Man of Time

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Chapter 10- Moonlight Lemons

A pair of apprehensive eyes matched mine in the mirror. His skin clear despite the irrational thoughts clouding his mind. Blake sat on my bed, giving me compliments I diminished with my anxiety. Trying on new clothes. Not as flattering as I imagined it’d be. Blake and Helda picked them out, ordered them “online”. The outfits I received were strange, but blended into modern day fashion.

My fingers ran over the smooth cotton, over and over in an attempt to ease my nerves. The buttons on my shirt stopped mid-chest, revealing my expresso toned skin. My tone complimented by the prominent mustard yellow fabric of my shirt. My hand glided down it’s collar, debating it’s style… This shirt had a looser fit, but, I think I liked it.

“If it’s the outfit you’re stressing over, well, I think you look great.” Blake took a sip of their tea, analyzing my emotions, “I know that probably doesn’t ease your mind though.” They commented, sending a wave of pride into my subconscious.

But that pride quickly faded, “Not really. But, it’s still nice to hear.” A ghost of a smile masked my lips.

“What are you nervous about?” Blake asked.

What’s not to be nervous about? “Ralph’s always acting strange around me. He treats me differently than you and Catori. He’s soft. Like I can’t handle anything. I wonder if it’s because of the first training session.

Blake’s brows narrowed, “Have you guys talked about it?”

My hands clasped with a sigh, “No.”

How could I? That look on his face… The tears glossed over pained eyes. How was I supposed to bring it up? I hurt him, and he immediately brushes it off and becomes perfectly considerate of my feelings. Both in private and in groups. It bothered me. Even Catori treated me more aggressively than him.

Ralph’s… Gentle.

“Maybe… And this is just a guess,” Blake smiled deviously, “Maybe he just wants to be your friend just as badly as you want to be his. Have you thought about that?” They crossed their arms.

Why on earth would he be so kind to me? “That’s impossible.”

He thought I was weak.

Yes, that must be why. A stupid man from a wrong time. Who’s so pathetic he needs to bare pity on me…

“Is it? Cause despite your dry sense of humor, you’re pretty entertaining to be around.” Blake teased.

Positive. You have to think positive. “Thanks.”

A steady knock disrupted our conversation. At the acknowledgement of my voice, I moved the curtain for Ralph to enter. He wheeled in, and smiled at Blake. Who immediately praised his attractive outfit.

“How’s it going?” His posture curved in a beautiful dark green button up.

“I’m good. I’ll get going so you guys can head out.” Blake patted the bed before exiting, leaving the two of us alone.

“Are you still up for going out?” He tapped the edge of his wheel.

“Yes.” I glanced at the mirror one last time, excitement overbearing my anxiety.

Ralph’s eyes sparkled in anticipation, “I’m glad. I just need to grab a jacket, you can follow me.” He waved, opening the curtains with his magic.

Traveling two rooms down, Ralph held the curtain for me to enter. I had never been in his room before. A bit messy, yet organized. His sheets were ruffles while his window curtains were wide open. Blinding lights filtered through the window, highlighting the room in a soft haze.

Ralph positioned himself in front of his dresser. “Do you have a jacket?” He asked.

“No.” I informed.

Ralph pulled out a fluffy brown jacket, and handed it to me, “You can borrow one of mine then. Blake bought it for me when I first arrived, it doesn’t fit me anymore.”

Sliding on the jacket, it’s warmth encapsulated me with comfort. It’s cloth even softer than my shirt. The corners of Ralph’s lips perked at my excitement.

“I hope it fits alright.” He said, putting on a much larger jacket.

A fuzzy feeling filled my stomach, “It’s perfect. Thank you.”

“Of course. It’s a bit chilly outside, wouldn’t want you freezing.”

He was being soft again… It made me feel, special. I didn’t know how to explain it. It wasn’t inferiority, he just cared that much.

Why did he care that much?

By time we got outside the factory, snuck outside the fencing, and called a ride, nightfall had already conquered the night sky. We rode in silence, starting on the crooked roads by the factory onto the smooth paving of a lively Brooklyn. Here, dozens of people brought their enthusiastic aura into the streets. Now on foot, we passed by brightly lit restaurants and intriguing street performers. Each person proudly expressing their identity and culture through their stature and fashion.

With Ralph wheeling faster than me, I struggled to keep up. “What do you think of the city?” But he slowed down to engage in conversation.

My eyes wandered around our scenery, “At first, these lights frightened me. But now, they’re stunning.”

