A Strange Day in July
AN: Inspired by the Harris Burdick picture, 'A Strange Day in July'. Subject to editing, as I'm not completely finished tweaking it. It isn't beta'd but I'd be overjoyed if someone would volunteer.
"Saw the Anderson's today. You remember the twins?" His wife made a vague noise of recognition. "Well, they were acting a bit odd." She perked up at this, always happy for a little gossip. "Hid off in the bookstore while I was talking' to their mother; Honestly, they're only seven."
"They can read?" she tried to sound disinterested, but failed rather miserably. Her husband grinned and continued, happy to have her attention.
"Apparently-- though Elizabeth denies it. She says they like the pictures." He scoffed, "I heard from Ms. Sanders--did you hear she's working at the bookstore now? -- That they were 'looking at the pictures' in a screenplay from Mr. Wilde-- heathen he was..." He gave her a scandalized look.
"Children exposed to such vulgarity!" She huffed, as if they'd personally offended her with their reading material, "An outrage; and in a quiet little town like this you'd think people would have some sense of decency. Books of those sort shouldn't be kept in shops where little children could get hold of them," She clucked her tongue a few times and shook her head.
Nodding sadly, Mr. Johnson stood up from the dinner table and sighed, "Time for bed, I've got an early morning tomorrow. Night hon'."
She smiled and stood to wash up. The sky had grown dark outside the small window. Yawning, she turned and added to his back, "I'll be up soon; have a g'night, lov'." As she walked to the sink she noticed the date on the quaint little calendar, July 12, 1907.
"Little ones. Wake up." A soft voice broke through the silence of the room, the singsong tone one often used toward youths. "We have a big day ahead of us." In the room sat a bunk bed, in the bunk bed laid two children-- a boy and a girl. The boy lay on the bottom with golden hair cut short. The girl lay on the top head mostly covered by blankets, flaxen curls spilling from under her bedding. Both were dressed in childish pajamas. Neither seemed enthused about waking up.
The boy's eyes fluttered open and an odd, cross expression flitted across his face. He smothered it and put into place a veneer of childish innocence. The girl simply lifted her pillow and tried to drown out the voice, groaning. The pillow failed to cover her unmanageable curls.
"Mother," a yawn broke his speech, "Cathy is sick." Cathy groaned in agreement from above, "I'm afraid you'll have to go about your day alone, we'll be fine here." The boy, no older than eight spoke with an odd eloquence for his age.
"I'm not sure, you two are awful young. Can you handle it?" She appeared confused and leaned back slightly.
"What on earth could we harm ourselves with here? I'm capable of making sandwiches on my own. Cathy only has a cold, but it'd be easier to just stay home today. Don't feel inconvenienced, though. Go on into town. The Nanny will arrive in just a few hours, anyways." It was quickly delivered and felt more like a script than an honest conversation. His mother didn't notice, however, and looked dazed.
"You'll be all right here alone?" After a few more whispered assurances, she stood. "I love you, honey."
"Love you too, Mom." It was oddly bitter though, disconnected and without emotion. Her face fell slightly; she was obviously distressed by the change in Matthew, but not enough to do anything about it. The door shut with a dull click. The girl's head shot up abruptly but she remained silent, listening to the fading echoes of footsteps. The thud of the front door came and it was as if a spell had been removed. The children came to life, stretching and talking.
"Matt, what do you want to do today?" 'Today' was spoken with an odd emphasis, like an inside joke. It fell flat, however and the small shrug she got in response took away her false bravado. Matthew just wasn't in the mood to play that game today. False happiness wasn't worth the effort.
"We could go the library." He was less-than-enthused about the idea, though. She scowled. "I take that as a no." He smirked and she reached out and smacked his arm. "Okay, okay. What then? Our choices are a bit limited, you know, what with our being kids."
"I know." She spat out. Tears welled up in her eyes. Shaking her head, she continued as though it was just an off-hand idea, but the speech was choked out, "The River." Matthew gave her an incredulous look.
"Are you sure?" He searched her for signs of resolve and realized she wouldn't give in.
"I am." But she didn't sound as sure as she'd wanted to. "I'll be fine." She smiled, forced and painful-looking. Matthew sighed.
"Why go back? Why now?" He said as quietly as he could, attempting to step around her minefield of a temper.
She glared, "I'm no a coward, there is no reason not to go back."
Matthew immediately saw through that lie, there were a lot of reasons not to go back there. He didn't mention them, but the look he gave implied them quite obviously.
"I think this is a bad idea."
She scoffed at him, "I'd have never guessed." She waited a beat, "I have to go."
"Why…?" The question trailed off. She didn't answer.
They didn't ask what to do about the nanny. Nor did they discuss how to get to their destination or even why the Thames was such a hard subject. There was no working through anything. They knew. The Nanny would be sick and their mother would never know. They knew that they would catch a ride with coach that would pass by in a few minutes. He'd give them a free ride for being 'such a cute pair'. Finally, the River... well, that was a more difficult subject that neither was willing to broach.
Matthew left the room, leaving Cathy standing alone with a sour expression. She glanced at the brightly colored calendar in the corner. She stalked over to it and ripped it off the wall and stormed out. It fluttered to the ground, looking macabre in the little pastel-colored room. As they lay, face-up, in the middle of the floor you could just about read them. The ripped halves together would read, July 12, 1907.
