Out of Time: Six
I saw why we had taken a tumble on our exit. Brodie’s wooden front door was raised on a concrete step. The time machine door had also raised, but hinged itself half a meter too far left for the step. The two doors matched except for one detail. Where my eyes met a flower-etched panel of foggy glass on Brodie’s dark door, our time machine had the “translator key” watch. I could see the metal socket from the backside of the open door as well as the front.
“I entered precise coordinates. What if we landed right on top? I don’t know how the mechanisms would resolve.” Dad stopped in the middle of his laughter.
“Suddenly you’re not enjoying the blunder. Why?” I asked.
He pulled a face and turned up his coat collar against the wind. “Only I get the feeling my travels will become much more accident-prone and generally uncomfortable with you along. Can you tell me why that is?”
“What did I do?” I cried.
His eyes flitted over the doors and the bolted letterbox between, then rested on me. “What? Nothing. What?”
I shook my head and stepped onto the porch. Before raising my fist, I spun back to face my dad.
“I can’t just knock, can I?” I wrinkled my nose. “Or can I? Boromir may say that one doesn’t simply walk into Mordor, but that’s just what Frodo did.”
“Will you feel better if we pick up J.R.R. Tolkien for a Lord of the Rings film marathon instead of this visit?” Dad eyes closed over the space between the two doors—the letterbox again. The sarcasm and compassion in his voice turned into dark curiosity. “I will,” he muttered as he traced the painted words on the box.
I read them too, but I couldn’t see the significance in The Taylors. I sighed. “You’d never dare. He’s probably more a book purist than Brodie is.”
Dad turned, one hand still on the letterbox. His upturned eyebrows wrinkled his forehead deeply. Not, I think, in response to my comment. “Lewis wasn’t too hard on the different adaptations of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” He trudged farther back on the concrete path to watch from that distance.
If only it worked like that, I thought, raising my hand to the door. This time I intended to knock even if no words came out of my mouth, but only the second half came true. As if he’d seen me through the window and come running, Brodie wrenched open the door before I touched it and pulled me into a hug.
He couldn’t have had much time to see anguish on my face, but I saw some on his. Well, I noticed his swollen red nose. Had he been—crying?!
Dad’s choke of objection reminded me of the rest of the world. I drew a shuddering breath against Brodie’s jumper and leaned away. “You’ll never believe what’s happened. Happening. Will happen? Tenses kill me.”
Brodie’s eyes searched mine with confusion, maybe alarm. The unfortunate truth for both of us is that you can’t get information out of eyes, just emotion. Instead of gauging Brodie’s feelings, I decided to offer him time and see what he’d do. I’ve tripped over myself. There’s nothing wrong with a little dazzle.
I pushed my hair back with both hands, blowing out like a horse. Such dazzle. “All right, hello.”
Brodie stared at me. “‘Hello’? Just ‘Hello’? No, Rose, 'hello' is for normal people with normal meetings, or even normal people with surprise meetings. It’s not for people who disappear from sight and mind over the week, then show up on the doorstep!”
“He actually talks like that?” Dad murmured.
Brodie stopped for a sneezing fit, grabbing tissues out of his trousers pocket. I backed out of the line of fire.
He wasn’t crying, I thought as he blew his nose. His hideous cold also explained the stuffy voice turning his m’s into mild b’s. My relief that I hadn’t made him cry turned to disgust. Thanks for the hug, mate.
“Where have you been?” Brodie crossed his arms. “I’ve spent this whole week trying to find you, but no one has any idea where or even who you are. My parents and your aunt, even, and they’re usually better than the rest.” He nudged my foot with his as if expecting it to go through. “You’re gone as far as the world’s concerned.”
“He actually talks like that,” Dad repeated, this time with admiration.
“What exactly haven’t you heard?” I asked, my voice straining. “You visited Aunt Jess this week? How is she? What did she say?”
“Nothing that explained what’s going ah—ah—on!” Brodie yanked at the tissues in his pockets again, scattering them.
I remembered to say “Bless you” to this sneeze.
Brodie sighed. “Thank you.”
“This week, everyone forgetting me… it’s just a lifelong problem coming to a head. I’m getting to my story, I promise. But how’s Aunt Jess?” I got the strangest feeling that my dad could plead through me. I shook off the unpleasant idea that we shared emotions. “Please.”
Brodie let his arms fall at his side again, and his expression relaxed. “She’s tired, but I’d say she’s also calm. It’s like she’s starting life over from a certain point. She remembered me, but not as your friend.”
