Anita stood at the door that led to the garden. She was shaking so much she could hardly keep upright. Her mother’s voice was like white noise in her head.
Saying things that were unbelievable.
“ . . . and Oberon took us to the Brown Tower on the downs above the Faerie Palace. You went inside with us and up the stairs. Then you took our hands and stepped through from Faerie with us—and the last thing you said was ‘I’ll be back soon. I’ll see you soon.’ Then you were gone. That’s the last we heard from you till the phone calls.”
Insane! Totally insane!
And yet, what Anita saw in the garden fit with her mother’s impossible fairy tales.
The back fence was broken, the cracked and ruptured wooden panels stacked together by the tree. Deep brown grooves clawed their way over the flower bed and up the lawn. Parallel tire marks. The flagstones of the patio were scratched and cracked. New scratches. New cracks, white edged and sharp. And the garden door was scored with long narrow wounds, pale wood showing through the white paintwork.
The fence had been broken by Queen Titania of Faerie crashing through in her BMW.
Of course it had! How else?
According to her mother, Anita had been in the car with her. Oh, and with some of her Faerie princess sisters, and with Evan—except that Evan wasn’t Evan. He was Edric Chanticleer, a lord of the Faerie court. And she wasn’t Anita. She was Princess Tania Aurealis—half-Faerie, half-human. Able to walk between the worlds.
They had fought the Gray Knights of Lyonesse, with swords and spears. Then they’d gone up to her bedroom and stepped through into the Immortal Realm of Faerie. Yes, of course . . . in some kind of insane nightmare they had!
“What phone calls?” Anita asked, trying to latch on to something real.
“You left two messages on voice mail on my mobile,” said her mother. She pressed some buttons on her phone and held it out toward Anita. “I saved them so I could hear your voice whenever I needed to. Listen, Anita. Just listen.”
Anita took the phone from her mother’s hand and pressed it to her ear. She heard her own breathless voice.
Mum, it’s me. I’m just phoning to say I’m okay. I can’t get home right now, but I’m fine. I’ll call again when I have a chance. And . . . and . . . you and Dad had nothing to do with the illness. You know what I’m talking about. It was something else. Not you. Her voice sped up, becoming even more urgent. I love you. I hope Dad is okay. Tell him I love him so much. I’ll call again when I can.
She handed the phone back to her mother. Her head filled with rushing air. Clutching the doorframe, she began to laugh. She couldn’t help herself. The laughter filled her like a tempest.
She could hardly catch her breath. She was drowning in laughter. Her legs gave under her and she slid down the doorframe, dying of laughter.
She felt hands shaking her.
A sudden slap snapped her head to one side. Anita gasped, fighting for air, red lights flashing in front of her eyes.
She pushed her mother away and fought to get back on her feet. One thought emerged clearly from the debris of her brain.
Call Evan. The sound of his voice would anchor her. She needed to hear his voice.
She saw her mother’s face swimming in front of her. She could hear her speaking, but the words boomed and echoed. She stumbled across the kitchen and out to the foot of the stairs, locking her fingers around the banister.
Somehow she arrived at her bedroom door. She slammed the door and, fumbling with clumsy fingers, she turned the key.
She was trembling violently.
Is this what it’s like to be insane?
“Anita? Let me in, please.”
“I know how you must be feeling. . . .”
“No. No, I don’t . . . not exactly, but I had to go through the same thing. We both did. Your dad and I. But something must have happened to you in Faerie . . . something to make you lose your memory.”
Shut up about Faerie!
Anita took a breath. “I’m going to call Evan now.”
“He won’t be there, sweetheart.”
“Yes. He. Will.” He had to be.
She saw that her computer was brand new. How come she hadn’t noticed that before? Her mobile phone was lying by the computer. Plugged in. Recharging. Next to a neat pile of sixteenth birthday cards and some gift vouchers that hadn’t registered with her before. There were other things in her room that she didn’t recognize. A red scarf draped over the chair. A new backpack. A chrome tin with CHIK KIT stamped on it. An empty photo frame in Day-Glo colors. Things she had been too out of it to notice before. The spoils of a recent birthday . . .
Forcing herself to breathe steadily, she walked across the room and unplugged the wire connecting her phone to the socket. She pressed the button to switch the phone on. It beeped, showing twenty-five missed calls. Eleven messages. A whole bunch of texts.
The most recent texts were from Connor Estabrook. She’d known Connor all her life. He was the son of family friends, a med student. They met up maybe twice a year these days. He’d sent three texts that morning.
CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.
And the next one. SOMETHING CRAZY IS GOING ON. CALL ME WHEN YOU GET THIS.
And the third. IT’S YOUR FAULT. YOU DID THIS TO ME. CALL ME. WE HAVE TO MEET UP.
Her hands shaking, she accessed the voice messages. They were mostly from friends asking her how she was enjoying her holiday and when she’d be back. Invitations to parties. Natalie: We’re going up the Market Sunday.If you’re back by then, meet up in the Stable Block at eleven. ttyl. Rosa: OMG! Saw some amazing shoes in Fantasy in the High Street. You’d love ’em.
