“You don’t have to hold back on my account,” Mrs. Moore huffed with difficulty, laboring for breath. “I can jog for a little bit.”
“No,” Tabitha shook her head. “Let’s just walk together.”
It was a clear and crisp-feeling October morning, and Tabitha had woken up to the unlikeliest of partners for her morning run. There was something particularly surreal about seeing her mother in the morning light, outside, and she wasn’t able to stop herself from sneaking glances over to ensure that yes, this was really happening. Her mother had pulled on a sweatshirt and her hair was askew from waking up so early, but it was her eyes that stood out—they were wide and darted around with apprehension, as if fearful someone would notice she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.
In Tabitha’s previous life, she’d accepted that her mother had some form of agoraphobia—she kept the windows covered and rarely, if ever, ventured outside. Hiding from the world, fearful of being seen, being judged, had shrunk the size of that woman’s whole world to the cramped and cluttered prison of their mobile home. Tabitha was frankly shocked when her mother agreed—no, insisted—on trying to perform her daily morning run with her.
In actuality, what they did was at best a power-walk together, and Tabitha discreetly diverged from her normal route so they were instead headed downhill first. They managed for about six minutes before her mother was out of steam, and then their pace reduced to normal walking speed. She wasn’t embarrassed or surprised at how out of shape her mother was, because she’d been fighting to push those same limitations just this past summer.
Right now, she was regretting not donning a sweatshirt herself. While she didn’t mind taking a day off from actual running, she was ill-prepared for a walk; usually she kept away the chill by staying in constant motion to keep her body temperature up.
“I don’t want to hold you back,” Mrs. Moore wheezed in frustration, trying to lurch forward faster. “Go on, run if you have to. I’ll get there.”
“Mother—Mom,” Tabitha spoke softly. “Don’t push yourself, please. You’re not ready for that yet, and hurting your knees or ankles will be more of a setback than any exercise you get today.”
“I don’t want to hold you back,” her mother repeated, staggering to a stop and sagging forward to rest her hands on her knees.
“You’re not,” Tabitha promised. “If you’re willing to do this with me, I’d rather walk with you than run ahead alone, okay? Do you need a minute?”
“Didn’t think it’d be this bad,” Mrs. Moore admitted with difficulty, heaving herself back into motion again. “The uphill’s just… dreadful. Things are tough when you get this old.”
“You’re not old,” Tabitha had to speak very carefully to not sound patronizing. “You just haven’t been taking care of yourself. You’re carrying around all that extra sugar you’ve ever dumped into that sweet tea, right now. Among other things. I don’t know that I have time to prepare the rest of your meals, but… we’re going to think up a meal plan. Or something.”
“No more sweet tea,” Mrs. Moore agreed, trying not to gasp for breath as they walked up the hill at what felt like a rather sedate crawl.
“Sweet tea is… fine,” Tabitha managed, unsure of how much she should sugarcoat her words, so to speak. “But, the jugs we buy are already sweet tea. Please don’t dump in cups of sugar to sweeten them, Mom. They’re really killing you.”
“This is killing me,” her mother tried an uneasy laugh between breaths. “I don’t know how you do this every day.”
“It’s the worst just starting out,” Tabitha assured her. “These are the hardest steps you’ll take.”
“I know,” Mrs. Moore said. “I’m… trying, Tabitha,”
“You’re doing more than trying,” Tabitha said. “This is… this might be the closest we’ve been, the most we’ve talked in years?”
“It is,” Mrs. Moore sounded surprised. “You’re not talking like a robot anymore, either.”
“I—I wasn’t talking like a robot,” Tabitha flushed with embarrassment and gave her a weak smile. “I was just… speaking with proper diction.”
“On the contrary, my dear,” Mrs. Moore’s tone changed. “I was referring not to your elocution, but rather the manner in which you articulated your ridiculous speech.”
Oh, wow, Tabitha was stunned. She’s… way better at that than I am? This is MY mother? Since when can she talk without sounding like trailer trash?
