Chapter 20

I dropped Penny and Clare off at their place and was back home by half-past six. Rob was at the cottage with that damn alien again. He and Rob had become quite close since they'd met back in August but I just couldn't warm to him. It was more than the fact that he was an alien - there was something about him that I really didn't like. I had spoken to him on several occasions - once or twice at length - and we had discussed many different topics. We'd talked about families, technology, homes, hobbies, sport and even war. Regardless of all that I'd learned about him I still felt the same distrust and dislike today as I'd felt the first time I'd set eyes on the bastard.

'Where you been?' Rob grunted as I closed the front door and took off my jacket.

'Out with Clare, why?' 'Siobhan's been on the phone for you.'

'Oh, right. Does she want me to call her back or is she...'

'I think you should call her,' Rob said, cutting across me.

'Did she say whether she's...'

I stopped talking when the alien appeared in the hallway from the living room.

'Evening, Tom,' he said in his low, monotonous voice. He sounded like Mr Franks, the maths teacher who had made my life hell when I was thirteen. Maybe that was why I didn't like him?

'Evening,' I replied, my voice as curt and abrasive as I could make it sound with a single word.

'Had a good day?' he asked as he walked towards me.

'Fine,' I snapped as I neatly side-stepped him and went into the kitchen. What I'd really wanted to say was 'it's none of your fucking business,' but I didn't.

I glanced over my shoulder and, to my relief, saw that Rob and his friend were heading back towards the living room. I filled up the kettle and, as I waited for it to boil, I picked up the phone to speak to Siobhan.

It rang out five or six times before she answered.

'Hello?' a quiet, distant voice said.

'Hi, it's me. How you doing?' I said, suddenly feeling more alive and awake than I had done all day.

'Do you give a damn how I'm doing?'

For a second I could think of nothing to say.

'What?' I eventually mumbled.

'I said do you give a fucking damn how I'm doing?'

'Of course I do. Look, what's the...'

'I don't think you do. Christ, it's been so long since you bothered to speak to me that I was starting to think you'd forgotten I existed. Thought you'd found someone better to spend you time with...'

There were such unexpected levels of anger, bitterness and unwarranted accusation in my girlfriend's voice that I found myself having real difficulty trying to respond.

'What are you talking about?' I stammered. 'Of course I haven't forgotten about you. We went out on Wednesday, didn't we? I called you yesterday...'

'I wasn't there.'

'That wasn't my fault.'

I frantically checked and rechecked over the events of the last few days in my mind to make sure I hadn't missed anything important. Her birthday was in April. It wasn't Christmas. It wasn't Valentine's Day. I was at a loss. But my memory had served me well. I had taken her to the pub on Wednesday night. We'd had a bar meal and then stayed on for a few drinks.

'You should have called me again. You should have kept trying.'

'You could have called me,' I protested.

'I shouldn't have to.'

Again I struggled to comprehend the garbage that was coming from Siobhan's mouth. She was normally so calm and level-headed. We'd been apart for longer recently, so why was she making such a fuss about the last few days in particular? I thought our relationship was stronger and more solid than that.

'Look,' I began, keen to hear some kind of explanation from her, 'I don't know what the matter is. Am I supposed to have done something? I was going to try and call you this afternoon but...'

'But what?' she demanded, interrupting. 'Couldn't you be bothered? Had you got something better to do? Something more important...?'

'No. Fucking hell, you're more important to me than anything else, you know that.'

'Do I?'

'Of course you do. I love you.'

'Do you?'

'You know I do. Look, have I done something wrong? Have I forgotten something I should have remembered? If I have then I'm sorry, but...'

Rather than bother to listen to what I had to say, Siobhan instead chose to ignore me.

'Where were you this afternoon?' she asked, her voice cold and uncharacteristically stern.


'Come on, I asked you where you were this afternoon?' she repeated angrily. 'I know you weren't at home because I called you. And I didn't just call you once, I tried about fifteen fucking times and I still couldn't get an answer. I came over but the house was empty...'

'Look, I...'

'Where were you?' she screamed.

She's lost it, I thought, completely lost the fucking plot. Why should I stand here and listen to this? Just because we were going out together didn't give her the right to know my every move.

'Does it matter where I've been? I don't have to tell you everything I...'

'Where were you?' she screamed again.

Like a frightened school boy I answered quickly.

'I went to see Clare,' I snapped reluctantly. 'Is that all right with you or should I have checked first...?' 'What were you doing there?'

I took a deep breath. For a second I thought about just hanging up the phone but I knew that would have done more harm than good.

'It's Penny's birthday. I took her card and present over and I took them both out for a burger. Clare's having problems with...'

'Is there something going on between you two?'


'I said is there something going on between you two? She's a single woman now. If you didn't have anything to hide you would have told me you were taking her out.'

'I didn't take her out. Anyway it was a spur of the moment thing...'

'Bollocks,' she spat. 'I know something's going on.'

'You've got this all wrong,' I sighed. 'Clare's a good friend of ours...'

'...of yours...'

'She's a good friend of ours who happens to be going through a rough patch at the moment. I'm not about to let her...'

'What about me?' demanded Siobhan, now screaming down the phone at me. 'What do you think I'm going through? How the hell do you think I feel when I find out that my fucking boyfriend's seeing another fucking woman?'

