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The Journey Home

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Caroline drives home in her stocking feet. Her toes curl around the top of the gas pedal and her heel aches where it rocks against the floor of the footwell. Beside her Flora coos and babbles, hands waving in the general direction of the mobile hanging from her carrier. The rhythm of the drive – overtake and fall back, press and release – reminds Caroline of sitting up nights with William or Lawrence, rocking their cradle with one foot and marking whilst John slept.

Now, of course, it's Greg who spends late nights with a fussy baby, leaving Caroline to marshal her energy for mornings spent rousting Lawrence out of bed and hauling him off to school. It's easier that way – Greg can sleep in, work anywhere – yet Caroline finds herself missing, suddenly, the intense solitude of those nights, tea and her pile of marking, Will's baby snores or Lawrence sucking on his dummy. The whoosh of her tyres on the tarmac captures some of that insularity; although the clouds have cleared and the sun is almost too bright, she and Flora are alone on the road, in their own space.

Caroline takes her eyes off the road for a second and holds her left hand out, smiling when Flora grabs one finger in her surprisingly tight baby grip. "It'll be just you and me soon enough, won't it," Caroline murmurs, tugging her finger away just to feel Flora try and pull it back. "The boys out of the house for half-term, and then we're getting on a plane..."

She has to take her hand back then to signal. Flora fusses for a moment, and Caroline's afraid she's going to start wailing; instead she subsides back into her carrier and focuses on trying to get her foot into her mouth.

"And then," Caroline continues, turning on to the lane that leads to her drive, "we're going to go to New York, and we're going to see all the places where your mummy went to school, before she had you – before she met me." Caroline's gaze flicks unbidden to the rearview mirror, but nothing's there except the road unfurling behind her. They'd talked about a New York trip, before; now it'll be new experiences with Ginika and Flora instead of nostalgia and laughter with Kate. So be it.

She pulls into her drive and sighs, relieved. Flora gurgles, sounding for all the world like she's just as happy to be home.

Caroline doesn't bother putting her ruined shoes back on, instead sliding out of the Jeep with them in one hand and Flora's carrier in the other. Stones bite into her already-chilled feet, but she ignores them, detouring to the garage to bin the shoes and, after a moment's thought, her blazer, too. She walks into her house with her head held high, heedless of the ladders in her hose and the stain on her dress. Behind her, the Jeep dings disconsolately, one door left open as if to let the ghosts escape.