So this is essentially Last Kiss? from Lauren's point of view. YOU NEED TO HAVE READ LAST KISS FIRST THOUGH! This has been begging to be written for days and finally I sat down yesterday and wrote it. I hope to post it then but I couldn't quite get the end to work... I think I've fixed it now. Enjoy!
After The Rain.
Lauren stood in the pouring rain, watching him walk away from her. She wished she could say it was the first time it had happened but it wasn't even close to being that. By her reckoning this was the fourth time and she was fairly sure it was also the last time. Both of these facts broke her heart. She stood where she was as he walked into the distance.
"I love you, babe..." he'd whispered to her and she believed him. She knew what she had with Jake was nothing like what she had with Joey and it never would be. She couldn't help but think that the end was nigh on that relationship which was ironic as she watched the love of her life walk out of it as well. "We'll be together again, Lauren... I've not given up on us." He'd told her and those words rang in her ears now.
"Don't leave me..." she suddenly said, her voice breaking as she said the words, hoping they would make him stop. "Don't go, Joey." She begged him and she saw him pause slightly and then look back at her over his shoulder. For a minute she thought he was coming back but then he walked around the corner and he was gone and her hopes were dashed. Her heart pounded in her chest and the rush of blood through her veins was the only sound she could hear in her ears.
Even though he was out of sight Lauren still didn't move. She stood there, in the same spot, a little part of her hoping he would come back; that he would come back to her. He didn't though. She was unaware of time passing... her eyes locked on where the road turned and headed towards the station. By this time she was soaking wet and shivering as the water drenched her hair and clothes but she barely noticed. It wasn't until someone touched her shoulder and she turned her head and saw Kirsty looking at her in concern that she realised how long she'd been standing there.
"He's left..." she whispered, her teeth chattering in the cold.
"Joey..." she said, tears running down her face, merging with the rain as she started to sob. Her whole body ached as the pain of him leaving hit her hard.
Kirsty pulled her into a hug, her hand brushing up and down her back and they stood there for several seconds. "Let's get you home and warmed up, babe." She said softly, ushering her back towards the house. Kirsty opened the door and Max walked into the hall, his concern for his daughter rising as he saw the state of her.
"Babe..." he said softly to Lauren.
Kirsty shook her head, "Let's go and get you into a bath, Lauren, eh?" she said, pushing the catatonic girl towards the stairs. Ten minutes later she walked back down the stairs, Lauren now in a hot bath to try and warm herself up.
"What's happened?" Max asked, Abi and Cora standing not far behind him, all looking worried about the teenager.
"Joey's left." Kirsty explained.
"But she's with another guy now..." Abi said, biting her lip as she realised they weren't supposed to know about that.
"She loves Joey," Max said softly, his head turning and looking up the stairs. He knew his daughter well; in some ways she was very similar to him. She loved with her whole heart and Max knew that Joey was his daughter's version of what Tanya was for him. He'd known that since last Christmas when he got the two of them back together again. He also knew how his nephew felt about Lauren but he wasn't surprised by Joey's choice to leave. His own recent brush with the law had left its own mark on him and he knew how much Alice's imprisonment had hurt the supposedly hard-as-nails young man. Max was more than aware of what the attitudes of the residents of the square had been to the events at Halloween. Some people had blanked Joey completely which was cruel because Joey hadn't even been in the square when it all happened. Yes, Alice had made a mistake but Michael's and Janine's games had brought the disaster to a head with the young Branning caught in the crossfire. "How is she?" he finally asked his wife.
"Upset, obviously. Heartbroken would be a closer description but that doesn't even cover it." Kirsty said.
"I'll go and see how she is..." Abi said softly.
Hearing his younger daughter speak made him think of what she'd said earlier, "What do you mean she's with another guy?" he asked as Abi started up the stairs.
"Do you think that's important now, dad?" Abi asked him sadly, "I doubt it's going to be a problem anymore anyway."
Abi knocked on the bathroom door lightly but didn't hear anything from her sister. There was complete silence and she got frightened that Lauren might've done something stupid. She knocked again, harder this time but still there was no response. She turned the handle and was relieved when it opened and she entered the room. She looked at Lauren and hated what she saw. Lauren was curled up in the bath, her arms wrapped around her legs, her chin resting on her knees. She looked broken and Abi knew that in some ways she was... even more than she had been before she went to rehab. Lauren was staring into space, unaware of everything around her. "How are you, Lauren?" Abi whispered softly. There was no response but Abi wasn't particularly surprised by that. She walked over to the bath and sat on the floor beside it, "Talk to me, Lauren..." she said softly. Nothing. Abi touched her shoulder gently and Lauren jumped, turning her head towards her. "What happened?"
"He left me..." she whispered.
"I thought things with Joey were over... I thought you had this new guy now..."
"It's always been Joey," Lauren whispered, tears falling down her face. "It always will be..." she added, her bottom lip quivering as the sobbing started again.
"Oh, Lauren..." Abi whispered. "Why did you keep pushing him away when you came back to the square?" she asked.
"I was scared, Abs." She murmured. "I was scared to let him into my heart again. The problem is I don't think he'd ever really left it. It hurts so bad, Abs," She added, glancing at her sister again, "I didn't think he'd leave. I thought he'd always be here... waiting for me..."
