‘Mr. Blaine! Is your son home for good now?’
‘Is there any truth in the rumour that you sent him away because of his behaviour?’
‘Will your son be going into the army, Mr. Blaine?’
‘Mr. Blaine! Dylan! Look this way!’
Rolling his eyes Ethan ignored the papparazzi lining the street outside his home, pulling into the driveway and immediately locking the electronic gates behind them. A cursory glance in his rear view mirror told him that none of them had followed the car inside. Looking at the passenger seat, he grinned at his nervous son.
‘Come on, Dylan. Everyone’s waiting for you!’
Dylan’s face lit up and he scrambled out of the car and up the porch steps into the house before his Dad had even thought about taking off his seat belt! Launching himself into his Mother’s arms, he clung on tight.
‘Hi Mum,’ he squeaked.
‘Hey kiddo!’ Ivy cuddled her son close, touched at the display of affection. ‘How was the trip over?’
‘Alright. Loads of journos outside.’
‘Well we did think there might be. Anyway, no need to worry about that now. We’ve got some candles to blow out!’
‘Is that vanilla and straw -‘
‘Yes dear, vanilla and strawberry, your favourite! We had to push the boat out considering this is a double celebration. Happy birthday, and welcome home!’
Smiling from ear to ear, Dylan stood centre of attention as the chorus of Happy Birthday rang out around the room. As it came to a finish, he took a deep breath and blew his candles out in one breath.
‘Oh, Dylan! It’s like we only had our baby back for a split second, isn’t it Ivy?’ Ethan choked out, feeling a little emotional. Tristan grinned and punched his arm.
‘Hey, you! I’m supposed to be the one who tears up at the littlest thing, don’t you start! Ivy won’t know what to do with us. Come on birthday boy, cut this cake! I’ve got a date to get to later!’
‘Thanks to me!’
‘Oh, shush Robbie!’ Ivy scolded gently. ‘You’re still grounded for that!’
* * *
Panting, Tristan ran up the steps of the underground and out onto the street. He was running late. He knew he shouldn’t have stopped for a second slice of cake! Looking at the street sign, he realised he was only one street away from Eugis’. Time to start running again!
He’d barely made it around the corner when he ran smack bang into another Sim, causing his glasses to fall lop sided. Adjusting them, he apologised profusely until he realised who he had run into.
‘Tristan! I was wondering where you’d got to…’ Katya forced a smile onto her strained face. She’d been walking back to the underground, thinking that she’d been stood up.
‘I am so sorry! My nephew came back from boarding school today and it’s his birthday, and I got caught up and missed the train and the second one took forever -‘
‘That’s okay, Tristan!’
Katya grinned and took hold of his hands, amused by his flustered rambling. ‘It’s fine. You’re here now, that’s what matters. Shall we go into Eugis’?’
Tristan nodded, and meekly followed Katya into the building and into the lift, feeling a little self conscious. He’d almost forgotten how beautiful she was. Trying not to stumble as he walked out of the lift and into the bar, he turned to his date.
‘So, um… May I buy you a drink, Katya?’
Katya giggled. ‘You most certainly can, Tristan! I’ll have a cherry casanova, please,’ she purred.
Tristan ordered himself one, too. He wasn’t a big drinker, but figured that if Katya liked it it wouldn’t be too bad. He took an experimental sip while he was waiting for his change and was pleasantly surprised, before looking at the glass in horror.
Girliest drink ever. Ah well. He doubted that Katya was out with him for his rippling masculinity, what did a cocktail with a heart-shaped mixer matter at this point? Swallowing his pride with another mouthful of the cherry cocktail, he waved Katya over and handed her drink over.
‘Cheers!’ Katya’s smile sparkled in the low lighting as the couple clinked their glasses together, toasting their date. ‘Glad to see you’re a man of taste,’ she said, nodding at Tristan’s matching glass.
‘To be honest, I’ve not had one of these before,’ he confessed, pushing his glasses back up his nose. ‘It’s really nice though. I like cherries,’ he offered lamely.
‘Well, I think it’s refreshing to see a man who doesn’t think that anything other than pints are girly,’ Katya confided. ‘Just drink what you want, I say. The glass doesn’t make the man!’
‘Exactly!’ Tristan tried not to cheer, relieved. ‘So, Katya… How did your audition go?’
