You have a child and you have written one piece of advice that will be carried in their pocket for life. What is that advice?
I messed up a lot growing up. I ran with a rough crowd. You know the type, always getting into fights, stealing things, drinking and smoking even though most of us were underage. We pawned the things we stole for cash to pay for our vices and we’d beat anyone who looked at us crosswise.
We were just dumb kids. Outcasts. Freaks. None of us belonged anywhere except with each other. Manny was the oldest. He came from a large family with too many mouths to feed. He had moved out to ease the burden on his mother, but finding a job wasn’t easy for a young Latino boy with one hand.
Jordan had been thrown out of his home. His family couldn’t accept him as he knew himself. Their beautiful daughter had been possessed by a demon and was no longer welcome among them, but he found a new home with the rest of us.
Hannah had run away after being the target of a lustful older brother for years. We didn’t know if her muteness was a result of her trauma or if she had been born that way, but Trisha recognized her sign language and had understood that much.
Trish’s story changed with her moods. She was an heiress on the run to avoid marrying another rich man’s pretentious offspring. She was a political refugee fleeing a mad tyrant overseas. She was an undercover agent working a missing person’s case that centered on abandoned kids. She was the Holy Mother reborn to bring about the salvation of humanity.
Whatever else she was, she was certainly our mother. She and Manny kept us safe, made sure we had adequate food, and knew how to defend ourselves. She was the one who insisted I join their strange little family.
My mother died when I was eight. I had never known my father. She had no other family, so I was placed with a foster family. I never really adjusted. Childless parents weren’t able to connect with me. Those with kids my age ostracized me. It was like they could sense that I was strange, an oddity, not to be trusted.
I bounced from family to family for seven years. The older I got, the less I cared. The only thing that gave me any life was riding my skateboard through the old part of town. I felt more connected with the crumbling foundations and broken windows of buildings from a time long past than I did with anything in the present.
Trisha and her brood had been squatting in the old theater one of the days I had gone exploring. A week later I left my foster family and joined them. No one really cared about missing orphans. In another week, the family I had run away from would have another foster to bring them their welfare checks. These other kids, these beautiful people were my family, where I belonged.
Others came and went. Killian, scared of change, who had a loving family that searched night and day for him after he ran away. Jenna, who drank too much and fell in love with a man who promised to give her the world before they both disappeared. Lily, who always had a con to get rich and would come and go as her plans fell away every time.
All of them were temporary, though sometimes they overlapped. That was just the way it was on the streets of Oldtown. Aside from my family, I didn’t pay much mind to the others. Until Anna.
Anna, like Killian, didn’t belong with the rest of us. She had a family, a future. She wasn’t a runaway. She wasn’t an outcast. And yet…
She laughed with us. She brought us food and clothes and always made sure we had a roof to sleep under. She spent time getting to know us. She would sometimes even spend the night with us.
Anna brought out the best in us. She understood us, each of us, at our core. I believed I could trust her with anything, everything. Even my secret, the one I had never told anyone, not even my beloved family. Anna could bear it. It wouldn’t surprise or unnerve her. I knew it.
We were out wandering Oldtown, Anna and I. It was foolish for us to have been out alone, but I savored being alone with her. When her smile was for me alone, and I didn’t have to share it with the others. For all the peace and happiness I experienced with my family, I’d forgotten there were so many who hated us.
“Yo Raelynn, that your girlfriend?” a gravelly voice called from across the street. Ivan. My body stiffened as I realized he wasn’t alone. Tomas, Wendell, and Guy, his own personal Three Stooges, stalked closely behind him, cracking knuckles as they crossed the empty road.
I stepped in front of Anna. I wouldn’t let them lay a hand on her. My stomach knotted as I calculated my chances against the four of them. Not great. Not if I was going to keep them off of Anna too. “When I move, you need to get back to the others,” I said quietly so as not to let my voice carry towards my approaching opponents.
“And leave you?” her soft reply was incredulous. “Our odds are better if I stay, aren’t they?”
I could have laughed, but I was halted by the arrival of our unwelcome guests. “My, my, if it isn’t the mayor’s daughter,” Ivan sneered at her. “What are you doing hanging around this bitch?” He jerked his thumb in my direction.
