Standing in the lab from the image, Julia asked, “Where are we?”
“My old lab. From when I was an apprentice,” Thomas answered.
Her face already growing hot, Julia spun to face him. “So we’re what… At least fifteen years in the past?”
“Why? We didn’t need to come back this far to find him. He and I haven’t even met yet.” She knew she should have listened to the nagging doubt she had when Thomas presented this plan.
“I can explain, just hold on…”
Julia had to fight back the impulse to drop him into a volcano then and there.
“We needed a place that didn’t exist anymore. Otherwise we might have created a standard portal in our own time. Because this lab doesn’t exist now, when you saw this through the portal, you could be sure it had worked.”
Did that even make sense? Julia wasn’t certain. Her inclination was to ignore his explanation; after all, something definitely felt off about all of this. But maybe it made sense. Still, fifteen years ago? Where was Jason, even? Could she, a stranger to him, convince him to trust her?
Rebecca spoke up. “So Jason’s still alive. We can make this work. Do you know where he is, Thomas?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure. He had been staying here for a while, but he moved out around six months ago.”
This new information didn’t even surprise her. Of course Thomas didn’t know where he was. “You brought us back fifteen years and you don’t know where he is. Do you even want to save him?”
Thomas looked genuinely hurt, but she didn’t believe his act. “Of course. He’s in the city somewhere. It shouldn’t take long to find him.”
“Right. You stay here. That portal is our only way back to the present. Make sure it remains open.” Her voice was ice.
“I should at least escort you out.”
“No need.” Julia opened another portal. “Rebecca, would you stay with Thomas. Keep him from causing any other problems.”
“I don’t need a baby-sitter.”
“Nearly ever decision you’ve made since I first met you suggests otherwise.”
Rebecca, who had been quietly observing, finally interjected. “I’ll stay behind; not to watch you, Thomas, but so that Julia can approach Jason without scaring him. One unknown mage is plenty. Okay?” Both of the other mages nodded. “Do you need help finding him, Julia?”
“No, I already have a guess. If I get stuck, I’ll contact you. And get in touch if any problem comes up.” She gave Thomas a threatening look before stepping through the portal.
She was standing on the sidewalk of a quiet street. She had only been outside of the building across the way a handful of times, but it was enough for her to know it very well. This was the place where Jason had his apartment. If she was remembering correctly, Jason told her he moved here after leaving Thomas’s old house. If Thomas didn’t know where the apartment was, she wanted to keep its location secret. She was grateful that Rebecca volunteered to stay behind.
It took her a few minutes to work up the nerve to cross the street. How did you introduce yourself to an old friend? She knew him as well as she knew anyone, and he hadn’t even met her yet. Knowing Jason, he might just take it in stride, but it was going to be weird for her.
The front door was unlocked, as usual, and opened into an entry way. A set of stairs to her right led up to Jason’s apartment, and a hallway to her left ended at a door. She could have used a portal to get into the apartment, but if he was there, she didn’t want to startle him.
She just started to climb the stairs when she heard a door open.
Julia looked down the hall to see Esther, the landlady, emerge from her own apartment. She looked exactly the same as she did when Julia would meet her in the future.
Julia came down off the stairs and waved at her. “Hi. I’m just here to visit your tenant on the second floor. Jason.”
“He’s in, but are you sure you want to see him?”
Julia had to hide her relief that her memory was right. “Why wouldn’t I want to see him?”
“Well, Julia, you are a few years early, aren’t you?”
That sent a shiver through her. When she had first met Esther, the landlady didn’t know her name. But now, fifteen years earlier, she did?
“How . . . how do you know my name?”
“You told me. Don’t you remember?”
“I do, but how do you?”
“I could explain it to you over a cup of tea, but then you’d miss your chance to speak with Jason. It’s up to you, dear.”
“I really need to see him, but I do want to hear your explanation some time. Rain check?”
“Of course. Do be careful. This is a perilous journey you’ve undertaken. Good luck.” Esther disappeared back into her apartment. For just a moment, Julia hesitated, tempted to go after the other woman, her vaguely ominous warning playing over and over in Julia’s mind. But Jason was just up the flight of stairs, and she didn’t want to wait any longer.
Almost immediately after she knocked, the door opened. Jason, looking the same as he always did, stood on the other side. “Hello?”
“Jason.” She struggled with flood of emotions upon seeing him. She was not a physically affectionate person typically, but she felt an intense urge to hug him. Standing in front of him, now, she didn’t care about anything except keeping him safe. “My name is Julia, and I really need to talk to you.” The words spilled out of her quickly.
He stepped to one side, inviting her in. “You should come in then. The hallway is no place for important conversations.”