Jigsaw

“But now you've forgotten”

Ella Roberts has always felt like a jigsaw with a piece missing: incomplete. She knows that there should be something filling the great big hole inside of her, but the harder she pushes for answers, the further away they seem.

So when a boy she’s never supposed to have met before turns up out of the blue and says he has answers, why shouldn't she trust him? After all, it’s hard not to trust someone that you feel like you've known your whole life.

As Ella falls deeper and deeper into the adventure, can she stop herself falling deeper and deeper in love with the boy?

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2. Chapter 1

 

“It happened again last night Mum.”

Mum glances at me quickly before turning back to whatever she’s doing.

“Mum?”

She coughs, “Don’t you think you should be dressed by now? It’s almost eleven o’clock and you’re still in your pyjamas.”

I sigh and retreat from the room. This always happens. She always changes the subject. They both do, her and Dad. If it’s Mum I try and talk to, she follows it up with a nag about something. This technique is specially designed to make me leave her alone.

I hate that it works.

I walk into the living room and find the appointment diary I keep on the shelf. I open it up at today’s date and use the pen attached to jot something down. Next, I flick back through the year whilst jogging upstairs to my bedroom.

I love my room. It has a double bed covered in sapphire blue bedding, and the cushions and curtains are a colour called Paris Green. The wall facing the bed is also sapphire blue with the other three white. Little trinkets, like green metal boxes sit on a shelf. The bay windows enlarge the room and I have a window seat nestled in there to see out onto the street. My bookshelf is packed, but neat, and my CD’s are stacked up in a proper holder; everything is tidy and neatly placed.

I also hate my room. I hate how the nightmares come to me in that bed. I hate how this means I never feel safe here.

I find a pad and, beginning in January, I write down all the dates where in my diary a certain phrase (comprised of two words) or its acronym is written. When my list is completed, I head downstairs to my Mum again. She may be able to ignore me, but surely she can’t disregard this evidence.

“Look at this,” I say. “Last month it happened four times. The month before that, six. February was nine! You can’t keep ignoring this in the hope it’ll go away. It’s pretty clear it won’t.”
                Mum doesn’t even look up.

“Two years this has been happening, and you won’t even acknowledge its existence. I think it’s pretty obvious there’s something wrong with me, and I need to know what!” 

Mum’s shoulders droop and she slowly turns to me. “Go and get changed Ella. We’ll talk about this when your Dad gets home from work.”

She turns away from me again. Her back says: Conversation closed.

I do as she asks and head upstairs to put some clothes on, even though I know she won’t do what she said. We won’t talk about this later, we never do.  

 

That night, when Dad shouts he’s home, I pounce.

“How was work Dad? Did everything go okay?” I ask, running up to him in the hall.

I take his bag from his unyielding hand and place it next to the stairs. Then I help him out of his coat, hanging it on the coat pegs hanging on the wall next to us.

He looks at me warily. “Um, well... I suppose since people started this year with no money and now they still have most of it, everything’s fine!”

I look at him blankly. He looks expectant. I realise he just told me some weird accountant/economic joke, so I laugh. Maybe I laugh a little too much actually. When I finally manage to stop, I follow Dad into the living room.

The living room is pretty much the epicentre of our family’s life. Mum designed it so it’s très chic and modern (she’s an interior designer – not to the ‘stars’ or anything, but still), all red, cream and beige. There isn’t much in the room, only the necessities like chairs, a glass coffee table and widescreen TV, but its simplicity just adds to the overall charming effect.

“I’ll get you a drink, Dad, yes?”

Before he has chance to say anything in reply I bustle off into the kitchen. I grab a teabag, the kettle, filled with boiled water, and milk and bung it all into Dad’s mug (the one that says ‘I Love My Daddy’ on the side – I bought it for him for a birthday present when I was really little).

I take this into Dad on a tray, along with a plate of custard creams.

“Thanks love,” he says gratefully.

I think he’s onto me; he’s starting to look ever so slightly suspicious. I smile brightly until he finishes his drink. As he moves to place it back on the tray, I beat him to it.

Dad sits back and we study each other.

“Custard cream?” I proffer.

“Okay. What do you want?”

I gasp and paint a naive look on my face – the picture of innocence. “Want? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Is it money? Because you can have some but that’s it for the rest of the month then.”