Ralph’ gaze also wandered in observation, “I always came from a time of electricity, so I can’t imagine how shocking this must be for you.”

“It’s a lot more than I expected. Although I’ve gotten used to artificial light, it’s like my powers. Still haven’t gotten used to the buzzing of your computer…”

Ralph’s eyes squinted as he smiled, “I remember being over sensitive to technology too. You’ll get used to it, eventually.”

Silence fell upon us while we took in the incredible scenery. The entire street shining in the cool moonlight. It’s grace shifting the street’s aesthetic in shimmering fractals. A natural light providing shelter from the darkness.

“Blake told me about the constellation you made this morning, said it was quite a sight.”

A deep blush covered my cheeks, “It was nothing. I would create them for my sister all the time. And besides, it wasn’t that cool because it was morning.”

Ralph pressed his wheel to a stop. His chin lifted for his olive gaze could meet mine, “May I see it?”

A quick glance informed me of the crowded sidewalks beside us, as well as the restaurants. “Is it allowed?” I stuttered, “In public? Will I expose us?”

Ralph shook his head with soft eyes, “No. People use their powers all the time now. It’s not as big a deal as it used to be…” He reassured.

With a steady exhale, a soft glow swirled from my palm, shimmering alongside the graceful moon. It’s aura matching my light. Peaceful orbs sparkled through the faintest breeze and transformed into a constellation with the curve of my hands.

I sent a sway of illumination over Ralph’s head, “What’s your favorite animal?”

Ralph’s brows wrinkled, “Um, a wolf?” He tilted his head.

The energy within my wrist focused on a particularly large orbs circling Ralph’s head. It’s formless shape morphing into smooth curves and edges. As soon as the light came into his view, a lone wolf pranced in the open air and landed in Ralph’s palms.

Ralph’s expression beamed brightly, in awe of my creation with dazzling eyes. “This is what you choose to do with your light?” He asked.

I gulped, “Yes.”

Ralph smiled widely, “Raymond Walters… Ha, I’m at a loss for words... “ He looked to me, jaw wide open, “...This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And clearly I’m not alone in that statement…” Ralph gestured at a circulating crowd nearby.

With the clench of my fist, my light dissolved. The wolf disappearing from Ralph’s palms. I stood closer to him, frightful of prying eyes. My eyes wavered, scanning for potential threats. For a reason to hide. A reason this blissful-

“Come on, it’s okay. The restaurant is just a few blocks from here.”

Ralph brushed his hand against mine, drawing me back to reality, and guiding me in a specific direction. Just as quickly as they gathered, the crowd dispersed. But my anxiety remained. The gravity of my actions began to choke me. Doing something I was trained to never do. And I did it in front of Ralph. It was strange. Foreign. But, it felt good.

It felt pure.

Within minutes we arrived at our destination. I opened the door for Ralph to wheel in and take care of our reservations. Just as quickly as we entered, we were seated under aesthetic lighting beside a window. The waiter greeted us and handed out menus. I quickly found myself overwhelmed by the numerous options before me.

“There are so many things to order from…” I flipped through the menu.

“Not a fan of options? Sorry, I wanted to make sure you could find something you liked.” Ralph hid his face by fixing his glasses.

“It’s not that. I just don’t know where to start…” I trailed off.

After a couple of moments, the waiter returned, asking for our drinks. My vision doubled when her attention shifted to me. I fumbled, trying to read the now blurred menu.

“’I’ll do lemonade.” Ralph spoke to cover the silence.

“I’ll do the same.” I avoided contact with the waiter until she left.

“I didn’t know you were a fan of lemonade.” Ralph leaned against his chair.

I nodded, “Who isn’t” My palms grew sweaty.

“I’m not sure, but I do know it’s an extremely underrated drink. People think it’s just a kid’s drink, but adults can enjoy it too!” Ralph took the subject of lemonade way too seriously.

But I liked it.

“I see why you’re so overwhelmed… “He looked down at our menus. “When I came here, it was weird seeing such diversity. And I don’t mean drinks ah ha, I mean people. Both with race and expression. I know what you saw yesterday goes against this, but the world has really improved. There are good people out here, you just have to find them.”

I already have.

This group I’ve stumbled upon, started to feel like a real group of friends. They made me happy. Watching them laugh, get excited by them smallest things, finding out their joys and passions… The lord truly blessed me with this time travel nonsense. He was giving me an adventure.

One that I needed to enjoy while it lasted…

“What’s the strangest thing you’ve encountered here?” I leaned towards Ralph, initiating a conversation.

