By the end of the second week, Poppy still wouldn’t tell us anything about the people who were after her.
When Page told me about Allen Reynolds, fear grabbed hold of my heart and squeezed it until I couldn’t breathe. I would never let that man within a hundred feet of Poppy if I could help it. When Page described him, his automatic distrust and hatred for the man seeped into me, and I felt it mirrored in myself. I hadn’t seen him yet, but I memorized the description Page gave me, and paranoia made me look for him on the street every time I left my apartment. It was hard not to feel like I was being watched and followed.
At first, we hesitated to tell Poppy about him. It was our job to keep her safe. She’d told us that she would know when it was time for her to go back to wherever she came from, but I had no idea if that would change with the arrival of the dangerous man. His appearance only added another layer of confusion to the whole situation. All we were sure of was that we had to keep Poppy away from him.
We decided to tell her, because Page and I had never believed in secrets between each other. We didn’t want to keep secrets from Poppy, either. When we told her, she froze up and wouldn’t talk to either of us for an entire day. She holed up in my bedroom and rubbed her charm bracelet vigorously until I was sure she’d rub away the words.
At the time this was all happening, Poppy couldn’t tell us anything about Allen Reynolds or the man he really was. If she’d told us anything about him, it would have changed things along the timeline, and she didn’t want to risk that. It was the reason she was so quiet and reserved with us in the first place. Fear was her motivator; it was the thing that kept her silent, the thing that kept her from telling us the truth about who she was. We didn’t understand, at the time, but we didn’t push her. Nothing about any of it made sense. Our lives had stopped making sense the day Poppy slammed into me on the sidewalk. But we were living with it, and slowly learning to accept it. Our only priority, our only concern, was to keep Poppy safe until she had to leave, whenever that time would come.
She’d been with us for two weeks. By some miracle, my roommates still hadn’t discovered Poppy’s presence in our apartment. They had busier social lives than me, and they liked to study for finals in the library or with their friends in other places around campus. When they were home, they were used to me being quiet and spending time in my room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to them, but I couldn’t really believe what my life had become.
Page was the only thing that kept me grounded. It was still a small thrill to wake up in the morning and realize that we were together, that we had finally taken that step. There was a part of me that always thought we’d never get there. But if he felt the same way about me, there was nothing holding us back. When he came over during the rest of that second week, we kissed and we sat closer to each other and we held hands and he hugged me tighter, held me for longer. It was the one thing I was sure of in the mess with Poppy. Whatever happened, Page had always been by my side. The certainty of that was reinforced stronger than ever with our new relationship. It was a bright spot in the chaos. I felt safe with him, calmer. Even with the threat of Allen Reynolds now looming over our heads, Page was the strength that kept me standing.
During the rest of that week, I didn’t have another bad day like I did at the beginning, but there were small moments scattered here and there, every time I thought of Poppy having to leave, every time I thought of Allen Reynolds showing up at my apartment door. Page was always there to pick me up and help me through it. We weathered the storm together. And the day after Poppy went silent and scared when we told her about Reynolds, we faced her together.
We were sitting in my room, wrapped in silence. The window was open to let in the spring breeze, and the sounds of the city came through the screen. But no one was speaking. It was early evening. Poppy was sitting in the corner, rubbing her bracelet. I’d been trying to make my way through a study guide for my last final, but I gave up after thoughts of Allen Reynolds took over my head. Page was next to me on my bed, staring at the wall, brows knitted in worry and contemplation. I knew he was thinking about Reynolds, too. Since we’d told Poppy earlier that morning, she hadn’t said a word. We both knew it didn’t mean anything good.
I took Page’s hand to have something to hold onto. He squeezed my fingers in comfort.
I looked at Poppy and then back at Page, silently asking him to try to get her to speak. He was better at coaxing her; I was better at comforting her.
“Kid,” he said gently, and Poppy looked up, her face on the edge of breaking down. “Can you tell us anything about this guy? Do you know him?”
Slowly, she nodded. She took a deep breath. “He’s not supposed to be here.” The words were so quiet, we both had to strain to hear them.
“Why is he after you?” Page asked, his tone gentle, not pressuring. Poppy shook her head, curling her legs against her chest. She wrapped her arms around her knees and held herself tightly. I got off the bed and went to her. The pull she had on me was magnetic. I always wanted to comfort her, to be there for her. I sat next to her on the floor and put my arms around her, and she leaned into me, burying her head in my shoulder. I looked at Page over the top of her head, and the look in his eyes was tortured.
“We’ll keep you safe,” I promised, stroking Poppy’s hair.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled into my shirt. I clutched her tighter.
