Elbows on the tabletop, chin in her hands, Rachel stared off into space, listening to the refrigerator hum. The sound was all pervasive: it took over her neat kitchen with its too white lighting and turned it into something sharp and hard, something dungeon-like. She let her eyes drift closed, knowing she should have been sleeping: she could have been happily dreaming about her happily ever after that, really, would always remain nothing more than a dream, a fairytale of her own inventing.
The fridge was tired, as she was. It whirred loudly, but that wasn't its true voice. It was tired. Maybe she'd tried to keep her eyes open, but they'd fluttered closed anyway. She should have been sleeping, these vibes she was sending out would be disrupting Ella's sleep. She needed to get into bed and hunker down, suck it up, and find sleep.
The refrigerator hummed to her and told her to Go on, git, girly! Bed with you, and, like a zombie, she found her feet, and stumbled away, then back again, to get the light. (Couldn't forget that – that bill. Eash! Gobsmack! My beautiful Earth.)
Ping! said the light, as it retired for the night.
She was no longer listening, just stumbling blindly in the dark. Bed.
Nina couldn't hear the music, she was sitting in her kitchen, eating Maraschino cherries from the jar. Joss Stone didn't do anything for her tonight; the cherries didn't do anything for her. She could barely taste them. She should have put them away; she couldn't bring herself to be fussed. What would Rachel know anyway?
She stood up, pushing the jar away violently; it slid across the bench, tipped over the side, smashed on the floor with jarring clarity. She winced, backing away. What was going on with her, anyway? Nothin', nothin'.
She walked to the living room and stood by the window, staring out at the gallant magnolia so perfect at casting cooling shade in the summer, underneath its leaf-filled branches. She imagined lying under that tree, gazing up at the sky, funny-shaped patches of blue, through the strong branches, verdant green leaves, the breeze playing on her face gently. It was a nice tree. A tree children would love.
She turned away from her daydreamings. It was the middle of the night, for gosh sake! No wonder that boy hadn't said a thing. If he'd been human – and even remotely cared, at all, for the type of person others took him to be – he'd have just died. She'd have done so. Even she wouldn't have stood for that crap. Go and find some other fool for your mad, fool machine. She'd have told them, alright. Dying! Dying! Gimme some proof or take a running leap – off the roof. Crazy digs. I ain't chor Barbie doll. No you cannot dress me up or work it like that. I got some sensibility. I'll get my own baby, thank you. Nick off.
Wasn't though, she reminded herself. Human. Things were different, with them lot. 'Pparently, outvoted, you merely resigned and folded. To her mind, that struck her as crazy. A lot like crazy. Surely they'd done more than simply say so. They'd given him some sort of proof. He wasn't some silly boy, he could think.
What's it to you? she asked, leaving for the kitchen. It wasn't even any of her business. She was just seizing on someone else's concern because she'd rather have pretended her own wasn't real. She had to shake her head and get back to Earth.
Had to clean that mess up, she supposed. She was still waiting for Sam to call. They hadn't gone out – no fancy restaurant for dinner – and they hadn't spoken, they hadn't even fought. She hoped he picked up the phone soon. She didn't like to cry but she felt it coming on. She needed a comforting voice to lend a helping hand.
Kneeling on the floor in her expensive, top-of-the-range kitchen, Nina forgot about the broken glass and sloppy, gooey cherry mess and just cried.
How she'd got from there to here, she couldn't say, but the tears were still on her cheeks and she was banging on the door, the middle of the night, like some crazy woman. "Sam, open the door! Please let me explain. Whatever you think I did, just let me explain. Sam!"
Her cell phone jingled and she was momentarily distracted, wondering who it could be leaving her messages at this hour. Did she even care? She checked the message anyway. It was from Sam: I'm sorry, it said.
"I didn't know!" she said, through the door. "Please, just open the door!" Her eyes were too wide and her legs were so, so tired. Sam wasn't like this, this wasn't him. He'd have heard her out, at least.
"Lady, get lost!"
She snapped out of her trance abruptly to see someone she'd never met before standing in the door. "I need to talk to Sam," she told the woman.
"Oh, for God sake! Lady, there ain't no Sam here. You'll be wanting the last one that was here. I live here now – Sam, whoever, he went bye-bye. This is my place now. Please stop banging on my door at all hours of the morning, grandma." The young woman waved, "Bye-bye," and pulled the door closed with a bang.
