There was an iPod nano on the dining table and Jackie was looking at it. She wasn't really acknowledging its existence, she was just looking. In fact, she wasn't really acknowledging her surroundings at all, really- she knew that the iPod was sitting pointlessly on the dining table, and a teenage girl who wasn't Rose was sitting slightly less pointlessly at the dining table, looking at her, and she knew the kettle was on and she knew they were about to sit down and have tea and a chat and it wouldn't end in tears, oh no...
"He's gone, sweetheart," she repeated, her voice sounding vague and far away.
"But...I just don't get it," Trisha Delaney replied. She was sitting at the dining table in Rose's place (not by any fault of her own: that was simply where Rose had always chosen to sit, before she went away) and her arms were folded and there was a deep, frantic frown on her face.
"He's gone. He found a..." Jackie shook her head and started again. "He found another world- a world bit like this one, Rose says, 'cept his gran was alive and there was a proper home for him and people who needed him...like, proper needed him, to fight for them." She went to the kettle, turning her back on Trisha so neither could see the other's face. She played with the bracelet on her wrist.
"To fight for them," Trisha repeated hopelessly. And then she said nothing. Jackie turned around to look at her, mug of tea in hand, and wondered what could possibly be going through her mind.
And wished there was a way of fixing what was going through her mind.
She handed Trisha a mug of tea.
"Do you want biscuits?" she asked.
"No thank you," Trisha said. She gulped the tea, put the mug down next to the iPod and folded her arms across her chest as if she was cold. Jackie collapsed in a chair next to her, and neither of them said a word for a minute.
"So Rose left again, yeah?" Trisha finally said.
"What's there to be sorry for?" Jackie asked, not sharply just sadly, and thought of the day Henriks had gone up in flames. If only she had known, back then, what would happen to them all...
"I dunno," Trisha said hopelessly. And then she reached out and picked up the iPod. "Mickey gave this to you, didn't he?"
"Yeah," Jackie answered glumly. "Christmas present."
Trisha put it back down again. She had some more tea, and looked around the room, avoiding Jackie's gaze. Clearly, she wanted whatever dark thoughts she was having to remain her own.
"What...exactly...did Rose say?" she said hesitantly. "About...the other world."
"He said it was an accident they got there," Jackie said, "And he says they can never go back. No-one can come from there and no-one can go." A sharp stab of anger and loneliness hit her then. She reached for her own mug of tea, and, as an afterthought, the HobNobs.
"Mickey told me once how come his gran died," she went on. "It was 'cos he didn't fix the carpet, and she fell down and broke her neck. He found her. He was just a teenager then, an' all." She looked at Trisha. "Did you know?"
Trisha shook her head, and there was something in her eyes. Anger or incomprehension, or something. "No. He never said." Then she ran her sleeve across her eyes in one swift movement, and said, "Jackie..umm...I know you invited me here 'cos you thought I was his new girlfriend. But I wasn't, really...I mean...s'obvious, isn't it? If I didn't know that..."
Jackie shook her head. "I don't care what you were to him, alright? I just thought you ought to know."
"Thank you," Trisha said, sounding as glum as Jackie felt. "Thank you," she said again. And then she too stared at the iPod, and looked thoughtful.
Jackie took another Hobnob and stuffed it in her mouth. It felt so funny and awful, to think that just one week ago she had no idea that the man who was for all intents and purposes her best friend would choose to forsake her for a world where all his mistakes never happened...
Her best friend. He really had been. God.
"Trish, d'ya think...?" she began.
"If you...just imagine if you ended up in a world like that. Like, where all the things you thought were really buggered up...weren't."
"Like if my dad never left," Trisha said thoughtfully. "If my dad never left, and my brother had a proper job, and my family didn't fight."
"Yeah. That sort of thing." Jackie only knew a bit about Trisha's family, but she had made a mental note to avoid (and certainly never sleep with) the infamous Mr Delaney. "If you...if you got offered that, like someone...the Doctor...took you someplace, and said, like, you can have all this but you're always gonna remember what you left behind and if you miss it you can never go back...what would you do?"
Trisha was sharp. "What about you?"
