she would be, believe me." He said as he continued to work.
"She's missing. No one's seen her since last night. Some of her clothes have gone. We're a bit worried about her..."
Joey stopped and lifted his head to stare at his uncle. Max could see the pain in his eyes and he knew their break-up hadn't been a walk in the park for him or Lauren. "I haven't seen her in a week or so." He said softly.
"That's what everyone keeps saying." Max muttered.
Joey paused, "Do you want a hand looking for her?" he asked.
"Have you got the time?" Max asked. "You know her better than we do these days... you might be able to think of some places we haven't looked."
"Give me a couple of minutes..." Joey said, walking out from behind the bar and towards the office. He knocked on the door, "Sharon, you got a second?"
"Sure, Joey. What do you want?"
"Uncle Max is in the bar. Lauren's missing and I've said I'd help look for her. Is it okay if I leave?"
"Joey, the bar opens in a few hours..."
Joey shifted uncomfortably on his feet, "I feel responsible for her disappearing, Sharon. Things haven't been good between her and her friends since we split up and I just let them treat her that way. I knew she needed them and I didn't make them stop behaving the way they were so I want to help find her." He looked into the eyes of his boss, "I have a really bad feeling there's something wrong."
She could see the emotion on his face and she knew he still cared deeply for his cousin, possibly even still loved her. "Go, Joey." She said softly. She made a snap decision and got to her feet, "I'll come with you." She added, grabbing her jacket and walking towards him. "Let's go." She said.
"What about the club?"
"Family is more important, right?" she told him with a smile.
They both walked back out into the bar and found Max waiting for them. "We're coming to help, Max." Sharon said.
"That's great. Thanks." Max said, sighing in relief. "Well I've been to the Vic and here and Tan's speaking to her friends and people in the market."
"I can try a few places we used to go," Joey said softly.
"I'll go and see how Tanya is," Sharon said. "We can keep looking for her, Max. She'll be fine. I know it."
The three of them left the bar and Sharon locked it behind her. They all separated. Max was growing increasingly worried. He'd tried calling Lauren while he'd been waiting for Joey to come back into the bar but she either didn't have her mobile with her or she had ignored his call. His stomach was in knots and he had no idea what he would do if they couldn't find her. This was the recurring nightmare he'd had ever since Lauren had first started losing control of her drinking. His mobile rang as he walked back to the market and he pulled it from his pocket quickly, hoping to see her name on the screen. He sighed when he saw it was Kirsty. "Babe..." he sighed again as he took her call.
"Where are you, Max?" she asked.
"You know where I am..."
"Still sorting out whatever the emergency it was she had?" she said spitefully.
"Kirst... Lauren is missing, alright. I'm searching for her. Tanya is out searching for her. No one knows where she is."
"Do you want any help?"
"We're fine, I think." He said, knowing that Lauren wouldn't respond well if his wife was the one to find her.
"Are you sure? I haven't got to be at the Vic for a few hours."
"It's fine, babe. I'd better go."
"Call me later, Max." She said before ending the call.
He was walking past Booty when Tanya came out of the door, "Max? Anything?"
He shook his head, "Nothing. Joey and Sharon have said they would help us find her. I thought Sharon was looking for you actually," He said, watching as she deflated before him. He stepped closer and pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. It was as much for him as it was for her.
"She's been alone for weeks, Max." Tanya whispered into his neck. "All of her friends have abandoned her. Lucy basically hates her."
"It'll be okay, babe." He said softly.
"Should we call the police?" she asks him.
"They won't do anything until she's been missing for two days, babe." He said. Tanya began to cry against his shoulder, her whole body shaking as the fear of what might have happened to their daughter began to sink in.
"I feel so guilty..." she sobbed.
He pulled her away from him, his hands cupping her face, "What for?"
"I'm a rubbish mum, Max. I didn't even realise how miserable my daughter was. I'm useless. She deserves so much better than me."
"I've hardly been that great, have I?" He told her, "You were right earlier with what you said. I should've been there for her." He hugged his ex-wife again, "This is no one's fault, Tan. We just need to concentrate on finding her, okay?" he said softly.
Joey felt sick with worry as he went to the various places she could be. He tried the park first as it was somewhere important to both of them. It was where he'd first told her he loved her. Back in the heady days of their relationship... before things started to go wrong. Actually it wasn't that they went wrong as such... just other things began to interfere. Firstly his dad found out and blackmailed him into breaking up with her. Before his dad found out their relationship had been amazing. Lauren rarely drank and she was happy. He made her happy. Then Derek had scared her so badly she'd got drunk and then crashed the car. Ever since then her drinking had spiralled out of control. Initially it had been his fault, when he first dumped her but since they'd got back together on Christmas Day, her drinking had been a result of everything that was happening at her house. Her parents had really screwed her up. Firstly her dad and his secret wife... which broke her mum's heart and caused her to abandon her daughters in order to deal with everything. So Lauren was left in charge of Abi and handling her dad's new wife as well.