“No. Don’t apologize. You have nothing to be sorry for.” I didn’t blame her for anything. I’d come to believe that she ran into me on the sidewalk that day for a reason. Even if I was still so clueless and I had no idea what the truth really was, I didn’t blame Poppy for the turn my life had taken. I wouldn’t have changed any part of it.
“If he’s here, it means I have to leave soon,” Poppy said quietly, and panic seized my heart like a fist, squeezing it tight. I looked at Page, and I was sure the expression on his face matched mine.
We had known all along that she was going to leave eventually, but we hadn’t expected it to be so soon. Two weeks felt like nothing. It wasn’t enough time with her. We wanted more; we wanted her to stay with us, as impossible and reckless as that seemed. We would have figured it out. We would have done anything.
“We can protect you,” I said, keeping the desperation out of my voice. I held her a little tighter. “We won’t let him get to you.”
Poppy shook her head. “I have to go back home.” Her eyes were wet, and I wiped stray tears from her cheeks, holding back my own.
“Let us help you,” Page said, and Poppy shook her head.
“I have to do it alone,” she said. My heart sunk in my chest. She’d told us this before – she’d warned us that when she went back to wherever she was from, we would have to let her go alone. But I didn’t want to face it.
There were still so many unanswered questions, so many things we didn’t know. It was too soon for things to end. She couldn’t just leave. There was a part of me that thought, that hoped, that we’d get the answers we needed out of her, that she wouldn’t just leave without telling us. But there was also a part of me that accepted all of this because deep down, somehow, I knew it was supposed to happen this way. Like I’d already experienced it before. It was that deja vu again. I was getting used to it with Poppy.
“When do you have to leave?” Page asked quietly, voicing the question I wanted to avoid. Poppy sniffled and rubbed her charm bracelet again.
“Tomorrow,” she said after what felt like an eternity of silence. My lip trembled, and I put my hand over my mouth and blinked away tears. I took deep breaths and met Page’s eyes again. His jaw was set, but his eyes were shining. That was one of the things I’d always loved about Page. He’d never been afraid to cry.
“Tomorrow,” I repeated on a breath, and Poppy looked up at me, beautiful eyes wide and sorrowful. I instantly tried to smile. “Okay. What can we do? How can we help?” Because that was the only thing we could do. Help her in any way she needed.
Poppy was quiet for another few minutes. “You can . . . walk me there.” But she sounded hesitant, brows drawn together in uncertainty.
We had no idea where ‘there’ was. It wasn’t enough, but we had to take it.
“Okay,” I said, stroking her hair. “We’ll walk with you.” I kissed the top of her head and held her for a few minutes, savoring it. If it was the last time I’d ever get to hug her, I wanted to hold on as tightly as I could, for as long as I could.
When I pulled away, Page got off the bed and came to sit with us. He hugged Poppy, too. He smiled and put Poppy’s baseball cap on her head. “What should we do on our last night together?”
I tried not to cry again. Our last night together.
It was another few minutes before Poppy spoke, and Page took my hand. We held onto each other tightly.
“Can you take me back to the cliff?” Poppy asked quietly, eyes on the ground. Horizon Peak. She wanted to go back to Horizon Peak.
It didn’t matter that it was evening, and that it would take us a while to get there. It didn’t matter that it would be dark out by the time we arrived. We would take her there. We would’ve given her anything she wanted, anything she asked for.
“Of course,” Page said, and I smiled and nodded. Poppy gave us a small, sad smile back, and my heart broke all over again.
I didn’t know how I was supposed to say goodbye to her.
So we took her to Horizon Peak. We went down to the beach with her, and the three of us sat there, picking out stones and collecting shells and sticking our toes in the sand, letting the water wash over our feet. We didn’t talk, but conversation wasn’t needed. We were just spending time with each other, reveling in each other’s company until we would have to let Poppy go. We went back up to the cliff and we stood there, the three of us, an impossible family. We counted stars and pointed out constellations. We stayed there until Poppy fell asleep. And then Page carried her to his car, and we drove back to my apartment. Page and I tucked Poppy into my bed and curled up together on the couch, holding each other tight. We didn’t want to sleep because we knew that when we woke up, it would be time. It was too soon for both of us.
“Are we really just gonna let her go?” I asked Page, leaning my head on his shoulder. He sighed heavily, and I could feel how much he wanted to say no, how much he wanted to reassure me that there was some way we could work things out, some way we could keep Poppy with us. But Page had always been there to pull my head out of the clouds when it mattered. I liked living in my fantasy worlds, but when I started to deny reality, Page was always there to bring me back to earth and remind me of the real world. And he was always there to guide me through it.
