"Robert!" her voice calls out, on cue, and my smile widens.
They come in, and we get the usual greetings out of the way, the questions work and school and it drags on enough that I start to get tired, even though I've been saving energy for this.
Daniel — my son — sees it in my face, and his face betrays his concern, though he tries to hide it.
"Robert, it looks like grandpa's tired, so maybe we'll—"
"No," I say, shaking my head, mustering up my energy. "You came this far to see me on his birthday — I must give him the gift."
Dan's eyes widen, but he nods slowly — we've talked about it, once, a long time ago, a time that he remembers like it was yesterday. Jamie, on the other hand, doesn't have that talk to rely on, but as she looks between the two of us, a thoughtful look grows in her eyes, and I give her a smile that she returns.
I always knew my son married up.
"Robert—" I say, looking up and down at the eight year old in front of me.
"Yes, gran'pa?" he responds, standing by the hospital bed, looking vaguely uneasy, as children in hospitals often do.
"What sort of gifts have you gotten for your birthday?"
"Well, daddy got me a train and mommy got me a Batman lego set and one of my friends got me a videogame, and, and, there was a party, and a cake, and—" he falls silent at my knowing nod, a surprisingly mature act for a boy.
"Would you like to know a secret?" I ask, and of course, he nods, not knowing the dangers of secrets yet, only seeing the allure.
I take a deep breath, squeeze both of my hands together, and then reach out for his.
"Take my hand," I say, and he does, and the world melts away like caramel, leaving only the two of us.
The hard part isn't convincing an eight year old that the impossible is possible — the hard part is convincing them that they shouldn't immediately do every single thing that comes to mind.
"The past," I say. "Or maybe the future."
He looks at me, curious. I have made it a habit of not lying to him and treating him as an adult for all his life, and I now lean on that trust, watching as he thinks about what I'm saying instead of discarding it, or turning to fear.
"Watch," I tell him, and the world melts back into place, exactly where we were. His parents are there, and I start talking to them, though I keep my eyes on Robert. After a few moments, I reach out and knock my IV over, ripping it out of my arm.
It's surprisingly painful, and I instantly wish I would've done something else as a demonstration instead. But as Dan and Jamie lean in, as Robert's face contorts in surprise, I pause, and the world disappears again, leaving only Robert and I.
He looks at me, eyes wider than I've ever seen them, and I know he's trying to figure out what's happening.
"Robert, I can do something that very few other people can. Your grandmother had it, and you'll have it as well. What you can do isn't quite rewinding time, but that's the easiest way to describe it. Whenever you want, you'll be able to relive your life. And in fact, you can live lifetimes that you've never done yet — it goes both ways."
Some of the words register with him, though, not all of it, but he has, starting now, an almost unlimited time to understand.
"Can I keep doing it?" he asks, a question that I'm prepared for.
"Yes and no. There's a limit, a bit like burning a candle. Eventually, you run out of candle, though it burns slowly enough that it's hard to tell how long you have."
He considers this for a moment. To him, it must sound like it's limitless, and his face lights up as he considers the possibilites.
Now to make him understand what it means.
"Robert, what do you think you'll be able to do with this?" I ask, and his answer is immediate.
"Become a firefighter! Become an astronaut! Win at America's Got Talent!"
And now I know what TV he watches.
"Actually—" I say, and his face already falls. He's young, but he already knows that there are often rules stopping young boys from doing what they want.
"There are rules," I say, watching him nod in resignation. "You can't do something that would..." and I pause, trying to find the words. "...change the way the world works," I finish, seeing if it holds.
It seems to, which is surprising, given that I remember challenging that assumption, both during the explanation and afterwards.
"But I can..." he starts, waiting for me to finish, but I don't.
"...Make it so that Rufus doesn't die?" he starts, and I blink in surprise. I'm not quite ready for him to get to reversing death so quickly, but I've gotten at least some experience at rolling with the punches.
"You can, Robert," I say, slowly, waiting.
"Could I make it so that... no one dies?" He asks, thinking. And then, just as quickly, "No, because that would disrupt things. But could I make it so that no one dies before they should? No accidents like what happened to Taylor's mom on Easter weekend?"
The look on his face reminds me of a line from an old musical — 'to love another person is to see the face of God'. I've never been religious, especially not after the gift... but watching this boy think of all the ways that he could save people — it was pure happiness. Pure altruism. Pure good.
As close to God as I'd ever get, I reflected.
And it was, of course, up to me to tell them, again, that there were rules. But this time... maybe in a more lasting way.
It turns out it's a boy that dumped him.
"This is a hurt, isn't it?" I ask Robert, the younger, and he nods, understanding the tears, even if he doesn't understand what triggered them.
"And you would make it so that it never happened?" He nods, again.
"But what happens," I say, knowing the answer already, "if we keep going forward?"
The little eight year old boy stands there for a moment, and then, of his own will, takes a few steps, and each step is another year. We stop just a few steps in, five or six years, at a wedding.
His wedding, of course, and he stares upon his future partner — a future partner, more accurately — and thinks very, very hard.
I simply watch, content to let him draw his own conclusions instead of offering him mine. You see, in the end, everyone needs to discover Truth for themselves.
Especially this little boy.
I suspect it's what mine looked like, a million years ago, when my grandmother gave me the gift. I see him turning over his experience in his head, trying to understand, trying to test it, trying to accept, all at the same time. And I know that even now he might be testing out possible futures, trying to figure out if the sadness that one event brings is worth the perspective, the happiness that comes later.
The gift is his now, and I can see, using the last remnants of mine, that his will be a happy life, and one day, he will have this moment as well to pass on as well. I even get to see who he passes it on to, and I smile a smile that's for him alone.
My eyes start to droop, but I see him smile in understanding. It's a moment that lasts forever.
A writing duel between myself and gratefuladdict. Given that Idol was some time ago, we figured some writing was due, and we had some time tonight! kickthehobbit provided the topic, and the constraints were originally an hour and 500 words, which got extended to ~two hours, and no word limit.