Chapter 13: Suspects

I knew what I had to ask Nick, he just needed to show up so we could get it over with.  A dent was forming in my mattress from where I had been sitting for a solid hour, patiently waiting.  Okay, maybe not patiently, but waiting nonetheless.  My head was aching from tiredness, but I could not allow myself to fall asleep yet.  I had to speak with him first.  He just needed to appear soon.  Otherwise, the battle would be lost and sleep would prevail.

I blinked slowly, willing my eyelids to lift just once more.  The darkness behind them was welcoming.  A sliver of light filtered through my lashes.  Adrenaline jolted through my veins when I noticed I was no longer staring at my own reflection.

Nick was sitting on his chair, scowling at the mirror.  When he saw me his face smoothed into a passive stare.  There was a slight flush creeping up his neck.  He seemed embarrassed at having been caught in his attempt to conjure me.

“Hello, Nick,” I said, suddenly nervous.  Had he looked this perfect last time?  This… alive?

“Hello, Callista.”

A sigh escaped from my lungs.  There was something smooth about the way he said my name, like his lips were caressing each letter.  Nick’s face was rough with stubble and he looked as exhausted as I felt.  But he was here.  For that I was thankful… I think. 

“How was your day?”  It was a simple question.  Simple was a good start.

“It occurred.”  He let out a ragged breath and ran his hands through his messy hair.  “How was yours?” he continued, his voice becoming more polite.

“It was fine.”  Actually, it was exhausting and stressful, but Nick didn’t want to know all the details of my miserable existence. 

“Was it really fine?”

“No.”

“Would you like to tell me about it?”

“No.” Although at this moment I had an overwhelming urge to spill every minute detail.  There was something intrusive about the way his eyes bore into mine, searching for answers.  The intrusion was welcomed.  For too long, people had accepted my façade; no one had felt an inclination to dig deeper.

“You used to talk to Tilly.”

“That was different.”

“Why?”

“Because I was seven.”  And she didn’t make my heart stutter.

“And you’ve grown too sensible to converse with those of us from the past?”  

I snickered.  “Obviously not.  I’m here aren’t I?”

“Yes.  You are.”

We stared at each other for a few awkward moments, unsure of where to steer our conversation.  I decided to get on with my mission and broke the tense silence.  “So I’ve been thinking a lot about our… situation.”

“As have I.”

“Do you want to go first?”  Coward.

“Alas, I am a gentleman.  Ladies first.”  He grinned, displaying his dimples.

“Well, um… would you please not look at me like that?”

A deep wrinkle formed between his dark brows, marring his tanned skin.  “Like what?”

Had I said that out loud?  Wonderful.  “Like you care about what I’m going to say.”

“I do care.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t.”  There was no steel behind my warning.

“Callista, what have you been thinking?” Nick prompted.

“The key to this thing we’re experiencing has to be the mirrors.  They are the only constant factor with both you and Tilly.”

“Not the only one.”

“No?”

“There’s always you.”

“Yes, but I’m not magical,” I scoffed, my voice hitching an octave.

“How would you know?”

I glared at him and chose to ignore his argument.  Otherwise I would find myself having to prove that I wasn’t magical.  “Will you just tell me what you know about these mirrors?”

Nick relaxed a fraction, leaned back, and crossed his ankles.  “My grandfather was a merchant sailor.  He purchased them ages ago.”

“Did he buy them specifically for the house?”

Nick shook his head.  “He had not… acquired the house when he had come across the mirrors while on a trip to Italy.  Rumors shrouded them in mystery.”

His words sounded like the prologue to an intriguing mystery novel.  “What kind of rumors?”

“I suppose you were right about one thing.  It had been said that they were enchanted.  There were six total. Old Thomas Dalton had thought they would fetch a good price here in England.  As fate would have it, he changed his mind and decided to keep them for himself.  When he acquired Barnard Hall, it made sense to put a mirror in each of the six bedrooms.”

What he had said about the mirrors was fascinating. I could only imagine how angry a person would have been if he had lost his magical mirrors to another man.  That is assuming the person knew they really were magical.   “Do you know who he bought the mirrors from?”

Nick’s eyebrows pulled together.  “No.”

For lack of anything better to do—besides stare at Nick—I wrote my feeble theory in the notebook.  “What did you mean Thomas Dalton acquired Barnard Hall?”

Nick chuckled and relaxed further.  He threw his arm over the back of the chair and slouched, at ease and confident in his skin.  “My grandfather was a bit of a gambler—a lucky one.”

“He won the house?”  My mouth dropped open, and I struggled to shut it.  Surely that was not what he had meant. 

“Yes.  The previous owner was also a gambler—albeit not as luck.  He was in debt and put his deed up as collateral.  Lord Smyth lost his house in the country, and my grandfather inherited the Dalton family seat.  The rest is history.”

“Lord Smyth must have been very angry about losing his home,” I concluded.  He was definitely a suspect.  I scribbled his name on an empty line and drew a star.

“Yes.  And when Lord Smyth passed away his son tried to purchase Barnard Hall from my father, but my father adamantly refused his offer.” 