"So he doesn't feel the same way?" Abi asked, not believing for a second that he didn't.
"He loves me..."
"I don't understand..." Abi whispered. Not for the first time today, Abi was confused by her sister.
"He told me he loves me... and he'll be there for me, just not here." Lauren said. "I wanted to go with him..." she admitted.
"Leave Walford?" Abi gasped.
Lauren looked at her again, "Wouldn't you if it was Jay leaving?" she asked softly.
Her question made Abi stop. Reluctantly she nodded her head, "So how come you're still here?" she asked.
"He said I needed to be here. You needed me and dad did too." She lowered her head and rested her forehead on her knees, "He said that now wasn't the right time for us..."
"What does that mean for your new guy?" Abi asked.
"I don't know, Abs. He doesn't make me feel the same as Joey... no one ever will but he's better than being alone, I guess."
"Is that fair to him?"
"I don't know, Abs. How is any of this fair?" Lauren asked. "Is what happened to Alice fair? She was used by both Janine and Michael in their games and look at what happened. Is it fair that everyone is blaming Joey for what she did? He wasn't even in the square. There was nothing he could've done to stop it happening but Alfie blames him and he isn't the only one. It's been miserable for him the last few weeks, none of you have seen how upset he's been by everything, he wouldn't let you see how much this has hurt him. Part of me knew he was going to leave but I thought I'd have time to prepare myself for it; that it wouldn't hurt as much for him to go this time... but it does, Abs... it hurts so much. I love him."
Abi hugged her sister tightly, "I know you do..." she said, feeling her sister start to cry again. They both sat there for some time, Lauren calming after a few minutes only to lose it again moments later. It was a never ending cycle of heartbreak but Abi waited with her patiently, supporting her sister for as long as it took; being there for her for the first time since her return from rehab.
Lauren lay on the sofa, a blanket draped over her as she stared blankly at the TV screen. She was supposed to be in bed sleeping. She had work in the morning but sleep wouldn't come. Every time she shut her eyes she was back in his arms, his lips on hers as he kissed her goodbye. Her phone beeped and she picked it up, expecting to see another message from Jake. He'd already texted her twice this evening but she'd ignored each one because truthfully, she didn't know what to say to him. She unlocked her phone and her heart beat a little faster as she saw it wasn't from Jake... but from someone much closer to her heart. Joey.
Hey babe... I'm back at mum's now. I'll speak to you soon... maybe in a couple of days... I love you so fucking much, Lauren and I always will. J xx
Tears fell down her face again and she hit reply quickly.
I love you too, Joey. I miss you and I wish you would come back to me. I know you can't come back here and I understand, I think... but I wish you had let me come with you. I can't function without you here... you're the reason I came back to Walford, Joey. I need you here, with me. Please come back to me. L xx
She stared at the message, reading it through. She hesitated to send it to him, her finger literally hovering over the send button. She took a deep breath and pressed it. It was only seconds before her phone beeped again.
I miss you too, babe. Walking away from you tonight was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I meant every word I said, babe. Now get some sleep. J xx
Easier said than done she thought but she closed her eyes and pulled the blanket up to her chin. How she wished Joey was holding her in his arms now.
Lauren opened her eyes a little later, having got a few hours sleep. She felt far from rested though. She threw back the blanket and got to her feet. She walked into the kitchen, wincing as she saw the time. It had only been a few hours since she'd closed her eyes and here she was getting ready to go to her first job. She poured herself a coffee, smiling softly as she remembered how Joey still knew how she took it. Everything she did reminded her of him. She sighed again, she knew every little thing she did over the next few days would be a constant reminder of Joey. Maybe it would always be like that.
She got ready for work, her heart heavy as she pulled on some clean clothes. She walked out of the house having not seen any of her family and walked over to the pub. She knocked on the door and it swung open to reveal Alfie. "Morning, darlin'," he said, smiling at her softly.
"Hi Alfie..." she said.
He looked at her closely, "Are you okay?" he asked her in concern. Lauren nodded, biting her lip to stop herself from crying. "I'll believe you, thousands wouldn't."
"I'll get on with my work..." she said softly, going to retrieve the things she needed and hiding away in the ladies toilets. A few more tears may have been shed once she was there.
The days passed in a blur as Lauren went through the pretence of living. She didn't miss the looks of concern from her family. She saw the way Whitney, Lucy and Peter all watched her. She knew they were all waiting for her to breakdown and have a drink... but she was stronger than that... just...
Today was the first counselling session she'd had since Joey had left and she wasn't looking forward to it. She was also going to be seeing Jake today... for the first time since she'd made the decision. She just had to tell him now. She'd been avoiding it and him for days.
"You're not saying much today, Lauren..." her counsellor said in concern.
Lauren shrugged, "Not much to say..." she admitted.
"You were fine when I last saw you. What's changed?" she asked.
"My ex left..." Lauren whispered.
"Joey...?" she asked.
"Yeah..." She slumped down on the sofa, biting her lip as her emotions climbed once more. "I wanted to go with him..."
"But you didn't..."
"No, he told me I should stay here. I need to keep sorting myself out and he needs time to sort his head out too..." She looked up at her counsellor and the woman wasn't surprised to see tears on her face, "I miss him though. It feels like part of me has left and I don't know how to be me without him here."