Once they reached the river Thames, neither of the twins spoke and Matthew thought it was really quite amazing they were as sane as they were. Scuffing his shoes on the beach, he opened his mouth to speak, and then quickly closed it. She was just having one of those days. The irony of the thought hit him and a small giggle escaped. Cathy shot him a glare.
He tried --he honestly did—to quiet himself. He couldn't stop laughing though- or was it sobbing? It seemed to bubble out of him and he realized he was far tenser than he'd previously assumed. It hurt, every muscle was tight and the laughter burned as it came out of his mouth. It left him tired and even more distressed.
His vision began to tunnel in and he shook his head. It wasn't like he'd get any sleep if he gave in and honestly it'd taken too much effort to get to the edge of the tiny island; he wasn't up to repeating the journey. Cathy ignored his breakdown. He assumed she was in the middle of her own.
It'd been a terrible idea to come here- Cathy's idea, he remembered- after all that'd transpired. It was better to just… to just what? Waste away at home, pretending to be seven years old? They'd come here before, many days -- No, not days, repeats-- ago. They used to spend a lot of time here, in the time before all this. Cathy had loved to swim; he just loved to see her so happy. He wished he could've been better at it, maybe he could've—But, no. There was nothing he could do now.
How long had life been like this? How long had he lied and manipulated just to get through the day? He laughed bitterly. When had this started? It'd been so long. Many years' worth of time spent on this warm July day. Cathy and him had lived so long. He felt like an old man, stretched thin and just waiting for death.
He couldn't relate to anyone. Not to his mother (He'd tried explaining to her many times, but she was young. She gave him a patronizing look and told him it was a nightmare. Well, she was right on that count. He couldn't imagine a worse nightmare than this.) Not to the townsfolk. (They were even worse. They were no more than gossip-mongering shrews.) No one at all, no kindred souls lived here, in this little town. (He'd checked, went to talk to each one, found no more than a blank face.)
He couldn't even relate to Cathy anymore. She had become… different, after. After she drowned; he forced himself to think it. Sometimes her eyes dulled and he feared his hand would slip right through her. As if she was a ghost, incorporeal and shimmering. He'd talk and she'd just give him that far-off look. She was avoiding everything, he knew. Their world hurt too much to deal with rationally.
It was harder to ignore their—their what? Their problems, their life, their future? It was too frightening to contemplate — Well, everything, here on the shore. They could look, but not touch. London was right there, he could see it just fine. He knew though. He knew he couldn't go, that he was trapped.
Their home, Eel Pie Island, small and inconsequential, was not a hot spot for Londoners. Save the hotel, of course. Boats would land, the rich would have a fancy party (Not the sort children would be allowed to see.) and they would float back, unaware of the changes. (Or lack therefore of.) Float off back to their normal lives. In the early days, he'd watched them. It hurt too much now though to see how happy they are. He tried to sneak away on their boats too… That was a mistake he'd never make again…
It isn't fair! He knew it was a childish thought, but honestly! What had he done? He was only seven. No one deserved this. No one could deserve this. He couldn't see it, but he knew it lay out of sight, waiting… The barrier was there, 30 meters out.
Growling in frustration, he scooped up a handful of stones and set off toward the bridge. He'd have looked like a small child—which he was—about to go skip stones off the bridge, if not for his expression. His stance was pure angst. His movements were tense and jumpy. He was breathing far to hard for it to be just physical exertion.
Cathy gave him a startled look, but declined to follow him. She'd learned to stay back from that wall. Matthew didn't learn so well, though. The moment his foot landed on the bridge, he jumped back. It felt like… like no pain he'd ever experienced. He imagined it was like a lightning strike mixed with being caught on fire, though of course he'd never know if he was right.
He fell backward on to the rocky shore; he scrambled back a few feet. He clawed at his foot as the pain slowly faded. A whimper of pain escaped him. Cathy, who'd been watching him like a hawk, dashed forward and hauled him back from the line.
After he stopped gasping enough to speak he choked out, "It's moved farther in!" Cathy made a fearful sound at the back of her throat like a wounded animal.
"It couldn't! It's been…" She trailed off, not sure just how long they had be like this. "Why now?" She looked to him for some kind of reassurance, but he just stared back, in shock.
He didn't respond. The answer to that question, like so many others, was unknown. Stumbling to his feet, he realized Cathy had put him back on the beach during his daze. He stumbled toward the shore, Cathy begged him to sit down. He shushed her and stepped to the edge. He tossed it, no real force behind the throw.
It slammed to a stop only a meter from the shore. The stone hung in the air awkwardly. Then, with a great deal more force than had placed it there, it launched itself down, a parody of skipping stones, and to the side— bouncing a few times on the strip of water still available and landing near the road.
"Is it getting closer?"
The silence was stifling.
In a sudden burst of anger Cathy snatched a stone from him and, with all the strength her seven-year-old body had, flung it at the barrier. She burst into tears when it came back, shattering a brick on the road. Everything froze. Not in that magical way that had caused them so much trouble, just in the normal way, of people who see no way out.
He put everything he had in that stone. All his hope and all his future went in it. He cradled it in his palm, so smooth. He raised his arm and took a deep breath. He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back. The sound of it hitting the pavement took everything out of him and his knees buckled. The ground rose to meet him.
