Tom spent the night with Siobhan. She was quiet all evening, and was asleep virtually the moment her head hit the pillow, but Tom lay awake for hours, staring at her in the darkness. What had happened between the two of them earlier concerned him. If he’d given her the wrong impression or made her doubt his feelings towards her, then he needed to know. He couldn’t afford to let it happen again. He couldn’t risk losing Siobhan. He blamed himself. I’m spending too much time alone. I’m on the outside of everything else. Have to start making more of an effort.

He woke briefly when she got up and left for work. He lay in bed and watched her dress and get ready in the half-light of morning. She stood opposite him and brushed her hair in the mirror on the wall, then put on a little make-up, not as much as usual. She left without eating breakfast or even drinking anything.

‘You all right?’ he asked as she pulled on her coat, about to leave.

‘I’m fine,’ she replied.

‘Will I see you tonight?’


She opened the door. He called her back. ‘Wait, is that it? Don’t I even get a kiss?’ She smiled, walked back to the bed, then leant down and kissed him.

‘See you later,’ she said.

Siobhan had been gone for some time when Tom finally got up, got dressed, and left the flat. The light outside had the cold blue-white sheen of early morning and the air was cool and still. It was unexpectedly quiet as he drove home, and the house too was empty. Rob and Jall had gone. Remembering that his cupboards were bare, before taking off his coat and boots and settling down he walked into the village to re-stock.

The normality of the day-to-day unfolded all around Tom. People went about their daily routines, literally side-stepping him as he ambled down the footpath, everyone else keen to get past and get on with their lives. He didn’t miss work at all but he couldn’t help feeling a real disconnection this morning. It felt almost as if everyone else had a reason – a right, almost – to be there but him. Even the school kids, who crowded into the supermarket to fill up on chocolate and junk food for the day, looked at him as if he shouldn’t have been getting in their way. He stood in front of a chiller cabinet, taking his time to choose something decent to cook for Siobhan later. Someone reached past him to take something from the display, then Mrs Grayson asked him to move the other way so she could replenish the stock. He could almost feel their eyes burning into the back of him. Look at that lazy bastard, they were all saying. He does nothing all day, every day. Self-conscious, he picked up some steak – Siobhan’s favourite – and moved on.

Is it me? Am I pushing everyone that matters away?

Mrs Grayson was back at the kiosk when he was ready to pay. He tried to make small-talk, not wanting to say anything but doing his best to be pleasant all the same.

Tom walked up the hill towards home, the handles of the plastic carrier bags digging into his hands. He stopped when he drew level with Ray Mercer’s house, his heart sinking when he remembered he’d have to speak to the odious old bastard about the crash last night. Maybe he could put it off until tomorrow…

It was only when he walked a little further that he noticed Mercer’s garage door was wide open. His car was parked inside. And was that Mercer sitting in the front seat? He was probably off out somewhere, Tom decided, but to all intents and purposes the strange old bugger looked like he hadn’t moved since last night.