The train jolted and rocked just as much as the last time. Wilom spent the entire trip on the floor of the truck. When they arrived at the station, Wilom got off with only a nod to the foreman, and headed home. His head was clear, despite the headache he’d been nursing for a few hours now.
He walked into town in the late afternoon. He walked straight up to Jali and Tanim’s house and knocked on the door.
Jali wrenched it open, eyes red, face puffy. The lounge room was full of people.
Wilom looked up to see Tanim standing up and rushing to her side, but that was all he could see before Jali gathered him in a huge hug. He patted her on the shoulder.
She didn’t say anything. He wished she would, if only to get it over with.
He could see just over her shoulder enough to see Tanim rubbing her back. She shook and shuddered. Wilom couldn’t see the people in the living room.
“Jali,” Tanim said gently, and turned away to speak to the rest of the room. “Could we have some time to ourselves, please?”
Jali finally released Wilom and pulled him to the side as the parade of middle-aged women walked out of the house, patting Jali on the shoulders and glaring at Wilom as they went.
Wilom kept his face impassive by reminding himself that he deserved this. Whatever he was going to do about it, he could do tomorrow.
When they were gone, Jali shut the door and hurried him to the table. He pushed the abandoned cups of tea away from his seat and folded his arms in front of him.
“Tea?” Tanim asked Jali, but she waved him away.
He went back to his own half-full tea cup and said, “Wilom …”
“I’m sorry,” Wilom said. And he was. The whole thing had been a terrible idea.
“Why?” Jali asked.
They both knew. What did she want him to say? “I can’t answer that in a way that will make you happy.”
“I don’t want happy!” Jali shouted.
Wilom started. He couldn’t remember Jali ever raising her voice. Not even after the Incident with Mica.
“Wilom,” she said, regaining some of her composure and reaching over for his hand. “Wilom, I don’t want an answer that will make me happy. I’m trying to understand why you felt you needed to run away, and why you didn’t tell us about it.”
Wilom looked at her and wondered how she could be so uncomprehending. He decided to answer the second question.
“I didn’t think before I left,” he said.
Jali’s face twisted. She was clearly frustrated. She was his father’s sister, and the resemblance was uncanny.
Then she started to cry again. “Why can’t you be honest with us, Wilom?”
Wilom glanced over at Tanim. Tanim’s eyes were hard and his face was sombre. There would be no help from him. “I am being honest,” Wilom said.
“But you never tell us anything … and then you go and do something like this! What are we supposed to think? Wilom, how are we supposed to help?”
Wilom had had a terrible two days, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for a sobbing aunt asking him about the thoughts he didn’t even like having.
“Don’t try to help in the first place!” Wilom told her, pulling his hand away. “I’m not a craft project, I’m your nephew.”
For a moment, he wondered if Jali might have stopped breathing. Tanim’s face didn’t change.
“Wilom,” Tanim said. “Perhaps if you would start acting like an adult, we’d be more inclined to treat you like one. You had a job, and you had a house, but for the past few weeks you’ve holed yourself up in our house and now you run away without telling us? Either you aren’t as much of an adult as we thought you were, or there’s something wrong that you aren’t telling us about. Wilom, if there’s something wrong, we can help. But you have to tell us about it.”
Wilom winced. Coming from Jali, that was practically saying hello. Coming from Tanim …
“Please,” Jali begged him. “Tell us what’s wrong.”
“So you’d prefer to believe there’s something wrong with me than that I’m not the sort of person you want me to be?”
It was a mistake. Another mistake, in a two-day-long string of nothing but mistakes. Jali choked on a sob. Tanim looked like he was about two sentences away from exploding.
“Bed, Wilom,” he instructed. “Go. We’ll talk about it later.”
Wilom nodded. “Good idea,” he mumbled, and took himself off to bed.
In the morning, Jali and Tanim made a cooked breakfast and waited for him at the table.
He was rested, but not well rested enough for this. At least he knew what he had to say to them. He’d planned it all the night before.
“Are you feeling more civil this morning?” Tanim asked.
“Not particularly,” Wilom told him. “But I’ll try. Thanks for breakfast. I do appreciate it.”
Wilom started to eat his breakfast. About halfway through the meal, he cleared his throat and put his cutlery down. “I ran away because things here aren’t exactly going any better than back home.”
“I understand,” Jali said. “You miss your friends, don’t you?”
“Oh, Wilom,” Jali said. “But you know your friends are …”
“A bad influence,” Wilom finished for her.
Jali nodded. “You know the things you do around them.”
“Yeah,” Wilom said. Then, before they could butt in with anything else, “I’m going to try and get my job back,” he said.
Tanim nodded. “I think that’s a very good idea.”
“I’ll get the house back,” Wilom said.
“You’ll still need to stay here for a while,” Jali said, reaching over to take his hand. “Remember, it’s no trouble. You can stay with us as long as you need to.”
Wilom nodded. “Thank you,” he said. He didn’t mean it, but what else was there to say?