DOM #2: Evanescent

July 14, 2149

She was a living anachronism. Dressed in a plain cotton dress, simple leather shoes, and a brown headwrap, Sierra wasn’t at all surprised by the curious glances being thrown her way. Most people in the twenty-second century had never seen someone dressed like a slave, let alone someone who had practically been one just seconds before.

Sierra took quick, shallow breaths and stopped running to rest against a palm tree. The early morning sun kissed her brown skin, providing a stark contrast to the harsh, 1860s Virginia winter she’d been in moments earlier.

She turned her palms upward to see how bad her wounds were. Her entire body ached from the ordeal she’d just escaped, but the stinging, bloody cuts on her hands were her biggest concern at the moment. She looked around to see if anyone was still watching her, and then she stood up straight.

Duro.”

Everything around her, as far as she could see in any direction, became still. Sierra jogged toward one of the houses on the residential street. It was a small, one-family home with a swing set on the lawn and two cars parked in front of the garage. It was just seven-thirty a.m., so she didn’t expect most people to be out of their homes. She just hoped that family wouldn’t mind an unexpected guest.

She’d been so focused on getting away from the former slave owners who were chasing her that she didn’t think to pull up an image of her home when she threw herself into the mirror hands first, shattering it as she made her getaway. She could only formulate one thought: Miami, real time.

Her gift had done what it was supposed to do. She was back home in 2149 Miami. She had just been transported to somewhere other than her house. As far as problems went, that wasn’t a major one. All she needed to fix it was a mirror.

Sierra used the bottom of her dress to twist the doorknob. Pleased to find that it was unlocked, she pulled the door open and gasped when she came face to face with an older white man. He was frozen, just like the woman and small child behind him, and Sierra could tell she’d caught them mid-conversation. The blonde woman’s bright eyes said she’d been laughing, and the man’s smirk suggested that he was proud of whatever he’d said to elicit such a response.

Sierra slipped by them, careful not to touch anyone, and headed down a narrow hallway. She opened the first door she came across and peeked inside. It was a child’s room. The only mirror was the little square one atop a dresser.

She closed the door and proceeded to the next room. A bathroom. She didn’t care for the mirror in there either, but she stopped to search the medicine cabinet for bandages and found a box with two left. They featured a cartoon character she didn’t recognize.

She put the bandages across the biggest cuts on each hand and continued down the hall, box in hand, where she found the master bedroom. On the far side of the room, near the closet, she saw what she was looking for: a standing mirror tall enough to show her full height.

Sierra wiped the blood on her right hand on her dress and placed her palm on the mirror as she thought of her home. A live showing of her bedroom started in the mirror. Sierra’s mother paced the room, worry written all over her face.

Sierra snapped with her left hand to unfreeze time before stepping through the mirror and into her room. She landed right behind her mother. Before she could say anything, Jazlie spoke.

“Sierra Lynn Walker, have you lost your mind?” Jazlie turned around and grabbed Sierra’s shoulders. She squeezed them as she looked her daughter over, and then she sighed and pulled her into a tight hug. “Baby girl, you have to stop doing that.”

“I was only gone for three days.”

Jazlie squeezed her harder. “Only gone for three days? I was worried sick.”

Sierra tried to suppress her scream, but the pressure her mother’s hold put on her back was too great to ignore.

Jazlie jumped back. “What’s wrong?” She looked Sierra over again. “Take off your dress.”

“Mama–”

“Now, Sierra.”

With a sigh, Sierra began unbuttoning the dress. “Don’t be mad. I’m okay.” She covered her chest with one hand and used the other to undo the last button, allowing the dress to fall off her bony frame. Slowly, she turned around to show Jazlie the long, deep laceration running across half her back. While the gash itself hurt, it was the fresh memory of the two white men yelling racial slurs at her right before cracking the whip that made her wince. In her panic, she hadn’t thought to freeze time and get to safety unscathed. She was in survival mode, and that meant doing just one thing: running.

It was the closest she’d ever come to feeling like a true citizen of the time during her travels.

“Baby girl…” Jazlie’s voice cracked as her fingers moved down the bits of Sierra’s skin that hadn’t been mutilated. “Who did this? Where were you?”

