The first time it happens, Kelley thinks it’s just a dream.
Not that she has ever had a dream before, because she hasn’t. Her parents and the internet say that of course she has dreams, she just doesn’t remember them. They tell her not to worry about it too much. So she doesn’t.
But then the night of her eighteenth birthday she has her first dream.
Kelley spins in a tight circle, taking in her sudden surroundings. She’s in a big city, New York, maybe? She’s not sure, she’s never been. She looks down to see that she is in her pajamas and the faded old Mickey Mouse t-shirt that her dad bought for her in Disney World looks shockingly out of place among the fancy pressed suits of the businesspeople who bustle past.
She shivers, why doesn’t she have a jacket?
She looks around at the people who shove by, hurrying off to who-knows-where and no one seems to notice her, which is odd, she thinks, maybe that’s just how people from the East Coast are, too self-absorbed to notice a girl on the street in her pajamas.
The air feels thick, heavy she thinks. She would say humid, but that’s not it, it’s something else. Almost as if an electric current hangs around her.
The woman next to her speaks loudly and it draws Kelley’s attention, a thick Long Island accent clipping into the cellphone held to her ear. A flip phone, Kelley notes, wow, she hasn’t seen one of those in years.
The woman takes a step forward off the curb.
Kelley feels a tug low in her stomach, and in what seems like slow motion she reaches out and grabs the woman by the arm, gripping at the rough fabric of her wool blazer and yanking her back onto the sidewalk.
And it’s perfect timing.
A city bus comes thundering past and it surely would have struck the woman at full speed. An instant death sentence.
But it doesn’t. It moves on, so unaffected by the possibility of what may have been.
The woman’s phone clatters to the ground as she clutches her heart in surprise. She turns to Kelley, eyes wide in shock.
“You just saved my life, kid.” She says. Her voice is shaken.
Kelley shrugs, she’s not sure what to say, she’s shocked too. So she says nothing at all and turns away, she needs to run she thinks, and now.
So she does.
She runs until the street in front of her starts to blur, the world melting into a white light around her.
She wakes and she’s back in her bed, sweat drenching her brow.
Huh, so that’s what dreams are like.
It was the first of many, the following weeks imbued with similar dreams: saving someone from falling off the subway platform, pulling a flailing child from the deep end of the pool, even knocking a gun from a shooter’s hand at a bank robbery. The dreams are vivid, the sensations so absolute and grounded, and if she had ever dreamed before she would know that this was definitely not normal. But she hadn’t, she had nothing to compare to, so she thought this must just be how everyone dreams.
And for some reason, she was always in her pajamas.
But then one night it’s different.
Kelley scans her surroundings, but it’s difficult for her to see. It’s nighttime and dark so that her eyes take a minute to adjust. Sheets of rain stream down in torrents, unrelenting. The cold water sends a chill through her.
She makes out that she is on a bridge, about a hundred feet up by the looks of it, but where? She has no clue.
A crack of lightning lights the sky and she sees the outline of a body across the bridge.
They stand there, teetering on the edge of the railing.
“Hey!” Kelley yells out.
The person wobbles forward, then steadies themselves.
“Get down from there!” She yells, and she’s running towards them. Her voice getting caught in the wind and whipping away over the edge.
It’s a boy in his mid-teens, younger than Kelley. He’s skinny, his wet clothes clinging to his body, his dark hair lying flat against his head.
The boy says nothing, just looks at her, his expression a mixture of something astonished and tortured.
He turns to face forward and Kelley looks over the edge of the railing to see a river turbulent and untamed below them. An impact from this height will feel like slamming into concrete.
“What’s your name?” She says and it’s less insistent. She realizes that perhaps commanding the boy to come down will not work.
“Logan. Logan Warner.” The boy says, his voice is uncertain, shaky and quiet so that she can barely hear him.
“Hi Logan, I’m Kelley.” She says raising her voice up and over the wind. The boy faces her once more. His eyes are dark and sad, but so very wide, the whites of them opposite to the world around them.
“What are you doing out here in your pajamas?” He asks. It’s louder this time. He brushes the wet hair away from his eyes.
“I’m here to save you.” She says. It sounds laughable she thinks, but this moment seems desperate, the wind whistling too loudly, the rain pelting too harshly for this to be a dream.
The boy lets out a shaky laugh, unsure of what to think of the odd girl standing below him.
The railing is just at Kelley's shoulder level. She lets her eyes flick over the boy’s tattered sneakers, carelessly untied, his toes poking out just over the edge of the wooden beam, so threateningly close to unbalancing him.
“Could you come down?”
“Why? I can’t do this anymore. I want—” His voice breaks then, stuttering to a stop. He stares back out over the bridge and Kelley wonders what he is looking at, what he is looking for.
But there’s nothing out there, just the darkness and the whipping wind.
