Out of Time: Seven
Dad caught, twirled, and set Mrs. Taylor on her feet at the other side of the room. Brodie had to steady her. She looked small between them, although she must have been close to my height. Do I, too?
“But this is wonderful!” Lydia Taylor said between breaths. “And overdue.” In all the times she scolded Brodie in front of me, I never saw her do so with such a wide, lovely smile. I expected her to burst into song.
“Whatever kept you was too cruel.”
“Time. Just time.” Dad smiled the way other people blink back tears.
“I can see that. You never used to be older than I am.”
“Time travel,” Brodie said to himself. I glanced at him but couldn’t read his expression, mainly because another tissue covered it.
Dad passed his hand over his short hair. “Mind you, Lyds, the waiting game is the good end of the deal.”
Mrs. Taylor waved her hand for him to sit on the cocoa-and-gold sofa. “Age before beauty.”
Her graciousness probably included me, out of time or not, much like the ball invitation included Cinderella. I sank onto the sofa against a lavender cushion. On the far end from me, a cardboard box marked Brodie’s place in a book, presumably abandoned when he saw me out the window and ran.
“Thank you. There’s room for more, if someone who shall remain Brodie sorts the mess.”
“Ah.” Brodie scooped it all up. “I’ll just put this in my room. I don’t suppose I need to research memory loss anymore.”
Dad plopped onto the middle of the sofa next to me. “Shame on you, Rhosyn. You’ve gone and spoilt his anonymity.”
“Back in a mo.” Brodie took the stairs three at a time and vanished upstairs.
I suddenly thought of the piano and burst out laughing. If Mrs. Taylor had forgot me again, she saw me now. The mental image of her pointing a gun at Dad forced more laughter into my throat.
“What are you on about?” Dad asked.
“Remem-ember Br-Brodie said—He s-said—”
“Wait, what are you saying about me?” Brodie cried on his way back down.
“You said—” My finger swung from him to his mother. “—that you had a, a—” I giggled more than I’d smiled all day.
Mrs. Taylor put her fists on her hips. “Brooodie.”
“Of course, now you can hear her perfectly!”
I pressed my hand against my ribs, accidentally elbowing my dad. “Oh, that’s nice, really.”
“Well?” She tapped her foot.
“He said you keep a sniper rifle in your piano bench,” Dad said, “which I think was rude.”
Lydia took up the laughter where I left off. “Did you think you could pass me off as a Yank?”
Brodie turned ‘round and ‘round helplessly. “I don’t know that there’s etiquette for loonies asking if your parents are in.”
I tried to maintain a straight face. After a moment, Dad also laughed. “You’re their kid right proper.”
Mrs. Taylor laced her fingers in front of her one at a time, calculating something. “Shall I make tea?”
I exhaled. The real world, at last!
“What if I make the brew, Mum?” Brodie’d cottoned on fast. “I’ll wash my hands. Who wants a cuppa?”
“Yes, please,” I said.
“That sounds lovely,” said Dad, “but I’m afraid we can’t stay long.”
My mouth fell open. “You’re joking.”
“You’re serious?” said Brodie, crestfallen.
He shot me a warning look, then returned his attention to Mrs. Taylor, who also looked none too pleased. “We’re out of our times, and it affects you as much as us. Most people forget us after they blink, and that’s just blinking, mate. Jess…”
My mouth went dry.
“Jess fought it for sixteen years. Essentially, she’s all right, but whole memories of that time are damaged.”
Like dripping with watermelon juice and swinging in the park and edging into cold pools during the summer? Like curling up in front of the telly with socks straight out of the dryer and coloring in old books during the winter?
“You and I, Lyds, we have the same kind of history that lets you remember. With concentration and clear sight, we got somewhere. For a bit.” He shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “But we almost lost, and I’m through with that. I can’t risk too much time around you.”
Mrs. Taylor dropped into the grape-purple arm chair across from us, her steely eyes stabbing. “Still, you—you can’t just walk right back out again. You already flew away once and didn’t come back until now.”
He winced. “I didn’t think you’d have anything to explain, Lyds.”
“Don’t give me that look, Mr. Grinch. When you swore us to secrecy, you didn’t spare a thought for what we’d do. If you had done, you would have listened. But you left.”
His mouth tightened as if he had to hold another argument inside. “You’re… right. You are right. I was arrogant. I thought only of myself, and I’m sorry for manipulating you and Mark.”
