Chapter 19: Deal

I paced the library, attempting to process the last twenty-four hours.  My life had been permanently changed.   For the better?  Of that I was not sure.

My mother and her husband had been murdered.  While the news was devastating, I had accepted that the situation was out of my hands.  The police were investigating the crime, and I would only get in their way if I attempted to help.  The last thing I wanted to do was hinder an ongoing investigation.  All I could do was sit back, allow the authorities to do their job, and pray the culprit would be brought to justice.

Because of my weakness, Nick knew he was going to die in less than one month.  For a doomed man he was taking the disclosure alarmingly well.  His calmness was beyond disturbing.  I seemed more preoccupied with his future than he had been.

The open notebook sitting on my desk caught my eye.  The pages were scribbled with theories, potential leads, and nonsensical details.  I had come up with a list of two possible suspects: the man who sold the mirror—a man whose name I did not know—and Lord Smyth.  So much for a career with the FBI.

Now there was the added pressure of not only solving the mystery but stopping the murders from occurring.  Yet the feat seemed plausible when compared to the fact that Nicholas Dalton was a living, breathing human being. 

It had been easy to believe that the mirror was some sort of time portal revealing a glimpse of 1902.  Well, not easy, but do-able.  However, to think that it was possible for him to cross the barrier was unfathomable.  Tilly had made the leap so it made sense that her brother was able to as well.  No, it didn’t make sense, but I was accepting it. I had felt Nick’s touch; the warmth of his skin had etched a mark into my thigh.  My senses switched to overdrive when I thought of his kiss.  Those weren’t the types of feelings one could hallucinate.

Knowing he was real made everything else possible.  If magic could exist, maybe I could change the past.  Maybe the magic existed because I was destined to change the past.  Nick could help me and, together, we could stop the tragedy.

At least that was what I told myself. 

With a decisive nod, I stood and raced out the door to tell Nick about my decision; I would help save him and his family.  After admitting that fact I knew there had been no other choice for me.  It would have been impossible to sit idly by and allow the days on the calendar to pass without taking action.

In my haste, I collided with Beth as she walked out of the kitchen.  If the clock on the wall was correct, it was just past ten thirty. 

“What are you still doing here?” Typically, Beth left the house at six each evening.  Even on Thursdays, the busiest days at Barnard Hall, no one was here later than eight.

She bristled immediately.  “Megan has been sick so we have been short-handed this week.  I am just on my way out, Miss Franklyn.”

Her reaction startled me.  My question had stemmed from surprise, not out of an attempt at intrusion.  If she needed to work late that was fantastic.  It wasn’t as if I couldn’t afford to pay my employees the overtime.  I went to apologize but she had already bolted away.

“That was strange,” I said to the paintings hanging in the empty hall.  They stared at me with blank, stoic expressions yet I felt like their sightless eyes understood.  With all the other unbelievable events of late, maybe they did.

When I opened my door all the hope inside of me fell onto the floor.  The mirrors never seemed to work when I needed them to; the images were a perfect reflection of one another.  Nick’s chair was no longer in view and the bed’s reflection was dead center.

 I slumped onto my mattress and my resolve faltered.  When Nick was gone he was not real.  I needed him to be real so that I could change time.  What if the mirror had stopped working?  What if I never saw him again?  What if I had to face the coming days alone?  What if the date on his headstone remained August 24, 1902?

Nick was becoming an unhealthy obsession.  Who was I kidding?  I had been obsessed with Nick since our first meeting.  In spite of the bleakness of my future, I opened my eyes once more and noticed something vital missing from the picture: Me.  I was sitting in the center of my bed, staring directly at what should have been my reflection.  But my body was not there. 

“Nick?” I said timidly, searching the mirror for the reason behind my existence.

He raced from out of view and did a somersault onto his bed, overly excited.

“Nick!  You’re here!”  He was there.  My world righted itself.

“Where else would I be?” he asked with a grin.

“But your chair…”

He looked to the corner where his chair waited, empty.  “Yes, well the chair was quite uncomfortable.  I don’t know why I did not think of this brilliant idea beforehand.  I did not want to spend every night sitting and cramping in the blasted thing for the next couple of weeks.”

It was impossible not to focus on the deadline he had unknowingly mentioned.  The twenty fourth loomed ominously in the distance; final and inevitable in its eternal consequences.

“So you moved your bed,” I observed aloud.

“Of course.  Heavy thing, this.”  He bounced on the mattress, looking like an eight-year old; his enthusiasm made my stomach flip.  If a few weeks were all we had left, they were more than I would have gotten if magic had not existed, more than I deserved.  Yet I was selfish enough to know that even a lifetime of Nick would not be enough.

