At first Jessica thought she’d made a mistake. It wasn’t as though she’d had any help, because it had been her idea and she was as certain as she could be that no one had ever used magic the way she had. There had been stories about people finding themselves living through the storyline of a book, movie, TV series, or game, but she hadn’t heard anything about someone who had chosen to step into a fictional world. Of course that didn’t mean it hadn’t happened. With fae magic no one seemed to be quite sure of anything, which was why she’d never mentioned her plans to anyone. Someone would have tried to talk her out of experimenting, especially as her plan was to create a magical portal that would take her into a fictional world so she could change something and see what happened when she left again.
In all honesty it wasn’t the most sensible plan Jessica had ever come up with. She knew that. There was just a part of her that wanted to see if she could create a portal that would send her into a fictional world, another part of her that really wanted to have some control over the books she read, and a third part that simply wanted to play with magic now that she could. A fourth part, a really quiet fourth part, kept telling her that something had to go wrong, because she was playing with fae magic. Ignoring that part was much easier than she anticipated, which was why she was standing in the fictional world of her choice with nothing but the clothes she was wearing.
Well, that was where Jessica thought she was. The point she had chosen in her fictional timeline was one that had been mentioned, but was never actually a part of the story, and that was probably the stupidest thing to have done. She wasn’t sure exactly where she was meant to be. All she knew was that there had been a death at that time that she wanted to prevent, in order to change things in the future. If she could change one thing then it seemed possible that she could change the other things she had disliked, making the storyline go the way she thought it should have done instead of the way the author had made it go, because she was the one in control.
Biting hard on her lip Jessica looked around. The portal had appeared in front of her, the way it was supposed to, and she had stepped through it, so she should be where she planned on being. She should have done a test first, going to a part of the storyline she knew well, but she had been adamant about what she wanted to change first. It would, if she got everything right, make a huge difference to a couple of the characters in the future, which was what she wanted, because she had grown to love the characters and she wanted their lives to be happier.
Sighing, Jessica told herself that she was an idiot. Just because you could do something didn’t mean that you should. Yet, there she was, and she knew that the portal wouldn’t be there. All the notes she made were on her bedroom floor, where she’d left them, because she hadn’t know how long it would last – or that she’d be able to create it again – so her choice has been to make the journey when she could. Even though she shouldn’t have. The better idea would have been to wait, to recreate the portal at a time when she was ready for whatever might happen. Instead what she’d done was find herself standing on a world she hadn’t been certain would exist, no matter how much she hoped she would, with no idea how she was going to survive the night, let alone help the person she had gone to help.
“Are you okay?” a voice asked from behind her, making her jump, and she turned to find herself looking at the very person she had planned on saving.
Lying did cross her mind, until Jessica realised that the portal had brought her out at a bus stop. “Not really,” she said, trying not to make it obvious as she wiped her slightly sweaty palms on her jeans. “I spent my last money on the bus to bring me here because I couldn’t stay at home any longer and now I don’t know what to do.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You left with nothing?”
Nodding, Jessica wished she had packed a bag, but it hadn’t been something that crossed her mind, as she’d be so certain that she wouldn’t be able to create the portal that when it happened she’d made a really stupid decision. “I just had to get away. I didn’t think about what I was doing – I just shoved some money in my pocket and walked out.” She shrugged. “Now I can’t get back, even though I don’t want to, and I don’t have any way of making a new start here.”
“Was it really that bad?”
“It felt it.”
Sympathy filled his eyes. “Well, we’re kinda full, but I’m sure my aunt and uncle wouldn’t mind you staying for a little while, as long as you paid your way by doing chores, at least until you get a job.”
“I couldn’t do that.”
“Do you really have any other option?”
“You haven’t asked them. It’s not fair on them to just take me to their house and ask them to give me a place to stay.”
For a moment Jessica worried about his response, but then he laughed. “To put your mind at rest I’ll use the pay phone and give them a ring. I know they won’t say no, not to a girl on her own.”
Jessica wasn’t so certain. “That works.” She smiled at him. “Even if they don’t agree I do appreciate the offer.”
“Been there, love. I know exactly what it’s like not to have a place to go and if I can do anything to help a damsel in distress then that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Before Jessica could argue against it he was walking over to the closest phone box, and she followed him. He stepped inside, holding the door open for her, but she shook her head. Instead she stood outside the phone box, to give them both some privacy, and tried to work out what her next step was going to be if his family weren’t willing to take her in. He might be certain they would, but she knew how full the house already was. Taking in someone else would make things more difficult for them, especially as she didn’t even have any money she could give them, although that was something she might be able to change. If she could get a job… which wasn’t going to be easy when she was on another world, with no identification. Sighing, she brushed a hand through her hair, doing her best not to panic, because she knew panicking wasn’t going to help. Panicking was just going to make everything more difficult. Maybe she could find a way to get back to her world sooner than she’d planned. She knew what she’d done in order to create the portal, so, logically, she should be able to recreate it.
“I told you it would be fine.” He stepped out of the phone box. “They’re happy to take you in.”