The last sight he beheld was that of his sister's terrified face as she stood over him. For the countless time that repeat he felt the world begin to tunnel in and darken, leading him on to oblivion. He let it.
After the 'incident' at the lake—as Cathy had referred the one time he'd asked if she was alright—they made all effort to forget their problems. It was just like Matthew to dote over Cathy while, really, he was just as shaken-up as she was.
Everything looked normal at first glance, but nothing was normal anymore. They'd feared that nothing could be worse than living forever. They were wrong. Now they knew that it wouldn't last. Their time was limited; they could practically hear it ticking away. The only thing worse than living forever was waiting to die. Not even in the abstract way most people did. They could check the length of their lives with a quick trip to the river now.
They didn't know what to do though, so outwardly nothing changed. Everything just got a little more still. He almost wished it'd just hurry up… but not quite. What would happen when it finally closed in? Would they be able die? Or would they just burn forever?
He could feel the vestiges of pain in his leg, but he knew it was just his mind. Physical pain wouldn't carry over. Mental pain would, though, and the memory haunted him. He hated the sympathetic look Cathy kept giving him. That look that said she knew exactly what he was thinking. He hated the sadness, but mostly he hated the fact that she knew exactly what was happening. He hated that she'd gone through that.
He clung desperately to the monotony of his former life. He'd always hated it, but now it seemed safe-- not normal, but at least predictable.
They'd chosen to play as seven the first repeat after; it always gave them time to think, though that was the last thing Matthew wanted. He pushed down his thoughts and settled into the role of a child. It was getting hard, though, to stifle their intelligence back to average. Neither of them had been geniuses but they appeared so now. It was amazing what unlimited time could do—amazing and terrifying, that is.
So they sat there, in the brightly colored sitting room. Their mother was reading them a book they could quote word for word at her. They didn't mention it though; they just sat with placid smiles plastered to their faces, Cathy's much more forced looking than her twin's.
"And then what happened, Mama?" Aiming for enthusiastic, Matthew tried to slur his words a little to get the maximum effect.
"Well," She smiled and continued to read the children's book. He could see Cathy mouthing the words; he shot her a look and she stuck her tongue out at him. Their mother remained oblivious to the fight brewing quite literally under her nose.
Matthew cuddled closer to Mother and began to ogle at the bright, pastel picture. His mother laughed. Cathy, however, did not. She was seething just behind the frozen smile.
He made up to her by cajoling their mother into making something different than the usual roast. By cajole he meant 'throw a huge tantrum until she gives in'. Cathy was grateful, though. She hated roasts.
They played with their food idly while their Mother told jokes. She got the punch line wrong on most of them. Matthew laughed, rather sadly; Cathy laughed as well this time, but it was a mocking, patronizing laugh. He sighed softly and stared at the slightly soggy mashed potatoes on his plate.
Late that night, they lay in their respective bunks chatting quietly.
"Today was good," he waited to see if a response was forthcoming.
"Yeah." It was a little late and the tone was dull. She hadn't been listening.
"Shall we do it again?" He asked it a little more pointedly than necessary, hope to illicit a response.
"Hmm." She seemed to be deep off in her own thoughts; he just hoped she would reveal whatever plan was forming soon.
The silence was even worse than their previous conversation; all right, so the conversation had been rather one-sided. In fact, if Cathy didn't give him a proper statement soon he'd have to climb up to her bunk and beg at her to tell him something, anything that was going on inside her head. He hated when she closed up like this and it was happening far too frequently. There was nothing he could do now, though, but go to sleep and hope Cathy would be a little more normal in the morning.
He opened his eyes to see Cathy leaning over him, as she always was first thing in the morning. She'd always woken first and shaken him wake next—save those repeats where she couldn't stand to look at him, blinded with anger. He was relived that this wasn't such a morning. He grinned at her, trying to make up with the past using the one peaceful moment before their mother came in and they chose how to spend the day. Cathy leaned down to whisper in his ear, no need to bring in Mother early, after all.
"Let's run away." Her eyes sparkled with a mischief he'd thought long gone. She looked briefly like the 'little' (For she was nearly two minutes younger) sister he'd once known. Back when everything was so simple.
"Run away?" He obliged her with the audience she wanted, for she thrived on the attention. It was the reason she never stayed mad. When it came down to it Matthew could understand her better than any other soul on Earth. Matthew had gone through the time loops with her and he was her twin. It was a sheer matter of shared experiences.
"It's not as though it'll last if we fail! Come on, brother of mine, let us run far away!" She was grinning as if telling the funniest joke, though he knew well that she was entirely serious.
"Where to?" He stretched out like a long discussion would be possible; he knew she would fire off a place, though the barrier was an obvious issue.
"The field just by the hotel, it should be deserted. We've seen it while out with her." Cathy had issues calling Elizabeth their mother. It stemmed from the first time she'd try to explain the loop, only to be laughingly rebuffed. Matthew couldn't blame their Mother; she was so young. She'd had the twins at 15, had never seen the world beyond this little island. She was just a girl. They were both just young girls.
"Sure, how?" Fired back at her like a bullet.
"No." He didn't give his own ideal, though, and let her think.
"Didn't we do that last time?" He raised an eyebrow fractionally at the suggestion.
