For a while, Carol drove. Alicia wouldn’t let go of me, and Eloise was too tired to drive anymore. David and Joe were still in the other car. Eloise had decided the back seat was more comfy to take a nap, so with Alicia on my lap on one side and her on the other, the back of the car was getting pretty cozy.
Both of them fell asleep eventually – I was left with my own thoughts. Not a good idea, really, considering. All I could think of was Rayn. And then my brain decided it’d be a good idea to go through all the ways Alicia and Rayn were kinda similar. The innocence and childlikeness was what did it, I think. I mean, Rayn wasn’t ever all that innocent, not really, but he always seemed it. He looked it.
I closed my eyes, playing with Alicia’s hair. Part of me was wishing it was Rayn’s. Joe had told me to make room for the pain before, that it’d consume me if I didn’t. I was trying, but it felt like it was swallowing me whole regardless.
Silence filled the car. It might have been comfortable, except I could feel Carol’s eyes on me in the rear view. I glanced up, catching her staring at me.
“What’s your problem?” I grumbled, doing my best not to get so annoyed I woke the other two up. She shrugged and turned her gaze back to the road.
I dunno how long we were driving like that. It felt like an age. Everything felt like an age now I was sober. Everything pissed me off more. Everything hurt more.
“You’re really good with her,” Eloise’s whisper startled me. I looked round to see her smiling at me. Forcing myself to relax, I just kind of nodded awkwardly, not really knowing what to say. “Did you look after kids often before?”
I laughed, “you think people gave me their kids to look after? You’re fucking mental, you are.”
Her smile turned into a grin, “yeah, okay. Stupid question. But you must’ve picked it up somewhere.”
“I guess Rayn taught me well enough how to look after a kid.”
“My friend. The one Layla killed.” I couldn’t really help the bitterness that slipped out with that. Eloise looked away, her grin fading.
“Oh.” There was a pause, and the silence was back. “How come Rayn taught you to look after a kid?”
“He practically was one. I mean, he was only a few months younger than me, but he never really grew up.”
“And the rest,” I sighed. Another silence.
“How come you’ve just kind of… ended up looking after Alicia? I didn’t really have you pegged as the type to care,” Eloise asked carefully. I see her reflection looking at me in the window as the scenery dribbled past us. I pretended to be interested in the landscape outside. There wasn’t anything to look at, though – just dead fields and a couple of skinny looking horses. I wasn’t fooling her. I didn’t especially want to talk, though. And definitely not with Carol in the car listening in on every word. I could see her reflection too, in the side mirror. That was the face of someone desperately trying to learn everything there was to be learnt.
“What can I say?” I met Carol’s eye in the mirror for a second and her face dropped as she realized I knew she was listening. “I’m a sucker for the big brother role. Besides that, it doesn’t matter how much of a cock her dad was to me, a kid should still be raised right.”
“Fat chance of that happening with you around. Richard will be turning in his grave, knowing a junkie like you is looking after his little girl.”
“Hey, fuck you,” I snapped, frowning. “You don’t fucking know anything about my fucking life-”
“Cancer!” Eloise cut me off, just as I started to feel my temper getting out of control.
“You’re lucky I’m not in the mood to piss the others off,” I leant forwards so Carol could hear every fucking word, “because I am not afraid to beat the shit out of a woman if she deserves it, and you’re heading that way you pathetic old broad,” I hissed through gritted teeth.
“Cancer!” Eloise shouted at me. At that, Alicia woke up.
“Daddy?” she asked sleepily. Fuck’s sake.
“Daddy’s a star now, remember?” I said, doing my best to sound comforting. I’m not too sure it worked, because the second she did remember, the tears started.
“Holy fucking shit!” I banged my head against the window, taking a deep breath. “It’s okay,” I forced a smile, wiping some of the tears away, “it’s all gonna be okay, shh.” She buried her face in my shirt. Rubbing her back, I repeated all the mushy nice stuff I’d said about her dad earlier, reminding her that he was happy and all that bullshit.
This was gonna be a long ass journey.