Jory Logan sat down in disbelief as Judge Terrance Murphy stood ten feet away and declared in a single breath the words that would change her life. For the robbery and death of a convenience store clerk, she was guilty of second degree manslaughter and faced fifteen to twenty years in prison. Since she’d just passed her eighteenth birthday, she wouldn’t be free until she was almost forty years old. The judge’s words were a death sentence, and her heart fell.
Her gaze focused on empty space. The state-appointed attorney nudged her arm, and the judge began to scold. When the message sank through to the reasoning part of her brain, she put her head in her arms and began to sob. The voices of the courtroom grew distant, and their words became a muffled monotone.
Finally, a set of firm hands rested on her shoulders, and her social worker’s gravelly voice urged her to get up. The woman led her out the back door to a sparse room away from the prying eyes of the courtroom. The smell of cigarettes and coffee was strong on the woman’s breath, but Mrs. Cole was the only consistent adult in Jory’s life and her broken heart clung to the sound of a familiar voice.
Jory’s court-appointed attorney had helped her follow the textbook presentation for the appearance of a responsible adult. His trip to the Goodwill had produced a small beige woman’s suit with a conservative white blouse. Tradition dictated the judge enter the room last, so he didn’t witness Jory’s lack of experience on stilettos as she’d stumbled to her seat. He also hadn’t seen her attorney’s metrosexual talents as he’d fixed her makeup and hair just before the trial began. Instead, the judge saw the fabricated image of a young adult.
What the judge should have seen was the real Jory, a ninety-pound girl who was an inch short of five feet. Her brown curly hair barely reached below her ears and required a lot of bobby pins and hairspray to manipulate into a conservative knot. Jory knew about sneakers, jeans, iPads, and high school drama, but little about maturity, responsibility, and relationships.
At a small sound, Jory lifted her head to see two huge police officers enter the room. One of them aimlessly twirled a set of handcuffs, but with every rotation Jory could feel the hard, cold steel on her tiny wrists.
Jory looked at her social worker with panic. “Are they taking me to prison now?” She felt a wave of nausea wash over her entire body and feared she would lose what little she’d eaten that day on the floor of the ugly room.
“Honey, you knew when they turned your case over to the adult justice system this was a possibility,” her social worker responded. “But no, you will spend the next few weeks back at the juvenile detention facility, and they will transfer you when they get the paperwork pulled together. I am sure your attorney will work on an appeal, though, so don’t lose hope.”
Jory just stared. Her last shot at hope had left with her mother seven years earlier. Pamela Logan’s quick laugh and bright smile came to her memory in pieces, but her mother’s happiness had a direct correlation to the drugs and alcohol that had long since been part of her life. There were no memories of her father, and the place reserved for that special protector was blank on her birth certificate. Halfway through the fifth grade, her mother had left without a word, and she’d never come back. By the end of the evening, the Philadelphia Child Protective Services had placed her in the first of three foster homes she’d lived in over the next eight years.
Despite the circumstances, Jory was a survivor. Already having a lot of practice, she’d mastered life on her own and her first defense had been to avoid relationships. Foster parents came and went with their own needs, but Jory never really missed any of them. The first woman became too old to have foster children, and the second couple decided raising somebody else’s problem was too much complication. The third home had possibility, but when Jory was placed on probation for car theft the same week she failed tenth grade for a second time, she saw no reason to stay.
In the ugly room of the courthouse, Jory’s sense of panic grew when a large woman entered with obvious authority. Her skin was dark, and her eyes were brilliant and clear. A brightly colored green and gold dress hung over her solid frame and a metallic gold turban added to her exotic look. She showed official-looking paperwork to the burly guards, who shook their heads in resignation and left. Even though it didn’t change her sentence, Jory let out a sigh of relief when they were gone. She tried to rub the tears from her eyes, but only smudged the cheap, sticky mascara all over her face and the side of her hand.
Mrs. Cole looked at the newcomer. “Can I help you?”
The woman’s heavily accented voice matched her foreign appearance, and her clear distinct tone commanded attention. “I am Afia Blake. I work for the city, and I am assigned to Jory Logan. I have the paperwork to take her back to the detention facility.” Her words were carefully enunciated and demonstrated a commitment to use every letter.
Mrs. Cole waved the paperwork away without a glance. “I was told the county would send officers to take her back. I don’t understand why they keep making these kinds of changes and not telling anybody.” She turned and said, “Jory, are you going to be OK with Mrs. Blake? I am sure she can get you transferred back just fine.” Mrs. Cole muttered complaints on the inefficiency of the Philadelphia County Childcare system as she left the room with a scowl.
Jory looked suspiciously at the strange woman, but received a brilliant smile in return.
“Here, child,” she said as she handed Jory a small package of disposable washcloths. “Wash your face. You will feel better.”
Jory hesitated, but she was anxious to lose the adult image and her face felt sticky and gross. The makeup left huge smudges on the wipes, and she tossed them in the garbage. She took what was left of the tiny knot on her head and shook her brown curls back to their familiar location. She felt more like herself, and the feeling was a welcome change to her miserable day.