“Post-slavery Virginia. This is the only bad thing that happened. I found a nice family. They took care of me the entire time I was there. Hattie Mae helped me make this dress and taught me how to–”

“You could have gotten yourself killed!”

“I didn’t, though. The whip barely touched me.”

Jazlie snatched Sierra’s hat off, letting Sierra’s brown curls fall, and sat on the bed so that she could see her daughter’s face. “You’ve done a lot of stupid things, Sierra, but this? What were you thinking?”

Sierra opened her mouth to respond, but Jazlie continued.

“Never mind the fact that I couldn’t reach my baby for days. You almost brought this bloodline to an end. Do you understand that? It’s bad enough that you didn’t have a child at twenty-five. You have a responsibility as my first-born daughter. You can’t fulfill it if you’re being reckless.”

Sierra knew the protocol. It’d been the same for five generations. Married at twenty-four, first child at twenty-five, first daughter gets the ancestors’ memorabilia and keeps the tradition alive. Yet, there she was: twenty-six and more interested in exploring every second of history than she was in being a mother or wife.

“I’ll have a daughter when I’m ready.”

“You won’t live to see ready if you keep putting yourself in danger for the sake of adventure. There are other ways to learn.”

“And none of them are better than immersing myself in history. Mama, I met so many great people. I always do when I travel.” Bending down, Sierra grabbed her dress and pulled the front over chest. She fished through a hidden pocket on the inside and retrieved one of her two cell phones. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Do you and Daddy want to hear what I recorded this time?”

Sierra locked eyes with Jazlie and found herself resisting the urge to take a seat. Even when she looked away from her mother, the nagging feeling persisted until her body began to move in ways she didn’t want it to. Jazlie’s mind forced her to grab the chair from her desk and sit backwards.

With a sigh, Sierra gave in and rested her head against the top of the chair. “You could have just said no.”

“I have to disinfect that wound. It’s going to hurt. I can make an illusion for you.”

“No, I don’t need one.”

Jazlie rose from the bed and moved around the room in search of something to clean the cut with.

“Mama?” Sierra said.

“Yes?”

“I don’t think the ancestors made me a Timekeeper so I could stay here. There’s an entire world with so much history. I want to experience all of it. I can’t do that with a baby. Maybe Yarah should have been born first. What if the person I’m supposed to be with doesn’t even exist in our time? They could be in ancient Egypt or a part of the Harlem Renaissance.”

Jazlie found a bottle of povidone-iodine, a pack of bandages, and a towel. “I love that you want to see the world. I don’t love that you disappear for days a time and I don’t know whether you’re okay, but it’s good that you want to learn. You could be a lot of things, and a student of the world isn’t a bad choice. But you have to have a daughter. The ancestors didn’t make any mistakes when they put you here first. Hey, look at me.”

Sierra tilted her head to right.

Jazlie studied her face. “He’s not from ancient Egypt or the Harlem Renaissance. What’s his name?”

“Who?”

“The man you’re thinking about right now. The one who’s making you doubt whether you can love him and fulfill your obligation to this family. Who is he?”

“I wish you’d stop listening to my thoughts.” Sierra lowered her head. “His name’s Avi. He’s from 2042. We started dating in 2040.”

“Can I meet him?”

“No. He was adopted by a white family when he was a baby. He doesn’t know his ancestors.”

Jazlie moved behind Sierra and placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “So he doesn’t know about magic.”

“Right.”

Jazlie covered Sierra’s mouth with her hand as she poured the iodine down her back. A muffled cry filled the silence in the room, and Jazlie tightened her grip on Sierra’s shoulder to keep her from jumping out of the chair.

The stinging cut brought tears to Sierra’s eyes. She squeezed them shut and allowed Jazlie to pat her skin dry with the towel.

Once Jazlie moved her hand, Sierra said, “You could have warned me first.” Her voice was low and tremulous, as if she feared the pain would worsen if she spoke any louder.

“I could have.” Jazlie wrapped a gauze bandage around Sierra’s torso, and then she squatted in front of Sierra. She wiped away the tears on her daughter’s face. “You can’t be with Avi. You have to find someone here.”

“But I don’t want anyone here.”

