Cole filed for divorce right after the horrible meeting at BASE when his world fell apart. He obtained sole custody of the children. Avery didn’t even try to contest it. The divorce was final within a month. Telling them they may never see their mother again was the most difficult thing Cole ever had to do. Months of therapy seemed to help, or maybe it was just time.
Avery’s arrest and upcoming trial made front page news, both local and national. They sensationalized the story as one of greed, sex and betrayal. The mysterious disappearance of Spencer Granville only added to the sensationalism. It was speculated that he got wind of his impending arrest and fled the country, leaving his lover to take the fall.
Cole tried his best to protect the kids. He was forced to take them out of school to keep the kids from teasing them, or the photographers from snapping pictures. Cole was very glad Sarah was a retired school teacher and could easily home school them.
Six months after Avery’s arrest……
Seeing his ex-wife again was something Cole did not want to do, but he couldn’t not go to the trial. He had to do it for Ami. She refused to go, but Noah was like him, he had to be there. Their little boy, William (Will) Benjamin Redcliffe, was only 4 months old. Ami told him she preferred to take care of her future and not live in the past.
When Cole walked into the courtroom with his parents and Noah, it all seemed surreal. Cole hadn’t seen Avery at all since the morning before she was arrested and he wasn’t looking forward to seeing her now. She disgusted him. He had been in therapy for almost six months. He was better now, and off the anti-depressants, but it still hurt to think about the last nine years of his life wasted.
Not long after they were seated, Avery walked in, flanked by her attorneys. She looked so lost and beaten down. Seeing her brought up all the feelings he thought he had dealt with.
When she looked up and they locked eyes, it sent chills down his spine. It was a look of pure hatred. Like everything that happened was his fault. His stomach felt like it was filled with rocks.
Fortunately, only a minute later, the Bailiff stood up. “All stand for the honorable Judge Patterson…..You may be seated.” The judge sat down and banged his gavel and the trial began.
When the attorney for the prosecution began to layout their case, Cole couldn’t take it. It was harder than he thought. He got up to leave the courtroom.
When he turned to walk out, he couldn’t look at anyone and watched his feet as he hurried out the door.
He went into the bathroom and splashed water on his face to stop himself from getting sick.
When he came out, he heard a familiar voice behind him. “Cole….are you okay?” she asked, her voice echoing in the empty space, stopping him in his tracks.
Could it be? he wondered, as he turned to be sure. “Dannie….?”
“I saw you leave the courtroom. I was worried about you. I’m so sorry Cole,” she said. Tears were in glistening in her eyes, and she seemed unsure if he would even want to talk to her.
“Dannie…” he said again, and this time opened his arms for a hug, “Thanks. It’s so good to see you. But, how and why are you even here?” When they released, he motioned towards the seating area and they sat down together.
“I live in Willow Creek now, with my mom. God, the trial is all over the news and, well, I wanted to be here for you. Moral support.”
Cole snorted, “Or to watch the train wreck,” he said, “But, why do you live with your mom?” He was suddenly curious, Avery forgotten for the moment.
She sighed and frowned before answering. “Ryker was cheating on me. So I divorced him. Funny how that worked out. He was always jealous of other guys, and then he was the one to cheat. Well – except for that one time…”
“I’m so sorry Dannie,” said Cole sincerely. Now that he had experienced how bad it hurt to have someone you love cheat, he knew what a horrible lapse in judgment it had been for him to have gone into Dannie’s hotel room all those years ago.
“About Ryker? Or our one time?” she asked with a smirk.
“Both,” he said honestly.
“Don’t be sorry, about either Cole. I’ve had a time to get over it. But this isn’t about me. . How are you holding up?”
Cole sighed. “Lots and lots of therapy and a few antidepressants. Actually I’m off the drugs, but I just couldn’t sit in there and listen. To think I loved her. And I think, at one point, she really did love me too. But what she did….”
“How’s your sister. I didn’t see her, but Noah’s in there.”
