Okay. I know I said I wasn't going to have any more stories in the Revelations Saga but this one is a special treat for all of you. I originally thought this to be a Frank-centric story but I thought it would be better with Joe. It's a one-shot, done deal though so don't expect any more. It is going to be long and very dark at times but so was the original story that it stems from (take a wild guess what that is, lol). This does take place over a year after the events of Waiting in the Wings and it gives light to a few characters that some of you were asking about as to what happened to them though some are only mentioned. So, enjoy and tell me what you think. God bless!
It's a Wonderful Life, Joe Hardy
"What were you thinking, Joe?" boomed Fenton Hardy. He stood behind his desk glaring at his younger son who stood before him looking at the floor. "You knew you were exhausted and I don't care why! You should have called someone to replace you! Now look! Stacy was seriously injured! Hell, she could have been killed!"
"I know, Dad!" yelled Joe, looking up at his father. "You don't need to remind me how much of a screw-up I am! I get reminded of it nearly every day by someone! Would you be yelling if it were Frank who did this?"
"Hell yes, I would!" his father cried. "Both of you are not perfect…"
"But Frank can do no wrong," he grumbled.
"That's not what I was going to say, Joe."
"You were thinking it though! I know how this family is! The perfect son and the screw up! Hell, my wife even reminds me whenever she bugs me about another kid! She wants a girl even more now that Frank and Nancy have Olivia and Bess has Charlotte! And if George and Dean were to ever have any and it's a girl, I'm really screwed!"
"That is not the issue here, Joe!" Fenton replied.
"Well, I'm making it an issue, Dad!" Joe yelled. "Let's get it out now! I'm tired of the expectations that you guys seem to put on me! I'm not Mr. Perfect like Frank! I don't want any more kids like Vanessa does! Three boys is hassle enough as it is!"
"Joe Hardy!" screamed a voice. He turned to see his wife glaring at him from the doorway. She was holding their youngest, David, while William and CJ stood nearby. "A hassle? Is that what you call our family?"
"Don't you 'Van' me, buster!" she shouted. David started crying at the sound of her voice and she tried to soothe him. "I came here as soon as I heard about Stacy, to offer support and you're bashing us? You know what? Do me a favor and don't come home tonight. The kids will see you in the morning for Christmas."
Before Joe could say anything, Vanessa pushed the boys out of the room and slammed the door behind her. His heart pounded in his chest, on the verge of breaking down. Joe thought about that day and the events that unfolded. He was supposed to be partners with Stacy but he fell asleep with the radio off when she was calling for help. By the time he heard anything the paramedics were already there and Chief Collig was knocking on his window.
"You should have called someone to help," stated Fenton drawing Joe's attention away from the closed door. "Why didn't you?"
"Because I thought I could handle it, okay?" Joe looked away, fighting back the tears that wanted to come. He knew he screwed up big time and with it being Christmas Eve made it all the worse for the situation. "Look, I'm sorry! I was up late last night…"
"Playing video games again?" his father snarled. "Come on, Joe! You're a grown man! Stop playing kiddy games and grow the hell up!"
"If you let me finish…"
"No, we are finished."
"Get out, Joe," Fenton said softly. "We'll deal with this after Christmas."
Joe's lip quivered slightly as he stared dumbfounded at his father. He then shook his head and quickly walked to the door, stopping just before he left.
"You know what, Dad?" Joe replied, a tear running down his face. "I have a Christmas wish for everyone. I wish I was never born. Then maybe your lives would be perfect instead of me screwing it up for you."
"Joe, wait!" But he didn't listen. Joe grabbed his coat and walked out of the building housing Hardy Investigations. Even though there was snow falling on that Christmas Eve, shoppers were still bustling about doing their last minute shopping in the town. As he walked to his car, Joe grumbled about his life. He never expected it to be ideal but he also didn't think he'd get dumped on by his family and friends.