Jackie should have guessed she might say that. She thought about it- thought if it had been her taken to a different world. A world where Pete had never died and Rose had never left and they were living in a nice house, happy and successful.
But if she remembered, if she could never go back...
"I don't know. I just don't know."
And she really didn't. She picked up the two empty mugs of tea, and put them in the dishwasher. Trisha watched her.
She sat down at the table again. She picked up the iPod, and looked at it.
"Don't even know how to work the bloody thing," she said, and moved it to her jacket pocket. But Trisha was staring off into space.
"He'll be back, Jackie," she said.
"I just have this weird feeling, yeah? I mean, he always said...he always said he was coming back."
"But he didn't, did he?" Jackie said flatly. She didn't like it when people Got Weird Feelings, when they thought they could get it right. "He ain't comin' back, Trish." It hurt her, hurt her a lot, but she had to say it. "S'like...s'like he's dead, alright? He ain't comin' back. Not to us. Not ever. He found a world where nothing ever went so wrong for him, and anyone, yeah, anyone would stay." She felt tears pricking her eyes.
"But not you," Trisha answered. "You said you didn't know."
"I ain't gonna get a chance to know," Jackie said. "He did and he left and we've gotta just get on with it."
A silence fell. Trisha looked at the clock.
"It's almost midday," she said softly. "I gotta go home, and then I gotta go to college."
"Oh yeah. How're you finding that?"
"It's good," Trisha answered. "I like it."
Trisha picked up her bag. "Thanks, Jackie," she said simply.
"You're welcome. Come round anytime, love."
Trisha looked at the ground as if considering what to say. "Jackie, I- I just figure so much weird stuff's happened already. Happened to you and him. So...he could come back. Might. Never give up hope, you know?"
Jackie knew so much about hope.
"If he came back would he stay, though, love?"
Trisha said nothing. She just shrugged. But as Jackie walked with her to the door of the flat, something seemed to occur to her- she said, "I bet if you asked him to stay he would." She said it quickly, as if not sure how it would be received.
"I can't ask him anything now, though." Jackie said. How she hated to be realistic.
Trisha nodded, accepting those words although seemingly accepting nothing else. "Um," she said. "Jackie,"
"He..." Her face was red with embarrassment and shyness as she stepped out into the corridor. "He...um...he really cared about you. I know he did. When he was here..." She trailed off again, as if terrified she'd get it all wrong. "You were the most important thing to him. Yeah?"
Jackie reached out and hugged her, because she could. Trisha seemed taken aback, but she hugged Jackie too- and then Jackie let go, and looked around the run-down corridor where so many people made their lives.
"You run on home now, love," she said quietly. "You've got places to go."
"I'll see you later, Jackie," Trisha said. As an afterthought she added "I promise." And then she was gone.
Jackie returned to the flat.
She sat down and took the iPod out and messed about with it until it started playing music at her. Sad songs. And then she reached for her mobile phone, and went through the text messages until she found the one she was looking for.
If you want to talk, Jackie, I'm right here. It was from Mickey, a long time ago.
"But you ain't, are you?" she muttered under her breath. And then, on a whim, she hit 'reply'.
And she wrote:
i miss u tons. please come home. 2 your other home.
Then she decided it looked childish, and it obviously would never reach him anyway, and she put it aside. She wandered for a while around the empty flat, tidying things. She looked out of the window and saw London- properly saw it, saw the people there. How many of those people would stay, she wondered, and how many of them would go, if a chance ever came?
She watched TV for a while. She thought about Trisha and her short-lived relationship with a man out of her reach- a man now out of everybody's reach. Someone'd wandered into Trisha's life and shown her stuff and then left her behind. And that same someone had walked into Jackie's life and shown her stuff and saved her life and talked to her and understood her and left her behind. And...
...those stories always ended in tragedy.
But not if she had anything to say about it.
She looked at one of her many photographs of Rose, and wondered if she knew...if she knew everyone got left behind eventually.
She picked up the mobile phone once more, and looked at her message. She looked at the photos on the wall. She thought about everything she would do for the people she loved, left behind or not.
And she knew it was stupidly optimistic, she knew it wouldn't work, she knew she would never speak to him or see him again. She knew all that. But she pressed SEND.