Ethan was a bit lost in the weeks following the wedding. With no band rehearsals, no tours, no publicity to carry out, he just sat around the apartment watching television and playing with Dylan and Puzzle. It wasn’t that he minded being at home with his young family, far from it; after all it had been the thing he’d been wanting to do ever since Ivy moved in with him all that time ago. The circumstances that had led to it being possible were what was bothering him.
No more El Tigre. The band, finished. Just like that.
The media had had a field day, the papparazzi who had been hidden around the park trying to snap a picture of the happy couple witnessing the entire event had written many a scandalous article to go with their ‘exclusive’ pictures. Amelia had already sold her story to a glossy magazine, stating that Leon had bullied her into having an affair with him and that Andy had been horrible to her. Neither of which were true, of course, and not even Ethan – who hadn’t spoken to Leon since the revelation – believed that she was telling the truth.
Mixing away furiously, Ivy cursed as her waffle mixture refused to thicken. She was determined to keep her husband’s spirits up and so was preparing his favourite breakfast while he sat in his pyjama’s watching television as usual, with Dylan playing with Puzzle on the kitchen floor, his other toys forgotten.
‘Finally!’ Ivy beamed as the batter finally reached the right consistency, and began spooning it out onto the waffle tray. These were going to be the best waffles yet! Far better than her first batch, the infamous ‘burnies with floor on’ as Dylan had christened them after she’d dropped the overdone waffles onto the linoleum.
‘Do I get waffleses, Mumma?’ a small voice piped up behind her.
Ivy half-looked over her shoulder and smiled distractedly, trying not to spill any of the mixture. ‘Of course, poppet! I’ll do a special little one, just for your special little tummy!’
Dylan cheered, hugging Puzzle tight. ‘Here dat, Puzzle? We gettin’ special waffleses for our special tumses!’
Ivy groaned inwardly. ‘Nono Dyl, just you. There’s only enough batter here for you, Daddy and Mummy.’ She braced herself for the hysterics.
A moment of silence, then a small plaintive voice whispered. ‘But… But Puzzle is really hungry too.’
‘Well, Puzzle can have make believe waffles. Dolls love special make believe waffles. That’s what they eat in their homeland,’ Ivy invented quickly.
Dylan looked sadly at Puzzle. ‘But Puzzle doesn’t like make believe waffleses. Or make believe anything. Because they aren’t real, are they Mumma?’
How on earth can a child have so much imagination in one aspect of their playtime and so little in another? Ivy cursed as she carefully divided the batter so that there would be an extra very small waffle for ‘Puzzle’ to have. She suspected that it would go down Dylan’s throat when neither she nor Ethan were watching and that he’d be a little sick later, but hopefully that would act as a deterrent for next time. Popping the tray in the oven, she picked up her son.
‘There, are you happy now Dylan? Puzzle has his own waffle, all of his very own!’ she cooed as she tossed him in the air over her head. Dylan burst out into a fit of giggles, gazing down at his toy from above.
‘Here dat, Puzzle? Waffleses time very soon! Look Mumma, Puzzle’s really happy now!’
Ivy tried not to look directly at the doll as she cuddled her only child close to her. That thing still gave her the creeps. She seriously hoped that Dylan would grow out of his attachment to it, and fast!
* * *
‘Hmmm… Which one do you fink dis one goes in, Puzzle?’
Dylan was safely ensconced his game at the peg box, with Puzzle carefully stood up on the other side to supervise him. Ivy could’ve sworn that he was pointing to holes when she saw the pair from the corner of her eye, but of course, that couldn’t be! With the baby and the doll sat inside, Ethan, Ivy and Tristan sat outside on the balcony to eat their evening meal of goopy carbonara, specially made by Tristan who’d gone out to ‘source’ the ingredients himself. He’d been gone all day, so Ivy figured he must have visited every market and grocers’ in Bridgeport!
‘Wow, this is amazing Trist!’ Ethan exclaimed as he dug in, shovelling the creamy pasta into his mouth. ‘Think you can take over from Ivy with the cooking!’
‘Oh thanks, Ethan,’ Ivy replied sarcastically. ‘I reckon I’ll have to be sending you back to Sunset Valley if you’re just going to be making me look bad, Tristan!’
