Time travel, they called it. It took a while to get used to.
I couldn’t change anything from the past. Dr. Miller said that was good- no pesky Butterfly Effect ruining the world- but it seemed like a cruel joke to me. Dr. Miller assured me that anything could happen if even something small changed in the past. Trust her, it was better this way.
The first time I went back I was alone in the lab. Dr. Miller and her team of scientists were watching from behind the cameras peppered throughout the room, recording me from every possible angle.
“Okay, May,” her eager voice said over the high-tech earpiece she’d given me. Her excitement buzzed in the air. “Show us.”
I closed my eyes. Go back, all the way back to first grade, seven years ago. March third. Travel through space. Zero in on the closet in my room, eight o’clock AM. A tingle swept through my body.
But I didn’t move.
I kept my eyes shut. “Dr. Miller, it’s not working.”
“May,” she breathed, her voice husky with awe. “Open your eyes.”
I saw nothing. It was dark and quiet. Then I heard it-
Running water. A high-pitched voice. “Ryan, hurry up! I need to brush my teeth!”
I staggered back in shock, bumping up against the wall and something soft. I felt it. A ski jacket, one I remembered.
“Mom! Ryan’s taking too long!”
Tears sprang to my eyes at the sound of the next voice. “Ryan, let May use the bathroom. You’ve been in there too long.”
Dr. Miller whispered in my ear. “May, you’ve done it. All the work we’ve done, everything it took- you’ve finally done it. Where are you?”
A minute passed. “May? Where are you?”
She realized after another bout of silence. “Oh, May.” She sounded sad. “You can’t change anything. You know that.”
I pushed open the closet door. Dr. Miller must have heard the creak, because now panic had crept into her words. “May? What are you doing?”
The sound of the pipes shut off. “Hurry up!” first-grade me yelled, banging on the door.
“Geez, chill out, May! I’m coming!” The words were muffled through the door, but unmistakably Ryan’s. He opened the bathroom door. Heat and humid mist wafted into the hallway.
“Great, you probably used all the hot water.” The door slammed. I knew Ryan was walking to his room now, his back to my room’s door. If I could just see him…
I crept out of the closet, despite Dr. Miller’s worried voice urging me to stay where I was. It was strange seeing my old room, like a ghost of me had left tracks all over a space I’d thought was familiar. It was, just not exactly how I had remembered. The small details, like the paint that peeled in the corners, or the way the carpet felt, had somehow escaped my memory.
My bed was small and pink. The windows had decals stuck on them, trinkets from a birthday party goody bag. There was my old alarm clock with the cartoon characters. My hand ghosted over my comforter, almost afraid to touch it.
I lightly tapped open the door. I was just in time to see Ryan right before he closed his door. Waves of emotions slammed through me. My brother, Ryan. My last view of him flashed before my eyes, fear on his face, fierce love in his eyes as he unbuckled his seatbelt and threw himself in front of me. I remembered his body crashing into mine, breaking my finger and saving my life. My finger still hung oddly, a wonky digit compared to my others. It never fully healed. It was a constant reminder of his sacrifice. I remembered later, feeling dazed as they pulled him off me. He was completely still. Blood dripped from the windshield glass that punctured his back.
“May! Listen to me. You need to leave. Now.” I’d almost forgotten Dr. Miller. “I know it hurts, honey. But you have to come back.”
I thought about the lab. How they nurtured my abilities, how the scientists had become my friends. Dr. Miller- my foster mom- loved me. I knew that. But she could never heal me.
My dead mother called from downstairs, “May! Skip the shower, we’re running late! Let’s go!”
I quickly retreated under the bed. Little May stomped into her room, wrapped in a towel and completely dry. She threw open the closet doors. I watched as she grabbed a dress and pulled it over her head, then ran downstairs, grumbling about Ryan’s stupid shower.
The girl was foolish. It seemed like a cliché lesson, but it was the truth: she didn’t realize how good she had it. How much she was loved. She didn’t even know how much she loved.
But she’d realize soon. Too soon.
Dr. Miller pleaded with me to return until I finally turned off the earpiece. In the silence I was able to focus on a time and place where I was needed. I closed my eyes. Go forward three months, four days, in apartment 3G, Maryland Heights Apartments. Zero in on the hallway. Nine o’clock AM.
A little girl sits on the bed. She has Kleenex next to her, shredding tissue after tissue, making a pile of snowy scraps on the comforter. She is supposed to be at school. Instead, she’s alone in the new apartment.
Someone knocks on her door, making her jump. She leaps up, already apologizing. “Dr. Miller, I’m sorry. I just really didn’t want to go to school today-” but it’s not her. It’s a girl she recognizes. She can’t quite place her, though.
The girl gives her a small grin. “Hi, May.”
“Hi. Did Dr. Miller send you?”
The girl shakes her head. “No one sent me. I came to see you.”
“I didn’t hear you open the door.”
“I didn’t need the door.”
May sits down again and ponders that a moment.
“Do you know Dr. Miller?”
“Yeah. She and I go way back.” The girl pauses. “Or something like that.” She smiles at May again. “I’m here because I need to help you. I’m not from here. This is something I have to do to heal.”
“What do you mean, heal?”
“I had people who wanted to help me. But they couldn’t. They didn’t understand me, and I understand you. I want to help you heal.” She sits down next to May.
May looks down. “I don’t need help.”
“Yes, May, you do. Trust me.”
This cuts through to May, though she doesn’t know why. She looks up at the girl.
“How did you get in? Dr. Miller says I have special powers, but I don’t know what she means. Do you have special powers?”
The girl nods. “Yep. Are you excited to find yours?”
“I don’t know.”
“I know it’s strange. But I won’t let you be alone.”
May leans into the girl. “Really?”
She feels the girl’s arm around her. “Really.”
“Why are you doing this for me?”
“Because this- someone who knows what I need- that’s all I wanted. That’s all I ever wanted.”
The girl hesitates. When she speaks, it sounds like she’s swallowing tears. “Don’t thank me. Thank yourself.”