Standing under the bare outstretched arms of the magnolia tree in the front yard, Mimi Walker breathed in the aroma of her jasmine tea and the crisp winter-going-on-spring air. She thought about how she had evolved in her tastes, from being a zealot of sodas and alcohol to a devotee of teas.
I wonder, have my tastes changed because of how rapidly I’ve aged, or only because I look old? She wondered.
The truth was, Mimi looked sixty-five, but she was only thirty-one.
She didn’t mind living alone in her small rental home. She abstained from romances, and acquaintances were few and remote. That was why she was surprised to see a stranger coming up the walk that day. It was a young woman, in her twenties with cropped ink-black hair. She had big brown eyes, which plucked a string of memory in Mimi’s mind, but she couldn’t place it.
“Excuse me,” said the woman, “I’m sorry, I might have been given the wrong address. Does Mimi Walker live around here?”
Mimi paused, wary of why this woman was looking for her. Curiosity got the better of her. “Yes, Mimi rents out my guest room. She should be back shortly. Would you like to come in? I’ll brew some fresh tea.”
Mimi guided the woman inside, and sat her down on the couch. In the kitchen, she brewed a mint tea, and returned to her guest with the tea tray.
“What’s your name, honey?” Mimi asked.
“Molly,” the woman said shyly.
It was a good thing Mimi had set the tray down, otherwise she would have dropped the whole thing onto the floor. Memory engulfed her: the brown eyes hadn’t changed in the last fourteen years, but the short black hair had once been long golden braids. The scrawny body had been pudgier before, and the timid countenance had replaced a once spitfire brazenness. Mimi froze as she gawked at her now grown-up, and transformed, younger sister.
“Are you all right?” Molly asked.
Mimi regained composure. “I’m fine. You must be Mimi’s sister. She’s mentioned you, but she didn’t say you were coming to visit.”
Molly raised her eyebrows. “She’s mentioned me? That’s surprising. We haven’t spoken to each other in a long time. In fact, I’m not sure if she’ll want to see me.”
“I’m sure she will,” Mimi said.
Molly sighed. “I’m hoping I haven’t messed up. I mean, she didn’t change her name or anything, but maybe she doesn’t want me to find her.” Molly bit her lip. “Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I’m looking for her. They don’t want me to even think about her. They said, ‘if she wants to disown this family, then this family disowns her.’ I mean, don’t they even wonder why…” Molly stopped. “I’m sorry. It’s not your problem.”
Mimi patted Molly’s knee. “You were close to her?”
Molly shrugged. “I don’t know if she liked me, but she was always there for me. When she left, I just couldn’t…” Molly paused. “M’am, would you tell her I dropped by? I’ll leave the number to the hotel I’m staying at, if you’ll pass it along so she can call me, if she wants to talk.”
“Wait!” Mimi jumped up, startling Molly. “Wait,” Mimi repeated gently. “Please, stay. Look, Molly, there’s something I need to tell you, about Mimi.”
A look of panic flooded Molly’s face.
“Relax, she’s fine.” Mimi inhaled deeply. “Right after she left home, she found out she has a…gift. She can help people by giving them a little more…time. That is…how can I explain?” Mimi touched her finger to her lips. “She was working in a fast food place to make ends meet when a man suffered a heart attack in the restaurant. While Mimi waited with him for the ambulance, the man said that he wished he could’ve had more time to patch things up with his son. Mimi wished so much she could help him…then something happened. She felt this electrical twinge. The ambulance finally came, and Mimi thought she’d never see that man again. But a week later, he came back to the restaurant, in good health. He said that Mimi’s praying for him did something, so he wanted to thank her. They kept in touch as friends, until a year later, when the man passed away, painlessly.”
“That’s sad,” Molly said.
“Well, less sad than him dying in pain,” Mimi replied. “And he did make amends with his son. But Mimi had something to do with that. She could do the same for other people too. Her gift…She can give someone an additional year onto their lives, even if they’re on the brink of death. It’s just one year she can give to one person at a time, but that can be more than enough for them to make up for a lifetime of regret.”
Molly’s jaw hung open. “Huh?”
“The catch is…those years she gives away are years off of her own life.”
Molly was quiet. Her gaze meandered from Mimi to the wall, and back to Mimi. “Is this a joke?”
“Not at all.” Mimi took Molly’s hand. “Molly, it’ me. I’m Mimi.”
Once again, there was quiet. Molly let out a spurt of disbelieving laughter, but it quickly died. She leaned closer to Mimi, searching her eyes. She touched Mimi’s face, the wrinkles on her brow, the strands of silver hair. Molly turned Mimi’s head to the side, brushing back Mimi’s hair. Under Mimi’s right ear was a distinguishing feature, a tiny birthmark shaped like a butterfly. Molly dropped her hands into her lap, looking like her soul had vacated her being.
“I’m sorry I didn’t contact you,” Mimi said when her sister said nothing. “But you can see why, can’t you?”
Suddenly, Molly shot up onto her feet, her voice like a teapot screaming steam. “Mimi, did you even go to a doctor or anyone to ask what the heck this ‘thing’ is? I mean, maybe you have one of those rapid-aging diseases. Maybe it’s coincidence that those people lived a little longer than expected. But you didn’t even try to find me or let me know what was going on? You’re dying, literally dying, because you think you’re some kind of angel or something?”
“No! Mimi, even if I really believed you have this gift, or curse, or whatever…” She covered her face with her hands. “When I was little, I dreamed about being able to grow up along side of you. I thought one day we’d be like those little old ladies in those movies we watched, two sisters who seem crazy to everyone else but share their own perfect world. But how can we do that now? You wasted your life away, and for what? For strangers who were just going to die anyway?”
“Molly, sit,” Mimi ordered.
After a long moment frozen in time, Molly tentatively sat down.
“Look, I never believed in fate or God or anything that indicates we’re meant for some specific purpose,” Mimi said, “but I figure, we only have so much time on this planet, so we have to do what we think is right with the time we have. I could’ve never shared my gift, and kept all those years to myself. But nothing I would have done with them would have made me feel the same fulfillment, the same joy, I get out of giving someone a second chance to make things right. This is my purpose, Molly. This is why I have this ability. The only thing I regret about it was not letting you know sooner.”
Molly’s eyes were brimming with tears. “Does it…work both ways? Can you take a year from someone else and add it back onto your own?”
“I don’t think so.”
Molly took Mimi’s hands, squeezing them tightly. “Can you try?”
“Even if I could, I wouldn’t.” Mimi smiled, and stroked Molly’s hair. “I don’t think the point is about adding or subtracting years onto my life. I think it’s treasuring the time we have right now. Maybe that’s why I can only give one year away at a time. If I could give twenty years to someone, it wouldn’t be as valuable.”
Molly wiped her eyes. “What do we do now?”
“Well…” Mimi put an arm around Molly’s shoulders. “There’s a Mother-Daughter lunch special at the bistro down the street. Maybe we can get away with it. We look alike, you know.”
Molly couldn’t help but laugh. “You, my mom? That’s creepy.”
Mimi smiled. “Hey, I can really act like Mom, and tell you to color your hair back to normal and put some meat on those bones. You look like a vampire.”
Molly gave Mimi a tight hug. “I missed you, Mimi.”
“I missed you too.”
They remained like that for a good hour or so, but for the two sisters, time had stopped just for them, and it was the most precious gift either could have received.