Sliding into his seat, Joe looked down at the toy car sitting in the console. He picked up the broken wheel that had popped off when CJ was playing with it late the night before. The child loved the car, playing with it every chance he had. It was part of the reason he was up late. CJ didn't want to go to bed and was playing with the car when it fell off the staircase. The wheel broke off and the child cried loudly, waking up the rest of the family. When Joe said he would fix it, CJ rushed to his daddy and hugged him, melting the man's heart. Joe studied the wheel as he sat in the car. He knew it was not fixable but he also had a replacement that he bought right before Stacy asked for help. Placing the wheel in the pocket of his jeans, Joe started the car and pulled out of the parking space.
His cell phone blared in the car, interrupting Joe's thoughts. He growled seeing that the call was from his father and ignored it as he drove out of town. Several more calls came in and each one was ignored. First it was his father, then Vanessa, his mother, and finally Frank who had arrived in Bayport with Nancy and Olivia earlier that day. Annoyed, Joe muted the phone and sighed, enjoying the silence that finally came to the car.
Snow continued to fall in earnest but he ignored that too. What he couldn't ignore though was the sputtering sound his car was making. At first, Joe didn't know what was going on but then saw that the gas gauge was well below the "E." in all the time he was out that day and the errands he ran, he had forgotten to fill the gas tank. As the car surged one last time, Joe cursed himself for the terrible luck of running out of gas during a snow storm on Christmas Eve.
"Why me, God?" he screamed, hitting the steering wheel. He stared up at the ceiling and screamed again. "Why?"
Joe hit the steering wheel several more times, cursing at each hit before he stopped, his chest heaving. Joe looked down at his phone and moaned. No Service flashed across the screen. Angry, he threw the phone into the dark depths of the car and stared out the window, watching the snow fall. Joe looked around seeing nothing but trees and empty space.
"See? This is why I shouldn't be here anymore," he growled. "Even I'll be better off!"
Shaking his head, Joe leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to block out the events of the day. Soon the only thing that could be heard was the sound of his snoring echoing in the car.
Joe could smell the aroma of sausages cooking on a fire, warmth engulfing him like a soft blanket. He slowly opened his eyes, taking in his surroundings. The car was gone and he lay on a couch, a fire roaring in the fireplace before him.
"Oh, good. You're up," replied a voice that sounded familiar but yet wasn't. Joe looked up to see a man standing above him though he couldn't see his face. "Hungry?"
"Where am I?" Joe croaked, slowly getting up. His stomach growled loudly and the man laughed.
"I take that as a 'yes.'" The man walked away, his face in shadow. Joe reluctantly followed, wondering what was going on. As he walked into the kitchen, he took in his surroundings. The kitchen looked old yet clean. There were not many lights on and a candle burned at the table. He watched the man cook the sausages in a skillet then he broke two eggs. There was something vaguely familiar about the man but Joe still wasn't sure who he was.
"I know you like eggs, Joe," the man replied, scooping a heap onto a plate. Sausage soon followed along with some potatoes. "Coffee?"
"How…how do you know my name?" Joe stammered. "Who are you and where are we?"
"Oh, you know me, Joe," the man said, his back still towards him. "We just haven't seen each other in a while, that's all. It's understandable considering the circumstances."
"What?" he shook his head. "I'm so confused."
"I'm sure you are," the man shrugged. "I would be too if I were you."
Finally the man turned around, a smile on his face. A mug of coffee was in one hand and the plate in the other. Joe immediately recognized the kind-hearted smile but was still confused as to what was going on.
"Am I dead?" he whispered leaning forward.
The man chuckled and set the plate and mug in front of Joe then sat down across from him. He folded his hands on the table and continued to smile as Joe stared at his food.
"No, Joe," Carson Drew laughed again. "You're very much alive. Troubled but alive. Someone up there is watching out for you which is why I'm here."
"Why?" Joe grumbled looking away. "No one seemed to care before."
"That's not true, Joe," Carson shook his head. "There are so many who care about you. Your parents. Your wife. Your family and friends."
"And they're better off without me," the young man snarled. He shoved a few pieces of egg and sausage into his mouth, taking his time chewing.
"I wouldn't say that if I were you, Joe," he warned.
"Why? Am I going to be taught a lesson? I've already seen this movie."
Suddenly the wind picked up outside, rattling the windows. Joe stopped eating and looked around before continuing. Carson was staring at the ceiling as if there was something of interest above them. He nodded then turned his attention to Joe.
