So I'm a little gutted (actually devastated is a better description) that David (and Joey) are leaving Eastenders and it threatened to nix my mojo on a permanent basis when I first heard. I was in a real funk last night and slept really badly because I know we aren't going to see what we want to see when he leaves. So I've mentally shored myself for the disappointment and sat down to write this one-shot, temporarily sidelining the story I've been working on. I hope you like it but YOU WILL NEED TISSUES. I've cried a total of five times writing and reading it through.
Joey picked up the last pile of clothes and stuffed them into the holdall. He certainly had more now than he had when he first arrived. But then he hadn't expected to be staying as long as he had when he first came here. It was supposed to be a flying visit. He'd never planned to stay here and make a life for himself. He was supposed to get here, get Alice and go home again... seeing as few other people as possible. Then he saw her and everything changed. Even after he knew who she was.
Lauren. She was the one. She probably always would be. The only issue that had been in their way was that Joey was an idiot and he'd made a mistake, sacrificing the only thing he'd ever truly wanted because he thought it was the best thing for her. And in some ways it had been because she was working on getting better but apparently she didn't need him now. She'd found someone else to be there for her. And that hurt... more than he thought it would.
So she didn't need him and neither did Alice... but that was a whole different saga that made Joey's heart hurt even more. So now he was leaving Walford, going back to his mum's to sort his head out before he decided what he was going to do next. He spoken to Ronnie a couple of times in the last few days; asking her about what it had been like for her in prison and their conversations had turned to her and Roxy before they came to Walford. Joey had decided he quite liked the idea of running a bar somewhere sunny. He liked working in a bar now and the idea of doing it near or on beach was appealing to him. It was definitely something for him to think about.
He looked around the room that still was more his father's than it had ever been his and knew he'd packed everything he wanted... except for one item. He sat on his bed and picked it up off the bedside table. His heart lurching as he ran a finger down her image, almost trying to push the loose strands of hair behind her ear as he did so. He'd never realised what that meant until she told him... and that had been after he'd ended it. It was only now, when he looked back throughout his life that he realised she was the only person he'd ever done that for. It was what he did. The way he told her how he felt without needing to verbalise it. He'd only done it a couple of times since she'd come back after rehab and he kind of wished he'd get the chance to do it again. He wasn't going to raise his hopes of getting that chance though.
He turned the photo frame over and undid the back, removing it carefully. He took the photo out and placed the frame back on the bedside table. He looked at the picture again, seeing the image and feeling some of the hope he'd kept in his heart since her return shatter slightly. He couldn't remember the last time he'd looked as relaxed and happy as he did in this photo. And even though it was before Lauren's descent and leaving for rehab, she looked happy too. He couldn't even remember when the photo was taken. He was fairly sure that either Poppy or Abi had taken it and had given him a copy but what the occasion had been he couldn't be sure.
He slipped the photo inside the pocket of his jacket, unconsciously putting it close to his heart where his love for her still resided. He was done. In more ways than one.
He picked up his bag and looked around the room one last time, turning off the light and shutting the door. He walked down the stairs and saw Kat and Alfie in the lounge. "I'm off then..." he told them simply.
"You don't have to leave tonight, Joey." Kat said, "Why don't you wait until the morning?" she suggested, a sympathetic look on her face. She knew how devastated he was by what had happened in the last couple of weeks.
"I need to leave now, Kat." He told her, his decision made. "I've left my mum's address on the fridge, you can send any post for me or..." he glanced at Alfie, seeing his face harden slightly. "Well, you know."
"I will, Joey." Kat said softly.
"I'm really sorry..." he told her, his voice barely audible. He really wished there was something he could've done to stop this whole mess... but he hadn't even been here when it happened. That didn't stop Alfie's resentment of what Alice had done to his cousin but Joey couldn't blame him. He wasn't sure how he would react if something like that had happened to his cousin... And if it was Lauren... well, all bets would be off in that situation.
"It wasn't your fault, Joey..." Kat said, not for the first time in the last two weeks. She paused and he could see she was wondering if she should ask him something.
"What do you want me to tell Lauren?"
"I'm going to go and see her as I leave..." he told them both, "But if I don't see her, she's got my number." He nodded at his former housemate and walked towards the front door. He opened the door and was greeted by a downpour of epic proportions. It seemed fitting, it had been bright sunshine when he'd first got here so it was only right that it should be raining as he left.
He heaved his bag onto his shoulder and walked towards her house. He knocked on the door and waited for an answer. He sighed when he realised there wasn't anyone home. He'd really wanted to see her before he left. Maybe have a chance of holding her one last time in his arms before he probably never saw her again. It seemed that wasn't going to be the case though. There wasn't much he could do about it now. She knew where he was if she needed him.
