Two Roads Diverged
It was strange being back.
Everything that had once been familiar seemed out of place now.
Their first day back, the sound of the holochime had given her a fright, and the sound of hovercrafts roaring past overhead still caused her to flinch when they flew too low.
Life in the twenty-second century was not what she'd remembered it to be.
Had the world always been this loud, this bustling?
Had it always been so automated?
She'd lived her whole life, with the exception of six years after a time machine accident, in this place, yet it felt so foreign now.
Maybe she'd just gotten used to the simple ways of the past.
Even grocery shopping was an entirely alien experience here in the twenty-second century. Gone were the little metal carts that she'd pushed around the store as she strolled up and down each aisle in search of what she needed.
A few touches on a holographic screen now, and everything was teleported right to her.
It was supposed to be convenient.
Barbara Diffy rather thought it callous and mechanical.
How had she never noticed until now that she could go an entire day out in the city running errands, and not speak to a single other human being even once?
She missed that young cashier from the store who used to smile at her every time she came in.
But that was a long time ago.
Over a century in the past, to be exact.
That young cashier was dead by now, like everyone else she remembered.
And the Pickford that she carried so fondly in her heart was gone now, as well, paved over and replaced with this society of advanced technology.
Sighing, Barbara shook her head.
There was no point in dwelling on the past, this was her life now and she had to make the best of it.
Pressing her hand to the touchpad on the wall, Barbara stepped into the glistening skyhome that she'd once been so delighted to own, which now felt like some sterilized prison. It lacked the warmth and comfort of the house they'd lived in back in the twenty-first century, this skyhome felt like a vacation house, a place to visit that was never quite your own.
"Pim?" she called. "Phil?"
Lloyd would still be at work, and probably would be there all night.
It was taking time for him to relearn his old job again, after being away from it for six years.
The skyhome was silent, which was odd, because she had passed one of the hovers outside. At least one of the kids should have been home.
Crossing the hall to the turbolift, Barbara took the lift up to the next floor.
"Kids?" she called, glancing around. "Anybody home?"
The lights were off, but she thought she heard a muffled noise coming from Phil's room, so she headed to his door and knocked lightly.
There was no answer.
Frowning, Barbara pushed the touchpad, and his door slid open.
It was dark inside, but she could dimly make out a figure laying sprawled on the bed, staring up at the ceiling.
"Phil?" Barbara asked worriedly. "What's wrong?"
He made a noise that sounded somewhere between a laugh and a sob, and she hurried to his side, lowering herself to sit on the edge of the bed beside him. Up close, she could see that he had been crying, and her heart ached for her eldest child.
They had all been forced to leave things behind, but none of them had suffered like Phil.
It was easier to leave friends and shopping carts and houses than it was to leave behind the woman you loved, after all.
"Oh, Phil," she said softly, and reached over to touch his hand.
He flinched, and she looked down to see that his knuckles were raw and scraped.
As if he'd punched the wall.
Swallowing past the lump in her throat, Barbara blinked back the tears stinging in her eyes. She hated seeing her son like this, hated that he was hurting so terribly and there was nothing she could do to make it better. Everyone kept telling her that he just needed time, that every broken heart mended eventually, but somehow she knew that it wasn't true.
Her family and friends meant well, but they didn't know Phil like she did.
They didn't know Keely Teslow.
If they could have seen how Keely's laughter lit up Phil's eyes, how he'd smiled for days on end simply because he was in love and happy and content, they would have understood that Phil was not going to get over this anytime soon.
In her heart, Barbara feared he never would.
They'd been back for a month, and Phil wasn't really there.
He was always off in his own world, in a world where Keely existed, lost in the life that time had stolen away from him.
It broke a mother's heart to see him like that.
Taking a shaky breath, Barbara clasped her son's hand in hers, careful not to put pressure on his injured knuckles. "I know this hard for you," she said softly, and found tears starting to slip past her eyelashes despite her efforts to keep them at bay. "I know that you miss Keely and that it's killing you to be away from her..."
Phil squeezed his eyes shut, as if he could block it all out.
"I wish I could bring her back to you, sweetheart," Barbara told him. "I really do."
When she looked at her son now, her grown-up son, it was hard to believe that it had only been six years since their time machine broke.
It felt like it had been a lifetime.
And in a lot of ways, it really had been.
Pim had grown from a bossy little tomboy into a bossy young woman, buffering off some of the harsh edges along the way as she left childhood behind.
It had been Phil who changed the most, though.
Her eldest child had been a touch on the shy side when they first landed in the Pickford of the twenty-first century, uncertain about his place in the world and going through that awkward phase boys wrestled with.
