CHAPTER 23

Tom dropped Clare and Penny home, then drove on to the bungalow. It was only just after seven but it was already dark, the long days of summer now a memory. His heart sank when he saw that there were lights on in the house. Siobhan had told him she was spending the night at her own place, so it could only mean that Rob was home. And that inevitably meant his friend Jall would be there too. The two of them were inseparable. Tom wondered why it annoyed him so much. Was he jealous?

He let himself in and shut the door behind him. He found them both in the living room – his living room – relaxing on his sofa, drinking his beer.

‘All right?’ he asked, sticking his head around the door. Jall acknowledged him but Rob didn’t even look up. They were watching TV like an old married couple.

‘You’ve been out a long time,’ Jall said. ‘We thought you’d have been back ages ago.’

‘Didn’t know I had to check in with you,’ Tom said, less than impressed. He continued through to the kitchen and made himself a drink. No need to offer anything to the other two, he could tell from the detritus littering the worktop that they’d already helped themselves.

He wanted food. It had only been an hour or so since he’d eaten, but his burger had been less than filling. He’d always harboured a suspicion that fast food was deliberately engineered to give a brief false impression of satisfaction, then trigger something in your gut to make you hungry again. It was a conspiracy, he’d long ago decided, to get you to keep buying food.

He needed a sandwich, but there was only one crust of bread left and the cupboards were as empty as his stomach felt. The fridge had been raided and stripped clean. His bloody brother again.

‘Have you seen the state of the kitchen?’ he asked, standing in the doorway, seething.

‘Of course we have,’ Jall replied.

‘I think he knows that,’ Rob mumbled.

‘Of course I know that, you fucking idiot. I know you’ve been in the kitchen. I can tell because you’ve eaten all my bloody food and not replaced it.’

‘We’ll sort it out tomorrow,’ Rob said. ‘Want me to go out and get you a burger or—’

‘No I don’t want you to get me a burger. I just had a fucking burger!’

‘Then you shouldn’t be that hungry,’ Jall said, again managing to miss the finer nuances of human conversation by about a mile.

‘Well I am hungry!’ Tom yelled at him. He slammed the door in anger, then returned to the kitchen where he managed to scrape something together from the few scraps which remained: a few crackers, some low-fat spread, and a jar of sandwich pickle.

He’d barely taken a mouthful when he remembered to check his phone. He’d had a message from Siobhan while he was out with Clare and Penny, but he’d forgotten to reply. He saw that there were a couple of missed calls now too. He quickly phoned her back. It rang out several times before she answered.

‘Hello you,’ he said. ‘You okay?’

‘Where’ve you been?’

‘What?’

‘Where’ve you been? You didn’t answer.’

Siobhan sounded unexpectedly angry. Her abruptness caught him by surprise and for a moment he didn’t know how to respond.

‘I went to see Penny and Clare, remember? I told you yesterday. It’s Penny’s birthday.’

‘Right.’

Another pause before he hesitantly spoke again. ‘Is there a problem?’

‘You tell me.’

‘What?’

‘You didn’t answer my message. Didn’t pick up my calls.’

‘Yeah, sorry about that. I didn’t hear the phone. We were in McDonald’s in Drayton. Like I said, it’s Penny’s birthday and—’

‘I know where you were.’

‘Pardon?’

‘I know where you were. I saw you.’

‘Then why didn’t you come in.’

‘Didn’t want to interrupt anything.’

‘Interrupt anything? Bloody hell, Siobhan, what’s the matter with you?’

‘It was humiliating.’

‘What was?’

‘Mona said she’d seen you there. I went to look for myself.’

‘And is that a problem? Like I said, it’s Penny’s birthday. I called around and they were on their own, not doing anything. I didn’t think it was right for the poor kid to be stuck in on her birthday, so I took them both out. This is stupid, Siobhan. I don’t know what the problem is. You’ve known Clare longer than I have. Are you accusing me of something here?’

She didn’t answer for a few seconds which felt like forever. She eventually spoke again. ‘I wanted to talk to you, but you didn’t answer. You ignored me.’

‘I didn’t ignore you. You know what it’s like in that place. Remember that time we went there and left because of the noise? Ended up driving back to the village and eating chips on the beach in the pouring rain. Remember? Siobhan? Siobhan, are you still there?’

She’d gone.

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