The arm of my star turned into a squiggle as I marked off the old Lord Smyth and wrote new Lord Smyth in my notebook.  In my mind, a house was not a logical motive for murder, but I was grasping at any minute detail that could help solve the case.  Those were different times and entirely different circumstances.  Besides, I was not a villainous murderer and couldn’t claim to know a valid reason for killing another person.  People had killed for much less, or so I had heard.

“Why did your father refuse?”

“By the time the offer was made, Barnard Hall had already become part of my inheritance.  Besides, my family did not need the money.”

“Hmmm…”

“It is my turn,” Nick said, interrupting my internal musings.

“Your turn for what?”

“To ask you something.”

“Go on,” I encouraged breathlessly, waiting for his question.  There was really nothing interesting about me.  After a few boring answers he would surely give up on inquisition.

“Are you my relative or… descendent?”

“No!  Why on earth would you think that?”  The idea was ludicrous.  Plus it would be really, really twisted if I had been crushing on my great, great grandpa. 

His forehead crinkled in confusion.  “How did you inherit Barnard Hall?”

“My mother bought the house ten years ago.”

“If your parents have owned the house for that long then where did you go?”

“What do you mean?”

“Ten years ago, Tilly said you had disappeared.  She had been so distraught, crying uncontrollably for days.  It was the first time she had mentioned you.  Our parents had gone away for the evening and she had dragged me to her room.  She kept pointing to her reflection in the mirror and saying that something was wrong.”

Tears welled in my eyes.  I had been so sure that Tilly had been killed that fateful day.  She had lived in the mirror and the glass had been shattered.  Not once did I wonder what would have happened if Tilly had survived in her own world. 

“I had to leave.”  My voice shook with my generic answer. 

Nick fell silent, blessedly letting the conversation end there.

Thankfully, my notebook was there to put me back on track.  A few questions jumped out at me, but I could not figure out how to approach the subject of his family’s enemies.  Coming right out and asking would arouse more suspicion than I wanted to deal with at the moment.

“I wrote Tilly.”  Nick’s statement stopped all of my thought processes. 

I blinked twice before I could speak.  “What did you say to her?”

He shrugged.  “I simply told her I have met the Callista Franklyn.”

“That’s it?”  In my opinion, the statement was a bit anticlimactic.

“I’m not one for many words when a few will do.  I thought a direct approach would be best.”

“Good point.”  Besides, how would a person build up the news anyway?  Hey Tilly, do you remember when you had an imaginary friend?  Well, she’s not imaginary—and she’s back.

I stared at my best friend’s brother.  His dark eyes were endless and held wicked secrets bursting to be shared.  Looking into them made me giddy.  But I was not the one with whom he could share his secrets.  It was vital to my survival that I keep more than the mirror as a barrier between us.

“What is the future like?”

Finally, a question I had anticipated arising at some point during our acquaintance.  The first thing I would have wanted to know, were I to ever meet someone from the future, would be what the future was like.  With my careful preparation the question should have been simple to answer, but I had only lived in this time period, so I had little basis for comparison.

“Well, technology is very advanced.  We have ways to communicate with others instantly in written, audio, and video forms, no matter where they are in the world.  We are moving closer to equality for men, women, and people of all races.  Oh, and we fly.”

You can fly?”

“Not me, personally.  But we have airplanes that bring people to destinations all over the world.  Travel is something that everyone does, and it is much more convenient in my time.  We have been to the moon.  Well, not we,” I amended before he could ask me what the moon was like.  “But some people have. There have been two major World Wars in between our times and…”

“And?”

“And that’s pretty much it.  I’m not sure what else to tell you.”

“Is it very different then, do you think?”

I shrugged.  “I don’t really have much of a comparison.”

“What about men from the future?”

“I don’t know any men from the future.  They’re all alive in 2012.  Well, except for you, of course.” 

Nick ignored my witty remark.  “Well, are they different from men in 1902?”

“You’re the only man I know from 1902.”

“Are they very different from me then?”

“I just met you.”  I had thought about him every second of the day and felt his presence even when he wasn’t in the room, but I did not know Nick Dalton.  I only knew the version of him that had overwhelmed me in the days since July seventh.

“First impression,” he pressed.

I snorted.  His question was so absurd that I didn’t feel embarrassed by the rude noise.   “Um, yeah you seem pretty different.”  None of the men I had met could even begin to compare to Nick Dalton.

“How so?”

“Well, you speak differently,” which takes my breath away.  “You look differently,” which takes my breath away.  “And… I don’t know, Nick!”  This was harder than it should have been.  Before Nick I had honestly never noticed men.  I had not found anyone attractive enough to catch my attention before now and I knew I would not find anyone who even remotely compared to Nick.  “What about me?”

“What about you?”  Nick knew exactly what I was asking.  His smirk proved that he was only feigning ignorance.  Like the gentleman he obviously wasn’t, he wanted me to grovel and ask the question. 

I heaved a sigh.  A blush blossomed from my neck to my ear lobes.  “How do I compare?”

“I only just met you.”

“First impressions.”  It was embarrassing to force the issue as he had, yet I wanted to know his answer.  Something inside of me needed to know.

He smiled crookedly but his voice grew serious.  “Callista, it appears as though there is no comparison.”

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