The three of them take me back to the train and we sit in a brief silence as the engineer leaves the station, headed toward home.
“So,” I begin, feeling awkward as they continue to look at me, “I still don’t understand the whole grifting thing. Why teach me the ways of the game?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Griff smiles. “You see, those weren’t the rules of the grift, they’re the rules of time travel. In order to make sure we don’t leave much of a trace when we’re mucking about in time, I developed a list of rules. I just modified them slightly to make them seem like they served a different purpose.”
“So, the whole training thing, that was just to get me ready for this trip?” I ask.
“Yep,” Griff says, pointing to Agnes. “It was all Aggie’s idea, too. In your will, you had set up this requirement that you would need to be there for all the important parts of my life: graduation, marriage, all that stuff.
But what was most important in there was that you got to meet the woman I was going to marry before I followed through. I guess you thought you deserved the ability to give your blessing on the whole thing.”
“Wait, I don’t remember you graduating or anything else.”
“Just think of it as one of those time travel things,” Griff chuckles.
“Right,” I snap. “I guess that just hasn’t happened yet for me.”
“So, do you?” Griff asks, leaning forward on his seat.
“Do I what?”
“Give your blessing? It’s kind of the whole reason you’re here.”
“Oh,” I laugh, “of course. I may not know either of you well enough to get to be called mom, but you seem perfect together.”
Agnes stands up from her seat and wraps me into a tight squeeze. “Oh, fanks, mum. I hopes you don’t mind if’n I calls you that.”
“I have to admit, it’s still a little weird. Let’s stick with Chelle for now.”
“Fanks, Chelle!” Agnes says, shaking me slightly before letting me go.
“So, The Wizard,” I ask. “Is that all taken care of then?”
“Of course, dearie,” Lance answers. “You were quite smart at that, locking him up back in the past. We’ve got an eye on him, doesn’t look like he’s going to get back out again.”
“But what about all the things he did to the timeline, aren’t they going to be a problem?” I ask.
“Oh, no,” Lance replies. “Tis a simple thing to reverse the things he did. Might mean a robot or two being placed in where folks have died, but nothing too big.”
“What about the higher power or whatever The Wizard and Wyllt were saying was telling them what to do?”
“I think that was all just a silly thing with The Wizard and all of his robots. Using different versions of himself to give himself messages or whatever,” Griff answers.
“And Noll and Tenney?” I ask. “They were robots too?”
“Yep,” Griff answers. “Got a little worried when you were traveling back in time further and we were noticing how much the stream was diverting from its path. Figured you needed some extra muscle.”
“That’s a shame,” I frown. “I liked them.”
“Good,” Agnes smiles. “They’s my bruvahs.”
“Great,” I clap. “I got to meet the in-laws too!”
“It was a pretty successful day,” Griff says with a deep breath.
“What?” I ask. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Just realizing you’re going to have to go off and live your life now,” he says as the brakes begin to squeal. “I’ve really enjoyed the past couple months with you, Mom. I mean, Chelle.”
“I’ll never forget them,” I agree, a tear forming in my eyes as the train comes to a complete stop. “But this isn’t the last I’ll see of you, right? There’s still graduation, the wedding, maybe some grandkids or something? Don’t rush on the grandkids, though. I’m a little young to be a grandma, after all.”
All four of us laugh at the idea, and then a silence fills the air.
“So, I guess this is it, huh?” I ask, looking out the windows to find the brick walls of the train station where this whole thing began.
“That it ‘tis,” Lance says sadly.
I look at each of them, knowing there is nothing I can say, nothing I can do, that will make this moment feel complete. No matter what I do, I’ll be walking off this train wishing I had more time. Wondering how a person capable of time travel could even find themselves without time.
“Oh, I almos’ fergot,” Agnes says, reaching down under the chair by her feet and coming up with a box. “Fer you,” she says as she shoves it into my arms.
“Don’t open it now,” Griff says quickly. “Also, thought you might miss having this around,” he says as he pulls out my backpack from hiding in the chair behind him. “You left it back at the stables.”
“Okay,” I reply slowly, my words failing me. “Thanks.”
Without a word, Lance pulls me into his arms and holds me tight. I feel as though I know nothing about this man who is embracing me, but the sadness of the moment doesn’t escape me. He may just be that stable boy to me, but I obviously meant a great deal to him at some point. I find a tear crowding my eyes.
Next thing I know, two more bodies join the embrace and we stand there, quiet, outside of the random sob, as we all search for some way to make this moment not have to end.
Finally, I separate myself from them, realizing that if someone is going to end this, I’ll have to be the one.
“Well,” I say, searching for the right words. “I guess you all know where to find me, right?”
All three of them laugh with great exhales of air.
“I really don’t know what to say,” I admit. “I’m sorry I didn’t stay around longer.”
“We’re sorry we made you stay as long as you did,” Griff says, his eyes red.
“I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”
I look each of them in the eyes once again before shrugging and turning on my heel to face the door to the normal world.
With a simple three steps, I exit onto the platform Griff had used to take me on my first train ride months, or centuries, ago, depending on how you look at it.
I look out at the bustle of people walking around the outdoor station, realizing I look as though I’m just another traveler getting off just another train, even if I’m wearing something a little odd.
“Wait,” I say, turning back to the train. I wanted to ask about the rocket and if they had helped my shoe cause it to explode. I want to know why the robotic version of Griff would get time sick. I wanted to wave one last goodbye to what is apparently my future family.
Instead, I find the train is already gone and I’m alone with my backpack and the white box.
Go to Chapter Sixty