“Oo, that’s a tough question. The advancement of technology is pretty amazing. In all fields. Society has advanced so much, it’s hard to keep up sometimes.”

“It’s been strange. That’s for sure.” I said before the waiter came to take our order.

“You’ll adjust in time, what about you?” Ralph asked, his muscular arm flexing as he handed the menus off.

“Honestly,” I looked around, tearings building in my eyes, “Segregation. Or the lack thereof. It’s the first thing I noticed when I arrived.” I reflected on my first evening in 2020, “Seeing all those people on our walk… Me, sitting next to you. A white man. In public. It’s incredible the progress I’ve seen in such a short time.”

“I know exactly what you’re talking about.” Ralph nodded, grinning as he laid his arms on the table. “I had a similar shock, coming from Germany, there wasn’t much diversity there either.”

Sheer panic rocked my conscious, “You’re german?!” I froze.

“Yeah! Uh, we’re allies now. Don’t worry!” He waved his hands in defense. “It only took 2 world wars and… A couple of decades of a cold war… Uh, yeah. But don’t worry! I don’t represent anything my country did when I lived there.” Ralph swayed back and forth, eyes wider than the buttons on his jacket.

“I guess I missed a lot.” I rubbed my forehead.

“Yeah. I’m glad I got out of there when I did, even if I didn’t get a choice.”

Ralph’s tone dropped. Staring blankly at his recently cooked dish. Flashes of muted emotion flickering through glossed eyes.

The awkward air began gnawing at my curiosity, “What was it like?” I asked.

“Not pleasant…” He bit his lip.

His negative behavior intrigued me. But I knew better than to pry. I did wonder what happened to make him so upset. He usually shrugged everything off, dismissing their emotional damage. With the exception of his disability, I learned. But, this seemed different. Striking a raw nerve he was not comfortable confronting yet.

“It’s okay.” He forced a smile to his broken features. “All of that’s over now.”

“Did your father serve in the war? Did you?” I asked, wiping stray crumbs from my lips with a folded napkin.

Ralph’s arms tensed, “Uh, yeah. Kind of. He ran a growing corporation in Berlin. And I wasn’t able to serve.”

My attention fixated onto his wheelchair. Despite the laxed environment, he maintained a steady hand on his wheel. “Can I ask you a question?” I repositioned my gaze to his.

His shoulders tensed as he subconsciously crossed his arms, “Go for it.”

I hope I’m not about to be too offensive. “Have you always had an amputation?”

Relief washed over Ralph’s figure, “No. I’ve always had a weak body. My legs gave me many issues in my youth, and my father thought it would make me a stronger man if we just got rid of it.” He shifted.

“Did it?”

“In a strange way, it did.” His face wrinkled with sincerity. “Not for the reasons he had hoped, and not until I came here… Blake and I found each other in the same facility, and we escaped together.”

“Were you scared?”

“Terrified.”

“So, am I the first person to arrive since Helda?”

“No. Some people come, and they’re either captured by the corporation, run away, or choose to restart their life in this new world. The 5 of us have nowhere to go, so we stayed with edith to look out for people like you. That’s what Edith meant by assessing your skills. She knows holding onto the past isn’t for everyone, and she wants to give you the chance to leave when you want.”

I shook my head, setting down my fork. “I can’t let go of the past.”

Ralph’s olive trance softened, “And that’s okay. That’s why we’re here, right?” He chuckled with pain in his eyes.

His uncomfortable energy forced me to conversate, “I’ve been meaning to ask… How are Edith and Helda minorities?”

I really hope that doesn’t come out the wrong way…

“We’ve always used that term when defining our group. And, I don’t mean to sound ignorant, but they don’t seem like the type of people the corporation is after.”

Ralph took a moment to digest my questions, “You’re not ignorant, I had similar thoughts when I met them.”

He found my vulnerability amusing, his tone reflecting empathy. “For one, Edith is an actual witch, You know, the poofy, spooky magic kinda deal And well, lets just say witches weren’t exactly welcome in her time.”

I rubbed my temples, “I’ll add that to the list of things I don’t understand.”

The corners of Ralph’s lips lifted with a light laugh, “Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense eventually. And as for Helda, she’s transgender.”

My mind began racing, “I don’t know what that means…” Crap! I hated sounding this ignorant!

Ralph maneuvered his body into a casual posture, “I wouldn’t expect you to. You know how Blake doesn’t identify with either gender?” He asked.

“Yes.” I responded.

“Helda expresses herself similarly. Except she does identify with a gender, the opposite one she was born with. Helda was born male.”