“Your lines were lovely, but they didn’t feel like yours,” Mrs. Moore explained, reverting back to her normal way of speaking. “Honestly, thought you were just mocking me, tryin’ to come off as a bad actress. We’re gonna work on that, Tabby.”
“I…” Tabitha swallowed, feeling ashamed. “Yeah. After a while, I was just doing it to piss you off. But, I think it all started because I needed something to change. To set us apart, to remind myself, to… um. Get some distance. From you, and from who I was then.”
“Well,” Mrs. Moore paused for breath. “It worked.”
“Yeah, I just… I’m sorry,” Tabitha said with sincerity. “I was so caught up in… things, so focused on me, that I didn’t care what it did to you. I’m sorry, I haven’t been a great daughter.”
“Now we’re here, so I guess it’s good that you did,” Mrs. Moore said. “Do you want to get started on the basics today?”
“Um,” Tabitha blushed. “I… actually have plans for today—some friends are driving me out to Louisville.”
“What?” Mrs. Moore actually stumbled. “Tabitha—you’re thirteen years old, you can’t just go traipsing across the state without saying a word. I know you’ve… grown up a little, and it’s like you have it all together, but...”
“Karen Williams,” the heavyset woman introduced herself, offering a hand to Tabitha’s father. “You must be the Moores!”
Mrs. Williams was a stout-figured but fashionable mother figure, clad in a what appeared to be summer wear despite the current season—a sleeveless floral-patterned blouse paired with white capris. Her blonde hair was worn in a short bob, and she was awash with jewelry—dangling earrings, a brooch necklace hanging above visible cleavage, and bangle bracelets. They looked more interesting than expensive, the kind of ornamentation that struck Tabitha as conversation pieces rather than a way to flaunt her wealth. In fact, the first, overwhelming impression the woman made was that she was an aggressively social suburban mother, and that any awkward conversation made during the long car-ride to Louisville would become her gossip for the week.
“Yes Ma’am,” Alan gave her a firm handshake. “Alan Moore, and this is my wife Shannon.”
Mrs. Moore watched them both with a weak smile, looking decidedly uncomfortable with this strange woman in her home.
“And, you’re Tabitha!” Mrs. Williams deduced, eschewing a handshake for her and instead wrapping her into a hug. “Can’t tell you how grateful I am for what you did, Honey—Sandy’s just been a wreck this whole time.”
“I’m just glad we were so close when it all happened,” Tabitha said, gingerly returning the woman’s hug. “It was lucky.”
“Well, both of the Williams men are quite taken with you,” Mrs. Williams gave Tabitha a squeeze and then pulled her out to arm’s length so she could take a better look at her. “I was halfway to convincin’ Matthew to ride along with us. But, now—I think we’ll have more fun with just us girls!”
“Matthew said the Macintire’s daughter was coming with us?” Tabitha asked, trying not to fidget at the thinly-disguised inspection.
“Oh, Hannah’s out in the car, didn’t want her to be a handful,” Mrs. Williams admitted in a hushed voice. “We, um. We weren’t sure how bad things were going to be, so she doesn’t know much specific about you know—about what happened. She just knows her dad got hurt, and that we’re going to go see him today.”
“How old is she?” Mr. Moore asked.
“Just in first grade,” Mrs. Williams sighed, shaking her head. “She’s quite the little terror, has both the Williams men wrapped around her little finger. Well. Are you ready to take off, Miss Tabitha?”
Mrs. Williams was driving a brand new 1998 dark blue Ford Taurus, a model of car so ubiquitous to Tabitha that she realized it wouldn’t be an uncommon sight on the roads even forty years into the future. It looked terribly out of place here in the shabby present of the trailer park now, of course. A dark-haired little girl was buckled into the backseat, peering with interest through her window at the dingy surroundings.
“Did you want to sit up front with me, or in the back with Hannah?” Mrs. Williams asked.
“I’d love to sit with Hannah, if she’s okay with that,” Tabitha smiled, stealing a peek over at the girl.
