Finny remained facing Joe's desk until Joe was about to raise his voice at her to get a response. Just in time, Finny slowly turned to face him.
"I had this dream..."
Joe listened as Finny started to retell her dream. Joe recognised the source immediately.
"Wait wait wait... So, I'm in your dream, right?"
Finny coloured a little.
"Ermm, yeah. I guess."
"I'm in your dream... As Scrooge?"
Joe caught the rising desperation on Finny's face. He shook his head and waved his hand.
"Never mind. Just, get on with it."
Finny got on with it; recounting every detail she could remember. Joe listened as the ghost of Kidsmas past flew with him across the countryside.
Then Finny's voice became softer and quieter and Joe struggled to hear as the sad little tale came to its conclusion.
There was a silence between them that lasted for several seconds until Joe gently coaxed her.
"Then what happened? Another ghost?"
Finny dragged herself away from the thoughts and nodded. She took a breath and continued with the story.
Joe listened, his chin on his chest, imagining the scene Finny's words painted, smirking at the description of Finny's vision of the factory.
Then the words became stilted and Joe looked up to see Finny blushing as she stumbled over the tableau depicted beneath the ghost's robe.
She rushed through it, but not before Joe realised he was actually seeing a snapshot of Finny's innermost thoughts.
Then the story changed again with the arrival of the third ghost and by the end of it, Joe understood what had prompted the rage that fuelled the attack on her friend.
Now Finny was looking up at him, waiting for him to... what? Pass sentence? Probably, in her eyes. But Joe was a grown-up.
He understood about dreams, what caused them, even a bit of the psychology behind them. But how to explain all that to an eight-year-old? To her, the dream was simply black and white.
Clear and prophetic. Joe wished Silja was here, or Tuki, or Kirsten. Hell, even the bloody Troy woman. Just not him.
Inspiration struck. Or was it desperation? He could send Finny home, well, back to the orphanage, and have the Matron talk to her.
She was 'in loco wotsit' anyway, wasn't she?
But even as he was thinking it, Joe had stored away enough shitty memories of his own to realise that Finny would see in an instant that she was being fobbed off.
Bugger it. He'd asked her, hadn't he? Made her tell him? Joe looked into green eyes set in the sea of freckles. Some of that shit she told him must have been bloody hard.
"Finny? It was just a dream. A shitty, awful, bad dream. But that's all it was." So far, so good. He's used this on Annie before. But Finny was still staring at him.
He wasn't telling her anything new. "It was a dream full of bad memories. And things that scare you..." It wasn't working. Finny's lips were pressed tightly together. Joe knew that look.
Annie did it just before she... just before... "Aww crap."
With a rising, tearful whine, Finny ran across the couple of metres that separated them, pressing Joe back against the frosted glass and wrapping her arms around his middle.
Then the sobbing started.
Joe froze, his arms held out to his sides. He wasn't good at this. The whole tears thing. This was one of the reasons he was okay with the expense of hiring a nanny.
He could feel his t-shirt starting to get wet, and not just with tears if the huge sniffles were anything to go by. This was normally the point Kirsten or Silja would take over.
What the fuck do I do? Very tentatively, Joe reached a hand towards Finny's head. He patted the mass of untidy red hair.
"There. There. It's okay." But it wasn't okay because the wailing immediately got louder, Joe's t-shirt got wetter and he was surprised how it was that such scrawny arms could squeeze that hard.
He really was shite at this. It wasn't him; it just wasn't. In fact. He was starting to get just a bit pissed off, well, quite a lot actually. He needed a drink. Fuck it.
Joe prised Finny away from him. It took more strength than he realised to loosen the death grip she had on his waist, but he did it. Joe held Finny at arm's length.
Finny blinked, then stared at the wet patch her tears had made on Joe's t-shirt.
Joe led her over to the table they used for lessons. He pointed to one of the boxes that were their chairs.
Finny sat, sniffing.
Joe went to his desk, bent down to open a drawer and returned a few moments later with a half-full bottle of decent bourbon and two glasses.
He sat on the box normally occupied by Worms and tried not to think what the stains were. Finny watched wide-eyed, not quite sure what was happening just now.
Joe poured two fingers of bourbon into each glass and pushed one over to the increasingly puzzled Finny.
"What?! I'm eight! I'm not allowed..."
"Today you are. Sip it, don't gulp. It's not soda."
Finny lifted the shot glass to her lips and sipped. She swallowed and then gagged and then gasped."
"I don't like it! It tastes horrible."
"Nobody likes it. That's not the point. Just keep sipping and listen" Joe watched Finny take another sip from the glass and gamely fight back her body's reactions. He nodded.
"Okay then. You saw your mum getting killed. "That sucks," Joe took a swig from his own glass and leaned in. "But here's the thing. You ain't alone in seeing your parents being murdered.
It's happened to way too many people already, but your mum died quick, see, so she was one of the lucky ones." Joe saw Finny's eyes start to fill. "Drink!" Finny obeyed automatically.
"And every time you think you're going to start crying, you take another drink. Got it?"
"Good. Now. Where was I. Oh yes. Your mum. You have that awful memory stuck in your head now and it will never go away. Never.
You can either let it eat you up until you become a hate-filled killer or some such or you can deal with it. What you don't do, though, is bottle it up and ignore it. Got it?"
Finny felt a little light-headed. But Joe was telling her stuff. Not like reading stuff, or writing stuff. Proper stuff. She nodded again.
Joe refilled his own glass.
"Good. Now. Next thing. You're eight, right?" A nod from Finny. "You're an orphan, right?" Another nod.
"You've got nobody to look after you, right?" Another nod, and this time a sip from the glass because she could feel tears coming.
"Wrong!" Joe's response made Finny choke. "You've got you to look after you! You're smart, you can do it. Sure, the world's a scary place with everything and everyone trying to kill you.
But you've managed to survive for eight years, so you're winning. Keep winning."
Joe leaned closer.
"Look. You can survive by yourself, but it's easier if you have friends. Pick your friends carefully. Make sure you can trust them and always have their back. Then they'll have yours."
Finny took another sip.
Joe sat back again.
"Good girl. Now then. Is Casper dead?"
"No. Is Onetooth dead?"
"Are you one of 'those' girls?" Joe wasn't sure if Finny knew what a whore was... but he was definitely sure he wasn't going to ask her outright.
Finny sat bolt upright.
"And Worms isn't some weird sicko murderer either. At least not yet. So what you saw in your dream was only what you are scared of happening. It doesn't mean it's going to."
Finny thought about that while Joe again refreshed his glass. She looked at him.
"But it doesn't mean it won't either."
Joe sat back against the backrest that wasn't there and almost fell off the box. He righted himself.
"Look, Finn. I don't know about the others but you're too bloody clever to let that happen to you and I can't see you letting that happen to any of your friends. Like that Liza girl."
"Lisa then. As for the other three. You're their leader, aren't you?"
"Umm. I guess."
"Well then. It's your job to look after them too."
Finny stared off into space. Deep in thought. Joe drained his glass and watched her. He hid a half-grin. See, he thought to himself, smart kid. Joe lifted the almost empty glass from her hand.
"Right. Well, you're bugger all use for making ammo just now. You might as well go home."
Finny stood up and Joe went to the door.
"Before you do, though, go and make up with Worms." He opened the door.
Finny actually managed a smile.
She was just going through the door, a little unsteady on her feet, when Joe stopped her.
"Oh. And if I ever catch you drinking again, I'll tan your arse myself."
Finny's mouth opened with a retort but the door closed in her face.