I fell silent as we stepped off the pavement, out of the cold, and into the chip shop. I wrinkled my nose as feeling returned to it, inhaling the delicious smell of salt and vinegar. We crossed the black-and-white-checkered floor between the rows of two booths on each side.
In I way, I think our order of coping chips was to stall the actual coping. Even the much-pierced girl behind the counter must have sensed the discomfort between us.
We took the left booth closest to the counter. A dust bin stood between ours and the one by the door, next to an unused employee door that was the same faded lime green color of the others.
Like a ritual, we each mumbled a comment. “You’re not s’posed to tear the newspaper” was his, as he wedged himself into the farthest corner of the sticky fake leather seat and the plaster wall. “They need ketchup” was mine, as I reached across the waxed fake wood of the tabletop. The chips let up a wisp of steam against my cold fingers.
Finally, I nudged his leg under the tabletop with my foot. “You can start now. ‘Once upon a time, there was a time traveler’?”
Broodily, he pulled his chips closer. “Once upon a time, out of his time, a time traveler fell in love with a princess.”
“Not a real princess?” My eyes widened. What would that make us? And had he just said out of his time?
“She was a real princess, in that she was the sister of the chieftain of a clan in ancient Britannia.” He played with a chip at both ends, folded it, and ate it. He spoke in fitful bursts. “Glaudusa, her name was. I ended up in ancient Britannia too when my time machine more or less crashed in the past.”
“What was wrong with it?” I asked.
“It more or less crashed. There was no smoke or anything,” Dad said somewhat irrelevantly. “When a time machine crashes, it doesn’t fall through the sky.”
“You can’t be suggesting it fell through time.” I put my hands on my face in pretend shock, drawing my mouth into an o.
“A bit cheeky, you.” He smiled back weakly. “The thyme withered and stranded me. I’d neglected it over the years.”
I felt my eyebrows furrow. “Wait, time withers now? It has to be taken care of?”
“Yes, even wild should be gardened. In this case, it was trampled and hailed on. Oh! Not that sort of—never mind, I’ll show you later.” He waved me off. “Anyway, I was scared silly. I couldn’t get her to fly and she hadn’t even landed properly. The entrance just made a cave until you got inside.”
“Like she did? My mum?” I ventured.
He nodded, his old blue eyes going distant. “With the machine out of service, time let me in through the gaps. Gave me a rest on the boardwalk, because I was helpless. And so Glaudusa noticed the cave that hadn’t been there before. I didn’t know that was why, then. All I knew was that, for the first time, someone had walked right into my time machine without so much as a by-your-leave.”
“Ancient Britain… So this was before Jules Verne.”
“Oh yes. She had no concept of time travel except the occasional, ‘I wish I could do that over again.’”
“Which probably ran through her mind when she went into the cave and found you.”
I wished immediately I hadn’t said that. He didn’t speak for another ten seconds.
“Even without the help of time for remembering, she was extraordinary,” he whispered, staring off. “I was strange in every way. Who I was, what I was, and when I should have been were as far out of her cultural experience as… as time travel should’ve been out of mine. Even where we met, this fantastic other dimension filled with the scent of death—”
“What? Death?” I found myself crying. The chip shop seemed to go dead silent and stare at us.
Dad jerked and broke off. “What?”
I gulped. “Never mind. I think you were going to say ‘why’ and ‘how’ next.”
He shook his head. “I must have disconcerted her. I know I did. But Glaudusa took it all in stride with one word: magic. I didn’t mind being her magic.”
I’ll bet you didn’t, I thought. “Out of curiosity… Not saying it’s what caught your attention, necessarily… But what did she look like?”
His eyes filled my vision, sharp with pain. I drew back. “Sorry. I’ll not make you remember.”
“Rhosyn,” he almost choked out, “I can’t forget! That’s not how time works, and—you’re a dead ringer for her.”