She gave a slight shrug in reply. "Kill her?" She said it offhand, but she sounded far too serious for Matthew's liking.
He glared, "Don't even joke."
"You're no fun." She gave a small, childish pout-- one of the few remnants of her previous age.
"Claim we're buying her a present while out shopping?"
He let out a thoughtful hum, "It could work."
She smiled brightly and rushed silently back up to her bunk. Matthew mussed his hair slightly and closed his eyes. He turned to his side and kicked slightly at his covers. Cathy curled into a ball under her covers and faked a slight snore. The light streamed through the door as Mother opened it and he shut his eyes a little more.
"Little ones, wake up," The soft voice came right on cue, "We have a big day ahead of us." It came just as it always did, a soft tone of care. It ripped Matthew up inside to hear it. It just reminded him that they would never be close again.
Matthew 'woke' first, stretching and yawning—with his "seven-year-old face" firmly in place. He tried to sound like he did before he read all the diction books. "G'morning, Mama!" Tired and excited, just the right tone. His hair was flicked out everywhere.
The bundle of blankets that was Cathy rolled over, muttering sleepily. Mother laughed. The act was on.
It was easier than expected to get away. Mother let them go without a hitch and they set off to the other side of the island, off to the field. They spent the day there, lounging about like schoolchildren on break. There wasn't much to do, but they'd gotten far to use to silence. For a few hours neither moved, just froze like statues on the small square. It was nice, warm. He missed the days where it was terrible out.
Cathy still hadn't relaxed and it grated on his nerves all afternoon. She sat, still as a statue, a far-off look in her eyes, the one he hated.
It was getting dark, but they had no plans to get home.
"Cathy, we should leave."
"Ms. Heather's party will be arriving soon." He mimicked the snooty butler at the door on the opposite side of the building. He'd watched the party before, boring really. A group of adults sitting around drinking and talking to people they really don't like at all.
She laughed softly, "Sure then."
They set off not choosing a destination, but knowing it wasn't home. The sky was getting progressively darker and it got harder and harder to maneuver among the rocks. He looked down at his scuffed shoes and let is mind drift back into that quietly contemplative mindset.
He saw Cathy stumble and tried to catch her arm, but the darkness killed his aim and she crashed onto the rock. The words that spilt out of her mouth shocked him. He wasn't about to mention it, not as edgy as Cathy was today. She'd been good so far, but the look in her eyes revealed that she on the edge of a tantrum.
When he looked up he realized where he'd unknowingly lead them. They were back at the river. The waves lapped up at the rocky shore, looking so innocent. Glancing to the side he caught Cathy's scowl on her bloodied up lip.
He sat, not knowing what else to do, where else to go. They couldn't be at town this hour, someone would contact their Mother and she'd come to collect them. He didn't know what Cathy would do if she saw her again. As the practical one he also realized both of them were far too tired from another trek 'cross the island.
It was pitch black out now, freezing as well. They sat there, huddled together on the rocks. It was the most terrifying experience he'd ever had. It looked peaceful, but he just felt desolate and all alone. He realized the way Cathy was sitting that if her feet stretched out, her toe would touch the barrier; it seemed so very close. It was terrible on the edge, literally and figuratively.
Suddenly, Cathy was crying against his shoulder, letting loose little sobs and shuddering weakly. All he could think was of the wet mark she was making on his shoulder. It wasn't that he didn't care-- he did, honest. It was that he couldn't see any way to help. As well as the fact he knew if he acknowledged this Cathy would be even angrier, fueled by embarrassment.
"'S cold," she muttered half-heartedly to explain the outburst. Tears still hung on her cheeks; she roughly brushed them away, leaving her cheeks swollen and red. He brushed at his shoulder but stayed silent.
He didn't mention it. He didn't say anything, in fact. There was so much he never said to her. Slowly, she stopped shaking and took a deep breath. The lack of light hid her face, but Matthew swore he could see a faint blush—or was that just the flush from the tears, he couldn't tell. Cathy hated looking weak. Even in front of her own twin she liked to pretend to be so strong. She never got sad; she just got angry.
He turned back to the sky to escape the awkward moment after an emotional scene. He glared at the sky, wishing in vain for so many things, for anything other than this. He wanted to sleep, but if he had to look at his mother one more time and see the lack of comprehension in her eyes, he would cry. He couldn't look down couldn't bear to deal with the lights of London so close, beckoning him, taunting him. Soon, even the sky seemed to mock him, the idea of infinity filled him with such a longing, trapped as he was. So, he kept his gaze trained down and held in his own urge to cry.
What time was it? It seemed like they'd been there forever. It was so late; they'd never been up so late before, their small bodies unable to take the strain. But he couldn't go home, and even though he'd didn't want to be here, he couldn't seem to leave.
Suddenly, the sky was alight-- no, not the sky, the barrier. Crackling and glowing, it seemed more like paper than the solid wall it usually was. Cathy's hand was outstretched, as if she was reaching out to touch it. She didn't, though, and her hand just pointed at it in awe.
He gaped and the hope blooming in his chest nearly sent him tumbling forward. He remained stationary, though, and awed.
It was a silent fire, waving and burning then reforming. It seemed only inches thick, not the miles they'd once assumed. It seemed so insubstantial; he wanted to scream. This was what was keeping him in this hell, this flimsy, transparent- He couldn't even finish; his thoughts cut off.