“Oh, she’s fine—hop right on in and we can hit the road. Sure hope you love The Beatles!”
On closer inspection, Hannah was... adorable. She was small for a seven-year old, and looked positively tiny wrapped up in what she assumed was Matthew’s blue-and-white varsity jacket, emblazoned with the Springton S. She had large green eyes, cute round babyfat cheeks and dark, wispy hair loosely gathered into a long ponytail. The first-grader watched from the back seat with trepidation as Mrs. Williams led Tabitha out towards the car.
Love at first sight—I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a daughter so badly! Tabitha felt a surge of emotion overtake her. Would the Macintres let me babysit, maybe? There’s years yet until Julie’s even born.
“Hannah honey, this is Tabitha,” Mrs. Williams called into the vehicle as she opened her door. “She’s coming along with us to visit your dad at the hospital, so don’t you dare pick on her!”
Tabitha opened the rear door and nervously took a seat across from the girl. The interior of the car was still pristine, the new car smell battling it out with vanilla scent from a dangling pine-tree-shaped air freshener.
“Hi,” Tabitha said. “You can call me Tabby, if you want.”
“Do you live here?” Hannah blinked, looking past Tabitha at the mobile homes behind her in trepidation.
“Hannah, mind your manners,” Mrs. Williams scolded in exasperation, turning to give Tabitha an embarrassed look. “I’m so sorry—like I said, she’s just a little terror, don’t mind any nonsense she says. Say hello to Tabitha, Hannah honey.”
“Hello to Tabitha,” the smarty pants echoed, shooting Tabitha a cheeky smile but holding out her little hand. “Tabby sounds way better.”
“Hello to Hannah,” Tabitha obliged her handshake. “I only met your dad once, and it was when he got hurt—so, I’m a little nervous about going out to meet him now.”
“...That’s okay,” Hannah decided after looking her over for a moment. “I’ll vouch for you.”
You’ll vouch for me? Tabitha couldn’t help but smile. Who did you pick that up from?
“So, do you have a boyfriend, Tabitha?” Mrs. Williams asked, turning the key in the ignition and starting the car. Heat roared from the vents and as promised, Oh Darling! by The Beatles began to play from the CD player built into the dash.
We’re not even out of the trailer park, yet, Tabitha winced, putting on a sheepish grin for the woman to see in her glances towards the rear-view mirror. And already we’re failing the Bechdel test...
“Matthew is my husband,” Hannah declared, eyeing Tabitha warily. “We’re going to get married.”
“Not ‘till you’re both at least thirteen,” Mrs. Williams laughed. “You’ll have to let my son play the field a bit until then, Hannah honey.”
“Thirteen is way too far away,” Hannah groaned. “I’m only eight.”
“Seven, Hannah,” Mrs. Williams reminded her. “You’re seven years old, I’ve been to all seven of your birthday parties.”
“...Seven,” Hannah reluctantly corrected herself, looking back to Tabitha. “Almost eight, though. Mostly eight. Eight enough.”
“I feel like I’m too young to start dating,” Tabitha finally answered with a grin, enjoying the comedy exchange between the duo. “I’m younger than I look.”
“Oh? Fifteen? Fourteen?” Mrs. Williams guessed. “I thought for sure you were around Matthew’s age.”
“Thirteen,” Tabitha admitted with a weak smile. “My birthday’s this December. I’m just a freshman.”
“Thirteen?!” Hannah gasped in apparent alarm. “That’s old enough to marry Matthew!”
“I’ve also only met Matthew once, at school,” Tabitha reassured her, before breaking into a devious smile. “My friend Elena is very interested in him, though!”
“Elena—who’s Elena?!” To Tabitha’s surprise, it was Mrs. Williams jumping in with an exaggerated reaction rather than Hannah. The woman shifted into drive and slowly pulled up the hill to leave the Lower Park. “What’s her last name? Is she a sophomore?”
