The weight of my tiredness beats down upon me as I pull off the motorway. The car slinks onto the car park almost by itself, as if it knows what is required of it. I pick up my phone then put it away. There's no point telling Penny, her reservoirs of hope are long depleted.
Sitting there in the car sucks up time, making me put my well-thumbed book of my despair to bed. I just hope she's here.
A breeze riffs in through the partly open window, carrying with it the smell of rain. I glancing round and I'm reassured by the sight of Danielle's old parka with its peeling badges and fraying cuffs.
Walking across the car park I enter the service station, the automatic doors reluctantly opening at the last minute. A quick search around the food court and rest rooms reveals nothing and I swallow down the bile rising in my chest, laced with disappointment so I head outside.
Then as I'm leaving, a cigarette lighter shoots a flame and gives me the face I am searching for hidden by the bins. Her eyes flick towards the me, tears staining her grimy cheeks like liquid starlight in the night. I smile, my lip quivering as my heart fills with joy. Danielle runs into my outstretched arms and I squeeze her close, happy I've found her again. We walk slowly together towards the car and I open the door and wait. Taking her time she climbs into the front seat and I deadlock the doors not looking at her, not speaking, and drive away.
We get onto the motorway again and after a while I look over. She's fast asleep so I drag the parka from the back seat and lay it over her.
The drive home flies by, all 300 miles of it and before I know it we are home. Penny's car isn't outside so she must be on a night shift. All the days seem to blend into one but she probably told me.
Danielle wakes up as the engine dies, bleary eyed but smiling. She looks more like my little girl and I draw her to me holding her, warm and safe in my cocoon. After one last squeeze I release her.
She risks a pale smile, 'Always.'
We head inside, Danielle in her worn clothes and jacket, the parka on the front seat.
Then, just as we reach the front door, she speaks.
'I'm not leaving again Daddy,' Danielle says, in a small, soft voice, choked all I can do is nod, ' Not again. I'm so sorry.'
I hope she's right, hope that she still feels the same in a month. I hope the day will come when I will bring our daughter home, and she doesn't leave again. The day that Penny will smile and the light will return to her eyes.
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