If Carrie would just pick up her pissing messages and think to let me know she was safe, life would be a whole lot easier. I’ve left several voicemails – all of them perfectly professional requests that she please let me know she’s still breathing. All of them guarded and work-focused – mentioning my calls with the housing agencies and how I’d appreciate her contacting me to push things forward.
Maybe I should try a more personal approach, but that would be more than my job would be worth should it ever reach the ears of my superiors.
So I don’t call again. I drive instead. My usual route, which up until now has proved utterly pointless. Another evening of fruitless searching. Picnic areas and back alleys and meandering lanes through the middle of nowhere, all for nothing.
I’m on autopilot as I drive back from Gloucester, contemplating whether I really do need to put this search to bed and move on. I’m thinking I should fill Jack in on what’s been happening and hope that his common sense manages to hammer its way through my thick skull.
I’ve all but decided this needs to be my final night scouring the streets for an adult woman who clearly doesn’t want to be found, when I notice a figure walking along the hedgerows by Forest Oak Farm. I slow down, but only a little, well aware that it’s probably just some random out walking their dog after dark, but my heart is in my throat when I see the backpack swinging heavily from the woman’s shoulder. It’s a she, it’s definitely a she, and she’s limping. I close the distance and a pale face turns to me, illuminated by my headlights for long enough that I recognise the glowering stare. Her long black hair is whipping in the evening wind, her mouth angry and tight as she glares at the stupid idiot with his lights on full beam.
I slam on the brakes in a heartbeat, and the car skids to a halt just past her.
She must recognise the car, that’s the only explanation for why she waves her arms and tries to run for me. I’m already out and rushing in her direction when she limps onto the tarmac.
Her backpack crashes from her shoulder and she’s about to crash down with it as I grab hold of her and keep her steady. She weighs nothing in my arms. My poor lost Carrie is nothing but a limp little bird with hollow bones. I’m holding her so tight I’m worried I’ll crush her, but she holds me right back and lets me support her without squirming. Her eyes are sunken and tired, even in the moonlight, and her lip is split and dried with crusty blood, but despite any of that she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
“I’ve got you,” I tell her as she digs her fingers into my arms. “Are you hurt?”
“Sprained my fucking ankle this afternoon.”
She struggles in my grip, trying to hitch her backpack back up, but I hold her firm. “You’ve been bleeding,” I tell her, nodding to her lip as she stares right up at me.
“I left you messages.”
“Got no battery, no minutes left, either.”
I pick up her backpack and sling it over my shoulder, being careful not to let her go for even a second. I take a step towards the car but she digs her heels in, even though it makes her grimace.
“I’m not fucking going back there!” she hisses. “I’m eighteen now, I don’t fucking have to. They don’t fucking want me there anyway!”
I stop. Think. And she’s right. Of course she is.
There’s no room waiting for her now at Bill and Rosie’s. There’s no room waiting for her anywhere, not this time of night.
“So where were you going if not to Bill and Rosie’s?” I ask. “Why were you heading this way?”
She looks away from me, staring into the shadows of the hedgerow so intently I think she must have spotted something. I look to my right but there’s nothing there.
“I was coming to you,” she whispers, and my pulse races.
She nods. “Had nowhere else to go, did I?” She still won’t look at me. “I mean, I know you wouldn’t want me around either and all that, it’s just… I needed somewhere to get warm…”
“And you were coming to me? To my place?”
She sighs. “You don’t have to make me feel like a total fucking dick.”
But I’m not. I never would.
“I’m glad you thought you could come to me,” I say, and her pretty mouth curls into a snide smile.
“Like I said, had no other asshole I could call on.”
Even exhausted and limping with a cut lip and nowhere to go, the girl has to be a brash little shit. Maybe I’d be taken in by her bravado if I couldn’t feel the way her fingers are grasping my arms for dear life.