Katya’s face fell a little. ‘Ah, not the best. I didn’t get the part I was going for, but they’ve cast me in a smaller role. It’s something, I guess.’
‘Beats pouring coffee at the diner?’ Tristan smiled sympathetically.
‘You can say that again!’ Katya visibly brightened up. ‘Besides, if I hadn’t gone for that audition I wouldn’t have been walking through the park, and I wouldn’t have seen you playing with Robyn. Well, I wouldn’t have gotten drenched either, but I wouldn’t have met you. Maybe these things happen for a reason!’
Tristan felt his face glowing as red as his drink!
* * *
‘Okay sweetheart, we’ve got one more surprise for you. It’s in your room!’
Ivy laughed as Dylan bolted up the stairs to his room, eager to see what was waiting for him there. Following him at a slightly slower pace (the years were getting the better of her!), she saw him stood in the middle of the room with a broad smile on his face.
‘Mum! I love it! I absolutely love it!’
Dylan pulled his Mum into a hug, still taking in his surroundings. Gone was the childish room he’d lived in previously, and in its place was a proper teenager’s room, classy and sophisticated.
‘Glad you like it, Dylan! I’ll leave you to unpack. Your trunks are down there,’ Ivy nodded at the three large cases that were just inside the door, ‘I expect at least one of those to be empty by tomorrow morning, birthday or no birthday! It’s good to have you back,’ she said as she walked out the room, closing the door behind her.
Dylan laughed as he called out another thank you to his Mother, still drinking in his room. His parents had done him proud, here! Gazing around, he suddenly felt a shiver run down his spine. It felt like he was being watched…
Shaking himself he went over to his cases and opened the top one, pulling out some shirts, books and his comb case. Carefully placing them on his dresser he was about to delve back in for some more of his belongings when he caught sight of something in the mirror… Something sitting in his chair…
His face hardened. No. It couldn’t be.
Dylan ignored the voice. The voice inside his head. Frowning, he opened the empty drawers of his dresser and began transferring his clothes into it.
Not usually one for attention to detail Dylan began carefully folding and arranging his t-shirts, concentrating on the task at hand. He wasn’t hearing voices. He wasn’t seeing things. He was folding and putting away his clothes, with nothing out of the ordinary happening whatsoever. Nothing at all.
‘Dylan! Puzzle is speaking to you! Puzzle missed -‘
Crossly throwing the top he was holding into the open drawer, Dylan rounded on the startled creature. ‘No! I cannot be seeing you again! You were my imagination, nothing else!’
Puzzle looked confused. ‘No, Dylan. I your friend. I no go away!’
‘This cannot be happening,’ Dylan muttered, massaging his temples. ‘I can’t be going through this. You’re not real. It’s not real. It can’t be…’
‘Can’t be real…’
‘SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!’ Dylan exploded, pushing out at Puzzle. ‘I was sent away from home because of YOU! Why are you still here? Why would you think I would want you?!’
‘But Dylan, I -‘
‘No! NO! I don’t want to hear ANYTHING from you! Look, I don’t know what you are or which figment of my imagination you’ve sprung from, but just leave me alone!’
‘Why, Dylan?’ Why?’
‘Why? Why!?’ Dylan floundered for a few seconds. ‘I was sent away from home because my parents thought I was pulling pranks every five minutes. But I wasn’t! It was you, wasn’t it? Heck, I’d convinced myself that it was me pulling them, that you didn’t exist. How can you exist? Look at you!’
Puzzle’s face sagged, and he sat down again at Dylan’s desk gazing at him with a sad expression.
‘Puzzle Dylan’s friend. Puzzle always Dylan’s friend.’
Dylan sighed exasperatedly. ‘I don’t care what you are. What I do know is that I was sent away from home because of you. What sort of a friend does that? Oh gnomes, look at me, arguing with my own imagination…’
Later that night as Dylan slept, Puzzle crept over to his side of the bed and gazed down at him. Puzzle knew that Dylan hadn’t meant what he said. How could he? Dylan was Puzzle’s best friend! Puzzle couldn’t live without Dylan. Puzzle couldn’t even exist without him… He knew that he’d calm down, soon. He knew he’d be his friend again properly. He knew it would just be the two of them, just like it was before. Just as Puzzle wanted it to be…