The Time-Keepers

When Sara is told that her best friend's adopted brother has disappeared, her world is turned upside down when she learns the truth. Sara's world will never be the same...

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1. Chapter One

I left at break. I just walked out of the front door.

No one stopped me, but then no one would have been able to. Anyway, I’ve never seen the secretaries, janitors or the nurse get off their seats, apart from to have a smoke.

It is raining, but I don’t feel the slap of the raindrops. All I can concentrate on is getting to Melissa’s house. Sprinting down the road, I take a left, then a right, then down the lane and right again. Running across the road, almost causing a car crash. Breath sharp in my chest, stitch building up in my stomach. I keep going though.

I knew something was wrong. Melissa never doesn’t come to school. Ever. She’s also never far from her phone, so why weren’t my calls and texts being answered, I wondered. I should have just gone round, asked Vanessa…

Melissa’s house. Huge, rain running down the whitewashed walls, which are shining despite the grey sky. I run up the path and hammer on the door. Leaning against the door frame, I catch my breath. When the door opens I spring up.

Vanessa looks grey. Bags, under her eyes, beautiful red hair unbrushed. Her eyes lack the sparkle and she’s wearing clothes I never knew she could bring herself to wear.

“Sara! Wait, shouldn’t you be at-“

“I’m so sorry.”

I told myself I’d be strong, but tears fall down my cheeks.

“Sara…”

“I should have called or come round. I could have helped with Chrissie or…”

“Sara, you couldn’t have known. Now come inside, it’s pouring out there.”

I step into the porch. Shoes everywhere, coats on the floor. In the hall it’s worse. The normally immaculate room is cluttered and dusty. It’s scary to see the house in this state.

In the kitchen I see some grave looking police officers.

“Can I speak to Melissa?” I ask.

“She hasn’t come out of her room and has refused to see anyone since…” Vanessa’s eyes fill with tears. “Since he disappeared.”

I give her a hug. Normally it would be weird to hug someone else’s mum, but I’ve known Vanessa for most of her life. I’ve slept in this house countless times when I couldn’t face going home.

“She loved him like a real brother, you know. It was perfect. He was perfect. And just about to leave for university…”

Vanessa sobs into my shoulder. Once she’s composed herself she pulls away.

“If Melissa won’t see you, come into the kitchen.”

“She’ll see me,” I say, “She has no choice.”

I take my shoes off (it’s a habit) and run up the stairs. Melissa’s room is the first on the right. Her door is closed. Taking a deep breath, I knock.

“Melissa, it’s me.”

I get no reply, so I turn the door handle and open the door. The room is huge, like the rest of the house. The curtains are closed. On the desk a blue light from the laptop illuminates the semi-darkness. Make-up litters the dressing table and the walk-in wardrobe door is open. The covers on the four-poster bed are crinkled. On top lies Melissa and her dog, Bubble.

“Go away Mum.”

“It’s Sara.”

Melissa turns her head.

“What are you trying to say? I don’t look forty.”

Melissa’s lips move up a fraction.

I gently push Bubble out of the way, curl up on the bed and we start to cry. It seems as though we are in a timeless ball, trying to block out the world.

“We didn’t even get to finish our castle.”

She pulls away and looks at her cabinet. On it is the castle made out of toothpaste tube tops, inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

It was a symbol of union between them. They started it after they had settled their differences a couple of months after Marcus was adopted.

It wasn’t easy for Melissa. She felt as though she was being replaced, as though she wasn’t good enough for her parents. I think she still gets the feeling every time a new child is adopted, but she doesn’t treat them like she treated Marcus when he first arrived.

“You don’t know that he’s dead.”

“Sara, he’s been gone for four days. He’s not coming back.”

We’re silent. Another pang of guilt ripples through me. Why didn’t I ask? Melissa has had to go through all of this by herself. I want to know what happened, but don’t want to ask.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come over. I was busy all weekend and then I thought you were ill so… I’m sorry. I’m a terrible friend.”