I blinked. He had apologized to her. He had to me, not for being a coward but for his cowardice disappointing me; never for running me out of time but for what I’d endured.
Mrs. Taylor simply closed her eyes and relaxed, as if the words didn’t cost him to say, as if she didn’t treasure them. Argh.
Brodie sat on the other side of my dad. “Not to be rude again, but has anyone heard a word I’ve said? Mr. Watcher did come back to visit—Rose, that is. I get why Mum can’t remember, but I can see people who are out of time.” He squirmed a little. “That’s what you were talking about before.”
“It’s… Yes, but I’m trying to get out of here, and you’re…” Dad grimaced. “Ahh, now I’ve got to figure out what makes you special, too. You weren’t in our times, and you’re not out of yours. Oi! Still listening?” He turned to Mrs. Taylor. “You’ve got to remember anything that might have affected him. Nothing to fuss over; don’t look so pale.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
“I’ve said it’s not a problem. I guess it might have happened when you traveled—”
“I hated traveling.” She shifted uneasily. “Why would I want to think about it more?”
Dad looked confused. “Er. Because that’s how we’ll figure out what’s up with Brodie?”
“Nothing is wrong with Brodie, and whatever went on when you left is private.”
“I didn’t say anything was wrong, exactly—”
Mrs. Taylor shook her head minutely, closing her eyes. I didn’t think much of it until she raised her hands as if to keep something off her. “Are you okay?” I asked.
She turned her ear in my direction. “Who said that?”
“That’s Rose. Remember?” Brodie said. “Mr. Watcher’s daughter.”
“Who happens to be nine months older than—” Dad started to say, but stopped when Mrs. Taylor took a quick breath and reached for Brodie’s hand.
“I can’t think about all of this at once,” she said. “Not you and your daughter and that night. I don’t even want to try.”
“Isn’t this what you were afraid of?” Brodie asked Dad, looking torn between wanting to know and wanting to stop.
Dad took a ragged breath. “I won’t say finding out isn’t important, but it won’t hurt to wait. Here, you can look up now. We’re leaving, I promise we are, so just remember till then. We only came because Rhosyn wanted to invite Brodie along.”
Mrs. Taylor’s eyes flew open. “What?”
Brodie’s face lit up, red nose and all. “Truly?” He looked to me, so I nodded, unable to keep from smiling back.
“Strictly a one-trip deal,” Dad threw in. “I’d only dare to borrow your greatest gift, never steal it. Trust me to know about that one.”
Brodie practically bounced in his seat. “Still, that’s my day sorted! Mum, please say I can go. May I?”
She still had his hand and squeezed it. “You ought to get over your cold…”
I dug my elbow into Dad’s ribs before he could suggest coming back when he got better. We might never get that chance. “Please, Mrs. Taylor? We’ll mind him.” I smiled in what I hoped was a winning way, but she never noticed.
“Cold? A cold matters?” Brodie said with surprise, as if he hadn’t heard me either. “This is the stuff of legends, Mum, a thing I’ve read and dreamed about all my life. Funny, isn’t it, how you always knew it was real? I could travel in time the way you did. Well, not precisely the way you did, because I’m fully prepared to enjoy every moment. ”
“I was also a good deal older, with your dad along.”
“Sounds like I’ll have more fun, then.” Brodie grinned. “Besides, I’ll have my best mate and your second best.”
“You make me sound like an expensive suit coat no one wants to wear,” Dad said. I giggled.
“You make me sound like I’m not mental even to consider this,” Mrs. Taylor said with a glimmer of wry humor.
“I expected to try to convince someone who’d never even thought about time travel,” Dad said, his face serious. “You could go too, if you wanted, but you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have come if I couldn’t keep a kid safe.”
Mrs. Taylor only said, “You want to experiment.”
“No! That is… no-o. Just a bit? I reckon Brodie will function in another time better than we will, but if he ends up out of time after all… what’s wrong with that?”
Lydia Taylor looked into him for what seemed like ages. I tried to exchange a glance with Brodie but couldn’t with our parents between us. No one said anything to urge or dissuade her, but my heart began to pound. If she said no, I’d have to leave.
The chair creaked as she stood and pulled her mobile out her pocket. Next the only sounds were her pacing and texting.
If I leave, will I ever see Brodie again? Will I see anyone I know but Dad? Whatever he says, I can’t just walk out the instant she turns us down—
Eventually, she glanced up from the screen and said, “Mark’s on his way home. He says Brodie can go out, but both of you had better be here to meet him within twenty-four hours. Mind you that!”