"You know you can do this, Lauren. You've come such a long way already and you did that without Joey."
"I did it for him though..." she whispered.
"Not just for him, surely?"
Lauren shrugged, "Mostly..."
"Some of it was for you... and you're doing really well, Lauren." She stared at the upset teenager, "So what happens now?"
"I don't know..." Lauren admitted, "I try and piece my life back together and remember how to function without him around."
"So things are definitely over between the two of you?" she asked, knowing how important her relationship with Joey had been in her recovery.
Lauren shook her head, "No... It's just on hold for a while. We're going to be together someday. I love him and he loves me." She smiled at her counsellor, "He loves me."
"So what now?"
"I focus on getting better I guess... then I'll see Joey again and everything will be back on track." She said with a renewed spirit.
"Okay." She said, smiling at her but silently hoping that the young girl wasn't setting her sights too high.
Lauren walked out of the room and there, as regular as clockwork was Jake.
"Hello stranger..." he said, smiling at her.
"Hi." She looked at the floor, her eyes catching a glint of gold on his left hand that caught her attention much like it had the first time she saw him, "You've got your wedding ring back on..." she said without thinking, mentally kicking herself as soon as the words left her mouth. She looked at his face and saw the shame written all over it.
"That's why I've been texting you to meet. I wanted to tell you before you found out."
"Found out?" she said.
"My wife and I are giving it another shot..." he said, staring into her eyes intently, "for the sake of our daughter..."
"Yeah..." he said softly.
"You have a daughter?" she gasped as his words sunk in.
"You told me things were over..." she whispered. He frowned, "You told me things were over with your wife..." she said, her voice stronger. She was ashamed of herself. She had become just like all those other women; like all the women her dad had got involved with throughout her childhood when he was married to her mum. How could she be that woman? What had she become since she'd returned to Walford?
"They were over, Lauren... then Sade called me about Bella and we got talking and things were just like they used to be."
"Just like they used to be?" Lauren whispered distractedly. How she wished her life was how it used to be. "I've gotta go..." She said, turning towards the door, "Don't call me again, Jake."
"There's something else, Lauren..." he said and Lauren stopped at the door, turning her head and looking at him, "We're moving to the square..." he told her.
Lauren's eyes widened, "You're kidding..." she whispered. He shook his head. "You can't do this to me, Jake." She said, "That's my home and you're moving there with your wife and daughter?" He took a couple of steps towards her, "Don't come near me!" she said, backing away from him, "Leave me alone, okay. I want nothing to do with you." She said, her voice louder and a little shrill.
The door to the counsellor's room opened and she looked at both her patients, "Jake, maybe you should wait inside..." she said, breaking the obvious tension between the pair. Jake disappeared into the sanctuary of her room, shutting the door behind him and leaving the two women alone. "Talk to me, Lauren."
"I can't..." she said. "I need to go."
"I get Jake to change the time of his sessions with me, Lauren..."
Lauren looked back at her and smiled at her softly. "Thanks." She whispered walking out of the building as fast as she could.
Lauren pulled her mobile from her pocket seconds after getting outside. Her first instinct was to call him. She needed to hear his voice; an instant balm to soothe her tattered soul. She pressed his name on the screen and lifted it to her ear, hearing the ringing start.
"Babe..." he said softly. Her breath hitched and she inhaled sharply, her hand covering her mouth to try and muffle the sob that escaped. "Babe, talk to me..." he whispered, "Please..." he added when she still didn't speak.
"He's married... and getting back together with his wife," she sobbed. He said nothing and she didn't need him to... to know he was on the other end of the line was enough for her... for now. "I've become the person I detest..." she whispered.
"You're nothing like those women, Lauren..." he told her, "You're beautiful and you have a beautiful soul. There isn't a nasty bone in your body and you see the good in people, even when you should really know better."
"Joey..." she whispered.
"No, listen to me, babe..." he said, his voice cutting her off. "It wasn't that serious, right?"
"I slept with him, Joe..." she whispered.
There was a brief pause and Lauren wished she could take back her last words. She hadn't meant to hurt him but she knew she just had. "You thought things were over with his wife, yeah?"
"Then you did nothing wrong. The only person who should be feeling guilty is him. And you don't have to see him again now you know, do you?"
"They're moving to the square," she whispered.
"I know I was planning on ending it with him... but it hurts. It hurts so badly. I really wish you were here, Joey..." Lauren whispered. "I need to feel your arms around me... I need you to hold me and tell me everything is going to be okay."
"Everything is going to be okay, babe." He said gently. Lauren started to cry harder, wishing he was there with her. "Stay there..." he said, "I'll call you back in a couple of minutes."
"Joey?" she said but he'd already ended the call. She waited, hoping he wasn't making a fool of her. As soon as it rang she answered the call, "Joey?" she whispered.
"Your dad's on his way to pick you up, babe."
"I don't want my dad... I want you..." she cried.
"I know, babe... but I can't be the person you want me to be yet. I need to sort my head out or we'll just end up back where we were a few months ago. Neither of us is in the right place for a relationship with each other, babe. You know that and I do too..."