Joey knew how much Lauren cared for both her parents... but especially her dad. She'd told him once how her dad had been like this idol for her when she was really small. Since her teenage years began though it was apparent the sheen had tarnished somewhat on his role in her life and he had been reduced to normal status rather than his previous lofty position.
He sighed when he saw Lauren wasn't at the park but he went to a couple of other places where she might be. He tried not to imagine that she might have got drunk and had a one night stand with some random stranger. Horrifyingly though, there was a small part of him that hoped that was the case because at least then there was some vague hope she might be okay. Joey was now beginning to worry that some harm might have befallen her. That was more painful for him to consider than her being with someone else.
Max strode up to the Arches and poked his head around the corrugated doors, "Jay, have you seen Lauren at all?"
Jay looked up from the engine he was working on, "No, Max. Is there a problem?"
Dexter also looked up, frowning when he saw the worry on the man's face. "Yeah, Lauren's been missing since last night. We're worried about her." Max explained.
"Are you sure she's not just drunk somewhere?" Jay asked softly.
"No we're not... but she's taken some clothes with her." Max wiped his hand across his face, "Tan said that she's not been drinking for weeks now... it was pretty much all they could do to get her off the couch any day."
"So she's missing then?" Dexter asked.
"Yeah." Max sighed.
"Have you asked her friends?" Dexter asked.
Max glanced at Jay for a second, "What friends?" he asked softly. "She doesn't have any friends. None of them will have anything to do with her because of her drinking."
"Do you need some help?" Jay asked guiltily, knowing Lauren's downfall had started at the party Abi had held in his honour.
"We've got a few people looking but some extra hands would be great." Max told them, "Only if it doesn't get you in trouble with Phil..." he added.
"What doesn't get them in trouble with me?" Phil said as he walked up behind Max.
"Lauren's missing..." Dexter said, "Max was just asking if we'd seen her and we offered to help look for her..."
"She's an adult... I'm sure she's more than capable of taking care of herself."
"She's also a drunk, Phil." Jay said bluntly, "And she's been going through some issues in the last few weeks. Surely you understand what that's like, eh?" he said, crossing his arms and squaring up to his boss.
Phil was silent for several seconds before sighing, "Fine but you make up the time next week, right?" he told them.
"Thanks Phil." Max said.
"I'll keep an eye out for her." Phil said as he walked out of the garage.
"Sharon's looking with Tanya so you may want to keep an eye on Denny..." Max said.
Max walked into the Vic and found a crowd of people gathered. "I just came to see if you'd heard anything, Alfie..." he said as he walked up to the bar.
"No, sorry mate." Alfie replied, "I've found you some people to help with the search though..." he said, nodding towards everyone who was stood nearby.
Max looked at them and saw a lot of people he wouldn't have expected to find there; everyone from market traders to some of her former friends, including Fatboy, Poppy, Tyler and Whitney. "Thanks guys." The door opened behind him and Tanya and Sharon walked into the pub. "Your help means a lot to me and Tanya. Lauren is in a pretty bad place at the moment." He said, glancing at her friends. "We need to find her because we're worried she might do some harm to herself." He added softly.
Those gathered dispersed, arranging to contact Alfie if they had any news; Alfie would then contact either Max or Tanya. Tanya was devastated by this time and Max took her into his arms, trying to offer her some comfort. She wrapped her arms around his waist as she cried against him, her hold tightening on him as she felt him kiss her hair. "We need to find her, Max." She whispered.
"I know, babe." He murmured. "I know."
The door to the pub opened again and Kirsty walked through the door. She stopped when she saw Max and Tanya standing together. She stared at them both, Max meeting her eyes for several seconds. He saw the pain on her face but he couldn't let go of his former wife... the woman he adored more than anyone else in the world. Kirsty watched as Max closed his eyes and hugged Tanya a little closer. In those few moments her heart was broken and she knew she'd lost. She was never going to be the one he wanted. She glanced at Alfie and threw him a silent apology before turning to leave and walking back out. She ran back to the flat and began to pack her clothes in the bags she'd only recently unpacked. She called a cab and then sat down and began to write a letter to her husband. She finished it and put it on top of a brown envelope that she'd never actually thrown away. Just over an hour after she left the pub she was climbing into the black cab she'd booked and then she was leaving the square. Permanently.
A/N: I know there isn't much Lauren or Joey in it... but it's setting the stage for the second half of the story. And it's resolved a few things I'd really like to see. I will post the other half tomorrow... which is (apparently) going to be a busy posting day for me.