“It’s not money, no.”

“So you do want something, then. What is it?” Dad asks, successfully tricking me.

“Okay fine. What I want is to talk to you.”

He looks bewildered. “To talk? That’s all?”

“Yes.”

“Well, uh, okay. What about?” A smile of bemusement plays at his lips.

A smile that is wiped away because of what I say next.

“The dream.”

 

*             *             *            

 

I couldn’t possibly pinpoint the exact date I started to have the dream. All I know is, after a while, I got concerned enough to start recording whenever I had the ‘Repeating Dream’.

It’s usually pretty much the same. Sometimes things are completely missed out from the longer ones, sometimes things jump around more. Yet the general gist of it is that I am drugged and made to forget something, someone, who is clearly very important to me. The worst thing is, I never find out whom. The details are always so hazy; nothing major is ever revealed.

The first time I broached the subject of the ‘RD’ (as I sometimes record it in my diary) was just after my fifteenth birthday. If I remember correctly, Mum dropped a plate and Dad actually had to sit down after I’d explained everything that happened in it. Crazy, huh? They won’t tell me why they reacted that way.

I was desperate to go to someone about it, but my parents refused to let me. I was persistent at first, making sure to keep bringing it up every couple of days. Eventually though, they simply started ignoring me.

I tried to do my own research, but even the internet couldn’t provide me with the answers I so desperately craved.

Over the past two years my will has disintegrated, bit by bit until now there isn’t much left. I decided that after I confronted Dad today, I would give up. For good.

 

*             *             *

 

 “Dad?” I plead. “Please say something!”

He hasn’t spoken for at least a couple of minutes. It could be because I have him cornered and he‘s frantically trying of think of a way out.

“I’ve had a long day today Ella! Couldn’t you have waited until a better time?” he finally explodes.

“When would be a better time for you then, Dad? On a weekend, when we’re on holiday, in the morning? Oh, wait! I’ve tried all that!” I yell back. “Besides, you said today at work had been fine,” I can’t help but mutter.

Mum rushes into the room at that point, having obviously heard our shouting.

“What on earth is going on in here?” she asks us incredulously.

How ironic: looks like we’re actually going to end up talking about this after all, just as Mum promised earlier.

“Great! Now you’re both here, perhaps you’d like to answer me something. When would be a good time for you to talk about my dream with me? ‘Cos I’m free whenever!”

Mum and Dad share a look.

“Go to your room Ella,” Mum instructs quietly, her eyes falling anywhere but on me.

Or maybe we won’t be.

“Gladly,” I rage.

I storm up the stairs to my room. After I slam the door so hard that the framed pictures on my wall threaten to fall, I lean my back on the door. I sink down to the floor and lean my head back.

I don’t know how long I sit there; when I’m called for tea I don’t move. Then, I look at the clock and register that, startlingly, it’s past half past nine at night.

I stand to open my door as quietly as I can but still it creaks. I wince as it does.

Creeping onto the landing I lean over the stairs. Just as I had expected, I can hear my parents’ whispering – about me. I peer round the stairs and see the living room door is open. If I can get down a few more steps…

“…Can’t … ignore this…”

Still not close enough.

“I don’t know how many more times we can successfully avoid the subject.”

Much better!

“You know she’s just going to keep asking!” Mum says.

I don’t think I want to listen anymore.

Don’t worry Mum, I think bitterly as I stomp back up the stairs, no longer caring who hears. I won’t be asking again

Even though it’s too early for me to be going to bed, I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow (clichéd though that sounds), thinking what a fun day tomorrow will be.

 

“Happy birthday to me,” I sigh.

                Seventeen years old today. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but birthdays are supposed to be a day of celebration, not a day when I’m actually nervous about talking to my parents. Ho hum, I think as I pull on my dressing gown, no one ever said life was easy.

                Plodding down the stairs, I see banners attached to the walls and doors that scream ‘Happy Birthday’. At least Mum and Dad have deigned to let me have a birthday after last night.

I enter the living room and am hit by a shock of florescent paper-wrapped presents. No prizes for guessing who did the wrapping, I think as I take in the hand-tied ribbon bows and the matching tags on each present.

