On a Saturday morning I always headed over to my boyfriend’s house, because it was the one day we made sure we spent together. He was working, a lot, while I was at college, so it was really the only day we had. There were days when I couldn’t help getting jealous of the girls who had boyfriends at college, who they could see during breaks and at lunch, but it made me all the more grateful for the time we did spend together. We made plans for the future, planning on being together for as long as we loved each other, and as I couldn’t imagine not loving him I didn’t think that we’d ever split up.
That morning I knocked on the door as I always did, even though his parents had told me I was welcome in their house at all times. I just liked to be polite. When Jack opened it I wasn’t surprised, because he always seemed to be the one who was going out at the same time as I was going in, but for the first time in months, possibly years, he didn’t have his bag on his shoulder. He stared at me, worry filling his eyes, and I wondered what had happened.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, his worry worrying me.
For a moment he looked as though he didn’t know how to answer the question. “My brother’s disappeared and no one seems to remember who he was,” he replied, his voice little more than a whisper. “Everything’s changed, Amy. The pictures in the living room, my parents think we’re dating, and I don’t know what’s happened. Do you remember, Matt?”
“Of course I remember him. I’ve been dating him for the last eighteen months.” Jack’s explanation didn’t make any sense and neither did his question. “Where is he?”
“If I knew that I wouldn’t have said he’d disappeared.” Jack shook his head. “Come in and see for yourself what’s happened if you don’t believe me.”
Nodding, I stepped past him, hoping that it was just some elaborate hoax, but as soon as I got into the living room I realised that Jack was telling the truth. The pictures that had once included Matt had Jack in instead. I didn’t know how it could have happened, unless they’d photoshopped them, but they seemed too natural. Slowly I stepped forward, my hand reaching out to touch the glass of one of them, trying to work out why I was suddenly terrified that Jack was telling me the truth, that my boyfriend really had disappeared, and something had happened to the world around us to make it seem as though he’d never been there.
“Hey, Amy,” his dad said, making me jump. I don’t think he noticed because he didn’t say anything as I turned to look at him. “What do you and Jack have planned for today?”
Unsurprisingly that was a question I didn’t have an answer for. I found myself staring over at Jack, hoping he had something that would sound at least vaguely plausible. “Nothing much,” he said. “We felt like having a lazy day together.”
“Sounds good. Your mother and I are going to the garden centre, so be good.”
“More roses?” I asked, feeling on safer ground.
“Of course.” He smiled at me. “What would a weekend be without adding another rose bush to the garden?”
Laughing, he nodded. “There is that, Amy. I’m hoping that once she has one of every colour we might be able to start planting something less stabby, but she does love her roses.”
Glancing one last time at the pictures I managed to smile back, somehow. “At least you can be certain that no burglars are going to come in through the back door. Trying to get through the roses would be difficult and you’d probably hear them before they got free of the thorns.”
“You make a good point. Maybe that’s why we have so many.”
“I don’t think so, Dad. I’m pretty certain it’s just because Mum likes roses and it’s funny to watch you planting them.” Jack told hold of my hand in a way that told me he was as uncomfortable with it as I was. “We’re going to head upstairs, maybe watch a film. Have fun at the garden centre.”
“We will.” Amusement filled his voice and I was pretty certain it was due to the way Jack was almost tugging me towards the stairs. “If I need your help later I’ll call you.”
When my eyes met Jack’s again they mirrored the dismay I felt. Matt was always the one to help his dad with the roses, because he was the eldest son. Shaking his head Jack continued up the stairs and stopped at the door that would lead to Matt’s room. The room I’d spent hours in, with a man who had disappeared, had become what looked to be the girls’ room, which had once been in the attic conversion.
“What is it now?” I asked, gesturing with my head at the attic.
Jack sighed. “My room.”
Falling into silence I let him lead me up the second set of stairs to the room that had become Jack’s. He sat on the bed, while I sat on the desk chair, and tried not to let my emotions get the better of me. It was hard to keep back the tears that wanted to fall, but I had questions that I needed to ask before I fell apart.
“Do you have any idea what happened, Jack?”
“I’ve been looking this up online.” I raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I know, but I woke up this morning to find that the world had changed around me and I had no idea what to do. So I searched for disappearing people, which came up with thousands of hits about missing people, before I added in never existed to the search.”
Using the track pad I woke up Jack’s laptop and stared at the site he’d found. “You think he’s on another world.”
“Right now I don’t know what to think, Amy. The information they have on what’s happened to them matches exactly what’s happened to us.” Shaking my head I stared at the words, unable to bring myself to read them. “It’s possible he may have stepped through a magical door that took him to a world called Taithmarin, which was created by the fae.”
“Did Matt come home last night?” I asked.
“He was working another night shift.” Jack bit his lip when I looked at him. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you, because it was your day together, and he didn’t want to spoil it.”