Sam frowned at her daddy but he wasn't looking at her, he looked upset. He felt upset. He looked at her suddenly and saw her wide, worried eyes, talking to her quietly in Portuguese. She didn't know what he was saying but it didn't matter what he was saying, she read his emotions perfectly clearly. He was trying to reassure her. "Olive?" she asked quietly, looking around her suddenly. It was Olive's third birthday, but Olive was nowhere to be seen. "Where Olive?"
The sound of clicking heels signalled the arrival of her mommy and she looked around quickly. "Where Olive?" she asked her mom.
"Sam, I can't find her!" Mommy wasn't talking to her, her eyes were wide and scared, locked with Daddy's. Mommy leant down and kissed the top of her head. "Hey, baby!" she whispered.
Sam frowned. "Where Olive, Mommy?"
Her mother started to cry. Daddy didn't hug her; he was holding Sam and he didn't want to drop her.
Rachel's eyes snapped open and she stared up at the ceiling with too wide eyes. A shiver passed over her. She didn't want to remember that. It wasn't true. It was just a crazy dream.
Olive frowned at the woman. She was dressed in the right clothes, but she wasn't the right woman. She didn't work at her playgroup at all. A spike of fear quickened her breath and she spun around. She had to run, she had to get away from this woman. She ran for the door but the woman was quicker. She struggled, but she was so tired. And then her eyes closed and everything went black.
This wasn't the birthday surprise she'd been looking forward to.
"I'm so sorry, ma'am," a woman was telling Sam's mommy, but Sam was more interested in the people in uniforms. They looked serious. Very serious. She had a bad feeling in her stomach. Something had happened to Olive, she just knew it. Something bad.
"Ms. Sharp, we're doing the best we can. Believe me, we'll do everything in our power to find your daughter and bring her home safely. Now, if there's anything – anything at all – that you can remember that you think might assist us in our investigation-"
Nina shook her head, no longer hearing the man. She just couldn't believe that. She couldn't believe her baby was coming back, no matter how hard she wanted to. Olive was gone, she could feel it.
She looked over at her family, Sam and Sam Jr, her eyes full of tears. She didn't want to cry in front of them, but she couldn't help it. Her baby was missing, who knew who had her, and what they were doing to her, how they were hurting her!
Nina looked around suddenly, seeing that Phillip had arrived.
Sam frowned, wondering why her mommy was hugging this person she didn't know. Was he going to help find Olive and bring her home, like the other man had told Mommy? She hoped so.
The man's eyes caught hers and she saw she'd been wrong. She knew this person, he had been to her house before. She hadn't recognised him because he felt different today: he was at work today. She should have picked up on the subtle similarities, but she'd been thinking about Olive instead.
Suddenly, Sam didn't think Olive would be coming home. Mommy's friend had come to tell her some bad news. The people who had taken Olive had left Mommy a note. They said she had taken their daughter away from them, so they'd taken one of hers, and then they'd said "goodbye". They were going to see their daughter now, and they'd be bringing her a friend.
Sam started to take deep, panicked breaths. She couldn't believe it. Olive couldn't be dead! It just wasn't true. Her Olive was fine! She was coming back home. She had to!
Someone in a uniform was saying, "For all intents and purposes, I think we have to assume-" Sam zoned them out. She didn't care about insects and porpoises. Olive knew how to swim. She wasn't even scared of bugs.
Daddy was talking to her again, trying to calm her down, hugging her, but she didn't notice. Mommy was crying again and Sam wished he'd hug her instead.
Daddy was singing her favourite song quietly, "Spanish Eyes", but all she could think about was Mommy, crying alone – her friend was talking to someone else now – and Olive, lost somewhere, drowning under the weight of too much water.
"I'm sorry," Daddy said.
When the woman came for Sam, she wasn't afraid. She knew she was going to take her to Olive and everything would be okay. Olive would be so happy to see her. They'd hug and maybe Olive would cry a bit, but she'd still be happy, and then they'd call Mommy and Daddy and they'd come and pick them up. Sam had memorised the number. It had taken some doing, but she'd finally got it memorised. She'd never forget it. Ever.
Everything would be okay.
She put a smile on her face and took the woman's hand, knowing she'd be going to see her sister now.