Matthew jumped back and froze. He could see it now, the time loop in action. If he looked closely he could see the sky lightening. Time was rewinding. He picked up a stone. He dropped it. It clattered against the ground for a moment, and then flew back up into his palm. "It's rewinding," he stated unnecessarily, he just needed the reassurance that his wasn't crazy. He didn't get it; Cathy was as bewildered as he was.
Cathy reached down and grabbed a stone as well. He figured she'd repeat his movement, but she didn't. Her rage from earlier was back. She hurled the stone at the barrier; it began to slow, as if to come back. The moment it fell through one of the holes in the twisting energy, though, it continued, splashing harmlessly in the water.
Cathy glanced over, but she didn't comment. She didn't need to; Matthew knew what she was thinking. He nodded at her solemnly. Maybe it wouldn't work in the larger scale; maybe he'd be burned to death in the glowing wall. It was worth it though, for the chance to live-- to really live, not this pathetic purgatory he'd been locked in.
He stood by her side and clutched her hand for the slight reassurance she provided. The warmth of her skin settled his decision and he took in one shaky breath. They smiled in unison and for the first time in one full day, they looked like twins.
"I can't do it!" Cathy screamed. She could feel the water tugging her down, stilling her legs, such a familiar sensation. She knew what came next. It was like the steps to the dances their mother had taught them; only it wasn't a small step to the side or a fancy little twirl. It was gasping and going under. It was the need for air and no release, none at all. The black would cover her, not just surrounding her, but inside her now. Her thoughts would become slow, lethargic. Then they would stop. Her legs would stop. Her breath would stop. Her heart would stop as well. Everything would go so still for a moment that lasts forever. Then she'd woken up. They were outside the barrier, though, and if it happened here there would be no waking up warm and safe in her bed. That was okay though, she'd rather die than go back there.
"Try!" Matthew screamed, rather unhelpfully. She forgave him, though; he was trying to keep his own head up after all. Paddling through the water wasn't all that hard if she didn't think. If she managed to keep the memories at bay everything just fell into place. She put every bit of strength she had into moving her legs. She'd once been a great swimmer and it wasn't difficult, the muscle memory took care of most of it. She wasn't used to the long distance and the cold and the dark.
It was so cold and her body so weak. Seven-year-olds don't do a lot of bodybuilding, not that it'd have made a different. She'd have reset back to her usual body type just like anything else she had done. Thinking of the ordeal in the past tense made her oddly giddy. She'd have laughed if she had had enough air in her lungs. It was over. No more.
She consciously set her focus back on her legs and their furious kicking that was keeping her alive. There would be time when she got to shore to celebrate-- and to think of what they would do next. She glanced over at Matthew and was extremely relieved to find him beating her for once. He was near the land. It'd always seemed farther away before, in more ways than one.
She almost stopped at one point, her eyes closing, her body slowing down. Her longed for the cold oblivion promised by the water, but then she heard Matthew's voice. Maybe she didn't want to, but she continued and she opened her eyes to find the shore just out of arms reach.
Hitting shore was the best feeling she'd ever had. It felt so wonderful in fact that she passed out right there. She woke up there too and she'd never been so pleased to wake up on the rocks.
Her head hurt and the rocks left imprints on her skinny arms that ached terribly. Peeling herself off the shore, she glanced around for Matthew. He lay a few feet off, snoring loudly for once. She crawled over, ignoring the painful scraping on her legs. She always woke first; he'd sleep all day if she let him.
Speaking of days, how long had they been asleep? No one was around; she supposed that it could've been forever. No one was around on this beach. It wasn't a good place to visit, covered in rocks and dust.
Matthew's eyes fluttered open and she smiled. He sat up groggily. "Mornin'," he muttered, "What do we do now?" Well, he certainly got to the point quickly. He was filthy. He had to push caked dirt off his face to see properly. His hair looked brown. She supposed her's was even worse.
"I don't know..." Her eyes began to water, sure, that was it. They sighed in unison.
They wandered around for a while and ended up in a local park. A calendar in the rest stop they passed through claimed it to be July 12, 1907. Cathy cried at first, but even if the loop was still active, at least they were off the island. Now they had all of London.
Cathy had wondered she looked like to the passerby. Her arms her sore and she shook them as she walked. She'd never been so glad of summer. It it'd been winter she'd have frozen to death. She was almost freezing now. She rubbed them raw, hoping the friction would help to warm her limbs.
London was different, that was for sure. On the island, children in rags wandering the streets would've been a spectacle. In London, no one paid them any mind. It was better, really. Being called in as runaways would've led to some problems. People's eyes slid right over them though and they stopped in this particular park because it was so barren. She collapsed into the swings with a muffled sigh.
The swings were an odd relief. She wasn't touching the ground and that made her feel oddly safe. The rocking of the ground below her felt comforting, like the sea used to.
She saw a woman and her baby, sitting on a bench nearby. She jumped from the swings—while at the very top of the arc, of course; she was still seven-- and meandered over. The woman smiled kindly when she approached. It seemed an encouraging enough sign for Cathy to start a conversation.
"How old is she?" Cathy asked softly, staring tenderly at the little girl.
