THE PHOTO TRAVELER

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CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

My feet pound against the bedroom floor when I make it back. My heart is racing faster than I can breathe. I take a seat on my bed and steady my breathing.

I pull Alanna’s remaining photos from my back pocket and sort through them. I need to make sure she’s okay. There are three selfies–two that appear to be in her house, and the other on the beach. The beach photo is the only one with a date stamped at the bottom-right corner – January 2nd.

I waste no time and recite the chant.

I fall chest and face first into a pillow-soft mound of pinkish sand. I spit the grains from my mouth and quickly spot the back of Alanna seated under a purple umbrella in a red beach chair, overlooking the field of still blue water.

“Alanna!” I shout.

She whips around and immediately springs from the chair. We race towards each other and she jumps into my arms.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I was worried about you. I felt horrible for leaving.”

“No. Don’t be. They disappeared instantly when you did. It was so weird.”

“What do you mean? They disappeared like immediately after?”

“Yea. I hid behind one of the houses but kept peeking to make sure you were okay. Once you disappeared, they just vanished too.”

“So they didn’t even come after you?”

“No. I don’t think they were really interested in me. And their faces looked sort of surprised or defeated. Like they had no control over leaving.”

“I wonder if they could only intercept a certain travel, without a photo, as long as the person’s travel they are intercepting is still actively traveling.”

She shakes her head. “This whole time travel thing has me so messed up. I swear, I thought about admitting myself or having a serious one-on-one with a shrink. This can’t be real, but I’ve seen enough to know that this degree of disappearing people isn’t a magic trick or illusion. I want to know more. I want to understand it.” She says, adjusting her yellow bikini top.

I grab her sunburned hands. “It is. I know this sounds so weird—but yeah, I come from the future. I found an old photo of you and something about you just made me want to meet you. I can’t explain it. I just knew I had to.”

“This is so not right. I seriously need therapy.” She laughs.

“I’m glad I came though—I was right for wanting to meet you. I know there’s a reason for it.” I wrap my arms around her waist and rest my chin on her cherry-red shoulder, but she gently pushes my hands away and steps back again. “You said you found a picture of me. From where?”

I’m not expecting that question. There’s no way I can tell her the truth. She sees me hesitate and her eyes narrow suspiciously. “I’m friends with your cousin Mario. He ends up coming to D.C. for a few months for a summer photography program. You’re… living in New York working in fashion and stuff.” Worst. Lie. Ever.

She doesn’t look exactly satisfied, but she doesn’t press me either. She actually smiles when I mention she’s working in fashion, and comes back into my arms. “Gavin, this is the weirdest thing that has, and will ever, happen to me. But however it happened, I’m glad you decided to come.”

She steps back so she can run her fingers through my hair, then pulls my face to hers, and kisses me.

Her eyes flutter open and I stand staring at them. Against the pulse of the sun, they look like rocks of Tiger’s Eye.

Then, her eyes slant in worry. “What about those people? Why are they after you?”

“They want some crystal vials only a few of us have. It pretty much consists of the very liquid that’s allowed us to photo travel. They think that if they have all of them, then they’d be able to time travel to the past and future. Without a photo. But they want it for the wrong reasons. They want it to change everything bad that has happened in the past–which, sure, may sound great–but it’s against all our rules. We aren’t supposed to change anything. I’m kinda breaking all the rules by even being here with you.”

“They don’t look like the type of people that should be trusted with that type of power. I don’t know if I’d even like to have that power.”

“Exactly.”

“Are you going to be okay though? Why haven’t they intercepted this travel yet?”

“You know what? I’m not sure. And that worries me. I don’t know how it works for them. But just in case I should probably get back, so they don’t catch me with you again. I don’t want them to get any ideas with you.”

“So...” she finally says. “Will I ever get to see you again, then?” She buries her face in my chest, her sweating body moving gently in sync with mine as we breathe in and out together.

“Are you kidding me? Of course. Look, I’ll find more pictures that I can use to visit you, so I’ll keep coming back. I may not always have dates to match to the photos, so some time may go by when I don’t visit. It’ll be sort of like a surprise. Hope you like surprises.” I look down at her and add, “I don’t want to leave.”

She edges back slightly and runs her index finger down my nose. “You better not want to leave.” she grins, and leans in to kiss me again.

“By the way, where are we? It’s January. Shouldn’t you be in like a parka?”

“Yea right. We hate the winters. We do whatever we can to get away for the New Year. We’re in Santo Domingo. It’s a private beach I found a long time ago. I’ve had a lot of my mind and came out when we arrived to get away and clear out my thoughts.”

I stand stroking her pulled back, taut hair, feeling the most comfortable and secure I ever have. I can’t recall the last time I felt so relaxed and at ease. We watch the sparkling water, and I start asking her silly questions.

“So… if you could choose one superpower, which would you choose?” I ask.

“Random much?” she giggles. “Hm… I think… to be able to fly. To feel the freedom of the sky against my skin and be even closer to the moon.”

“What about if you could travel with me to one place? Where would you choose?”

“Um, Dinosaurs – duh! No doubt about it.”

I laugh. “Do you have some secret ability you haven’t told me about? Because I’ve always dreamed of seeing dinosaurs, too. Since I was like seven. Jurassic Park is like my all time fave.”

“Maybe I do. I mean, if you can time travel, then I guess it’s only fair that I should have some secret power too.”

She snuggles closer to me. “Promise me I’ll see you again,” she whispers into my shoulder.

I don’t want any of this to end. I clasp her dripping temples and pull her to me so I can kiss her forehead. “Of course I’ll be back. If you could read minds, you’d know that already.”

“I’ll be looking for your eyes every second.”

I crack a grin. “You better be.”

We separate, leaving between us a small distance that feels equivalent to three football fields.

“Be careful.”

“If it means that I’ll get to see you again… then I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Bam! Swagger’s back in check.

The edges of her lotion-lathered skin shine under the tangerine sun. She’s biting her bottom lip, and nervously fixing her hair. We both don’t want to walk away from this. She presses her fingers against her perfect, but wistful lips, and blows me a kiss. I reach out as if to grab it and bring my hand over my heart.

My mind is pulling me away from the decision to leave her; blowing horns, sending me smoke signals, telling me not to go. I don’t want to, but I have to… for her safety more than anything.

I’ve never felt this way. This feeling should be illegal. It should be regulated and lightly prescribed.

I’m definitely falling...and that was not part of the plan.

Nothing good can come of this, that’s for sure.

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