"Okay, you win," he announced.
"What do you mean by that?" Joe stared blankly at him, his fork in mid-air.
"You got your wish, Joe."
"Okay, that's it. I'm outta here." He slammed down the fork and quickly rose from the table. He noticed his coat hanging by the door and snatched it off the hook. "This is too weird and whoever you are, impersonating a good man who's been dead for years is disgusting. I'm going home and salvaging whatever I can with my family. Maybe by then I'll have some semblance of sanity by then."
Joe was just about to the door when Carson called his name. "Joe, you're about to see what life would have been like if you had never been born," he stated. "Be careful."
"Whatever, dude," he waved at him dismissively. "Tell whoever it was who hired you to go screw themselves because this joke isn't funny."
Joe stormed out of the house and walked to the end of the driveway before he realized the snow was gone. He stopped and looked around, taking in the neighborhood. Somehow, the man who was in that house had brought him back to town. Joe looked across the street and saw his parents' house but was confused. It wasn't the new house that was built just a few years before but the old one that had exploded when Ned's goons left a present in the living room. The house loomed dark in the evening, the Christmas lights not turned on but a single light shined in an upstairs window.
Rushing over to the house, Joe rang the doorbell and stomped his feet to stay warm in the cold air. A few minutes later, the light in the foyer came on and a woman with heavily-lidded eyes opened the door. She looked tired and old, much older than the age that Joe knew she was. The woman stared at him with no recognition of who had rang her doorbell.
"Well? What is it?" Laura Hardy asked harshly, her normally soft voice gone. "I don't have all day, you know."
"Mom, it's me," he pleaded. "It's Joe."
"Joe? I don't know anyone by that name. Go on! Get out of here before I call the cops, not that they'll come to my rescue."
"Mom, what are you talking about? I'm your son."
"My son?" she laughed. "My only son died years ago."
"What? Wait, where's Dad…uh, Fenton?"
"Fenton?" Laura shook her head. "You seen him lately?"
"Yeah, I was just at his office," Joe said confused. "We had an argument and things got heated."
"His office? Fenton hasn't had an office in nearly ten years! He was disgraced years ago by someone he called a friend and had to shut down his business because of it. Never was the same. I sent him to the sanitarium years ago which is where you should be, boy! Now get out of here!"
"Wait," Joe stopped her from closing the door with his hand. "Where's Vanessa?"
"Vanessa?" Laura shook her head. "If you mean Vanessa Bender she's down on the strip somewhere. Why should you care? She's a tramp just like her mother was."
"Don't say that about her! She's my wife!" Joe yelled. His mother laughed as he rubbed his temples. "Where's Nancy then?"
"Oh, now you're really crazy!" With that, Laura slammed the door in his face, the light inside immediately going out.
"What in God's name is going on?"
Joe looked up and down the street, noticing that something was missing. The street was unusually dark save for the street lamps, half of which were out. The houses were dark with not even a Christmas tree in the windows. Joe quickly walked down the street worried that something might happen. Sure enough, as he rounded a corner a police cruiser drove by then stopped, the lights flashing brightly.
"You the one who was bugging the crazy lady?" replied a gruff voice as the officer got out of the car. He shined a flashlight in Joe's face causing him to hold up his hand to block out the light. "You're the only one on the street so it must be you."
"Con? Con Reilly?" Joe said excitedly. "I'm so glad to see you! Do you know what's going on?"
"Do I know you, boy?" Con asked rudely, lowering the flashlight. He wore a police uniform with a sergeant's insignia on his lapels. Joe had a sinking suspicion that his night was about to get worse. "First you bother Mrs. Hardy now you say you know me. I've never seen you before in my life."
"You know my brother," he said hopefully. "Hell, you know my whole family."
"Is that a fact? Who's your brother?"
"Con, you know me! It's Joe! My brother is Frank!"
"Frank? As in Frank Hardy? That's a laugh!" the sergeant laughed out loud. "He's been in the ground for going on five years now! Where've you been?"
"What? What's going on here?"
"How about this:" Con replied calmly stepping forward with his hand on his gun, "we take a nice ride to the police station and you can tell the doctors all about your story."
