When he first decided to go back there after all those years leaving that damn town with another person, let alone a child, wasn't on his radar. Nevertheless, here he was walking through the damp grass and leaves along the towns outskirts. Heading back to the dingy parking lot where his car was haphazardly parked with a young girl stepping on his heels the entire way. It felt like forever, through the fog and light rain, but soon the car was in sight. James didn't remember parking it so horribly. It took up two spaces, but that was the least of his problems at the moment.
"I'm sitting in the front!" proclaimed Laura, who was already at the passenger side door. She tried to open the door repeatedly despite it being locked. She knew that this was pissing James off by the way his neutral expression ever so slightly quirked into a frown, but she also knew he wasn't just going to leave her. Taking Laura in is what she would have wanted, James taking care of her was the least he could do after what he did to Mary. and he was ultimately unprepared to do so, but he was willing to. Maybe then this could be the start to his repentance and lead him to salvation.
As soon as the doors locking mechanism clicked open. Laura swung her door open and got in with a slam behind her. James followed suit, but was more gentle to his already tired car. The car soon started up with a stutter and a few shakes. James knew it needed to get checked out, but as long as the car brakes functioned and it wasn't on fire, he was fine putting it off as long as he could.
Making a disgusted face, Laura piped up from the uncomfortable silence: "So, where are we going? Do you even have a house? By the way, your car smells terrible. I'd say you lived here." After a few gagging noises Laura looked to James waiting for a response. It seemed to take him awhile to fully process her words.
"I do have a house, but our first priority is a gas station. We're running low… plus, I bet you're hungry, right?" He didn't take his eyes off the road as he spoke; With his dull look and never changing expression, Laura thought he seemed more like a human puppet than a person. She nodded along and reached for the radio, as James was very boring and music would drown out both of their thoughts. Flipping from all of James's preset stations only lead to boring news and talk show stations. It probably took a good five minutes to find an actual station worthwhile to listen to, at least for James. Laura gave up pushing the scan button over and over so she finally settled on a station playing some weird rock music.
After a grueling half an hour, the duo finally found a gas station. Never before had a gas station, of all places, brought James any comfort. He wasn't planning on Laura coming in with him, but he didn't blame her for not wanting to be alone anymore. James held the door open for Laura, he may have killed his wife but he still had some semblance of chivalry. Immediately she began to walk and look around like she was searching for something specific. Instead of asking her if she needed help James decided to go for the coffee machines. He really didn't need any caffeine but some sounded good right about now.
Black coffee: simple and to the point, if he wanted coffee with a good flavour he wouldn't be drinking this viscous nightmare sludge. Between him and Mary he was the only one to drink the stuff, the only way for her to enjoy it was to drown it in hot cocoa. He shook his head; there's no use dwelling on her anymore. Finding Laura wasn't a problem, but getting her to narrow down the food and treats she decided she absolutely had to have was going to be an ordeal.
"Laura, you can only choose two things and only one can be a sweet, the other needs to be real food." James's attempt at a stern fatherly voice was more like an exasperated plea. "Come on! I'm starving! I'm going to die if I don't eat all of this!" Laura raised her voice loud enough to where the cashier could hear, they were the only three in the store after all. He didn't think her giving puppy eyes would work but apparently he wasn't as strong willed as he thought.
"Okay, what will it take then?" James had no clue what he was doing but boy was he trying. Setting his coffee down on a nearby counter he gestured for Laura to lay out her plethora of goodies. Begrudgingly she did so, James had to admit her candy choices were ones he himself enjoyed too. Upon further inspection of her haul though all of the items were just candies. "You can only choose one," He said flatly then continues "Unless there's a sharable one, then you can choose two." Immediately she grabs the largest candy bar from the pile, no sharing for James today it seems.
Putting the rest of the sweet treats back, minus a pack of mini doughnuts for himself; James finally realises how hungry he is. Walking around to try and find food he sees a hot dog roller grill. "You would really eat one of those gross things?" Laura now beside him asks with the meanest accusative tone he's ever heard an eight year old use. "I'd eat two of them, why are you too scared to eat one?" He had noticed she didn't choose anything to eat so of course he decided the best thing to do was play chicken. "I am not scared!" "Then I'm getting you a hot dog too since you haven't chosen anything else besides that chocolate." Physically his expression didn't change but he really felt like he deserved a pat on the back for that one.
This entire store visit was twenty minutes tops but James felt like it was three hours. The relief of handing the cashier his credit card was surreal. "You two are up early!" The cashier spoke as she scanned their items "Is it bring your kid to work day where you work? It's just barely past six." James' voice caught in his throat, he hadn't realised it was that early. He managed to smile a bit "No, we're going back home from a long trip. Also put thirty on pump two." His voice betrayed him from his attempt at a happy demeanor. Thankfully she only gave a sympathetic smile and handed him his bag.
James had to stop Laura from immediately going to the car. Handing her the hotdog he bought her the only thing he said was "We're eating out here." He really didn't want to deal with the smell in the car and he figured Laura had forgotten about it. After they get home he was going to have a helluva time cleaning it out. At this point he was better off scrapping the thing and digging into his and Mary's savings.
It was surprisingly relaxing to sit on the curb and eat. Small talk wasn't James' forte but Laura seemed to specialise in talking. "With you talking so much I'm surprised your hotdog hasn't grown legs and ran away." He only got a shove in response. Laura was a handful but James didn't mind. This was his fresh start and he knows it won't be easy, still that didn't make it fun.
After their glamourous breakfast it was back to driving… and back to Laura trying to dramatically open a locked car door. As soon as the lock clicked she got in and slammed her door. If she keeps slamming my doors, my car won't be the only thing broken. He shook his head at the thought and waited for the gas to finish pumping. That coffee was a catch-22; he was awake but the jitters were unbearable. With the tank filled and gas cap back on he slid into the front seat. Laura was fast asleep in her seat, she needed a rest. That also means the rest of the drive he'll be left to his thoughts.
James never really thought about having kids, him and Mary never really had the "are we going to have kids now that we're married" talk. His stance was if she wants kids and they were both mentally and financially able to support them then they would. At this point in time he was really only financially well off though, her will left everything to him. He found that to be odd since she had come from a loving family, or that's what she said anyways. All his interactions with them were brief and curt but Mary always reassured him that they just had to get to know him more.
Eventually they made it back to James' house. He didn't have the heart to wake Laura so he carried her inside to the guest room. Already the house felt less dead having another person there. After tucking her in as much as he wanted to go to his room and sleep that wasn't an option. He needed to go clean and fix up the car and that was going to take time and concentration.