I froze without meaning to. I had spent a lot of vain time on my appearance in case someone noticed. But he said that as if he saw beyond into something gorgeous.
“Younger, you are, but she was younger than I was. In her culture, she was an old maid, but as the sister of the leader, she had the right to stay unmarried… Her brother would have kept her that way, the cunning—”
“Sidetrack,” I murmured.
“But, unlike you, she had black hair and blue eyes,” he went on as if he hadn’t interrupted himself.
“My eyes are blue,” I protested automatically.
“Your eyes are blue like mine.” He touched his cheekbone just under the socket with his middle finger. He had papery skin like my aunt’s and ice-blue eyes—like mine. “Her eyes were… Ah.” He crumpled the newspaper and its remaining chip stubs.
“They were bewitching, that’s all. I loved them. Had enough description now?” Those eyes darkened. At first I thought he was angry at me. (I thought that for a long time, actually.) “Dirty black hair! Crystal blue eyes! Slim but energetic! Your face! Done? Eh? Can I stop now?!”
Again, the awkwardness of the chip shop stamped down on me. “Yes, that’s it! Stop now!” I snapped back.
We both sank into our seats, our arms crossed. I recognized the mirror-mannerism for sulkiness and uncrossed my arms again.
My mind wandered as I fidgeted. I peeked at the booth across from ours, where at least one of the other three customers in the shop glared in the direction of our noise. How soon do they forget? Would they notice if we paid or not? We’re out of our times. That puts us in this together, right?
“Sorry—Dad,” I said, just as he said, “Sorry, I owe you—”
We both stopped again.
“I’ve had to deal with this every day of my life,” he tried to explain, rubbing his temples, “but I’ve never had to talk about it. I planned lots to say, but I didn’t count on you.”
“Really, stop it now,” I whispered, my heart breaking. I knew both of us were still angry. How could this not be emotional?
My main emotion swelling was anger.
“What did you tell her, exactly? After she walked in?”
“It didn’t take more than a glance at her outfit to figure she wouldn’t understand time travel. After that, I didn’t tell her anything. She came to her own conclusion right off. She decided I was a lord of the Tylwyth Teg, the Fair Folk. And don’t you laugh!”
I covered my mouth. “But… Fair folk? As in fairies?”
“I prefer the word fae,” he sighed.
“Of course not!” he scoffed. “But how else was I going to explain a storm inside a cave?”
“What’s this about your time cave storming?”
Ignoring me, he continued, “Like any well-bred Celtic princess, she invited the fae lord home for tea.”
“Did Celts have tea?”
“The tea’s a figure of speech. Glaudusa’s still Celtic, though, and the Celts have a long heritage of unerring kindness to Otherworlders.”
“Lucky for you.”
“Yes,” he said, in a way that meant, Maybe. “The time machine was no place to stay even after the storm petered out, so I remained with her clan. I kept going out to look after it, though, because I was desperate not to stay stranded. Surely, I thought, there was some way to fix it! And she helped me—tentatively, at first, because she didn’t want to break anything she didn’t understand and incur my wrath. As if.”
He fell silent a moment, lost in thoughts of her. “I loved sharing the wonder, even though I couldn’t tell her what the machine really was. I’d never met anyone like her and fell deeply in love,” he said simply. He laced his fingers and resting his chin on them, almost as if he was preventing my holding them. “Soon enough I abandoned the time machine, because I thought I no longer needed it. I had never stayed in place very long, and when it got better with everyone remembering me… I thought I could live there, in the past, for good. Love is supposed to be stronger than time.”
His voice broke through its previous measured darkness. “But sometimes things meant to make you stronger—break you. She loved me less than I—well—There has never been anyone else for me.”
I licked my lips. “Did she—forget you?”
He licked his lips. “I mentioned that time had let me slip in through the gaps while the machine was broken? Well, it sort of repaired itself after I abandoned it.”
