THE FALLING OUT
Mercer Island, Washington
March 18, 2015
I awoke with a start. Not since my boozer days had I experience the disquieting sensation of almost complete and total disorientation in the morning. Trouble was—I hadn’t been drinking.
Slowly, memory returned to me as I looked at the bloody knuckles and bruises on my right hand—and felt the stiffness and pain in my fingers.
My contemplation was interrupted by the ringing of the front door-bell. I didn’t jump-up. I was in no hurry to answer it—pretty sure I knew exactly who was going to be standing on the other side.
As it turned out—I was wrong.
I threw open the door, ready for round two. Instead of facing an adversary however, as I expected, the beautiful young woman on the other side rushed forward and into my arms. There were no tears, and no sobbing either. That would not have been this ladies way. Instead, I had the distinct feeling that the hug was reassurance—for me. The one emotion she couldn’t mask however, was the pain on her face.
“Johnny—I am so sorry,” she said, as she pressed her head against my chest.
“Me too Linh,” I replied, softly patting her on the back. Truth was, I had never been very good at comforting folks. Funerals were always a problem for me for just that reason. I never knew what to say. Fortunately, this time it wasn’t a death.
It just seemed so.
She broke off the hug, stepping back a couple of feet. I eyed her for several seconds. She didn’t say a word. I could tell that it was going to have to be me to get the conversation going. “Did he send you over here?” I gently asked.
“I think you know better than that, Johnny. No one sends me anywhere I don’t want to go. Especially Matt McCabe.”
I cocked my head slightly, waiting for her to continue. As I did, the memory of the afternoon before flashed briefly through my mind. My fist smashing into Matt’s face. It was a damned good punch too. I was pretty sure he was going to need some hurry-up dental work right after. He staggered back a few feet but didn’t go down. The kid always did have a cast-iron jaw. My second punch was an improvement on the first. This time he hit the floor—hard. I gathered up the front of his shirt in my left hand, as I hauled him up off the carpet, readying for another blow to his face. He put up no fight. No resistance. I knew he could have fought me to a standstill if he had wanted to.
It was only the sound of Linh’s voice, shouting my name from the doorway of the kitchen that stopped me from turning Matt’s nose into a bowl of bloody snot soup. I released my grip on his shirt, letting him slip back to the rug. He remained in a sitting position, discreetly staring at the floor, while I worked on swallowing my rage and getting it back into the pit of my stomach where it belonged.
Linh rushed to his side, shooting me an accusing look as she wrapped her arms around her husband’s shoulders.
“What the hell is going on?” she screamed at me. Not answering, I spun on my heels and headed for the door. I needed some fresh air pretty badly at this point. As I did so, I caught a brief flash of another face across the room. The face of the watchmaker’s grandson. The face of Joshua McCabe.
And it was smiling.
“He’s gone Johnny,” Linh continued, snapping me back into the present. “He left last night with Joshua.”
“Do you know where?” I asked.
“No. But I know why”
“Don’t tell me Linh. Let me guess. To meet his father and grandfather.” I didn’t state it as a question. I said it as a fact.
“Yeah Johnny. Pretty much. It seems Joshua has been in contact with them for a while. According to Joshua, they are both time-travelers, same as Matt. Only a couple of small differences.”
“Which are?” I asked.
“Which are—they age, where Matt doesn’t. They can only travel within their own biological lifetimes, and according to Joshua, they are both getting pretty old. That’s why they wanted to contact Matt now. They probably rightly figure that soon they’re going to be dead.”
“And they want a group-hug, kiss-and-make-up session before they go croakers?” I asked sarcastically.
“A little more to it than that Johnny. They want to show Matt how to get back to 1952. They want to show him how to fix the ‘accident’ that happened to him. They want to set him free.”
“And with freedom comes responsibility, right?”
“Right Johnny. And with freedom comes decisions—free agency, and all that jazz.”
“You already know then, don’t you Linh?”
“Sure Johnny. He didn’t exactly tell me, but I think I always knew. You aren’t the only one around here that’s a detective, you know.”
I smiled weakly. “I know Linh.”
“It’s what you overheard yesterday, isn’t it Johnny?”