The drive to Louisville didn’t seem long with two enthusiastic chatterboxes to occupy her attention. Hannah was going to be Mulan for Halloween, right up until she heard Tabitha’s plans to be Ariel—the seven year old immediately decided that she was then also going to be Ariel. Mrs. Williams and Hannah alike both groaned when Tabitha told them that the four cousins she was taking trick-or-treating intended to dress as the South Park cast, prompting an animated discussion on all the better alternatives.
It was Mrs. Williams that suggested the boys should dress to match Tabitha’s Little Mermaid theme, but Tabitha struggled to remember the names of male characters they could be beyond Sebastian and Prince Eric. To her surprise, Hannah happened to be a preeminent authority on the film, enthusiastically detailing Flounder and Scuttle for her—as well as Prince Eric’s manservant Grimsby, his dog Max, the singing chef Louis, and even Ursula’s eels Flotsam and Jetsam.
This little girl’s memory retention is... alarming! Tabitha thought to herself with a grin. Hannah’s encyclopedic knowledge of the film impressed her enough that she decided the girl would have a place helping her spin the ever-growing notebook of compiled Goblin Princess details and ideas into a proper story.
“Hannah, honey, don’t chew on your hair, please,” Mrs. Williams reminded the young girl. “Leave that to your hairdresser.”
Well… in a few more years, Tabitha thought with a smile, reaching over and pulling Hannah’s ponytail out of the girl’s mouth and straightening her hair. The enthusiastic conversation seemed to have run out of steam and Hannah was busy marveling out the window at the sights of downtown Louisville. Don’t think I’ll ever find a more perfect beta reader than her!
Mrs. Williams, for her part, had seemed keen on pitching their family’s big Halloween party held this year at their lake house throughout the duration of the car ride. Between several neighborhood families in regular attendance, Matthew’s youth group from their First Methodist church, and the various friends from school of his invited, it was a big event—a teenage social soiree carefully orchestrated by none other than this fearsome Mrs. Williams herself.
Equally excited and trepidations of making her debut, as Mrs. Williams put it, Tabitha remained politely interested, but ultimately non-committal in promising her attendance. She’d only met Matthew once, after all, and her feelings were… complicated. It was a discussion to test out with Elena and Alicia first, and there was no time to ponder it over more right now— they were already pulling into the University of Louisville Hospital’s parking lot.
The place looked positively ancient, like something out of a 1980s film. The Cardiovascular Innovation Institute building, a marvel of curved silvery panels and glass… did not exist yet, and nor did the stark geometric flared lines of the Clinical Translational Research building, or several of the other modern structures Tabitha remembered appreciating but not quite recalling the names of. She’d navigated her own lonely way around the area just months ago, when getting her chronic migraines examined.
That… was really me, Tabitha thought, almost numb to the fact by now. I lived a life in the future—I was RIGHT HERE, sort of, but in 2045. It wasn’t even that long ago, was it? That strange MRI machine… and what was that nice young nurse’s name?
Mrs. Williams clucked her tongue in annoyance at the cold air when she stepped out of the Ford Taurus. She quickly crossed around the vehicle to fuss with Hannah’s borrowed jacket and make sure it was buttoned up properly.
“You ready, Miss Tabitha?” Mrs. Williams asked, noticing Tabitha’s hesitation.
“Yeah,” Tabitha nodded, trying to stop from staring at everything. “Sorry.”
Holding hands with everyone while crossing through parking lots was proper protocol for Hannah, and she diligently took Mrs. Williams on one side and Tabitha on the other as they walked past the rows of cars in their parking area. They’d parked across from the Cancer Center, one of the few buildings Tabitha still recognized—although in 1998, the sign emblazoned across the building instead read a full name, James Graham Brown Cancer Center.
When they entered through one of the nearby double-doors together, she tried to stifle her sense of discomfort at realizing she didn’t have her bracelet PC on her—having her ID and all of her insurance information keyed into the thing wouldn’t have done much to help her here, anyways. Everything was out of place from how she remembered, but that lingering sense of didn’t I forget something persisted as they navigated the halls, following the series of information placards with arrows posted regularly upon the walls.