A part of me wanted to be angry. Matt knew how much I hated it when he did that, especially after I told him it didn’t bother me if we just had an afternoon together on the Saturdays he did a night shift. The problem was that he wasn’t there for me to be angry with, he’d disappeared and from what Jack said it was as though he’d never existed, so I pushed it all away because it didn’t matter any more. If he’d been there things would have been different. I probably never would have known.
“Okay, so he could have stepped through the door on his way home, if the door does exist.”
“From what I’ve read it’s likely that he’ll never be coming back.”
Hearing that was what started the tears. It was meant to be a good day, a day that I’d looked forward to all week, but it had turned out to be the worst day of my life. When Jack wrapped his arms around my shoulders I wanted, for a moment, to push him away, before I realised he needed to hold me, because I was the only other person who could remember him. Slowly I let myself melt into the hug, tears still streaming down my cheeks, and wondered what our next step was going to be. We were the only two people, apparently, who remembered Matt, and neither of us knew how to cope with that. He was obviously doing much better than I was, probably because he’d had more time to get used to it than me. Finally, breathing deeply, I looked up at him.
“How are we going to do this?” I asked, needing to talk things through with Jack. Everyone thought we were together and that wasn’t going to be easy for either of us. “How are we going to pretend we’re together?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. They think we’ve been together for eighteen months and we’re blissfully happy, planning a future together, so we can’t just end it, no matter how much we’d like to.”
I nodded, sighing. “We’ve got to make the split look as natural as possible for them.” I stepped backwards, so I wasn’t in his arms any longer, and looked back over at the screen. “I just don’t know how to do that, Jack.”
“Neither do I. All we can do is take things one step at a time, because none of this is going to be easy for us, but we have to put them first… we have to put everyone who doesn’t remember Matt first. Especially my parents.” Jack brushed a hand through his hair. “You have no idea how glad I am that you’re here, Amy, and that you remember him. I really hoped you would. The last thing I needed after this morning was to try to act as though you really were my girlfriend without falling apart. I’ve been trying to keep myself together, even though it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Jack sat down on the bed, shimmying back so he was leaning against the wall, and I sat next to him, feeling almost as though I was with Matt. Before they’d always seemed to be very different people, but I hadn’t really known Jack very well. Maybe they were more alike than I’d realised, so pretending we really were in a relationship wouldn’t be as hard as I feared it was going to be, especially as the two of us went to the same college together and people would expect us to be like all the other couples. I found myself looking at him, trying not to compare the two of them. Unfortunately it was much harder that I thought it was going to be.
Matt was dark, like their dad, while Jack was blond with blue eyes. This is the point at which I want to say he wasn’t my ‘type’, but I’d never really had one. I fell in love with who I fell in love with, and Matt I’d fallen in love with because he was Matt. There was no other reason for my feelings. We used to hang out together at school, even though he was two years above me, as we had the same sorts of things in common, although he was never really comfortable spending all of his time learning. He started working straight after school instead. Jack, on the other hand, was much more academic, so he had gone to college and he was, as far as I knew, in the middle of doing three AS levels and one A2. Matt talked to me a lot about Jack, always proud of his little brother. That didn’t mean I always listened as well as I should have done.
“Having this room is something I can’t get used to.” Jack sighed. “I can’t get used to Matt not being here, but it’s all the little things that remind me of it that make it harder. Both Mum and Dad believe that I’m the eldest son, because they don’t remember Matt. How can they not remember him?”
“According to the website, if you’re willing to believe it, magic is how.” I shook my head. “I’m not certain I do, but it really does seem to be the only explanation for what’s happened.”
“Before I really stopped to think about what I was doing I sent those people an email, because I want to know as much as I can about what happened, especially as I’m scared that it might happen to me or you, and then one of us would have to go through all this again.” Jack rubbed his eyes, looking as though he was trying to stop himself from crying. “I can’t. This time is hard enough. When I look at those pictures I’m just reminded all over again of how Matt used to be in them, but now I am, and they really remember them being taken the way they were, while I remember it all so differently.” He sighed. “Mum gave birth to him. It just doesn’t seem possible that she can’t remember that.”
“You shouldn’t be thinking about this so much. We need to focus on the future, because we’re the ones who’re going to be living it, no matter how hard that is. Thinking about Matt all the time is just going to make it much more difficult. He’s gone. As far as we should be concerned he’s dead, he’s not coming back, and we need to let go of him, otherwise we’re just going to be clinging onto a past that only happened for us.”
It took a while, but Jack did nod. “I know. I keep telling myself that. It’s just hard, Amy.” He sighed. “You’ve only known for a short time…”
“Jack, it’s not just that. I don’t live with him, so it’s not something I’m going to be reminded of every moment of every day. This is going to be much harder for you and I will do everything I can to help you through all this.”
“I can’t ask you to do that. You have your own life.”
“We share our lives, remember?” I managed to smile at him. “This is something we’re going to have to deal with together, even though you might not want to.”***The World Walkers: Taithmarin: Zoe: Travelling to Taithmarin >>>