‘Sit down, Isaac, please,’ Tilly said, picking up some magazines from the sofa at the apartment above the shop she shared with Jess. She’d asked Isaac to come round, when he’d called her and told her, breathlessly, that he’d found Ricky.
Her lounge was in chaos, a half made bride’s bouquet spread over the dining room table. Flowers, ribbons of every colour, scissors, vases and cellophane were scattered everywhere, but Isaac seemed oblivious.
‘You look exhausted,’ she said, handing him a mug of coffee as he lowered himself onto the sofa.
He smiled, his eyes meeting hers as he put the cup to his lips and sipped. ‘I am knackered,’ he said, and she noted his voice had lost its sparkle. ‘Jetlag’s kicking in, I suppose.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, thinking how cross she’d been earlier. ‘For getting so upset about the liquid, the potion – whatever you call it.’
He shrugged. ‘It’s hard to believe in magic,' he said. 'I struggled at first. But I’m not a druggie, Tilly.’
‘No. No. And I’m sorry,’ she said, sitting down next to him. ‘I shouldn’t have…’
‘It’s OK. It was a lot to expect. To believe, you have to want to believe – need to believe.’
She curled her legs underneath her. And taking a deep breath she said softly, ‘Tell me about it, Isaac. Tell me about Phototime. Make me believe.’
He leaned forward and put the mug down on the coffee table. He rested his elbows on his knees, hands on his cheeks. ‘OK,’ he said, pausing as though trying to find the right words to explain. He looked straight ahead as he spoke. ‘I know you think Phototime is mumbo-jumbo, but if you hear me out, I'll try and prove it's true.’ His tone was serious.
‘Of course,’ she said, placing her hand on the small of his back. ‘Go on.’
‘Phototime is for real,’ he said. He sounded so sure, and she knew she had to listen, try to believe, because she loved him.
As he told her about Cillian’s mother, the way he’d seen his own father die, even the time he’d seen her in Molly Malone’s, his words got inside her soul, dispelling her disbelief.
‘Tilly,’ he said, finally turning to look into her eyes, and taking hold of her hands. ‘I’ve been into the photo that was taken just before your mum got injured when you were a child.’
‘What?’ She pulled her hands free, and sat up straight, her cheeks burning. ‘Why would you say that? This isn’t funny, Isaac.’
‘It’s not meant to be funny.’ He paused. ‘I went into the picture because your dad is Cillian’s brother.’
‘What?’ She wondered if she’d misheard him.
‘Your dad has found his brother, Tilly, and it’s my friend, Cillian.’
‘But – ' She tried to think. 'Cillian is the child who went missing all those years ago?’ she said, softer now, though tears still burned her eyes. ‘Isn't he called
Isaac nodded. ‘Well he’s known as Cillian – but yes. And I wanted to know what really happened that day with your mum and dad, when they argued. It was important.' His gaze pleaded with her to understand. 'I believed that if I could go into the picture and see for myself that your dad didn’t hurt your mum and…’
‘But he did,’ Tilly said, shaking her head. ‘And this is none of your business, Isaac.’ Her eyes filled with tears. ‘This has nothing to do with you.’ She didn’t really mean it She wanted him to be part of her life – all of it – but it was too much to take in.
‘But it has,' he insisted. 'Don’t you see?' He reached for her hands again. 'I want you in my life, but I want Cillian too. I want us all to live…’
‘Happily ever after?’ A lump lodged in her throat.
‘Yes. Well no, not exactly happily ever after.’ He looked away. ‘I don’t know what I thought - think.’
‘There’s no such thing as a happy ever after.’ Her tears spilled over. ‘You’re proving that now,' she said, pulling her hands from his. 'I think you should leave,' she said, not looking at him. 'Maybe we’re both tired. I don’t know.’
Only Jess’s hamster, storming round in its wheel at breakneck speed, broke the silence that followed.
‘Don’t you want to know what I saw?’ Isaac said, eventually. ‘I’ve brought the liquid. You can see for yourself.’ He stopped and rubbed his head. ‘Oh God, I used it to find Ricky,’ he said. ‘But you could come back to
Cillian has more potion – lots more.’ Australia
Tilly got to her feet, shaking her head. ‘I can't go back to Australia,’ she said, crying openly now. ‘Don’t you see?’
‘Please, Tilly.’ He rose too. ‘I was only trying to help. Make things right.’
She folded her arms and stared at the floor, tears falling onto her T-shirt. ‘Just go,’ she said. ‘Back to Australia for all I care.' Her voice shook. 'My father murdered my mother. I hate him, and nothing you could ever say or do will change that.’ She crossed to the door and opened it.
And without speaking, Isaac left.
I tried to call Tilly the following day, but she wasn’t picking up. I went to her apartment, but if she was there, she didn't answer the door. I went into the shop, where I pleaded with Jess. But Jess, sweet as she was, turned out to be a force to be reckoned with.
‘I’m sorry, Isaac. She doesn’t want to see you,’ she said, blocking the doorway to the back of the shop with her five foot frame, and I glimpsed Tilly through the crack in the door, red-eyed. She probably hated me.
