They were walking together in the gardens of the Purple Palace. It was evening and pinpoints of light were just beginning to flare in the distant city streets. Night stocks were releasing their scents, an alien medley that had now become familiar.
Blue asked, ‘What’s wrong, Henry?’
What was wrong was that he’d soon have to go back. He’d have to explain to his mother where he’d been. He’d have to explain to Anais how he’d managed to disappear before her very eyes. He’d have to live with the guilt about what he’d done to Blue. She was being very nice, but he was certain she could never forgive him.
He shrugged. ‘Oh, you know… going home,’ he mumbled. He didn’t want to go.
Unexpectedly, Blue said, ‘I’d like to meet your family.’
Henry glanced at her in surprise, then suppressed a lunatic urge to giggle. He thought of his mother and her lesbian lover. He thought of his father, now living with a girl young enough to be his daughter. He thought of Aisling, his selfish brat of a sister.
‘Oh no, you wouldn’t,’ he said with heartfelt emphasis. ‘Take my word for it, you wouldn’t!’
‘Don’t you like them?’ Blue asked.
‘Not very much. Dad’s all right, I suppose. But Mum -’ He hesitated. Actually he didn’t know what to say about his mum. After a moment he went on, ‘Mum sort of tells you what to do all the time. She knows better than everyone else about everything.’ Then he added sourly, ‘But she’s still managed to make a mess of her marriage. She chucked Dad out and made him think it was for the best.’
‘So you really don’t want to go back?’
‘Not even slightly,’ Henry said, then grinned to try to lighten the conversation.
Blue looked away from him. He couldn’t be sure in the half light, but something made him think she might be blushing.
‘Why don’t you stay here?’ Blue asked.
Henry stared at her in astonishment.