Then he’s crying, his face contorting, body shaking in a silent sob. His toe inches a fraction back towards Kelley.
“Logan, I know this might seem like the only option, but it’s not. I promise. There are people who love you and need you. Just please come down.” Kelley says. She desperately hopes she is saying the right thing.
She reaches out a hand, a silent offering to safety.
He looks at her, then back to the river below, and for a tense second Kelley thinks she might not have done enough.
But then he is gripping her hand tightly, his skin pale against her own, and he’s stepping down next to her. She exhales a breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding.
She holds him by the hand as they walk off the bridge, afraid that if she lets go that he might slip away.
“Do you have a phone?” She asks.
The boy nods.
“Let’s call your parents.” He looks as though he might protest, but then pulls a cellphone from his back pocket.
Only ten minutes later, Logan’s parents are there, his mother weeping and hugging him tightly to her chest. Two arms wrapped tight around his back and Kelley knows that he will be safe with them. The father thanks her, his eyes frightened but grateful as he asks if she needs a ride somewhere.
She hears herself say no and she turns away. Then she’s off running, running as fast as she can back over the bridge. She hears her name being called out from behind her but she ignores it until the voices become mere whistles in the wind, drowned out by the deafening rush of the river and the rain and the world around her is spinning and spinning and spinning and she’s wrapped in white light and she’s gone.
And she is back in her bed.
Kelley sits up quickly, feeling around her in the dark to get some bearing of her surroundings. She flicks on her bedside lamp.
Her clothes cling to her, soaking wet and icy enough to raise the hair on her arms. Her mind reels with possibilities, thoughts clamoring to the top of her brain.
Then she stands and peels the wet clothing from her body, tossing it aside in order to change into something warmer, something dryer.
She paces her room before sitting at her desk and powering on her laptop. Her foot taps an unsteady beat as the internet browser loads in front of her.
Then she’s typing three words:
Logan Warner Suicide
She scrolls down the page, eyes flicking back and forth over the results that appear on her screen until she’s reading a headline from a small-town newspaper in Ohio.
Parents Looking for ‘Guardian Angel’ Who Saved Son From Death
She skims the article quickly until she finds a picture of the boy, and her breath catches and dies in her throat.
She reads a quote a few paragraphs down:
“I was in a really dark place, but then she was there all of a sudden. She said her name was Kelley, but I didn’t catch her last name, and she talked me down from the edge. She saved my life and I don’t even know who she is.” –Logan Warner
Another paragraph down:
“All we want to do is thank her. Thank her for saving our son. Kelley wherever you are, you truly are a guardian angel.” –Jessica Warner
She can’t believe her eyes, so she closes them tight and rubs at her temple, unable to look at the screen any longer. It’s overwhelming, it’s confusing.
It was just a dream, she tells herself.
She exhales a deep breath. It’s shakes and rattles in her ribcage as she reopens her eyes.
She scrolls back to the top of the page and there she sees the date of the article.
How is this possible?
April 15th, 2011
5 years ago.
After that, it’s four years of neurologists and sleep specialists and psychiatrists. More doctors and therapists than she can count.
Her parents don’t believe her at first, her father’s eyes are skeptical, her mother’s concern etches every line of her face. But eventually, she convinces them.
She can travel in time.
Her parents sell their family house in Georgia, packing their things and moving out to the Bay Area where they can be close to some of the best schools and researchers and doctors the nation has to offer.
But none of the doctors can really find out what is wrong with her. She seems perfectly healthy, her brain scans come back normal, no test yields any significant result. The most they conclude is that her brain becomes rapidly active as she dreams, much more so than the average person, but that doesn’t prove anything, doesn’t answer any of her questions.
She can tell that most of the doctors don’t believe her either, the way they steal pitying looks at her parents, how they so delicately suggest the idea of therapy.
And she is sick and tired of trying to convince everyone that she’s not crazy. Because she’s not imagining it, these events are no coincidence. It’s real.
And it’s putting a significant strain on her family too, because really, it’s not so cheap to see all these doctors with their negative results and their clueless expressions, and she’s afraid she will run her parents dry before they find out what’s wrong with her. And her siblings are supportive, sure, but they also don’t quite get it, maybe don’t quite believe her.
Sometimes she wishes that she had just kept this secret to herself. It would have been so much easier that way.
She prays that it will go away, that this never-ending cycle of feeling as though something is so very wrong with her will stop. But so far she’s had no luck.
So in the meantime, she attends college at Stanford where she makes friends who she keeps this secret from and she pretends her life is normal. But it’s not.
