I could’ve looked up Rosie and Bill’s number and called them out to collect her. I could’ve opened up the office and made her wait in reception with me until they arrived.
I pull my car keys from my pocket the moment my car is in sight and switch off the central locking. Carrie tugs at my arm and I turn to realise she’s staring up at my apartment block. It’s nothing fancy, just a regular brick building. Mine is the top floor, and Pam Clowes, who works with me, has the ground. I really fucking hope she’s not at her kitchen window.
She’s not. Thank God for small mercies.
“Neat place,” Carrie says, and I’d think she was being sarcastic if I didn’t know her tone better.
“It’s alright,” I tell her, tugging her along the remaining distance.
“Which one’s yours?” she asks, and I definitely shouldn’t tell her that, but I do anyway.
I point out my living room window as I slip into the driver’s seat. I’m relieved when she drops into the passenger side and buckles herself in without argument.
“Are you feeling sick? Queasy?” I’m already scouting the backseat for a paper bag or something but she laughs at me.
“I can handle my drink.”
“Sure you can.”
“I can,” she insists, “I only had one or two, no big deal.”
“Don’t take me for a fucking idiot,” I say as I turn the key in the ignition. “Good job I was there or who knows what state you’d have ended up in. You don’t want to be associating with Eddie Stevens, he’ll lead you nowhere good.”
I pull the car out onto the main road, fighting the urge to stare at her and not at where I’m going. I know Bill and Rosie’s place. It’s a pretty white house set back from the lane into Lydbrook, the chocolate-box picture of tranquillity – which has no doubt been shattered since this bundle of trouble arrived on the scene.
“Do you want to call ahead?” I ask her, “maybe you should let them know you’re on your way home?”
“They won’t care.”
It doesn’t matter how many times she says it, I don’t believe that’s the case. I tell her so and she spins in her seat to glare at me.
“Why do you always have to see the best in people all the time? The world isn’t like that, Michael. It’s mean and shitty and nobody gives two fucking craps about a nasty little gypsy like me. You’re a fool. A fucking idiot.”
“Well, this fucking idiot gives two fucking craps about getting you back home safe, Carrie, so I guess the whole entire universe can’t be entirely mean and shitty now, can it?”
She sighs. “Maybe the whole entire universe except you.”
“I’m flattered you think I’m that exceptional a member of the human race, but I’m simply one of many trying to do their best. The world is full of us, maybe you could try letting us help sometime.”
“I’ll let you help,” she whispers and I’m so surprised I do a double take. The evening light through the windscreen dances across her features, and her eyes look big and sad. She pulls her knees up and rests her dirty boots on the dashboard, oblivious to the mess she’ll be making.
But I don’t even care.
“How can I help?” I say, eyes firmly back on the road. “Just tell me, Carrie. Because I’ll do whatever I can.”
“You can take me away from this shitty place.” Her voice is quiet and breathy.
I remind myself she’s a drunk young woman who probably doesn’t mean half of this.
“I mean it,” she says, as though she can read my mind. “You and me. It could be an adventure.”
“You’ll have plenty of adventures with plenty of people,” I tell her. “But right now you need to be settled and safe. I can speak to the right agencies, we can get you set up somewhere, even if it’s not Bill and Rosie’s. I’m sure I can speak to the college, too.”
The thump of her fist on the window takes me aback. “I don’t want any of that. I want you.”
“And I’m your caseworker,” I tell her. “I have a duty of care to your wellbeing.”
“Not anymore,” she says, and I’m pleased to pass the sign for Lydbrook. My neck feels itchy under my collar, my palms sweaty on the wheel.
She points out Bill and Rosie’s on the right, but I’m already turning. I pull onto their driveway and their Labrador starts barking from the porch.
Carrie is out of the car in a heartbeat. She gives me nothing but a cursory thanks before she slams the passenger door and heads to the house alone, but that’s not how this ends.
I follow her, catching her on the doorstep just as she’s trying the handle.
It surprises me, but it is.
She hammers on the wood with her fist.