Tally’s hands were balled into fists at her side, mostly against the chill of the frozen cavern, but also in apprehension of the decision she was about to make.
“Just give me a second,” Tally took a shaking breath as she looked at Sarah Alder, the woman’s eyes bright with concern as they stared at each other.
“Take all the time you need,” Sarah said, reaching out to rest a hand on Tally’s shoulder. The touch was too short, but it warmed her nonetheless.
One more time. She would look forward one last time. It felt like cheating, looking ahead to the future to try and glean something about the present. But Tally wanted to feel that power course through her veins one last time. It was hard not to feel sad about letting her power go when she had only just full come into it. But her mind was made up.
She steadied her breathing and closed her eyes to calm herself, trying to ignore the biting nip of the air on her face. She pushed ahead with her Sight as far as she dared. She opened her eyes to meet Sarah’s gaze for a moment before the magic took hold and her vision darkened.
When Tally next opened her eyes, the cold had faded, and she was faced with blinding summer sun. Instinctively she raised a hand to block the light, blinking blearily.
The vision didn’t feel like what she had Seen in the past. Even with the witch bomb vision she was distinctly aware of being before the fireplace in the present. Here, in the blinding sunlight, she felt entirely disconnected from her past. She also hadn’t been able to control what she was doing in any of her past visions. If anything, it felt more like the dreams she’d had shortly after severing from Sarah’s hive mind.
As her eyes adjusted, Tally took stock of where she was. She appeared to be standing by the fence of a field, alongside a long driveway. Peering down the drive she saw the highway at one end. Turning the other direction she saw a large homestead style house, complete with front porch and a twin swing swaying slightly in the breeze. Curiosity getting the better of her, Tally started to make her way down the rough driveway, its path worn away with tire tracks and what looked like hoof prints. She was wearing a pair of embroidered bootcut jeans and a singlet, a checked flannel tied around her hips. Sweat beaded along her forehead as though she had been in the middle of yard work.
A light breeze rustled the fruit trees that lined the driveway, separating it from the fence of the lush green fields on either side. The air smelt sweet and fresh and free. It had to be Massachusetts. Tally felt the same as she did the first time she stepped into Fort Salem. This was a witch’s place.
Out the front of the house Tally walked through a vegetable garden, divided by pathways lined with wildflowers. One side of the garden was occupied almost entirely with witchy herbs, only a fraction of which she recognised from her mother’s kitchen. Each had a small signpost in front of with its name on it in a sloping, unfamiliar script. Two thirds of the garden was occupied by veggie patches, four garden beds dedicated to everything from snow peas to raspberries to ripe tomatoes. Unable to resist, Tally plucked one of the vibrant raspberries and popped it into her mouth. It was delicious. She could imagine herself spending hours in the garden.
But she left it behind, continuing to the front porch. Planted either side of the stairs were reaching wildflowers, waving in the wind.
She noticed the dayflowers first, their near-purple petals bright against the greenery. Tally crouched down to run her fingers along the flower’s soft petals. Dayflowers were a favourite of her mom’s. There were others, wild elderberry, small dandelions, and a few that she didn’t recognise. But most of all were the bluebells, they lined the wildflower patch, shorter than the others but the brightest of all. They were Tally’s favourite, both for the sight and smell, but mostly for the flower’s meaning. They symbolised constancy, gratitude, and a love everlasting. She’d fallen in love with the blooms when she was twelve years old and no matter how much had changed since, the sight of them still made her hopeful.
A sudden thought struck her, could this be her house? She’d tried to look forward further than she had ever looked before, so it was possible. Besides, what were the chances that her favourite wildflowers were growing beside the porch in front of the veggie patch of her dreams?
The front door was open, only a fly screen stopping her from going inside the house. Would she ever feel safe enough to leave her door unlocked in such a manner? Tally hoped so.
“Hello?” She called hesitantly through the screen door, turning her ear to the doorway to try and catch a reply.
“I mean it’s my vision so this should be fine,” Tally reasoned with herself as she pushed the door open and let herself into the entryway of the homestead.
Inside it smelt of freshly made bread and spring flowers. Tally paused to remove her dirty boots before padding down the hallway in her socks.
“Is anyone home?” She called out again. Again no one answered her.