None of the missed calls were from Evan’s phone. She speed-dialed his number, but the phone diverted her to voice mail.
“Evan?” She sounded terrible! Like she’d been half strangled or something. “Evan? When you get this—the second you get this—call me back. It’s really important.” A brief pause. “Get back to me. Please.”
“Anita? Let me in, please.”
She glanced over to the door.
“No. I can’t do that right now.” She couldn’t listen to anything else her mother had to say. She needed a different voice. A different version of what had happened to her. Her mother’s version was no good. It was way, way beyond no good. It was totally unacceptable.
“Go away, Mum. I need to think.” That wasn’t true. The last thing she wanted to do was think. Maybe talking with Evan would make things right?
“Listen, sweetheart.” There was a soothing tone in her mother’s muffled voice. “I know this must be hard for you. . . .”No, actually it’s really simple. Nothing you’ve told me is true.
But the nine lost weeks?
Evan will know what really happened.
The words of Connor’s last text echoed through her mind. IT’S YOUR FAULT. YOU DID THIS TO ME. CALL ME. WE HAVE TO MEET UP.
She walked over to the door. “Mum? Have you heard from Connor recently?”
“Yes. Last week. Why?”
“How did he sound to you?”
“The same as usual. Anita? Why is this important?”
“It isn’t. I just wondered.”
“You must have asked for a reason. What do you remember about Connor?”
“I don’t remember anything.”
“Anita, if you won’t tell me the truth, how am I supposed to help you?”
The melodic bleat of the phone echoed up from the hall. Anita heard her mother give an annoyed snort. There was the patter of feet along the hallway and down the stairs.
Anita rang Evan’s number again. He’d answer this time. For sure.
Straight to voice mail.
“Evan. Call me, please.”
She realized that there were no recent messages or texts from Jade. That wasn’t like her. That girl texted like thirty times a day. Anita scrolled down the screen, looking for something from her best friend.
There it was. Weeks ago.
A single word. WHATEVER!
It had been sent in response to a text from Anita: SORRY. I HAD NO CHOICE.
That was a weird message; it had been a reply to Jade texting, I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!
Anita had no memory of what had provoked that abrupt exchange. What didn’t Jade believe? What was it that Anita had no choice about?
The answers were lost in the white fog of the nine missing weeks.
But at least a quarrel with Jade was normal.
She called Evan again.
“Evan. It’s me. Things are . . .” Things were what, exactly? “Call the moment you get this.” She gripped the phone till her fingers hurt. “I really have to talk to you. I . . . I love you.”
Oh god, I shouldn’t have said that. I sound so needy.
She leaned into the door. “What?”
“I have your dad on the line. He’d like to talk to you.”
Anita licked her lips. “Will he tell me the same stuff you’ve been telling me?”
A pause. “Just speak to him, sweetheart.”
“No. I don’t think I will.”
The last thing she needed was to hear her rational, scientific, logical father telling her that she was a fairy princess. She’d crack up completely if that happened.
She heard her mother move away from the door. There was a brief, one-sided conversation that Anita couldn’t make out, then her mother was back.
“I’m not going to talk to him.”
“No. Fine. I understand. But I need to go to the hospital. Your dad’s waiting there for me to come get him and bring him home. Why don’t you ride along with me? He’s really looking forward to seeing you. Please open the door.”
“No. You go. Go pick Dad up.” That’s it. Get that voice to go away. Then she could think straight. Then she could work out what was really happening.
“I don’t want to leave you like this. . . .”
Anita took a slow breath. She needed to convince her mother it was all right to leave her on her own, and she had to look her mother in the eyes to do that. She unlocked the door and opened it a crack. Her mother was standing there, pale but smiling.
“Come with me to the hospital? Your dad will be so happy to see you.”
“No. You go. I’ll stay here.” A single tear crawled down her cheek. “I’m fine, Mum. I just need some time to adjust.”
Her mother reached out, but Anita drew back and closed the crack of the door to the width of an eye.
“Go get Dad.”
Her mother hesitated. “Okay. But if I go, you have to promise you’ll stay here.”
“I won’t be long. We’ll be back as quick as we can. Stay here, sweetheart, and don’t worry about anything.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Still her mother hesitated. “Forty-five minutes there and back, okay?”
Anita nodded and smiled, and finally her mother dragged herself away and pattered down the stairs.
Anita closed the bedroom door and heard the front door bang shut. She felt a rush of relief.
She called Evan but this time she didn’t bother to leave a message.
Why were there no messages or texts from him during the lost weeks? Then a gut-wrenching thought smacked into her brain.
He was dead. Evan was dead. He had died in the accident. Her mother had made up all that crazy stuff about other worlds to cover for the fact that Evan was dead.
“I have to know.” Now that her mother was gone, she could make her escape from this madhouse. She snatched a handful of cash from the emergency fund in her bedside table, then she burst out of her bedroom and stumbled down the stairs.
She had to know whether Evan was alive or dead.
She burst out of the house and went running along the street.