He had been surprised by the times she'd been there for him in the last couple of weeks. Despite the awkwardness that had developed between them since her return she had been there for him when Alice was first arrested and then charged. She was the only other person, besides Kat, who categorically knew what this was doing to him. He felt so guilty for not being around when it all happened... he'd even considered taking the blame for her but he knew there were too many people who knew he hadn't been in the square to get away with it. He would've done it for Alice though. He would do anything for her... or Lauren.
Joey turned and put his bag back on his shoulder, taking the few steps back down to the street. He started to walk towards the station, his head down, avoiding the gazes of anyone who might see him.
"Where are you going?"
It was her voice and he turned towards it, seeing her standing in the doorway of the Minute Mart. "Home..." he murmured.
"I thought that was here..." she whispered, her face looking surprised... and was that a little bit sad?
"So did I..." he said, his eyes dropping to the floor, knowing that if he was to look at her now, he would change his mind and stay. And he wasn't sure he had the strength to do that, which was something he hated having to admit.
"I like having you here..." she whispered and he realised she was standing right in front of him now. There was no escaping looking at her.
"You don't need me, babe..." he told her, "You've got your new guy now... I'd just be reminding you of the all the bad things you've been through."
"It wasn't all bad, Joey." She murmured. "Some of it was really good..." He glanced up at her face and saw the emotion in her eyes, "Me and you was good..." she breathed.
"Until I turned you to the drink..." he added with a wry smile. It was something he would forever feel guilty about.
"It was never you, Joey..." she said, "Well, okay... sometimes it was but I loved you..." she said, smirking at him. "I still do..." she whispered.
"And your new man?" he breathed.
"He's nice... but he's not you..." she told him, her eyes dropping to his chest as she made that admission. "He doesn't make my heart race when I stare into his eyes." She said, lifting her head and looking deep into his soft brown eyes. "He doesn't tell me he loves me... without needing to say the words." She told him and Joey lifted his hand and brushed her soaking wet hair back from her face and tucking it behind her ear. She turned her face slightly, pressing her cheek into his hand. "It doesn't feel the same when he holds me in his arms... or when he kisses me..."
Joey took a step forward and wrapped his arms around her, feeling her arms slip beneath his jacket and around his waist. They stood in silence for some time, oblivious to the rain falling around them and the strange looks from some of square's residents as they rushed by the pair. "I love you, babe..." he whispered in her ear.
"Then don't leave me..." she said, a sob breaking her words slightly.
"I've got to, Lauren... you know that. I can't stay here..." He said, squeezing his arms around her, "Mum needs me..."
"I need you too..." she sobbed, her face burying into his shoulder.
"You can call me... I'll always be there for you, babe... just not here."
"Then I'll come with you..." she told him, kissing his neck, her hands brushing up his back.
"You've got to stay here, babe. Your family needs you here. Abs can't lose you now... and your dad... he's only just back in the square and he needs his girls around him. And you'll get better if you're here and you know it."
"I need you more..." she sobbed.
"Now isn't the right time, babe. Not for us." He pulled her away from his body and stared into her eyes, "I promise... we will be together again, Lauren... I've not given up on us. I never have and I never will. I just need some time to sort my head out and to get away from this place." His eyes ran over her face, trying to memorise every little detail until he saw her again. "I love you..." he said again.
"I know..." she whispered. "I love you too... more than I ever have anyone else."
He chuckled, "I know..." he told her.
"More than I do vodka..." she admitted, unable to stop the smirk from appearing on her face.
"Good to know, babe." His hands lifted and cupped the sides of her face, wiping the moisture from her cheek... rain or tears he couldn't say which but he suspected the latter. "You are so beautiful..." he told her, "The one thing I'm going to miss from this place is seeing you every day." He whispered. He moved slowly towards her, time slowing as he pressed his lips against hers. He hoped with more than anything that this wouldn't be the last time they did this. He knew he needed her in his life... but now wasn't the right time for either of them, he knew that in his heart. That didn't mean there wouldn't be a right time for them in the future... and he hoped that eventually everything would be aligned and their destinies would intertwine once more. He lost himself in the kiss, feeling the passion from her as their tongues danced. His hands caressed both sides of her face and he tucked her hair behind her ears. They pulled apart barely, his forehead pressing against hers. "You've got my number... call me... if you need anything."
"I will..." she whispered.
He kissed her again softly, a kiss too short for either of their liking. He bent down and picked up his bag. "I'll see you soon, Lauren..." he told her, his hand grasping hers and squeezing it as he took a couple of steps away. "Love ya..." he murmured before turning his back and walking towards the tube station.
"Don't leave me..." she said, her voice breaking as she said the words. "Don't go, Joey." She begged him.
