“What? No! No no no. This can’t be happening.” Dad turned away, running both hands through his hair and pulling. Had he always been so melodramatic? I never remembered him that way. But, I suppose, distance had a way of pointing out things normally glossed over.
I rolled my eyes and hopped up onto the kitchen counter, settling comfortably against the stainless steel fridge. Mom would have killed me for such a blatant disrespect of her new granite counters, but I was already dead. What did I care? Not like I could leave any permanent damage.
I watched as Mom completely ignored Dad’s theatrics, focusing entirely on younger me. He stood across the counter from her, across from me as well. His expression was an odd one, somewhere between stricken and blank. Part of me hoped that was not a look I’d ever worn again, but the other part of me could think of exactly when that strange emptiness would have been present.
The heavy silence between them stretched on, until finally, Mom said, “You told him.” Her voice was flat. Quiet. I knew exactly what that meant and so did my younger self. It was the calm before the storm.
Slowly, Young-Derek nodded, swallowing visibly.
“After I asked you not to say anything?” Her eyes narrowed, piercing him, daring him to deny it.
I already knew what would happen, but I found myself riveted. It was almost like watching a TV show. I actually found myself rooting for Young-Derek, willing him to somehow get out of what was coming. But, of course, he couldn’t escape it. Because this wasn’t TV. And I’d already lived it once.
He nodded again, his eyes wide as he waited for his punishment. He’d broken one of Mom’s most sacred rules — he’d gone back on his word. It didn’t matter that she’d just told him she was dying; that the cancer had metastasized and was slowly taking over, killing her from the inside out. No, in that moment, the only thing that mattered to her was how I’d broken her trust.
From my vantage point on the outside, I understood that what was about to happen had never been about me. That it had been Mom’s way of venting the pain and anger she felt about her prognosis. But back then, in the heart of it, all I could think about was how screwed up my family was. An observation that wasn’t far off the mark, I now realized.
Mom’s head drooped and her knuckles turned white as she gripped the countertop tighter. Behind her, Dad was still cursing, putting on a show no one in the room was buying. I wished he would shut up.
“You’re grounded. Give me your keys,” Mom said, holding her hand out for the one thing Young-Derek would never relinquish easily — that damn car. Instantly, the blank expression disappeared, turning into a furious scowl as he took a step back.
“What? No! I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Derek. Don’t be difficult. You broke your word. I told you not to say anything to your father, and you did anyway. Give me your keys.” Mom moved away from the counter, her jaw set and her eyes determined.
“No! You can’t do this. The only reason I told him—”
There was a loud crash as Dad threw one of the glasses on the counter at the wall, effectively silencing Young-Derek. My former self and Mom whirled to face him, shock on their faces.
“Clever, old man.” I smirked, knowing full well that his performance was as hollow as his words had always been. It was nothing but a smoke-screen meant to keep Mom from finding out the truth. The truth she’d found out anyway.
“Don’t take this out on him. You should have told me,” Dad said, ever the noble protector, stepping in on my behalf. I scoffed to myself and jumped down from my seat by the fridge. The scene would be over soon, and I still had no idea why I was here. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be sitting around, watching it repeat?
“I don’t need your help,” Young-Derek snarled, instantly earning the attention of both parents.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dad demanded.
“What’s going on?” Mom had always been the sharpest one in the family. There was never getting away with anything when she was around. Her glance darted between Young-Derek and Dad, completely passing over me as I headed for the exit. Things were about to get super uncomfortable, and I’d had enough tension for one day. There must be something I was supposed to do, somewhere I could go . . .
“You want to ground me? Fine,” Young-Derek said, digging around in his pockets for his keys. Time slowed, and I paused in front of him, midway to my escape. This was the third time I’d seen that happen; it had to mean something.
I spun, looking around for anything unusual. My parents were already frozen, as was the clock above the stove. The only thing moving was Young-Derek’s hand. Dangling from his fist was the necklace, tangled around his car keys. It couldn’t be a coincidence that the time thing was once again tied to an appearance of that damn necklace. But I still didn’t understand. What was I supposed to learn? Why was a twisted pile of metal important?
“You’ll have to ask Dad why I told him,” Young-Derek said, his voice warped and slow and slightly frightening. He reached out toward the counter, his fist passing right under my nose as I tried to figure out what the memory was trying to tell me.
My heart raced with anxiety. I wanted so badly to push fast forward. Or better yet, translate. But all I could do was follow the necklace’s trajectory to the countertop, clutched tightly in Young-Derek’s hand.
As his fingers slowly opened and the necklace floated toward the granite, I held my breath, waiting, watching it like a grenade. It clinked as it landed against the dark surface, the sound ricocheting through the silence like gunfire. I cringed, expecting the worst.
But nothing happened.
I leaned closer. Surely, there was something important going on. No one was moving yet.
“Aargh!” I cried as a brilliant light burst from the necklace, searing into my eyes. I stumbled back, rubbing the heels of my palms into my eyelids, trying to clear the whiteness stamped on my corneas. I felt something against my back and realized I’d stumbled into Young-Derek. He shattered like glass, the shards dripping through me with a sensation reminiscent of crawling bugs.
“No. No no. Not again,” I said, careening away from the darkness forming where Young-Derek had stood. It was the same void that had brought me here, and I was pretty sure that anywhere below this was somewhere I didn’t want to be.
Blinking away the fuzziness still clouding my vision, I stumbled toward the living room, only to find that the black pit of nothing had beaten me, swallowing everything beyond the kitchen. Frantic, I turned around, watching as my parents dissolved into pixellated crystals. There was nowhere to go. I was trapped.
Not thinking, I dove for the counter, grabbing at the necklace. As the floor fell away, I took one last glance at the thing. Then I tumbled, screaming, into the darkness.