Once upon a time, Jericho Street Junior School held a gymnastics competition, and Trisha Delaney did not take part because she felt she was too fat. She knew she was too fat, her father had told her so. So she watched from the sidelines instead, envious.
Rose Tyler performed on the ropes- she climbed to the top, slipping only once or twice. But while she did that, Trisha Delaney looked away and saw Mickey Smith for the first time. She didn't know his name, back then. Didn't know the first thing about him; didn't know that the elderly lady sitting next to him would be dead in five years. Didn't know anything at all.
A girl called Shareen Costello sat next to Trisha on the gymnastics mat. She was not a nice girl. As she stood up for her own performance, she gave Trisha a mocking little wave, and a smirk. Trisha watched her dance around the darkened gym to music, and thought she was excellent, but she did not clap at the end.
Shareen won first place, a girl called Maria Sutton took second, and Rose Tyler took third. Rose looked bitterly disappointed for a second, but grinned as her mother rushed out to give her a hug. She held her medal up triumphantly, and looked right at Trisha. And smiled.
Trisha smiled back. And as the small crowd started to leave the hall, she looked for Rose, to say well done- but Rose had left through the back door with her mother, and Mickey Smith and his grandmother were following them.
Trisha was all alone in the crowd. She was nervous; she scrambled out of the door and into the fresh air. And then she almost crashed right into Mickey, who was now going the other way.
"Careful!" he said. Trisha almost wet herself with embarrassment, and turned to run. But then he said,
"Trisha, right? Trisha from the estate."
"Yeah," she squeaked.
"How come you didn't dance or anything?"
"I can't dance."
"Oh. Says who?"
"Me. And everyone."
Mickey Smith shrugged as if to say 'fair enough'. "See ya," he said, and walked off. Trisha stared after him; for some reason she had expected him to offer encouragement. Oh no, Trisha, you can do it! You can do anything you want, you're strong enough! But he hadn't. And she felt a spark of anger. How dare he write her off like that!
But she eventually forgot about it. For the next ten or so years.
People forget things all the time. They forget because they must. Probably.
2007. Trisha Delaney was twenty years old, and no longer listening to her father. And she was also not a child anymore.
Jackie Tyler was on the phone. "How you doing, Trisha?" she asked nervously. She sounded like she was about to deliver News.
Trisha found her voice.
"I'm fine, thanks, Jackie," she answered. "How are you?"
"I'm alright, love. Listen..." She trailed off, and Trisha held her breath: maybe Mickey was back. Had just turned up one day, was waiting in his flat, was going to see her. "...this is going to sound weird, but...I need help."
"Really?" Trisha asked. "With what?"
"There's this man," Jackie said, and all sorts of ideas flew through Trisha's mind. "He...he was looking for the Doctor. A while back. He came here, to me, I chucked him out when I found out what he was after." Trisha wondered where she was going with this. "Anyway...he had my phone number, and the other day he phoned. And he was in a right state." She sounded quite concerned.
"What d'ya mean?"
"He was crying- crying like mad- telling me to contact the Doctor. He kept saying she's dead," Jackie sounded uncomfortable. "Just she's dead, she's dead over and over again. Scared me at first...just in case he meant Rose." She trailed off. "But he weren't talking about Rose, he said. Someone else. I dunno what to do," she said. "So I thought I'd ask you. You're good with people, yeah?"
"Oh," Trisha said. "Thanks," she added. "Um. What's his name, this bloke?"
"Elton Pope," Jackie answered. "Weird name. I thought he was nice, you know..." There was a pause. "Dunno. Maybe I was too hard on him. But he sounds like he's going mental, Trish."
"I could go see him." Trisha suggested, without really thinking it through. "If you like. If you told me his address and stuff. I'm almost always here on weekends- I could go tomorrow-"
"Would you really, love? But be careful," she added. "Be really careful. He always seemed alright, Elton did," she said nervously, "but...you know..really, he could be anything."
That warning was ringing in Trisha's ears as she and Shareen drove to an address Jackie had given them. A normal area, full of normal houses.
"I'm coming in with you," Shareen said, as she pulled up.
"Yeah, course you are," Trisha answered, surprised.
They rang the doorbell, and Trisha waited, almost bouncing in anticipation. And she was perhaps a little nervous. A man investigating the Doctor? A man who Jackie had thrown out? A man going a bit mental?
But the person who opened the door was not murderous, sobbing, or terrifying. He was a thin blond man of about thirty or so, with bright, puzzled eyes. And a distinct sadness about his face.
Trisha spoke first. "Elton Pope?"
"Yeah," Elton Pope said, staring at them in surprise. "Who're you?"
"Trisha," Trisha said nervously but very politely, sticking her hand out. "Trisha Susanne Karen Delaney."
The blond shook her hand. "Elton Doesn'thaveamiddlename Pope," he said ruefully. "What is it you-"
"And I'm Shareen Costello," Shareen spoke up, "and I would like to warn you that I am trained in shotokan karate. A bit. So don't try anything."
Elton looked in bafflement from one woman to the other. "Um." he said. "I dunno what you want, but this isn't a good time. Isn't a good time at all." Trisha saw the sadness flicker in his eyes then.
