Chris made his way through the crowded club and spotted his two aunts talking animatedly about something—why was it that he had come to fear those devious looks on their faces? When he was younger, their adventures were some of the highlights of his evenings, forcing his mother to retell him one story or another over and over again until he could do it from memory. Now he understood the frustrated look his mother would get on her face when she’d respond, “Chris, none of this stuff was a good idea. I would like that on record—just so you don’t think I’ll be impressed when I come home and find the living room in a shambles.”
It didn’t help that Chris got the distinct impression that the current heads-joint-together-in-underhanded scheming was all about him. It wasn’t an ego thing or paranoia either. It was simply a matter of fact. The past few weeks had been filled with their not so subtle attempts at getting through to him in a scary Dr. Phil way and getting him to depend on them.
Chris pushed past a few guys blocking his access to the backroom and caught the eye of a pretty girl in the corner. Chris smiled, but kept moving forward. Things were complicated enough now that his family knew who he was. His mother was busy worrying that he didn’t get hurt and his father was driving him crazy with attempts at reconciliation for things that hadn’t even happened yet. Adding the attention of a female, however beautiful she might be, was not allowed—especially since he maintained hope that the future he returned to had Bianca in it, waiting for him.
Chris noticed his aunts were watching him and he forced a smile in their general vicinity before heading to his room. His conscience told him to go back out there and talk to his aunts. He knew that he came across as sullen and closed off most of the time, but it couldn’t be helped. Chris had to keep himself from saying too much about the future, and even more importantly, he had to keep from getting too attached to people who weren’t around anymore.
This was a mess. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt his family, but he had to think of himself and his mission. He grew up knowing that nothing worth fighting for came easily and he was reminded of how his mother used to tell him that “sacrifices were necessary sometimes.” Unfortunately, his great act of sacrifice appeared to fill him with nothing but loneliness.
Chris kicked off his shoes and collapsed on his bed. He was exhausted, but still he racked his brain for some small clue as to who could be after Wyatt. So far every lead ended with a cold trail and every person, demon, and random stranger he passed in the club were slowly removed from his mental list. Chris was beginning to worry that no outside force had changed Wyatt, as he so often proclaimed in the future, crediting himself entirely with his evil nature. Maybe Wyatt really was a power hungry bastard and, if that was the case, Chris knew what he was going to have to do when he returned to the future.
Chris’ eyes shot open when he heard footsteps coming toward him. He immediately shot out his arm, prepared to strike, but stopped when he heard Paige’s voice.
“You can’t keep hiding from everyone you know. You’re from a family of witches and whitelighters. We’ll find you and force you to talk.”
“Can’t the you-need-to-talk-to-your-dad speech wait until tomorrow? I’m bushed,” Chris said, turning over on his side to avoid Paige’s gaze. She might not have realized this now, but in the future, she was the one person he never lied to. Even when he was busy covering for Wyatt or trying to keep his mother from worrying, he and Paige were straight with one another. Keeping things from her now was possibly the hardest part of this entire journey he was on.
He didn’t need to look at her to know that she had crossed her arms and put on her argumentative face. She sighed and replied, “And who said that was what I came here to do?”
“Phoebe already cornered me this morning.”
“It won’t work.”
“He’s your father, Chris.”
“That’s not why I’m here.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just don’t think—“
“You need your father, Chris, and he needs you right now.”
Chris scoffed and sat up at that comment. He glared at Paige and replied, “Now I’m supposed to worry about him.”
“I thought you two were making progress and then all of a sudden...brick wall,” Paige replied.
“I’ve been working with Leo for months without problems. I can keep doing it because I have to.”
She sat on the corner of the bed and she inquired, “What does he do in the future that is so horrible? This can’t just be neglect.”
Chris narrowed his gaze on Paige and smiled, “Nice try, but I’m not talking.”
“You still love him, Chris. You wouldn’t be this upset otherwise.”
Chris shrugged. It was true. He did love his father. Through all the anger, the chaos of growing up in Wyatt’s destructive shadow, and everything else, he never stopped loving his dad. Sometimes he even admired him. But there was no relationship between the two of them. His father knew nothing about him and he preferred to keep it that way. Any more emotions weighing down his chest and Chris was sure he’d collapse.
He sighed and said, “Maybe Leo will fix things for the future—I don’t know. I don’t know how this time travel stuff works exactly. But I can’t forget some things. I wish to God I could, Aunt Paige, but it’s not going to happen.” He covered his face with his hands and tried to rub away some of the tension. It was eating at him. He knew it. He knew how he seemed to everyone, how angry he was, but this fell on his shoulders. He had made a promise to his mother to help Wyatt and he would never, ever let her down.
“And what about me?”
“What about you?”
“Hate me too?” she asked.
A smile flickered across Paige’s face momentarily before she regained her neutral gaze. She shot Chris an appraising stare, the type that said he had no secrets from her (probably why he never could hide anything), and said, “Good. So you’ll let me help you.”
“You’ve got your hands full—“
“Chris, look at me.”
“Do I look like I’m going anywhere?” she asked. Paige didn’t give him a chance to reply. She reached over and placed her hand on top of his and squeezed it. She said, “We’re your family, Chris. You can count on us. We’ll help you. It’s what we do.”
“So let us already.”
Chris felt the sting of tears behind his eyes. This was unacceptable. He hated that his wall was crumbling, leaving him open and vulnerable to almost anything. He pulled his hand away from Paige’s and stood up, pacing the floor in front of her. He replied, “This is my problem to deal with, Aunt Paige.”
She let out a loud, frustrated sigh and said, “So close and yet so far away.”
“For a minute there, I thought I finally got a glimpse of you.”
Chris shot her a baffled look and repeated, “Huh?”
“You’ve been here, what? Almost a year? And I know nothing about you. I don’t even know what your favorite food is. What kind of aunt doesn’t know what her nephew’s favorite food is?”
“You’ll learn all that stuff later.”
“Will we? If you succeed in changing things Chris, you’re going to change yourself too—and I don’t think this version of you is so bad. I think you’re worth knowing now. I just wish you did.”
Chris forced out a loud yawn, more to keep himself from letting the tears roll and hugging his aunt. He wanted to make the selfish choice and tell her everything, tell her the horrible way she, his mother, and Aunt Phoebe died to keep it from happening. But that voice, that god awful boyscout voice, kept repeating, “no personal gain…no personal gain…no personal gain” until he felt like he was being ripped in two.
He pointed to the door and said, “Do you mind? I’ve got to start searching for more clues bright and early tomorrow—I need some rest.”
“Night Aunt Paige,” he said.
She started to walk away, realizing that this conversation was not going any further. She looked him directly in the eye and stated, "You're stuck with us, Chris. Get used to it."
Chris refused to smile though he wanted to. He really wanted to hug her and say how much he had missed her the past few years. But he couldn't. Instead, he offered her what he could. He said, "Fruity Pebbles. Possibly the greatest culinary invention ever made."
"My favorite food," he replied. Before it could get weird or touchy feely, Chris said, "Night." He laid back down on the bed and shut his eyes. He refused to open them when he heard her let out a small huff, waiting until he heard the door shut before he glanced up at the ceiling. He repeated, "sacrifices are necessary sometimes," but that didn't stop the tears that he had been suppressing from falling down his cheeks.
Until that moment he never regretted being born into his family. He never minded the responsibilities or sacrifices required of him. He dealt with. He handled it because he knew what his mother would want…but he was hurting the people whom he had vowed to protect. It seemed wrong somehow and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could do it.