On Monday morning Teri was delayed by a domestic crisis, so when she arrived at school she had to go straight to her History class. She expected Caroline to be there already, sitting in her usual seat, but she wasn’t. Had she been held up, too? Was she unwell after all the excitement of the weekend? But Teri really didn’t believe it. Her stomach knotted, and the knot grew tighter as the lesson continued.
As soon as it was over, she hurried to the form room. Caroline wasn’t there, but Fran was.
‘Caroline isn’t at school,’ Teri told her. ‘I’m going to her house to see what’s happened.’
‘Take my bike,’ said Fran, and tossed her the keys to the padlock.
And as she pedalled along the familiar streets, Teri called to her guides and angels, ‘Please help me. And please protect Caroline.’
But now she was taking action, the fear was beginning to subside. And once again she felt that toughening happening inside her – just as she’d experienced it with Tom Price – coupled with the same determination to do whatever she could to help her friend.
Mr Trent opened the door, but planted himself in the middle of the doorway as if to bar the way, looking at Teri as if she was an enemy.
‘Hello Mr Trent,’ said Teri. ‘Is Caroline there, please?’
‘You’re not welcome in this house any longer,’ he said stiffly, as if reading from a script. ‘You’re a bad influence on Caroline.’ And began to close the door.
Teri hadn’t foreseen this situation, but she reacted so fast she surprised herself, actually sticking her foot in the door, like an importunate salesman. She followed it up by shoving the door hard, ducking underneath Mr Trent’s arm and running up both flights of stairs, calling Caroline’s name as she went. But the bedroom was empty. Teri looked in the other rooms on the top floor. They were empty, too. She ran down to the first floor and did the same there. No joy.
And when she finally returned to the ground floor, there was Mr Trent standing in the middle of the hall with an actual gun in his hand. How ridiculous, she thought. What on earth does he think he’s doing?
‘Now get out of this house before I call the police,’ he said, breathing heavily.
‘Not without Caroline,’ she said, surprised by her own lack of fear. ‘Caroline! Caroline! Where are you?’
‘You’re not seeing her again,’ he said, ‘It’s not allowed.’
And Teri realised that despite the fact that he was holding the gun, it was Mr Trent who was afraid.
‘Not allowed by whom?’ she demanded (and she was pleased with the ‘whom.’) ‘Not allowed by Tom Price? Or not allowed by the Colonel?’
‘None of your business,’ he said. ‘Now get out.’
‘You know this is illegal, don’t you? You’re not Caroline’s parents, and you have no right to hold her against her will!’
‘I’m not listening to you,’ he said, looking more frightened and desperate by the minute. ‘Get out of this house.’
‘Do you love her?’ Teri demanded.
‘Do you love Caroline? I thought you did. But you still intend to hand her over to the Colonel. Do you know what he means to do with her?’
‘I don’t need to know that.’
‘What? You don’t need to know? If he means to carry out experiments on her? Or use her to breed with? Or torture and murder her in a black magic ritual? Or trade her to aliens so they can experiment on her, or have sex with her, or eat her? You don’t need to know all that, Mr Trent – is that what you’re telling me?’
‘That’s a pack of lies.’
‘Are you absolutely sure about that? You’d better be absolutely sure, hadn’t you? Because otherwise, you risk betraying her to unimaginable horrors.’
While she was speaking, Teri saw Mrs Trent appear through a doorway, and stand listening.
‘Is that true, Teri?’ she asked, and her husband turned at the sound of her voice. ‘What you just said? Is it true?’
‘They’ve done those things to other people, Mrs Trent. Yes, it’s true.’
‘Henry, they’re not good people. I told you that. I always felt it, and so did you.’
‘We signed the contract,’ said Henry, doggedly.
‘It was an illegal contract,’ said Teri. ‘An illegal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. You can’t treat people like that. It’s against the law.’
‘They’ve paid us a lot of money over the years.’
‘Yes, and I’m sure you earned it. But whose money was it, Mr Trent? It was never theirs in the first place. It’s the money they’ve stolen from you and me – from all the ordinary people of the world. You don’t owe them a thing.’
She could see him wrestling with the situation in his mind. What to do? But his wife had already decided.
‘They’re not going to wait till she’s eighteen,’ she said. ‘They’re taking her this morning.’
‘I’m sorry, love. There’s nothing we can do.’
‘That’s what they want us to think, Mrs Trent. That’s what they always want us to think. That there’s nothing we can do. So nobody tries. Well, stuff that. I’m not going to stand by and do nothing. Where is she? I’ll take her with me now.’