I sighed in relief. Thank god it wasn’t anything crazy. This gender thing, although slightly confusing, made sense when you took into consideration one’s feelings.

“She’s a boy?” I asked.

“Was. She said she started transitioning when she was about 11.”

11?! Wait, what? “Oh. So how did she, uh, end up looking like a girl?”

Now that I was thinking about it, I could vaguely picture Helda being born a male. I noticed during training the other day, Helda’s movements weren’t as angelic as the other females. Her fighting style was more still in nature. Her masuline hips and chest gave her a more slimming body type.

“I’m not exactly sure how she managed to transition so young…” Ralph sighed, his hands moving with his words. “She refuses to speak about her past. And I never want to push her… But I know there are treatments used to modify the chemicals in our bodies.

I think my brain might have just exploded. “People can do that??”

“Yeah.” Ralph chuckled at my response.

“Wonders of the future.”

“You’re telling me?” Ralph laughed before his tone returned to neutrality. “I’m just glad she can live her truth. But, when this is all over, I don’t know what’s in it for us.”

My brow raised, “What do you mean?”

“She has nowhere to go, and, neither do I.” He shrugged.

No home to return to? I suppose I never thought about that… “Then why do you fight?”

Ralph leaned away, overcome by an intense array of emotions he tried to shield. “Because the corporation needs to be stopped. I won’t let them hurt anyone anymore.” His features grew cold.

“That’s noble of you.” I commented in an attempt to cheer him up.

Ralph rubbed his arm, giving me a weak smile, “I’m just trying to do what’s right.”

The rest of the evening consisted of light banter between the two of us. Engaging in more simple concepts of the mind as opposed to continuing the deep, and slightly depressing conversation from earlier.

Once we finished, we took a taxi back to a darkened street near the factory. We snuck through the broken fence, and made our way around to the entrance. Here, I brought light to the darkened factory to navigate our way to the elevator where I held the gates open for Ralph.

“Thank you, for agreeing to this.” The conveyor belt shuddered as we rose.

“Of course.” I smiled, “I enjoyed myself.”

Ralph looked away, fiddling with his hands, “I’m glad. We should do this again sometime.”

I nodded, “That would be nice. It’s refreshing to have a friend who I can go out with any time. Blake is always too busy.”

Ralph frowned, “Yeah, I bet they are…”

“Hey Raymond!” A cheerful voice greeted me as we exited the top floor.

“Hello, Catori.” I responded, making my way to the dining table where her, Bhaskar, Helda were in the middle of a card game.

“How was your outing?” She asked, holding a hand of cards between her fingers.

“Wonderful.” I responded, observing the tactics on an unfamiliar game.

“Did you take a look at the moon?” Helda asked, looking to both Ralph and I.

“I did,” He smiled fondly towards her, “You should go out on the roof and look.”

“Nah, maybe later.” She waved her hand before brushing her hair out of her face.

“What are you guys up to?” I asked my friends.

“We’re just playing a card game, care to join?” Catori moved to make room for me, patting the seat beside her.

“I would love to.” I agreed, sitting myself beside Catori and an unsurprisingly competitive Helda.

“Ralph?” I called once I was seated.

Ralph’s arm rested on his chair,”I’ll pass. I need to get some sleep.” He yawned.

“That’s a first.” Helda teased, leaning her body to smile at Ralph.

“Be nice.” I grinned, looking back to an amused Ralph.

“Oh fine, only because you asked.” Helda playfully rolled her eyes before she turned back to the game.

“Have fun with your game. Goodnight everyone. Goodnight, Ray.” Ralph waved before retiring to his room.

“‘Ray’?” Helda faced me with a squinted eye and perked lips.

“Yes…” I blushed slightly, “He started calling me that earlier today. He’s been hanging around Blake a lot, nothing special...” I recalled.

Helda exchanged a loaded expression with Bhaskar. Who, took a sip of his drink, excluding himself from the conversation. Helda parted her lips, but withheld her speech.

Suddenly, Bhaskar slammed his stack of cards against the table. Causing all of us to jump.

“WHat!?” Helda exclaimed, examining the cards before her.

“Nicely done, Bhaskar.” Catori smirked, her long hands scooping up the cards for another round.

“That’s not fair!” Helda pouted with thin brows, “Nope! Refuse to believe it. You cheated.” She crossed her hands and looked away, pretending to be offended.

“You sound jealous.” I leaned over, teasing.

Helda’s neck craned, “... Maybe.” She scoffed.

“It’s alright,” Catori started sweetly, “Maybe you won’t be the loser this time.”

“Mmph. I better not…”

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