Joey bit his lip, hating hearing the devastation in her voice but knowing this was the right thing for both of them; what they both needed, however much it hurt right now. He allowed himself one last glance back before he left and he saw she was still standing in the same place... looking as broken now as she had just before she punched Lucy in that very same spot. His heart broke along with hers and he very nearly changed his mind. In the end his brain overrode the decision though, knowing he was doing what was right. He took a deep breath and turned his head back towards the station. He could do this.
As he walked away from her, he clenched his fist, tension building in his body as he took each step. 'Why does it feel like this was a mistake?' he asked himself.
The sun shone down on him as he sat on the sun lounger on the beach near his home. He stared out at the sea in front of him, thinking through the events of the last two years. So much had happened... changed... for him during that time. Even more than it had in the twelve months previous to that. And yet, there were some things that were much the same.
Once he'd returned to his mum's house he had felt as unsettled as he had in Albert Square and in the end he hadn't stayed there very long either... little more than a month passed before he was packing his bags again and heading back out to find his future once more. His thoughts had drifted many times during that month to his chats with Ronnie and it was with a renewed purpose he had decided to head out and fulfil his dream of running a bar of his own.
Well he was working in a bar... somewhere that was very hot and beautiful... and pretty much living that dream. He was definitely kept busy, having been promoted to be the manager of the bar just three months ago and he was popular with the customers that visited the little haven on the beach where he worked. His life was perfect in every way imaginable. He couldn't ask for anything more. Really he couldn't.
"Is this seat taken?" said a woman as she walked up beside him, gesturing at the next lounger.
He turned his head, smiling as she saw her, "I'm waiting for someone..." he told her, smirking as she sat down, ignoring what he'd just said.
"I'm sure she won't mind if I sit down till she gets here."
"I guess there's no harm in that..." Joey whispered. "I haven't seen you around here before..."
"I'm new in town..." she said, smiling at him. It was a smile that dazzled him slightly. "I came here a few months ago... we might've seen each other then?" she said with a small shrug.
"I'm sure I would've remembered..." he said, turning his face back to the sea and leaning his head back.
"I'm sure you would've..." she chuckled. There was silence for a few seconds. "I've missed you, Joe." She finally said.
"I've missed you too, babe." He murmured. He looked back at her again, her being there taking his breath away as much as it had a few months earlier when she'd appeared on a stool, the other side of the bar from where he stood. He really hadn't been expecting to see her then and even now, it was a surprise. She wasn't supposed to be back until next week... once she'd packed up all her things and had arranged for them to be shipped over.
They had spoken a lot over the last two years but it had taken seeing her again a few months earlier for him to know that the time was now right. So they'd given it a whirl and it had been better than it had ever been when they were in Walford. The two weeks she was with him... well, Joey had to admit a lot of that time had been spent in bed. The passion between them had built again and they had lost themselves completely in each other. It had been intoxicating and joyous... with some heartbreak when after two weeks Lauren had had to fly back to the UK. She had called him after the lengthy flight home and they had spoken for far too long for two people who'd just spent their whole time together for a fortnight.
After that it had been a simple decision for her to come out and join him... A decision that was even easier when Lauren had made a call to him a month ago. She had been in tears and he wished there was some way he could be with her, to comfort her and hold her in his arms. That hadn't been possible though... he was thousands of miles from her and it had taken him a while to calm her down and reassure her that everything would be okay. That it wasn't a disaster. From then on it was simply a matter of Lauren sorting out what she was and wasn't taking with her, booking tickets... doing a little shopping for things they would need and then coming back to him.
Apparently though she had got a little impatient with waiting... and really, patience wasn't a trait that any Branning possessed but definitely not Joey or Lauren... and she'd turned up last night, surprising him again as she sat on the stool in the bar. He hadn't even seen her there until he turned and asked her what she wanted. He smiled as he remembered her answer, "You..." she said and it was only right that he gave the lady what she wanted. He was never going to disappoint her again.
"What are you thinking about?" Lauren whispered softly, her head resting on his chest as they both laid on his lounger. His arm was around her back and waist, his hand settled on her stomach, fingers brushing backwards and forwards as it caressed her skin.
"You and me... our future..." he said.
Lauren's hand moved down his chest before covering his, "I think we had our future settled for us a few months ago, Joe." She whispered, her cheeks reddening at the words she'd spoke.
"That's not the only reason you're here, babe..." he breathed into her hair as he pressed a kiss against the top of her head.
"I know that..." She said, "You love me..." she added with a giggle.
"I do..." he said solemnly, "both of you..." he told her, "always have and always will."
"Same here, Joe." She whispered, turning her head and kissing his chest softly.
Everything was right in the world again.
A/N: So what did you think? It broke my heart to write him leaving but I had to put the ending on, giving us a little hope for a sunny future for Joey and Lauren... and their child - I'm definitely trying to think positively. Let me know what you think. xxx