‘They’ll be here in half an hour.’
‘Well, hurry up then! For God’s sake!’
Mrs Trent unlocked the door to the basement, and Caroline emerged, her face very pale.
‘Are you okay, darling?’ asked Teri.
‘Is it true about the black magic rituals?’ Caroline asked.
‘I’m sorry you had to hear that.’
‘I’m afraid so. Sweetie, you’ve got to go. Can you ride a bike?’
‘Okay, can you run to the school?’
‘Not with my shoes on, I can’t.’
‘So take them off.’
Even then, there was a hesitation. Even to save her life, she was reluctant to expose her feet to the rest of the world.
The telescopic, fan-like toes emerged into the light, with their brilliant blue webs.
‘That’s the way. Off you go – I’ll meet you there soon. Run!’
And Caroline sprang down the steps and away.
Wow, thought Teri. Look at that girl go. It wasn’t just the springiness of the telescopic feet. It wasn’t just the length of her stride. It was also the speed of her steps – so fast they almost blurred. No Olympic athlete could have kept pace with her, and she was out of sight in a matter of seconds.
‘I’m going back to the school, Mr and Mrs Trent,’ said Teri. ‘Would you like to come with me?’
‘What for?’ asked Mr Trent, sullenly.
‘I was just thinking it might not be very safe for you here when the Colonel arrives.’
‘We’ll take our chances, thank you very much.’
‘Don’t you worry, dear. We’ll be okay,’ said Mrs Trent.
So Teri turned to go. But at that moment a car drew up to the kerb, and a young woman not much older than Teri ran lightly up the steps.
‘Mr and Mrs Trent?’ she said. ‘Carly Westmoreland. I’m a researcher on “With Your Breakfast.” I was wondering if Caroline was available? I was hoping to talk her into coming on the show, with your permission, of course…’
But Mr Trent was already closing the door.
‘You want to interview Caroline?’ asked Teri.
‘Yes! Her story has gone viral on Facebook, and what with President Obama’s announcement over the weekend, we were hoping to have her on the show.’
‘About ETs and the Secret Space Program. You haven’t heard?’
‘No,’ said Teri.
‘It’s a pretty big story. And Caroline is connected to it. Do you know where she is? Or could you put me in touch with her?’
‘I’d need to check with Caroline and her legal adviser first. Look, why don’t we exchange phone numbers? And I’ll get back to you very soon.’
But at that moment another car drew up and a man in a suit came up the steps holding a mike, followed by a cameraman.
‘Drew Redman from NTV News,’ he said. ‘You must be Teri Barlow, is that right? Caroline Trent’s partner?’
Oh my God, thought Teri. I’m coming out on National News.
‘I’m sorry, what’s all this about?’ she asked, playing for time while her brain tried to catch up with events.
Slowed down, this was the process that went on inside her head:
Firstly, how on Earth did they know about her relationship with Caroline? But as soon as she asked herself the question, she knew the answer. She’d told Arabella it wasn’t a secret any more, hadn’t she? And Arabella would have told the others. They in turn could have quite innocently mentioned it to other people at the party. And then that piece of information had gone viral along with the rest of Caroline’s story.
Meanwhile, Drew was saying, ‘We were hoping to interview Caroline about ETs and hybrids and underground bases. I wonder, could you tell me how we might reach her?’
And this was only the beginning. More cars were drawing up outside, and more people with cameras were emerging. Somehow Teri would have to deal with this, and deal with it properly. She had to think quickly, and she did. Again, here’s the slow-motion version of her thinking process:
They’d wanted publicity for Caroline in order to protect her, hadn’t they? And they’d succeeded beyond their wildest hopes. Which on the one hand was absolutely fantastic. But on the other hand, what a terrible onslaught for poor Caroline to face! She’d only just got used to saying she was a hybrid and showing people her feet. But if she had Teri by her side, facing the onslaught with her, wouldn’t that make it easier on her?
And now Teri came to think of it, it seemed that all her experiences over the past few weeks had been preparing her for this – getting her used to being in the spotlight, forcing her to master her stage fright, showing her that she could think on her feet, and be strong and articulate in challenging situations. And finally, as a thrill ran up her spine, she knew with absolute certainty that she was the right person for this particular job. In the right place at the right time.
‘Yes, I’m Teri Barlow,’ she replied, ‘And I’d be happy to exchange phone numbers with you, but I have a feeling we’ll be holding a press conference before we do anything else.’