I wasn’t sure what to think, but I felt enough emotions to make Spock roll his eyes. I didn’t want Aunt Jess to stay hysterical, but I had lived with her for sixteen years. Could she forget me in a week? I tried to tell myself that Dad hadn’t meant to raise my hopes by saying she might remember his promise to come back for me, but I still wanted to hit him.
“Pardon.” Dad saluted Brodie with two fingers. “I can’t get past how much you talk like a storybook.”
“Hmm?” When Brodie saw my dad striding toward us, his eyes widened again. At first I thought he was embarrassed that this stranger in the long coat had overheard our conversation, but his mouth formed the inaudible words, “Ohhh, it’s you.” Brodie cleared his throat and started again. “Hello.” (But that one’s for normal people, I thought.) “Excuse me, who are you?”
“David Watcher.” Dad held out his right hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too…” Brodie trailed off as they shook hands, throwing a look at me.
I hesitated, twirling my foot on the toe. “Meet my dad.”
“Oh?” Brodie didn’t twitch except to cock his head at Dad. “She’s never mentioned you,” he said with surprising, careful softness. As far as Brodie knew from me, I could have been orphaned, adopted, or the result of virgin birth; David Watcher could have been absent for any reason from alien abduction to prison.
Dad nodded. “Can’t blame her for that. Turns out she never mentioned you to me until today, either.”
Brodie smiled, but only with his thin lips. “That’s her all over. Secret-keeper.”
“I only just met him,” I mumbled. “He’s been away.”
Brodie looked at me just long enough that I thought I could lie to him. I almost spun a story of running away to Germany or wishing goblins would take me away. For a moment, anyway. Did I trust Brodie enough, or didn’t trust have anything to do with it?
I took a deep breath, after which I planned to say, “That behind you is his time machine.” Before I got a chance, Dad’s eyebrows furrowed and he muttered, “Blimey, you’re a bit dreamy, aren’t you?”
I blinked. “And you’re a bit elephant, aren’t you?” I said as much in surprise as annoyance. Big-eared, long-nosed Dad’s first thought on my stuffy, clueless mate was dreamy?
“’S all right, Rose,” Brodie interrupted. He left the doorstep as if to circle Dad. “Don’t let’s judge by appearances. If I judged by yours, Mr. Watcher, I’d say I’ve seen you before.”
“I can’t imagine how.” Dad’s cheekbones narrowed his eyes with the hint of a smile. “Do tell.”
Brodie took a beat to absorb this cool acceptance. “I saw you when we went to the funfair.”
“I rode the car over in the waltzer.”
My eyes widened. “Really?”
At this, Brodie’s brown eyes hardened like solid dirt. “You seem to like the duck pond; I’ve seen you there more than once.”
That one I’d noticed. Dad beamed back at him. “I can’t get enough of swimming birds.”
I bit my lip, but I didn’t know how to explain away Brodie’s confusion. “What about Bring Your Parents to School Day?” he said, less certainly.
“Exactly what it said on the tin,” Dad said, exchanging a look with me. Brodie had caught Dad’s multiple visits to me. We two seemed to wait for one another to speak.
Brodie shook his head in disbelief. His eyes worried at me, asking if I was all right—if I was safe, even. From Dad’s pause, I tried to figure out if I hadn’t kept up. When I couldn’t say anything, Brodie tried again at Dad. “I have seen you before, and it’s not family resemblance.”
At the unspoken you stalker, Dad rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand.
“So how long exactly have you been away?” The drop in Brodie’s voice betrayed more than he knew. I should have trusted Brodie if I did anyone. Though younger and no stronger than me, he offered help anyway.
Dad finally said, “How long I’ve been away depends on whose timeline. Mine since I left Rhosyn? Rhosyn’s since I left her? Yours since I left you?”
In unison, Brodie and I said, “What?” “—do you have to do with Brodie?” I added, an incredulous laugh escaping.
Dad gave a gentle laugh in return. “C’mon, think. Even he’s realized it, and he doesn’t know about time travel. For the last couple of hours at least, you’ve been thicker that the asteroid belt.” His kind, waiting smile froze me in place.
“Brodie remembers.” I reeled back and scrutinized Brodie up, down, and sideways. I had been as abysmally daft as Dad said. “We’re both out of our times, but he remembers us.”
“What’s this about time?” Brodie asked. I barely heard him.