The woman was sick. Her baby, Rachel, had died because she'd been sick too. Sam knew why Marilyn was sick. She'd travelled through time; she'd taken Olive, then she'd come back, to take her. Marilyn and her new husband kept trying to tell her she was Rachel, but she knew she wasn't. They had Olive fooled – they'd even done something to her hair to make her look more like them, it had used to be red, but they'd done something to it and now it was blonde, like Marilyn's – but Sam wouldn't let them fool her. She knew who she was. She'd play along with them, so they wouldn't suspect she knew, she remembered, but she wouldn't forget. Not ever. Olive was hers, not theirs. They'd stolen her, just like they'd stole her, but one day, they would be going home. One day, Olive would know the truth.
Marilyn was going to die. Sam knew it, Marilyn's husband knew it. He hated Olive for making his wife sick. Olive hadn't gotten sick, but Marilyn had. Olive hadn't died, but his Rachel had. He would never ever forgive Olive for that. Ever. This was all because of her, because of Mari's damn mission!
He would never forgive her!
Sam didn't like him. She knew he resented her, too. She wasn't his daughter. She wasn't his Rachel. She was an imposter.
Unlike her husband, Marilyn liked her. Marilyn sometimes forgot that she wasn't her Rachel and her husband got angry about that, but Sam didn't say anything. She just let the woman think she was Rachel. She was dying, it wouldn't be nice of her to make life harder for her when she needed to get better, to concentrate on the good things in life that she wanted to hang on to.
But Marilyn wouldn't get better. Olive would be devastated. Sam didn't know what to do. She'd have to wait and see what happened when the time came.
She'd tried to talk to Olive, to get her to call the number so their parents could come, but Olive called her Rachel and looked at her like she really was Rachel. Olive didn't understand. She'd forgotten. She looked at Sam and saw some little baby, someone to be protected and loved, but not to be taken seriously. Sam was too young to know about the bad things in the world and Olive didn't want her thinking that way. She was just playing some game, Olive told herself. She was very adorable. Sam was scared. She wanted to tell Olive the truth, but what if Olive didn't believe her? What if she told Marilyn and her husband?
She told herself she would remember – when she was older, she would call their parents herself – but each time she closed her eyes, the memories slipped a little farther away; they became strange and foreign, and that made Sam cry, but sometimes she didn't even know why she was crying – she couldn't remember.
When her hair started to change, when the brown in it turned into blonde, she didn't even think anything of it. It never occurred to her that perhaps it had been her trip through time, and that was why Marilyn's hair was so blonde. It was okay that her hair was blonde because her mommy's was too.
Rachel sat up in the dark, reaching for her cell phone on the bedside table, and punched in the number she'd swore she'd never forget, but somehow had, anyway. She listened to the phone ringing, her heart thudding loudly with dread. The number was real, her carrier hadn't popped up with a message to let her know the number she'd dialled didn't exist.
"Yes?" The voice on the other end sounded tearful and hopeless.
Rachel quickly pressed the End Call button, shaking too much. She knew whose phone number that was – and it was real!
Sam stared at the photograph he was holding. It showed a young woman and a child, a little boy. That was the only picture he had of his mother. Her name had been Ella.
He knew what had to happen – what was going to happen – and as much as he knew it was unavoidable, that he couldn't run away from it, he knew he still had a choice. He could run away and ruin everything, or he could stay and ruin everything anyway, ruin everything that would ever matter to him. If he ran away now, Rachel would never be born and Olivia might never be taken, but then where would the world be? Where would the universe be? The world needed Olivia and Rachel and it didn't really matter that Nina or he were their parents, that he was their father, because, to the universe, if you were in it, you were fair game. Nobody was exempt, nobody got to take someone else's place, and parents could only protect their children so far.
He didn't want his kids to be taken away, to be abducted by some strangers, to be tortured and hurt, but he knew he couldn't outrun this thing. He had to do the right thing, even if it meant doing the wrong thing. He took a deep breath and promised himself he wouldn't tell Nina. No matter what, he wouldn't tell her. He didn't want this choice to be on her. It was on him and him alone.
He heard Nina put the phone down in the other room and walk into the room and switch the light on. He'd put his photo away and stood up now.
Nina froze, for just a second, and then she ran over and threw her arms around him.