“Rae is my friend,” she declared with all the authority she could muster. “And you are trespassing on private property.”
I bit my tongue, but Ivan spoke the words I refused to say. “Technically, so are you.” His goons laughed uproariously.
Anna sniffed. She had no fear. “I’m here on city business. You need to leave before I contact the proper authorities.” Idiot.
Wendell started forward but Ivan threw an arm out to halt him. His face was ice. “Interesting. I, too, have business here.” He turned that frozen glare on me. “With our fair-haired tomboy here.”
“Anna, I can handle this,” I said more bravely than I felt, keeping my gaze locked with his. “Go on back. I won’t be long.”
“Go!” I shouted, dropping to the ground to sweep Ivan’s feet from underneath him. This was not a fight I could avoid. I could only hope to buy enough time for Anna to get a head start back to our family. Maybe Manny and Jordan could return in time to help me.
Ivan fell on his back as Tomas and Guy lunged for me. I’m much smaller than they are, and easily rolled to avoid them. Wendell moved in behind and grabbed me by the shoulders while Ivan struggled to his feet, rubbing the back of his head.
My upper body immobilized, I jumped off the sidewalk and kicked behind me as hard as I could. My foot connected with his stomach and he dropped me. Once again I just had time to roll away from Tomas and Guy. The three collided with each other and fell in a crumpled heap.
Before I had time to gloat, a loud crack rang through the air. I spun and saw Anna, fifty feet up the sidewalk, jerk in the air and fall on her face. Time slowed and I looked back at Ivan. Furious satisfaction adorned his face as he stared down the gleaming silver barrel in his hand.
He turned to look back at me. “For Tonya,” he growled. I blinked and my knife was protruding from his neck, the fury in his eyes replaced with surprise as he sputtered and fell to the ground. His bodyguards scrambled to their feet and rushed to his aid, but I was already on top of him, his gun in my hand. Three loud cracks and they crumpled as Anna had.
Time returned to half speed. I ran to her, swimming through the air like in a dream. I prayed Ivan had missed. She didn’t deserve this.
Her breathing was shallow. The hole in her blouse was damp and dark. “Sorry,” she whispered, gripping my hand tightly.
I tried to make out her face through the tears, but she was a blur. “It wasn’t your fault” I choked out. “It should have been me.”
Anna shook her head slowly. “I shouldn’t have… threatened him,” she managed. Idiot. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing now. “That’s such a pretty thing,” she whispered. “Your pendant.”
I gripped it tightly in my free hand. Of course. The clock-shaped locket my mother had left me. The note inside.
You only get one do-over. Make it count.
I stared wide-eyed at Anna as I thought of my family, waiting for us. Of Ivan and his gang, of Tonya. I could fix it.
I smiled and leaned close to her, pressing my forehead against hers. “Can you keep a secret?” Weakly, she nodded. I had to do it soon. I couldn’t watch her suffer any longer.
I carried her to the inside edge of the sidewalk and propped her up against the old boarded up pharmacy. She grunted in protest at being moved, but I distracted her with a quick kiss and stood in front of her. “Watch closely now,” I announced, taking the locket off and dangling it in front of me. “The truth is, I have a small measure of control over Time. I’m going to change the past.”
Anna’s eyes widened as though she thought I was playing a prank. I understood. It wasn’t something I did lightly. She wouldn’t remember it anyway. I only got one re-do. Maybe it was foolish to do at eighteen. There might be a more worthy moment later in life. But for her, for my family, I would do it now. “We’ll meet again, properly next time,” I said, still smiling. And I spun the gears of my personal clock.
Notes: This idea came to me while driving home. The advice bit “You only get one do-over, make it count” was what occurred to me. I wondered how to incorporate it into a story and decided a time traveler type would be best. I had an old character with vague time-related powers so I used her. Raelynn wasn’t originally a delinquent, just an orphan, but it worked for the story. She might come back again. Hers is a story I’ve always wondered about. Aside from her affinity for old ruins, skateboarding, and a habit of losing track of time I don’t know much about her.
Anyway, that’s all for tonight! We’re halfway through the week! We can do it! Have a great day!