Jacqueline got out of the car next to us, tears streaming down her cheeks. She embraced us all in turn, the grief had hit this gentle woman as hard as us.
'That shouldn't have happened. The GS knew we were coming, there were way too many of goons there that should have been I'm beginning to suspect that they'd had a tipoff from someone and were waiting for us. We've lost five good men tonight and you've lost Prez and Ahlaam. They will pay for what they've done to you. Tonight I'm taking you far away from here. In the morning we'll make arrangements to get you to Scotland where you should be safe.'
We had wandered after her and got in a car, numb unable to comprehend or even care what was happening. It took us four hours to reach the south coast, this time to a deserted house high on the Sussex Weald. The journey had been uneventful perpetuated with the occasional moan and sob randomly exhaled by us at times. Zee and I clung together for comfort and solace. In our pairs we'd all sought comfort of a fellow human’s body. The warmth essential to the process of coping, our minds totally shattered by the loss of two of our number.
Apparently the house belonged to an author who'd fled to the US a few months before and was a lot more luxurious than we used to. Three bedrooms, plush bathrooms and a huge screen along one wall, it felt awkward to be surrounded with such luxury. A huge picture window looked over the valley towards the sea. As we looked the sun was rising on the start of a new day. The first day without Prez and Ahlaam.
We all took turns quickly to have a shower, each of us not wanting to be away from the rest of the group for too long a period, the feeling of needing another human around us uppermost in our minds. Jacqueline had found us some clothes which were laid out on the beds. I was the last to pick mine up. Underneath I found a headscarf, obviously meant for Ahlaam. I picked it up holding it up to my nose to smell. it was new of course, sadly no scent of Ahlaam on it.
I walked back into the room. The others were all eating, Lily stood in the open air kitchen having found time to rustle us up some food. After the past day the thought of food didn’t hold much appeal to me but they were all tucking into a pasta dish that looked delicious. My stomach suddenly protested at the lack of attention I'd given it over the past few hours. Lily handed me a bowl of food, the normal smile was absent from her face. Showers and fresh clothing may have altered our outward appearance but the sparkle had gone.
I sat down on the settee and absentmindedly spooned the hot food into my mouth whilst looking out over the landscape laid out before me.
'Food OK ?' Zee asked eventually
'Yes' I asked puzzled. I placed another spoonful in my mouth, this time taking in the flavour. Tomato, garlic, onions all came to the fore, a hint of basil and then something else hit me. It was a sweetish flavour almost over masked by the tomatoes but there none the less. Then it came to me, fruit some sort of fruit. A not unpleasant taste, but certainly unusual.
I looked around and realised everyone was looking at me waiting.
'Fruit?' I asked.
'Blame Crissy, she can't resist putting different things into the food, I shouldn't have left it alone' Lily said. I looked over and saw Crissy was looking at the ceiling silently laughing.
'It tastes OK,' I said again, 'weird but OK, who wants normal anyway.'
The problem of who would sleep where was quickly solved by pulling all the duvets off the beds and dragging them into the front room. It was almost ten in the morning but we settled down in front of that huge picture window and tried to sleep. It came slowly perpetuated with the occasional sob.
I woke up a few hours later to the cries of someone screaming in my ear. I sat bolt upright looking for the source, I saw Crissy comforting an hysterical Lily. The others continued in their deep sleep. I eased myself up from the floor and went over to try and help.
I helped Crissy move her towards one of the bedrooms so not to disturb the others. We sat on the bed with Lily between us. Lily's body kept convulsing with huge rippling sobs. Occasionally she'd yell out Ahlaam and go silent, but then they'd start again and her body would rack as if in pain. Crissy sat with her arms around her whilst I held Lily's hands. Neither of us said much just letting Lily tire herself out, gradually the distance between the sobs had subsided and she went quiet.
'I think she's fallen asleep again' Crissy whispered. She lay Lily down on the mattress before sitting back up.
'Cup of tea?' I asked Crissy.
'Thanks, I'll stay here in case she wakes up again' Crissy said a weak, tired smile on her face.
In the kitchen I found a couple of mugs and mashed the tea straight in them.
'Jasmine tea alright for you?' I said handing Crissy a mug.
'Thanks,' she replied.
We sat on the edge of the bed hugging our mugs of tea in silence for a moment listening to Lily breathing.
‘So we’re going to Scotland then?’ Crissy asked me.
I looked across at her seeing her light brown hair, which fell over her shoulders, turning a lovely shade of red under the bedside lights. For such a slight girl, she cast a huge presence over the room. I thought how different from Sinead she was, how intelligent and thoughtful.
I had made my mind up already of what I was going to do next. I pondered for a few moments how much I should share with her. I hadn’t known her for long but already was feeling like she’d been in my life for years. Maybe that’s what being shot at together does for you, or maybe there was something else.
‘You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want,’ she said quietly looking into her mug as if in search of the answer. All those late night chats when people were asleep had created a friendship out of nothing. We’d already gone through so much together; I felt I had to trust this girl with my plans.
‘I’m not going to Scotland,’ I said evenly looking into her eyes.
‘No? Where are you going?’
‘I know a place where I can be safe. The resistance isn’t safe anymore. Too many unexplained things have happened that couldn’t be coincidences. I think there’s a mole inside the organisation and I want to be far away from them. They came close to wiping us out last night. I don’t want that to happen to me and I don’t want it to happen to Zee. I have an idea for fighting back on my own. I … I want to avenge all these needless deaths.’
‘Will you take Zee with you?’