“You did tell them I have nothing, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did, and I also told them you were about my sister’s size, so I’m sure you should be able to borrow some clothes until you manage to get your own.”
Sharing clothes with someone else hadn’t been in the plan. Jessica did her best to smile at him, because she was grateful. Unfortunately the difficulty of her situation was beginning to set in. Why had she stepped through the portal? Why had she done something so incredibly stupid? Tears welled up in her eyes, which wasn’t going to help, and she did her best to push them away. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He took hold of her hand. “I know it’s not going to be easy, but you can get through this. You have people who are going to help you.” Their eyes met. “I’m Lucan. Most people call me Luke.”
“Nice to meet you, Luke.” She let go of the fear she felt, doing her best to focus on the fact she did have someone who was going to help her, someone she’d have needed to find if they hadn’t have run into each other. “I’m Jess.”
“I guess the best thing we can do is start walking to my place. My uncle did offer to pick us up, but I thought it would be best for you to have some time to come to terms with everything before you had to deal with anyone else.”
“Thank you.” She glanced down at their still joined hands as they started walking up the street. “I really do appreciate all the effort you’ve gone to in order to help me.”
“You’re welcome. Like I said I’ve been there myself. My parents disappeared when I was younger, and I haven’t seen them since it happened. If it wasn’t for my aunt and uncle we wouldn’t have had anywhere to go, but they took us in, and things have gone as well as they could have with six of us growing up there.”
“I have two sisters, one older and one younger.”
That wasn’t in the book. Lucan had had an older sister and a younger brother. Jessica nibbled on her lip, wondering how that was going to change things. Lucan’s death had led his younger brother down a path she hadn’t wanted him to go down, which was the whole reason she was there, but if there wasn’t a younger brother would his younger sister walk the same path? Or would it be Lucan’s older sister who died? At least she remembered the storyline as it was well enough to be able to write it down, in the hope she’d be able to work out where things might be different if there were other people involved.
“As there were six of you I take it you have three cousins.”
“Two boys, and a girl. Honestly I think growing up at my aunt and uncle’s was better than being the only boy with two girls. It meant I had someone to connect with. Both my cousins are slightly older, and they’ve done a lot to help me over the years. Without them my life wouldn’t be the way it is now.” Lucan shrugged. “Sometimes I do wonder what my life would be like if my parents hadn’t disappeared. It’s an inevitability when something like that happens. At the same time I’m almost grateful that it happened.”
Doing her best not to seem as perturbed as she felt, Jessica nodded. The entire storyline she’d travelled into a book to change was already changed by most of the people involved being different. None of Lucan’s cousins had been boys in the books. They’d all been girls, and Lucan had been closest to his younger brother. That was the whole reason he’d made the choices he had. If she’d been alone she would have had the time to work out how much those details were going to change things, but as Lucan was with her she knew she couldn’t let on to the fact she thought she knew more about him than she actually did. Whenever she’d read about people travelling to another world they had said that things were different. It had never crossed her mind how different the life of the people she’d travelled to help might be.
“How have your sisters dealt with what happened?”
“For Ginny I think it was much harder. She was the oldest of us, so she feels their loss much more than we do. Ally was barely old enough to remember them when they disappeared and to her living with our aunt and uncle is normal. I have some limited memories of the life we all lived, and I do miss them, but it’s nowhere near as hard for me as it is for Ginny. When we first moved in with my aunt and uncle she cried for days over our parents being gone. I think she’s been doing everything she can to find them since then. I don’t know for certain. She barely talks to any of us now. She’s disconnected entirely. Sometimes I feel like she thinks we’ve betrayed her for dealing with everything as well as we have.”
Maybe it was Ginny Jessica needed to help. “I could talk to her. I might be able to get her to let go of some of the pain she feels over all this. I don’t know if I could, but I’d like to do something to help you after what you’ve done for me.”
“You probably won’t get very far. She hasn’t listened to anyone for a very long time. It’s kind of you to offer, though. I would like it if you could do something to help her, even if it isn’t much, because I want her to be able to live her life instead of focusing all her energy on searching for two people who probably don’t even care about us.”
“Do you know why your parents disappeared?”
“No, and I haven’t asked. Ginny does. When she first found out she came straight to us, wanting to talk things through, but…” Lucan shook his head. “That was when we made the biggest mistake. Neither of us wanted to talk about our parents. We didn’t want to know what she did.” He sighed. “If we’d talked to her then we might have been able to fix things. As we didn’t… it makes sense that’s why she feels betrayed. If she’d listened to our explanations she might have been able to accept our reasons for not wanting to learn more about our parents, or she might not. I don’t know her well enough to be certain.”
“Surely it does make a difference if they left for a reason.”
“This might seem callous, but to me it doesn’t. I’m certain they did have a reason, and I’m sure it seemed like a good one at the time, but I don’t care why they went. I don’t care if they left in order to protect us from something or if they left for no reason at all. They mean nothing to me. If I’d had a chance to become close to them before I left I probably would feel differently now. As I didn’t they’re almost like characters in a story to me. I’ve heard about them, but I don’t know them. Ginny did. Ginny is the one who cares about them, who wants them to be a part of her life again, and the only reason I’d like them to come back is for her. She deserves a chance to have a relationship with them.”