Then, from behind the biggest package, Mum and Dad leap out with their hands held high in a pose that reminds me a little of the monsters who scare the kids in their rooms in Monsters Inc. They yell ‘surprise!’ (my parents, not the monsters) as they bound up to me like over-exuberant puppies and we share a group hug. Is it possible my parents are more excited about my birthday than am I?

After all the present unwrapping, a couple of fake smiles when I opened socks, and some genuine ones when I got a new iPod and curling tongs, we eat breakfast. It’s as if Mum and Dad don’t even remember our argument from last night; I wonder if they’re only acting like this because it’s my birthday and on any other day you’d be able to cut the tension with a knife.

I come back downstairs after a shower and full dressed when Mum announces we need milk and ‘could you go and get some Ella? Oh and take your time – no rush!’ Right, like that’s not suspicious at all.

But I gladly do as she asks, if only to get away from the slightly weird atmosphere. I grab a coat before slipping out the door. The coat combats the cold air of an English autumn morning.

After collecting the milk, I walk back through a park to my house. Before I know it, I’m home. It seems like I haven’t been gone nearly long enough, but when I check my phone an hour and a half has gone by.

I let myself in the house and call hello. When no one answers, I go into the living room, already having my suspicions. As soon as I push open the door, I’m bombarded by voices incoherently shouting at me. I imagine they’re happy birthday-ing me.

My whole family is in the room, grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. There are only two people from my school – my only two friends. Most of the people my age at school avoid me. They think I’m weird, for some reason.

It’s been that way for such a long time, I hardly even notice it now. I went to school one day, only to find most of the people I’d eaten lunch with, and spoken to since primary school, were avoiding me like the plague. Weird looks followed me down the corridors. No one wanted to partner me in P.E.

But I learned to block it out, and started to hang out with the people I’d labelled Freaks when I actually had friends (something I immediately regretted when I found they were willing to talk to me).

As I blow out the candles on a cake at some point in the present, I feel a moment of sadness. It’s almost as if I feel guilty that I’m not sharing my special day with someone. Weird, I know.

The ‘party’ ends very quickly, for which I’m extremely grateful. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for company as soon as I realised something: I was standing in a room full of people, all of whom care about me.

And I’ve never felt so alone.

 

 

I get up early this morning because I’m expecting a call about a job that I went to an interview for the other day. The work’s nothing special; a few hours a day in a clothes shop, but I could really do with the cash. I’m brushing my teeth when the doorbell rings. Mum calls that she’ll get it and a few seconds later the door clicks open. There is a moment of silence.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Mum obviously means to whisper but it comes out more like a loud, angry hiss.

My first thought is that this is about the job (well it is early!) but I’m sure it wouldn’t warrant a house call. Besides, why would mum be mad at the New Look work force?!

“Look, obviously I know she turned seventeen last month so it isn’t illegal for me to be here and I couldn’t stay away. I tried but I couldn’t. Please just let me see her,” a deep male voice replies.

Why are they talking about me?

“There is absolutely no way I am letting you through this door,” says mum.

“That’s okay. I’ll just wait here,” he replies cockily.

“Don’t play games with me,” Mum threatens.

After another gap of silence Mum sighs loudly but must let him pass because she’s telling him to go into the living room. I finish in the bathroom and I decide to go downstairs to see what all the fuss is about. The living room door is closed but at the top there is a small gap that I could see through if I could reach.  I place my hands on the door and rise onto my tip toes but I stumble and fall into the door so hard it comes open. I see my mum jump slightly.  As I straighten up I can see a figure out of the corner of my eye and I assume it must be the owner of the deep voice. I turn to him fully.

“Hi,” I say remembering my manners and holding out my hand for him to shake. “My name’s Ella. It’s nice to meet you.”

It’s very nice to meet him. His has that perpetually tanned skin – a huge contrast to my ashen shade - like he’s been living somewhere hot instead of England. He has brown hair that is neither too long nor too short and his beautiful baby-blue eyes poke out from behind a small fringe. He’s well-built, muscly and tall. I realise I probably have my mouth open and am this close to dribbling so I quickly smile. He returns this and takes my hand in his, holding on for a little longer than necessary. I have this weird feeling that I know him but I quickly push it away because how could I?

“Toby,” he replies.

Mum coughs from behind and he abruptly drops my hand, his cheeks colouring slightly. There is a moment of silence before mum says “I’ll make some tea.”