“Mom!” Hannah broke away from them and ran at full tilt through a quiet Hospital waiting area upon first sight of her mother.
“Aww—c’mere, my baby girl,” Mrs. Macintire said with a doting smile, grabbing Hannah and hoisting her up with some difficulty to hold her in a tight hug. “Ooph—what’s she been feeding you, you little butterball! You’ve gotten so heavy!”
“Macaroni and cheese!” Hannah gleefully reported. “With ketchup on top!”
“That’s... disgusting!” Mrs. Macintire turned to throw the approaching Mrs. Williams a skeptical look. “Ketchup? I hope you’re kidding.”
“The acidity helps bring out the flavor!” Mrs. Williams argued with a laugh. “My recipe calls for fresh-cut tomatoes, but Hannah wasn’t having any of that.”
“Tomatoes, ew!” Hannah wrinkled her little nose in distaste, looking up towards Mrs. Macintire with a giggle. “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s still resting now, we’ll go and see him in a bit,” Mrs. Macintire promised, setting Hannah down to stand on one of the nearby waiting room seats. “Thank you so much for looking after her, Karen. I know she can be a handful.”
“Two handfuls! But, just say the word and we’ll keep her forever,” Mrs. Williams said, taking Tabitha by the shoulders and presenting her forward. “This—is Tabitha Moore!”
...Mrs. Crow?! Tabitha froze, feeling her insides seize up in recognition.
There had been a nagging familiar sense at seeing this woman. She had dark hair, but there were almost no facial similarities to her daughter at all—Hannah took after her father, while Sandra Macintire had somewhat prominent cheekbones and sharp, narrow features, giving her a distinct, intense sort of beauty. Tabitha knew this woman with the piercing gaze in the future... but not under the Macintire name.
This was—or would be, would have been someday, under different circumstances—the gaunt, hatchet-faced Mrs. Crow, from the office at the Safety Plant. A woman whose resting bitch-face was only broken by disapproving sneers, who barked out demands and criticisms and was always, always giving her the dirtiest looks.
Of course she hated me, Tabitha felt her stomach lurch and twist up with guilt. She knew I was from Sunset Estates. That we let her husband die. Oh, God... what did we do to you, back then?
Time had been very cruel to the woman in that timeline, because back here in 1998, even her hawkish features were softer, more fleshed out. She was pretty in her own unique way, had a face that could smile, one full of love and adoration for her daughter. The Mrs. Crow she remembered from 2014 onwards had a hooked and angular face, with deep lines that were etched into a perpetual scowl.
But, no! No, this isn’t her. Not exactly, not yet. No, it WON’T EVER be her, she never lost her husband, never had to remarry, Tabitha tried to tell herself. Such a crazy coincidence, though! I never realized she was from Springton. I mean, the Safety Plant’s over in Fairfield, and—oh Jesus they’re all staring I need to say something.
“H-hello,” Tabitha said quickly, swallowing and trying to keep her calm after that awkward pause. “Hi. It’s, um, it’s nice to finally meet you.”
Without saying a word, Mrs. Macintire crossed over and wrapped Tabitha up in a fierce hug. Before Tabitha could fumble out what to say, she realized from the minute tremors that Mrs. Macintire had already begun to quietly cry. The sentiment was infectious, because moments later Tabitha felt her own unbidden tears rise up, and she clutched at the near-stranger just as tightly as this woman did to her.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Macintire laughed out with a sniffle. “Thank you. What you did means so much to me.”
“How about I head out and grab you some real food,” Mrs. Williams proposed. “Sandy, you look dreadful. Your usual Southwestern salad?”
“A giant cheeseburger—something greasy and just smothered in bacon,” Mrs. Macintire reluctantly disengaged from Tabitha while wiping her eyes. “Lots of fries. Coffee? Thank you so much, Karen. Were you able to grab those papers?”