“It’s not callous. It makes a lot of sense.” She glanced at him. “You have no connection to them. For you and Ally it’s as though your aunt and uncle are your parents, because they’re the people who raised you, while Ginny, for however short a time, was raised by your parents.”
“She’s five years older than me. From what I’ve heard Dad was married to someone else when Mum had Ginny, and he made the decision to stay with his wife in order to raise his son. Then he chose Mum when Ginny was three. It took Mum some time to let him back into their lives. When she did she became pregnant with me, which was when they made the decision to get married. I was three when they left, so Ginny was eight, and she’d had five more years with him than I did. Ally was two.”
Again that was different in the book. Jessica noted it down mentally, hoping she would remember enough of it to be able to write it down later. “Your aunt and uncle still took you in?”
“My cousins were young, so they didn’t have that much of a problem with it at the time. As we got older I think it did become more difficult. Ginny started pulling away from the family. I know if she had the money she’d have moved out already. My aunt’s offered to help her find a job that would give her the money she needed, but nothing seems to help, and, to be honest, I think Ginny’s never going to care about anything other than finding our parents. I don’t believe she ever will. I truly believe they’re gone for good and she has to come to terms with it. She won’t though.”
In the book it had been Lucan who’d turned to certain magics in order to find his parents, because he hadn’t been as young when they disappeared and he wanted to find them, but in his life it had to be Ginny who was doing that. Trying to connect with Ginny sounded like it wasn’t going to be an easy thing to do. If she didn’t would Lucan start walking the path his younger brother had done in the book. At least they did still have a half brother, who was the son of their dad’s first wife, even if the ages were different, as it meant she would, hopefully, still be able to help him.
“Everyone’s different, Luke. If you’d been the same age as Ginny was when your parents disappeared you might still have reacted the way you have. She might still have been the one who found it impossible to let go of them, or things might have been the other way round. No one knows how they’re going to react to something until it happens, and I feel sorry for her. Obviously she’d still hurting, because of the choice your parents made, and she seems to feel very alone. If she has someone to talk to about all of this it might be easier for her.”
“Sometimes she does talk to our aunt. She and Mum were sisters, but they were never very close. There have been some family issues over the years that have led to all three of the sisters having some distance between them. When Mum disappeared my aunt did reach out to her other sister. From what I heard it didn’t go very well. I don’t know why.”
“Families are difficult things.” Jessica sighed. “I left mine behind, because I’d had enough of the fighting. Mum and Dad… they’re very different people. They always have been. I have no idea why the two of them got married, as it would have been better for all of us if they hadn’t, but they’re still trying to keep the family together. If they hadn’t I think my life would have been much easier. Instead I have to deal with their arguments, which happen almost nightly at the worst times, and Dad has never been all that close to any of us, so it isn’t entirely unusual for him to take his bad moods out on us.” She stared down at the pavement. “I feel bad for leaving my sisters behind. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d been able to bring them with me. I just know it would have been harder if I had made the decision, because it’s hard enough alone. When I have enough I’m going to do what I can to get them out of there.”
“In comparison my family is wonderful. They might be my aunt and uncle, but they’ve never treated us differently to my cousins. As far as they’re concerned we’re just one big family.” Lucan squeezed Jessica’s hand, and she was surprised to find they were still joined. “You’re going to become a part of that. It might take you a while to get yourself sorted, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’ve got a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and clean clothes.”
“Yeah, it really is.” Jessica could work everything out later. Maybe Lucan had lived a very different life to the one she’d read about, but she was certain Ginny was going to end up doing something to change things if someone wasn’t there to stop it. “I’m looking forward to meeting everyone, now.”
“Good.” They turned left. “It’s not much further now.” He looked at her. “You’re going to be given a bit of time to sort yourself out, especially as they know why you’re here, but after that we will need you to help out. Everyone does their bit, Jess.”
“Of course they do, and I don’t have an issue with helping right from the beginning. It’s not as though most people would have been happy to take in a total stranger, and I’m still not certain your family is, so if I find you’ve been fibbing to me I will leave. I don’t want to make things any harder than they already are.”
Lucan laughed. “I promise you I’m not fibbing. I told my aunt and uncle everything I knew about you, and they were happy to take you in. Now I think about it I wonder if they’re hoping having someone new there might help Ginny.”
“Maybe.” Jessica shrugged. “All I know is that I’m going to do everything I can to make this whole thing as easy as possible for everyone involved. If I thought for a moment this was going to end up happening I probably wouldn’t have walked out in the first place, but it was just too much. It has been for a while.”
“That’s not something you’re going to have to worry about now, I promise.”
Nodding, Jessica smiled, but she knew life wasn’t going to be simple where she was. It was just going to be differently difficult. At least it was her choice.