Another Installment: Chapter 18

13 Apr

It isn’t just Friday… it’s Friday the 13th!  I’m not superstitious; however, you won’t catch me tempting fate today by walking under ladders or breaking mirrors.  Speaking of mirrors, let’s get on to the REAL reason you’re here!

Today’s chapter is pivotal for Callista and Nick’s budding relationship.  Prepare yourself for the endless possibilities presented in Chapter 18: Theory.

Happy Reading!

-Jenny

New to the story?  Click HERE to begin The Mirrors at Barnard Hall

Don’t want to read this online?  You’re allowed to print the .pdf version of Chapter 18 as long as you promise to read it 🙂

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“Are you alright?”

Was I alright?  What kind of question was that?  Why was the man living on death row attempting to comfort me?  “No, Nick.  I am not alright.”

“Are you always this serious?”

We had just discussed his death and now he was asking me if I was always serious?  I wanted to shout, to exclaim that I was serious when dealing with life-threatening situations.  Instead of causing a scene, I stared at the man who, by all means should not be in my room but, through some miracle, was.

“I’m thinking.”

“Of?”

It would be impossible to put my jumbled thoughts into a coherent sentence.  An easier question would be what I wasn’t thinking.

“Everything.”  The all-encompassing word wasn’t far from the truth.

“Your mind must get tired from thinking so much.”

“What makes you say that?”  I thought just the opposite.  When Nick was around I had a habit of forgetting to think; his sweet voice could knock me off-task with a word.  Ultimately, it was his fault I hadn’t been more successful in my investigation.  He was too distracting.

“I’ve noticed that when your brain is busy thinking you don’t smile.  And you never smile.”

“I smile.” Didn’t I?  My lips twitched but the impulse didn’t feel right.  I wanted to cry.  I smiled—just not right now.

“No, you don’t—at least not when I’m around.”

He had to be joking.  Disregarding today, just thinking about him had made me happier than I had ever been.  My entire being brightened at the prospect of seeing him.  I had not smiled this much in ten years.

“Well, I’ve been too preoccupied with why you’re around,” I explained.  And with how I was going to survive when he was not there anymore.

“Yes, well, I have given up trying to figure things out.”

I chuckled; the sound was broken, forced.  “Have you now?”

“Yes, and it is one of the best decisions I have made in twenty three years.  I get to look at you instead of wondering why I can look at you.  I get to talk to you instead of trying to understand the sheer impossibility of a conversation with you.”

Even his words could not stop dark thoughts from running through my mind.  I just wanted to enjoy our limited time together too but I was terrified of the end edging closer every day.  After August had come and gone I would regret wasting these precious moments worrying.  But at present I couldn’t figure out how to stop.

“You should stop thinking too,” he suggested with a devilish grin.  The way his mouth crooked at the corner made him look like a mischievous child.

“Considering our present situation, I don’t think either of us should stop thinking just yet.”

“Maybe if we allow ourselves to take a break our minds will be so grateful for the much-needed respite that a solution will miraculously present itself.”

“I believe that’s easier said than done.”

“Yes, however, it will be worth the effort.”

“You go ahead.  Maybe I’ll try next week,” I said sarcastically.  “One of us has to have at least a few thoughts in our head.”

“Why?”

“Because those thoughts could turn into solutions too.”

“Perhaps I should take over for a while.  You need a break.”

“Do I?”

“Yes, it’s distracting.”

My thought process was distracting?  “How so?”

Nick sighed.  “The way you worry your lower lip while you think is too enticing.”

“Now you’re just being ridiculous.”

“We’ll see.  Just bear in mind I provided you fair warning.  If you’re not careful, I’ll start thinking again and together we may come up with a way to bridge the gap between us.”

“That’s it!” I announced excitedly.

“What’s it?”

“I have a theory.”

“I suppose you’re bound to come up with one with all the thinking you’ve been doing,” he said sarcastically.

“Excuse me?”  Surely he wanted to figure this out as much as I did.

Nick feigned repentance.  “Please, enlighten me.”

I glared at him and his sarcastic—sensual—mouth.  It was unbearable to look away, to protect myself from its heady powers.

Please?” He sounded sincere, so I gave in without a fight.  We both knew resistance would have been futile.

“I was thinking of how Tilly and I used to play together.”  We had been in the same room after she had literally fallen into my world.

“I’m listening.”