"Four, I had her just after I graduated college." College? The woman looked just over twenty. How old was the woman? Cathy didn't ask though, knowing possible repercussions of that question. "Her name is Rebecca." She smiled softly and gave a little sigh.
The little girl-- clad in her light pink bonnet-- babbled at her, she caught the words "Mama… now… out… play." Then waved her plump little arms over her head. Cathy smiled. She reached down and the girl wrapped her tiny hand around Cathy's finger. Her hand looked huge in the petite grip.
"College?" She'd never heard of a woman going to college, her grandmother had said it was improper.
"I'm a professor, at King's College." She was smiling indulgently.
"Ladies can do that?"
"Of course they can, love. Women can do just about anything if they try hard enough." Silence followed her pronouncement, Cathy felt younger than she had in a long time. She'd read books with women in college, but it'd sounded so far from her life. Women back on the island got small jobs, then husbands. Most had never finished high school.
Cathy hoped she could do that someday. She loved to read, Matthew had been slower to books than her. She hated going back to the bookstore, though. She'd read all of the books long ago. She loved more educational books; Matthew preferred exciting stories. College sounded like something Cathy would love.
"Where is your mother?" It was the question Cathy had been dreading.
"My brother is over on the swings..." It was stalling and they both knew it. Cathy knew what she looked like: her clothes ragged, her hair a tangled mop, and barefoot to boot. She was so messy that it couldn't possibly be mistaken for the usual disheveled state of a seven-year-old. She looked like a street urchin; it's only proper, as that was what she was.
She saw her brother's eyes shoot up, though he carefully kept up the appearance of a happy little kid on the swings. Really, he was listening very carefully for her to claim the cover story they'd set up. She didn't though, after all the lying she'd done back there, she couldn't bring herself to lie to this kind stranger with the knowing eyes.
The dark-haired woman's eyebrows furrowed and she looked worried. Cathy almost flinched back from the look of motherly care. She started to speak, then cut off. She shook her head to clear it and took one more shot.
She opened her mouth and spilled out with, "My mother is at home; she doesn't know we're here. Our house is nearby, but we aren't supposed to be here today." All true, well, 'nearby' may be overstating it a bit. They shouldn't be here today; they shouldn't be anywhere today. If they followed their mother's instruction they'd have never gotten to today. She'd said it to fast, it all kind of blurred together and she just hoped it would hold until Matthew covered her trail.
The women didn't look like she believed the thin excuse, but she let it slide for now. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Cathy jumped up and bounced over to the swings. She plopped down on the one next to her brother, her smile bright and oh so fake. She could feel the lady's eyes on her as she pushed herself up on the swings. She didn't stop though. She wouldn't lie; couldn't tell the truth.
Time passed and the woman didn't move, Cathy wondered what she was doing out here for so long. The concerned look the lady gave her seemed to confirm her fear that the woman was staying for their sake.
The light hand on her back startled her, though she should have seen the approach. She let out a small-- rather undignified-- squeak. She couldn't see or hear him, but she knew Matthew was laughing at her. She glared at him just in case.
"It's getting rather late, hon'." The soft voice prompted. "You should be getting home soon."
She agreed, but declined to comment.
Matthew spoke up, ""We're homeless." That was a lie-- runaway was more the term.
The mother gasped, though she must have expected as much. Her child chose that moment to let out a wail. She pursed her lips, deep in thought. "Come along."
Matthew looked as though he was about to decline, but Cathy was tired and had no wish to spend another night outside. She stood up. "Lead the way!" He gave her an incredulous look, but followed.
The house was small and quaint, rather like the woman herself. She welcomed them in without a word, bearing a troubled expression. Her dark brown curls bounced around her head as she paced, thinking hard. Cathy just wished she could sleep here. Even the floor would be softer and warmer than braving the elements another night. She didn't know if time would reset out here and this could be a practical experiment.
The woman, Marie was her name, looked upset, but couldn't turn them out. Cathy wasn't sure whether she was upset over such young children being alone in the world or the stain they'd left coming inside all filthy and leaving her stuck with them. She hoped it was the former. Tugging on her once blond curls—she didn't know if all this dirt would ever wash out—she tried to stifle a whimper.
She led them to the couch with a sigh, "It's not much, but it's all I can come up with for tonight." Just for tonight? That made it sound permanent... She hoped it was. Marie was kind and smart and she seemed to really care.
They sat without a word on the couch. It was lumpy, but infinitely better than the beach had been. It was warm in the house and she unconsciously snuggled into the couch a bit more. She caught her had pulling at a loose string in her clothing and forced herself to quit it. Who knew how long she'd need this shirt to last?
Little Rebecca unsteadily toddled over to Matthew. He looked startled but gave her the hug she wanted. She then moved on to Cathy. She didn't just take a hug though. Rebecca smiled at her and wriggled into her lap.
It was odd, but she relaxed quickly. Rebecca was soon snoring softly. The weight on her shoulder was comforting and she found she liked this little girl. Marie was smiling at her with kind eyes. She walked into the kitchen, asking behind her, "Do you want anything?"
She was about to say no when her stomach grumbled and she realized how hungry she really was. She brought back a bag of Walker's brand crisps. "Dinner will be soon, this should hold you over."
