When major tradgety strikes, Joel try his hardest to hold his family together. But when the law butts in, its knid of hard, and now he must struggle to give up his most precious gift.
"What the hell happened to my daughter?" he demanded.
"Mr. Madden, my name's Dr. Selma Black." The doctor introduced herself. "You're daughter's in surgery right now."
"When can I see her?" he asked, running his fingers through his hair.
"Not for a while I'm afraid." Dr. Black told him. "I suggest you take your wife and go home. Or if you like, you can wait around the hospital. We'll give you a call when you can see her."
Joel nodded and thanked her, taking Bren's hand and started back downstairs. They found the hospital coffee shop and sat down at a table with a cup of the hot liquid each.
"What happened?" he asked.
"She was at the playground with Claire." Bren shrugged. "Claire said she walked off and they found her unconscious in the bushes."
"Why wasn't Claire watching her?" he grit his teeth and sipped the coffee through pursed lips.
"She said she was tying her shoe and when she looked up, Haley was gone.'
Joel squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip. "What if she's not ok, Bren?"
"Joel, please don't think that way." Bren begged. "I'm scared enough as it is.'
"Where's Claire?" he asked opening his eyes.
"Somewhere around here with the detective." Bren said. Joel raised an eyebrow. "They called the cops when they couldn't find her."
Joel nodded and took another sip. Bren snuck her hand in his and squeezed. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers.
"Everything'll be ok." He said.
"Mr. and Mrs. Madden," Dr.Black addressed them. "We've found a diagnosis for your child."
"What is it?" Bren asked as Joel placed his arm around her.
"Come to my office please." They followed her into her offices and took seats. "Are either of you familiar with the diagnosis SBS?"She asked. Both Joel and Bren shook their heads. "It stands for Shaken Baby Syndrome. Are you aware of the dangers of shaking a baby?"
"Yes." Joel said.
"Your daughter, I'm afraid to tell you, is not well at all." The doctor said seriously. "From the x-rays we've taken, the only possible diagnosis is SBS."
Joel breathed out through his nose and rubbed his forehead hard. Bren took his hand and held it tightly while the doctor explained in full detail.
As they stood up a while later, Joel felt sick to his stomach. Dr. Black led them to Haley's room and left them alone.
Joel looked into the crib and saw his little girl, her head wrapped up in bandages, tubes coming out of everywhere.
"Haley," he choked. "My baby girl."
"Mr. and Mrs. Madden." A voice said from behind them. They turned to find who must have been the detective judging by the badge he was holding, standing in the doorway. "Mr. Madden, I'm Detective Elliot. I'm the one investigating your daughter's case. I have to ask you a couple of questions."
Joel nodded and followed the detective into the hall.
"Mr. Madden, have you ever hit your daughter?" he asked. Joel was insulted.
"I never hit Haley." He frowned.
"Not even for punishment?"
"We don't believe in corporal punishment." Joel said. "We give time outs, but neither of us has ever hurt a hair on her head."
"You're away from home a lot, are you not?"
"Then you wouldn't know if someone at home would have done it would you?"
"No, I would not."
"Are you happy with Claire watching Haley?"
"Yes, I am." Joel said. "Claire's excellent with her. Haley loves her so much."
"Is Haley a hard child?"
"Yeah, she's very hyper active and tends not to listen to anyone except for me and my brother."
"Joel, somebody shook your child, do you have any idea of who it could be?"
"No." Joel said.
"Have you been home the whole week?" Elliot asked
"Well yeah, I mean as opposed to the road. But I've been in the studio almost everyday."
"How much time have you spent with Haley this week?"
"A lot." He said. "I took her to the child's museum yesterday and to the zoo the day before."
"Mr. Madden, I saw your family has a record for fathers abusing their children. Your father abused you, didn't he? And his father him."
Joel swallowed and nodded "I'd rather not talk about that right now."
"But it's true."
Joel looked up at the detective angrily. "I love my daughter detective." He spat. "I love her more than anything I the world. She and Bren are the most important people in my life. Bren and I had been married seven years before Haley was born. For seven years we couldn't have children. Haley's my life, Detective. Everything I do, I do for her. I never hurt her."
