I’d be a fool to believe this could mean anything. I’d be a fool to believe these feelings I have for her could be real, and even if they were, that they could ever amount to anything. But my mouth is dry and my breath is short and my heart is thumping so hard I can feel it in my temples.
“So, what’s it gonna be, Michael?” she asks. “You gonna take me to yours, or do I have to keep on limping down this road all fucking night?”
I hoist her back onto her own two feet and she winces at the pain.
“I can’t take you to mine,” I tell her. “Pam lives on the ground floor. You’re not officially on my books anymore, Carrie, I shouldn’t be…”
“Aww, you don’t want poor Pammy to think we’re fucking? Is she your girlfriend or something?”
I sigh. “She’s my colleague.” I help her along the road to the car. “A wrong impression could cost me my job, Carrie. I have kids to take care of, kids who need my help, just like you.”
She stiffens in my arms. “I’m not a fucking kid.”
She steadies herself against the car as I drop her backpack onto the back seat and open the passenger door for her. She sucks in breath as I help her inside.
She’s staring straight through the windscreen as I get behind the wheel.
“If I can’t stay with you, I gotta keep running,” she says. “I have to get out of here.”
“Running from who?” I ask, but she doesn’t answer.
“Carrie, where the hell have you been? People have been worried sick about you.” I set off on the empty road, shooting her sideways looks just to make sure I’m not dreaming all this.
“Nobody’s worried sick about me.”
“You think I’m driving these roads in the middle of the night for my health?”
She shrugs and it makes me sigh again.
“I’m driving these roads for you, Carrie. To look for you. I’ve been out here for days.”
Her eyes burn in the darkness. “You have?”
“Yes, I have.”
“You’ve really been looking for me?”
“Every spare fucking minute.”
She laughs that vivacious cackle of hers. It zips up my spine, even though it’s more muted than usual. “Guess you weren’t looking fucking hard enough then, were you?”CarrieMichael puts the car heater on and it’s warmth feels amazing on my cold feet. I want to tell him thanks, but the words won’t come. I want to reach out and touch his hand, but I’m scared he’ll pull away.
So I sit still, staring straight ahead as he drives us fuck knows where.
He’s nervous and it’s obvious. His fingers keep tapping the steering wheel as we head back to Lydney. It’s weird to be in a car again, travelling roads in a flash that would’ve taken me hours on foot. I’m guessing he really must be taking me back to his, no matter what Pam might have to say about it, but he turns right when he should turn left onto his road and carries on down the High Street.
“Where we going?”
I stiffen in my seat, and even that stupid small movement sets my ankle off hurting worse. “What kind of friend?”
He glances in my direction and I feel a weird flutter in my belly. “You met him briefly. The guy in the suit from Drury’s.”
“The posh guy? Can’t see him giving me a warm welcome.”
I can’t believe he’s taking me there, to hang out with some rich snob who probably thinks I’m just a useless piece of shit. I’m tempted to open the car door, bail out and hope for the best, just to save myself the awkwardness, but I could do without any more injuries right now.
“He isn’t going to know about it, not yet anyway. He’s away on business.”
Even fucking better. I groan. “You’re going to break into his house while he’s away and let me squat there? Some friend you are.”
That makes him smile. “I have a key, which hardly makes it breaking in. I’m house sitting. And you won’t be squatting. You’ll be a guest.”
That makes me smile too. “I don’t think I’m the kind of guest he’d want there, somehow.”
“It’s only going to be for a few days, Carrie. I’ll be sure to smooth it over with him when he’s back.”
A few days. The thought of being back on the road after that isn’t great. Maybe it’ll be different when my ankle eases up.
I dare to ask the question. “And then what? When he’s back?”
He shrugs. “We’ll work something out.”
I want to ask him what we’ll work out. Whether he’ll be coming with me wherever I end up going. Whether him looking for me every night means that he likes me just as much as I like him.
I’m eighteen now, and it’s nobody else’s business if we like each other, it’s nobody else’s business what we do.