"You said you'd be there for me... Were you lying, just like every other person in my life has?"
"No, babe. You are everything to me and you know I'm not lying when I tell you I love you. I couldn't lie to you, even if I wanted to." He said, a slight laugh in his voice, despite the seriousness of the situation, "You didn't believe me when I told you I didn't love you in the hospital... you didn't believe me when I said the same thing and left the square the first time. You didn't even believe me when I ended our relationship so don't start doubting my feelings now." He paused, taking a deep breath, "I wasn't lying when I said I would be there for you. I am, whenever you need me, I promise."
"I need you now..."
"No, you don't, babe. You think you do... but really you need your dad. He's the only person who can convince you that everything will be okay. You don't need me..."
"I will always need you, Joe." She told him. She looked up, "Dad's here..." she told him, watching as her father got out of the car and leant against it.
"I'll call you tonight, babe." He said softly. "I love you..." he told her.
"Love you too..." she whispered, ending the call quickly and running to her dad. Max hugged his daughter tightly, feeling her breakdown against his chest.
"It's going to be okay, Lauren..." he told her softly.
It turned out her dad wasn't lying. It was okay, sometimes better than that and sometimes worse but generally okay. The months passed, life returned to some semblance of normality in Albert Square. Jake moved to the square with his wife and daughter and Lauren avoided them intently. The first time she saw him with his wife resulted in another tear filled call to Joey and it took him some time before she calmed down and stopped crying. Seeing someone she liked with her most recent ex brought a whole new vulnerability to the fore. She felt like a fool for not picking it up at the counsellor's office but she hadn't. She never would've guessed that Jake's wife was Sadie and it was just a little too close to home for comfort as far as Lauren was concerned.
Talking to Joey had helped though. They'd spoken for an hour and she could hear in his voice that he was a little better too. He had left his mum's again and he told her about his plans for the future. He was trying to line up a job running a bar and she could hear the excitement in his voice as he spoke about it. She wished she could be there with him; that this was something they could embark on together but she said nothing, knowing what his response would be. There was only so many times she could hear him say no.
Joey called her one evening when Lauren was in the Vic with her family and she walked out of the pub quickly, wanting to be alone when they spoke. "Happy birthday, babe..." he whispered into the phone.
"You remembered," she sighed.
"As if I could forget anything about you, Lauren," he told her. "You are pretty much the only thing I think of," he told her.
"I am...?" she whispered, unable to stop the butterfly feeling building in her stomach at his words.
"Of course, babe." He said. He was silent for a few seconds and Lauren held her breath, "You look amazing..." he whispered and Lauren stood, turning on the spot and staring into the darkness, trying to see him.
"You're here?" she asked, wanting to make sure she hadn't misunderstood.
"I needed to see you." He admitted.
"I need to see you too." She breathed into the phone. There was silence at the other end of the phone and Lauren held her breath, "Joey?" she said.
"Turn around, babe."
It took her a second to realise his voice hadn't come through her mobile and she spun round, seeing him standing there in front of her, looking as gorgeous as he had the last time she had seen him. "JOEY!" she cried, smiling at him and throwing herself into his arms.
"Happy birthday, babe," he whispered in her ear, his arms wrapping tightly around her body. She moaned into his jacket as she felt his arms holding her. "I shouldn't be here but I needed to see you." He whispered.
"I really don't mind..." she said softly. "It feels good to see you again... and I really didn't expect it tonight."
"I had to see you and hold you..." he breathed into her hair. "I've missed you, babe."
"I know, Joe... You tell me every time we speak..."
"I mean it."
"I know." She said simply.
"There's something I need to tell you... and you aren't going to like it..." he said.
Lauren pulled away from him, "You've met someone else, haven't you?" she said, taking a couple of steps backwards as she stared at his face.
"No, babe..." he said, stepping towards her again. They continued moving until Lauren's back was pressed against the fence around the garden, "I've told you, you're it for me..." he whispered, his hand lifting and brushing her hair back from her face. Lauren sighed and pressed her face into the palm of his hand, relieved she'd chosen to wear her hair down tonight.
"I'm leaving..." he said softly.
She laughed and stared at him, "Joey, you've already left..."
"I've found a job at a bar and I'm leaving..." he clarified.
"Where?" she whispered.
"I'm sorry I'm telling you this tonight... I don't want to spoil your birthday."
"Tell me where..." she said, stepping close to him, her hands running up his chest and winding around his neck.
"Bermuda..." he murmured.
"You trying to get lost?" she smiled.
"I'm being serious... My flight leaves in the morning..."
"Oh..." she whispered.
"I needed to see you before I left..." he said, "I guess it's pretty cruel to turn up and then leave again but I couldn't go without telling you."
Lauren stared into his eyes and saw the emotion he so rarely showed anyone. "Kiss me..." she said softly. He stared at her and she could see the indecision on his face, "It's the least you can do, Joe... seeing as how you didn't bring me a present..."
"Well, when you put it like that..." he said, smirking at her. His mouth lowered to hers and Lauren moaned into his mouth as she was reminded about the perfection that was kissing Joey Branning. His arms were around her again and he pressed her against the fence behind her, his body setting hers alight with his touch.
"I need you, Joey..." she gasped as his mouth caressed her jaw.
