"Daddy says you're my Uncle Charles," a young girl with long, curly dark hair and bright blue eyes says as she approaches me across the back lawn.
"Yeah. You must be Lizzy."
Her nose goes up in the air, and she answers, "Elizabeth Charlene Marie Louisa Anna McKay Mountbatten, but since you're my uncle, I will permit you to address me as Lizzy." Then, her prim, stuck-up facade cracks and she giggles.
"Oh, you'll *permit* me, will you?" I ask as I lean forward, tickling her tummy.
Her giggling rises in volume, making me laugh, too, and then I pick her up and put her on the bench next to me. I can't explain it, but I immediately feel comfortable with her. She's just a perfect mix of Kate and Leo.
The giggling fades as I stop tickling, and her face turns serious again.
I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it. Kate's always been the strong one, but she broke down in front of me when Leo and I explained that not only did I have to go back in two days, but I was also still going to die. She cried, practically tantrumed, and then pitifully begged me not to do it, not to save her. She said she'd just been in pain, that she would've been fine with the 19th century doctor, that I didn't need to come back for her.
That can't be right, though. I didn't find much information about her in the genealogical records, but I did find out when she died. If she was really fine, I wouldn't have come back with a doctor. Something terrible must've happened.
"Why does Mommy always say you died when you didn't?"
Oh, how do I explain time travel to a kid when I don't understand it myself?
"She always says it?"
"Yeah. My second name's Charlene after you. You saved me and mommy when I was a baby, but then you died. Mommy tells me all about you. How nice you are and funny and how you were going to be a great actor, like the people in the playhouses. Then, she gets sad and doesn't want to talk anymore. She misses you."
"I miss her, too."
I'm on the bridge again, and Leo's standing next to me. After what happened to me years ago from his perspective, he insisted on making sure I got up here ok.
It's been a pretty hard couple of days, what with Kate clinging to me almost every minute and pleading with me not to come back... not to die. Frankly, I'm not too keen on it myself. Leo's told me all the details he knows on what happened to me. Maybe I can still save Kate and avoid the consequences.
"Charles, I know this is impertinent and completely selfish of me, but I must ask you. No, I beg of you. Please..."
"it's ok, Leo. I'm not gonna leave her to die."
Leo shuts his mouth, his lips forming a tight line, and nods at me. "Thank you."
"Just... take care her. Of both of them. They're special girls."
"I heartily agree," Leo says, a smile creeping back to his face. "Good luck, Charles."
Stuart had a hard time accepting the news I brought back with me. At first, I was really surprised. I mean, we're neighbors, and I know he dated Kate, but I didn't realize he really cared that much. Then, he told me.
"Leopold is my great, great grandfather. If Kate dies in childbirth, if Elizabeth doesn't make it, I cease to exist. If I cease to exist, then I never bring Leopold forward in time, Kate never falls in love with him, and Kate doesn't die. Paradox."
"Yes. The world as we know it, disappears." Stuart gets up from his desk and starts pacing the room. "If Kate never went back in time, all the lives she affected are altered, as well as the lives of all those people who interacted with her children and her children's children and her children's children's children."
"Stuart, take a breath, man."
He stops in his pacing to look at me in dismay. "Take a breath? The world is ending and you tell me to take a breath?"
"It can't be that bad. I mean, Kate's been gone for months and nothing's happened to you."
"That doesn't mean anything. Leo told you that an intern friend of yours was a surgeon when you brought him back in time. How many years has to pass before that happens? The elevators started failing only hours after Leopold came to this time period. How long will it take before I disappear from this time continuum? And if I disappear, then whatever calculations I make to get you back to the proper time go with me. You'll never be able to correct the paradox!"
"Get grip, Stu. Do the calculations. Maybe I can go back sooner than we think. Maybe I take another Steve back with me. Did you ever think of that?"
"Yes... yes, that makes sense. That could work. I'll start figuring it out now."
Four years. Our first suspicions were correct and it took four years before I could catch the portal to November 1877.
Stuart was right about the paradox, too. One day, I woke up and Kate was making breakfast. When I ran up the fire escape to Stu's apartment I saw an Italian couple making breakfast and playing with their baby through the window. No sign of Stuart, his dog, his papers, his instruments, nothing.