Her dreams come and go at random intervals, no way to detect when the next one may arrive. Sometimes she goes weeks and months without a single trip, other times she dreams for nights on end. They also differ in length, some brief and to the point, others lasting hours. And it’s almost always to the past as far as she can tell. Only twice has she traveled to the future, but those times were blurry, clouded as if she were viewing the world underwater. And so very short that she didn’t have much time to make out what was around her, but it was definitely the future, the technology surrounding her did enough to inform her of that.
The dreams follow the same odd pattern, she spots who she is to save and she feels a tug in her stomach, a gut feeling if you will, and somehow she knows what to do. And then she has the sensation of being pulled back, being sucked away and she’s off running, the white light encircling her until she’s home to her bed.
She’s tried countless watches to see if they can track the time change, but none so far have succeeded, so she mostly relies on asking strangers the year and the date, and she knows that it makes her look crazy. But it’s fine because she never sees them again anyway.
She’s learned it is best to wear a long sleeve t-shirt and sweatpants to bed, clothing universal enough for most weather patterns. Because her dreams take her to different seasons, different climates, and it’s better to be too hot than too cold she reasons.
She’s started keeping a journal of her travels too, a suggestion from one of the not-so-dimwitted psychologists to help her to separate her trips in time from her real day-to-day life.
It helps, a little.
But all the while Kelley can’t help but question what her purpose is, what greater being if there is one, has sentenced her to this confusing life dedicated to saving others.
She can’t get Jessica Warner’s words out of her head. Guardian angel.
Is that what she is?
Sometimes it sure feels like it.
Her travels are widely varied. Some are lengthy in their nature, difficult and cumbersome and dangerous, like when she’s running into a burning building and dragging a 250-pound man twice her size out by his arms, or when she is knocking a gun out of a mass shooter’s hand and tackling him to the ground.
And other times they are so very uncomplicated, like when she says a single sentence to a person: ‘I like your hair” or “you have pretty eyes.” Or when she steadies a wobbling ladder, or when she simply introduces two people to one another. Those travels are not so bad, and at times they even feel rewarding, because who doesn’t love to play hero every once in a while?
But other times she’s not so successful and she fails.
Those dreams are like nightmares.
The memories reverberate in her mind: the haunting sound of a scream in pain, the panicked look of a child who has no clue what’s going on but who knows something sure isn’t right, the way the light dims eternally in the eyes of someone who needed her.
These things she’ll never forget.
It’s then that she wishes that she could actually dream, let these terrible memories be relived in her slumber. Because surely that would be better than when the images haunt her in the day time, when they cloud and occupy her every waking thought.
It makes her feel so very alone. And knowing that at any time the failure to save a life could be on the brink of her consciousness makes her anxious to even close her eyes.
The very weight of her failures is suffocating, squeezing the life from her slowly, like a pinhole in a balloon.
These things keep her up at night, yet she’s worried if she doesn’t sleep that someone out there might need her, might need saving, and she’s not quite sure if that’s how it even works but there’s no way to be sure.
To say that the pressure is crippling is an understatement.
She wonders how much longer it will be until she breaks.
But then one day, without knowing it, she meets her very own guardian.
It’s February, unusually cold for San Francisco this time of year, the puffs of Kelley’s breath floating around her as she walks down the street. She’s on her way to work, to an environmental engineering firm in the middle of the city, and she’s regretting not taking public transit with every step, yanking her scarf tighter around her neck as the cold nips at her ears.
She stops in front of a small coffee shop on the corner. It’s one she’s never been to, and it’s got a fancy French name that she has no clue how to pronounce. But it’s intriguing, something about it uniquely inviting, tempting her in a way that she can’t explain. And more importantly it’s warm. So she steps inside, just a few minutes out of the cold so she won’t be late.
“Cortado with whole milk, please.” She says at the counter.
“Kelley?” She hears.
She turns around. A girl her age sits at a small table in the corner, a book in her hand, a coffee on the table.
She’s pretty, really pretty in a way that’s hard to miss, Kelley notes, with medium brown hair past her shoulders and deep blue eyes that seem to search her for an answer. To what question Kelley doesn’t know.
She looks around to make sure the girl is speaking to her. But no one else seems to be paying attention. And the girl is staring straight at her, eyes rounded in elation. She stands up.
“Hi—?” Kelley says, and it’s a question. She’s confused.
The girl’s eyes become soft as they flick over Kelley’s body, landing on her wrist for a split second, then moving on once they find nothing there and traveling back up to land on Kelley’s face.
“I’m Alex.” The girl says, her smile is bright, kind. She reaches out a hand for Kelley to shake.
She takes it, pumping it lightly up and down.
Neither girl let go for a moment too long, their hands suspended between them, a bridge built in mere seconds. Alex’s fingers are soft in her hand, warm too, Kelley realizes. Then Alex releases her, the bond broken more quickly than it was created.