"You should be going back inside, babe..." he breathed in her ear, "Your family and friends will be wondering where you are..."
"You're going now?" she said, biting her lip at the possibility of him leaving again.
"I have to, babe."
"I'm sorry..." he whispered, "My flight is in a few hours and I need to go to the airport."
"I don't think I can watch you leave again..." she admitted.
"Then you go back in the pub now and I'll go once you're inside." He told her.
"Is this the last time I'm going to see you?" she whispered to him.
"Of course it isn't..." he told her.
"But you're going to Bermuda..." she said.
"Well they have these newfangled things called planes that transport you from one place to another. You should really give it a try..." he told her, smiling at her again.
"You want me to come and see you?" she asked him.
"Yes." He said and really there was nothing else left for him to say.
"I'd better go back inside..." she said.
"One last kiss," he breathed, his mouth back on hers in an instant, his tongue dancing against hers as it swept around her mouth. "I'll see you soon, babe..." he whispered.
"I'll start saving now..." she told him.
"I'll call you when I get there..."
"What's the time difference over there?" she asked.
"Four hours behind here." He replied.
"I'll call you as well." She said.
"Good... Now go back inside..." he said.
"Yes, boss..." she said, smirking at him. She turned away from him and yelped as his hand smacked her bum, "Joey!" she giggled.
"So hot in that dress, babe..."
"I wish I could say I wore it for you..." She admitted. She strode back over to the pub but paused as she reached the door, "I love you, Joseph Branning..." she said softly, not turning to look at him.
"I love you too..." he said, his voice just reaching her ears.
She pushed open the door, turning her head and looking at him one last time. He smiled at her and mouthed his last line to her again. She smiled back at him again. She turned back into the pub and saw her dad at the bar, "Everything okay?" he asked her.
"Everything's great, dad." She said and for the first time in so many weeks, it really was.
Joey and Lauren began a very long distance romance from that point on and people began to notice significant changes in Lauren. Her family noticed that she was happy and seemed contented with her life. She was working hard, cleaning at the Vic, working with her dad at the car lot – where she had proved to possess the Branning charm offensive when it came to sales and she'd also taken a third job, working in Scarlett's as a waitress. Ian had been feeling very remorseful, after the evidence debacle and he'd given Lauren a job as a waitress again, although he was a little reluctant initially. He had been persuaded (and possibly guilted into it) by Peter though. Lauren was a little hesitant herself at first but after her first couple of shifts and once she got her head around serving alcohol to the customers, she found she enjoyed it. And more importantly she was good at it. As with her sales skills at the car lot she was personable with the customers, able to suggest dishes if they were unsure about what to choose and as a result she was tipped heavily and every time she put the money in her jar in her bedroom she knew she was a small step closer to getting to go out to see Joey.
It took almost eighteen months for Lauren to save enough money, after helping her family clear some of her father's legal debts and once she had enough she decided she was going to surprise Joey and turn up unannounced. Obviously, there was a small risk with this; she could arrive and find him otherwise engaged with another woman but she trusted him. They'd spoken often enough that she knew he was busy with his work... and he reminded her on a regular basis that she was the only one for him. It was now time for her to bite the bullet and see if he meant what he said.
It was a longer flight than she'd realised and by the time the plane landed Lauren was exhausted. She pulled her suitcase behind her out of the front of the airport and hailed a taxi. She gave him the name of the bar Joey worked at and she tried to remain calm as she eagerly looked out of the window taking in the scenery. In truth there was only one thing she wanted to see and she was literally counting the minutes until she saw him. It had been a long time since they'd seen each other, now almost twenty months since she'd last set eyes on him.
She paid for the taxi, tipping him and probably giving him more than was necessary but she was so eager to get to the love of her life she was unsure how much cash she actually gave him.
She walked through the doors of the bar and saw him behind the bar. His back was to her and she walked over quickly, taking a seat on one of the bar stools and waiting for him to turn around. His face when he saw her was a picture and she wished she'd had her camera handy to take proof of the moment.
"Babe..." he said softly.
"Surprise!" she whispered.
He strode out from behind the bar and then he was kissing her and it was her turn to have her breath taken away. She clung to him, feeling his arms holding her against him. He kissed her desperately and Lauren knew that he hadn't been lying at all about how much he'd missed her; not that she'd ever really thought he had been. "How long are you here for?" he asked her softly as they pulled apart.
"Two weeks..." she told him.
He stared at her face and she could see so many emotions on his face, "Give me a few minutes..." he told her, his hand cupping the side of her face. She nodded and watched as he walked away from her again. His ass was so fine, she couldn't help thinking as he left her. She smiled at him when he returned, taking her hand in his and taking her case from her, "Let's get out of here, babe..."
"Aren't you working?"
"I'm owed some holiday..." he said softly. "I haven't taken a day off in six months so my boss just said I could go. The bar's quiet tonight anyway."
"Then let's go before he changes his mind."
Joey led Lauren (and her case) to his jeep outside the bar and soon they were driving back to his house. He'd been lucky enough to get a small but lovely hut situated on a beach a short drive from where he worked and as he drove up to it Lauren was stunned by what she saw.
"Wow, it's beautiful..." she murmured.