‘Sorry?’ said Drew, because the clamour of rotor blades had suddenly made conversation impossible. And they looked up to see a black helicopter hovering over the house.
It’s the Colonel! thought Teri. At least Caroline must be at the school by now. Please God, don’t let him follow her there.
But then something brought her attention down to street level, where at least six professionally-wielded cameras were angled to the sky, trained on that helicopter. And Teri suddenly knew for certain that by evening, their footage would be appearing on every television network in the country. If not the world.
For several minutes the tableau was frozen – the cameras focussed on the helicopter, the helicopter fixed to the sky. Until, with the forced nonchalance of a cat backing away from a confrontation, the helicopter turned and slowly withdrew, its racket gradually subsiding as it went.
And as it went, a great weight rolled off Teri’s shoulders which she hadn’t even known was there. She laughed out loud, and Drew and Carly whipped round to stare at her.
‘It’s alright,’ she said, grinning. ‘I was just thinking. Everybody’s secrets are coming out now, aren’t they?’
The media frenzy around Caroline and Teri was intense, but soon over – largely because the revelations about ETs were soon followed by the Mass Arrests and Full Disclosure.
And so it was that three weeks later, Teri and Caroline were eating supper in the tiny upstairs dining room of an old stone hotel in the heart of the Cotswold hills, on a weekend retreat to celebrate Caroline’s eighteenth birthday.
‘What did your Mum say?’ asked Caroline.
‘She said, “Have a lovely time, dear,” and she asked me to say “Hi.”’
‘I’d like to meet her.’
‘She’d like to meet you.’
‘It doesn’t bother her – any of this? You being gay? You teaming up with a hybrid?’
‘Not at all. My sisters are mad about babies, so she’s bound to get grandchildren. And anyway, my family like me being different. It gives them something to talk about. What did your Mum say?’
‘She said, “Have a lovely time, dear.” And asked me to say “Hi” to you.’
‘Not very original, our Mums, are they?’
‘No,’ laughed Caroline. ‘But guess what? She says the usual monthly deposit turned up in the bank account.’
‘No!’ said Teri, ‘I’m amazed. I’d have thought the Colonel would have put a stop to that straight away! But you know, these administrative errors can go on for years. I’d keep quiet about it, if I were you.’
‘That’s what I said to Mum. And it means they can keep transferring money to my account, so I can keep paying board and lodging to Pen.’
‘And I was wondering, do you think it might be the angels again?’
‘Why not? They know we have to live.’
‘Which reminds me. Do you think it was the angels who arranged for my party to be on the same weekend as Obama’s announcement?’
‘And made sure that you arrived at my house before the Colonel did?’
‘And arranged for all those cameramen to be standing in the street when the helicopter turned up?’
‘Well, if it wasn’t the angels, that’s an awful lot of coincidences.’
‘I know. But it must take a heck of a lot of organisation, don’t you think?
‘Well, they’re very good at it,’ said Teri. ‘Lots of practice, you see. And living outside time probably helps, too.
‘It is. And I am very, very grateful.’
‘So am I. They didn’t hold my doubts against me, either.’
‘No, they’re nice about things like that. By the way, how many interviews has Pen scheduled for next week?’
‘Only three. I think it’s definitely tailing off.’
‘Thank God. But talking of tails, Caroline…’
‘Talking of tails, yes?’
‘You know, I couldn’t help noticing that in all the interviews we’ve had, the subject of your extra vertebrae somehow never came up. Your feet have been filmed from every angle, put through their paces, discussed and examined and sampled and exclaimed over, but you never, ever mentioned the tail. Not once.’
‘Well, they would have wanted to film it, wouldn’t they? And it’s a bit personal, Teri. It’s right next door to my private parts.
‘And anyway,’ she continued, ‘I couldn’t show it to anyone else until I’d shown it to you, could I? And you said you were saving it for later. So I was saving it for you.’
‘What a sweetheart.’
‘And you know what I was thinking?’
‘No. What were you thinking?’
‘I was thinking that “later” could actually turn out to be right now. It would certainly qualify.’
‘I know I’m right.’
‘But then, you always were a very clever hybrid.’
‘I always was.’
‘And it just goes to show how compatible we are,’ said Teri. ‘Because oddly enough, I was thinking exactly the same thing.’
And so they went to bed.
And Caroline’s tail turned out to be just as beautiful as Teri had imagined. And blue, of course.
© Sue J Davis 2016
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