Chapter 23: Fear

Before this morning, I hadn’t realized how disturbing it would be to sleep next to a man whose grave I had visited a month earlier.  My therapist would love me now—and he had thought I had been fabricating stories ten years ago.  I snickered to myself as I dreamed of how our session would play out.

“Tell me more about that,” Dr. Starn said, his flat voice lacking emotion.

“Well, Doctor, I’m in love with a man who has been dead for over one hundred years.”

“His memory or his story?”

“Neither.  I’m in love with the man himself.  His touch, his smell, his taste—all senses involved, Dr. Starn.”

“Callista,” he said in his typical condescending tone as he combed his graying beard with his stubby fingers.  “You do know that what you’re saying is impossible.”

I smiled and nodded.  I had accepted the impossibility and held tightly to the miraculous situation that was.

“I see.  Is there anything else you would like to discuss before our session ends?”

“Yes.  There is one more thing,” I began cryptically.

“What would that be?”

“Do you remember my childhood best friend, Tilly?”

Dr. Starn sifted through his notes, found her name, and nodded. 

“You were wrong about her.  Everyone was wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“Tilly was real…  Tilly is real.” 

“Wake up, Callista.”

Wake up?  No matter how boring Dr. Starn’s sessions, I had never fallen asleep.  My therapist would never have commanded me to wake up.  He would have said something like my lapse in consciousness was me suppressing some feeling or memory.

“Callista, open your eyes.”  I recognized the voice.  I had not stopped thinking about its owner since we had first met.

“I can’t,” I said, my voice husky with sleep and pleasant dreams.

“Why not?”

“If I move everything will disappear.  All this will be gone.  You’ll be gone.”

“Look at me, Callista,” he commanded.

“No.”  I squeezed my eyes tighter in defiance.

The raw heat radiating from Nick’s skin warmed my face.  Then he kissed me, and my eyes involuntarily shot open. 

Nick leaned his head on his elbow and smiled down at me.  I rolled over to face him. 

“Callista, you do realize…” he left me hanging.

“Realize what?” 

His steady gaze held my skeptical glance; I was the first to retreat.

“I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, I cannot breathe… I cannot exist without you.  We were destined to be together.”

“Destined, huh?  That’s a pretty strong term.”

“It pales in comparison to my feelings for you.”

He was right; there was something supernatural connecting the two of us, a bond neither death nor time could break. 

But for some unknown reason I couldn’t find the words to voice my feelings.  A deep flush painted my neck as I changed the subject, uncomfortable beneath his scrutiny.  “How did you know?” 

“Know what?”  His black brows pulled together in confusion.  “That you are changing the subject?  That is quite obvious.”

“No.  How did you know that I was in trouble?”

He paused for a second, gauging my mood.  Luckily, my emotions remained in check.  The entirety of yesterday felt as though it had happened to someone else.  My subconscious must have already suppressed the memories.  For the small respite, I would be eternally grateful.

“I overheard a conversation.”

Where had I been during the conversation?  Why had Nick not warned me sooner?  We could have avoided the entire deadly situation if I would have been told to steer clear of the carriage house.

“When?”

“Not twenty minutes before I went to find you.”

Okay, so avoidance hadn’t been an option.

“A conversation?  So there was more than one person involved in planning the attack?  Who had been talking?”  Who would want to do such a thing?  Why did he or she want me dead?  The list of questions continued infinitely.

“The man from the carriage house and some woman.  The man—that monster—had walked past the mirror.  Unfortunately, I caught only a glimpse of the woman’s shadow.  They were careful to avoid using each other’s names.”

“What did they say?”  So someone in Barnard Hall was involved.  I couldn’t trust anyone until I knew who the accomplice was—assuming there was only one.

“The woman told him it had to be done tonight.  He asked where she was.  I wouldn’t have thought twice about the exchange except I heard her whisper, ‘The carriage house.’”

“But how did you know they had been talking about…”

He interrupted my question with the answer I sought.  “You said earlier that morning that you would have to check it out.  I put the pieces of the puzzle together.  I had prayed that I was wrong and overly paranoid.  Then, when I heard the sounds of a struggle coming from the carriage house, I had prayed I wasn’t too late.”

“You really need to be more careful, Nick.  You could have been caught… or worse.”  Nick could have been killed.  Then what good would I have done?  The date on his tombstone would have been earlier, his life cut shorter than before he had the misfortune to meet me.

“But I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were.”

“Callista, you have my word that he isn’t going to tell anyone.”

“But Rosa…”  She knew.  What about when I had to tell her everything?  What then?

“The risk was worth it.  The way the man had looked had made me physically ill.  He put me on edge even before I realized his intentions.  His eyes… they were so lifeless. The thought of him placing a hand on you sent me into a rage. ”

“Thank you, Nick.”

“No thanks are necessary, Callista.”

“I know.  But I believe I do owe you an apology.”

“An apology?  For what?”

“I shouldn’t have asked you to stay last night.”  Although the request had been wrong, I couldn’t bring myself to regret asking him.  Waking up next to Nick Dalton, all impossibilities aside, felt right.  No, right was too weak a word.  It felt like destiny.  Hadn’t I just made light of his use of the same term?

“Why not?”  His puzzled expression tore at my heart.

