The Inn On Bluebell Lane — Episode 47


Craig threw his backpack down and started rummaging in the cupboards for a snack, seemingly unconcerned by his sister’s no-show.

“Did Jess say anything to you?” Ellie asked as she started picking up the clutter of coats, backpacks and lunch boxes that always ended up in a heap.

“Nope.” Craig spoke through a mouthful of Nutella.

“Are you sure, Craig? And what do you mean, you didn’t see her at school today? Do you normally?”

Craig was year seven while Jess was year nine. Ellie couldn’t imagine their paths crossed too frequently.

“I dunno. I didn’t see her.” Craig shrugged.

“But where do you think she would have gone? She would normally text me if she was off somewhere.”

Although Jess hadn’t been “off somewhere” since they’d moved to Llandrigg.

Ellie supposed she should be happy that her daughter might finally have somewhere to go, and someone to go with, but she still wanted answers.

Craig dipped a spoon into the Nutella jar again, and Ellie snatched it from him.

“That’s enough of that. Are you sure you don’t know anything?”

“Well . . .” He screwed up his face. “I know she was upset.”

“Upset?” Ellie’s anxiety tightened every muscle. “Why?”

“Something on the music board.”

“What?” Ellie stared at him.

“Some jokers put up photos of her and Sophie.”

“Sophie? Is that the friend she’s singing with?”

“Yeah.”

“What kind of photos?”

“Just pictures of them. But they’d written ‘Nerds’ over their faces.”

“Oh, no . . .”

How could people – children – be so cruel? Jess had only been at the school for a month.

That was why she was in such a bad mood last night, Ellie realised.

But what did it have to do with her not being on the bus?

Then she remembered the duffel bag Jess had bumped down the stairs, claiming it was full of outfits for her and Sophie.

But what if it wasn’t? What if it was clothes for Jess? What if her daughter was running away?

Panic iced Ellie’s insides. She had to ring Matthew.

“Mum . . .” Jacob tugged on her sleeve. “Jess is going to be OK, isn’t she?”

Ellie gave him a distracted smile as she rang Matthew.

He had stayed at the hospital with Gwen, but he might have turned off his phone.

“Mum?” Jacob said again, looking anxious.

The phone switched to voicemail.

“Yes, she’ll be fine, Jacob,” Ellie said. “We just need to find her.”

An hour crept by with painstaking slowness, each minute seeming endless.

Ellie could not keep herself from calling Jess every five minutes, even though it continued to switch to voicemail, as did Matthew’s phone.

Why was no-one picking up? Should she call the police, or was that an overreaction? It wasn’t even five o’clock in the evening. The police would probably ask her to wait.

But what if they didn’t? Panic made her feel paralysed.

Another half hour passed while Ellie made dinner and left more messages for Matthew and Jess.

Then, finally, Matthew rang her.

“I’m just leaving the hospital now . . . is Jess home yet?”

He sounded so relaxed that Ellie didn’t know whether to scream or laugh at herself. Jess was fifteen, after all.

“No. Craig says she’d been bullied.”

“Bullied –”

“I’m worried she might have run away.” Ellie’s voice trembled.

“She had a big duffel bag with her this morning. She said it was outfits for her friend . . .”

“I’ll be home in fifteen minutes,” Matthew said. “We’ll figure it out.”

“Should I call the police?”

He hesitated, and in that second’s silence Ellie felt the terrible weight of his fear as well as her own.

“I suppose you should,” he said heavily.

It felt utterly surreal to dial 999. Ellie felt numb as she explained the situation.

So calm she seemed a bit unfeeling, at least to Ellie, the dispatcher went through the rote questions.

Had she called or texted Jess? Had there been any calls from school regarding her absence? Was she unhappy?

Tears stung Ellie’s eyes as she answered the last one in a whisper.

“I think she was.”

“Nine times out of ten, a teenager shows up after causing a bit of worry,” the dispatcher told her, but the words were far from comforting.

What about the tenth time?

“We’ll send two police officers over to your house,” the dispatcher said.

Ellie had only just ended the call when Matthew burst through the door.

“Is she home?” he demanded, and Ellie shook her head miserably.

Ava, Jacob and Craig, all three of them now sensing the severity of the situation, clustered around.

“Where could she be?” Matthew wondered.

Where would Jess possibly go? How would she get there?

What if, Ellie wondered with a clutch of fear, her little girl was wandering
the streets of a city somewhere, adrift and alone as darkness fell?

The thought was utterly terrifying. Jess didn’t have any real street sense. She was a suburban kid.

She’d never even taken a train on her own.

As Ellie and Matthew stared at each other in growing fear, the lights of a police car washed the room in blue and red.

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.