“Well, you live here, and your kids will have to live here. They’ll have to grow up using magic and knowing your grandmother and me. They’ll have to be raised in a two-parent household. Those things can’t happen if you’re with him. Whatever happened to Janet? You two were really good together.”

“She wanted too much. Commitment is… a lot.”

“And James?”

“The person I want is in the past, but they’re not in my past.”

A bright blue light flashed atop Sierra’s dresser. Grateful for the distraction, she rolled her chair across the room and found her work phone. The number on the screen wasn’t one she recognized, but she started to accept the HoloChat request. Right before her finger met the screen, she looked at her mom. “This is work.”

“I’ll have Yarah close that wound when she gets home from school. We’re not done talking about this.” Jazlie headed for the door. “Happy birthday, baby girl.”

Once Jazlie was gone, Sierra pressed the answer button, and a hologram of a man in his early thirties appeared in front of her. He was dressed in a suit and tie and sported a fresh haircut.

“Sierra Walker, right?” he asked, allowing her a glimpse of his perfect white teeth. “You own Sands of Time?”

Sierra nodded. “You are?”

“Taj Lewis. I’m looking for information on a family member for my son’s camp project and was referred to your company. Is now a good time?”

“It is. Can you tell me a little more about what you need?” Sierra grabbed a pen and notepad and wrote Taj’s name and number on the top of it.

“My son is supposed to trace his lineage as far back as he can and tell a little bit about everyone. There’s a woman I can’t find any information on besides her birth certificate, the deed from a bakery she owned, and a picture of her from 2015. She didn’t even use social media. Her name’s Sky Lewis. I’m guessing she’s my grandma four times over.”

Taj pressed some buttons on his phone and projected an image of a brown-skinned woman. The first thing Sierra noticed was her familiar eyes. They were the type she wouldn’t mind getting lost in.

Jotting down the name, Sierra asked, “What do you want to know about her?”

“Whatever you can find. We just need to write something down.”

“And you need this done by–”

“Tonight.”

“Tonight?” Sierra shook her head. “I put a lot of time into this research. It’s not easy, and I have other clients. For six hundred dollars, I can get back to you in a week, but even that’s pushing it.”

“And for two thousand dollars? Three thousand? Money isn’t an issue, but my son’s deadline is. You’re just pressing a few buttons on a computer. I’m sure you can squeeze me in. Any other genealogist would.”

Sierra rolled her eyes. “Four thousand dollars, and I’ll press those buttons by midnight. Send the money and everything you know about Sky.”

“Done. You can reach me at this number or by email. Talk soon.”

Taj hung up, and, within seconds, two holograms took his place: one of a bank deposit confirmation and the other of an email with three attachments.

Sierra swiped the deposit away and opened the email. She looked at the photo again before zooming in on the deed to Sky’s business– a bakery called Sky’s Pies. It had been located downtown at an address that was now a doctor’s office Sierra had never been to, so she couldn’t open a portal and just drop right in.

With shaky legs and a throbbing back, Sierra rose from the chair and headed for her bathroom to shower, hoping her time-sensitive assignment wouldn’t mess up her day too much.

*        *        *

“What do you mean you have to work today? It’s your birthday. We made plans.”

Sierra looked out the passenger’s side window of Avi’s car as he drove away from the airport. As far as he was concerned, she had just come back to Miami from one of her frequent work-related trips.

“I’m sorry.” Sierra said. “It just came up. But I’m here now.” She goggled the skyscrapers and old establishments that whizzed by. No matter how many times she visited him, the differences between their cities amazed her. “I can’t stay long, but I’m here.”

Avi took Sierra’s hand. His seat leaned back and his legs spread, he tossed a glance at the road every few seconds, but his focus was on Sierra. “Can I still take you to dinner tonight? I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“So six o’clock? We’ll meet at my house, or I can pick you up at yours.”

Sierra chuckled. “You can’t come to my house.”

“My parents don’t think you have one. They don’t think you have a car or a family either.”

“I have a house and a car and a family.”

“I’ve never seen any of it.”

“Six o’clock.” She raised his hand and kissed the bright yellow skin on the back of it. “We’ll meet at your house.”

Avi’s plump lips formed a pout as he pulled into the driveway of his family’s luxurious mansion. He released Sierra’s hand so that he could lean over and open her door.

