It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Riley Harris was back at the party in Brisbane. The house will flooded with pulsating lights and music blared from the DJs stand.
She blinked, taking in the world around her. She had thought she would die when stepping off that cliff, but here she was.
She was back.
Oh snap! She was back!
She fished out her phone from her pocket. It read 11:52pm.
Shannon tapped her shoulder. “Hey, girl friend!” She had arrived with the shots. “Where’ve you been?”
Riley collected her glass, studying her friend. “Shannon?”
Shannon cocked her head. “Please tell me you haven’t tried the good stuff yet.”
She wasn’t flickering. Riley reached out to touch her arm. She was real! “I’m actually back!!!”
She dropped her glass and embraced Shannon, jumping with glee.
“Shannon, I’m back!!!”
Shannon pulled away, picking her steps among the shattered glass at her feet. “OK, I’m completely freaked out now.”
“Shannon, what time is it?”
“What time is it? Are you OK in the head, Riley?”
Riley didn’t know where to begin. She didn’t know how to begin.
She hurried away, feeling the mass of humanity around her. They were all real.
It wasn’t until she eventually made her way out of the building that she could actually breathe fresh air. There were fireworks in the distance, and music from different buildings all around. Ah, how she had missed the feeling of the breeze on her skin. Back in the Timescape the air was still.
Shannon was not far behind. “Riley, where’re you going?”
“I’m sorry, Shannon. It’s just … all of this is so real.” She raised her hands to feel the breeze.
“OK, I don’t know what Todd put in your drink but you’re high out of your mind, girl. Now you’re going to sit down right now and get a hold of yourself—“
Riley grabbed her hands. “Shannon, Shannon, look at me. I am not high. I just … I feel alive for the first time in a long time.”
Shannon smiled. “I did tell you the party will get you out the dumps, didn’t I?”
Riley knew it wasn’t the party, but she didn’t know how to frame it. “Shannon I’ve needed help for so long.”
“Yeah, we tell you that all the time. You’re sick in the head, but we love ya. This New Year, we’ll make sure there’s no time to think too hard on all the trash that’s bothered you, alright Riley?”
She shrugged. “I, uh … I think I’m just going to sit outside here for a while.”
Shannon frowned. “Why don’t I feel OK about that?”
“I’m not going anywhere, Shan. Look into my eyes. I am fine. I just want some … fresh air.”
Shan actually stepped closer. “There’s a first. Usually you’re the party animal and I’m the sane one.”
“Go have fun, Shan. I’ll be right here.”
“Alright!” Shannon stepped toward the door. “Come in soon, OK?”
She nodded. “Now go!”
Riley sat on the doorstep, staring into the sky. It was so good to see lights again.
But she still had questions. Had all of that really happened? Had she been hallucinating? She knew she hadn’t. She just didn’t know where to go from here.
“God,” she said. “I still don’t know if you really are there. But if You are, they say you can heal me of what has hurt me. I admit, I have carried this pain all this time. I’m really not sure if you are listening. But now I know there is so much more going on than meets the eye. If you really have healing for me, I want that. I want it. If You’ve got something better for me, I really want to know You.”
It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Tolu was back in the car, on the way to church.
The phone was in his hands, and his parents were in front.
I’m home! I’M HOME!
He was so overcome, he didn’t know what to say. He just reached over around his Mum’s seat and hugged her.
Thank you, God. Thank you!
Mum was shocked. “Ah-ah, Toluwanimi? Sho wa okay bayii? (Literally, ‘Are you OK?, but contextually, ‘Are you OK in the head?!’)”
“I’m just happy to see you again, Mum!”
She actually didn’t know how to respond at first. “Aw, my boy. I don’t know how God blessed me with a gift like you.”
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed his father smile.
“I love you too, Dad!”
“Hey, hey, don’t even try and touch me now,” Dad warned as he drove. “Nonsense. I’m still not buying that shoe for you.”
Mum turned to him. “Ah-ah, Honey! Appreciate your son, jo!”
“It’s alright, Dad,” he said. “The shoe is the last thing on my mind right now. I’m just happy to be back … here with you.”
Dad nodded slowly, taking it in. “It’s alright.” He shook his head, wondering what was wrong with his boy.
Tolu sat back in his seat, remembering the last time he had been here. Every second now meant something to him. He just kept staring at his parents as the whispered the rest of their conversation.
He remembered where he’d been, and he remembered what had taken him there. Was the Timescape real?
“Mummy,” he said. “I have a question.”
“What is it, my dear?”
“Is it possible for someone not to enter the New Year?”
She paused a moment to consider that before she hit the chair. “You will make it into the New Year in Jesus Name! Stop using your mouth to say dangerous things like that!”
“No, I mean—“
“Instead of you to be talking with God about your future,” Dad said. “You’re busy thinking about something like that.”