“Shut up, Sara.”

“No, I mean it. I should have come to see you, see what was wrong.”

“You couldn’t have known. It was all over the news though.”

I don’t have the heart to tell her our electricity was been cut. Again. This isn’t about me.

“I’m not a newsy type.”

“I know.”

Melissa smiles at me, but it’s not real. It fades and then tears fill her eyes.

“It’s all my fault.”

“Melissa, no it’s not.”

“It is. If I hadn't told him that he had no friends…”

“What?”

“I told him that he had no friends and that he needed to get out more.”

“Why?”

“He wouldn’t lend me his laptop so I could download songs onto my iPod. I need it for when we go to Paris.”

“But that’s not until March!”

Melissa shrugs. “I was bored.”

We’re silent again. I listen to the tick of her watch until she’s ready to continue.

“I was in a bad mood and so I started an argument. He said he needed to do homework. I said he was always doing homework and that he needed to get some friends and get out more. He’s a bit sensitive about all that, so he called some friends and left the house. And… and he never came back.”

Melissa rolls into my shoulder and sobs. Tears tumble down my cheeks as well. It pains me to see my best friend in this state, and know I can do nothing about it.

“I’m sure the police will find him.”

Maybe if I say it enough it’ll come true.

“April Jones? Maddy Mckan? Countless others? No one ever found them. Marcus will be the same. Gone. Forever.”

I stay with Melissa and her family for the rest of the day. The police leave at about three, after which we all cry and cuddle in the living room. Marcus has been part of Melissa's family for four years, but it seems like lifetime. He used to help us with our homework, chase us around the garden, and take part in our films. He was also a tiny bit hot (well, maybe a bit more than a tiny bit…), but Melissa says that you can’t think that your brother’s hot, even if he’s not biologically related to her. That’s how much he fits in here.

Sorry, fitted.

I leave at four, after changing Chrissie’s nappy and laying out Darren’s cars in a traffic jam. Vanessa asks me to stay for tea, but she doesn’t need the extra stress.

At the bus stop tears well in my eyes but I brush them away- I don’t need the stares.

I get off the bus at my stop and walk up the hill to our house. Green bins line the streets and I make a mental note to put ours out.

If Jason was still living with us, they’d be out by now.

I walk up the gravel path and ring the doorbell. Not for the first time, I marvel at how different our house is to Melissa’s. Plants grow in the path, the grass is overgrown, the flower beds are empty and weeds grow in the window box. Mind, it was worse before Mum stopped her drinking.

“Sara,” Mum says, opening the door, “I’m so sorry.”

I step in and hug her. She’s still in her pyjamas as Monday’s are her day off. When I draw back her eyes are wet.

“I’ll write you a note explaining why you weren’t at school today. What would you like? A bath? Cake? Hot chocolate? We can watch a film if you like…”

“Actually, Mum, I was just going to pop to Mark’s house.”

A flash of pain crosses Mum’s face, but then it’s gone.

“Of course! Mark and Marcus were good friends. You’ll want to comfort him…”

Poor Mum. Since she stopped her drinking she’s been trying to make it up to me, but I guess part of me can’t forgive her for abandoning me.

“We’ll watch a film when I get back,” I say.

“Of course. I’ll make lasagne too.”

Mum smiles, and it seems to me it’s real so I smile back, but drama has never been a strong point for me.

“Oh Sara…”

We cuddle in the hall for a while. It feels good to be back in her arms, and for a second I begin to really believe that everything will be okay. I push the feeling back though. It’s always the same- Mum quits the drinking, for a few months all goes well, I begin to get my hopes up, and then she sinks back into her drunken haze.

I pull away. “I should go.”

“Yes, you should. Tell him I say hi.”

“Will do.”

She kisses me on the forehead and then I leave.

 All the way to Mark’s house tears trickle down my cheeks.

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