"Did anyone else go out with you two?"
"Yea, Benji did." Joel said. "He came with his son Conner."
"Did you leave them alone, for any amount of time? Haley and your brother."
"Benji did not do this." Joel said his voice shaking in anger. "He loves Haley like his own daughter."
"Does he hit his kids?"
"No, time outs. What, you think we'd do the same thing to our kids that our father did to us?"
"Your father did."
"My father was fucked up in his head, ok? My father was a sick bastard, something I'm not. I worship my family and I believe that none of them did this to her."
"No." Joel said firmly. "No, Bren's the most patient person in the world. She only gets angry at me and that's only when I really piss her off."
"Do you have a strong marriage?"
"We do." He said surely. "We have possibly the strongest marriage on record."
"Why do you sound so sure?" Elliot raised an eyebrow.
Joel couldn't hold back a smile. "Bren and I have the strongest bond. Our relationship is more beautiful than a sunset at the beach. We have something special and everyone who knows us can see it."
Elliot sighed and rubbed his temples. "Did Haley ever get in between your pretty little picture?"
"Never. She made it even more beautiful."
"Joel, did you see your daughter today?" he asked as Dr. Black approached.
"Mr. Madden was everything normal with Haley the last few days?" the doctor cut in.
"Nothing unusual happened?"
"No. Well, she threw up on me two nights ago, if that counts as unusual."
The doctor stiffened. "Mr. Madden, your daughter must have been shaken earlier that day."
"Who was with her?"
"I found hand prints on her chest where the abuser squeezed her while shaking her." Dr. Black said. "Joel, hold out your hand palm down."
Joel did so and let the woman measure his hand with an instrument of some sort as an older detective came over.
"Way too big detective." She informed him.
"Did you find which day?"
"We figure about two days ago." Elliot said. "Tuesday morning or so. Maybe even Wednesday night."
"Mr. Madden, who was with your daughter Tuesday?"
"I dunno." He shrugged. "It was Claire's day off, and Benj and his family were out, so I guess just me and Bren."
Dr. Black became rigid and walked into Haley's room, the other three men following closely.
Bren was bending over the crib, gently stroking the baby's face, silent tears running down her face. Joel crossed the room and collected her into his arms. She wiped her face and hugged him back.
"She'll be ok Bren." He whispered kissing her head. "She will. G-d won't take her from us."
"Mrs. Madden," Dr. Black coughed stepping forward. "Please put your hand out, palm down."
Joel looked up sharply. Bren obeyed and he watched as Dr. Black measured his wife's hand with the same tool she had used on him.
"That's the closest match." The doctor announced. The older detective nodded and stepped forward. Joel watched in horror as he clamped handcuffs onto his wife.
"What the fuck? Get off her man!" he spat trying to push the man away from her.
"I didn't hurt my baby." Bren whispered.
"Mrs. Madden, your hand size matches to those of the prints on your child's body."
Bren looked up at Joel in fear. "I swear to God it wasn't me!" She exclaimed. "My God, I'm her mother! I didn't do it! I love my daughter!"
"She didn't do it." Joel said pulling his wife to him.
"I love my daughter." Bren repeated, starting to shake. The detective shook his head and led her out of the room.
"That's my wife!" Joel yelled. "That's the love of my fucking life. She didn't do it! I swear to God she didn't try to murder my child!" With that, he fell to the floor shaking with hysterical sobs.
"Joel pleases," Elliot began. "She'll be released later today. There'll be a trial and-"
"Shut the fuck up man." Joel choked. "Just shut up. I'm sick of your bullshit. Do you have kids detective?"
"3" he answered.
"Then you can only imagine what I'm going through right now. You don't know shit man." He said, his voice getting shriller by every word that spilled from his mouth. "You don't know what it's like to have your only miracle child dying and having the woman you love more than life itself being blamed for it, when she never did it. I know she didn't do it! This isn't about who did it, alright? It's about my baby girl. My little Haley. Oh God Haley!" He gagged and cried hard into his hands, falling onto his face.
"Joel, bro, calm down." He felt Benji embrace him and he fell into his brother's arms.