She started to get out of the car, but Avi grabbed her neck and turned her to him. He closed the gap between their lips.

Sierra cupped his cheek and took in his woodsy cologne’s intoxicating scent. At that point in their relationship, she wasn’t sure if she loved the smell because he wore it or if he wore it because she loved it.

Though she was reluctant to, Sierra pulled away when Avi did. She followed him out of the car and met him in front of it. His long and lanky build shadowed her frame despite her being two inches shy of six feet tall.

After taking her drawstring backpack, Avi draped an arm around Sierra’s shoulders and led her to his front door. Upon stepping inside, they were met with surprised glances from Avi’s family.

His little brother, Emilio, jumped up from his seat on the floor and ran to Sierra. The five-year-old leaped into her arms, forcing her against the wall and eliciting laughter from Sierra and his family. A Mexican refugee who was taken from his family as a toddler, Emilio had been adopted by the Campbells around the same time Sierra met Avi.

“Sierra, honey, it’s so nice to see you again,” Mrs. Campbell said, sitting down her crochet needle. “We’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you all too. I’ve been busy with work and haven’t had much leisure time. I’ve already cleared my schedule for little Emilio’s birthday next month, though.” Sierra kissed Emilio’s forehead and put him on his feet, careful not to express the pain he’d caused to her back. “I actually have some work to do today and just wanted to spend a little time with Avi. So if you don’t mind–”

“You’re fine. Go ahead.”

Sierra pulled Avi along on her way to his fourth-floor bedroom. As he locked the door, she sat on his bed and ran her fingers along the silk sheets she’d bought him on her last visit.

“My mom wants to meet you,” Sierra said.

Avi plopped onto the bed. “I’d love to meet her. Your dad and sister too.”

“It’s not as simple as you just coming to my home. There’s a lot I’d have to teach you, and it’ll sound crazy, but you can’t meet them until you understand all of it.”

“There’s nothing you can tell me that I wouldn’t understand.”

“So, you wouldn’t question it if I said you can’t have my cell number because that number won’t be mine until one hundred years from now? Or if I told you I just spent the weekend with newly-freed victims of the transatlantic slave trade?”

Avi chuckled. “Obviously, I meant nothing within the realm of possibility.”

A half-hearted smile graced Sierra’s lips. “In any case, we’ll talk during dinner tonight.”

“There’s something I want to talk to you about tonight too.”

“What is it?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.” Avi leaned across the bed and reached underneath it. When he sat up again, he was holding a bag from a designer store. “If you don’t have an outfit planned already, I want you to put this on.” Before she could look into it, he stuffed the bag into the one she’d come with.

Sierra wanted to laugh at the inexplicable southern drawl that covered Avi’s husky voice. He’d been born and raised in Miami but sometimes sounded like he’d just migrated from the deepest part of Texas. The first time she’d noticed it, Sierra told him he sounded like honey, but she learned from his unamused eyes that it was one of the things he was sensitive about. Even when he tried to hide things, his eyes spoke volumes.

“Give me a hint?”

“Nah.” Avi stood and went over to his closet. “I want the suspense to bother you.”

Salẹ.” Sierra spoke just loud enough for it to be considered a whisper, but she only needed the ancestors and the universe to hear her. As soon as the command left her lips, time slowed down. Avi moved at half speed as an unaffected Sierra pulled her camcorder out of her bag.

She joined him on the other side of the room and stepped in front of him. Pressing record, Sierra told Avi to smile, and his lips slowly curled up. She moved the camera up and down his frame for a few seconds, zooming in and out to get a variety of options for when she would pull her favorite shots out of the video later, and then stepped out of his way and snapped.

Back to his regular pace and unaware that he ever wasn’t, Avi asked, “What are you gonna do with that video?”

“I just want to look at you when I’m not here.”

“Because the hundreds of pictures you’ve taken of me have stopped working?”

“Because I can never have too many.”

“You want something to remind you of me?” Avi reached up to the top shelf in his closet and pulled down a shoebox. He carried it back over to the bed, removed the lid, and rummaged through the jewelry inside of it until he found a platinum Cuban link chain and a gold bracelet far too small for either of them.

