Chapter 19- One Last Time
Flickers of my own imagination brought me to reality. The messy visual of scattered journals and tattered paper had grown familiar. A soft aesthetic of mossy brown and soft greens decorated Ralph’s room. My lazy head resting in his lap.
The warmth of his compassion eased my restless consciousness. Allowing me to appreciate the finer aspects of life. Indulging in this pocket of time that could disappear at any moment. And is fated to die.
My chest raised with the harmonic rhyme of my heart. Wading through clear consciousness with gratitude. The delicate weight of Ralph’s arm draped over my body fulfilled me with contentment. His intimate stare flushed the base of his cheeks pink white his hand fell to cup my cheek. We exchanged a wholesome giggle before proceeding to a conversation.
We linger in blissful reconciliation before intrusive thoughts perceive us. I gathered a somber expression before looking off into the distance. Bursts of negativity bubbling at my lips.
“Is everything alright?”
I swallowed my fear and turned to Ralph, “Tomorrow, everything will change.”
“I know.” Ralph agreed, resting his head against the wall.
“Did you ever think you would end up here?” I asked.
“Never” Ralph shook his head with narrowed brows. “But I’m glad I did.” His expression softened with teary eyes.
I propped my elbows beneath my weight to sit up. A blissful nagging to stare into Ralph’s eyes. We shared a smile as our hands slid within each other’s embrace. My flushed cheek brushed against his. I hitched my breath before kissing his lips, squeezing his hands for support as I cried.
“We’re going to get through this.” He pulled me to his chest.
“Because if we don’t,” He pulled away to look me in the eyes, “I don’t know what I am going to do.”
I titled my head, asking for elaboration.
“I’ve seen a lot of bad in the world. Stood by and watched injustices play out and convinced myself there was nothing I could do about it. I only thought of myself, and ratted people out to make sure nothing bad happened to me. I regret being an idol bystander. I’m not crazy about religion but, I see ending this time travel fiasco as a way to make amends for my sins.”
Digesting the information, my lips parted in question. “I understand why you never spoke of your family but, what were they like?”
“Manipulative. I don’t think any of us actually loved each other. We twisted each others’ emotions to feel validation for our own sorrow, and used it to fuel our egos. Or to create barriers of protection. My father founded the corporation in wake of WWI and preyed upon the vulnerable to build up his empire. I was the middle child of three, so I had to become skillful to keep my place within the family. Being disabled certainly didn’t help with that.”
“What were your brothers like?”
“When I left, Ernst was 30 and Hugo was 3. Ernst was the prodigy, a real ass kisser when it came to my parents, and could never do anything wrong. He inherited everything. And Hugo was too young to place any serious standards on, I have no idea what happened to him when I left. There’s no records or reports... It’s like he disappeared. When I take over, I want to find him.”
My hand brushed his with wavering sympathy. I could never imagine being in the situation he was. Being ashamed of your family name and not knowing what happened to your younger sibling. Not knowing that knowledge would have eaten me from the inside out.
Is that how Poppy felt? Maybe I shouldn’t dwell on that...
“I hope you do.” I said.
“What will you do?”
“Try to stand up against my father.” I gulped.
“Do you think your mom will support you?”
“I don’t know.”
Ralph’s olive eyes grew soft, “I have faith that she will listen. From what you’ve told me, she’s a lovely woman.”
“She would adore you.” I picked my nails, “You’re a proper gentlemen.” I admitted, blushing.
“Did she know you were gay?”
The pace of my heartbeat quickened. The symptoms of my anxiety began consuming my vision with flashbacks to the night before I disappeared. The shouting. The cold hallways. The rough carpet against my knees...
“I’m sorry,” Ralph lulled me back to my senses, “I didn’t mean to upset you with that word. I just-”
“She knew.” I recalled back to our conversation we had in the kitchen.
“Did she approve of it?”
I’ll always be proud to call you my son. “Yes.”
“Really?” Ralph’s eyes widened. “You realize that’s unheard of.”
“She’s the only one I ever told. But she told me to never tell anyone about it.” I shrugged.
“LGBT+ acceptance is a relatively recent development.”
“What is that?” My head tilted.
“Oh, it’s the name of the community of those who don’t fit into societies norms of attraction or expression. Us, Blake being nonbinary, Helda being transgender... Actually everyone but Bhaskar fits under that umbrella term.” Ralph smile in amusement.
“So me liking men means I’m apart of this lgqt?” I asked.
“LGBT.” He restated, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.”
“It’s a bit confusing I will admit, but putting on a label can really help some come to terms with who they are.”
“So, I’m gay.” I tested the word out.
“If that’s what you choose to identify as. There’s no need to place a label if it doesn’t make you comfortable.”
I rested my head against the wall to ponder. “I’m gay.” I said with confidence.
“If saying that makes you happy, then yes.” Ralph grinned.
“I won’t be able to say that when I return.”
“I don’t think it would be the wisest decision.” He agreed.
“I guess not...”
A steady knock on the wall saved the dying conversation. Ralph responded, flexing his fingers to open the curtain. Catori ducked through, hands placed gently within each other.
“Hello, am I interrupting anything?”
Ralph checked with me before replying, “No, what’s going on?”
“We, well, Bhaskar and I thought it would be fun to play one last card game with you all. A little, calm before the storm.” Catori curved her shoulder, “Would you two be up for playing?”