"Benji... my Haley!" He sobbed onto his twins shoulder. Benji hugged him tightly, rubbing his back. "My angel...Benj!"
"Shh... Joel" Benji soothed. "Everything'll be ok."
"Bren!" he gagged again, then quickly pulled away from his brother and rushed into the bathroom. He bent over the toilet and opened his mouth to empty the contents of his stomach into the clean porcelain bowl. He retched and through up again while Benji pat his back. He gagged a couple of more times then he leaned his back against the toilet, letting Benji flush his puke.
"My girls, Benj." He let out a dry sob. "They took my Bren. My everythings are being taken from me." Benji handed him a cup of water which he sipped at slowly in-between sobs. "Can you take this away Benj?" he drawled lazily pointing to his chest. "The pain. It hurts, I don't like it." His eyes drooped tiredly. He was physically and emotionally fatigued.
"Come on," Benji pulled him up and helped him into the recliner next to Haley's crib. Joel fell asleep the second he fell into the chair.
He woke early the next morning, feeling weak and sick all over, a hand gently caressing his face.
"Hey." A soft voice said from behind him. He spun around to see Bren smiling sadly back at him.
"Oh my God, Bren!" he stood up, grabbing her into his arms. "Are you ok? What's going on?"
Bren just hugged him, clutching to the cotton of his shirt. "That's our baby girl in that crib." She sniffled burying her face in his chest. "That's our child and they think I put her there."
"But you didn't Bren." He kissed her head. "I know you didn't."
"I gave birth to her Joel. I carried her in me for nine months. I'm her mother, how could they think I could ever hurt her."
"Don't worry." He told her. "I won't let them take you away from me. We'll prove that it wasn't you."
The door banged open and Detective Elliot came in. "Ok, both you and I know it wasn't your wife." He told Joel." But I need you to tell me exactly who came in any contact with your daughter on Tuesday."
"What changed your mind so suddenly?" Joel narrowed his eyes.
Elliot sighed. "I just spent the night watching home videos your brother gave me. Bren did not shake that child. The question is who did?"
"We don't know." Joel whispered.
"Wait." Bren said suddenly. "Claire... No it wasn't Claire."
"What about Claire?"
"She was the one who got Haley dressed that morning cuz I wasn't up to battling with her."
Elliot raised an eyebrow.
Suddenly Joel remembered. "Haley hates getting dressed in the morning unless it's Benji getting her dressed." He explained quickly. "But Tuesday... she was screaming... the ... she wasn't. Fuck! Claire killed my baby!"
"She's still alive, Joel," Dr. Black said coming in. "But barely, we had to put her on life support last night."
Joel bit his lip, clenching his hands into fists and holding Bren close to him.
"Is she in pain?" Bren asked in a small voice.
The doctor nodded once.
"Mr. Madden," the lawyer sighed. "There's no reason to get upset."
"No reason to get upset?" Joel spat, standing up. "My child is on life support and my wife is being held for child abuse and murder!"
"Mr. Madden, please sit down." The judge said curtly.
Joel sat back down in the stand, his head in his hands, tears falling from his eyes and his throat clogged with with held sobs.
"It wasn't Bren." He choked. "It was Claire."
"Do you know this for a fact?" the lawyer asked.
"Then what proof do you have?"
"I don't, but-"
"Then it might not be the babysitter at all."
"Then why are you accusing her? Under what-"
"Will you let me speak!" Joel roared on his feet again.
"Order!" the Judged snapped. "Mr. Madden!"
"No!" Joel yelled. Bren sent him a warning look from the defense table, but he ignored her and continued. "No! This isn't right! How can you people be so heartless? Our daughter is dying. Our only child. The child we waited so long for. We're supposed to be at her side, telling her that its ok and that we love her so much adn that she was gonna be ok. We're supposed to be praying for her to make it or at least that God be kind on her precious soul. We should be left alone as a family to mourn, not having the law butt in. Not spending so much God damn time in court or with the stupid over- expensive lawyers. I need my wife your honor." He turned to the judge. "I need my family, please. Forget about the law for once and be human. For once, follow your heart. Your heart can't possibly tell you that this is right. Putting an innocent woman in jail can't bring back my daughter, it can't heal the open wound in my heart, and it can't fix what happened. All it does is give you and all theses lawyers a shit load of money. Please your honor." The female judge shifted in her seat uncomfortably. "Please your honor." He begged. "My baby girl is suffering. Please let me and Bren, her parents; let us be there for her."