“I am glad those people are all gone,” said Mrs. Blake. “This will give us time to talk. Let us start out to my car. I am parked very close.”
Jory looked at the dismal room and realized it held nothing for her, so she quietly followed the woman out of the courthouse.
In contrast to her arrival at the jail, there were no police with heavy guns and stern expressions. Instead of the backseat of a patrol car with its odors of vomit and urine, she sat in the front of a large, bright orange SUV with comfortable leather seats. Soft bluegrass music filled the small space, and Jory found it easier to breathe away from so much authority. She watched the passing scenery, but her current challenges weighed heavily and her eyes glazed over at the abundance of autumn color.
After seven months of constant supervision, Jory was surprised when the woman did not take her directly to the detention facility but pulled instead into the parking lot of a small restaurant. “Are you hungry, Jory? Perhaps we can get some food and talk before you return?” Not anxious to go back to jail, Jory nodded her head without trusting her voice to speak and followed her into the small diner.
The comforting smell of greasy French fries and hamburgers was strong in the small restaurant and the traditional display of desserts sat in a glass case to tempt the customers into more calories. A noticeably pregnant waitress with a thick blond braid grabbed some menus. She bumped a cup of coffee, and the hot beverage spilled onto her arm and stained her shirt. The woman swore lightly, but assured them she was fine. “The coffee ain’t that hot. I just can’t get the stains out of my clothes anymore.” Afia just smiled in agreement as they settled at a pale green Formica table.
Jory sat sullenly at the window and watched the view of the highway while Mrs. Blake talked about the menu. She always took pleasure in watching cars and liked to use her imagination to visualize family and security as they traveled together to some wonderful destination. But today her mind was heavy with regret, and she struggled to even order food. The diner was busy, but the background of conversation was nothing more than a hum of noise that she didn’t bother to interpret.
When the waitress left, Mrs. Blake spoke. “Now we can begin with the real reason we are here. First, I must tell you that my name is not Mrs. Blake. It is just Afia. I do not work for the county or the police either. I am here to assist you, but you must tell me all about yourself. I cannot help you unless you tell me everything. If you do not want my aid, I can take you back to the courthouse now and there will be no ill feelings.”
Jory would not have been any more surprised if the woman had taken her clothes off and danced naked around the diner. She received many years of county services and not once had anybody ever told her they were doing something sneaky. The thought woke up her quiet mood with a small thread of hope. A person outside of the system might be worth her attention.
She knew to be wary. Strangers deserved suspicion if they offered to help you. This woman could be looking for girls to put into the sex trade or even worse. The public location of the diner gave her the confidence to ask a few questions. “What about the paperwork and Mrs. Cole? How did you get me out of the courthouse?”
Afia waved her hand and said, “That is not important now. First you tell me, did you know Peter was going to shoot the clerk?”
The simple sentence surprised her more than the announcement she was not from the county. “What makes you think his name is Peter? I haven’t told anybody who I was with that day.”
“Yes, I know. Why would you do that if he left you there? What did you see in him?” asked Afia.
Jory didn’t know how to respond, so she simply stared until Afia spoke sharply. “We do not have a lot of time, Jory. You must speak to me now. Did you know Peter Beckman was going to shoot that man?”
Her knowledge of Jory’s darkest secret did little to increase her faith, but Afia simply placed her right hand on top of Jory’s. With one simple action, the distrusting attitude vanished. Calmness settled in her heart, and she knew she would tell the woman everything.
She whispered, “No, I didn’t. I knew he had a gun, but he told me it was empty. Nobody was going to get hurt.” She still wondered if Peter had known the weapon was loaded. He could be a bit of a bastard, but he never struck her as a murderer. She also knew, however, drugs could do strange things to people.
“Why was Peter so important to you?”
“Peter told me he loved me. I hadn’t heard that from anybody since my mother left. I… I didn’t want to get him into trouble.” She wasn’t sure she actually loved Peter, but he’d asked for little with the exception of occasional sex and help selling the drugs that kept them alive. He wasn’t her first partner nor was it the first time she sold drugs, so there was no reason to deny him either one.
Afia said, “Your lack of cooperation and your own juvenile record is why you were tried as an adult even though you were only seventeen at the time of the murder. The district attorney knew he would have good luck winning his case. They have you on video holding Peter’s hand when you came into the store.”
The reminder of her own dismal criminal record didn’t help Jory process the current conversation. Shoplifting candy and makeup was too much a temptation for a foster kid who had nothing and breaking into houses was simple. If she saw something that appealed to her, it was easy to justify the theft. Her foster parents betrayed her when they let the cops search her room without a warrant.
Her experiences with the juvenile justice system increased over the years until she found herself on a joyride in a stolen car with some drunken friends. Nobody was hurt, but the inevitable police cars appeared with a new court appearance. The children with parents were sent home with a scolding, but Jory was given three years’ probation and a large community service component. A few days later, she ran away from her foster home and met Peter at a Philadelphia runaway shelter.
