Mystery Girl (1)

Explanations are Due

14. Explanations are Due

Something about this warp felt wrong to Joe. Maybe it was because Sydney was doing it and not The Book? Before they warped he didn't even think of the ways this warp could go wrong. He just assumed Sydney would successfully take them where they wanted to go. What if they were lost in mid-warp? Was that even possible? He suddenly had a hundred questions for Nicole and Kayla when they got back. If they got back.

Joe was suspended in the time mist for too long. Normally it was a quick trip in and out, but for some reason, he felt like he had been in here for far too long. How do you measure time when you're flying through it?

The green mist eventually cleared much to Joe's relief. He found himself standing in the middle of a familiar looking alley opening out to a bustling side walk. Joe took in the busy street and old-fashioned buildings and had a weird sense of deja vu come over him. Had he been here before? It wasn't a palace, that much he could tell. Sydney must have messed up her warp.

With a start, Joe swiveled around to see where Sydney was, but Joe was alone. The Book was surprisingly in his hands still. The last time they had warped, it had gone to Sydney when they landed, most likely because she was a time goddess. He scratched the side of his head. "That's odd..." he mumbled thoughtfully. "Where would she be?"

As if on cue, Joe saw a flash of blonde hair walk by the opening to the alley. A huge grin broke out over his face. He knew Sydney wouldn't be far. He sauntered out of the alley and easily fell into step beside Sydney. "I think you missed your mark. This is no place for a queen to drink her tea," he teased.

Sydney's head snapped in his direction, nostrils flaring and the slightest glisten of tears lining the bottom of her eyes. Joe was taken aback by the intense glare she was giving him. That was not the response he was expecting. Was it something he said? "Oh, so now you recognize me? What changed?"

"What are you talking about?" Now Joe was confused. Recognize her? What had happened between them leaving Draylon to getting here that caused Sydney to be so upset with him? He didn't think he had done anything wrong. He had just found her. He hadn't had time to do anything wrong.

Sydney scoffed and aggressively crossed her arms. She continued to stomp down the side walk. If Joe didn't know any better, he'd say she was trying to get away from him. That couldn't be right, was it? "What is wrong with you? I can understand if you're weirded out because of last night, but that doesn't give you the right to behave like this. You're being way too cruel."

"Behave like what? I don't know what's going on right now," Joe pleaded with her. "Can you tell me why you're so furious with me? And what does last night have to do with any of this?" None of this was right. Lunch was supposed to be a way for them to get over the awkwardness of last night, not cause them to bicker and push them farther apart. He got that the near-kiss was bad for their friendship, but why would she be so bitter about it? Unless... she was upset because it didn't happen? That couldn't be right. He and Sydney were just friends, nothing more.

"You're unbelievable." Sydney rolled her eyes and marched away from Joe.

"Sydney, wait! Where are you going?" Joe ran to keep up with her, but Sydney was doing her best to keep a large distance between herself and him. What was going on?

"Back to Draylon. Just use your book and go home. I can take a hint, Joe. I know you don't want me around anymore. I gave you The Book back for a reason. Now leave." Sydney rounded a corner and slipped between two buildings. Joe continued to follow her before she could disappear from his sight. They were now alone behind a stone building.

"Don't want you around anymore? Why wouldn't I want you around anymore?" Joe was out of breath from trying to keep up with her. Sydney's words were starting to hurt. He paused as he realized why she had come back here. "Are you going back to Draylon without me?"

"Yes," Sydney answered curtly.

Joe rubbed his temples. Sydney couldn't leave him. He wouldn't let her. There had to be some reason why Sydney was acting this way out of nowhere. What did she mean when she said he didn't recognize her? They'd spent the last four days together. He'd recognize her anywhere now. The only time he didn't was when he first saw her in Boston.

Joe jerked as the abrupt realization hit him. He thought about how the street had looked familiar and felt stupid for not figuring it out sooner. He had been here before. They were in Boston on the day of the Boston Tea Party. And Sydney had just met the past version of him who didn't know her, but she didn't know it was a past version of him. That's why she was upset with Joe.

"Sydney, I can explain." Joe grabbed onto her hand so she wouldn't try to warp away without him. "This is all just one big misunderstanding. I promise."

Sydney glanced down at his hand on her hand. Her angry expression softened for a moment, but quickly returned seconds later. "Save it. I don't want to hear your excuses. I've heard enough from you."

"Sydney, please," Joe tried to reason with her. Had she always been this stubborn? "Why would I want to hurt you? The guy you saw back there in the market wasn't me. Well, it was, but it wasn't the me you know now."

Sydney's face scrunched up in confusion. "What? Joe, you're not making any sense."