I looked again at her. She flushed slightly as I did.
‘I don’t know’ I shrugged, ‘I guess if she wants to come, I’ll take her, it’d be hard to contemplate life without her at this moment. We’ll be safe where I want to go, but it’s up to her.’
‘Where is it?’ she asked probing slightly.
‘A little seaside resort I know, bit of a backwater and a place I can disappear for a while. I need to decide what to do next’ I said.
‘Ah, so you’d leave Lily and EH?’
‘It’ll be hard but it might be better for them to go north of the border, safe away from this struggle. They are too vulnerable. I worry for EH, she looks a shadow of herself. Lily looks drawn all the time, the smile isn’t there anymore. She seems dead inside.’
‘Yes, Lily isn’t the girl that left home a few months ago. She was always intense but this is something different. To be truthful though I don’t think she’d survive without you, Zee and EH. You’re all she’s got left. Not sure I want to leave the group as well.’
Try to persuade her to go Crissy, please’ I said pleading.
‘I’ll talk to her’ she said not meeting my eyes for the first time.
We sat drinking our tea in silence.
‘I’m going to try to get a few more hours sleep’ Crissy said, ‘I’ll stay in here with Lily, you can go back to Zee if you want,’
I stood up and looked at her as she lay down at the side of her sister.
‘It’s OK we’ll be fine’ she said
I hesitated, part of me wanted to stay with them, but the other part wanted to be back with Zee. I felt confused by my emotions. The strain and terror of these last few weeks were totally mucking up my normal thought process. If my plan went ahead though, I wouldn’t have to make a decision and soon it might not matter anyway.
I went back into the main room and sat next to Zee looking out of the picture window, my thoughts being blown along by the wind. Sleep came slowly, but it did.
A few hours later I woke up , the sun was starting to set in the west and long shadows were cast across the countryside below. I had fallen asleep sitting up, uncomfortable as it may seem. I looked around the room, Zee was still sleeping by the side of me but EH and Kylie were no where to be seen but I heard laughter outside. Easing myself up I stood in front of the window and saw EH and kylie running around outside. Kylies laugh and smile a complete revelation from just a few hours before, she was running around laughing and giggling as EH was throwing her a ball. EH had regained a little of her sparkle as well.
I felt an arm go through mine
'They seem happy' Zee said
'Yes, EH looks a lot better now doesn't she' I said seeing her kicking the ball around the garden, a bit of her old self coming to life.
'Did you sleep well?' she asked, 'only you'd gone at one point with Lily and Crissy'
'Lily had a bit of a nightmare, just helping out' I said smiling, 'fancy a walk'
She nodded and we wandered out through a side door and wandered up through the back orchard.
'It's beautiful here,' Zee said, her mid-American accent coming through clearly as we strolled, 'wish we could stay forever'
'Time to move on soon, it'll always be time to move on. We'll always be on the move, looking behind our backs for someone to sneak up and arrest us or worse. Are you thinking of going back to the US?' I replied.
'No,' she said quietly
'Can I ask why you came to us?' I asked
'Well,' she said and hesitated ,' To be truthful when I heard about this I thought it was bonkers. then I started to think about it. I would hate to lose you, all of you and I thought if I could help then I'm in'
'I'm not going to Scotland', I said suddenly
'Yes, I thought not, I saw the look on your face. I'm getting quite good at guessing what you're thinking. So where are WE going'
'We?' I asked
'Well I'm not going to leave you now. I don't know if I can trust you to not do anything stupid'
'What about us?' I asked hesitantly
'What will be, will be, each day is a bonus after last night. No rush and no expectation' she replied smiling
I smiled and hugged her, kissing her lightly on the forehead. We stood together for a while, I felt so close to her. I’d hoped she’d come with me, hoped I wouldn’t be saying goodbye for the last time. I’d lost so much in my life over the years that I didn’t want Zee to be another memory. In a way the same was true of Lily, Tay and Crissy. Adversity had forged this connection that would be hard to break. Part of me, the selfish part wanted them all to stay with me but I knew I had to somehow leave them behind.
We stood for ages holding each other before wandering back hand in hand to the house.
Jacqueline was there when we arrived back.
'Well you two, we need to move tonight. You were right Squonk, someone is working against us and knows our plans. We need to move you to Scotland tonight.'
'I'm not going,' I said, 'I'm not sure we'll be safe there. From now on I'm on my own. It's the only way'
'Me as well' Zee said squeezing my hand.
'Lily and I have talked this over, we're going with Tom and Zee' Crissy said smiling at me, 'Sorry Tom, but we talked. We're not running away and we'd miss you all too much.
'EH ?' Jacqueline said.
EH looked from one to the other. I could see the indecision on her face, the uncertainty. She finally looked down at Kylie who looked up with huge innocent eyes.
'Kylie's got no-one else. you've got each other. I think I'll go with Kylie and look after her. I don't want to leave you but...' Tears spilled down her cheeks.
We all rushed in and engulfed EH. Tears and sobs at the parting. This time however we knew it wasn't leaving a dead body, EH was going to be safe at least.
As we drove down the drive all eyes were in the rear window waving at EH, sadness soaking up the atmosphere.
Apparently according to the news we were a group of desperate terrorists who were intent on bringing down a democratic government. In truth we were four frightened people trying to stay alive against all odds, four people with a moral conviction and for probably the first time in our lives hatred. Now we'd cut away from the main resistance we were on our own. We were strong though the four of us, all the heartache of the last few weeks making us a tight unit who would be hard to break.