Something about that sentence smelled fishy, but before I could air my suspicions that he hadn’t told me everything, he said, “The healing happened about as gradually as Glaudusa’s pregnancy.”
My lips parted, but I just pointed at myself. He nodded. “Your mother and I married, but by the time you were born, she couldn’t remember me unless we were face to face. I didn’t know why at first, but I went to the time machine for answers when they started having trouble. When I saw the machine fixed and new, finally the threads connected… I could see why I was fading.”
I could imagine how hard that would be. Did he break down? Did he weep? Did he rage? “Did you try to stop it?”
He took a ragged breath that tried to be deep. “I could have destroyed the time machine. I could have burned it and adopted that time… But I also couldn’t. The time machine was too important.”
One heartbeat. “Your emotional attachment to a machine was stronger than to your wife?” I breathed, clenching my fists.
Another heartbeat. “Could you ruin something so extraordinary?”
I stared into my father’s eyes for what felt like hours of heartbeats. “Every. Time.”
He closed his eyes. “I wish I had, love. All the forgetting culminated at your birth, and I…” He opened his mouth several times, but not a sound escaped. Finally he gasped, “I lost her. I didn’t have the strength to destroy the time machine, so I destroyed something worse.”
The room spun.
“I stole you. At birth.”
My head hurt. I breathed two statements that should have been questions: “What. Why.”
He gripped the edge of the table, not pleading with me, but justifying himself. “I couldn’t bear the idea that you’d be like them—”
“Wait—a—moment,” I said deliberately. “Are you saying that you—took me—out of my time—and made me… like you?” My accusation got quicker and louder. “You know how miserable that life’s been! How could you? To me and to her!”
I couldn’t even imagine what it had been like for my mother, deserted to live ripped from her child.
“I couldn’t lose you too,” he said in a tone at once gentle and hard, soft and rough.
Just so I would remember him? No, no. I straightened, cold all through. “Do you think of anyone but yourself? You have lost me. No matter how many wonderful places you take me, you’ll never really find your daughter. You lost her the moment you let time forget her.”
“I tried,” he nearly snarled at me. I wanted to see him flinch. “I tried everything for you. I came back to the day I found my time machine and gave my baby girl to my sister. Because that day was my time, I knew she’d remember the encounter long enough to raise you.”
“I love Aunt Jess—But you call that raising me?!”
Suddenly, he couldn’t meet my eyes. He started to lay his palm on my cheek, but I hit the back of the seat as if I was subconsciously trying to run away. He shifted to my shoulder, then my elbow. “I’m a coward. I’m sorry that disappoints you; truly I am.”
My screams became silent and roiled inside me instead of blasting his face, because I knew a thing or two about fear. Had I ever reached out to talk to him? Had I told Aunt Jess before yesterday? Had the words my dad ever crossed my lips to Brodie’s ears?
My voice came subdued but without a drop of humor. “I’ve no chance of a normal life now, you know.” You should know. It’s your fault I ran out of time.
“The older you got, the farther out of your time. Sorry. But who wants to think about that when I’ve so much to show you?”
“I can’t believe you,” I muttered. He moved on as fast as if it had been his intention. How callused was he?
“I’ve not done this for so long without figuring things out. And I’ve done it alone—too long. Where do you want to start?”
I met the eyes of my grinning, incredibly lonely father. I wanted to pound my fists against his chest for all the wrong turns he’d made. The ones he hadn’t asked forgiveness for. But I completely agreed with the unexpected words that came out of my mouth.
“Can Brodie come too?”
Does David Watcher’s exposition of his history make sense? Is it overwhelming? Does it flow? Do you see contradictions? What’s missing? How can I better show versus tell?
Most importantly, how do you feel about David Watcher now? What do you think of Rhosyn's reactions?
Please give me all your thoughts on grammar, spelling, word usage, typos, and style. As usual, point out American-isms or opportunities for British-isms. What lines strike you as corny, stupid, or melodramatic? Where does my humor fall flat?