He’s never seen Carrie Wells, but he’s heard enough to be as sceptical as I am. “Not your problem anymore,” he tells me. “You did what you could.”
“What if everyone just did what they could and it’s not enough?”
He leans forward. “You need to rein in that social conscience, you’ll find it easier to sleep at night.”
“I sleep just fine,” I lie.
“Dreaming of your wild princess, no doubt.” His smile is bright. “We should hit Cheltenham for a night out, see if we can’t hook you up with someone who isn’t either far too young or determined to self-destruct.”
The thought of meeting someone else seems distant. I’ve had no appetite for dating and all that crap since things ended with me and Molly last year. That’s one thing Jack and I still have in common – we’re both not-so-lucky in love. Jack was engaged for a while to some posh cow from Oxford who was far more interested in his business prospects than she was in him. That ended recently and explosively, but he doesn’t seem too hung up on it.
In the main, while I was cooped up with Molly, Jack fucked around. I wouldn’t even like to guess how many women he’s had in his bed and in his life. But still, having taken very different roads, here we both are, single and ageing a little more every month.
“Maybe you should hit Cheltenham,” I say. “The women there are more your type.”
“The women there are anyone’s type after a couple of large wines, don’t let the pretentiousness of the place fool you.” He swigs back his beer, then stares at me. “You’ll get over this. Give it some time.”
“There’s nothing to get over. She was on my books and now she’s not.”
“You give a shit about her, that’s likely more than anyone else can say about the girl.”
“Sad but true.” I sip my beer but my throat feels tight. My whole body feels tight. “I can’t just let her walk away. She’ll head straight into trouble.”
Jack straightens in his seat. “Trouble that isn’t your problem. You need to get a grip of this, Mike. She’s gone.”
“I achieved nothing.”
He sighs. “Who knows what difference you made to her? It’s impossible to say how our words impact another, and if your advice wasn’t welcome now there’s nothing to say she won’t remember it later.”
I raise my glass. “To your excellent words.”
He raises his. “May you heed them.”
My gut feels strangely bereft. A sense of loss below the struggle for rationality. Maybe I need a support worker myself after suffering the Carrie Wells effect.
I take a deep breath, attempting to quell my inner turmoil.
“She’s gone,” I say, as if saying it out loud will put a lid on it.
“That she is,” he replies. “May she be blessed with a long and fruitful life, wherever that may take her.”
“Far away from here most likely.”
“You should hope so, for your own sanity,” Jack says, and he’s right.
I should hope I don’t see Carrie Wells again. I should hope that she’s picked up by other agencies and they manage to succeed where I’ve failed. I should hope that she finds happiness with a young, spirited guy her own age, someone decent and caring. I should hope that she finds the love she’s so sorely missed in her life this far.
I should hope she’s found it within herself to offer up a genuine apology to Bill and Rosie and ask for another chance. Maybe she has. Maybe they’re all having a heart to heart right now down the road in Lydbrook, sharing a cup of tea in Rosie’s warm kitchen.
Of course not.
I hear her voice before I see her. I’d recognise that cackle anywhere, full of life and mischief rolled together. The bar door creaks on its big old hinges and in stumbles a guy in a hoodie who used to be on our books a few years back. Eddie Stevens, son of a bricklayer who sold drugs from the back of his van over in Gloucester.
Carrie stumbles on in after him, and my beer catches in my throat.
Her pale cheeks are flushed pink and her legs seem bandy. Drunk. She’s fucking drunk.
Eddie lurches into the bar and she follows him, points out a tequila bottle on the back shelf.
Jack turns slowly in his seat, looks from them to me and back again.
“Yes,” I say.
“Sweet Jesus,” he mutters, “but she’s–”
“Underage,” I finish. “Yes, she is.”
He slams a hand on my wrist as I rise from my seat. “Not. Your. Problem,” he says and his grey eyes are icy.
I shake him off more roughly than I intend.CarrieEddie is an idiot, but he’s fun enough and he’s paying. He brought me a couple of beers out to the back of the George and Dragon, then we dashed into the Brewers Arms for one before stumbling down the street to Drury’s Tavern. I’m already past dinner time back at Rosie and Bill’s, but who gives a shit. Not them, that’s for sure. It’s probably a relief.