"You think I'm crazy?" Joe shrieked stepping back.
Con reached out before Joe could move, wrapping his arms around him and dragging him toward the cruiser. Joe struggled with the man, head-butting then elbowing him. As he ran away, Joe could hear Con radioing for help pushing him to run faster. He ran to the town square only to find it teeming with hooligans and street walkers, the former beauty of the town gone. Joe saw a familiar sight, the lights beaming bright.
Prito's was bustling even though it was Christmas Eve and Joe soon realized why. It was no longer a pizza parlor but a bar. He shook his head then looked across the street. The building directly across was no longer where Hardy Investigations was. A mob stood outside what looked like a strip bar and several people were fighting including someone he didn't expect to see.
Vanessa was scantily clad, arguing with another woman before throwing a punch at her. The two women scrambled on the ground, each one trying to best the other. The men and women around them urged them on, none of them trying to stop the fight. Joe stepped in and tried pulling the other woman off of his wife only to get an elbow to his lip.
"Get off of her!" he cried pulling her off again. He was successful the second time and offered a hand to Vanessa who batted it away. "Are you okay, Vanessa?"
"Who the hell are you? I don't need a man's help now get lost!" she yelled. She stumbled as she got up and wiped her mouth before swaying away.
"The cops!" someone cried out. "Scram!"
Joe looked around, seeing a police cruiser come up. Before the officer saw him, he melted into the darkness of an alley and took off again. When he finally stopped, he snuck into the cemetery and hid behind a tombstone to think.
"This can't be happening," Joe said looking at the ground. He scrunched up into a ball when he saw flashing lights rush by the cemetery entrance, peeking around the tombstone when the coast was clear. "This isn't what I wanted."
"Are you sure about that, Joe?"
He looked up to see Carson standing before him, his hands in his pockets. The man had a kind smile though his eyes revealed pain.
"This isn't what I imagined it to be, Carson!" he cried rising up from the ground. "My family was supposed to be happy without me! Tell me where Frank is! He can't be dead!"
"Look behind you, Joe," the man said sadly.
Joe followed his instructions and saw another tombstone behind him. His heart sank as he stepped toward the tombstone. Carson turned on a flashlight, illuminating the words etched on the stone.
"Oh, God, no!" Joe cried reading his brother's name. He knelt down and wept. Carson placed a hand on his shoulder. "This can't be happening! Frank was supposed to marry Nancy. They have a daughter together!"
"Frank followed in your father's footsteps though he never worked well with others like he did with you or Nancy," Carson explained. "He met Nancy through me and the two were somewhat friends. But Ned's ultimate jealousy got the better of him and he was brutally murdered. Although they could never pin it on him, everyone knew Ned did it. His wife defends him to this day, fearful of the consequences if she admitted the truth."
"Against my wishes, Nancy married him."
"That's a lie!" cried Joe. "Nancy would never do that! Not after what he did to her! Ned died on that cliff in Colorado! He's dead!"
"No, Joe," Carson shook his head. "Ned is very much alive. Frank never got the chance to marry Nancy or even tell her how he felt about her. You weren't there to egg him on and you weren't there to save him when Ned came to visit. Just like you weren't there to help your Dad get out of a case that disgraced him."
"NO! That's not true! It can't be! This is some kind of cruel joke!"
"You don't realize your value, Joe," the man said calmly. "You mean more to your family and friends than you think."
Joe cried out, tears flowing down his face. He couldn't believe his mistake and he didn't know how to change what he had done. He felt alone and sure enough, Carson was gone when Joe looked up again. The man's words echoed in his mind before it was interrupted by lights flashing nearby and a police cruiser squawked loudly. "This is the Bayport Police," announced an officer on a bullhorn. "Surrender now or we will shoot!"
Joe backed up before he took off running. He could hear several officers following close behind, their footfalls pounding the ground. Just as he rounded a corner, a shot rang out, missing Joe by inches. He continued to run, never looking back fearing that someone would reach out to grab him again. Joe didn't stop running until he reached the outskirts of town, his breath ragged from running. He recognized the area and looked around, but found nothing. His car was gone and so was his life. Joe wept as he plopped to the ground. He thought about his kids, about his wife, about his family. They were all that mattered to him now. Drawing his knees close to him, Joe said a small prayer then said five words that changed everything: "I want to live again."
