By Eliza Brookwell
I was nearly 15 when I met the other version of my best friend.
I had been surprised to see Jacob in the stands at track practice, and I remember waving. He hesitated before waving back.
I imagine that wasn’t the first time he’d watched me, just the first time I’d noticed.
He had this funny look in his eyes, a kind of resolute determination I’d never seen before. I’d learn later that was the look he wore every time he marched into battle beside me without my ever asking.
The people who find magical doorways in dark forests are always normal before that. Then again, maybe the past always looks mundane when the present includes a fantastical world that you’ve accidentally fallen into with your best friend, filled with dragons and castles and supernatural creatures telling you that they need to be saved.
Maybe he thought it was odd, how unfazed I was. How easily I adjusted to the fire that now burst from my fingertips, how eager I was to accept the quest. Maybe not. Afterall, it’s the kind of story we’ve all heard before.
I had realized just by looking at Jacob that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t just the strange look in his eyes, it was the calluses on his hands and the strength in his shoulders, the hard set of his jaw and the wariness around his eyes. But then he smiled, and I knew the important parts of him hadn’t changed.
“You’re not my Jacob, are you?”
He sighed, but his smile didn’t falter. “No. But I will be.”
And he began to explain. About the world he had come from, where he and I embarked on dangerous adventures, where magic flowed through my veins, where time could be as fluid as water. I had so many questions, and most he refused to answer. But one made him pause.
“Why are you here?”
He looked away, pained. “Because you asked me to go back.”
We were both surprised by how little we missed our home. But everything felt so right—the short sword at Jacob’s belt, my steadily growing powers, the ease with which he’d slay any beast that slipped into my blind spot. If Jacob noticed that I could sometimes anticipate an enemy’s plan with bizarre accuracy, he didn’t mention it.
We were searching for a way to defeat the evil that plagued this land when we stumbled upon a sparkling waterfall cascading into a clear pool. It was beautiful. The water gurgled and birds were singing, and moss and little flowers covered the rocks surrounding the pool.
A member of our party familiar with the area pressed her hands to the stones. This place was imbued with an energy older than time, more powerful than anything we had encountered before. Submerge yourself in this pool, and you could travel to the past.
That night, I sat next to the fire and listened to Jacob’s musings.
“Imagine the damage that could be done. Someone could try to change the past, try to control the future.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “But aren’t you curious? Wouldn’t you want to know how all this ends? If someone came from the future to tell us if we would win this war, or how to do it?”
Jacob’s eyes were wide. “Be careful what you wish for. You could find out that all of this is for nothing.”
I put my arm around his shoulders, holding him close. “Don’t worry too much,” I whisper, staring into the fire.
He wove a story filled with daring feats, mysterious sorcery, and otherworldly challenges. He explained that this was the only way and that the path to victory required my foreknowledge. I had told him so—well, his version of me had told him so.
And with tears in his eyes, he finally told the story of our final battle.
It had happened just as I had been told, all those years ago, by the other version of my best friend. When all hope seemed lost and it looked like evil might prevail, I knew the sacrifice I needed to make. The only way to win.
And when everything was said and done and the dust had settled, the ashy smoke of my magic hung heavy in the air. The monstrous forces lay defeated, and I lay cradled in Jacob’s arms.
My vision was blurred but I could see the wetness in his eyes. He knew I didn’t have much time. My breaths were shallow.
“Why?” he kept asking. “Couldn’t there have been another way?”
I smiled and tasted blood. “No. This was always how it was going to end. This was how it had to end.”
He frowned, confused, and I continued. “You have to go back. To the pool in the forest. Go back, find me, and tell me everything.”
I saw the moment he figured it out, the heart stopping realization. “You knew. You always knew how this story would end.”
“It was a good story. I didn’t mind knowing the ending.” I looked into his eyes, full of pain and sorrow but also a growing understanding, and I knew we were both thinking of the same things. Of the adventures we’d had, the friends we’d made, and the incredible journey we’d shared.
“Go back. You have a wonderful story to tell, that you’ve already told. There’s a younger version of your best friend waiting to hear it.”
Jacob was watching my track practice again, watching me run loop and after loop. I thought about what he had told me, and I began to understand.
“It’s not about where we begin or where we end,” he told me, and it sounded like he was repeating something he had been told before. “It’s about the journey in between, about the story we tell and who we share it with.”