“Time? That’s my excuse.” Dad arched both eyebrows nearly into his hairline. “I do things in the wrong order sometimes.”
Although unsure whom he was addressing, I had to protest. “I only just found out about time travel myself!”
Brodie’s voice rose. “What’s this about time travel, Rose?”
“Rose, Rose, Rose,” Dad mimicked, rolling his eyes. “But did he grow your name in the orange roses of the World Bloom Extravaganza? I thought not.”
Brodie’s fingers unwove an invisible knot. “You’re not saying you disappeared because of time travel.”
“It’s a bit rubbish saying it now, but it made sense just tomorrow,” Dad said. I felt a pang in my stomach, realizing that both of them talked more to me than to each other. I didn’t have answers they would only get out of one another.
Dad stepped forward and rapped on the letterbox. “Have you got anything to do with this?”
Brodie turned around to see whom he was scolding. For a few seconds, I couldn’t understand what his jaw was doing on the ground. He pointed deliberately from his door to ours with his long forefinger.
I swallowed. “Should that be open?”
“No. We’re letting in a draught,” Dad said over his shoulder.
Autumn wind cut through the knit work around my shoulders, but warmth poured out the time machine door like smoke from a sleeping dragon. From the pavement, I could see sunlight through the cracks and threads of the tapestries, highlighting the umbrellas in the stand. More to the point, so could Brodie, whose finger began to drop out of the air.
Wham! Dad slammed the door shut with his body and plastered possessively across it. His joints cracked when he released the doorframe, unhooked the watch from its socket, and pocketed it.
Brodie’s eyes never made contact with my dad, but instead of acting afraid, he watched the door for sudden movements.
Holding my shrug closed with one hand, I raked my hair back with the other. It felt stringy from blowing in the wind. We’re breaking time travel to Brodie like a bone snap and setting it even worse. “Go slowly, he’s only fifteen,” I told Dad.
“But I—” Dad saw my glare. “Pay attention, Brodie, ‘cause I’ve already said this once today. My home there is a time machine.”
Brodie spared him a corner-of-the-eye glance. “Let’s say I believe time travel exists.” He sounded as if he needed a glass of water.
“Do let’s,” I said. Brodie gave me the same glance, and you have no idea how small it made me feel.
“Only it’s a door,” he went on. “Where one shouldn’t be.”
“All doors are tricky.” Dad shrugged. “I’m rather fond of mine, but d’you know what it’s missing?”
Brodie’s eyes flickered. I guessed he still struggled with time travel. “Rhyme? Reason?”
“Yes! Also, a letterbox with The Watchers on it. Mind, it’s just Rhosyn and me—”
“It’s just you,” I muttered. Dad probably heard me, because he cut the babble.
“I get a turn to ask a question.” He took the fob watch out of his pocket to check it. “If you’re a year younger than my girl, how many months is that?”
“Er… not a full year.” Brodie turned to me again, rolling his shoulders as if working out tense muscles. I had to be more comfortable to address when he didn’t even know why he should answer the question. “Yours last week.”
Yesterday. I smiled to encourage him or even to distract him from the barmy situation.
“Mine July.” He sneezed into another tissue.
“Bless you,” Dad and I said.
“Thank you. That’s nine months. Now I believe it’s my turn again.”
Dad sucked in a big breath. “So my best mates’ kid has to be my kid’s best mate. Your age dates right back to—”
Dad’s eyes suddenly shot wide. He charged the front door and threw it open—on plain wall. It took me a second to realize he’d just opened the time machine.
“We can’t leave yet!” I cried. He had forgot to unlock it, which explained the absence of the time machine behind its door, but I wasn’t going to point out the key until we figured out why Brodie could remember us.
I couldn’t have misread his clumsy curiosity worse. Instead of trying to leave, he’d tried the wrong door.
“What’s wrong with it?” I noticed Brodie back off a couple of steps. “And why are you on about my—”
Dad whirled on him, pointing wildly in every direction as if he’d grown a third hand. “Brodie! Brodie Taylor! You’ve a lot of explaining to do!” He bounded up the concrete step, nearly broke down the real door, and disappeared inside Brodie’s house.
I had the oddest thought. He’ll never stop that, will he? “Wait… his mates’ what is his kid’s what?”
“Hellooooo!” Dad’s shout bounced inside. “Mark! Lydia! Mark! Lydia!” He ran back our way, slamming to a halt with one palm on the doorframe. “Your parents are home?”
