CHAPTER 24

Tom tried calling back several times but Siobhan wouldn’t pick up. He was at a loss. He tried talking to his brother about it, genuinely concerned that he might have done something wrong or forgotten something important and not realised, but Rob couldn’t say more than a couple of words before Jall interrupted again. With no other option, Tom got in the car to drive to Siobhan’s and sort things out.

He’d barely been out of the house five minutes when a car drove into the back of his. He was at a junction, waiting for the lights to change so he could turn right, when the driver behind tried to turn left and clipped his rear wing. The accident sounded and felt far worse than it was. He pulled up and stopped the car on the far side of the road then ran back over to talk to the other driver. His car hadn’t moved. Tom knocked on his window, then opened his door. His heart sank. He knew who it was straight away. It was Ray Mercer, his neighbour. Of all the bloody people, Tom thought, readying himself for another confrontation.

‘Evening,’ Tom said politely. ‘You all right, Mr Mercer?’

Mercer didn’t immediately react. He slowly looked up. ‘Sorry…’ he mumbled.

‘You went into the back of me and I was stationary, so there’s no argument really.’

‘I know. Sorry,’ he said, sounding unexpectedly docile.

‘I’ll take some pictures with my phone, okay? Doesn’t look like there’s a lot of damage to either car. We can swap insurance details in the morning if it’s easier. It’s not like we don’t know where the other driver lives.’

Tom stared at Mercer who just nodded his head. His apparent lack of concern was infuriating. You cantankerous old bastard, Tom thought, that was completely your fault. I’d be well within my rights to go absolutely fucking mental if I wanted to.

‘Sorry… don’t know what happened.’

‘Have you been drinking, Mr Mercer?’

‘No. Haven’t touched a drop.’

‘You sure?’ he asked.

Mercer mumbled something unintelligible.

Tom sniffed at the air. He couldn’t smell booze. ‘Maybe you’d better go home. I’ll call around and see you tomorrow and we can sort everything out. Okay?’

‘Okay,’ the older man said, and with that Tom stepped back out of his way.

He watched as Mercer tried to turn the car around in the mouth of the junction. He stalled, then restarted the engine, bumped up the kerb, then drove back up the hill towards home.

Wish you’d been as agreeable as that when I pruned your bloody tree, Tom thought, remembering the battles they’d had. The two of them had almost come to blows over his Laburnum. Mercer had been like a Rottweiler, going for the jugular before Tom had even had chance to explain.

*

Tom finally reached Siobhan’s flat. The street was quiet. The calm before the storm? He had a key, but he didn’t want to presume. He rang the buzzer and waited. And waited. Was she ignoring him? He was on the verge of trying to phone her again when she answered. Her tinny voice crackled through the loudspeaker. ‘Hello.’

‘Siobhan, it’s me. Can I come in? I need to talk to you.’

Nothing. He was about to ring again when the door clicked open.

The door to Siobhan’s flat was slightly ajar and he went inside. There were no lights on, and the only illumination came from the TV in the corner. Siobhan sat opposite the flickering screen, still dressed in her work suit. Tom waited at the door, not sure if he should go any further until she’d acknowledged him. He looked into her face, her perfect features picked out by the constantly changing light.

He cleared his throat. ‘There’s nothing going on between me and Clare, you know,’ he said before adding, ‘if that’s what you were thinking.’ He continued to watch her anxiously, desperate for a reaction. He thought she nodded slightly – or was it just the light? The movement was so slight he thought he might have imagined it.

Then she spoke. ‘I know.’

He walked further into the room and crouched down in front of her, kicking away food wrappers and moving an empty mug. Almost afraid of what her reaction might be, he took hold of her hand. It remained limp at first, but then her fingers slowly moved, her grip tightening around his own.

‘I love you, you know,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you, I didn’t mean to. You’re the only one for me, do you know that?’

This time her movement was more definite. She turned away from the TV and looked straight at him. ‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘So what was that all about on the phone?’

‘I don’t feel too good.’

‘What’s wrong? Something you’ve eaten? Have you had any dinner today?’

‘Not yet.’

‘So what’s up?’ He felt her head for a temperature. ‘Do you have a headache?’

She nodded. ‘Had it all day.’

‘Want me to make you something?’

‘Yes please.’

‘Do you want to go out?’

‘Want to stay here.’

‘Shall I run you a bath?’

‘That’d be good. Thanks.’

‘Are you going to be okay?’

‘I’ll be fine.’

‘If you’re still like this in the morning, maybe you should see the doctor.’

‘I think I will.’

Tom stood up and went through to the bathroom where he closed the blind and started her bath running. He returned to the living room and switched on the light. Siobhan flinched at the sudden brightness. He watched her closely, concerned by her apparent lethargy.

‘That too bright?’

‘It’s okay,’ she replied, squinting.

Tom looked around. ‘Bloody hell, this place is a tip,’ he said, instinctively picking more stuff up off the floor.

‘Sorry.’

‘Don’t apologise to me, sweetheart, it’s your flat.’

She smiled briefly, and sat up in her seat. Tom closed the curtains then fetched her a drink. She took it from him and managed a couple of sips before putting it down again. She took off her jacket and unbuttoned the front of her blouse, then moved towards Tom. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close.

‘Sorry,’ she said again.

‘Want to talk about it?’

‘Talk about what?’ she asked, her face still buried in his chest.

‘Whatever it is that’s going on. Whatever it was you thought I’d done. I just don’t want there to be any problems between us. You’re all that matters to me.’

‘I shouldn’t have taken it out on you,’ she said, kicking off the rest of her clothes as she disappeared into the bathroom.

‘But to accuse me of—’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said again, and Tom sensed he should end the conversation. He watched her as she turned off the tap, checked the temperature of the water, then slid slowly into the bath, stark naked and completely uninhibited. He watched for a moment longer, catching glimpses of her under the water, intermittently hidden by patches of bubbles.

‘You sure you’re okay?’

She nodded and smiled. ‘Hungry.’

He went through to the small kitchen, pausing only to pick up her clothes and lay them on the end of the bed.

‘Tom,’ she shouted to him, ‘could you turn the TV up please?’

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