He took off the rose gold cable chain necklace he was wearing and tossed it to Sierra, along with the bracelet. He then put on the chain he’d gotten from the box. “Necklace is for you. I want you to hold on to the bracelet until we have a shorty. That’s for them.”

Sierra palmed the jewelry. “Didn’t you get this from your birth mom? You love this bracelet.”

“Nah, I love you. That bracelet has been sitting in a box since I was a year old. Won’t mean anything until my kid is wearing it.” He moved behind Sierra and secured the necklace for her. “I started to ask my parents about my biological family a couple weeks ago. Thought I wanted to know about them. Mom told me my dad was a public servant and he met my mom on the job. I stopped her there.”

“I’m a genealogist, Avi. If you want to know about your parents, I can get whatever information you need.”

Avi grinned. “I don’t care too much about where I came from. It’s where I’m going that’s important. You wanna know what I was gonna talk to you about tonight?”

Sierra nodded.

“I bought a ring. An expensive one. Your home girls will hate you for it, but they’ll only see it once because the diamond will blind them. I’m not going to show you or ask the question until tonight, though.”

“You want to get married?” Sierra stepped away from Avi. “Why?”

“I mean, why not? That’s what we’ve been working towards, right? I’m sure about what I want, and I’m ready to take that step. You’re not?”

Sierra picked up her bag and dropped the bracelet into it. “I have to get to work, Avi.”

“Sierra, wait. I wasn’t trying to scare you away. I’m sorry.”

“I have to go. Duro.” She mumbled the last bit and touched the mirror on the back of Avi’s bedroom door, providing herself with a quick and clean getaway from a discussion she wasn’t looking forward to picking back up.

*        *        *

Though the air outside was dirty, unlike during her time, where gas-fueled cars were obsolete and the environment wasn’t an afterthought, the inside of Sky’s Pies was like nirvana for Sierra’s nose. The moment she stepped through the front door, setting off the small bell above it, the multitude of sweet scents wafted her way.

The small bakery was decorated in soft pinks and baby blues from the walls to the tables and chairs. An Aaliyah song played from somewhere behind the counter, where two black women stood in front of the register. The oldest of the pair, Sierra recognized as Sky.

She was thin with short blonde weave and the same expressive brown eyes Sierra had been drawn to when she saw her picture hours earlier.

Without looking up from the register, Sky nudged the teenaged girl on her left. “Do your job, Willow.”

Willow shot Sierra a shy smile. “Welcome to Sky’s Pies. Have you tried our new Triple Chocolate Chip cupcakes?”

“I haven’t, actually.” Sierra walked up to the counter and looked over the assortment of treats hidden behind a glass panel. “I’ve never been here.”

“Would you like to sample something? You can choose anything in the display case.”

“I’ll try a coconut fudge cookie.”

Willow grabbed a napkin and bent down to retrieve the cookie. “This one’s my favorite.” She handed it to Sierra. “I like your shirt. Where’d you get it?”

“It’s not available in stores yet.” Sierra bit into her cookie, and her eyes widened at the burst of flavor. Her eyes moved over to Sky. “You’re Sky, right? You made these?”

“I am, and I did.” Sky beamed. “Good, right? It’s a family recipe I added a twist to.”

“I didn’t think there was a perfect cookie until now.” Sierra took her wallet out of her bag. “I’ll take three dozen of these and two strawberry cheesecakes.” She sat two crisp hundred-dollar bills on the counter.

“That’s too much for your order. It’ll only cost–”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Her hesitation showed on her face, but Sky picked up the money. “It’ll take a little while. You can come back in two hours, or you can hang out here. We have books and a TV in the back.”

“I think I’ll hang out here.”

Save the group of four teenagers sitting in front of the TV on the other side of the bakery, the place was empty. Sierra didn’t expect much else. It was just after four on a weekday. In the hours she’d spent walking around before making her way to Sky’s shop, she’d seen very few adults out and about.

“How long have you been baking? When did you open your shop?” Sierra asked.

“Willow, get started on her order and check on Mrs. Newsom’s pies. I’ll be back to help in a minute.” Sky shooed Willow away and wiped her hands on her apron. “I opened the shop in January. I started baking in November.”

“You were good enough to have your own shop in just two months? Wow.”

