Answer Me

Red was never allowed into the basement when he was young. He'd asked why but all he'd gotten was:

'It's dangerous.'

He went anyway.

7 years later, he returns to the same basement.


1. Stop Burning Bridges, and Drive Right Off Them

Everything and nothing.
Heavy light.
Bright dark.
Can I run? Am I allowed? Mummy says I can't.
I only want to find Jamie.
She's lonely. I can feel it. I miss her too. I wish I was allowed to run so then I could go down and see her. But Mummy says that the basement is dangerous. She doesn't want Red going down there.
But Red wants to.
So I do.

I woke with a shudder. Sweat pooled in the hollow of my throat and my stomach rolled. Eyelashes brushing my cheeks, I rubbed at my face.
I hated half-remembering. Obviously those child psychiatrist meetings had done more than lift the trauma from me; they’d wiped my memory.
The room was cool but my skin was burning. Every nerve inside me was on fire. When I swallowed, my throat walls scratched dryly together.
Rosie sat up tiredly, duvet wrapped around her. We were a comical act, us two. Red and Rosie, Rosie and Red. Ha ha. Now press repeat.
“Shhh,” I soothed, reaching over and gently squeezing her hand. “I’m fine. Nightmare, that’s all.”
When I looked at her, my chest hurt. Not because I loved her; which I did. But because of how unfair it was that she was not the focus of all my emotions. Something else was always there, right on the edge of my mind that stopped me from asking her to move in with me. It was a niggling presence, always making me think twice about anything that included my girlfriend.
She nodded, eyes hooded with sleep. “Sorry, Red. Maybe go watch some T.V. to take your mind off things?”
What was wrong with me? Rosie is the definition of perfect. Soft cocoa coloured skin, wide chestnut eyes and dramatic natural waves of hair down to her waist. A part of me never understood why she was an accountant and hadn’t been picked up as a model.
As she lay down to sleep, my mind brushed past the external part of Rosie. She was the kindest girl I knew, with too much generosity and far too little selfishness.
Maybe that was it. Maybe she was too perfect.
I stalked downstairs, sighing loudly. Shadows followed me as I took each stair. I hated this house. Old, gnarly and dusty—much like the relative that had left it to me. My great grandfather.
The fridge door squeaked as I opened it, a refreshing waft of air breezing against my skin. Underneath my sleeve tattoos, I could still see the scars of before. Now, I hardly ever looked at them, could hardly bring myself to shift through all the murky memories of my childhood.
A gulp of cold water shook me awake. All in that moment, life stopped feeling like a dream and I stopped feeling like a walking contradiction. The iciness of the drink shot to my brain and I felt every muscle in my body contract.
To my left, the phone rang.
I frowned. No one even knew I was here. The old guy hadn’t popped it until last week—I’d only moved in two days ago. Two days wasn’t long enough to go out and meet new people, never mind give them my new phone number.
I picked the phone up from its cradle and held it cautiously to my ear.
“It’s been so long, Red.”
Everything and nothing crashed down around me. My heartbeat was in my head. Palms slick and sweaty. My hands cupping Rosie’s face, my hand’s cupping Her face---
Somehow, I’d managed to cling to the phone.
It hurt so much even saying her name.

“Don’t go down to the basement, Red,” Mummy said. “It’s dangerous.”
Silly Mummy. How can the basement be dangerous? I skipped away from her and at night, I went down to the basement steps.
It smelt funny, like old books and cardboard. I clutched at my teddy, a funny pounding noise in my ears. I walked down the hard steps in bare feet. It got darker and darker—Mummy doesn’t let me light candles.
I whimpered when the wind blew the door shut. I was all alone in the darkness of the basement.
Except I wasn’t.
It was sitting on a stand in the middle of the basement. It looked old and broken, like most things down here.
It rang.
It was a phone.
It was a fancy one, like they used to have ages ago, where you had to spin the dial circle to call the number. It was ugly and pink. My nose wrinkled. Pink is for girls.
Teddy wanted to pick up the phone. His name was Red too, but I got confused sometimes so I just called him Teddy. I asked Teddy if I should answer the phone.
Teddy nodded.
I stood on my tiptoes to reach the phone. My Spiderman pyjamas felt too tight as I stretched. Teddy helped me and I picked up the phone.
“Hello,” a voice said, young and childlike and girly. “Why are you calling here?”

