“I’m much younger than all of you,” said Rich, trying to explain why he was so shy. “And I don’t know you. I’m worried about saying something stupid, in case I offend you and you dump me in the middle of Cumbria or something.”
“You’re not all that much younger than me,” Linda reminded him. “And we wouldn’t do that, since we’ve said we’ll give you a lift. You worry too much, that’s your problem. Stop being pathetic and have a drink.” From nowhere she had pulled out a glass with something sparkling inside. Rich was willing to bet that even if it wasn’t alcoholic it was expensive, and he was unwilling to take a sip. It would only put him more in their debt, and that would make refusing even harder.
“No thanks, I’m fine,” he said, dodging around the issue. “I don’t need anything to drink.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” said Linda, and drained the glass in one. “Goodnight, everybody. I think I’ll take a nap—wake me up when we arrive.” And she was asleep within seconds.
An hour passed, Rich lost in his thoughts, staring out of the window as though the answer would be written on the walls of the many houses that they flashed past, houses that varied from small and tightly packed to large and spaced out, surrounded by gardens and fields. Without even realising that his eyes were closed, he drifted off into sleep.
The car pulled to a halt. As he opened his eyes and blearily willed his brain to become alert, Rich could just about make out the shape of the cathedral and the narrow streets with which it was surrounded through the dark panes of the window. “We’ve arrived,” said Linda unnecessarily, and Alan breathed a sigh of relief. He’d made it without being sick again but it had been a close thing.
“Well, thanks,” said Rich, still hoping to get away without too much hassle. “I guess this is where I leave you. Thanks for the lift.” He made to open the door, but Jonathan stopped him.
“Not so fast. What about our request, eh? You haven’t given us your answer yet, young Richard.” Oh, how he hated being called Richard, but just for once he ignored it. “Stay a while. We need to talk. I’m sure you still have more questions.”
“Talk all you like,” he replied bitterly. “I’m done with talking. With all this talking, you still haven’t told me why you wanted me, and what exactly this thing is. All I know is the approximate size, shape and location. Well, I’ve had enough of you and your mysteries, your ambiguous answers. Your promises are all very well, but how do I know it’s not just a whole pile of crap?”