“I guess? I mean… I started off pretty good. It’s weird.”

“Why is it weird? You just have a natural talent. Do you mind if I take some pictures of the shop? I wanna tell some friends about it.”

“Go ahead,” Sky said as Sierra pulled out her camera and began snapping shots of the baked goods and decor. “It’s weird because that’s not all I’m good at.” She smiled when Sierra pointed the camera at her.

“What else can you do?”

“I don’t know how to explain it. You wouldn’t get it, anyway. I don’t even understand it.”

“Try me.”

“Nah… you’d probably think I was pranking you.”

“Sky.” Sierra snapped another photo. “Try me.”

Hesitantly, Sky picked up a chocolate chip cookie and broke it in half. She covered the pieces with her other hand and held them for a few seconds. When she removed her top hand, the cookie was whole again.

Sierra lowered her camera. “How long have you been able to do that?”

“Since November.”

“Are you religious?”

“Not anymore. I used to be. I’m more spiritual now. I’ve been looking more into–”

“Your ancestors.”

Sky’s brows furrowed. “How’d you know?”

Sierra whispered a command just loud enough for Sky to hear, and everything paused. She touched Sky’s shoulder to unfreeze her. “Because once you start to trust them, they start to trust you with magic.”

Sky’s eyes darted around the still shop. “So, what? We’re, like, witches?”

“Not witches. Daughters of Magic. You’re an Author– a creative by nature. It just took you twenty-seven years to tap into your talent.”

“I didn’t tell you how old I am.”

“I’m not from here, Sky. I’m a genealogist. Someone– a descendent of yours– was wondering why they couldn’t find any information on you, so I came to 2015 to get some.”

Sky ran a hand down her face and lowered her head. “I thought I was crazy. I thought I was imagining things.” Her head shot back up. “Wait. A descendent of mine? I don’t want kids.”

Sierra shrugged. “Life is funny is like that.”

With a slow nod, Sky asked, “What do they want to know about me?”

“Basic things.” Sierra swapped out her camera for her camcorder. It would make it easier for her to transcribe Sky’s words later. “What type of music do you listen to? What do you do for fun? Tell me about your family. Some fun facts. Things like that.”

“The more ratchet the music, the better, but I never skip a John Legend record. I like to bake and sing. Mezzo-soprano. I was in the choir at First Baptist Church until a few months ago. I have a little sister, Willow. She’s seventeen. Same dad, different moms. I graduated third in my class at West Miami Senior High School and dropped out of college after one semester.”

“That’s perfect. Thanks.”       Sierra turned off the camera. “You can hand out the stuff I ordered. I was just buying time. I should head home.”

“You’re not going to tell me anything about you? How do I know everything you said wasn’t a lie?”

“Look around you. Time is frozen. If you don’t believe me, believe your eyes.” Sierra leaned on the counter. “You can call me Lynn. I was born in 2123. I have a little sister too. Yarah. She’s fourteen. I like to travel through history and make people wonder how I know so much about so many things. I usually do a better job of blending in, but I was distracted today.”

“By what?”

Sierra waved Sky off. “That’s not important.”

“Tell me anyway. It’s not like I’m gonna tell anyone else. No one would believe any of this.”

“You have to make this your best-kept secret. Perfect your gift. Use it as you see fit. Learn all the other things you can do with it, but don’t mention it to anyone.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

“Good.” Sierra paused. “My boyfriend wants to propose to me tonight. I have to get married at some point. I owe my family a daughter, but commitment is…”

“A lot? Trust me, I get it. Do you love him?”

“I do.”

“Then, accept his proposal. Maybe you’ll learn that commitment isn’t as bad as you think it is. Life is funny like that, right?”

Sierra smirked and snapped her fingers. “Thanks for making this so easy, Sky. I usually have to do a little stalking to get any information out of people. Good luck with your bakery. And the other thing.”

“Will you come back? Maybe a year or two from now. I’ll show you everything I learned.”

“It’s a date. See you in 20–”

“Sky!” Willow’s shrill voice came from the kitchen, startling both Sky and Sierra, and was followed by the sound of a beeping smoke detector. “Hurry!”