Tristan’s face fell a little and he suddenly put down his fork, holding his head in his hands. ‘I can’t go back, Ivy,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I’ve lost my job.’
‘What?!’ Both Ethan and Ivy choked on their mouthfuls, shocked at the news. ‘Tristan, what happened?!’ Ivy exclaimed.
Tristan looked up at each of them. ‘Well. I had to take loads of time off, when Mum and Dad were sick. And they understood. Well they weren’t happy about it, but they couldn’t fire me for it – it’s against the law. I think I rushed back too quickly after Mum… Well, you know. I just needed something to take my mind off it, you know? I don’t think I coped very well…’ he trailed off, deep in thought.
Ivy reached over the table and took his shaking hand. ‘Tristan, why didn’t you tell me? You could have come to Bridgeport any time, we were here for you…’
‘I know.’ Tristan nodded, smiling gratefully at his sister. ‘I know you were. But I wasn’t exactly thinking straight! I… I made a mistake.’
‘What happened, Tristan?’ asked Ethan, looking concernedly at him.
‘I was experimenting with some chemicals, trying to find a certain reaction. I shan’t bore you with the details. But I wasn’t concentrating… I couldn’t get Mum’s face as she slipped away out of my head, I just… Well. Without thinking, I mixed llamolium and flamingoa. You’re not really supposed to do that. I, er, I caused a minor explosion.’
‘Well there isn’t really a laboratory there any more.’
‘And they fired you for that!?’
Tristan nodded, and picked up his fork and began eating again, trying not to think about the tears in his eyes. Ethan looked at him, outraged.
‘But they can’t have fired you! Okay fine, you made a mistake, but you weren’t in your right mind! You’d just gone through something horrific, they shouldn’t have let you come back to work!’
‘Was anyone hurt, Tristan?’ Ivy asked. Tristan shook his head.
‘No, I was the only person in there thank gnomes. My protective gear saved me from the worst of it. Only material damage. And their insurance covered most of that.’
‘Most of it?’
Tristan couldn’t hold back his tears this time. ‘I have to pay them quite a bit in damages, Ivy. I’ve had to rent out our house to raise it. Most of our things are in storage back home. I was hoping I could hang around here long enough to find another place to live, and a job. I feel like such a failure, Ivy! I’ve lost everything!’
Ivy leapt up and ran around to her now openly weeping brother, scooping him into a hug.
‘You haven’t lost everything, Tristan! I’m still here, and your brother in law, and your nephew! We’re all still here for you. We always will. You can stay here as long as you want, until you’re back on your feet. You’re not a failure, Tristan. You just made a mistake. We’re still here for you, and we all love you.’
Tristan cried harder, burying his face in Ivy’s shoulder. ‘Thank you, Ivy. I wish I’d told you sooner.’
‘Yes, you should’ve done!’ Ivy joked, jabbing him gently in the ribs as she noticed a small face peering sleepily out from the patio door. ‘Right, that’s enough compassion for one night. I think a little someone needs his bed!’
‘I’ll get started on the washing up,’ Tristan smiled gratefully as he dried his tear stained glasses. ‘Thanks, sis.’
‘And so King Dylan and Prince Puzzle battled through the forest, fighting off evil demons and scary gnomes as they wandered through the maze of the dark forest trying to find the majestic castle! Look, Dylan, can you see the castle?’
Ivy loved reading Dylan his bedtime story, altering the names of the main characters in the hopes that her baby would dream of doing heroic deeds. She always needed to add in the doll, of course. She could feel it watching her from Dylan’s dresser, its glass eyes gazing up even after she had positioned its head to look away.
‘Yes, I see it! Dere’s… dere’s…’ Dylan yawned, and within thirty seconds had dropped off to sleep in his crib.
Ivy smiled and maternally kissed his head as she tucked him in with his teddy bear. Oh, how she wished he doted on that bear as much as he did Puzzle! Slotting the book back onto the shelf, she turned around and nearly screamed – Puzzle was staring right at her! Gathering herself, she shook her head. It hadn’t moved. Its head had just shifted. Crossly, she sat the doll down and turned it to face the wall before dimming the light and leaving the room. That doll was going to be the death of her!