"I know." Joe allowed himself to feel a small amount of relief. At least Sydney was willing to listen to him now. "Time travel creates lots of confusing situations. Look, remember when I first met you and I was convinced you were this girl I met in Boston?" He waited for Sydney to nod before he went on. "Well, it was you. We're in Boston right now. The Joe you saw was me from almost two weeks ago. That's why he didn't recognize you."

Sydney squinted and studied Joe, probably trying to decide if he was telling the truth or not. He could see a million thoughts buzzing around inside her head. To be fair, it did sound pretty far-fetched. Joe wasn't sure if he would believe it if this situation had been reversed.

"Trust me, I would never intentionally do anything to hurt you." Joe bit his lip. She had to believe him. His heart pounded in his chest as he waited for her reply.

Sydney continued to examine him another moment or two, then her face finally softened and a small, sheepish smile appeared on her lips. A slight blush rose in her cheeks and her arms wrapped around Joe in a tight hug. He stumbled back from the sudden force of it. "I am so, so sorry, Joe. You must think I'm a crazy jerk."

Joe returned her hug gratefully, his arms anxiously winding around her waist. "No, I don't. It was an honest mistake. I probably would have reacted the same way." He pulled away from her and they stepped out of the hug.

"I promise I'll make this up to you. I don't know how, but I will." Sydney put on an eager expression. "First I mess up our tea with the queen, and now this. I'm going to have to work on this whole time warping thing I think."

Joe chuckled. "Maybe a little. But I'm sure you'll get the hang of it eventually."

Sydney bit her lip and kicked at the ground. "I really am sorry about how I acted. I should have realized something was up. It's just, things have been so uncomfortable after last night, and I assumed you wanted to get away from me."

"How about we forget last night ever happened?" Joe suggested. "It was just a heat of the moment thing and it's not like it would have meant anything if it had actually happened." Joe was careful not to say kiss. If they wanted to forget about it, it was best not to bring up what almost happened between them. Part of him, didn't want to ignore the previous night's events, but if they wanted to get over this awkwardness between them, it would have to be done.

Sydney forced a smile and nodded. "Sure. Nothing happened last night, and even if something did happen it wouldn't have meant a thing. Right?"

"Right," Joe confirmed, though even he heard the uncertainty in his voice.

"Let's head back to Draylon," Sydney spoke quickly, wanting to avoid a pregnant silence. "We've been gone long enough. I'm sure Nicole is expecting us back soon." Sydney closed her eyes to prepare for the warp.

"Do you think you're ever going to call her mom?" The question was out of Joe's mouth before he realized it. He didn't know why he asked like that, but he wanted to know. Nicole hadn't seemed as warm and affectionate as most mothers, but she was still Sydney's mom.

Sydney reopened her eyes. "I don't know. Maybe. I don't feel comfortable with it yet. I'm used to calling my adoptive mother, Mallory, my mom. I know Nicole is my biological mother, but she just doesn't feel motherly to me. I miss my old family. I wonder if I'll ever see them again..." she trailed off, a far-away look rising in her eyes.

Joe almost felt bad for asking, He didn't mean to make Sydney depressed. Before he could apologize, Sydney snapped out of it with a quick shake of her head. "Anyway, let's get back. I'm sure my training isn't over for the day."

Sydney took a deep breath and pulled time in around them. Joe could see how hard she focusing, the lines around her eyes made deeper by how hard she had them shut. He could tell she didn't want to mess up again. Who knows where they would end up? With a snap of her fingers, the green mist appeared and they were gone in an instant.

The training room they had been using that day slowly reformed around them. Joe could see how happy Sydney was by the successful warp from the wide grin across her face.

Nicole looked up in mild surprise as they warped into the room. "You're back sooner than I expected. I trust it went well?"

Sydney hesitated. "Yes, I got us exactly where we wanted to go. Lunch was great. Couldn't have gone any better, right Joe?" She turned to him for reassurance.

Joe nodded. He could understand why Sydney was lying. The last time she hadn't done well in training, she had been forced to complete the exercise over and over again until Nicole was satisfied with her performance. "Best lunch I've ever had."

"That's good to hear," the disinterest was plain in Nicole's voice. "Now that you've had a filling lunch, perhaps we should try some self-defense training again. We need to make up for yesterday's lost time and it is vital that you know how to defend yourself."

Sydney smirked. "Sounds great. Let's get started."

Nicole looked impressed. "You're surprisingly eager to try this again after yesterday's disastrous session. You think you'll do well?"

"Don't underestimate me. And I'm only eager because I know how important this is. Trust me, I have no desire to get attacked and taken away."

"All right then." Nicole stood and paced over to her daughter. "Let's begin."

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