Jory needed answers. “What do you want from me? Can’t you just let me walk out of here? I promise I won’t do anything like this again. I have some good friends in New York. We were foster children together, and they aged out of the system. I just need a few bucks and nobody has to worry about me.”
Afia scowled. “No, Jory. There needs to be a consequence for the choices you made. This is a hard lesson, but we all must face our punishments.”
Jory was disgusted. It was pretty easy to scold about lessons when half a life in prison wasn’t in front of you.
Jory and Afia sat in silence while she absently picked at her food. A twenty-four-hour news channel showed the images of a hurricane forming in the mid-Atlantic, but Jory paid little attention. Afia said, “Do you ever wish you could go back in time?”
Jory had a long history of county-provided psychologists and knew the answer they wanted to hear. “Oh, yes, if I could go back in time I would do everything differently. I wouldn’t have skipped school or stolen from people. I wouldn’t have gotten caught selling the pot for that kid from the high school. I would definitely have stayed away from the stolen car. I would have gotten my diploma, so I wouldn’t even have met Peter and…”
As Jory listed her transgressions, she slowly processed how many horrible things she had done. When the image of the dead clerk formed in her head, her voice couldn’t go on. She also couldn’t figure out one single way to make a different choice, even if she were given the chance to do it all over again.
Afia said quietly, “We always have choices, Jory. Sometimes we can’t see them, but they are always with us. What if you could choose something very different right now? Your mother left when you were very small. Those were the years that should have taught you right from wrong. Time travel could give that all back. It could even put you in a whole new life and a whole new place. You could change histories. Have you ever thought about it?”
Jory assumed Afia was speaking hypothetically and jumped at the opening. “Oh, yes, going back in time would give me the chance to do it all over again and not make the same mistakes. I have truly learned from all of this.”
“Would you go back to a distant time, Jory? Would you go back someplace strange and unknown for four years if you could return with a clean slate?”
“I could easily do four years of probation. Especially if I could get to my friend’s house.” Despite her verbal sincerity, she knew she would be off the grid the minute the crazy old bitch turned her back. Jory’s excitement grew with the idea she could start over in a different city.
“No, you don’t understand,” said Afia. “I mean truly go back two hundred thirty years to a distant past. Could you live your life with different people, morals, and resources? Could you start over?”
Jory’s heart sank when she realized the woman was plain crazy. She wondered briefly if she was dangerous too and moved a little further away before she spoke. “You’re seriously fucked up, lady. Why the hell did you bring me here? Are you trying to harass me or turn me into a hooker or what? Leave me the fuck alone.”
As Jory got up to leave, two uniformed police officers came into the diner. Torn, Jory lowered her eyes to avoid contact and sat back down.
Afia looked serious. “This is your choice, Jory. Now. I can wave my hand, and the officers will recognize you as missing from the courthouse because people are already looking for you. They will transfer you to an adult prison for twenty years. Or you can take my hand and we will walk out of here. We will get into my car, but you will not get out until you are in your new life. At the end of four years, you will come back to this spot. Nobody will recognize you and your crime will be omitted from the court system. You can go to your friends in New York or wherever else you chose.”
Jory seriously considered turning to the two police officers for protection, but she didn’t want to move back to custody any more than she wanted to listen to craziness. In confusion, Jory closed her eyes and looked into her heart for the answer. She felt her hand grow warm under Afia’s gentle touch, and her mind raced through the last few months. She thought about the dead clerk on the floor of the small convenience store as the blood trickled silently from his head like it was reaching out to her soul. The screams would forever be ingrained in her mind, but it had taken her months to remember that it was her own hysteria that filled the memory. Guilt rose to her throat in an attempt to suffocate her, and she felt her stomach clench tightly in response.
Behind her were foster care, unstable relationships, and regret at the decisions she made. Ahead of her was more uncertainty and years of adult prison. The police officers were her ticket back to that horrible life. “If only you could get me that far away from here. It’s too bad that that nobody can fix this.”
Afia took her hand. “You can trust me, Jory. You can trust your own choices. Do you like the path you are on, or are you interested in a different one?” Tears formed at the corners of Jory’s eyes. Nothing could be as bad as her past. With the biggest leap of trust in her life, she took Afia’s hand and followed her out of the diner.
They drove quietly out of the city and into the surrounding countryside. As they approached Lancaster, she asked Afia if she meant the Amish countryside for the new path in the past. But Afia just laughed and said, “That is not what I meant, Jory. I mean two hundred thirty years ago. Not a few miles away.”
Her last memory before darkness settled around her was the comfort of the orange SUV while Afia chatted about new chances and opportunities. Jory grew strangely tired and curled into a small ball on the front seat. As the cab grew colder and Afia’s voice became distant, Jory’s mind began to flash through her past. Images of her mom, social workers, foster care providers, friends, judges, and teachers all began to fly around in her head, and she felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Eventually, the world went black.