She stares hard into Alex’s eyes, searching for something herself, trying to discern whether or not she could possibly know this girl from somewhere, but she knows she does not. She wouldn’t forget a face like that.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” Kelley asks, and it sounds more blunt than she’d intended, but she’s not sure what else she’s meant to say.
Alex’s demeanor changes for the briefest of moments, her eyes flashing like a storm, lightning then utter darkness, but before Kelley can decipher it, the look is gone, replaced with a tender smile.
“No, not yet.” Alex says. Something twinkles in her eye, and Kelley wonders what the hell this girl is talking about.
The girl checks her watch. Her smile dips into a small frown.
“I’m sorry, I really, really have to go. I wish I could stay, but you told me not to.” She says it as though Kelley should understand this sentence perfectly fine. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a wrinkled napkin and hands it to Kelley.
She unfolds it and sees what she assumes is the girl’s number scrawled across it in pen.
“Call me when you meet me.” Alex says.
And then she’s collecting her things and she’s leaving, exiting the café in a hurry. She pauses at the door, sending Kelley a private smile over her shoulder that stains her cheeks red.
Then just like that, she’s gone.
Kelley shakes her head, she’s not dreaming, not traveling, she knows that, no electric charge in the air to alert her otherwise, but this sure as hell feels surreal.
She looks back at the crumpled napkin before folding it carefully and placing it in her own jacket pocket.
Alex. She thinks. Who are you?
But she won’t find out for another three weeks. She gets lost in her work, and she spends time with friends so that on the surface she forgets the girl for the meantime.
That is until one night she dreams of her.
Kelley takes in her surroundings, she’s in a neighborhood, a pretty nice one it seems, with beautiful houses and sprawling estates spanning down the road and far around the bend. Leafy trees create a shaded cover high over the street, interweaving branches forming a natural latticework. It’s picturesque, she thinks.
It’s quiet except for the chirp of a warbler and the methodical tick of a faraway lawn sprinkler. Kelley notes that the street is so simply flat, even and unmarred by potholes in a way that makes her think she must be in the South, or maybe in the West, she’s not sure.
Up ahead a young girl peddles her bike towards her on the sidewalk.
Something tugs in Kelley’s stomach. This must be who she has been sent to save. She watches as the girl comes closer into view.
Then she’s toppling over, crashing to the pavement with a skidding thud.
Kelley takes off on a jog towards her.
The girl clutches her left knee, her face twisting in pain and tiny diamond-shaped teardrops dotting her cheeks.
“Are you okay?” Kelley asks.
The girl sniffles, and wipes at her face with the back of her hand, then looks up at Kelley as if she hadn’t quite registered her presence yet. She nods up and down once.
That face, it’s so familiar.
Kelley kneels down beside the girl so that they are at eye level.
“Here let me see,” She gently moves the girl’s hands away from her knee to inspect the damage. Just badly scraped, a surface wound, no real harm done, she reassures her.
“What’s your name?” She asks.
Kelley’s breath catches in her throat.
And it instantly clicks. She’s about ten or twelve years younger, her hair a few shades lighter, but it’s her, it’s definitely her, the Alex from the coffee shop. Those impossibly bright blue eyes are what give it away. Kelley doesn’t know how she didn’t realize it earlier.
“Hi Alex, I’m Kelley.” The girl has stopped crying and moves as if to stand up. She wipes her hands against her shorts, swiping dust away. Kelley holds out a steadying hand, then she picks up Alex’s bike, balancing it beside her.
“Do you want me to walk you home? Where’s your house?”
The girl stiffens next to her, she takes a small step back.
“Um, my mom told me not to tell strangers where I live.”
Kelley internally kicks herself, she doesn’t want to scare her away.
She passes Alex’s bike to her and then takes a step back as well, hoping the distance will make her appear less threatening.
“Ok, well get home safe, alright?”
The girl nods and swings a leg over her bike. Then she’s off peddling back the way she came from.
“And wear a helmet next time!” Kelley yells after the girl. Alex doesn’t turn, doesn’t acknowledge Kelley again, just peddles faster until she is disappearing around the bend and out of Kelley’s sight.
Kelley sighs and shakes her head, she’s confused. Meeting Alex here is disorienting. Never has she seen someone in her real-time and her travels. And mostly, she wonders if she’s done her job correctly to save Alex.
But she doesn’t have much time to think about it because then she feels it, feels the need to run. So she turns, racing down the street until the white light carries her home.
Kelley wakes in a cold sweat.
She turns on the lamp beside her bed before crossing the room. She rummages through her coat pockets until she finds the crumpled napkin that Alex gave her three weeks ago.
She hastily dials the number, her hand is shaking and she’s not quite sure why.
The tone rings out five times before someone finally picks up.
“Hello?” The voice is raspy and muffled by a yawn. But it’s her, Kelley’s sure of this.
“You told me to call when I met you.” She pauses. “Well, I met you.”