“I was!” Mrs. Williams dug into purse and withdrew several folded newspaper sections, giving Tabitha a meaningful look. “Cheeseburgers for you, Miss Tabitha? I know Hannah is strictly ketchup and pickle only.”
“Happy meal with ketchup and pickle only, please!” Hannah eagerly chimed in.
“Um,” Tabitha hurriedly dug out the five-dollar bill from her pocket she’d prepared for emergencies. “A salad would be lovely…”
“Oh, Sandy, you’re gonna love this girl,” Mrs. Williams muttered, casually swatting away the offered five in amusement. “Listen to her—a salad, at her age. What’s this world coming to?”
“You should get a Happy Meal!” Hannah agreed. “They come with the Ronald and pals’ Haunted Halloween. I’m missing Fry Kid, and Birdie!”
“Fry Kid and Birdie, I’ll remember to ask,” Mrs. Williams promised with an indulgent smile. “Back in a bit, then, I’ll leave you ladies be!”
“Thank you again, Karen,” Mrs. Macintire said with emotion as they watched the chubby woman depart. “Phew. Okay. Hannah sweetie—I’d like to sit down with you and talk to you about what happened.”
They moved over to the corner of the waiting room, situating Hannah to sit between them. Mrs. Macintire nervously took daughter’s hand, awkwardly spreading the newspaper sections Mrs. Williams had brought her across her lap. Officer in Critical Condition After Springton Shooting, a headline stood out in bold lettering, but thankfully Hannah didn’t seem able to read well enough to catch that at a single glance.
“Honey… your daddy was shot, while he was out being a policeman,” Mrs. Macintire revealed.
“Shot?” Hannah asked, her animated smile dropping away. “Shot like… with a gun?”
“Yes, a bad person shot him, and he almost died,” Mrs. Macintire said. “It was very, very close. He—he only just started getting better.”
The seven year old girl went very quiet and extremely still as Mrs. Macintire began to pass her the sections of newspaper. Several featured aerial photos of the squad car that had smashed Jeremy Redford’s white continental off the road, along with photos of Mr. Macintire. Tiny fingers held the paper carefully in front of her and Hannah’s eyes narrowed in concentration as she struggled to decipher some of the words.
“They said he would have died, if not for Tabitha, here,” Mrs. Macintire said, handing over the section she’d saved for last. “She was right there when it happened, went up right away to go give your daddy first aid. Th-they said—um, they said, if she hadn’t been there to stop the bleeding, your daddy wouldn’t have made it.”
Springton Teen Saves Life of Police Officer, the story claimed, and beneath was an enormous picture of—
Oh my God, that’s ME, Tabitha realized, eyes going wide. This is the picture Alicia took? When did this come out?
Everything in the photo seemed bright and distracting compared to the tunnel-vision she’d experienced that afternoon, but the foreground was taken up by her, rushing to rescue the downed officer. He was laid out across the gravel beside the road, several yards in front of his police cruiser, looking smaller, more diminished than she remembered. The photo was blurred and imperfect, but the way Tabitha’s red hair tangled in the wind behind her and her posture leaning into her forward dash made it all look incredibly dramatic.
Hannah looked up at Tabitha in shock, eyes already wet, before looking back at the newspaper, then back again to Tabitha as if to compare them. The little girl’s breathing accelerated, and then began to hitch in her throat as she began to lose control and start crying. Heart caught in her throat, Tabitha took Hannah’s hand to comfort her, and the little girl immediately squeezed back tightly.
“Wh-what happened?” Hannah demanded angrily between sobs, letting the newspaper sections slide out of her lap and across the floor. “What happened to the bad guy?”
Mrs. Macintire’s head snapped up, looking towards Tabitha with a difficult expression, and once again it was hard for Tabitha to reconcile her with the image she had of the despised Mrs. Crow from the future.
“They caught the bad guy,” Tabitha answered quietly, gnawing on her lip as she glanced from Mrs. Macintire to her daughter. “The other policeman caught him, and… sent him away for a very long time, because he was in so much trouble.”