My new neighbor was a time traveler. I could feel it every day when I passed him on my jog. The air around him vibrated softly with the energy left over from being thrown outside of his normal time. I wouldn’t have noticed it, except the vibration made the stump of my leg chafe inside its prosthetic.
It was an ache I’d grown familiar with during the war in China. When I’d lost my leg, the army assigned me to re-con with the time traveler spies. They came forward from the past to hear what the enemy was doing in our present. They then returned and planned accordingly. Their changes to the timeline never made any difference in my present. Scientists explained it by saying they created a parallel Earth when the past changed. So you could go back in time and kill Hitler, but that wouldn’t change anything in this world.
But that didn’t explain what this time traveler was doing here, now. I hadn’t heard that the tech had been released to civilians yet. Cale was young and his crew cut belonged in the military, but our suburb was far from anything of interest to military spies. A rich corporation perhaps? But he wasn’t going to find secrets in the sandwich shop where he worked.
My husband told me to leave him to his own business. Still, I couldn’t help watching him during the neighborhood barbecue as I helped my three kids with their food. Always standing near the edge, as if unsure whether he belonged. Finally, the kids finished and ran to play with their friends. Now I could eat my cold burger while I figured out how to pull information out of Cale. I’d just taken a bite when Cale started moving directly towards me. My stump ached as he paused by the chair vacated by my daughter. “Mind if I join you?” he asked.
I glanced at my husband by the grill, but he was deep in conversation. “Go ahead.” Well, that solved issue one, how to start a conversation.
“Thanks.” Cale dropped into the lawn chair. “I’ve been wanting to ask, how do you manage, having only one leg and all?”
I shrugged. “It’s not that hard. With this prosthetic, I can do pretty much everything I used to do with two legs.”
“Did you always feel that way?” He fixed his eyes on me, hands tight against the table. He hadn’t touched his food.
I chewed slowly, so I wouldn’t have to answer right away. Most people just congratulated me on adjusting to my disability so well. That was fine, as I didn’t like explaining all the effort my recovery had taken. Most people didn’t like to hear how depressed I had been. “Why do you ask?”
Cale hesitated, then pulled up his pant leg. Around his knee, there was a line, like he was wearing knee length, skin colored boots. It was an impressive covering for a prosthetic, even if the lack of hair still gave it away.
No wonder I hadn’t ever seen him in shorts. The tenseness in my muscles faded away in empathy. “How did you lose it?”
“On tour in China five years ago.”
I raised an eyebrow. That was where and when I had lost my leg. I leaned forward. “Is that really where you lost your leg, or is it just a story to cover up your time travel?”
He glanced down, ears reddening. “It’s that obvious?”
I smiled. “Only because I used to work with time travelers. So, when did you really lose it?”
That was over 50 years from now. “Wait, you’re from the future?”
“So, have you figured out a way to return to your world despite changes made in the timeline?”
“We have, though I’m told it makes the journey back much more painful.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
Cale sighed and picked at his potato salad. “I’ve been having a real hard time since the amputation. Mom said you were always happy with yours. I wanted some advice, since you aren’t around anymore.”
I gaped at him. I wasn’t around, was I dead then? And if I knew his mother… I studied his face. Now that I knew to look, I did see some family resemblance. “Which of my daughters is your mom?”
“Gemma.” He looked to the street, where Gemma was riding her tricycle with the other kids.
I looked down at my plate. I would have opened up anyway for a fellow amputee. But for my grandson, it felt like I’d failed him if he needed to travel across time to talk to me. I turned my left arm over, showing the curving scar on the inside of my forearm. “I wasn’t always happy. When I was recovering, I attempted suicide.”
Cale stared at the scar, then into my eyes. “How did I not know that?”
I folded my hands together. “I hadn’t really planned on telling the kids about it. I wanted them to remember me as happy rather than as someone who could barely respond to their needs.”
He looked down. My throat felt thick. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but it had made Cale feel like he had to live up to an impossibility. At least he’d reached out, instead of succumbing to despair like I almost had. I leaned over and took his hand. “Come over tonight. The kids will be in bed by eight. We’ll have a long talk.”
He nodded. “Thanks.”
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