CHAPTER 17

‘I’m worried about you,’ Siobhan said, sitting down on the bed next to him. She’d come inside for more drinks. Tom had lost track of time. It was dark now but the conversation outside on the patio was still in full flow.

‘I’m okay,’ he said. ‘Sorry about earlier.’

‘It’s not me you need to apologise to.’

‘I know.’

‘Look, Rob’s taking him back in a little while. Come back outside, will you.’

She took Tom’s hand and led him out to the others, pausing only to pick up a tray of hot drinks she’d made. Tom sheepishly followed her. Rob and Jall’s conversation briefly stopped.

‘I was out of order earlier,’ Tom said to the alien. ‘Sorry I gave you such a hard time.’

‘It’s understandable,’ Jall replied. ‘You weren’t expecting me to come here. Maybe your brother should have checked first.’

‘No, it’s me. I’m sorry.’

‘Tom’s had a tough year,’ Siobhan explained.

‘I heard about your parents,’ the alien said. ‘That must have been difficult for you.’

‘You can say that again,’ Rob mumbled.

‘You see,’ Jall continued, ‘there’s not such an impossible gulf between us after all. My family back home must be feeling bereaved. In fact, I feel it myself. When we were drifting, before we found life on your planet, it looked for a while as if we’d have very little chance of surviving, never mind getting back home. Now we’ve more hope, but things are still uncertain. The thought of never seeing my wife, my children and the rest of my family again is too much to bear. What I’m saying, Tom, is that I think I understand your pain.’

*

Hours later, when the others were long gone and Tom and Siobhan lay together in bed, Siobhan leant across and stroked Tom’s hair.

‘I meant what I said earlier. I am worried about you.’

‘There’s no need to be. I’m fine.’

‘No you’re not.’

‘Yes I am.’

‘So what was all that about tonight then? You were downright rude to Jall. Honest, Tom, the poor guy’s stranded millions of miles from home, separated from everything and everyone he cares about, and you were laying into him. It was completely unjustified. It was embarrassing.’

Tom struggled to answer. He was thankful of the dark so he could avoid eye contact.

‘I just have a hard time swallowing some of the things I hear about the aliens, that’s all.’

‘Is that all? You’re starting to sound like a bigot. I think there’s more to it.’

‘Like what?’

‘There’s all that stuff with your parents for starters, and—’

‘Mum and Dad have got nothing to do with it. They’re gone and I’ve accepted that and—’

‘—and I don’t think you have. I think you’ve just run away from it all.’

‘How can you say that? What else am I supposed to do? The inquests have been completed, their estates have been settled… there’s nothing left to run away from.’

‘Yes there is. Bloody hell, Tom, you can be so blinkered at times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you came to Thatcham because you’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time, but I think you’ve left a lot of unfinished business behind.’

‘You’re wrong.’

‘I think you should go back. You should take me. Show me the place where you used to live and where you worked. Introduce me to some of the friends you left behind.’

‘You wouldn’t like them…’

‘Let me make that decision, sweetheart. I think there’s a lot you’re not dealing with here, and it’s starting to show itself as anger.’

‘I’m not angry.’

‘You were tonight.’

‘I wasn’t, I was frustrated. There’s a difference between being angry and being frustrated…’

‘Not from where I was sitting. Listen, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be angry, I just think you need to try and deal with it better. More constructively. Stop aiming it at the aliens.’

Another silence. Tom didn’t know what to say. Was she right? He wished she’d go to sleep. He didn’t want to think about it tonight.

‘You okay?’ she asked after waiting too long for him to say something.

‘I’m okay.’

‘Are you going to talk to me?’

‘I don’t know what to say.’

‘Will you take me to Birmingham? Let me have a look at who you used to be.’

Tom thought he didn’t have any option. He couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to. ‘I suppose. Can’t promise it’ll be very exciting.’

‘Let me decide that. I’m not looking for excitement, I just want you to be okay. Anyway, you might be surprised. You might want to go back there permanently.’

‘I doubt it.’

‘You might. The world’s changing, Tom. You never know what’s around the corner these days.’

‘The world’s always changing. It changes every day. Always has been, always will be.’

‘Yes but the pace of change is different now and if anything it’s going to get even faster.’

‘Bloody hell, stop patronising me.’

‘Then stop being so touchy. I just think you need to open up some more. Give these people a chance. You’re a bloody pessimist, and it’s doing my head in. You’re right, all the things we’re hearing do sound incredible and yes, a lot of it is hard to believe, but we have to try. You’ve said yourself, the human race is on a downward spiral and people are pre-programmed to fuck up and fight with each other, but there’s no reason why we can’t change the programming, is there? Not now they’ve shown us how.’

‘Why does everyone think they’re bloody philosophers these days,’ he grumbled unhelpfully, turning onto his side. She pulled him over onto his back again.

‘Maybe it’s because we’ve all been given an incredible opportunity,’ she said. ‘This is our chance to turn everything around and make something of ourselves. They said on the news we’ve reached a pivotal moment in history, and we’re right at the centre of it all, Tom, you and me. I don’t want you to miss out and get left behind. You’ve got to get over this anti-alien mind-set because it’s not doing anyone any good. Accept them for who and what they are.’

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