“She’s been distancing herself from it. It’s weird. She was the target and could have died. But she pretends like nothing happened. I guess it’s her way of dealing with it. Of course, she does have her hands full with the baby.”
Dannie finally smiled. “I’m happy for them. I never thought Noah would settle down. But maybe, Ami doesn’t want you and your dad to feel bad. Avery was your wife, and she worked for Ben for years. Everyone trusted her.”
“Yes, maybe,” agreed Cole.
Ben’s parents and Noah came out of the courtroom, followed by a steady stream of people that were also inside the courtroom. Suddenly the empty atrium was filled with the buzz of conversation.
“I’m glad you left,” said Ben, “Avery lost it and started yelling so they called a 10 minute recess to get her calm again. I don’t think this trial is going to last long.”
“She’s evil,” said Cole sadly, “But she wasn’t always. Why do people change?”
“Who knows what causes people to lose touch with reality,” said Sofia softly.
Ben turned to Dannie. “Hi Dannie. It’s nice to see you again. I wish it was under better circumstances,” he said and reached out and took her hand.
“Cole’s a good friend Mr. Murdock. I wanted to be here for him,” she replied.
Then she turned to Noah. “Congratulations on your baby and your marriage,” she said.
He smiled proudly and pulled her into a hug. “Thanks Dannie, it’s good to see you. I have pictures.”
Dannie couldn’t help but laugh. “I would love to see them,” she said.
“Well, looks like they are starting again,” said Sofia, ” Maybe we can look later. Cole, why don’t you two stay out here.”
“No Mom, I need to face this,” he said, then he looked at Dannie, “Would you sit with us?”
“Of course,” she said, “Let’s go.”
He took her hand, feeling better with just that little contact between them. They followed the crowd back to the courtroom.
Back in the courtroom, the prosecution began their case, calling up Mickey to comment on the pictures of Avery and Spencer they had sat up on an evidence board.
Some of them were the really bad ones Cole hadn’t seen. Tears began to form. Tears he thought he had already spent.
Dannie noticed and took his hand. He looked at her gratefully. It made it so much easier to know he had a friend sitting there with him.
The prosecution thankfully rested their case and the trial convened until the next day when the defense would present their side. Cole could finally breathe again. He felt like he had been holding his breath through the entire thing.
When they all filed out, Cole didn’t let go of Dannie’s hand. He was hanging onto it like a lifeline. Her touch made it easier to breathe.
When they finally made it outside, Cole didn’t want to go home to his parent’s house. He was too emotionally drained to pretend he was okay for his kids. “Dannie, do you want to grab dinner or do you need to get home to your daughter?”
Dannie smiled sweetly. “I can call Mom and let her know I won’t be home for dinner.”
“Thanks. Uh, can we take your car? I came with my folks,” said Cole.
“Sure,” said Dannie and fished her phone out of her purse.
“What happened to us?” asked Cole as they waited for their food. “We are both grown ass adults with kids, both of us living with our parents.”
“I made too many bad choices. I never should’ve let Ryker talk me into going back with him. I think I felt pressured by my Dad. Weird huh? And then I compounded it by marrying him.”
“I guess, I should have waited to marry Avery too. We ran off to Vegas on a whim, because she got me a puppy.”
Dannie snorted. “I’m sorry. I know it’s not funny, but here we both are,” she said, “right back where we started.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you and Ryker were getting a divorce?” asked Cole.
“It was happening at the same time Ami was in the hospital and I didn’t want to bother you.”
“So, when was it final?” asked Cole.
“Four months ago. I moved here six months ago with Taylor,” she said.
“How’s she taking it?” he asked.
“Well, I have full custody. Ryker gets her whenever he has time, which is almost never. She doesn’t ever want to go. How fun is it for a nine year-old to hang out with a bunch of football players.”
“I wish it had been that easy for the twins. Reagan thought her mother hung the moon. She always wanted to be like her. Ryan is a bit more laid back. He was never as close to her as Reagan tried to be. We started family counseling right after she was arrested. Thank goodness they have their grandparents. My Mom adores them and they love her. Also, we have a Nanny that is homeschooling them until all of this ugly mess is over. At least that is one constant.”
