They never moved the clock Rikka put together for them a decade ago. It rested above the fireplace, ticking slower than any clock should. She had assembled the clock herself, and would have stopped and stared at her accomplishment if she were not minutes late.
She hurried into the dining room, slowing her run down to a walk before entering, letting time catch up to its regular speed. The clock began to tick again as it should. The crickets chirping outside no longer sounded slow and distorted. The air around her burst forward, a whoosh of noise that rattled the plates and utensils laid out across the table.
“You would think,” Rikka said, brushing at her hair in an attempt to control it, “I’d be punctual with the power to slow time, and later rather than earlier, I assure you guys I will be.”
Neither her brother nor her mother looked up at her. Had the joke been that bad? She had spent the whole morning coming up with that one. Her brother, Jerad, pushed a piece of chicken through the orange sauce on his plate. Mother sat across from him and looked ready to cry. The joke couldn’t have been that bad, honestly.
“Right,” Rikka said, finding her seat. “Who died in this room?”
Jerad mouthed the word wow. Did he just get the joke? Rikka looked to him with the brightest smile she could manage—it had been ten years since she had seen her brother, and excitement bubbled inside her. How he had grown! They use to see who could skip stones the furthest, and he always complained about how she was bigger. Now he could tower over her.
“Come on,” Rikka said as she reached for a plate. Her mother let out one quiet sob. Tears of joy? “I haven’t seen you guys in ages. Oh, I’m so glad to be back, the stories I have to tell you, I’ve done so much in the past decade you wouldn’t believe. I mean, for the goddesses sake, my team and I have very well saved the world. I saw the Tree of Eternity with my own eyes-”
Chair legs groaned against the wood floors as Jerad pushed himself away from the table. “I can’t do this,” he said, getting up to his feet, “I’m sorry, mom. I told you I couldn’t.”
Jerad stomped off, his plate left disturbed yet untouched. The back door creaked through the house as he stepped outside, and Rikka’s smile faded, the warmth in her chest vanishing. Why didn’t he want to see her?
“What’s his problem?” she asked, looking to her mother who held a cloth up to her eyes. “I would’ve brought souvenirs, really, but I got caught up in things. It was a longer journey than I thought it’d be. On the brighter side of things, mom, you’ve aged really well! You don’t look a day older than when I last saw you.”
That seemed to be the wrong choice of words. Her mother broke into a loud, crying sniffle, then began to stand up from her chair. Rikka slowed down time to a snail’s pace. The clock above the fireplace stopped ticking. Her mother’s speed dropped to a fraction of what it was before. Rikka sighed, put down her fork, and brought one hand to her forehead. Why were they not excited to see her? It had been ten years. She would have thought them to be ecstatic.
What was she missing?
She tapped her fingers against the velvet table cloth, each hit creating pockets of air that would puff out when she set the time back to its normal speed. Her family prepared a meal for her, so they certainly didn’t hate her, and mother had replied to her letter in a very formal way, but that was to be expected. Ever since Rikka could walk on her own, her mother had never been strict, but always…orderly. Make sure everything is cleaned and arranged, but do it when you have the time kind of mother.
Was it because of how she returned?
Rikka shifted her leg restlessly, bumping the table. The momentum would eventually rock the plates. She didn’t leave them on a bad note. Or any note for that matter—she just left a decade when the Tree of Eternity called. Ducked out of her window when the voices became a headache. If either of them held any resentment towards her, she would’ve thought ten years would have washed it away. Leave them excited to see her return.
The Tree of Eternity would have decayed without her, they had to understand that! Nature would have dried up if not for the valiant efforts of her and the others.
Was it because I didn’t write?
She couldn’t. No letters could be sent from the journey no matter how trusted you were. Rikka exhaled, the air thickening in front of her. She had managed to sneak off and send one letter during her time, but now could safely assume they never received it. It had to be the reason they both gave her the cold shoulder. Rikka let time catch up to her.