It was an odd evening and it felt almost like a real family. They had biscuits and gravy and Cathy felt like she'd fallen into a storybook. Matthew kept glancing over at her. She wanted to talk, but she couldn't think of a safe subject. She knew nothing of current events in London. The island had been rather reclusive.
"So…" she started, but she couldn't think of a comment that would spark safe, inconsequential dialog, "The food is lovely." She meant it, but she was so nervous it came out sounding like a lie. Matthew giggled at her tone. She shot him a glare, but stopped when she saw the sly smile Marie was giving them.
"It really is." He agreed, sounding much more genuine than her babbled pronouncement.
Marie laughed, "Thank you both, it was nothing really."
The conversation was stilted though, everyone afraid to talk; Marie afraid of hitting a sensitive subject, them afraid of letting to much slip and looking crazy in front of their only hope for shelter. Instead they fell into a silence that had become all too familiar to the twins; Marie found it unnerving. They looked down and to the side in an identical display of apathy. When she caught their eyes they looked bewildered and then smiled as if to assure her that everything was fine.
It was dark and they lay down to sleep. Cathy couldn't though; she was terrified of this tentative hope for a family sliding away. The date echoed through her mind, a dire, desperate cry in the back of her mind all evening. She suppressed it to the best of her ability-- which was quite a bit; she'd spent a lot of time suppressing unpleasant things.
Her eyes closed through sheer force of will and she practically pushed herself into the oblivion of sleep. It didn't last though; she woke up several times in the night. (Or was it morning?) She was relived to find that she remained stationary on the scratchy, brown couch.
She awoke once more and the sun was shining in her eyes. She couldn't go back to sleep, much as she wanted to. An early riser, she just couldn't sleep with the sun so high. She couldn't stand though, couldn't go talk to Marie and learn if the loop was truly over. She'd thought she'd be able to feel it, that she'd feel herself aging again. There was nothing, though, and that fueled her worry to new heights.
She lay on the slightly lumpy couch and stared at the ceiling, trying not to blink. It was uncomfortable and awkward, but it passed the time well enough. She didn't know how long it'd been until she was nudged out of her trance by the light let in from the opening door. She didn't look over, just listened to the creek of the door.
"Wake up," she made a choked noise, irrationally fearing the reappearance of their mother, "It's nearly 8 and I have to go to work." The voice was harsher than their 'mother's' had been-- sleepy and rasping, obviously not the morning type--, but she didn't mind, in fact it was one of the nicest sounds she'd ever heard. It told her that the time loop hadn't taken effect-- that Marie remembered her perfectly well--, and it carried an undercurrent of care. She was ecstatic. "A baby-sitter should be here soon, if you plan on staying?" she sounded hopeful, Cathy glowed.
"I'm not quite sure 'bout Matt, but I'd like to stay." She lowered her face, suddenly bashful. Matthew hadn't woken yet; it was only her that had that talent. She crawled over and smiled. "Matthew." His eyelids fluttered open, "This kind woman wants to know if we'll be staying in her humble abode," she grinned back at the giggling lady. He looked slightly wary, but he nodded decisively enough.
Marie left, but not before showing them around—"I would've yesterday, but you two looked so tired."—And requesting that they wash up, -- "Wouldn't do to have the neighbors think that you weren't being looked after properly." It sounded to maternal, Matthew looked uncomfortable, and Cathy knew he was thinking of the island. She slapped him on the back of the head when Marie was gone.
"What did I do?" He complained, rubbing at the back of his head.
"I saw that look on your face, don't you dare let her ruin this for us. You don't owe her anything. Don't you start feeling guilty!" She wasn't yelling, it was just a harsh whisper, but she might as well have been screaming by his reaction. A tender heart to heart wasn't her style, too weak. She scowled at the idea of it. "She doesn't
"Don't you care for our Mother at all?" A thick emphasis on 'mother', she noticed.
"No," she growled back, and it was true. She'd come to peace with that long ago. She didn't even hate her; she just hated the hold she still had on Matthew. All she had toward her was apathy. The word echoed in the absolute silence following it.
He looked shocked, but not angry as he had before. It seemed he couldn't blame her. His expression flickered between angry and sad for a few moments before settling on reluctant acceptance.
"I'm sorry, but that's the truth." He sighed and nodded, defeated. They pushed the incident to the back of their minds and went about their day.
They washed and made themselves at home as much as they dared. She'd told them to do what they wanted-- "What's mine is your-- to a point, of course, no robbing me blind." They didn't know if they could believe it, though they wanted to. A bookcase sat in the corner of the living room and she dug in happily.
Rebecca woke soon after, announcing it with her wails. The twins looked into the room, neither knowing what to do to calm down a toddler. They exchanged bewildered looks and then Matthew shoved her into the room. His logic was that, since Rebecca had obviously taken to her last night, maybe she could do something.
"Hush, little one," the words stuck in her throat as she realized she'd let slip Elizabeth's favorite term of endearment. She continued on, a little more forced, "Calm down, Becca." The nickname flowed out naturally; Rebecca seemed to old a name for the bright-eyed child. The tears stinted a bit and eventually she stopped.
She met Becca's emerald eyes and suddenly she knew --clear as day-- that this was home now. She had nowhere else to go, but that wasn't really it. She liked it here, in the warm, quaint home. She liked Marie. She liked Becca. She liked the fact that she wasn't under pressure. Most of all she liked was way Matthew was relaxing by the minute, harsh lines softening.