My brain ached. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to think about seven years ago, when ten year old me went through that and was scarred until I was fifteen.
“Why...Why are you doing this to me?”
There was a polite laugh on the other end of the phone. Heat and ice melted into each other in my veins at the noise.
“Don’t pretend like you forgot about me, Red. You couldn’t have. I know you, better than that Rosie does.”
“You don’t know her at all,” I whispered.
“Personally, I’m in favour of ‘judging the book by its lover’.” I could hear the smile in her voice.
She’s not real, honey. She never was. That phone hasn’t worked since your great grandfather got an updated line in 1998.
She’s not real.
She’s not real.
I clutched my head. Why did I want her to be?
Her voice took on a softer lilt. “Red...don’t you miss me at all? You spent so many years trying to knock me out of your mind but you never fully managed, did you? I’m part of you. Maybe not until death do us part but until tonight does.”
Until tonight do us part.
“I missed you,” I choked. I couldn’t lie anymore. I couldn’t lie to her, I couldn’t, I couldn’t...
“Come see me then,” she pressed, sounding eager. “You know where to find me.”
The phone went dead and suddenly, I was running down the stairs into the basement.
The darkness surrounded and swallowed me; enveloping everything I was and ever would be. Nothing could stop it now. All the memories were coming back, flooding through my mind like a tidal wave—no, a tsunami. At least you could survive tidal waves.
Her name was on my lips, repeated and repeated until it meant nothing anymore.
Now press repeat.
“Don’t worry, Red,” she grinned, eyes wild. “It won’t hurt. I promise it won’t.”
The danger that had birthed my scars had hurt. It had.
The fire licked up my arms like a dragon’s tongue. I laughed until I cried. Tears dripping down onto burning flesh didn’t hurt as much as it had done when she told me she was leaving.
There it was. It sat undisturbed on its stand.
The pale pink phone.
It rang.
Automatically, I snatched it up.
For as long as I could remember, that phone had been my gateway to everything. I could hear Her, I could talk to Her, I could be alone together with Her for hours. They called me crazy, called me insane. But I wasn’t. Now, seven years on, I was covered in black tattoos to hide the marks that She had left me with, and another girlfriend to hide the mess she’d left me in. But I hadn’t changed.
“I’m here. I always have been.”
I turned, dropping the phone.
She stood there, in the middle of the dark basement. Her skirts were wrapped around her legs, covered in some beautiful hand-crafted silk. But I didn’t care about that. I didn’t care about the corset she wore, or the heavy golf-ball of a diamond sitting in the hollow throat. I didn’t care about her blonde hair piled up on her head, with a few curls framing her face. I didn’t care about how she looked, although she only vaguely looked like the little girl I used to play with.
Her lips curved and in that second all I could think was perfection.
“Red. I’ve missed you.”
I swallowed. “You’ve...changed.”
She raised her eyebrow. “So have you. I think you meant to say ‘grown up’ there.”
Jamie was perfect. She was everything I could ever want and everything I could never have.
“Why did you leave me?” My voice was broken, a rough demo.
She sighed. “Red...come on, you have to have realised that I’m not really here.”
I knew that. I knew that but it still hurt when she said it.
“We were kids,” Jamie sighed, her features soft. “I didn’t know that the object in my father’s study was a phone. I’d never even heard of the word. Phones weren’t even an idea back then, Red.” She shook her head. “Anyway—I’m getting off track. I found a weird object in my father’s study and figured out how to work it all by myself. Little did I know it connected one era of time to another.”
I took a shaky breath. “You’re saying that a phone---that isn’t even supposed to exist where you come from—has connected us together?”
Nodding, she smirked. “It somehow managed to time jump. That’s why you dreamt about me.””
“Wait. Dreamt?” I glanced down doubtfully at my scars. How could’ve that been a dream?
Uncomfortably, she shrugged. “Sleepwalking was a side effect of the dreams. You basically chucked yourself in the fireplace.”
All the threads of my life were coming apart from a simple story.
I pressed my fingers to my temples. “I can’t...why don’t you speak all old fashioned then? Tell me your story so I can work out if I’m going crazy or not.”
“My father found out what I was doing,” she spat sourly. “He condemned me as a witch. I ran away from home and a rich family adopted me. My new mother was perfectly crazy and my new father was the head of a powerful family. It was fine until I reached the age of fourteen. They were ready to marry me off to some man I’d only met twice. But I fell in love again. He was young, full of impossible promises and kissed me like I was his oxygen.”
My breathing stopped.
“But,” she sighed. “His family and my family fought. Always at war those two. I decided to pretend I had killed myself by drinking a sleeping serum and then run away with the boy afterwards.” Jamie rolled her eyes disgustedly. “Of course, the stupid boy panicked when he saw I was dead and killed himself. When I woke up, I did the same.”
“Killed myself?” Jamie nodded. “Yeah. I was stupid and young.”
“This makes no sense.”
Her eyes glowed. “I wasn’t done--- that’s why.”
My cheeks got hot.
“I wandered around the spirit world for years, still the same age, still the same maturity. I looked for the boy but never found him. I watched the years go by—the World Wars, the god awful dress sense, the love/hate music tastes...I picked  up on the language. But I never ever found the boy.”
Her eyes fell on me.
“Until now.”
Was I still standing up? I couldn’t feel the floor under my feet anymore.
It took me longer than it should but I eventually offered up, “Romeo and Juliet?”
My stomach dropped. Romeo and Juliet. Red and Jamie.
“My father was friends with a playwright named Shakespeare and once he overheard that Juliet was dead, he sold the story to Shakespeare, hoping he would turn it into a play.” Jamie looked at me with huge blue eyes. “And he did.”
“So you’re saying,” I said blandly, “That I’m actually called Romeo and I killed myself.”
She nodded.
She came close to me, sliding her hands into mine. So close, that I could feel her eyelashes softly brushing mine. Her breath was sweet, like lavender, and it washed across my face.
“Come back with me,” she breathed. “You don’t live here. You don’t belong here. You belong with me. You always have.”
With that, my heart was hers. There wasn’t anything more to discuss. She was mine and I was hers. It was the way it had always been. Always.
Her lips pressed gently to mine. My heart thumped against my ribcage and all I wanted was to press her to me. Rosie was nothing to me. She was an empty shell. She was Rosaline.
There were the phone calls when I was younger.
There were the dreams.
There was the fire.
Then she left.
But she was back.
Jamie was back.
And we were going back to the way it was supposed to be from the start.
Red and Jamie.
Romeo and Juliet.
And that’s how it was meant to be.

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