“She won’t talk?” Page asked, rubbing his unshaven jaw. I shook my head, glancing over at the little girl in the corner of my room. She was occupied with one of my adult coloring books, neatly and carefully coloring inside all the lines with a set of sharpened Prismacolor pencils. Page got to my apartment twenty minutes after I called him, and all those twenty minutes, the girl didn’t say a word, no matter how many ways I tried to prompt her into a conversation. I knew she could talk – I’d heard her mumble something when she ran into me – so I wasn’t worried she was mute. I just didn’t understand why she wouldn’t talk.
I’d explained it to Page as best as I could. My worries eased some as soon as I saw his face; I didn’t think that would ever fade with time. Since I was sixteen, he’d always made me feel better. About everything.
He’d been in the middle of hanging out with my brother when I called him, and I was only somewhat surprised Ethan wasn’t with him. When I was younger and my friendship with Page was still in its fledgling stage, Ethan was always wary of leaving us alone together, suspicious of his best friend’s intentions with me. It took some time to convince the people around us that we were only friends, and by then, they all understood that I needed that friendship like I needed food and water. It was what saved me from a very lonely existence, what helped me through a painful time in my life when I desperately needed someone to be there for me. When I turned eighteen and still nothing happened between Page and I, my brother relaxed. He knew that Page made me happy, and that was what softened him. Page was my best friend. He’d always been there to help me when I needed it, and now was no exception.
“What have you tried?” he asked me, staring at the girl. He eyed her baseball cap, her braids, her silver rain jacket. He was noticing that she looked like me. I could almost always read his thoughts on his face, and I saw him piece together the similarities, but he didn’t bring it up.
“Pretty much everything,” I said, keeping my voice low so the girl wouldn’t hear. “I offered her food, something to drink, told her my name and other stuff about me to see if she would share something back. But she won’t talk.”
“She doesn’t seem scared,” he said, and I shook my head in agreement. She wasn’t as scared as she’d first seemed when she ran into me. Since I’d brought her into my room, she’d calmed down, and when I gave her the coloring book, she took it to the corner and sat with it in silence. She only looked up when Page arrived, and when she saw him, her eyes widened some, but that was it. Every now and then her eyes would flicker to the pictures on the wall, and they kept going back to the one she’d pressed her fingers against. The one of me and Page. Then she would look at us standing by my door, and then back down at the coloring book.
“Hey,” Page said softly, moving closer to her. She looked up again, and her hand tightened around the pencil she was holding. Page sat down on the floor in front of her, smiling. I stayed back, though I smiled when she looked at me. “I’m Page. You already met Caroline over there. You want to tell us your name?”
She looked back down at the coloring book. Page waited patiently. After a minute had passed, the girl looked up again and said, “Poppy.”
As soon as I heard it, my breath caught in my lungs.
A huge wave of deja vu washed over me, and suddenly I felt dizzy with the force of it. “Poppy,” I repeated. Of course. It was perfect. It fit. I couldn’t imagine her ever being named anything else.
Since I was young, I’d always been a flower child, through and through. Flowers were my style. I had them on everything – my clothes, my bedroom walls, my school backpacks, my notebooks. I wore them in my hair and I collected them everywhere I went, bundling them into bouquets that I kept in my room and watered every day. It was why I liked to dye my hair. I wanted to be the same color as the flowers. When I was old enough to get a tattoo, I got them permanently inked on my skin, different flowers in different places. Multicolored roses on my thigh, a lily on my arm, a sunflower on my leg, daisies and a lotus flower on my back. A poppy on my wrist. I’d known for a long time that whatever future daughters I had would be named after flowers. Poppy was always at the top of my list.
I tried to shake away the deja vu, blinking a few times. Poppy was staring at me with those unnerving eyes. The blue in them was mine, but the hazel around the center – that belonged to Page. It was another thing too strange to be anything other than a crazy coincidence, like her name.
If only I had known then.
“Poppy,” Page said gently. I wasn’t surprised he’d gotten her to speak. He had that effect on people. People always wanted to talk to him; it was one of the things that drew me to him when I was younger. I needed someone to talk to, and he was there. He listened. Always. “How old are you?”
“Ten,” she said quietly, confirming what I’d guessed.
“Okay,” Page said. “Can you tell me where your parents are, Poppy?”
She looked back and forth between us. Her eyes dropped to the coloring page she was working on. The book was full of flowers, and she’d been coloring a dahlia in beautiful shades of pink, purple, and blue.
“I can’t go back,” she whispered, not taking her eyes off the coloring page. “Not until it’s safe. You have to take care of me.”
Page looked back at me, his face full of confusion. I was sure I looked equally perplexed. Now I started to wonder if maybe Poppy had something wrong with her mentally, and I worried about taking her to a hospital. The police station was still out of the question. No matter what we did, I was certain in my gut that handing her off to the authorities was the wrong direction to take.
“Poppy,” I said softly, my heart constricting when I said the name. I knelt down in front of her, next to Page. When she looked at me, her eyes were wet. A tear dripped down her cheek, and without thinking, I reached up to wipe it away with my thumb. “What do you mean, you can’t go back until it’s safe? Where did you come from?”
Her face crumpled, and she broke down.
I held her in my arms instantly. It was instinctual, automatic, and it just felt overwhelmingly right the moment I put my arms around her. She cried into my shoulder, her baseball cap falling off her head, and I smoothed her hair, feeling tears gather in my own eyes. This had already been the strangest day of my life, and my emotions were supercharged.
I had no idea, at that moment, that she was my daughter, but I felt in the deepest parts of my heart and soul that I knew her. And that confused me, excited me, and terrified me all at once. I had no idea what it meant.
But I knew right then that I couldn’t let her go.
When I looked at Page over the top of Poppy’s head, he was staring at us with a stricken expression on his face. He always wanted to be the one to fix everyone’s problems. Seeing people cry broke his heart, especially when I was the one crying. I knew how much it killed him.
“I can’t go back,” Poppy sobbed, and I squeezed tears out of my eyes, not understanding any of the things I was feeling. All I understood in that moment was that I had to take care of this child. And I knew, from one look, that Page understood it too. He would help me, as he always did. We would do it together. We might not have known what was going on, but we did what we felt was right.
It was that moment in the past, before Page and I were even together, before Poppy was even born, before she was even a thought in our heads, that the three of us became a family.
Before Poppy went back to her own time in the future, she told us that we wouldn’t be able to remember. Things would happen as they were meant to happen, and we would meet her when we were meant to, at the moment of her birth.
I don’t know why I can remember. At first I was afraid it might change something along the timeline, something irreversible that would drastically alter the past and the future, but it all remains the same. I just shouldn’t remember, but I do.
I remember everything.