Becca reached her arms up over her head and Cathy picked her up. Becca toyed with her hair and giggled. Then she laid her head on Cathy's shoulder so sweetly Cathy couldn't help but smile softly. Matthew stood in awe on the other side of the room at the adorable scene. Cathy beckoned him over. Becca smiled and went into his arms happily. His breath hitched and Cathy smiled.
The little girl had single-handedly torn down every bit of emotional defenses they had in the span of one night. They didn't mind though; they just held her until the babysitter arrived. They went back to reading afterward, but not out to nervousness, just a calm way to pass the time. Cathy hadn't felt this calm in a long while. She hoped it would last.
That night, when Marie returned from work, something was different. Just what it was wasn't clear to anyone but Cathy. Everything seemed more settled, though no one made any new decisions. Dinner was good and everyone spoke happily of his or her days. There wasn't the awkward silence of the previous night. The food was good, but the company was better.
Marie told them of her classes. She was an English teacher and it seemed her student had turned in an essay on something or other that was just 'disgusting'. Cathy spoke about Becca having taken to Matthew. Everyone smiled and laughed. There was only one odd silence, when they feared for a moment that Marie was bringing up their mother. She didn't though and they slipped effortlessly on to the next topic.
It was much more comfortable on the couch the second night. This was probably due to the fact Cathy wasn't spending it worried out of her mind that the loop would catch her. She just beamed up at the ceiling and waited for sleep to claim her. In her usual nightly talk with Matthew, neither had any plans of leaving.
"So…" She started. "How was today?"
"Today was… good." His voice was soft and tender.
"Yeah," she exhaled quietly, "it was." Her voice echoed his tone.
She tried to say something else, but she had a feeling he knew her thoughts as well as she did anyways. She smiled over at him and he smiled back.
She didn't mention tomorrow. They couldn't plan out their days like before; it'd have to be brand new. Much as that scared her, she found that she liked the out of control feeling. Matthew did as well. She could tell from the contentment that was radiating from him. She drifted to sleep and not one worry pressed on her mind.
That morning, it was raining—freak storm in the middle of July. Cathy ran outside just as Marie was warning them about the weather. She felt tears running down her cheeks as she spun. Laughter spilled out of her mouth. Matthew had rushed out of the house just after her. He ran up and spun her around, laughing as well.
They danced around in the rain for a good half hour. When they came in, they were soaked clear through. She got a terrible cold, but she didn't mind. She hadn't been sick in… so long. Marie gave her an odd look at the pleased grin she gave when the doctor told her she had a cold. Matthew almost looked jealous.
No one mentioned it, but their one night stay on the couch became two, then three, a week, a month. Their birthday was… amazing. Becca learned to call them her brother and sister. They got their own beds—in their own room-- and signed up for school. They found friends and explored the neighborhood. A new wardrobe was also purchased. Some toys and a dog showed up on Christmas. 'Marie' gradually became 'Mother'. 'Marie's house' became 'home'.
Sometimes he misses the woman he once called his mother. Sometimes he feels bad about leaving the townspeople to their fate. Sometimes he wishes there'd been another way. But there hadn't been one and the feelings aren't enough to make him go back there. He wonders what happened, if the island is still there, on that cursed July day. Sometimes he even misses the simplicity of the days-- no school, no chores, nothing--… but not often.
Cathy's better now, less angry, more like a child. They'll never act their age again, but their new Mother understands. Not that they'll ever tell her the truth. They claim that their mother is dead, that they were orphaned a week before the meeting in the park. Their Mom just thinks they're geniuses.
Matthew doesn't have to lie anymore, well, not daily at least. Most days are so full and happy that he doesn't get to fall into the angst-ridden pit of memories. He smiles more and laughs daily. He cherishes every day and collects calendars every year with an unholy glee. They cried the first time it snowed. The neighbors call them 'quirky'. Their birthday wasn't celebrated the first time. It was mourned. They locked away and cried, but they felt better afterwards.
It's not perfect; sometimes they fall into a quiet introspective mask that scares their new Mom. Usually, though, they are happy. It's worth it to age again: to celebrate birthdays. He's twelve now, though seven still pops to his lips when asked. He realizes he can die now and that he would've given anything back on the island to have that ability.
They'll never be normal; they carry no physical scars, but the fears give them away. Matthew's claustrophobic from the time (years?) spent caged in by the barrier. Cathy's afraid of water—not the rain though, just bodies of water. She cries now when she is scared, instead of hiding it and dieing inside. He hasn't gotten angry, really angry, in a year. There's no reason now.
They have a little sister, Rebecca. She's so little and so smart. They have can't believe they were ever that small. When she looks at them with her huge green eyes they'd do anything for her. It's odd being a big brother. She's almost 7 now. Her life is so carefree; Matthew envies her worry-free existence.
London is nice, if a bit fast-paced. It's a big change to have new responsibilities. Every day Matthew gets up and has to wonder what the weather will be like and what new things he needs to do. It's a nice feeling.
Mom is sweet and much older than Elizabeth was-- not so much in age, simply in maturity. She tries to understand and even though they never told her, sometimes they think she may suspect. Every night she smiles and says, "Welcome home, I missed you both." Matthew's never felt more loved than at that moment.
They can live now and it's never felt better.