The car pulled up a few doors from their destination. Peter had driven, albeit grudgingly; conversation had been in short supply on the brief journey to the estate, her partner making it obvious that he was an unwilling participant in Carla's plan. She had panicked that he wouldn't show at all this morning, growing more and more nervous as she waited for him to respond to her messages, reluctantly facing up to the possibility of having to go alone. That thought had terrified her, but at the same time she had made her mind up, she needed answers and couldn't wait any longer. Her relief was palpable when she heard him talking to Roy in the café below, before his heavy footsteps echoed on the stairs to the flat. His mood hadn't altered from the previous evening but after checking that there was no way that he could change her mind he had agreed to go along with what she wanted, as long as she promised to stop if it became too upsetting for her, or either of them felt she was putting her health at risk.
Now, sitting in the passenger seat, mere yards from the place that could unlock so many of the secrets her mind refused to disclose, she felt doubt for the first time. What if the whole exercise was pointless? Or even worse, what if what she discovered was so bad that even Peter wouldn't be able to forgive? She closed her eyes and tried to steady her nerves, concentrating on keeping her breathing slow; the last thing she wanted was to have a panic attack before she even made it inside. She felt a hand on her cheek and opened her eyes to see Peter staring at her intently, his eyes full of concern.
"You don't need to do this love, we can turn the car around right now and head home, focus on the future instead."
She shook her head. She had to continue; she couldn't back out now.
"Ok, if you are really sure, then I will be right with you the whole time, I promise. You can do this."
His words were enough to dull the anxiety which had threatened to overwhelm her. She took one last deep breath before opening the car door, stepping out into the warm air of the estate of her childhood. As she started to walk towards the squat, Peter moved to walk beside her, his hand finding hers, bringing comfort with it, and she squeezed it gratefully as they headed up the path, before knocking firmly on the door.
They were met with silence initially, and Peter almost felt relief, although he was well aware that this wouldn't be the end of the matter, Carla wasn't going to let this lie so perhaps it was better to get it over with quickly. Her watched her readying herself for what might come next; her left hand moved to rest protectively on her stomach for a few seconds, before returning to her side. A noise just inside the house caught both of their attention, before the door was cracked open and a face familiar to Peter from his previous visit peered out and clocked who he was.
"No way am I letting you in, you nutter! You could have killed me!"
It was Carla who reacted the quickest, moving forward to block the doorway, her foot wedging into the gap before the door could be closed as she pleaded with the occupier.
"Please just hear me out OK? We're not here to cause trouble. Just give us five minutes, please?"
Peter couldn't hide his loathing of the man in front of him as he relented to Carla's request, moving back into the hallway, allowing them to enter the decrepit building Carla had briefly called home. He hadn't forgotten that the vagrant now standing feet away from him had lied to his face and by doing so stopped him finding Carla, prolonging her time away in the grip of her psychosis. A gentle nudge in the ribs soon reminded him that Carla knew him too well, he knew instantly it was a caution not to let his temper get away from him. Following her into what Peter supposed was the sitting room, he watched her carefully taking in her surroundings. He couldn't work out whether she was remembering being here before, or was just taken aback by the squalor that she had once chosen to stay in. No, chosen wasn't the right word was it? It still pained Peter to think back to that time, to how ill she was, to how close he came to losing her. The squatter was now standing in the corner, looking nervously at him, probably wondering if this was going to end in another beating. Peter doubted if he'd had a proper shower since their last meeting, his hair fell limply past his shoulders, his clothes were filthy and hung loosely from his skinny frame. Surely nobody would choose this life, and Peter actually felt a pang of sympathy as he wondered what circumstance had led him to this. The three of them stood for a few moments, weighing each other up, before Carla finally spoke.
"I'm sorry for just turning up like this, but I was hoping to maybe have a look around… I don't know if you remember me but I think I stayed here for a while when I was ill, and I'm just trying to piece that time back together… Can you help?"
She was met with silence as the man stared back at her for what felt like ages. Peter was just about to step in when he finally spoke.
"You look very different to before you know. Doing alright for yourself now aren't you? Well if I were you I'd think myself lucky and walk away. From what I remember you brought nothing but trouble."
Peter could hold his tongue not longer, moving forwards, making it clear he wasn't here to play games.
"She asked you a question. If I were you matey I'd answer her now, if you know what's good for you."
"Peter, don't." Carla's quiet warning stopped him in his tracks. She was right of course, his fists weren't going to help get her the answers she craved. But a bit of fear wouldn't hurt.
"OK, OK, I'll tell you what I know, which isn't much alright? You must have stayed here about a week or so, maybe a bit longer, I don't exactly have a calendar here do I? I knew there was something not right about you. At first I thought it was drugs, I mean you were carrying enough pills in that bag of yours. But then you weren't like the other smackheads here. I mean we offered it you, but you wouldn't get involved, you just kept saying that people were after you, and that you wanted to hide away. Nothing else happened, I swear."
Carla was nodding, whatever she did remember it clearly matched with what she was being told.
"Then when he turned up, Peter, is it? Well you really didn't want to see him so that's why I get rid of him. I didn't know if he had been beating you or what did I? And then that other bloke came over and said he knew you, and you went with him. What was I supposed to do?"
"Hang on, which bloke?" Carla looked panicked at this news so Peter stepped back over and retook her hand, trying to reassure her, debating whether it was time for them to leave.
"That one that was staying over the street. I dunno, said he used to live round here or something."
"Dominic." Peter practically spat the name out. He didn't trust that man, whatever Carla had said.
"Yes, that might have been his name. Well you went off with him one night, and the next thing I know this other guy came and got you, and then I didn't see you again."
"Wait a minute, what other guy?" Carla was clearly confused, this was new information, and not what she had wanted to hear. Peter turned to her, urging her to stay calm, promising her that everything would be alright.
"A guy that this Dominic bloke knew I think. I saw them talking out on the street, then he just came and told you to come with him, and off you went. I wasn't your keeper you know, we all had our own stuff going on."
Peter was trying to resist the urge to punch this idiot standing in front of him. Whatever he said, he had let a clearly vulnerable woman go off with god knows who.
"Peter can we just go now."
Carla's urgent request was what Peter needed to snap out of it; punching that scumbag wouldn't have achieved anything, and she was his priority. He threw one last warning glance as he followed her back out onto the street, wondering what this new information would mean for her. She didn't speak until they were seated back in the car and Peter gently prompted her, desperate to know what she was thinking, dreading what was coming next. He could tell she was trying to hold back her tears as she finally spoke.
"To be honest Peter I just have even more questions now. I need to know who this person was, where they took me, and why. Look, I know you're not going to like it, but I'm going to have to talk to Dominic again."