Something looked odd when the cab pulled up in front of our house, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. We’d just gotten back from that cruise; the one that had been cut short three days because of the fire on board. The company had given us a choice of conciliatory offers; we chose the 50% off your next cruise option, and changed our flights to get home early.
The driver and I had just finished getting all the luggage out of the cab when Trisha ran up looking concerned. “Martin, the door’s open.”
“I didn’t open it. It was open when I got there.”
I set down the camera bag and looked at the house. From home to horror in five seconds; a new record. There was nothing I could think of in our luggage that would make a good weapon, so I carefully advanced on the door. Pushing it open quietly, I stepped inside.
I took the walking stick out of the umbrella stand by the door. It was made of stout oak and about four feet long. We’d inherited the damned thing when Trisha’s father died; I’d wanted to sell it but she decided otherwise. Now I was happy to have it.
“Hello?” I didn’t want to surprise the intruder; hopefully, they’d get scared and run when they found out someone was home. “Who’s there?”
A girl, about fourteen, came out of the kitchen. Her jaw dropped and her eyes opened wide. She was almost as tall as Trisha and looked a lot like her in many ways. Of course Trisha was older and didn’t have an offset Mohawk that hung down one side, nor did she have a half-dozen studs in one ear, black eye shadow, or a small ring in her nose. She also wouldn’t be caught dead in a sheer black tee that you could see her bra through or uneven cut-off jeans that looked worn enough that Levi Strauss might have sewed them personally.
“Dad? What are you doing here?”
“This is my house! Who are you, and why are you calling me Dad?”
A look of dawning horror crossed her face. “Feek! You’re home early!” She bolted past me and up the stairs.
I gave chase, and caught her in the doorway of our bedroom. Past her I could see that our bedroom was in use; clothes were strewn everywhere and dirty dishes abounded. There was a laptop sitting in the center of our unmade bed.
“Okay, young lady, explain to me why I shouldn’t call the police.”
“Come on Dad! It’s me, TJ! Where’s Mom? She can sort this out!”
I had no idea what this girl was playing at, but she might as well have an audience of two. I held on to her shoulder as we walked back downstairs so she wouldn’t bolt. Trish was waiting by the door.
“Trish, do you know this girl?”
“She looks like my niece Sandra.”
“I’m not cousin Sandra, Mom, I’m me. TJ, your daughter!”
“I think I’d remember having a daughter, young lady.”
“You haven’t had me yet. Look, maybe we can go into the living room and sit down and I can explain everything.”
My wife took charge. “This should be interesting. Okay, young lady, into the living room. Martin, you get the bags; we don’t want them stolen off our driveway.” I did as I was told while Trisha got things arranged in the living room. Before too long it was time for a family meeting, plus one.
“Okay. TJ, was it? Martin and I are ready to hear your story.”
“There’s not much to it, really. I’m from the year 2029; that means I’ll be born next year. I have a book report due tomorrow – my tomorrow – and I needed a time out to get it done. So I looked through your vacation pictures and found out about the cruise you’re supposed to be on. Then I came back to use the empty house for a quiet place to work. But you guys got home early.”
“You travelled through time to get here?” Either this kid was crazy or the world was. I was still betting on it being her.
“Yes, I travelled back through time. Time is meaningless in the Foam. It’s your presence that matters. That’s why I had to come back to before I was conceived.”
“Well, what happens if we decide not to have you now?”
“The bubble splits; there’ll be two parallel worlds for a while, until one or the other doesn’t matter anymore. I’m guessing it’ll be the one where I don’t exist, since otherwise I wouldn’t be able to come here.”
Mind-bending. Apparently she’d spent some time thinking about this. “Suppose we want to believe you. How can you prove it? Who wins the World Series this year?”
“I don’t know, I don’t follow baseball from before I was born. How about this: when you call in to work they’ll tell you a new girl started in Accounting today. Her name is Liz, and she’s going to come on to you. You turn her down, but the event reignites the spark between you and Mom, and I’m born a little over a year later.”
Trisha seemed to be thinking; after a moment she spoke. “Okay, TJ, we’ll go along with your story on three conditions. One: Martin, you call work and find out if anybody new started while you were gone.”
I called and talked to my co-worker Bill. Before I could even ask he started gushing about a hot girl named Elizabeth in Accounts. Close enough; I thanked him and said I’d be in on Monday.
“Assuming ‘Elizabeth’ is Liz, that’s one right.” TJ looked smug.
Trisha continued. “Two: what does ‘TJ’ stand for?”
“Patricia Jean. I’m named after you, Mom, and your sister who was stillborn.”
Trisha turned gray, but marshalled up the last question. “Three: what book are you reading?”
“Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. We have to write a spin-off story about one of the other characters; I chose Adele.”
I tuned out at that point and went to clean up our bedroom. When Trisha got into that mood I couldn’t win, and she was a total sucker for nineteenth-century romances. Even if the kid’s story was total BS, she’d won my wife over, and I knew better than to argue.
TJ ended up staying in our guest room for almost a week, and was actually a fairly nice kid. She was cluttered, but did clean up after herself when prompted. She finished her story about Adele running off to Italy to find her mum, and she was dead on about Liz. By the time she left I was a bit sad to see her go, but also anxious to spend some “quality alone time” with Trisha.