“Yeah. When I was walking up the driveway, you spotted me from the kitchen window and waved me in. So that’s just exactly what I did. Opened the front door and walked in. Just in time to hear Matt talking it over with Joshua. I didn’t hear all the details—the ones you just told me, but I heard enough to know what they were planning.”
“And you overheard enough to try to punch his lights out.”
“Oh, I asked him Linh. I just came right out and asked him.”
“How did you put it to him Johnny—if you don’t mind my asking? I’d really like to know what went down.”
“I said . . . if you could go back to that day at the Carson Mine . . . if you could ‘fix’ what happened to you . . . would you come back home to the present—to Linh and your unborn child—or would you stay in the past, aging normally, and living a normal life. A life with Cindy Matthews.”
“And he said?” Linh asked—a hint of moisture around her eyes, for the first time.
“He said . . . ‘I don’t know.’ And that’s when I hit him.”
Linh stepped forward into my arms again. She let out a long breath and sigh. “Don’t be too hard on him Johnny. He didn’t ask for all this to happen to him. Remember—Cindy Matthews was pregnant too, with a son that would later die needlessly. If he stays, he reclaims not only his lost life and lost love, but saves the life of the child as well. Pretty strong stuff. I don’t know what I would do either, to tell you the truth. If he doesn’t come back, Johnny, I’m good with it. I won’t blame him for making that decision. But I don’t want him if he doesn’t want me. I don’t want him if he doesn’t want this baby. I won’t fight a ghost from the past for him. I’ll live my life without him, and I’ll raise our child without him too.”
She said it like she meant it too. Dear God, how I loved that woman.
I pulled her in even closer to me. An onlooker might have called it a death-grip. “Linh—I will be right here beside you every step of the way. I will never falter, and I will never fail you. I can’t promise that I will make every problem go away. But I can promise that you’ll never face any of them alone.”
She nodded her head yes. “I love you Johnny.”
“I love you too pretty girl.”
Then we both just stood there—holding each other, for what seemed a very long time.
“So how do you think they’re going to do it Linh? How do you think they’re going to get Matt’s watch to work? It would never take him back there before.”
“That’s the other reason I came to see you today Johnny. One, to tell you that he was gone, and the other was to give you something. Something Matt wanted you to have—in case he didn’t come back.”
I cocked my head slightly again, and raised my eyebrows a bit in anticipation.
“Aedan and Roan don’t have watches, Johnny. They have gone way beyond that now. According to Joshua, there was always only one, but they learned to travel without the watch. That’s why Aedan and Roan passed it on when they left. They knew that the watch was only one of the pieces of the secret of their abilities. The big piece was their own minds. That’s the real time-machine, Johnny—according to them, anyhow. That’s what they are going to teach Matt. In other words, he’s found a way to go back despite the watch.”
“What can I do, Linh?”
“Nothing much, Johnny,” she replied with an impish smile. “Stand by me. I know you would do that anyhow. What I’d like you to consider Johnny, is if you would be willing to stand by Matt too, if it comes to that. I don’t trust any of the three McCabes—Roan, Aedan, or Joshua. I think Matt may just need a friend more now than at any moment in his life. What I’d like to ask you, Johnny, is to be that friend if it comes to that point. And I want you to be his friend even if his decision is to stay in the past. I know it’s asking a lot, Johnny. But that’s what I’m asking.”
I considered a long time before I answered—probably two, or maybe three seconds. “Yes,” was my simple reply.
“He loves you too,” she smiled. “It would take a lot more than a Johnny O’Brien beating to change that.”
Silently Linh reached into her handbag and pulled out a white business-sized envelope. It was folded over, with a large lump in the middle. I knew what it was. I guess I knew even before she opened the bag. Maybe I knew even when I had opened the door and saw her standing on the stoop.
I took the envelope from her, unfolding it gently and letting the contents spill into my hand. Always heavier than it looked, it gleamed its sullen gold and green menace. A watch. A pocket-watch. A skeleton-watch, with its exposed workings moving with an all too human heart-beat of its own.
The watchmaker’s watch.
Dumb joke of the day:
Why did the cookie cry?
. . . because his mom was a wafer so long.
Thanks so much for reading. See you again in a few days with a new installment.