In Pickford, Phil had grown into a man, and he'd built a life for himself.
He'd breezed through his three years of college with grades to make any parent proud, landed an impressive internship that would have led to a cushy job in the computer industry, and found a good woman to make him happy and keep him in line.
What more could a mother want for her son?
But now all of that had been taken away from him, his whole world was gone.
He was broken, and his mother didn't know how to fix him.
Forcing a smile, Barbara leaned over and pressed a kiss to Phil's forehead, brushing hair away from his eyes affectionately. "I love you, sweetheart."
She rose from the bed and was halfway across the room when Phil spoke.
"I have a son."
The statement was spoken in a hoarse, hushed voice, so faint that she almost thought she'd misheard him, but when Barbara turned she knew from the torment on his face that she'd heard right.
"A son?" she echoed flatly.
Phil nodded, pushing himself up to sit against his headboard.
Numbly, Barbara came back to the bed and sat down slowly, staring at him as her brain tried to process that.
"Pim was looking up Debbie and Bradley on the data terminal," Phil explained dully, looking down at his hands as if they could give him some sort of answer. "I... I looked up Keely. I just wanted to... I needed to know that she'd been okay, you know?"
"That's understandable," Barbara said gently.
"And she has a son- had a son," Phil continued in a choked voice. "He was born nine months after we left, and she named him Philip."
Barbara closed her eyes, her heart sinking in her chest.
She didn't need Phil to fill in the blanks, she could put the pieces together just fine on her own.
Phil and Keely had been intimate, she'd never really doubted that, but here was the proof if she'd ever wanted it. That day they left the twenty-first century, a month and a hundred years ago, Keely had been pregnant.
The poor girl had been all alone when she found out.
Oh, Keely, Barbara thought sadly.
"I left her all alone, Mom," Phil rasped, and now he was crying, unable to keep it at bay. "I left them both."
"You didn't know, sweetheart," Barbara told him, wrapping her arms around her son and pressing a kiss to his hair as her own tears slid down her cheeks. "There was no way you could have known."
"She must have hated me," Phil groaned. "Both of them."
"No," Barbara soothed, shaking her head. "No, Phil, Keely could never hate you, you know that. And she would have made sure her son, your son, knew how much you loved them."
The words seemed so bizarre, it was unreal.
She was a grandmother.
Or she had been, or would have been or whatever, it was all so confusing.
Her grandson, if he was still alive, was older than she was!
"I wasn't there for him," Phil croaked. "Keely had my son, and I wasn't there for her when he was born, I wasn't there to teach him to play baseball or to help him with his homework or anything of the things that dads are supposed to do."
What could she possibly say to that, to make him feel better?
Phil was right, he hadn't been there, and even though it wasn't by choice, he'd missed out on his son's entire life.
"He's an old man," Phil said hoarsely, more to himself than to her. "He's old and dying, and I never even knew he existed."
"He's alive?" Barbara asked softly. "You looked him up, too?"
Her son closed his eyes, and a soft sob escaped his lips as he nodded.
"Then you should go see him," Barbara told him. "You don't have to talk to him or tell him anything, just go see him. If he's dying, then this is your only chance to ever look at your son, Phil."
"I can't," he rasped.
"You have to," Barbara whispered, forcing a smile through her tears. "So you can see for yourself that the love you and Keely shared didn't die when we left, Phil."
"I don't even know where to find him," Phil protested dully.
"I'll help you," Barbara promised, leaning her forehead against his. "And if you want, I'll go with you to see him."
"Thank you," Phil murmured.
Barbara hugged him, kissing his cheek. "I'll bring you up some food, you don't have to have dinner with the rest of us."
"Can we not tell Dad and Pim yet...?" Phil asked weakly.
"Whatever you want, sweetheart," Barbara replied, and gave him one last kiss to the cheek. "Get some rest."
She stood up and crossed the room, pausing in the doorway to look back at Phil, who was once more laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling in the dark.
The door slid open and she stepped outside, letting it whoosh closed behind her.
And Barbara leaned back against the door, closing her eyes as it all washed over her, and she choked on a sob, forcing it back so that Phil would not hear. She slid to the floor, her head in her hands, and cried for her family.
For Keely, who'd had to raise a little boy on her own, without Phil there to help her.
For her grandson, who'd never known his father.
And for her son, who she knew she was going to lose forever.
A/N: Sorry about the long absence, guys. Life has been simply chaotic! This chapter didn't turn out quite the way I wanted it to, but that's okay. There are only two or three chapters left in this short story, so I hope to get them finished and posted soon. Thanks for all your patience!