As I take a final sip from the glass, draining the last dregs from the pint, I look over to Jules. She looks as beautiful in the evening light as she did when I met her earlier. Her face, however, shows none of the happiness from earlier in the day, and has fallen into a sullen and concerned look. She stares at me, on the verge of speaking, but unable to bring any words to the fore. I’ve told her everything, from the first sign of the glimmer, through our night together and seeing the car, to being taken by Esther’s men and the escape. I’ve told her everything I can think of, on the basis that just knowing a little would yield more questions than it answered. She knows everything I do on the matter of my life these past two weeks, and so there is little more to say. Her eyes are still bright, and while she falters to speak I lean forward and kiss her, gently, on the lips. I want her to know that I trust and care for her. She kisses me back and we linger in the moment, feeling our warm breath on each others face. She pulls back slightly, just away for a moment, kisses me once and then pulls further back. I see the moisture on her lips, and her cheeks are blushed with colour. She looks up and into my eyes, with warmth and care.
“We’re in this together now” she says, taking up my glass and going back to the bar, “whether you like it or not.” her eye barely twitching in a soft wink.
We leave the bar. The sun went down long ago, and the people out and about around the riverside are similar aged to us. We blend in, almost invisible in the orange artificial glow of the open area. She reaches out and takes my hand, and we walk down the river, enjoying the glow of the alcohol, the shared warmth from the kiss, the smell of her skin still fresh in my nose.
“We can’t go back to your flat; you know that. We need to get somewhere where they won’t expect us. Any ideas?”.
I think for a moment, running through all the places I know that would be suitable. I don’t have to think for long as I see a glimmer forming off to the left. I pull Julie’s hand along behind, following the shimmering white light that carries my silhouette with me. I can see it climb the steps of the bridge and cross over. We follow on, over the river and along the other side. I can see the glimmer and immediately know where it is heading. We go into the station, and look at the board. I see the glimmer going through the barriers and onto a train, so we follow. Jules asks where we are going, but I just keep following the light, which ebbs away as we pass through the train doors, hearing them slide shut behind us. We take a seat and the train begins to pull out of the station, clicking and squealing as it makes the slow turn out and off, building speed until the dark cutaways carry us out of the city.
The train is quiet, and only a few people are in the same carriage as us. I relax and put my hand on Julie’s knee, just softly to remind her I’m here with her. She leans her head against my shoulder and looks out the window, past the reflection of the interior of this carriage, following the small dots of light from the distant road we are running parallel to.
I can’t shake the feeling that all this is a symptom of my insanity, and now I’ve dragged this poor girl into it, right into the middle of my complete mental disintegration. I see my reflection in the window and can see the deep concern on my face. I pull my features into a smile and try to think about what will happen next, what’s in store when we reach our destination. I’ll be in a safe place, but I’m not sure if Jules will feel the same, being on unfamiliar ground. I need to make sure she’s safe with me, that I’m not putting her in harm’s way.
The train moves along at high speed, it has started raining and the raindrops move sideways across the window. We’re out in the country now and there are fewer and fewer lights, whizzing past in a blur. It won’t be long now until we get there, I’m already starting to recognise the countryside, even in this near-complete darkness, and can make out landmarks that tell me how long until we have to move again.
Fifteen minutes later we’re pulling into the station and I see the town centre from the window, as familiar to me as the inside of my flat. Jules has fallen asleep so I wake her gently and stand up. She looks up, bleary eyed and stretches out her arms. She looks even more lovely like this, and it reminds me of lying next to her, face to face, at her flat last weekend. She stands and we move to the doors, along with most of the few passengers we shared our carriage with.
There used to be an exit on this side of the station, but now all the barriers are over the footbridge. We climb over, holding hands, and I pull Jules to the left and through the car park gate while the conductor isn’t watching. I see a few eyes from the crowd glare at me with contempt. I don’t care though, in a way this is my town.
Jules giggles as we walk at speed down away from the station and towards the lights of the centre.
“I never thought this would be the way in which I first saw this place. I always pictured a summer weekend out here, not arriving after midnight in the rain. Oh well, it’s still pretty”.
I couldn’t see the prettiness that everyone else seemed to see in this place, but I knew why. This is where I had grown up; I’d seen it with a different set of eyes, growing from childhood to being an adult. It was too familiar to see in any objective form. Where a tourist may see an ancient stone wall, I see the step where I first smoked weed with my friends. This place is filled with memories, that you won’t hear about on any tour.
Just before we arrive at the main central area I lead Jules down a wide alley that becomes a road. We’re heading South parallel to the main road, and I intend us to stay out of the bright lights as much as possible. Even walking over the bridge, looking down into the pitch black water below I feel a sense of urgency. I want to get inside and out of the light.
A few more streets down we turn right, along the straight road and across the junction at the end. I’ve walked these streets a million times before, and I recognise every crack, manhole cover and fence. A few houses down we walk into the small drive and up to the door. I ring the bell on the Victorian house, having left my keys at home.
I see a shadow coming towards the door from the warm glow inside, and my mother opens the door, looking shocked and little puzzled. She smiles warmly and I hug her. I introduce Jules and ask if it’s ok to stay a while.
“Of course, dear, come in and go through to the kitchen. I’ll put the kettle on”.
Inside the house it is warm and bright, even at this late hour. Mum makes some tea for us both and we go into the sitting room.
“Did I know you were coming?”.
“No, mum. I had some time off and thought I’d show Jules the town, but we got, well, we stopped off in a pub on the way.” I knew she’d want to know more, but time off work seemed the most reasonable reason to come here. The pub explained the lack of warning of our arrival. My mum seemed pretty relaxed about it. The tea was lovely and warming, and I could see Jules was focused on drinking it, rather than making eye contact with my mum.
We talk a bit about our plans for the next few days and make arrangements for the morning. My mum appears not to have noticed our lack of bags. We make our way upstairs to the attic, my old room, and I sit on the bed. Jules looks at me with a shy smile.
“Bit presumptuous aren’t you? What if I didn’t want to share a room with you?”
“Then that’s fine, I’ll go and sleep in the back bedroom. I thought it kept our cover more secure, letting mum assume we were together.”
“Are you saying we’re not together, and this is all a ruse? Huh?” she giggled as she finished mocking me, then came and sat on the bed. Leaning forward and letting her hair rest on my shoulder, she kissed me, long and soft.
“I like that we’re on an adventure together” she whispered in my ear, “this is crazy and only getting crazier, which suits me just fine.”
Her mention of the word ‘crazy’ made me breath in sharply, as I remember this could all be a delusion. There was something altogether unreal about the whole day, from meeting Jules, to the chase, to the escape. Everything seemed to go very easily. I was worried, but knew now wasn’t the time to linger on it all. Much better to rest first and see how things look in the morning.
I pull myself back and up the bed, still fully clothed, and rest my head on the pillow. Jules stands and walks around the bed, slipping under the covers next to me, and wriggles off her skirt and shirt with deftness, keeping a smile pointed at me the whole time. I am not so adept at under-cover demobbing, so I take off my top, get under the covers and spend a good 5 minutes wriggling my jeans down, getting stuck on each heel, and finally getting them off. Jules looks at me and giggles. Her face comes towards mine and she kisses me softly on the lips.
“Goodnight, sleep well” she whispers, rolling away to her side of the bed. I lay back and then turn to the opposite wall, looking over the shadows in the room cast by the slivers of light from the hallway.