I nodded. “That sounds fun.”
“We’ll be there in a minute.” Ralph agreed, waiting for Catori to exit.
“Thank you. For everything.” A tear slipped my eye engaging in a huge.
“Of course.” Ralph said, curling his hand around mine. “Are you ready to join the others?” He leaned in for a small kiss.
Tiny crackles came from the fake fireplace on the t.v. The room burst in laughter from a joke we had barely missed. I exchanged glances with Ralph, who gave me encouragement as we sat down.
Cards littered the table in an already started game with various foods residing next to everyone. Bhaskar offered me a plate after his round, striking up a conversation. I did my best to respond with the limited knowledge I knew, and he applauded me for it. Ralph rubbed my shoulder with encouragement, eyes beaming with pride.
“Something I’m going to miss is this food.” Catori cuddled beside Edith.
“Nothing hits more than this mac n’ cheese.” Helda agreed through a mouthful of food.
“Food’s a lot harder to make without this fancy technology.” Blake said, scooting their chair closer.
“All I had was a fire and some witchy magic.” Edith chuckled to herself.
“Those townsmen were idiots.” Catori rolled her eyes, taking a drink of her beverage.
Edith raised a brow with crossed arms, “Yes, they insisted I used witchcraft on them. Which, yes, but it’s not like my powers were gifts from god.”
Catori bobbed her head, “You were one of the only powered in in your town.”
“All the more reason to demonize the plant lady.” Edith placed a card from her deck down.
The conversation peaked my interest, “I don’t think I have heard this story before, what happened?”
“The townsmen called me a witch, and they handled me as such, by throwing me in a lake. Covered in chains.”
My jaw dropped to the floor, “They drowned you?!”
“Yeah until one disguised official whisked me out of the lake and convinced them to let him take me.” Edith took a shot, resting her head against the couch.
“I still remember what it was like coming through the machine.” Catori said.
Edith’s pupils widened, “We’re going to have to deal with that again...” She groaned.
“Fuck.” Catori pursed her lips, her grip tightening around a card.
“Catori’s capable of cursing?!” Helda exclaimed.
A sly grin covered the culprit’s cheeks, shaking her head.
“Ahh I knew you could do it!” Helda cheered.
“Stop it.” Edith interjected, withholding a laugh.
“No none of you get it, I’ve been trying to get her to curse since I’ve been here.” Helda looked around the room for validation.
“Do you all have the same experience in the time machine?” Blake took a sip of wine.
“I don’t know actually.” Ralph admitted.
“I do,” Edith scrunched her nose, “And the answer is sort of. The longer the time span, the worse the physical affects are. From my knowledge, it’s different for everyone. It shows flashes of images of time, visualizes what we dread.”
“I saw flashes of war. Death. People dying.” I shivered.
“I saw technological advancement and the destruction of my home.” Catori shared.
“Wait. You all saw things?” Helda’s brows furrowed.
“What did you see?” Ralph leaned forward.
“Nothing. Well, kinda. I was in this misty void of pale purples and blues. They were more like clouds, and I was falling towards the dark pit and when I passed it I woke up here...”
“Oh hell no.” Blake exclaimed.
“That’s fascinating.” Ralph’s eyes narrowed.
“Do you have an explanation for it?” Helda asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Really? But aren’t you a Lothar?” Helda’s insecure tone turned cold, “Surely you know about the machine.”
“Just because I belong to the family doesn’t mean I contributed to their efforts.” Helda’s eyes crinkled. “That’s a part of the reason that I ended up here.” Ralph said.
“Where-” I struggled to interpret the next couple of syllables from Bhaskar, “-go?”
Helda’s grin slipped. Her body shifting in insecurity as she curled her body against the chair. “I don’t know,” She began nonchalantly, “Probably stay and try to be a normal teen.”
“That’s good.” Catori responded.
“You’re not going to have to deal with New York Traffic anymore.” Helda pointed out.
“Raymond might.” Blake chimed in.
“Not really.” I shrugged.
“You have yet to live through the 20s... They’re insane, until the stock market crashes.” Helda said.
“Save every penny you got, cause it’s gonna be bad.” Blake chugged the rest of their wine.
“Then there’s World War II...”
“Yeah...” Ralph chewed his lip.
“Then the cold war.” Edith added.
“Don’t forget the civil rights movement.” Catori pointed.
“Yeah you’re not getting any rights until you’re at least 50 or 60.” Helda slurped a juice box.
“Helda that wasn’t necessary.” Ralph chimed, dismissing the concept.
“What?” She threw her hands up, “I thought we were telling the truth.”
“I appreciate this knowledge.” I nodded with gratitude, pausing for composure, “I will be fine as long as I have my family around me.”
Catori glossed over my eyes, smiling through loose strands of hair. “Then you have something to look forward to.”
“I do.” A swell filled my chest.
“We all have something to look forward to.” Edith said.
“Or something to fight for.” Blake’s eyes welled up.
“Then let’s raise a toast.” Edith’s mouth curved to a smile, “To us. For those they have taken from us, and those we aim to save. Blessed be.” We clinked glasses.
“Regardless of what may happen tomorrow, I’m proud of all of you.” Tears glossed her lids.
“So let’s enjoy each other’s company...” Ralph exchanged a glance, “One last time.”
“One last time.”