At the end of the entryway Tally found herself facing an open plan living room and kitchen. The space was cluttered in a cosy way. The coffee table by the fire was topped with thick books and a couple of recently used mugs. Rustic carpets covered most of the hardwood floor in the living room. If she wasn’t nervous about making herself at home in someone else’s house, Tally would’ve felt very comfortable in the space. She neared the bookcases, hoping to gauge something about the owner from the books and decorations on the shelves.
The books didn’t tell her much other than that they were antique. Some of the red spines were so worn that the embossed titles had faded entirely. Mixed in with the old were new books, everything from poetry to contemporary fiction and politics. She resisted the urge to reach out and find out what year she was in or to see how the war had ended. That would really be cheating.
Instead, she turned her attention to the knickknacks that covered all available space on the bookcase that wasn’t taken up by the tomes themselves. Startled she recognised her medallion from War College, tarnished with age, sitting next to a dusty snow globe of New York. She was surprised to find a hand drawn portrait of a young Sarah Alder. She wondered at it and wished that she could take it back to the past. Each item was more bizarre than the next, the old mixed in with the ancient and the new. Tally ran her hands over petrified flowers suspended in a resin block, more bluebells, hollyhock, and aster flowers.
She turned her gaze to the photo beside it, protected behind glass in an ornate, bronze frame and her breath caught in her throat. There were her sisters, with Raelle in the middle in a white suit, flowers threaded through her hair. Abigail was wearing a burgundy dress, a bright smile on her face as she hugged Raelle around the waist. Tally’s sisters didn’t look that much older than when she had last seen them in the Cession. Was this part of their future? Herself from another time stood on Raelle’s other side, arms around her shoulders and a teary smile on her face. She recognised it as a joyful expression. Clutched in Raelle’s hand was a bouquet of flowers, and on her left hand was a thin gold wedding band. The flowers matched that which were preserved in the resin beside it.
Tally reached out, a lump in her throat as she trailed her hand over her sisters in the photograph. She’d tried to change the future before and it hadn’t worked, so surely this was all in the cards for them? But then, this didn’t feel like a normal vision, and she was hesitant to hope for anything lest she jinx her future reality. So far she had seen nothing she didn’t like. It seemed she really did live in the homestead.
If Raelle was married and Abigail presumably still with Adil, then they obviously didn’t live together. She’d never really thought of a future beyond the army where she was happily retired. It had felt like wishful thinking. But Tally was sure she wouldn’t have wanted to live in the big homestead all alone, no matter how wonderful it seemed to be.
She continued around the room, leaving the photograph behind but keeping it in her mind’s eye so that she wouldn’t forget the joy on their faces. It would serve as a reminder for what she was doing this all for.
There were more snow globes on the mantel piece and Tally trailed her hand along them, a small smile on her face as she glimpsed some of the places her future self might visit.
She paused when she came to another photograph, and felt as though the floor had dropped out from beneath her. The frame was simple, a dark varnished wood encasing the impossible. She was in this photo too, though she looked a little older. She could see the edges of the homestead in the background of the photo, but that was difficult to focus on. Sarah Alder had her arms thrown around Tally’s neck and was leaning in, pressing a kiss to Tally’s cheek. They were both beaming, Sarah’s eyes closed in bliss and Tally grinning at the camera as though it was the best day of her life.
Subconsciously Tally reached a hand up to her own cheek and touched the spot, feeling a phantom kiss there as she took in the photograph. Had she ever seen Sarah look that happy?
Tally’s eyes darted around the rest of the living room, searching for more details. Sure enough, there was a small table with a reading lamp and more frames on it beside a worn looking armchair. Tally hurried over and picked up the photos, squinting at them. There was her and Sarah again, standing in front of the White House, a piece of paper held between them. It was too small for her to see the details, but by the looks of it she was overjoyed about it. Tally’s mind rushed at the possibilities. The next frame showed Sarah and herself snuggled on the couch, asleep against one another with a calico cat curled up in Tally’s lap. It was the same couch Tally stood before, with the same knitted quilt folded neatly atop it.
Tally chewed at her bottom lip, her heart thudding. The old books on the bookcase, the portrait of Sarah, all the antiques, the photographs. It made sense.