'Don't talk rubbish,' I said, fighting a losing battle to keep calm. 'You know damn well that I'd never cheat on you...'

'That's what I used to believe.'

'So what's happened to change your mind? I've spent time with Clare before and never had any of this from you. What's different this time?'

She didn't answer. The empty silence was deafening. I could still hear faint sounds coming from the other end of the line so I knew she hadn't hung up. I looked around the kitchen helplessly as I waited for her to speak. I still couldn't comprehend the bizarre conversation we were having.

'You could've asked me to come with you,' she sobbed suddenly.

'I've already told you, it was a spur of the moment thing. I went over to Clare's to drop in Penny's present and card. They were on their own and it was Penny's birthday and I decided to take them out. That's all there was to it.'

'I was on my own.'

'You were at work. You told me you were shopping afterwards.'

'I didn't. I came home early. I didn't feel well. Christ, do you know what you've put me through today?' Her voice sounded hoarse and wracked with emotion. I hated it when she cried.

'Look,' I sighed, 'I'm sorry.'


I cleared my throat and prepared to apologise again. Christ alone knows what I thought I was apologising for.

'I said I'm sorry,' I repeated. 'Do you want me to come over?'


Then she spoke.

'I just don't believe you,' she said, her voice little more than a whisper.

'Shall I come over?'

'Just leave me alone. Just fuck off and leave me alone.'

She slammed down the phone.

What had just happened? I couldn't get my head around any of it. I stood there for a while, just staring at the phone. When I'd said goodbye to Siobhan on Wednesday we'd kissed more passionately than ever. So passionately, in fact, that we almost ended up making love on her doorstep. And now, just a few days later, the same girl had accused me of cheating on her without having any evidence or any reason to doubt me. I couldn't believe that Siobhan - the one dependable and stable influence that there had been in my life recently - had turned on me like this. She had been friends with Clare for almost as long as I had and I found her sudden lack of faith in either of us incredible and painfully hard to comprehend.

As far as I was aware, save for the unforgivable crime of not being at home to answer the telephone, I hadn't done anything wrong. Last Wednesday night had been perfect. We'd left the pub hand in hand and had walked back to her house in the cool moonlight. With the distant satellite's silvery rays dancing and playing on the rippling waves of the ocean she had been the one who had commented on how perfect and romantic our evening had been. There hadn't been any indication of the venom and hostility so evident in her voice now.

'Everything okay?' Rob asked, startling me. 'I heard you shouting. Was that Siobhan?'

I nodded and pushed past him and headed for the living room.

'I didn't realise you two were having problems,' he said, following close behind.

'Neither did I,' I grunted angrily. I was in no mood to talk.

I walked into the living room where the alien was stood at the bay window, looking down on the dark village below. I had forgotten he was there. He was the last person I wanted to see, certainly the last person I wanted to speak to. I was about to turn and go to my bedroom when I stopped myself. No, I thought. This is my house. The living room was the warmest, most comfortable room and it was where I wanted to be. Why the hell should I go anywhere else?

The alien turned round and looked at me before turning back to look out of the window again. 'So what's wrong?' Rob asked with genuine concern in his voice. 'What's happened?'

I didn't answer immediately. I didn't want to talk with the alien in the room. I wasn't even prepared to talk about the weather in his company and I was not about to share my private and personal problems while he was there. But at the same time there was no way I could avoid talking to Rob. It was obvious that he was worried.

'I don't know,' I mumbled. 'Haven't got a clue.'

'So what did she say?'

I shrugged my shoulders.

'She's decided that I'm having an affair.'

'An affair? Who with?'


'Clare!' he exclaimed, surprised. 'Bloody hell, that's ridiculous. For Christ's sake, the way she feels about men at the moment is enough to put anyone off.'

'Not according to Siobhan it's not.'

'But you and Clare are just friends, same as me and Clare, same as Siobhan and Clare and me and Siobhan for that matter. So why does...?'

'We're more than just friends, we're good, close friends. And when a good friend of mine is hurting I want to do something about it. So I did something today.'

'Why today?'

'Penny's birthday, isn't it,' I said, my voice still quiet so our eavesdropping alien guest couldn't hear. 'Her ex let her down. Couldn't be bothered to turn up for his only daughter's birthday.'

'She's better off without him.'

'That's not the point.'

'You see, this is one of the things that I really have trouble understanding,' the alien said suddenly. I was angry that he'd dared to listen to and then interrupt our private conversation. Rob, on the other hand, was encouraging him to join in.

'What don't you understand?' he wondered.

'How you could even consider changing from one partner to another. Back home it just wouldn't happen, not even if our partner died. There's never any question of...'

'I wish you'd just fuck off home,' I spat, incensed. 'You come here with your bloody holier-than-thou attitude and then stick your nose into my business uninvited. Do yourself a favour and do me a favour and fuck off!'

'Tom,' Rob protested uselessly. 'Come on, he was only...'

I stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind me. All I wanted was an explanation. I felt empty and hollow. I loved Siobhan. I would have done anything for her. Christ, I would have taken a bullet for her. I thought she knew just how much she meant to me and I thought she knew how I felt. So why was she so hostile towards me? Had it really been that insensitive of me to have taken Clare and Penny out?

I sat alone in the darkest, quietest corner I could find and listened to the silence.

I loved her and I wanted her close.


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