Even the skies are grey and dark, as we drive up to the station. The day seems bleak, when really I should be celebrating. He’s caught, he’s trapped, and someone has actually trapped him for once. But I just feel sorry, as all that’s left of us is just going to disappear the second we come face to face. Three years of hard work and effort, and it’s all just going away. Though, we put different types of work into the relationship. See, I put my heart into it and he put other things into it.
It makes me shiver to think of the ‘other things’. The feelings of euphoria I used to get are long gone.
My parents also look pretty grim. It must be quite traumatising, I guess, for them to know that their daughter’s…groomer is so near. Dad’s face is red; he looks as though he could kill a man. Specifically, Neil. The steering wheel screeches with every turn, which indicates his clammy hands are keeping a firm grip. Mum keeps sniffing. She keeps mumbling to us (though it’s obviously more for her) that she has a ‘blasted cold’. But people with colds don’t gasp into their handkerchiefs, and keep burying their heads between their legs, as if they’re having panic attacks.
It’s honestly really scary to see what I’ve turned my family into. We are all just broken messes, who are trying desperately to get a grip. We can’t just go back to how we were. Though I suppose this is more progress than we’ve made in the past three years. I can’t remember a time before Neil slithered into my life that we have all been in the same space, let alone talking.
Dad turns around very briefly, and tosses me a Cadbury’s éclair. I mutter, “Thank you”, and pop the sweet toffee into my mouth. I suppose it’s pretty sad how surprised I just was to interact with my own Dad. The caramel trickles down my throat, and despite it tasting good, it only adds to the churning feeling in my stomach.
Then we turn the corner. The building looms before us, a great weight of bricks and metal gates, haughty officers eyeing us up. Dad scrolls down the window and leans out. One of them approaches us. “The Sullivans, sir. For Neil Johnstone.” A couple of shady figures outside swivel around at the names. Cameras are casually slung around their necks. I duck in my seat. “No photographs. Please.” There’s a rawness in Dad’s voice that takes me, and the camera men, aback.
We are let through, and the other officers jog up the ramp, to escort us out the car. Dad gets out the car first, and lets out Mum and me. He huddles us both close to his chest, and Mum and I trust his movements, letting them guide us. I try and just focus on Dad’s Tommy Hilfiger cologne, but the voices surrounding us and the jelly in my legs are too distracting.
After a few door slams, mutters, walkie-talkie crackles and shoe skids, I hear a familiar voice. “Is she here?” It’s husky and it’s warm and I just want to cry.
“We are here,” Dad affirms. “I don’t want her to be alone with the man that destroyed our family.” His voice booms around the hollow room.
I step away from Dad’s lock. For the first time since I’ve arrived here, I look around. It’s the same dull building, only there’s Neil. He’s not exactly how I imagined him. The ponytail is there, but it’s sandy. His eyes are dropped to the ground, but are framed by dark eyebrows and lashes. There’s a huge piece of me which just wants to know what was not and what was real. There are things between us that I want to stay between us. And in order to do that… “No, it’s okay. I think it’d be better if we speak alone.”
After a sharp intake of breath, Mum murmurs, “Dear. You can’t. It’s not safe, you know what he’s like. We all do.” No, Mum. You don’t know him like I do.
“He’s behind bars, Mum, he’s not going to do anything. Plus there’s officers, and you guys, just outside,” I plead.
Before Mum and Dad even have a chance to exchange glances, Officer Nile steps in. “I believe it would be a healthy thing to do. For the case, for the girl, and for the inmate.” Nobody seems to want to pick a fight with him. Out they all hustle, Mum and Dad looking at me frantically. Nile nods at me knowingly, and then shuts the door firmly.
Trying to avoid Neil’s stare, which I can feel burning through my skin, I hoist a chair up and place it right opposite him. Then we meet each other’s eyes. It’s nowhere near the romantic moment I spent so long picturing, but it’s something. It’s closure. Finally.
Neil presses his head against the bars. He looks so drained, so tired. Like he’s just expecting me to mouth off at him. I’m so tempted to. But then he says it: “Darling?”