"I know of only one thing more beautiful," he whispered, his fingers pushing some of her hair behind her ear. Lauren glanced at him and her face reddened as she saw the intensity on his face.
"Joe..." she murmured but the rest of what she was going to say was swallowed by his kiss. Lauren was unaware of anything apart from his lips against hers but when they pulled apart again they were standing at his doorway. How that happened was anyone's guess.
"I can't believe you're here," he murmured, his breath shallow as he watched her face.
"I've been working really hard to save money so I could come and see you." She admitted.
"I've been working hard too... trying to save money for you to come over..." he told her with a smile.
"Great minds think alike..." she murmured. "So are you going to show me around?" she asked, glancing at the still closed door.
"Nope..." he said and Lauren looked at him in shock, "I've something else in mind..." he breathed, pushing open the door and pulling on her hand. She was pressed against the wall in the entrance of his house within seconds and then his mouth was attacking hers again, almost as if they hadn't kissed for an eternity outside.
"Joey..." she whimpered as his fingers clawed at her clothes, stripping them both quickly. She moaned as he eased himself into her body and for the first time in more than two years she remembered what she'd been missing out on. She was completely sober for the first time as they did this and she was finally appreciating how good sex with Joey was.
Neither of them lasted very long, it had been too long for both of them and Joey leant against her, pressing her further into the wall as they both tried to catch their breath afterwards, "Well that didn't last as long as I'd hoped it would..." he breathed against her skin.
"We've got plenty of time, Joe." She said, "So there's time for us to practice our technique..." she giggled. "You know what they say, practice makes perfect..."
"You already are perfect, babe..." he told her, kissing her cheek tenderly.
"So are you..." she whispered.
"I can't believe how much I've missed you... it wasn't until I saw you that I knew how much I need you in my life..."
His words brought tears to her eyes and she knew everything between them would be okay again. "I love you too, Joey." She whispered. He kissed her again, more gently this time and she lost herself in the kiss once more.
The sun was beginning to rise several hours later and Lauren and Joey were watching it through the window as they lay in his bed. They had put in some serious practice since she'd first arrived and each time was just a little closer to perfection than the time before. Lauren's head was resting on Joey's chest, her fingers tracing softly across his skin, "I've missed this..." she told him.
"What the sex?" he teased her.
"No... idiot!" she said, hitting him in mock fierceness. "Lying in your arms... it's so quiet and peaceful here and I can allow myself to stop and take a breath. My life is so hectic and I hardly stop until I pass out in my bed... being here with you is nice... I'd forgotten how nice it was."
"Nice?" he said, his hand drifting down her back and settling on her ass, "You are a weird girl at times, Lauren..." he chuckled.
"I'm your weird girl though..." she whispered, her words making him stop laughing.
"Yes, you are..." he told her seriously.
The two weeks passed very quickly. Joey was able to get the time off work and a lot of that time they had spent in bed. They had practiced many, many times and it had made for perfection as far as they were both concerned. As the second week passed Lauren's return to the UK was praying on her mind. They were sitting in his bath one evening in silence as they watched the shadows of the setting sun dance on the wall.
"I don't want to go home..." she whispered.
"Then don't..." he said, "Stay here with me..." Silence hung in the air and Joey kissed her shoulder, "I mean it... don't go home." He whispered.
"I want to, Joey... so badly but I have to go home. I can't stay here, I need to sort things out at home. I can't just abandon my responsibilities."
"Wow... you've certainly changed, babe..." he murmured, kissing her neck softly. "So you go home, sort things out and then come back here."
"It took me so long to save the money for the ticket to come here this time..." she said, turning her head and stretching her neck to kiss the underside of his jaw.
"I have money saved..."
"I'm not using all of your savings..." she protested.
"I can save more and it's what I want, babe. It's all I've ever wanted." He told her, "And, my boss spoke to me when I went to work the other morning and he wants to take more of a back seat at the bar. He wants me to run it for him, so I'll have more money coming in... You could get a job there if you'd like... or there's the restaurant along the beach, they're always looking for staff..."
"I'll think about it..." she whispered to him.
"I know you will..."
Today was the day Lauren had been dreading. Joey was driving her to airport and then she would be flying home... alone. They hadn't spoken again about his offer but it had been on Lauren's mind a lot. A very large part of her wanted to be with him but there was this little part of her that was holding back; that was scared to take that leap of faith.
Joey stopped the car and they both sat in silence. Joey reached for her hand and squeezed it tightly. She looked at his face and found him staring at her, "What are you doing?" she asked.
"Memorising what you look like..." he whispered, his thumb brushing the back of her hand.
"That's what they have photo's for, Joe..." she teased.
"I know that..." he reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out something that looked like it had seen better days. He held it out towards her. Lauren took it with her free hand and unfolded it. She found she was staring at a photo of the pair of them that she knew used to be on his bedside table.
"I didn't know you had this..."
"It goes with me everywhere," he admitted. "It's the first thing I look at every day and the last thing too." He told her. "It gets me through the days when I'm feeling low and missing you badly." He admitted.
"Joe..." she breathed.
"I don't want you to leave..." he murmured.
"I don't want to go." She said. He lifted his hand and brushed her hair behind her ear, his thumb stroking her cheek.
"Stay..." he whispered.
