“We need to talk,” he says. “We need to work out a plan of action from here on in.” He pauses and all I can think about is how green his eyes look under the kitchen lights. “But not tonight. Tonight you should eat and drink and rest up.” He places my hand on the icepack. “Keep that there.”
I can’t hold back the rush of panic as he gets to his feet and leaves me on the counter. “Where are you going?”
“Only to put some food on, don’t worry,” he tells me, and I hate the way he’s seen through my armour. He opens posh guy’s big kitchen cupboards and talks me through the contents. So many things. Way more things than Rosie and Bill ever had at theirs.
He heats up a pan of soup at my request, because that’s all I think I can stomach right now, and I watch him like I’ve never seen him before. His shirt is crumpled and his jacket has a patch of dry mud on the elbow. It must be from me. He has really fine hands, long fingers like he should be a pianist or something, not some charity worker. His jaw has a shadow of stubble and it really suits him. The lights in here are harsh and show the fine lines around his eyes, but they really suit him too.
I’m not sure if it’s my belly rumbling, or the butterflies, or a bit of both, but I think I love this man. It’s the most crazy stupid thing to be thinking in some stranger’s house while my ex-charity-caseworker stirs a pan of chicken soup, but it’s true.
If I’m honest – which I rarely am – I think I’ve loved Michael for months. I think I’ve loved him since the day he called the cops and argued with them that I could be telling the truth about my bruises.
I haven’t loved anyone since the Evans family threw me out all those years ago. I don’t think anyone’s loved me since then, either. Not any of the families I’ve been palmed off on, and definitely not Bill and Rosie. And not Eli, no matter what crap he comes out with when he wants me to do something for him. But here, now, I think Michael could love me one day. Maybe.
He looked for me.
He called me and left me messages.
He made me an icepack for my ankle and stopped me from falling.
I feel in a lump in my throat and I’m so scared it might turn into stupid tears that I pretend it’s a cough. Michael gets me a glass of water and that only makes it worse.
He’s about to step back to the pan when my hand moves on its own. I watch my fingers clasp around his wrist, and he freezes dead. He doesn’t even breathe. I’d feel it on my face if he did.
“Thank you,” I say, and my voice is thick with that stupid lump in my throat.
His wrist turns in my grip and his fingers take mine. I close my eyes to stop the tears and focus on how warm his hand feels.
“You’re welcome, Carrie,” he says, and that’s it. Just like that. Like it’s a simple answer to a simple thank you, when what I really want to say is that I need him. I want him. That I wasn’t lying when I said I wanted us to run away together.
He’s back at the pan before I can say one single word, let alone all the others I want to say.
I choke them down after the stupid lump in my throat.MichaelCarrie devours her soup like a starving person. She dips the bread right into the bowl and I watch with fascination as she dips her fingers right in after it. She cleans the bowl, the spoon squeaking against ceramic as she scrapes up every last drop.
I could watch her forever, and it surprises me, because I don’t remember ever feeling like this about Molly – not even back in the early days when things were new.
Even with tangles in her hair and an obvious layer of grime on her skin, Carrie Wells is a beautiful creature.
I’ve seen plenty of teenagers grow into attractive young women and never considered any of them as anything other than wards in my care, but this girl is different. Everything about her is different.
She’s unusually quiet as she places the empty bowl at her side, eyes fluttering as she struggles to stay awake. She shouldn’t be here, and yet having her here feels ridiculously good. Maybe Jack is right and this is a midlife crisis. Maybe I’m just a stupid old idiot with a stupid infatuation, but it’s only now the panic of losing her has eased that I realise how tightly wound I’ve been these past few days.