“I’m so sorry. But at least you have a great support system. My Dad was not happy about my divorce. Tried to blame his sleeping around on me. His hero had fallen and he didn’t want to admit it. But mom let him have it, so he’s dealing.”
“Well, my poor father is carrying around so much guilt. I wish he would do counseling too. It really helped me and the kids. It doesn’t make it go away, but it does help relieve some of the guilt, so you can at least learn to cope.”
Dannie’s smile faltered, and she looked thoughtful for a moment before speaking. “I don’t know if you ever lose the guilt, not deep down.” Her eyes were glassy. She blinked quickly and sniffed away the tears that were swimming in her blue eyes.
“Hey….you okay?” asked Cole.
“Yes,” she said and smiled, “just, all of this is so emotional.”
“So, any plans to move out?” asked Cole.
“Yes. Just trying to decide where I want to live. I’m not going to stay here. I need to get away and start over,” she said, sounding sad about it.
Cole was disappointed to hear that. “Why not stay here? I just got my best friend back. I don’t want to lose you again.”
Dannie smiled. “It’s complicated Cole. I need to get away.”
“I’m not sure what’s so complicated, but I bet we could find something in Newcrest you could afford. I’m actually moving out of Newcrest. I am buying my grandfather’s house in Willow Creek. He’s going to live with my parents. It’s plenty big enough for the twins and for Sarah to live with us. I sold the house that Avery and I built. I couldn’t go back there.”
“Sarah?” she asked.
“The Nanny,” said Cole grinning.
Dannie’s eyes got big. “Oh, of course. I just…you hadn’t mentioned you were seeing anyone.”
“I’m not. I’ll probably be single the rest of my life,” said Cole. “I have a bad track record when it comes to women.”
Dannie frowned. “Oh. I’m sorry. So, what do you think about Brindleton Bay? You lived there four years.”
Cole got serious and reached across the table taking Dannie’s hand in his. “Dannie, don’t move away. You’re my very best friend. We can be here for each other. Our kids are about the same age, I’m sure they would get along.”
Dannie pulled her hand away and picked up her wine. “I’ll be leaving in about three months. Sadly, it won’t be before school starts. But, I am getting my books published. I finally got a publisher interested in my sleazy romance novels. They want it to be a series, so I have to make a lot of edits, but that’s easy enough. Once they are ready, I will get an advance. Then I will be able to support me and Taylor without depending on money from Ryker.” When she mentioned her daughter’s name her face softened and she smiled. “You would like Taylor. She’s a very sweet child.”
Cole’s heart warmed at the obvious love she had for her daughter and the corners of his mouth inched up. “I’m sure she is. She has an awesome mother. Why don’t you bring her by the house this weekend. The twins would love to have someone to play with. And it would be a nice distraction from all the drama.”
Dannie’s face fell. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t want to introduce her to a bunch of new friends just to break her heart when we move again.”
“Well, I’m just gonna have to make it so great here, that you want to stay.”
“Cole, I really don’t think so, but I do appreciate the thought.”
Cole got serious again. “Are you going to go to the rest of the trial?” he asked hopefully.
“I will, if you want me there. That’s what friends are for, right?” she said smiling.
“Yes, please, if you don’t mind the salaciousness of the trial, I could really use a friend. It’s just so hard to know I loved that woman. Maybe I smothered her and she ran. I don’t know. And sorry if I almost broke your hand today, but I couldn’t hold Noah’s hand like that, Ami might get jealous. ”
“She was foolish and greedy. It wasn’t your fault. And Cole, you can hold my hand and squeeze as hard as you need.” She stopped and held up her pinky finger grinning. “Just be careful of the pinky.”
Cole laughed a belly laugh. Probably the first since his Dad told him about Avery six months ago. He loved Dannie dearly. She was such a good friend. “If I get carried away, remind me, but I’ll try to be careful of that pinky finger.”