Brodie’s brown eyes sparked, but with inspiration. “Mum is. Did you know she keeps a sniper rifle in her piano bench?”
“Brilliant!” Dad unexpectedly grabbed my face and kissed my forehead. “Come in if you really want a show!” He flashed a daft grin.
Dumbstruck, Brodie and I dashed in after my dad and watched as he wheeled around the room with his hands around his mouth. “Just Lydia then! Lydia!”
Piano music and every full note of Mrs. Taylor’s voice floated down the stairs at the right of the sitting room. Dad rounded back in and stopped to pant, and to listen.
“Wishing you were somehow here again,
Wishing you were somehow near…”
Dad abandoned the ground floor and hurdled the stair rail. He was halfway up the staircase in no time. “Lydia, you can stop! Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark, but David Watcher’s here to smell it out! Hear that?”
“Sometimes it seems if I just dream
Somehow you would—be—”
The piano and the singing broke off just out of sync, as if her hands had continued when her voice faltered. In the moment of returned listening, Dad expelled the air of sixteen lungs with a yell: “Daaaaaviiiiid Waaaaatcher!”
Feet drummed down the hall. Mrs. Taylor’s musical hands seized the rail ahead of her body. Large burnt sienna curls flung themselves over her left. “David?” she repeated, her feet rising from the ground as she almost tipped over from her waist. “Our David?”
Her grey minnow eyes swam over me and fixed on Brodie. Mother and son shared the wide-set eyes with coin-round irises but tapered ends. “Where is… I know I heard someone else.”
“Come on,” Dad whispered. “Come on, Lyds.”
“You two know each other?” Brodie asked, his fingers digging into his thick hair.
She leaned back, her arms taut against the rail. “We two who?”
Brodie’s palm dragged down his forehead. “So much for sniping.” He pointed lower on the stairs. She looked, right where Dad’s face was nearly level with her shoulders.
Dad started to open his arms, but even I saw her knuckles whiten on the rail. He stopped and just shrugged, one hand sinking again.
“All right?” he said, his feet shifting their stance every couple of seconds. “I’ve missed you. And Mark. The very idea of his working the day I visit.”
Wow, I think his humor is worse than his full stops. But even if he had made a Queen’s Foot Guard twitch, I wouldn’t have laughed. I couldn’t make a sound.
Mrs. Taylor’s head was turned in Dad’s direction, but her eyes didn’t align with his. This time he was trying, though. “No, I don’t.” She inhaled sharply through her nose. “I don’t know you.”
“This must be why Rhosyn doesn’t believe I make friends.” His weak smile wasn’t at all like the usual muscular grins he shared with his sister, which had carved the aged lines around his eyes.
When I said that, I didn’t mean her. When I thought that, I’d no idea what I meant either, so it was just as well I didn’t speak. I didn’t know you knew her. I’ve seen Mrs. Taylor all the time without knowing you know her, because she never seemed to know me.
Dad’s smile faded altogether, but he lifted his chin and clicked his tongue. “Go on. Make me younger in your head. You’ve not seen me in, oh, such a long time. It’s been longer for me, but do I have any doubts about who you are?”
My brain whirred with calculations. If he was nineteen when he left and forty now, but only sixteen years had passed here, then he was five years older than he should’ve been. As the crowning confusion, I could see time working on Mrs. Taylor to reject him.
She pressed her palms into her eyes, her fingers forming two V’s on her high forehead. “No! This is all wrong.”
“Listen if you won’t look at me. Lydia.” His tongue handled the three syllables with care. “You remember when Jess and I moved here from Lancashire. She was nineteen, ready to start uni after her gap year.”
“I know Jess.” Mrs. Taylor brushed her heavy curls behind her ears, her hands resting on her shoulders.
At her quick response, Brodie and I exchanged a glance. “You see she’s fine, really,” I whispered. “It’s time travel—if you’re when you shouldn’t be, people sort of look past you.”
Mrs. Taylor’s eyes narrowed in thought. “In fact, I saw Jess this week. It was nice, getting in touch again. Brodie doesn’t faff about when he’s worried, and he wanted to ask… about…”
“Oi! Wake up!” Dad snapped the fingers of both hands in front of her face. Her eyes flew open again. “Don’t bother with that yet, eh?”
No offense taken, I thought.