Sierra went through the small door separating the dining and staff areas and followed Sky into the kitchen, where an oven and Willow’s apron were engulfed in flames. 

Sierra froze, unsure of what was supposed to happen next. Her heart told her to help while her better judgement reminded her that she didn’t know how the situation was supposed to turn out.

“Lynn, do that thing you did earlier. That little thing you said.” Sky fumbled with the knot on the back of Willow’s apron with one hand and turned on the kitchen sink with the other. “I can’t stop the fire from spreading and help Willow.”

The fear on Willow’s face served as the push Sierra needed to do as she’d been told.

Duro.”

She touched Sky, and then filled a mop bucket with water, some of which she splashed onto Willow’s apron. Once that fire was out, she started to pour the rest over the oven, but Sky stopped her.

“I’ll use the fire extinguisher,” she said while opening the case on the wall.

Sierra stepped toward Willow and lifted her charred shirt, careful not to touch her directly, revealing the fat that should have been hidden by her skin. “She needs to go to the hospital,” she said over the sound of the fire extinguisher. “These burns are pretty bad.”

Sky sat the extinguisher down and unplugged the oven. “I’ll take her.” In one swift movement, she made her way over to Sierra and pulled her into a hug. “Thank you so much.”

“No problem. I have to go, Sky. I’ve done too much here, and I’ve had time frozen for too long.”

“That’s a bad thing?”

“It’s not my time. It’s borrowed, and the ancestors will get it back off the end of my life. One second lost for each second gained. That’s the trade-off.” She snapped. “I’ll be back. Do you have a long mirror anywhere?”

“In the bathroom. Go back out front and to your left. Bye, Lynn.”

“See you later, you mean.”

Sierra waved at both Sky and a confused Willow on her way out of the kitchen. She let the other patrons know that the fire was a false alarm, and then she hurried into the bathroom. After checking to make sure it was empty, she opened a portal to her home and stepped through it.

She dropped her bag onto her bed and pulled out her cameras and the gift Avi had given her. Sitting in front of her desktop, Sierra tapped the screen to turn it on, connected the cameras to it, and linked it to her business cell.

“Send a HoloChat request to Taj Lewis,” Sierra said to the virtual assistant on her computer.

The computer was silent for a moment before the assistant’s masculine voice said, “I cannot find Taj Lewis.”

Sierra rolled her eyes. “Call back the person who last called me.”

“Calling Yarah Walker.”

“No.” She pressed the end button and located her notepad. “Call this number.” She read the number she’d written down hours earlier.

“The number you are trying to reach is dis–”

Sierra hung up. “Show me my emails.”

The computer did as instructed, and Sierra sifted through her inbox until she located the message she’d received from Taj. She sent a short message telling him to call her but promptly received a failed delivery notification.

“What the hell?” She checked her bank account and found that the money was still there. “Why can’t I reach you, Taj?”

Figuring that he’d get back to her before the night was over, she went to the bed and dumped the contents of Avi’s gift onto it.

She smiled at the short yellow dress and long heels of the same color. The outfit matched her nails and the color of her bedroom walls. She’d be surprised if the ring Avi bought didn’t feature a yellow diamond.

Sierra’s smile faded when she thought of what Avi had said earlier. She didn’t know marriage had crossed his mind before then. She’d only ever thought of it when her mother and grandmother reminded her that she had to do it at some point. Even then, she never envisioned growing old with Avi or anyone else. Forever seemed like too long to plan for.

She toyed with her necklace, unsure of what to think. She liked to believe her answer would have been a resounding ‘no’ had Avi popped the question, but saying ‘yes’ would surely make her life easier. At least until she had to figure out how a marriage would work when they lived a century apart.

Knowing Avi, he’d ask during dinner, despite how she’d responded earlier, so she decided to leave it up to what her heart told her in that moment.

Whichever answer comes to mind first, she thought as she gathered her clothes to shower and get ready for her date. That’s what I’ll go with. Let fate decide.

Within an hour, Sierra was dressed and ready to go. She stood in front of her mirror, her ever-present backpack swapped for a purse and her hair tamed into a ponytail. Satisfied with her appearance, she conjured a live viewing of Avi’s house.