Pockets of air burst apart like loose foam. Plates and bowls rattled on the table. The clock she had put together began to tick in the main hall, and her mother stood up and dashed off, crying the whole way.
“I tried to write…”
Far too late. She was alone in the room, listening to that damn, ticking clock.
So much for slowing things down. Rikka wandered through the house and to the back door. For a house that had not changed much—all the furniture remained just as she remembered it to be—the backyard now looked like a palace garden. Dozens of yellow and orange flowers blossomed in rows, with the occasional patch of bell shaped, scarlet colored ones that Rikka had never seen before. They emitted a rose colored glow from their core.
Vines crept down the side of a newly built fence. She reached out to touch one, brushing her fingers against the silk like ropes trailing through the loops.
The garden smelled wonderful, a cocktail of scents from fresh rain, to mint, to honey. Dragon flies buzzed through the air as they landed on petals. A fountain carved from stone trickled water down a set of layers, a soothing noise, and Rikka felt as if she could sleep here. The backyard had just been bare ground ten years before—they were lucky if they could grow healthy grass in the perpetual heat.
Her brother sat on a boulder in the midst of the flora.
“Hey, Jera,” Rikka said, moving to sit beside him. “This is quite the greenhouse. Feels like I’m at a palace. Did mom plant these?”
He sighed, reaching out to touch one of the bell shaped plants. Its glow flickered as it shook. “You expected to walk in here,” he said, “after abandoning us with no word for ten years, and have us both be infatuated with you. Do you know I planted all of this?”
Rikka shook her head. She could find no other response within her.
“I was lonely after you left,” Jerad said, “I found it hard to make friends in this village. Most of them wanted to hunt and drink, and I couldn’t relate to them. I liked skipping stones with my sister, and hiking through the forests. You were…my friend, Rikka, and without you, when you left, I thought for the longest time you didn’t want us. That you didn’t like me.”
She slowed down time to where the water of the fountain suspended mid stream, but couldn’t come up with any words for her brother. An apology? That’d be her best bet. She let time catch up and Jerad continued.
“I guess I let that consume me, and I lost that spark of wanting to enjoy life. Didn’t help that mom was the same, wondering if you’ve been kidnapped or if you cut ties with us. She became a wreck on the days it rained. Still is, really. You use to spend those days with her, remember? Now you’re twenty-five, Rikka, and you think you can have everything just as it was the night before you left.”
Older than twenty-five, she thought. She had slowed down several months worth of time, maybe even a year.
“Jera, I’m sorry-”
“I don’t need an apology,” he got up to his feet and brushed himself off, then raised his arms around him. “I spent years working on this garden. Helped me take my mind off you. I found solace in plants, you know? They might leave for the winter, but they’ll always come back with the same shade of colors, and I never have to toil myself wondering why they left. I’m at peace here.”
“Jera,” tears stung at her eyes. Why did she have to go to that damned tree? The voices had been so loud that night! Why her? “I’ll talk to mom, alright? I’ll go right now. I’ll try to fix this.”
“No. Don’t bother. If it were up to me, you wouldn’t be here at all. She put together this dinner for you in hopes you would…apologize. Not come in and act like a child,” Jerad stopped to breathe. “I’m not going to get angry out here. Give her some time, Rikka. She lost her girl and spent ten years trying to overcome it, and now she sees a ghost. Now please, leave my garden.”
Rikka stood up, legs wobbling, and tried to smile to her brother. Ten years. They had skipped stones out by the river ten years ago. She would listen to the rain patter on the window alongside her mother ten years ago. Why did she think everything would be same after a decade? She had left in the midst of night without any word. How could…
She wandered into the living room, where the clock she put together ticked above the fireplace. She had never seen her mother more proud than the day Rikka handed her that clock. Now she moved to sit under it, curling up to wrap her arms around her knees, and slowed the ticking down to a stall.
Rikka rocked from side to side and cried.