Beth smiled. “What do you like to do, Elandra?”
“Please call me Ellie; only Mummy and Daddy call me by my name all the time and I don’t like it.”
“Okay. What sort of things do you like to do, Ellie?”
“I like to play the piano; I like to watch television when I’m allowed; I like to draw, and paint. And I like to talk to people.”
“I used to play the piano,” she said. “How about, tonight, you and I sleep in the bed and we kick Robert onto the sofa?”
Ellie grinned. “Yeah.”
“What are you two scheming about?” Robert asked, rejoining them.
“Nothing,” Ellie and Beth said at the same time.
Robert raised an eyebrow but said nothing, glancing between them. “Women,” he muttered.
“Uncle Robert...?” Ellie whined pleadingly.
“Can we watch TV tonight?” she asked, looking up through her lashes.
“Don’t tell Mummy, but yes, we can,” Robert grinned.
“Thank you,” Ellie said, a wide grin splitting her face in two.
Lying in bed, Beth stared at the darkness. The small form of Ellie lying beside her was the only thing that stopped her from crying about her mother. She hadn’t heard from Jack, but that didn’t stop her worrying.
She thought of the last time she’d seen her mother; when she was leaving home. She thought of Robert having to stop her mother slapping her.
Beth closed her eyes and sighed. Despite everything, she didn’t want her mum to die. She still couldn’t overcome the feelings of guilt that plagued her heart. She knew Robert was right; it wasn’t her fault, but she could help thinking it.
She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up, tiptoeing out of the room and into the living room. Robert sat up on the sofa. She vaguely noticed in the dim light of the lamp that he was wearing trousers and a t-shirt.
“Hey, you okay?” he asked, looking worried.
“Yeah, I just... I just wanted a hug to be honest,” she mumbled, looking at her fingers which were knotting together.
He stood up and walked over, pulling her into his arms and resting his cheek on top of her head. She instantly wrapped her arms around his waist, sighing.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too,” he replied immediately. “Now, what’s wrong?”
“I still feel as if it’s my fault,” she murmured against his chest.
“Oh, darling, it’s not. Don’t you see? How could it possibly be your fault?”
“I know in my head that it’s not, but my heart... There’s a small piece of me that blames myself because—”
“You weren’t there,” he finished for her. “We’ve all been where you are.”
She nodded slowly, tightening her arms around him.