"I wish I could but I've got to go back... they're expecting me..." she said. Joey sighed internally, knowing he wasn't going to win this discussion.
"Then think about my offer, babe, please..." he told her.
"I will, I promise." She said. They walked into the airport and Lauren checked in her bags. They stood in the centre of the terminal, their hands clasped together as they stood looking at each other. Lauren rose on her tiptoes and kissed him softly, pouring all her emotions into that one action. There was no need for words because they both knew what the other was trying to say.
All too soon Lauren's flight was called and she pulled herself out of his arms, her hands lifting and cupping his face, "Thank you, Joey..." she whispered. "I love you..."
Joey couldn't help thinking that her words sounded like a goodbye but he hoped he was wrong. "You know how I feel, babe..." he murmured. He hugged her tightly, closing his eyes and memorising this moment in case he never saw her again. "Call me when you get home..." he asked her softly.
"I will..." she said, tears running down her cheeks as they pulled apart.
She wasn't the only one crying and Joey wasn't ashamed of it. He loved her too fucking much to consider trying to hide how he felt, he'd done that in the past and he wouldn't do it again. In some ways this was even worse than when he'd left the square; it felt more final than it had then and Joey couldn't help thinking he wasn't going to see her again. And it was ironic that it was her walking away from him this time.
Lauren walked away from him, turning every few seconds to look at him. Both of them were in tears and as she got further away his image became more blurred. Finally he was out of sight and she walked quickly, needing to get onto the plane before she completely dissolved into tears.
Lauren cried most of the flight home and she was still crying when she met her dad outside the airport. He hugged her and ushered her to his car. She was inconsolable for days after she returned. Even speaking to Joey on the phone hadn't made her feel better. Every minute since she got back to the UK she was thinking about how she should be somewhere else. She was just scared to broach the subject with her family... because it would mean her going somewhere thousands of miles away from them and their support. And that scared her and it would scare them too.
Seven weeks after she got home Lauren was distracted. She had a really bad feeling and after a quick trip to the shop and making a purchase she'd never anticipated making, she dashed back to her house and locked herself in the bathroom.
An extremely long few minutes later, she had the confirmation she needed and she lurched from joy to confusion to devastation with each passing second. There was only one thing she needed to do and she dialled a very familiar number. As she did she realised it would be the early hours of the morning where he was but it was too late now because he had answered the phone.
"Babe...?" he asked and Lauren could hear the sleep in his voice. The sound of his voice set her off again and his concern rose as he heard her cry. He was miles from her though and there was little he could do from where he was, other than listening to her and talking to her. "Talk to me, babe..." he said softly.
"I'm..." She stopped. She wasn't sure what to say. Okay, it was obvious what she needed to say but it felt wrong to just blurt it out to him over the phone. She wanted to do it in person, she wanted to see his face when she told him. That was impossible though and she knew she was just worrying him by not saying anything. "I hope you don't hate me, Joe..." she whispered.
"I never could, babe, you know that." He told her.
"What I'm about to tell you may change your mind." She said.
"Say it because the possibilities of what it might be are driving me insane."
"I'm pregnant, Joey..." she murmured, holding her breath after she'd vocalised it for the first time.
"I'm gonna be a dad?" he whispered.
All her doubts vanished. It transpired that she didn't need to see his face to know how he felt. She could hear it in his voice. He wanted this baby, almost as much as she now realised she did. "Yes, babe." She told him.
"Please tell me this means you're going to come and live with me now?" he asked her softly, biting his lip as he sensed her rejection looming in the distance.
"You've convinced me, Joe..." she murmured. "I guess I'm going to get lost with you." She chuckled. "I'll talk to my dad and Abs tonight." She told him. She paused, "Are you sure you're happy about this, Joe?" she breathed.
"I'm getting the two things I want most in the world, why wouldn't I be happy about it?" he asked her.
Lauren relaxed and smiled, tears filling her eyes as relief ebbed through her. "I'll call you after I've spoken to them and we can talk about everything."
"I love you, babe."
"Love you too..." she said, "We both do..." she added with a giggle.
Telling her dad and sister had been much easier than telling her mum. She knew her mum was only worried about her being so far away from them but Lauren knew she was stronger now. She didn't tell any of them about the baby until they'd all accepted her decision to join Joey. Initially they were shocked and she knew they thought she was only going because of the baby but she managed to convince them that this was what they both wanted.
Her dad and Kirsty surprised her by offering the buy the plane ticket for her and then she was in a heady schedule of packing and arranging things. Her friends were sad when she told them she was leaving and she didn't tell them about the baby as she was only a few weeks pregnant.
She was desperate to go. Now the decision was made she just wanted to be there with him and she knew it was her Branning impatience showing itself... and maybe a few pregnancy hormones thrown into the mix. Finally it got too much for her and she went to see her dad at the car lot.
"What is it, babe?" he asked, frowning as she burst into tears. He was standing before her straight away and he hugged her tightly. "Is it the baby? Joey?" he asked her.
"I miss him, dad..." she whispered. "I want to be with him now... I can't wait another ten days..." she told him.