He smiled crookedly, “I had better be going to sleep.  We have a busy day tomorrow.”

“We do?”

“It’s the first day of our investigation.”

How could either of us forget?  “Oh, right.”

“You haven’t changed your mind, have you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You do still want to help me, right?”

He couldn’t be serious.  Did he honestly think that I would want him to die?  Didn’t he know how I felt about him?  “Why would you even ask me that?  I was trying to help from the very beginning, before I even knew you existed.”

He reached through the frame and cradled my cheek with his palm.  “I know, Callista.”

“I swear, Nick, I will do everything in my power to save you.  If I have to find a way to bring in firemen, I will.”  Even if the mirror did work both ways, a truck wouldn’t fit through the frame and the presence of twenty-first century technology may do more damage than good.  But if it could save Nick and his family the consequences would be worth it.

“I know, Callista.  Do not worry.”

“Ha!  That’s easy for you to say!”

“How could you even begin to think that this is any easier for me?  To know that in a few weeks I could be separated from you forever.  Forever… that’s an extremely long time.  This, what we are dealing with now, seems a small obstacle when compared to a future without you—to no future at all.”

“What if it’s not enough?  How am I going to save you?”  My voice was lifeless.  My resolve faltered and the responsibility on my shoulders brought me to my knees.

“We.”

It helped to be reminded that I was not on my own.  “What are we going to do?”

He sighed and twisted a piece of my hair around his finger.  The slight tug on the strand pulled at my heart.  “What we are going to do is honestly the last thing on my mind at this moment.”  He traced the length of the thin strap holding up my tank top.  Everywhere his fingertip touched ignited my skin.  “Are you sure this attire is appropriate in 2012?”

My voice shook as he stared at me.  I felt as if I had nothing on instead of my worn night clothes.  “Yes,” I croaked.

“Hmmm…  I believe I’ll have to visit more often.”  Nick’s smooth voice caressed my chilled body, warming me instantly.  I would love nothing more than to have Nick visit every day, all day—and all night.  If he never left then he couldn’t disappear.  If he never went back then he couldn’t die in 1902.

“Don’t go back.”  Even before the words slipped out I knew what his response would be.

He offered me a pained look.  “Callista, you know I have to…”

“I know, I know.  I don’t know where that came from.”  Which was a lie.  It had come from the depths of my obsession and selfish desires.

He looked at me skeptically.  I hadn’t convinced him anymore than I had convinced myself.  He turned to leave, and I stopped him with another question.

“Aren’t you… scared?”  The word did not even begin to define how I was feeling.  I was terrified—petrified. 

Nick was silent for a minute before he answered.  “Only of being separated from you.”

Before that exact moment I had been convinced that the pressure of stopping a crime, a fire, and the impending tragedies were what had terrified me.  But I knew if I were to be guaranteed that Nick would survive, all my fear would subside.  I could do anything as long as he existed.

If only the roles had been reversed; it would be easier to face my own death than Nick’s.  If he didn’t exist then…  Well, then I wouldn’t either.  My body would be here, but my soul would have been buried in 1902.  I would continue to go through the motions of life but I wouldn’t be living.  Essentially, I would become my mother.

“Do not be afraid, Callista.  I’m not about to allow a few flames to keep me from you.” 

“Do you promise?”  Even though we both knew there was no way to keep such a promise, I still needed him to say the words, to prove his commitment to this colossal endeavor.

“I swear.”

Nick squeezed my hand and, with a reluctant smile, he pulled back and switched off his light; the mirror went dark but my reflection remained lost in the blackness of 1902.

When the glass went black, my breathing hitched unevenly.  It was an absurd reaction; I knew he was on the other side.  Still, I needed to see him or hear him speak to be convinced he existed.  What I wanted to do was ask him again to stay—to beg him until he relented.  It would hardly be appropriate and it was incredibly selfish, but I knew I would be able to sleep better with him beside me.

I whispered my confession into the emptiness, hoping he wouldn’t hear the desperation in my words.  “When I can’t see you it’s like you’re not really there.  We could be sharing the same space in the same room, but would neither of us would ever know.  Sometimes I swear I can feel you.  It’s like the air around me quivers, signaling your presence.  But I don’t want a signal of your presence, Nick.  I want you here.  I need you…” here.

I choked back my sobs and curled on my side, reluctant to turn off my own light.  I was just exhausted and needed sleep.  Everything would look brighter in the morning.  Just as I reached to turn off the antique lamp, a tanned hand appeared out of the darkness.  I gripped Nick’s palm like a life vest sent from heaven to keep me from drowning. 

He was here.

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