“Look at me, look at me,” Dad cooed. With that, he took a deliberate step one stair down. Mrs. Taylor tripped after him, catching the rail. They kept the same distance apart.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Brodie nod at me. I felt my heartbeat pick up, but I didn’t know why I so badly wanted his mum to talk to us. Maybe Dad’s glow, as if his skin went transparent next to hope, had warmed me up.
“We met in secondary schoo, both fourteen. Do you remember how we hit it off?” His chin nudged the air as he tried to get under her gaze. “Compulsive singer, you. Never spoke to strangers, but you’d no shame in singing your science notes on the way to class. I knew the notes, but not the melody.” Dad managed another smile. “My, that’s a very Brodie thing to say.”
Brodie opened his mouth but shut it again. I wondered what he wanted to interrupt with.
Dad backed down another step, waving her in. “I figured someone like that must be brilliant to meet. I was right.”
Mrs. Taylor followed with caution, despite greater recognition in her grey eyes. Maybe because of. “David and me—you and me—” She crossed her arms, reconciling David and you, her friend and his shadow.
“Some of them called us a couple.” Dad frowned with more gladness than he’d smiled at first. “I s’pose the idea amused them, the girl who always sang and the boy who always spoke his mind.”
From what I knew of both of them, their personalities hadn’t altered.
Dad tipped his head back and inhaled. “Mmm. I didn’t lose any sleep over it, since I knew you only had eyes for Mark Taylor in the year above us.”
Mrs. Taylor’s creamy skin flushed the pale pink of her lips. “You knew that?”
He laughed and took another step down, which she copied without thought. “I knew you two belonged together before you did! But you best recall how he became the climax of our trilogy.”
“There’s nothing extraordinary to remember.” Mrs. Taylor waved a hand. Nevertheless, she could think of it so clearly that she didn’t notice that she and my dad had each taken another step down. “At last we talked together, and he just fit in. We were friends better and better all the time.”
“Do you remember telling me you were dating? I pretended I couldn’t stand the idea, and you almost cried because I seemed so angry that you two had agreed to break up friendship. Ha! As if.”
Mrs. Taylor’s bottom lip pressed her top in an effort not to smile. “Only after the engagement, the marriage, and the honeymoon did you admit to setting us up… on our walk in the woods.” The hint of the smile disappeared.
Dad coaxed. “The abandoned house.”
“We couldn’t resist.”
“And we found the time machine together.”
“You and Mark and I did. How could I forget?” She let out a breath and shook her head. “I never forgot. I just didn’t think about it…”
“But you came home and had a son while I traveled on.” His throat constricted. “I married, too, Lyds. I wish you could’ve met her, but I reckon you’ve known my new family anyway.”
“What? Stop it!” Her feet backtracked up the stairs again. No! They had been so close to the landing.
“Mum, listen,” Brodie said. For some reason, he looked at me. “You have to try to remember him now, not then.”
Dad matched her climb, coming closer to her instead of waiting for her to come back, and his voice rose. “You know, but not because you remember what you’ve seen since I left! Of course you don’t remember. You’re too thick for that.”
Mrs. Taylor’s glance threw daggers from Brodie back to him.
Dad grinned. “Oh, yes, you are, but you’re also clever. That song means you’ve thought about me recently.”
I hoped that’s what it meant. What if she’d just been singing Phantom of the Opera because she was, well, Mrs. Taylor?
“You’ve thought back more than you have for sixteen years, because Brodie’s been on about my daughter all week. You can remember your own son. He’d just have to say her last name and you’d remember.” Dad paused. “Come on.”
They spoke together, the words slightly off.
She’d reverted to Brodie’s pet name.
She’d said my name, though.
Dad took hold of his trench coat by the lapels and pulled his collar down again, buying himself a moment. She’d admitted to knowing our name. He had gained that.
Throwing off their unison for the last time, Dad dropped the last steps to the ground floor again. I caught my breath, knowing with all my heart they’d lose every centimeter.
Mrs. Taylor held out her hands and lowered her eyes to them, but she wouldn’t join him. She sang the most powerful part of the song as if unsure of the words. “Why can’t the past just die?”
Dad’s face had already been soft, but now his eyes melted. Ice-blue, I’d thought, not stony crystals. “No one actually sings out like a musical number,” he said. His voice faded on the letters on which his lips were supposed to meet. “You…”
For another moment, they both turned inward. By this time I had worked out that Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, Brodie’s parents to me, were Mark and Lydia, best mates to my father.
That’s when Lydia Taylor jumped off the step like a ballerina. “It is you!”