Snow fell around him and he felt his pants getting wet. Joe looked up to see the ground covered once again in the white, powdery fluff. He rose quickly, looking around once again but his car was still gone. A set of headlights came toward him but he shrank back when the lights of the police cruiser came on just before stopping.
"Joe?" Con Reilly said, his voice concerned as he stepped forward.
"Get out of here, Con," Joe cried before realizing what was said, "before I wail on you again!"
"Joe, what are you talking about? How did you get out here?"
"Con, you…you know me?"
"Of course I know you. I sometimes consider it unfortunate that I do, like right now," the man laughed. Joe noticed he was dressed in plain clothes like the detective he was, his car unmarked. "Did you hit your head or something? The whole town's been looking for you for hours after your car was found. I had it towed and it's waiting for you at the gas station down the street. Are you okay?"
"You know me!" Joe dug into his pants and pulled out CJ's wheel. "It's the wheel! They're okay! I have to get home! Merry Christmas, Con!"
"Merry Christmas, you idiot," the man laughed pushing him away as Joe tried to hug him. "Now get in the car. I'll take you home."
Several minutes later, they pulled up to his house and Joe didn't wait for Con to stop the car before he got out.
"Vanessa!" he cried as he opened the door.
"Daddy!" CJ cried from the living room. William and David both looked up, giving their father grins. A little girl with dark brown hair looked up as well though it took him a moment to realize it was Olivia. Joe rushed over to the three boys and scooped them up, holding them tight. He didn't want to let go.
"Joe?" called Vanessa's voice from the kitchen. She rushed in and practically mowed him down as she wrapped her arms around him. "Oh, thank God! We were so worried about you!"
"I'm so sorry, Van," he mumbled into her shoulder. She pushed him back and looked deeply into his eyes. "I didn't mean to say those things."
"I know, honey," she said, happily. "You're okay and that's all I care about."
"Joe!" cried his mother, rushing in behind Vanessa. After she hugged him, Laura smacked her son on the back of his head. "Why did you do that to us? We thought the worst when they found your car but not you!"
"I'm sorry, Mom," he said with his head down. "I…I…"
"Oh, stop," she laughed. "It's all under the bridge."
"Laura!" called Fenton. "Is Joe back?"
"He's back, Fenton!"
Joe turned to see his father rush to him and enveloped him in a fierce hug.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I'm fine, Dad," Joe smiled. "Just glad to see you're okay."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I'll tell you later."
"I'm sorry, son," Fenton apologized.
"Me too, Dad. Is Stacy okay?"
"I just spoke with her about a half hour ago. She's going to be fine. A little worried about you though as are we all. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah," Joe shook his head. "I just had the worst nightmare."
"Dad?" called a voice from the door.
"In here, Frank!"
Joe whirled around to see his brother walk in with Nancy at his side. He surprised everyone when he took his older brother into a hug, confusion written across Frank's face.
"Hello to you too, Joe," he said patting Joe's back. "Was that really necessary? We only saw you this morning, you know."
"I know but you have no idea how glad I am to see you," Joe smiled. He turned to everyone. "All of you."
"Did you bump your head, sweetheart?" Laura stepped forward, touching his head.
"No, Mom," he hugged her again. "It's Christmas. And I feel like Jimmy Stewart at the moment, thankful to have you all in my life."
Suddenly a tiny jingle rang through the house and the Hardys looked at one another in surprise. A second later, Olivia walked up with a bell from the tree, ringing it happily. The family burst out lauging as Nancy picked up her daughter and kissed the little girl on the cheek before Frank took her in his arms.
"If only Carson were here with us," Joe said sadly.
"He is," Nancy smiled. "And he's smiling down on us."
"This is still the best Christmas we've had in a long time," he said.
"And it's about to get better," Frank announced. He and Nancy exchanged glances before she looked over at Vanessa. Joe, Fenton, and Laura looked at one another in confusion.
"Remember what you said this morning, Joe, about not wanting another child?"