I’m so excited! Today Jay is coming to do an interview with me. I’ve never met Jay face to face, but I know all about him. He’s been in my head for years.

We were meant to meet once before. But after what happened to Edel at the end of book two, Jay wasn’t too happy with me. Instead of coming to chat, he sent Katie in his place, and well… if you’ve read that interview, then you already know how I feel about that stuck up cow. I wasn’t impressed, but hopefully I’m forgiven now, and I can meet Jay for real.

Jay is my favourite. I know I say that about all of them, but I really do love Jay. He’s funny and kind. He’s rough around the edges, but he really cares about people, and he has strong moral values. Plus, he’s kind of a looker… I’ll be honest with you. When Jay first showed up in my imagination all those years ago, I didn’t think of him as anything other than a man in his forties. Not something the average seventeen-year-old is interested in. But honestly, seventeen-year-old-Ashleigh must have known what future Ashleigh liked when she dreamed him up, because Mmmm… it turns out Jay is right up my alley!

Damn, I need to focus. I should stop telling you how much I fancy Jay and get ready. He should be here soon.

Well, you know how that say speak of the devil and all that… I just walked into my living room to see Jay admiring my Christmas tree. Admiring might not be the best choice of words. Staring at it with a confused look on his face is more accurate.

“Hi Jay!”

He looks up startled, then his face breaks into his usual smile. “Ashleigh?” He sounds unsure, as though I could be someone else. Doesn’t he know he only exists inside my head? Well, actually I guess that’s not true anymore. I suppose if you are reading this, he technically exists in your mind, too.

I nod and step forward to greet him. His hand is warm, and his grip is firm as he shakes my hand. I gesture for him to sit down andpoint to the two cups of coffee on the coffee table. I already know how Jay likes his coffee.

“Thanks!” he says, and his eyes again wander to the tree in the corner. “Why do you have a tree in your house? And why is it all covered in lights and stuff?”

“It’s a Christmas tree.”

I am about to launch into an explanation of Christmas and the reason for the sparkly tree, but he shakes his head and says, “But that’s a casher custom!” His eyes scan my room again, then he says, “I didn’t know you were a casher.”

Huh! I hadn’t considered that cashers still celebrate Christmas. In Harpton Main, the government pretty much outlawed organised religion, citing that religious beliefs were the main cause of unrest amongst the people. But the cash society is so full of immigrants from across the world, so many religious beliefs, customs and holidays are still celebrated. Lots of cashers do Christmas, but probably not with a lit-up tree since most of them don’t have access to electricity. I shrug my shoulders. “I’m not a casher. But religion has never been outlawed here. And Christmas is pretty big in this part of the world.”

He sips his coffee, then announces, “I like it!” and that grin is back on his face again. “So what am I doing here?” he asks.

I smile. “It’s just a chat. I just wanted to meet you for real, and maybe share our conversation with our readers.”

His grin widens. “It’s so weird that you write about me. I’m not even that interesting. I mean, I get why you would want to tell stories about Edel and Danny, but not me. I’m just an average guy!”

Jay is interesting. Or at least, I find him interesting. But he’s right — he is just an average guy when you think about it. I take this opportunity to jump on the more difficult subject of Edel since he was the one to mention her. “How is Edel?”

His gaze hardens a touch, and he juts his chin forward. “She’s doing much better now. It’s good to have her home.” He stares at me for a second longer, and I can see the accusation behind his eyes. Then he says, “I didn’t think you would give her back to me.”

Here’s the thing. My characters think I have control over what happens to them. They don’t believe me when I tell them it isn’t like that. I level my gaze with Jay’s and try to get my point across calmly. “I didn’t take her away, Poly-Gen did. And I didn’t give her back, she escaped! It’s nothing to do with me. I don’t control what happens in your lives, I only write about it.”

He gives me that look. The disbelieving ‘I know you are lying’ look. “Okay…” he says with an eye roll, then his lips pull together in an almost-pout and he tilts his head to the side. “Is she going to be okay?”

I let out a sigh. I honestly don’t know. Edel has been through so much, and it is difficult to believe that anyone who has endured that amount of torture by those scientists could ever be okay. I measure my words carefully, not wanting to make promises that I don’t know I can keep. “I think Edel is strong. And she’s coping. You are a great help to her.”

“Me?” he asks in complete disbelief. “I haven’t done much. I don’t know how to help her. I keep thinking she needs a doctor or a shrink or something, but she won’t see anyone. She doesn’t trust anyone. And she doesn’t talk about it. Not even to me.”

“She talks more to you than to anyone. You help her more than you know, Jay! And giving her that diary was such a smart idea.”

“Yeah, if she ever uses it…” he rolls his eyes. “She doesn’t talk, so why would she write about it?”

“She did.”

Jay sits up straighter in his chair, his eyes wide with intrigue. “She wrote about her time at Poly-Gen?”

I nod slowly.

“She never said. That girl doesn’t tell me anything!” he sits thoughtful for a moment, then says, “What does it say?”

I let out another sigh. “Jay! I can’t tell you that. You promised her you wouldn’t pry. You said you wouldn’t read it if she didn’t want you to, and that you wouldn’t force her to share her secrets. She doesn’t want you to read it. And I agree with her. Reading it will only make you feel awful, but the point is, writing it made her feel better. And that is all that matters.”

“But you’ve read it?”

“Yes.”

“And you are going to let other people in your world read it?”

“If they want to, yes.”

“But I can’t read it?”

“Jay! You’ve helped Edel so much by giving her this tool to get her feelings out. Reading it will not help either of you. You’ve already done everything you needed to. She’s already on the road to recovery.”

A small smile parts his lips and he nods his head. “Thanks. I’m really pleased to hear that. It’s so much harder to keep my eye on her now we don’t live together anymore.” He looks up sharply and is suddenly defensive. He holds out his hands, palms facing me, and he shakes his head. “It’s not my fault we don’t live together. It’s not like I abandoned her. I check on her all the time and we still see each other almost every day.”

“I know, Jay. Relax. Nobody blames you for moving out, especially not me! Edel was being a total nightmare, and Collette didn’t deserve to be treated that way. You shouldn’t feel guilty about this.”

“I know. I do though. She doesn’t have anybody else.”

She will soon, I think. I don’t say it out loud. I’m not meant to let them know what will happen in their futures, but soon Jay won’t be Edel’s only source of company.

“Your happiness is important, too,” I say. “It isn’t selfish to want your own happiness. And Collette deserves to be happy, too.”

This time his face splits into a huge grin. “She is. We are.”

“Good. Collette is really great! I’m so pleased you found someone who is worth your time. Not like that other one…”

His eyes narrow, but the smile is still present on his face. “Katie wasn’t THAT bad!”

“She wasn’t for you, though. Collette is so much better for you. And she loves you.”

He nods, not quite willing to admit to me that he loves her too, though I know he does. He checks the time on his phone, then says, “I should probably be getting back. Thanks for putting my mind at ease. It’s good to know Edel is doing okay.”

I collect the coffee cups and say, “Thanks for coming to talk with me, Jay. It’s been lovely to meet you for real.”

“Ashleigh…” he shakes his head. “This isn’t real.”

Real or not real, I still had a nice afternoon with Jay.

If you would like to hear more about these characters, check out my series, Almost Human, available at amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B098TMZ8MH

If you would like to know more about Edel’s diary, check out Return to Poly-Gen, now available for Pre-order at amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BNGM4V2Q