He figured it would be difficult to explain, so he let it lie. “It’s alright.”
“Maybe it’s those cartoons he’s been watching.”
“It haff do,” Mum said. “Oya, start praying in your seat. I must see you praying!”
Tolu smirked at his mother’s training methods, but he knew she meant well. He leaned against the window, praying. As he stared at the world around – living, bright, full of colour and moving people – he wondered what each of them was going through. The fears and concerns and insecurities they may harbour. Just like he had.
He had been quoting prayers he heard a lot when he stopped. It was time to actually have a conversation. “Lord, I don’t know what’s next. But I know You must. I don’t want to stay stuck in the past or in a moment. So I’ll … enter the unknown with You. I will trust You, and I will seek You. Help me find You.”
It was December 31, the last day of 2019, and Frank Aldrin found himself in Times Square, New York.
The sudden change of scenery jolted him for a moment. It was a cold night, with snow all around. Digital billboards on the sides of buildings were lit with motion adverts of upcoming movies and products. Some still had Christmas decorations on.
It worked! Good golly, it worked!
“…so that’s why I took Benny to his cousin’s school, instead.” A lady was walking beside him, talking to him. He wasn’t sure why he recognised her, but he did. It was when he saw her face that he realised who it was.
Her face. Her disfigured left cheek and smaller left eye. The tiny dots where repeated suturing had been done over the years. The girl he had known 37 years ago had grown. He couldn’t believe it.
She turned to him. “Hmm?”
He couldn’t believe his eyes. This woman, probably in her mid-thirties, was his own daughter, Darlene!
“You’re … here?”
She seemed confused as to why he would ask that question. “Yeah. I am here, like I told you before. My interview this Friday brought me to New York, that’s why I’m not with them. Brian and Benny understand that I’m here.”
This was his daughter, Darlene, all grown up and now a wife and a mother. Memories of the years since he’d been trapped in the Timescape came filtering in, as though he had been here all along. For some reason, Frank could put faces to those names she mentioned. Brian Pruitt was her husband, who was in Detroit with their son Benny.
“I have a grandson? Benny.”
Darlene looked a bit disappointed. “Gee, Dad, I’m sure he’d love to hear that his Grandpa forgot he exists. It’s not like we send pictures every year.”
They walked on in silence for a while. The crowd was filled with people running back and forth with firecrackers, some huddled together around street performers, some shops still with their Christmas décor still up. And up on a tall building, the ball drop was being prepared for the midnight countdown into the New Year. 2020 was written in sparkly letters at the top.
Darlene sighed. “Dad, I know things haven’t been the best between you and Mum, or you and me, all our lives. But I’m trying here. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that that’s how things would always be, but it never did it for me.”
Frank didn’t know how to respond. He felt like he barely knew her because he actually didn’t know her.
“You know, if I want to be honest Dad, there’s a lot I haven’t said in years that I need to let out. I grew up angry with myself, and angry with … with you, too. My face was a constant reminder that I have a problem. That I would never find love. That this was why our family broke apart, and why I went through life without a Dad. It kept telling me that I did have a father, and he hated me.”
He was shaken. The problem is me, child. Not you. It was me all along.
“But God healed me,” she said. “He heals me. Maybe not my face, but my heart. I’ve still had my periods where I fight with the reality that this face is going with me through my whole life, and I want to get angry. I think of how you never showed up for my graduation, or even my wedding, or every other things that’s important to me. Until I realised that I was trapped. I was letting my pain keep me from moving on to the much more that God has for me.
“But I look at all He’s blessed me with – life, joy, hope, my f… our family – and I see that He’s never left me alone. He’s never left us alone. Dad, I know it doesn’t always have to be this way.” She held his hand. “But I think you need to know that, whatever it is you feel you’ve done, I’ve forgiven you. I want you to know that you don’t have to shut yourself away from us. You don’t have to, Dad. I want my son to have his Grandpa. I know that we can.”
Frank didn’t know he had been crying until he realised he’d shed a tear. “I’m so sorry, Darlene,” he said.
“Me too, Dad.”
“No, I’m sorry for the years we’ve lost. I was so … I needed to get over myself, but I didn’t know how to.”
Darlene nodded, tears in her eyes. “God can help us. We can do this together, Dad. He can help us.”
And she embraced him.
For the first time in 37 years, he felt light. That burden that had been building up for three decades was gone. His daughter was with him. She loved him. They were willing to find a way to make it work.
He didn’t know what would happen, or if they would ever really make it work. He didn’t know what the future held. But what did he have left, except to trust God and see what He could do? If God truly is, and He had a purpose in time, Frank had no option but to wait and see.
Meanwhile, the countdown to the ball drop had already begun.
The End …?