I asked Kate about it and she put a hand on my forehead like she did when I was sick. No, she'd never heard of Stuart Besser. Yes, the Andunucci's had lived upstairs for years. What was wrong with me?
She told me to call in sick to work and get back in bed. I was probably coming down with something. She wanted to stay, but she had to get to work. Her new position was even more time consuming than her old one, and she said she'd be back at 10 p.m.
It wasn't just Stuart or Kate, either. The whole world changed. Stuart was right in all his predictions except for one. I remembered.
I don't know why the paradox spared me, maybe it was because I was the only one who could change it. Whatever the reason, I still knew the date and time Stu had calculated for me to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and make it back to save Kate.
It took some convincing to get Steve to go along with me. In fact, I had to borrow a gun from the theater props department to help urge him over the side and across the beam spanning traffic. Even then, he wouldn't jump off. I had to tackle him so both of us fell together.
From the moment I open the door, I know Kate's in trouble.
"Leopold!" Her shrill scream fills the house.
"Unhand me! I'm going in there," Leo's voice drifts down to us from floors above.
"Leopold, calm yourself. Allow the doctor to do his job. It's improper for a husband to be present at the birth. You must wait in the parlor."
"Leopold! Please, help me!"
"Uncle Millard. Tell your servants to release me, or so help me..."
"Fine, you want to behave like a peasant, go ahead."
"Leo! Get this quack away from me!"
"Stand back, sir."
"You don't understand. I must perform a Caesarian section, or both your wife and child will die."
By that point, Steve and I are up the stairs and in the doorway of the room where all the voices are originating. The smell of blood and sweat fills the air.
"Kate, it's ok. We're here."
Kate's weary head turns to look at me, and I see surprise and relief in her eyes. Her body is pale and she's lying in a slowly expanding ring of blood and liquid.
"Charles, what..." Leo's standing on the opposite side of the room from the door. He's grasping the hands of a shorter, older man, trying to hold him back from Kate. The man holds a scalpel in one hand and both the blade and the man's clothes are crusted with old blood. It doesn't look like he's washed his hands days. No wonder Kate's so determined to keep him away.
"I've brought a surgeon with me. Kate, don't worry. You're going to be ok, now."
Steve kicked us all out of the room, but kept us busy boiling water and bringing clean towels and sheets to him until he was done. The baby's shoulder had been stuck against Kate's hipbone. She was too big and Steve had to do a Caesarian to get her out. Both mother and child made it through the surgery fine.
Kate's resting comfortably in a fresh bed now, and Leo's holding his brand new 9 pound 7 ounce baby girl, his face wide-eyed in awe.
I did it. I saved her. I stopped the paradox. Now, it's time to meet my fate.
"Leo, we've gotta go, man. The portal closes in an hour."
"What? Oh, Charles, of course. You have to go." He looks down at the daughter in his arms and then looks back up at me with tears glistening in his eyes. "How can I ever thank you?"
"Take care of them for me."
When we arrived in 1877, the weather was closing in. Now, it's snowing, hard. The wind's blowing it into our faces as we walk onto the bridge that has changed so much of my life.
"Charlie? What in the hell's going on?"
"We're going back to 2002. Don't worry, Steve. It'll all seem like some crazy dream in the morning. Just do what I say now, and we'll make it back ok."
Well, at least he'll make it back. Leo said I was the only body found by the river for weeks. Whatever's going to happen to me, it happens after Steve's gone.
We finally get to the right girder, and just looking at it, I realize what happened, or happens, to me. It's covered in a thick coating of ice. Steve must make it across, but I don't.
I tell Steve to go for it, and he does, slipping and sliding, but never falling until he gets to the end and jumps. Then it's my turn.
Maybe I tried walking across it before. Maybe if I crawled or shimmied across it, I could make it. Or maybe this is it. Maybe, no matter what I do, I'm doomed to die here.
I don't have to live in the 21st century to be an actor. I've been doing a lot of stage productions anyway. What's stopping me? I could live here, be close to Kate, and get to know Lizzy better.
When I walk back into Kate's room to find Leo lying on the bed with her, cradling her in one arm and Lizzy in the other, I realize that she made the right choice coming back to this time. When Kate opens her eyes and smiles at me with joy not even her exhaustion could temper, I realize that I made the right choice, too.