“Yes!” Brodie cried. “Thank you!”
I felt a dry sob of relief and smothered it with a laugh.
“Twenty-four hours your time,” Mrs. Taylor amended. “Our time, he’s here for dinner.”
“I promise we’ll get back when he was. Absolutely. We could even be home before we leave.”
“I’d not miss dinner,” Brodie said. “Food in the past isn’t sanitary, and food in the future is always pills or something gross.”
Dad gave him an odd look. “At any rate, we’d better move on.”
“Do I need anything?” Brodie looked at his mum for suggestions.
“We-ell.” Dad scratched his neck. “I hate to be a parent before a road trip, but using the toilet is a good idea.”
After my turn, I inspected my reflection. No dark circles or bags under my eyes yet, but according to Murphy’s Law my body clock would kick in at the worst possible time. Even best case scenario, I crash the second Brodie’s back here. Probably in heaps of tears. My hair looked stringy from the wind; I wished I had a hairband. Stupid, stupid head didn’t think to bring anything practical.
I heard the ebb and flow of voices as I walked back down the hallway. “…to tell a story,” the more familiar one said.
“I imagine that’s often,” said the throaty one back.
A light laugh. “I get lost more than you might think.”
“All my best stories have Rose in somewhere, and no one understands.”
I stopped dead and registered the words. I made Brodie’s best stories? Not just the “you had to be there” type of thing?
“The worst isn’t that she’s out of her time. It’s that she’s not in mine. Is that selfish? I don’t…” I pictured Brodie shaking his head.
Dad paused; I strained to hear. “She’s my daughter. Don’t you break her heart.”
I tried not to breathe. No, too suspicious. Steady on.
“She’s my best mate.” A note of pleading entered Brodie’s voice. “I could say the same.”
If you talked about me like—like a piece of property while I was gone, I’ll break your faces.
I knew Brodie wanted to look out for me, but he didn’t know what had already happened. I didn’t know my dad enough to make decisions on three little words, but there could be love or possession there. I could tell them both a little about broken hearts right now, I thought with strange calmness.
Before I gave myself a chance to calculate that any further, I walked straight into the room. “What did I miss?” I added rather coldly, “What could I have possibly missed in one minute?”
They both started. Mrs. Taylor sat absorbed over a piece of paper, inexplicably humming “Sosban Fach.”
“Nothing,” Dad said in a less-than-seamless recovery. “Something. Plans.”
“Mum, why don’t you tell her what that list is?”
She flicked her gaze up for half a mo. “A note to remind me that I’m preparing dinner for five and why I have a splitting headache.”
Brodie reached out. “May I add something? Thank you.” He scribbled a note and stuck the pencil behind his ear. “So you’ll remember even though they’re out of time.”
“Brodie…” Her grey eyes found his brown ones. Time had made her seem so young till then. “You’re involved. My son is time traveling, out of time or not. I may not think of you every moment, but I’ll never forget.” She exhaled and whipped the list back. “Unfortunately, I don’t trust my memory of anything else. I wish your dad was here already.”
Not that he’d remember better. Not that he’d help. Just that having someone beside you gives courage. Just that she wanted him. I wished I could say that about someone without having to say the real problem.
I expected goodbyes to drag out, but we all made it to the doorstep in seconds. Mrs. Taylor looked closer to Dad’s height from the doorstep as he fit the watch into the door with its mechanical vooosh. He and I stepped inside and hung up our coats while Mrs. Taylor folded Brodie into a strong hug.
She sang a few lines of “So Long, Farewell” before she let him go. They probably said they loved one another, but I didn’t eavesdrop again.
“Thanks again!” Brodie said over his shoulder as he leaped in with us. With superhuman will, Mrs. Taylor shoved the time machine door shut behind him.
“Well, I never. She wants to be rid of me,” Brodie joked.
“You flatter yourself,” Dad said.
I pressed myself to the door. She’d never think of me, but I fancied I could sense her leaning against the other side, breathing hard.
Dad shouldered through the tapestries but left them closed. “Wait for the drumroll!” he told us. Soon I heard a song I didn’t recognize.
I tilted my head. “Well? Want to see what all the fuss is about the man behind the curtain?”
Taking deep breaths, we each pulled one back. The sun, overhead now, blazed down on every clump of thyme and shone in every knot of the steering. Brodie started to gasp and laugh at the same time. “It’s smaller on the outside?”
“Aren’t they always?”