Julia knocked on the door and was relieved when Esther opened it. This was the one place she could think of that offered some hope. Somehow, Esther had recognized her, so the older woman must have some connection to the future. Wanting to be certain Jason wasn’t home, Julia had waited nearly half a day before approaching the building.
“Julia, you’ve returned. What a pleasant surprise.” Esther’s smile seemed genuine.
“Hello. Do you mind if I come in? I don’t want Jason to see me.”
“Of course, of course, dear. Please, follow me. I’ll make us some tea.”
As Esther led her down a hallway, Julia caught glimpses of other rooms. The entire place looked exactly like one might expect from an elderly widow’s home. Bits of cross-stitching hung against old wallpaper patterns. Small lamps sat on doilies atop end tables. The couch was covered with rough upholstery. It was almost too perfect, as though its occupant was trying very hard to put forward the image of a kindly grandmother.
In the kitchen, two teacups were already set on the table, and, as if on cue, a kettle began whistling on the stove.
“Were you expecting someone?” Julia asked.
“Oh no. I just like to be prepared in case someone drops by. Now sit, dear. I only have the one kind of tea. I hope you don’t mind.” She brought the kettle to the table and poured hot water into each of the cups.
They sat down across from one another, and Esther began absently stirring her tea.
“So how did your visit with Jason go yesterday?”
“You don’t know?”
“I’m not omniscient, dear.”
“Of course.” Julia couldn’t say why she thought the other woman would know, but she was surprised that Esther didn’t. “We had a brief visit. It was good to see him again. But he persuaded me that altering the past wasn’t a good idea.”
“Mmm.” Esther nodded. “Probably not.”
“I have to know, how did you recognize me yesterday? Are you a time mage?”
“No. Nothing so interesting. Rather, it has to do with the nature of time itself. What’s the best way to explain?” Esther was silent for a moment, presumably trying to decide how to answer her own question. “Most people think of time like a river. Events, information, flow from upstream to downstream, earlier to later. That’s how most people experience it, so it’s a natural analogy.
“But time’s not really like that. A better analogy would be to think of time like a lake, rather than a river. A pebble falls into the lake, and the ripples expand in every direction. If you travel in a boat from one side to the other, you’d be tempted to say the shore you sailed from is the beginning and your destination is the end. But there are other orders in which parts of the lake can be experienced. Just because many people see the lake in a particular way doesn’t make that the only way to observe it.”
“So when we met, and I told you my name, that rippled to you now?”
“Then, if you aren’t a time mage, what are you?”
“Just someone who experiences time differently than most.”
“Does that mean you can help me get back to my own time? Or no?”
“Unfortunately, seeing time differently does not mean traveling through time differently. Are you not able to go back the way you came?”
“I had to close that off that path. I didn’t want to, but I had to.”
Before Esther could respond, a familiar-looking black cat jumped up on to the table.
“Rook, you know you aren’t supposed to be up here.” The cat ignored Esther’s scolding and licked his paw.
“Rook? That’s Rook?” As far as Julia could tell, the cat looked exactly the same as it did fifteen years from now. “How old is this cat?” Rook took a few steps in her direction and lowered his head. She scratched between his ears, just like she always did.
“He obviously remembers you. As for his age, he doesn’t experience time in the way you do, either.”
Julia continued petting Rook as she turned her attention back to Esther. “Is there anything you can do to help me get back to proper time?”
“None that I can think of. I’m sorry, dear.”
Julia knew that coming here had been a long shot. She needed a source of time magic, and she had no idea where she might find one. And even if she did, she wasn’t sure she could replicate what Rebecca, Thomas, and she had managed to do. If Esther couldn’t help, it was time to move on and figure out what to do next.
“Thank you for your time. And the tea.” Julia stood to leave.
“Where will you go?”
“I’m not sure. I should probably leave this area, though. Too many chances – too much temptation – to mess up my own future.”
Esther followed Julia to the front door, with Rook close behind. Once at the door, Julia reached down to give him a final pet.
“If you need to talk, or even just a cup of tea, you’re welcome here any time.”
“Thanks, Esther. I appreciate that.”
“And you have to come back to visit Rook. I think he would be upset if he didn’t get to see you again soon.”
Looking at the cat, she said, “I will, I promise.” Then she turned and walked away.