Tally started when she heard a door open in the kitchen, nearly dropping the frame in her hands in surprise. She set it down quietly. Unable to help herself, Tally hurried into the kitchen her heart skipping a beat at the potential of who she might find there.
It didn’t occur to her that there might be a threat, that someone entering your house through the back kitchen door might have bad intentions. Not when the house felt so safe and loving. There was only one person who it could be.
Trying to be casual, Tally walked into the kitchen, coming to stand at the island. It was a beautiful space, the benches topped with warm wood, the splashback above the stove a soft green. Like the living room, it too was comfortably cluttered. Tunnel vision prevented Tally from taking in the space properly, her eyes going immediately to the woman standing before the sink.
“Eight eggs this morning,” Sarah said as she rinsed the dirt from the fresh eggs under the tap.
Tally’s hip hit the edge of the bench as she came to a standstill, staying a hesitant two feet away. She’d seen the evidence, but it was still unbelievable.
She was briefly distracted by a thump as a calico cat launched itself from the floor onto the bench next to her. Tally jumped a little, watching as the cat walked towards her, purring loudly as it bumped its head into her stomach.
Tally smiled softly, reaching out to scratch the cat under her chin. The purring grew louder.
“Lulu playing favourites again?” Sarah asked throwing a smile over her shoulder. Tally couldn’t find her words, wasn’t even sure what to say, but she managed a hum of agreement.
The cat – Lulu – sat up straighter on the kitchen bench and peered into Tally’s eyes, then sniffed slightly before sauntering down the bench. Tally wondered whether the cat had a sixth sense that let her know her owner wasn’t from the right time.
“Someone’s remembered who feeds her,” Sarah said with laughter as the cat came to rub up against her elbow as she set the eggs on a little stand by the sink. Tally blinked rapidly, taking Sarah in. She picked a tea towel up off the counter and dried her hands, the motion simple and domestic enough. But it tugged violently at Tally’s heart, making her want to sob. Here she stood, in a kitchen in a house that Tally could only imagine they lived in together. Her eyes were bright, her face relaxed and free, her hair loose about her shoulders and tucked behind her ears. The sun from the garden outside was hitting the windowpanes above the sink, creating a halo of light around her. Tally’s eyes prickled with tears.
“What do you want to take to Raelle’s potluck on Friday night?” Sarah asked casually. “I know we took a casserole last time, but I don’t mind branching out this time. We could do an appetiser and then that nice peach tart of mine you like?”
Trying not to make a sound, Tally pressed her fingers to her mouth and swallowed a sob. The motion wracked her shoulders and Sarah noticed the movement immediately.
“What’s wrong, my love,” Sarah said in méníshè. Though Tally had never heard the endearment in Mothertongue, she subconsciously recognised it.
“Nothing,” Tally said her voice cracking.
“Tell me,” Sarah said quietly, her hands coming to squeeze Tally’s arms. “Nightmares again?”
“No, no,” Tally said shaking her head and looking at her feet.
“I’m just so –” she looked up at Sarah feeling the tears start tracking down her face even as a wistful smile broke out “—so happy.”
Sarah’s face relaxed marginally, and her shoulders fell. “You should have started with that!”
Tally laughed, wiping at her tears before Sarah pulled her hands away to pull her close for a hug. They swayed in the kitchen, Sarah’s arms around Tally’s waist as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Tally couldn’t help how right it fell. She slid her arms around Sarah’s neck and tried to capture the moment in her memory.
“I’m happy too,” Sarah said quietly, drawing back to look into Tally’s eyes.
Tally nodded, feeling the truth in the words. She didn’t draw away when Sarah’s hand came to cup her cheek, or when the other witch leant her head down slightly to kiss her. It was soft and familiar, a kiss that had happened hundreds of times before she could tell, and yet it meant everything. Tally closed her eyes, leaning into the kiss for as long as she could wishing it would last forever.
Her eyes were still closed when the cold returned. She was sure she could feel the left-over tears freezing in her lashes. It took all her self-control not to reach for the future again in the hopes of finding that point in time and then never leave.
“Are you alright?” She heard Sarah say, wondering at how tense she could sound know and how one day they might be free.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Tally assured, mostly for herself. She shakily looked up to meet Sarah’s eyes. “I’ll be alright. I can do this.”