“We have to,” he told me gently. “I don’t want to, either. But we have to.”
“It’s just . . . .” But I couldn’t finish the sentence.
“I know,” Page said. He kissed the side of my head, and then he kissed my lips. “I know.”
Eventually, we did fall asleep. And when we woke up, Poppy was standing there, dressed in the same exact outfit she was wearing when I first met her: silver rain coat, jeans, pink rain boots, and her baseball cap with the strange symbol. Her hair was in braids.
Her face was calm and serious, resigned. But I could see a light in her eyes. She was excited. She was going home. To her family. To us, in the future.
We barely spoke. Page and I got ready, and then we each took one of Poppy’s hands and left the apartment with her. Cautiously, Page and I took turns looking up and down the street, searching for Allen Reynolds. Poppy was stiff between us, and I knew it was because she was afraid that he would show up.
She lead us a few blocks away, to the spot where she slammed into me on the sidewalk two weeks ago. She lead us further down the street and turned us into an alleyway.
Page and I looked at each other, confused. There was nothing here, but Poppy was staring at the ground, rubbing her charm bracelet. Her lip trembled, and then suddenly, she hugged us both tight, squeezing me first and then Page.
And then she said, “When I leave, you’ll forget me. You’ll forget everything that happened.”
“No.” That didn’t seem possible. How could I ever forget Poppy? She changed my life. She was a part of me, and she always would be.
“Don’t worry,” she said, giving us both a watery smile. “You’ll see me again. Someday.”
“What?” I shook my head again, not understanding anything. “Poppy, what’s – ”
“Turn around,” she said, and I don’t know why, but I did. Page did, too. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I did it, because Poppy asked me to.
“Goodbye,” she whispered, and I shook my head, more confused than ever. None of this made any sense. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. We couldn’t just let her go like this, when there was still so much we didn’t know.
Page took my hand and squeezed it. I saw my own confusion and desperation mirrored on his face.
There was a noise behind us, and when I couldn’t take it anymore and I turned around, I saw a fading light. Poppy was gone.
I shook my head again, the confusion and strangeness of the situation making me panicky and anxious. “I don’t understand,” I said. Where had she gone? She couldn’t have just disappeared.
Time travel hadn’t been made possible yet, and we had no idea how she could’ve possibly gone. During the year time travel was invented, when Poppy was two years old, Page and I both got flashbacks. Pieces of the puzzle started to come together one by one as we learned the mechanics of it, how the technology worked, Sola, Poppy’s microchip and her charm bracelet. But at that moment, standing in that alleyway, it was like we were watching a movie. It didn’t seem real, and we couldn’t understand it. But our minds slowly started to accept it, like we’d accepted every other confusing thing about Poppy over the last two weeks.
I turned to Page, opening my mouth to say something, but what came out was a sob. He put his arms around me and held me, and I sagged against him, feeling my heart break inside my chest. Poppy was gone.
“She said we’d see her again,” Page whispered. And I felt that we would, deep down. In my heart I knew that we would see her again. But at that moment, I would’ve given anything to spend one more minute with her in the present.
When we left the alleyway and started the walk back to my apartment, we moved slowly, holding hands and not speaking. Neither of us knew what to say, how to handle this. We were both mourning the loss of Poppy, in our own way.
And then we ran into Allen Reynolds.
He was across the street from my apartment, staring at my front door. Page saw him first, and I felt him stiffen. When I looked across the street, Page didn’t have to tell me – I knew right away that the man in the black suit was Allen Reynolds, and that he was there for Poppy. A savage sense of satisfaction and righteousness dried the tears on my face. He couldn’t get to her. She was gone. It was a small comfort, knowing that she was safe from him. If she had to leave us, at least he couldn’t get to her.
When Allen Reynolds saw us across the street, without Poppy, his face morphed into an expression of cold fury. And I smiled. We’d kept our promise. We’d kept Poppy safe, and the bad people wouldn’t reach her. Page tightened his hand in mine.
“Who do you think he really is?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. We wouldn’t figure it out until much later, like everything else.
The last we saw of Allen Reynolds for eight years was the sight of him glaring at us from across the street. We went inside my apartment and closed the door on him. We closed the door on our time with Poppy.
And we went on with our lives. We spent the rest of that day silently mourning Poppy’s glaring absence, trying to patch up the gaping hole she’d left in both of us. But even as we thought about it, the hole started to repair itself, and our memories of her started to fade. We tried to hold onto them, but there was a way to these things that couldn’t be helped, a natural consequence of time travel and its effects. It didn’t take very long. The next morning, it felt like waking up from a dream.
And so we went on with our lives.
The future was waiting for us.