"Don't you want to know who did this to your child?" she asked. "Don't you want them locked up?"
"Revenge wont bring my baby back." He said quietly.
The judge pursed her lips and turned to Dr. Black. "Doctor, what's the status report on Haley Madden?"
"She's on life support as of last Friday." The doctor stood. "She is completely paralyzed and her bones are too fragile to move. Just this morning, one of my nurses was changing her diaper and broke her hip. Aside from that, I have to say, the child is undeniably in immense, excruciating pain." She finished, staring hard into Joel's eyes.
Joel clenched his fists, his whole body shaking as the doctor's words played themselves over and over again in his mind. He heard Bren whimper and turned to look at her. She had a look of pure fear and pain in her brown eyes, matching up with his own, silently begging him. He squeezed his eyes shut and took in a shaking breath.
"Take her off the machines." He said quietly.
"No. your honor, I want her off life support." He said firmly, trying with everything in him not to break down. "The machines are breathing for, that's not living. She's suffering. Please, just take her off."
"Joel, you will be charged-" his lawyer began
"I don't care." He sniffled. "I don't care about the consequences. Its time to let go. I'm her father and I want her off the machines."
"Joel, they'll put you in prison!" his lawyer hissed.
"No they wont." The judge announced standing up. "And anyone who does will be thrown in themselves, on my word. Take the child off."
"What about the mother?"
"Let her go."
Everyone turned to the back where Claire was standing, tears running down her face, her voice shaking.
"I did it." She said. "I shook Haley." Joel glared at her like death itself and she coward under his stare, stumbling on her words. "But she was so stubborn and I was hung over. Her screams were killing me and I couldn't quiet her. So I shook her. I didn't mean to do it so hard, but I was just so angry. I honestly didn't mean to hurt her. I love Haley and I would never deliberately hurt her. Just let Bren go, please."
"Claire..." Bren breathed.
"I'm so sorry, Bren," she sobbed. "Joel, I really am. I never meant it. I'm so sorry."
Joel watched the guards handcuff the former nanny and lead her away.
"I want her out on bail." He called.
"What?" the judge asked in surprise.
"I said, I'm bailing her out." He said firmly, not looking at the shaken girl.
"Done." The judge sighed. "Case dismissed people. I gotta go bring this to the staff room..."
Joel turned to see Bren walking toward shim. He got down from the stand hastily and embraced his wife.
"Oh God Bren." He choked burying his face in her dark hair. "I love you so much."
Joel fell to his knees on the soft dirt, his body wracked with sobs. He touched the cold stone with a shaking hand, tracing the letters that spelled out her name.
"Haley." He cried falling on his face, shaking uncontrollably. "Haley, my baby girl. I'm so sorry, baby. I love you so much, bear. I love you. I never wanted this. I miss you so much. Daddy loves you, baby. I swear on your grave, I will never forget you. Not ever. God Haley! You were so precious. You were everything to me my baby girl. You were my little punk princess. I want you back so much. But, angel, I guess god missed you up there and wanted you back. I know you're sitting on his lap while you watch over me and mommy. You're gonna help us move on, right baby? You're not gonna forget about us. We love you so much, bear.
I just want to hold you again, one more time, to sing you to sleep one more night. Just to be your daddy for one more day. I'd do anything to bring you back to me princess. But I know that you're up there admiring your brand new angel wings. I'll never ford\get you, love." He kissed his fingers and touched the smooth stone again. "You'll always be my miracle child. I love you."
He wiped his face and stood up. He blew one more kiss goodbye to his daughter's grave and walked away.
*i got the i dea from NYPD Blue. i'm such a sucker, i cried as i wrote the ending! yea yea... i know! anyway review and tell me if it was a tear jerker for you too.