She looked around the outside to make sure no one would see her appear on his doorstep. Noticing that his car wasn’t in the driveway, she frowned. It was half an hour until six, and he took even longer to get ready than she did. Hoping he’d be back soon or had simply let someone borrow his car, she went through the mirror.

Her feet were barely on his wooden porch before she knocked on the door. Seconds passed without a response. Just as she started to knock again, the door opened, and an unfamiliar man appeared in front of her.

“Hey. What’s up?”

The man was of Asian descent and stood at half a foot shorter than Sierra. He looked to be right around her age and was holding a video game controller, so she knew he wasn’t there to see Avi’s parents. Sierra just couldn’t figure out why her boyfriend would have friends over when they had somewhere to be.

“Hi. I’m Sierra,” she said. “Is Avi here?”

“Avi?” He shook his head. “No Avi lives here.”

“I’m sure he does. I’ve been here a million times. This is the Campbell house, right?”

“Right. I’m Akio Campbell. There’s my little brother, Emilio Campbell, and my parents, Tim and Georgia Campbell. No Avi, though. Sorry.”

Akio tried to close the door, but Sierra held it open with her heel. “Avi and I have somewhere to be. Can you stop joking around so we can go?”

“I’m not joking. There’s no Avi here. If you leave your bag on the porch, you can see for yourself.”

“I’m not doing that.” Sierra pushed past Akio. “Avi!” She looked around the living room and found Mrs. Campbell and Emilio on the couch. “Emilio, where’s your brother?”

The small boy stared at her with inquisitive eyes. “Akio is at the door.” He offered her wide, gap-toothed grin. “What’s your name?”

Sierra cocked her head. Avi could get a friend in on a prank like that, but Emilio couldn’t resist jumping into Sierra’s arms whenever he saw her. It’d been like that since the second time they met.

“Emilio, you know me. Where’s Avi?”

Emilio shrugged. “I don’t know Avi.”

Instead of responding, Sierra turned to the staircase and ran up to Avi’s room.

“Hey!” Akio said over the sound of his heavy footsteps. “You can’t just run through our house!”

Sierra burst into Avi’s room but came to a halt just a step past the door. His anime posters were gone. There were no pictures of Sierra on the dresser. The guitar that should have been in the corner beside his bookshelf had disappeared.

“What the hell?” She leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. “This is Avi’s room. I was just here. We made dinner plans. He was telling me about his real…” Sierra’s breath caught in her throat. “No.”

A hand flew over her mouth to contain the wail that threatened to escape. Her eyes found the center of the room, where Avi had been standing when he told her his birth father, a public servant, had met his mother on the job.

Where she’d been standing right before she went back to 2015 and helped Sky put out a fire, eliminating the need for professional help.

Warm tears slid down Sierra’s cheeks, and, despite her breaths growing deeper and louder, she felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“Look, you have to go. I don’t know who you’re looking for, but they’re not here.” Akio put a hand on Sierra’s shoulder. “My mom’s already calling the police.”

Sierra heard Akio, but his words didn’t register in her mind. She couldn’t tear her thoughts away from the room’s cinnamon scent. Its naked green walls. The short, muscular man who shouldn’t have been in a room that was already so out of order.

Her knees growing weak, Sierra put a hand on the dresser to steady herself. She felt empty, like her essence was detached from her body, though her heart was heavy.

“I didn’t say it back this time.” She became faint at the realization. “He said he loved me, and I didn’t say it back.”

Distant sirens became clear, but Sierra didn’t care. She could get away from the police at any time. Besides, she didn’t have anywhere better to be. Not if she couldn’t be wherever Avi was.

He existed somewhere. He had to. If not on earth, then in the universe. His soul was real. His energy was real. It still was. All she had to do was find it.

Her body on autopilot, Sierra went over to the window and pushed it open so that she could step out onto the balcony. 

“What are you doing?” Akio asked.

Two police cars turned onto the street as Sierra climbed onto the handrail and sat down. She gripped the railing just tight enough to not fall over by mistake.

The officers got out of their cars and reached for their weapons, but Sierra sat still. There were only a handful of ways that scenario could play out, and, in her despair, she couldn’t muster enough sanity to choose the most rational one.

All she knew was that if she was meant to be with Avi forever, she would be.

After all, she had said she’d leave it up to fate.

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