I wonder if it was always all just a load of empty words. Promises made out of thin air meaning sweet fuck all.
I have to double up on socks by lunchtime, and my belly is rumbling worse than ever. I pick some blackberries from a hedge but they don’t do shit to stop the hunger. My water runs out not long after and fuck knows where I’m going to find another tap to fill it back up. I consider knocking on someone’s door and asking to borrow their bathroom, but I’m too worried they’ll call the cops on me.
By the time I reach the outskirts of Gloucester my feet are so blistered I’m limping. My shoulders are aching from my backpack and my lips are dry as fucking paper.
My mind is so numb that all I can do is count my steps to keep on walking.
One. Two. Three.
On and on and on until I’m in well into the city.
I drop my backpack to the floor when I finally get to Eli’s. I hammer his door with all the strength I have left in my hands, and even then it takes him a minute to open it.
He used to be pleased to see me, but not anymore.
He leans out and looks behind me, checking for other people – like I’ve ever brought anyone along to this shithole with me.
“What you doing here?” he asks, like my backpack doesn’t speak for itself.
“I left,” I grunt. “Gonna let me stay or what?”
He takes a drag on his skinny roll-up and I hold up my fingers for him to give it to me, but he doesn’t. “Bring any cash?”
I knew this was coming, and I knew I’d feel like crap to say no. I shake my head. “Rosie’s been careful. She even hides the chocolate now.”
He laughs and I’m not sure it’s not at my expense. “Stupid bitch.”
I wonder if he’s talking about her or me. Maybe both of us.
“Can I stay then or what?”
He smirks. “Or what?”
I fold my arms. “I don’t fucking need you, Eli. I’m here because I want to be, not because I’m fucking desperate. I can take care of myself.”
“You can’t take care of yourself enough to outsmart that snooty fucking bitch and bring me some fucking cash though, can you? How you gonna pay your way?”
I shrug. “I don’t need her cash, I’ll make my own.”
“Oh yeah? You gonna be earning your keep?”
I nod. Grit my teeth. “I’ll pull my weight.”
I stare at him, taking in the tattoos on his neck, the buzz of close cropped hair on his scalp. The way he could be such a looker if he wasn’t always so filthy and scruffy.
I bet they say the same about me.
“Alright,” he says finally. “You can stay, but you better make it worth my while.”
The place smells rancid as I step foot in there, but I’m done caring about any of that. He doesn’t offer to take my backpack and I don’t expect him to. I don’t expect him to do shit for me other than give me somewhere warm to sleep tonight and maybe a bit of food in my belly.
I set my backpack down and take a seat on his grimy armchair, choking back the sadness that this is really it for the time being.
I’ve almost convinced myself it’s going to be fine when I see the package of white powder on the coffee table.
I’ve almost convinced myself I made the right decision when he snorts up a big fat line of it.
I hate him when he snorts this shit.
I hate the person it turns him into.
But it’s too late for all that now. I’m just grateful when he makes me a sandwich.Chapter FiveMichaelI have to use my lunch break to make agency calls on behalf of a girl who’s no longer on my books. I take a bite of my sandwich, cursing that I’m spending so much time on hold. I’ve a lot of people to speak with, and not a huge amount of time to do it in.
The result: more of the same old shit.
They’ll need her to register. They’ll need some form of ID. They’ll need to do an assessment.
They’ll be able to do none of those things unless Carrie actually agrees to toe the line.
I’m exasperated by the time I look up Rosie and Bill’s number at the end of my shift. One last shot, that’s what I tell myself. One last attempt to reason with them and get them on side enough to keep her room open for her until we can get her into these appointments.
It’s Rosie who answers. She sighs as she registers it’s me.
I launch quickly into my monologue, telling her I know how hard they’ve worked with Carrie, how much time they’ve put in, and how difficult this has been on all of them, but if she could just find it within herself to give this one final push…