He looked at her and he could see how much this meant to her, "Leave it with me, babe... We'll talk about it tonight over dinner, okay?" She nodded her head and he wiped away her tears. "Go and have a nap, babe..." he told her as she yawned. He knew the pregnancy was making her more tired than ever and she'd been forced to give up the cleaning at the pub earlier than she'd originally planned because she was too exhausted by the end of the day. The job at the car lot had been the next thing to finish and now she only worked a few shifts a week at Scarlett's.
Lauren walked down the stairs that evening and found her dad, Kirsty, Abi and her nan waiting for her. "What's going on?" she asked.
"I've changed your flight," her dad told her. "You're flying in two days time..."
"Really?" she whispered. He nodded his head and Lauren flung herself at him, "Thanks daddy..." she breathed.
"You're welcome, babe." He said, squeezing her tightly. "I've spoken to Ian and Abi is going to cover the remainder of your shifts at Scarlett's." He told her. "You just need to pack your bags."
"I can't believe I'm going there a week early..." she laughed, "I think I'm going to surprise Joey," she told them.
"I told your mum," Max said, "I thought it was a conversation you could do without having. She's not pleased, obviously but she accepts that it's happening. She's transferring some money from the sale of Booty to you for the baby and for your future. She's set some money aside for Abi and Oscar too for when they strike out on their own. She feels guilty for tearing the family apart, we both do."
"Thanks dad." Lauren whispered.
"There is one other condition..." Kirsty said.
"You don't argue when we say that we're throwing you a leaving party in the Vic tomorrow night..."
"But..." Lauren protested.
"She said no arguments, babe," her dad mock-whispered to her.
"Fine..." Lauren sighed.
The party had been really good, much better than Lauren had anticipated. She was able to say goodbye to everyone that was important to her. Apart from her mum, Oscar and Uncle Jack. She had spoken to her mum and Oscar the morning after her plans changed and her mum had told her how proud of her she was and she was looking forward to meeting her grandchild in the not too distant future. Oscar had been a difficult conversation as he didn't really understand how far away she was going to be but it had been nice to speak to the little munchkin. She had called her uncle too and he had told her how pleased he was that her and Joey had finally sorted their act out and done what everyone had known was the right thing for them in the first place. Lauren had laughed and cried by the time she was done speaking to her favourite uncle.
She'd spent the rest of the day packing her things, including the few bits and pieces she'd brought for the baby. Nothing too major... a couple of outfits she'd fallen in love with and a teddy bear. Everything else they would get in Bermuda.
The flight seemed shorter this time and she knew it was because she was going there forever this time. She was excited to see him again and she couldn't wait to see his face, feel his arms around her and his lips on hers. She repeated her journey once she left the airport and walked into the bar, finding Joey exactly where he was the last time she'd arrived.
He was serving another customer and hadn't seen her, just like the first time. "What can I get you?" he asked after putting the money in the till.
He still hadn't looked in her direction and she smiled at him, falling for him all over again, "You..." she said, her smile growing as he looked up at her in shock.
"You aren't supposed to be here till next week..." he murmured.
"I can go and come back again... if that's better for you..." she teased.
His hand grabbed hers tightly and he squeezes it, "You are never leaving me again..." he breathed.
"I seem to remember that it's usually you leaving me, Joe..." she whispered, a hint of seriousness to her voice.
"Won't happen again I can promise you..." He said softly, leaning his arms on the bar and kissing her softly.
"Good to know," she said with a smile.
"So how come you're here a week early?" he asked.
"I couldn't wait any longer and dad and Kirsty changed the ticket for me." She told him.
"And you're okay?" he asked in concern, his eyes dropping briefly to glance at her still flat stomach.
"I'm fine, Joe." She said, smiling at him fondly.
Lauren woke the next morning but her smile fell as she realised she was alone in the bed. She slipped out from between the sheets, pulling the sheet off the bed and wrapping it around her body. She looked out of the window at the front of the hut and saw Joey sitting in one of the sun lounger's that looked out towards the sea. She knew he liked to sit there and think about things.
She walked out of the house and over to where he sat, "Is this seat taken?" she asked, gesturing at the next lounger.
Joey turned his head, smiling as he saw her, "I'm waiting for someone..." he said. Lauren ignored him and sat down anyway, Joey smirking at her as she did so.
"I'm sure she won't mind if I sit down till she gets here." Lauren teased him. She liked this light-hearted banter between them, she always had done.
"I guess there's no harm in that..." Joey whispered. "I haven't seen you around here before..."
Lauren smiled, "I'm new in town..." she said. "I came here a few months ago... we might've seen each other then?" she said with a small shrug, trying to appear nonchalant but not quite pulling it off.
"I'm sure I would've remembered..." he said, turning his face back to the sea and leaning his head back.
Lauren laughed at his words, "I'm sure you would've..." she confirmed. There was silence for a few seconds. "I've missed you, Joe." She finally said.
"I've missed you too, babe." He murmured.
They sat there for some time, absorbing the scene before them, their hands and fingers entwined. Joey tugged on her hand and it was the only incentive Lauren needed to move to where he was sitting. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close to him as they watched the sun climb the sky.
"What are you thinking about?" Lauren whispered softly, her head resting on his chest as they both lay on his lounger, 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 there you go... what did you think? Let me know your thoughts. I'm off now to write my new story... got quite a lot of that to write yet.