“I have her doll.”  I had felt the cool weight of her porcelain body only a few weeks ago.  She was real, of that I was absolutely positive.

“Still?”

“Yes.  She’s in my old bedroom.”

“Did Tilly bury it as I did my ledger?” he assumed.

“No.  She gave me her doll by throwing it at me.”

“She threw it at you?” he repeated, skeptical.

“Yes.”

“So you’re saying you want me to throw myself at you?”

“No. Yes. I mean…”

“Which is it, Callista?” he asked with a sinful smirk.

Although the idea itself sent a thrill through my body, I shot him a stern glare.  His mocking tone hurt more he would ever know.  I got off my bed and started toward the door.  If he wasn’t interested in what I had to say then I would find someone who was.

“Wait, wait!” he called.  The glass clinked, and I turned to see him staring where his hand connected with the mirror.  His face fell in reaction to the obstruction that had kept us from one another for too long.  “Come back.  I’ll behave, I promise.”

I returned and sat down once more.  “When Tilly would come over to visit…” The sentence sounded mundane and so… normal.  But there had been nothing normal about my best friend.  “She would jump from her bed to mine.”

“So you want me to jump on my bed?” Nick asked, perplexed.

“Not exactly.”

“Callista, what exactly is your theory?” he said, a hint of exasperation tingeing his voice.

“If you would stop interrupting me then maybe I would get around to telling you.”

“I apologize.  Please, do continue.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “Now move your chair right next to the mirror.”

He stood up and bowed dramatically.  “Your wish, madam.”

I scooted closer to the mirror and could see my breath collide with the glass.  The moisture clung to the smooth surface, solidifying the barrier’s presence.

“My theory is that if you’re on your chair, and I’m on the bed, then maybe we can…”

“Bridge the gap,” he finished, understanding the connection to his earlier statement.

Nick’s face turned serious and he leaned forward.  I watched silently, holding my breath until I heard him tap the glass decisively.  He laughed bitterly and got up to pace his room.  “This… This is torture.”  He ran a shaky hand through his black hair.

I frowned toward my clenched fists.  My theory had been flawless; Tilly had come through the mirror.  The first time she had crossed over she had fallen.  Afterward she had jumped from her bed to mine.  On closer inspection, there had been one correlation between her visits.  Tilly had always been in the air.

“Wait.  Come back!”

“What is the point, Callista?”  Frustration tainted his voice.  He couldn’t give up, not yet.  “We will only continue to uncover more of the same.”

“Please?”

With a mumble he threw himself back into the chair, crossed his ankles, and wrapped his arms across his broad chest.

“Hold out your legs,” I commanded.

Instead of immediately complying, he glared at me.  “I am not your puppet, Callista.”

The agitation in his voice made me giggle.  “Sorry.  Please hold out your legs, Nicholas.”

Nick lifted his legs into the air reluctantly.  Crinkles formed at the edge of his eyes, but otherwise his face remained impassive.  The heat in his gaze nearly distracted me.

“Now scoot next to the mirror and put your legs through.”

Through the mirror?” he asked with a hint of annoyance.

“Well, don’t break it.  Go slowly just in case I’m wrong,” I clarified.

He inched closer then dropped his feet.  “This is idiotic.”

“Does it matter as long as it works?”

“I suppose not.”  He exhaled loudly.

“Are you afraid?”  Nick’s dark eyes glared at me.  “Look.  Keeping your legs on the ground means you are grounded—directly connected to your time.  Maybe if there is nothing holding you there then you can cross over.”

“But isn’t the chair grounding me?” he asked.

“Um… I don’t know.  Tilly never just stepped through the mirror; she constantly jumped or fell into the future.  But a few times she crawled from her bed to mine.  Maybe because you’re on the second floor and you’re on top of the chair, you’re far enough from the earth to defy its hold? ” The words spilled out in a rush.  “I don’t know, Nick.  It’s not exactly a science.  Still, it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?”

“If Tilly discovered the secret then anyone could,” he muttered.

Nick resumed his position and lifted his feet.  Slowly he extended his legs toward the mirror.  He licked his lips in concentration.  I pulled my eyes from his mouth to check his progress.  His left foot passed straight through the empty frame and hit my mattress.

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding.

It had worked.

His foot disappeared from view as he yanked it back to 1902.  It was impossible to tear my eyes from the spot where his shoe had been only seconds earlier.  It had worked.

