A beam of light fell across Sammy’s face. She screwed her eyes tight against it, but it seeped in under her eyelashes. She rolled over, out of the light, and realised she was in bed. Opening one eye, she spied Cyclops and Wolverine peering back.
       Her X-Men bed sheets. Her bed! Sammy sat up and her right hand flared with pain. It was swollen and looked like a partially inflated rubber glove.
       She massaged her palm as she slid out of bed and onto her feet.
       Her body was sore all over. She rubbed her lower back as she straightened up and rolled her head on her shoulders. She was still in Gisouie’s clothes, but the silk shoes she’d been wearing in Perseopia had been placed neatly by her bed. Not a dream, then. Not that it could’ve been. Her hand was too painful to be a figment of her imagination.
       Her hand flew to her neck. No locket. It must’ve stayed in Perseopia, like the Emerald Dial had stayed here. She hobbled downstairs to the kitchen. Her mum was leaning against the work surface, reading a glossy magazine, while a bowl turned slowly in the microwave. The lead article on the cover said Our stylists can make even you feel good about yourself. Sammy ran to her mum and threw her arms around her.
       “I’ve missed you, Mum.”
       “That’s sweet, darling, but if you’d climbed into bed with me instead of underneath it, you wouldn’t be missing me so much this morning.” She hugged Sammy back and stroked her hair. “And


how did you get back from your father’s house? I hope you didn’t walk home alone.”
       “I was under your bed?”
       “Halfway under. Your legs were poking out. I almost stepped on you. You were hugging that bracelet we’re looking after. And you smelt odd, like mushrooms.” She shrugged. “You didn’t stir when I dragged you back to your own bed this morning. You must have been shattered.” Mama narrowed her eyes. “What were you doing under there, anyway?”
       “Aren’t you worried that I’ve been gone for a while?” Sammy asked.
       “You were only under the bed. I know I’ve been out a lot recently, but sometimes I need to unwind. Maybe it’s still too soon after the move.”
       “No. Really. I’ve been gone for a week or something.”
       “Are you feeling okay? Is this what a night under my bed does to you? Or is this one of those crying out for help moments that mothers are supposed to recognise? Actually, don’t answer that. That outfit you’re wearing is definitely crying out for help. I get it. The bracelet incident was your way of getting attention. I should have seen the signs.”
       “But, Mum …”
       “Maybe I don’t spend enough quality time with you.”
       “Let’s go out for the day. A treat. Wherever you want.”
       “You’re not listen–” Sammy stopped.
       Mama smiled and waited. Sammy had returned to the Mother World to be with her mum. And now the woman wanted to spend time with her.
       “You want to take me out?”
       Mama nodded.
       “Because there’s a comic book shop that opened a few weeks ago.”


       Her mum’s smile cracked. Sammy could tell she was doing her best to keep the corners of her mouth turned up. Mama did light, airy, high street shops run by beautiful people with shiny white teeth. Not dingy, backstreet comic book stores where you had to squeeze past balding forty-year-olds with ponytails.
       “Sure, darling.” Her mum gulped. “Anything you like.”
       Sammy hugged her again. “But I need to do something first,” she said and ran back upstairs. She darted across the landing, into her mum’s bedroom and under the bed.
       The bracelet had gone.
       Sammy shot back to the top of the stairs.
       “Where’s the bracelet?”
       Mama came to the bottom of the stairs. “You promised you’d take it back this week.”
       “I’ll definitely take it back. You can trust me.”
       Her mum watched her. “I know I can, sweetheart. It’s behind you in the airing cupboard. The jewel on the front has gone dull. Must’ve been fake after all.”
       Sammy turned and opened the door to the cupboard. The place Mama’s clothes came to die. Skirts, tops, jeans, sheepskin boots, ear muffs, a knitted hat and, sitting on top, the Emerald Dial bracelet. Both dial hands were horizontal, in their original positions.
       Sammy approached the bracelet. Pins and needles prickled up and down her arms, and a cool breeze blew across her skin. In the half-light of the cupboard, she could see that the emerald had indeed gone dull like Mama had said, a cloudy black-brown with nothing inside. It looked broken.
       Did that mean she couldn’t go back to Perseopia? That she’d never see Mehrak again? The loss tightened in her chest. He’d touched her life so profoundly in such a short period of time, and now he’d gone. She should take solace that she’d been able to meet him, to be shown by him that others cared and that she was important. And she had been. She’d done what had been needed,


and her actions had saved thousands, even though she’d never get rewarded or acknowledged for it. But then, she supposed, none of that really mattered, because now she was home and loved by the person who mattered most.


< Chapter 48 | EPILOGUE >