The thought ‘what an extremely British thing to do’ enters my head.

“I’ll help,” Toby replies leaping up like an eager little boy.

I stay in the room until I hear mum hissing at him again in the kitchen. Now I know I’m no expert but I really don’t think that you should talk to guests like that. For the first time I wonder what’s going on and who this boy really is. I decide to sneak up to the kitchen and listen at the closed door.

“What did you expect?” Mum asks.

“I’m sorry and I realise my being here is extremely dangerous but I had to come. All I ask is that you give me five minutes alone with her... five minutes maximum.”

For someone that looks roughly my age he acts like he’s so much older. He’s extremely polite and mature which let me tell you is not normal behaviour for a typical boy.

“Please?” Toby pleads with Mum.

“Fine.” Her voice is tight and I can tell it’s taken all the strength she has to keep her from saying no. “But only because, contrary to what you might think, I’ve missed you, because I’ve missed how happy you used to make her. I won’t deny my daughter the small chance she might have of feeling that happiness again, for however short a time.”

“Thank you,” he replies.

I sense the conversation has ended so I scuttle quietly back to the living room to wait for them. As soon as I am sitting down they enter and I notice they have no cup of tea in their hands. Mum turns to me and gives me a little smile but I know she’s trying not to cry. She leaves the room but keeps the door slightly ajar.

“No tea?” I ask, smiling.

Toby returns my smile and says, “Still good at noticing things, I see.”

Still?

“Excuse me?”I ask, puzzled.

Toby coughs uncomfortably but quickly recovers.

“So Ella, you’re probably wondering why I’ve turned up like this and who I am. I imagine you have no interest in speaking to a complete stranger.”

“I don’t mind.”

I really don’t!

“Before we get down to all the nitty-gritty details of everything, I want to ask you something. Do you ever... No forget it, doesn’t matter.” He sits back looking dejected.

“It’s okay, you can ask me,” I prompt him.

“Okay,” Toby shuffles forwards in the armchair and puts his hands in front of his mouth in a praying gesturing. Asking for strength from someone maybe? But why? Thoughts whirl round and round in my head like Waltzers at a fairground. I can’t help staring at this guy; he fascinates me.

“Do you ever feel like there’s something people aren’t telling you?”

The question surprises me but not as much as my answer. “Yes.”

“Good. I mean, well, not good because you know it’s... it’s not a nice feeling when you think that people are keeping something-“

I realise that he’s babbling on so I do something so forward that it shocks me. I stand up and go over to him, putting my hand over his mouth which quickly stops his chatter. He gasps a little and his eyes fill up. I am so embarrassed my both mine and his behaviour that I drop my hand. Before I can go back to my place on the settee he grabs my arm, but it doesn’t hurt because he does it gently like he thinks I might break.

“Ella. Do you know who I am?” his voice shakes and it’s him who is breaking as he asks me the question.

I’m breathing heavily and my heart is hammering so loudly in my chest it’s very surprising he can’t hear it.

“I don’t know.” As soon as I say this is know it is the most honest answer I have ever given to a question in my life. There is a sense of something comfortingly familiar about him. “Sorry but have we met?”

Toby opens his mouth to say something but closes it again. Instead he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a piece of paper and a pen.  He scribbles something down and then, putting his finger to his lips, he hands the paper to me.

 

Your mum’s listening at the door. When I leave wait 10 minutes then slip out to the shops down the road. Bring a packed bag.

 

I look at him then back down to the paper. I look back up at Toby and without even thinking about it, I find myself nodding in reply.

His face lights up in a grin and he mouths “watch this.”

“So Ella,” he says his voice unnecessarily loud, “I’m going to give you this knife to protect yourself with but if you want to use it fun as well then I won’t tell anyone.”

I stare at Toby, shocked until Mum burst through the door and I understand what he was doing. Mum looks between us and when she too catches on to what Toby was doing she has the grace to look slightly embarrassed at having been caught listening in.

“Oh! Hello Mrs Roberts! Can we help you?” Toby asks in a really innocent voice.

He and Mum lock eyes and stare at each other challengingly. I try unsuccessfully to suppress a giggle but it ends up coming out in a snort that causes the staring to converge on me. I clear my throat nervously and my early happiness from sharing a joke with Toby disintegrates.

“Please. What’s going on?” I ask.

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