I hadn’t meant to hurt her. I was telling the truth when I told her I wanted to make things right. But she'd made it clear I'd messed up. The wounds from her past ran deep, and I'd waded in with stories of Phototime and potions, sounding like a character out of a fantasy novel. I was a bloody fool.
I felt like I had no choice but to pack my bags and head for the airport. Without Tilly, there was nothing to keep me in New York. Even Ricky had flown home to England, with Fluffy - a stray as it’d turned out - all set to follow on after quarantine.
‘I’ve mucked up,’ I said down the phone to Cillian, dashing my hand across my eyes, sniffing as I sat at JFK airport, waiting for my flight. ‘I shouldn’t have told her. I shouldn’t have interfered. Who the hell did I think I was, playing with her life like some sort of God?’
‘You did the right thing,’ he said, his tone reassuring, but I wasn’t sure I had. ‘If she’d believed you, Isaac, it would have made everything right between her and Stephen.’
‘But she didn’t believe me.’ I paused. ‘I just thought…’ My voice broke. ‘No,’ I went on. ‘I didn’t think.’ I tried to compose myself. ‘I’m on my way back to Australia.’
I almost heard his mind whirring. ‘What if I come over there? Bring the potion. Try to get her to go into the picture.’
Hope surged, then died. ‘No point,' I said. ‘She won’t listen to me, so why would she listen to you?’
‘But she would understand if she went into the photo, Isaac.’
‘No, she would never agree to it,’ I said. 'I’m on my way home.’
Mum ran to greet me when I got home. And both the cats purred as they weaved their furry bodies round my legs. It felt good to be wanted.
‘Cillian told me about Tilly,’ Mum said, finally letting me go and ushering me into the kitchen, where she filled two glasses with orange juice and dropped in ice cubes. ‘I’m so sorry, darling. I know how much you like her.’
Love, I wanted to say, painful, heart breaking love that I have no idea what to do with now, but instead I said, ‘I’ll survive.’ I picked up one of the glasses and took a sip.
‘Of course you will.’ She patted my arm, and I noticed how well she looked. How her eyes sparkled. ‘You’re like me. You’re a Weeble.’
I smiled and said, ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.’ But they do, I wanted to add – they do fall down, and sometimes they never get up.
‘Listen,’ Mum went on, her tone far too bright for my mood, ‘we’re going round to Gus and June’s tonight for a BBQ. All their family will be there. Why not come? It might take your mind off things. Cheer you up a bit.’
‘I’m not really feeling it,’ I said, shaking my head and leaving the kitchen. ‘Have a good time, though, say hi from me,’ I added, before going into my room and closing the door.
I got into my Thundercats PJs, realising I turned to those pyjamas – a pair my parents had sent me for Christmas a couple of years back – at moments of sadness, like when my dad died. They were like a security blanket.
I stretched back on my bed and put on my headphones. And as Greenday’s ‘Time of your Life’ burnt a path into my psyche, I closed my eyes, holding in the urge to cry for as long as I could, before a solitary tear escaped through my lashes, and ran down my face.
Life continued as it always had done, and my body found a way of blocking out thoughts of Tilly, at least five percent of the time. I regularly sent her texts and emails, but she only replied once, about two days after I’d returned.
I’m so sorry, Isaac. It’s too painful to talk to you right now. X
My job was OK. Not as OK as working with Ricky in the UK, with his constant stream of banter, but OK.
A month later, I moved out of Mum’s house and rented a shared apartment in Brisbane city.
Cillian got himself a job as a chef in a nearby restaurant, and he and Mum’s friendship grew stronger by the day. They seemed to support each other through everything, and on some days I even imagined them growing old together.
Ricky kept in touch. He loved Fluffy. He didn’t love Esme. She’d deleted him as a friend on Facebook as soon as she got back from New York – but not before putting on a status that insulted his manhood, which apparently got seventy-five likes.
‘Stephen and Isobel are giving it another go,’ Cillian told me. I thought about the empty bottle of Merlot I’d seen at Stephen’s house, and the perfume that had hung in the air. Had Isobel been there that day? I suspected she had.
I was pleased for them, but I knew, too, it was another reason for Tilly to keep her distance from her father – keep her distance from me.
Eventually, I felt almost human. I’d made friends with several blokes at work, and we went out at the weekend, occasionally. There was also a woman called Ginny who chatted to me during tea-breaks. She’d been out with most of the guys in the office, and I had the feeling it was my turn.
‘We should go out sometime,’ she said one Monday as we closed down our computers.
‘Why not?’ I said. She was nice enough. Although I wasn’t sure I could offer her anything. If she scraped the surface of my skin she would find Tilly’s name etched all over it.
‘Well, I’m on a course this week – but I’ll be back Friday,’ she said, smiling. ‘We could go to the Chinese Restaurant by the river.’
‘Sounds good,’ I said.
‘7.30 Friday, it is then,’ she said, grabbing her bag.
‘Great, I’ll see you there.’