"Jackie Tyler sent us," she said quickly. "Well, sort of. To talk to you, I suppose. Can we come in?"
Elton was still wary. "You're not going to-attack me?" He glanced at Shareen. "You're not..."
"We're not aliens," Shareen said softly. "We're definitely not."
Elton let them in. They sat down on a sofa, and Elton brought them biscuits- ginger biscuits. And tea, as well. Then they sat uncomfortably about. Trisha noticed a paving stone, placed reverently on a table.
"Um." Elton said.
"D'ya want us to go?" Trisha asked.
"Um. No. I don't know." He looked away from them. "Will you believe me? I want to know that first."
"Yeah, we will. We've seen alien spaceships and..." Trisha trailed off when she realised that technically, they hadn't seen much more than anybody else. Heard about, on the other hand...
Elton nodded, almost to himself. "Well..." he began, "there was this girl."
In five or so minutes, Elton spun a rather complex story about love and loss: all of his friends, including the girl he was in love with, had been killed by an alien. His mother had also died at the hands of something unearthly, and the Doctor had been there that time, trying to prevent it. And the Doctor had also saved the woman Elton loved-
"He saved her face," Elton finished, his voice breaking a bit. "She was a face. A face in a paving stone. Could talk to me. I couldn't show her to anyone and to her family she was dead. And now she really is dead," He blinked. "You don't want to hear how."
Trisha stood up. She went to the paving stone. She picked it up and examined it carefully, and then guiltily turned back to Elton.
"Um," she said. She exchanged a look with Shareen, and was surprised to see she was shaking her head. But she pressed nervously on. "Elton, don't take this the wrong way, but are you sure-"
"Yes," Elton said fiercely. "I'm not mad. You know Jackie, right? You know about the Doctor and what's going on? Then it should be obvious I'm not mad. You said you'd believe me!"
Trisha nodded, because that was all she could do.
"And," Elton said, looking at the ground, "could you put Ursula- put the paving stone down, please."
Trisha blushed and put it down carefully, and tried to carry on. "We- we just came to talk."
"Not sure how talking would do much good."
Shareen spoke up unexpectedly. "So what happened, Elton?"
The other two looked at her. There was a flat silence. And then Elton shifted off the sofa and stood up.
"Thanks for coming. Honestly. At least you tried," he said. "But you might as well go now."
Trisha and Shareen sat glumly in the car: Shareen lit herself a cigarette.
"That was interesting," she said thoughtfully. "I believed him, though. No weirder than what happened at Christmas."
"I think I ruined everything," Trisha said gloomily.
"By what? Thinking he was nuts? Well..." She blew smoke out of the window. "I think he probably is nuts, just not in the way we think. He did something to his paving stone girlfriend, and she's dead, and he won't talk about it. Maybe he killed her."
Trisha stared and almost choked on the smoke. "You think?"
"But he seemed so...not a murderer! And so devastated about her..."
"Well, he killed her and regrets it now, then. Or he's a really good actor."
Trisha glanced out of the window, at the place where Elton lived. It was quiet and sort of vaguely peaceful. "No..." she said. And then, "D'ya want to go back in, then?"
"I want to spy on him," Shareen answered with a grin.
So they spent the rest of the day spying on Elton Pope. This involved climbing a tree and leaning dangerously out in order to see through the windows.
"Can you see anything?" Shareen hissed.
"Only leaves and twigs," Trisha hissed back, wondering what would be written on her gravestone if she died through falling out of a tree. "And a room with a computer. And- look, there he is. Coming in."
"Has he seen us?"
"Don't think so..."
Trisha observed Elton sit down on his computer chair, and start up the computer.
"I feel like I'm invading his privacy," she said. "What if he starts- doing something?"
"Well, he's not doing much of anything now."
Elton was sitting still, occasionally clicking his computer mouse. He was flicking through different websites: Trisha could make out the words TORCHWOOD and Observatory and ACCESS DENIED. Then, after almost a minute, something familiar appeared onscreen- and Trisha gasped a little.
"Mickey's website! Look!"
Elton was indeed looking at Mickey's website- Trisha and Shareen could see it quite clearly. He was going back through the archives, staring at the screen. Looking at old photographs-it was almost like he was viewing her photo album. Trisha suddenly felt a crushing sense of loss. She held the branch tightly, and looked away. No, she reminded herself, he's gone. He's gone, he's not coming back, you should've gotten over it by now.
She had not quite gotten over it.
Something fell out of her pocket.
She nearly shrieked or swore out loud, but stopped herself just in time. She scrambled down the tree (scratching her arm in the process), landed awkwardly, and snatched the precious thing she'd lost from off the ground. It wasn't broken. Thank god.
She held it tightly. It was, after all, her last link to a time now gone.
"And what the bloody hell was that?" Shareen grumbled, landing beside her somewhat more elegantly.
Trisha opened her hand. Inside was a purple stone, a Christmas present- a parting gift. "The rock," she said. "The rock Mickey gave me for Christmas."
Shareen peered at it. "Oh." she said. She glanced back up at the tree, and shook her head. "Oh...let's just leave Elton Pope to his own devices. Let's go home."
They headed for the car. Trisha did not look back at the window; people were always warned about the dangers of looking back.