Nick dragged his chair so that his knees were pressed against the glass.  He lifted his feet to put them on the rung beneath the seat, earnestly considering the situation even as he leaned forward.

“This is impossible,” he whispered to himself.

“I know.”

“It’s so… simple.”

“I know.”

We moved forward slowly in unison, and my heart jumped into my throat.  He held out his hand and pushed through the mirror.  Only the movement took no effort; it was like there had never been a piece of glass separating us.  The mirror had turned into a gilt-framed doorway.

I felt his fingers caress the silky hem of my nightgown. He reverently held the fabric between his thumb and finger.  Where he touched burned through my clothing and lit my soul on fire.  The unfamiliar warmth didn’t feel like an invasion of privacy; it was a welcomed agony.

I could not breathe as I watched his hand.  The blue veins beneath his taunt skin were slightly puckered, and his palm was rough on my skin.  He raised his gaze to mine.  The wonder in his eyes was humbling.  I didn’t need a looking glass to know that his expression mirrored my own.

“You’re real,” he whispered in awe.  The heat from his words brushed my cheek.

“You’re warm,” I returned.  The air vibrated from the presence of his lithe frame.

He smiled crookedly.  “What did you expect?”

“Considering you’ve been dead for a while…” The thought stuck on my tongue as all hope seeped from my pores.  The beautiful man in front of me was soon going to be dead. This man was dead.

“Callista, I’m as alive as you are.”

The reminder didn’t help.  “Not over here you’re not.  On my side there is only the memory of you.”

“Here or there, I’m not dead yet.”  He took my fingers in his and placed my palm against his hard chest.  Sure enough, a steady rhythm pounded against the heel of my hand; the hard evidence mocked me.

I shut my eyes against his image and covered them with my fists.  “I want you to exist, however irrational the concept.  I need you to exist.”  My face flushed at my unexpected confession.

“Look at me,” he insisted, angry now.  “I am here.”

“But you don’t belong here.”

I felt the steady pressure of a strong pair of hands on my shoulders.  He pulled my hands down and tipped my chin toward him. When I opened my eyes he was nose to nose with me.  Then he pressed his warm lips to mine.  The shock was more real than his heartbeat had been.  For a brief moment, Nick was alive.

“Why did you do that?”  I asked breathlessly, reluctantly allowing him to pull away.  The sweet taste of him still lingered on my lips.

“Because you were thinking again, and I warned you about that.  What is bothering you?  I should think you would be happy for figuring out the mystery—unless, of course, you had been hoping I was not real.”

“No! That’s not it!”  The fervor in my voice made him pull back.  A hot flush painted my face.  “I’m just still trying to come to terms with your existence.”

“I thought we had moved past this point in our relationship,” he said with a smile.

“Hypothetically maybe.  But you are real.”

“Did you think I had been lying to you?  That I was perhaps an extremely convincing ghost?”

“No, but you are really real,” I repeated.

“I like how you said it that time.”

“What do you mean?”

“You sounded like you meant it.”

The sudden confidence that had taken root was astonishing.  “I did.”

“What else is going on in that head of yours, Callista?”

“Did you know that I’ve never been able to go over to your side?”  I had thought about this part of the mystery from the beginning.  A few weeks back I had come to the conclusion that I could not go over because 1902 had already passed.  Events were set in motion and I would knock everything off balance if I were to interfere.  As a result, I was helpless in stopping what had happened.  However, the present could be affected by the Daltons’ presence because my future was not yet written.

“Never?” he asked, surprised.

“No.  Tilly was able to come and go as she pleased.  I could never figure out how to do it.”

“Did you try to cross over?”

“Of course I tried.” Irritation clipped each word short.

“Try again.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“We’ll only be disappointed.”  Just like every other time, I would try to put my hand through the mirror and there would be glass keeping me from where I wanted to be.

“You are many things, Callista; however, a disappointment is not one of them.”

Nick reached toward me, and I retreated.  I jumped off the bed and ran toward the door to escape.  It was vital that I took some time to think; so much of my survival was hanging in the balance and my logical thought processes couldn’t function with Nick around.  I was overwhelmed and needed to come to terms with the last few hours of my life—and I needed to do it alone.

“You do know I could come after you, right?”  Nick’s low tone sent chills down my spine.

“But you won’t,” I said with false assurance.

“You place great confidence in my restraint, Callista.  I am here now, and I am not planning on letting you go.”

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