“What if it stops working?”  Voicing this particular fear was something I had been trying to avoid.  There was always the possibility that Nick would agree with me and never came back to 2012.  Even the thought made me gasp an unsteady breath.  Life without him would be unbearable.

“What?”

“The magic or whatever it is that allows us to be connected.”  We didn’t know why or how it worked; it could stop at any time. 

“Then we’d be together forever!”

Panic settled deep inside of my soul.  Not that the idea of being with him forever was distressing, but the resulting effects would be disastrous.  “What if it happens while you’re here?”

“It won’t.”  Nick sounded confident in his statement.  Unfortunately, his assurance wasn’t contagious.

“You can’t know that.  If you can’t get back to your family you will end up resenting me.”

“Trust me, Callista.  The magic is not going to stop working,” he said.

“Nick, it’s too risky.  You have an obligation to your family to be there.  So, I’m sorry for asking you to stay.  It won’t happen again.”  At least I told myself it wouldn’t.  The weakness that came with darkness would undoubtedly break my resolve.

“Do you want to hear a theory I have been developing?”

“Sure.”

“You’re too logical, too careful.  You’ve always been grounded, haven’t you?  I wouldn’t be surprised if Tilly had been the only one to jump on the bed.”

“I jumped too!”  The anger that tinted my vision red was irrational.  For him to say that I was too scared or too logical to have fun made me livid.  That was the last thing I wanted him to think about me.

Nick chuckled in the face of my fury.  “But you were controlled.  I was not there and I know you had to be controlled.  You were too controlled to, say, fall into a mirror.”

Of course he was correct in his assumption.  But how was it a bad thing to have sure footing?  Who actually wanted to fall into a mirror, accidently cut herself and crush the only way of seeing her best friend? 

“Perhaps.”  I would give him that much.

“Let go, Callista.”  Without warning, he began to pull me toward the mirror.  He slowly returned to his own world, still holding my hand. 

“I can’t.”  I jerked my fingers; Nick tightened his grip.

Try.”

“It’s impossible.” 

“No more impossible than the fact that I can come to you.  I suppose I should mention that, despite your fear, I plan on making that a habit.”

“You do?”

“You’re surprised?”  Hurt was evident in his question. 

“Yes.”  That meant he was making me a habit.  A girl could get used to that.

“Why?  How can you think that once I found you I would ever be able to let you go?”

I snickered.  “I’m not anyone special.”  He did not know me—really know me.  A couple of weeks and a few conversations and he thought I was perfect.  In time he would regret his decision.  I was sure of it.

“Anyone who has told you that is a fool.  You are unimaginably unfathomable.”

“That’s redundant.”

“A fact that is absolutely irrelevant.  Callista, I have never met anyone like you.”

“Of course not.  People from the twenty-first century tend to stay there.”

He smiled and tugged harder.  I was inches from the mirror, inches from disappointment.

“I’m afraid,” I admitted breathlessly.  Oh, I wasn’t afraid of 1902; I wanted more than anything to join him in his world.  I was terrified that it wouldn’t work.  Then there was the fact that my presence could negatively alter time.  Hadn’t I already done enough damage?

“Afraid of what, Callista?  Tilly and I have come back and forth numerous times.”

“What if I can come over?”

“That would be a good thing,” he explained.  The expression on his face nearly had me convinced.

 “But what if my presence completely screws everything up?”

“Define everything.”  His smile was unreadable; it annoyed me.

“I don’t know… your life?  Time?”  Anger vibrated my words.

“Have you always worried this much?”

“Yes.”  There was no use in lying to the man; he would find out soon enough if he stuck around for any length of time.

“It’s endearing.”

“You find everything I do endearing.”

He smiled and looked pointedly at our linked hands.  My eyes followed and fell onto my fingers.  The skin felt no different than seconds earlier yet that part of my body was no longer in the present.  I had just caught my breath from the shock when I tipped off balance.  Like Tilly so many years before me, I fell through the mirror.

It was disorienting to be in his room.  As a whole the space mirrored my own; however, the clothes filling the armoire were not mine and the air smelled like Nick’s cologne—a dizzying mix of expensive scents and something natural, woodsy. 

“How did you know that it worked both ways?”  I asked breathlessly.  My brain continued protesting behind my ears.

“Your lack of confidence in my intelligence wounds me.”

“Be serious!”

Nick smiled and shook his head.

“Please, tell me?” I begged.

His grin broadened, but he remained silent.

“Nick…” I shot the cruelest look I could muster toward the man who had saved my life, the man I loved.

“Let me show you.”  He stood up and held out his hand in silent offering.  I placed my hand in his and my heart beat quickened.  He pulled me toward the door, but I resisted. 

“I can’t go out there.”  Distress broke my voice, and halted him mid-step.  My eyes were wide, searching for a means of escape.  My gaze lighted on the mirror.  As if he saw where I had been looking, Nick squeezed my hand tighter.

“Of course you can.”

“Look at me!”  Even though I was not a history buff, I had a feeling that silky shorts and a tank top were not appropriate attire in 1902.  As instructed, he inspected me from head to toe; his searching gaze seared my soul as he lingered on my exposed skin.

“Wait here.”  Without another word of direction, Nick disappeared into the hallway.  When he opened the door, I was afforded a glimpse of the outside world.  There were no paintings decorating the light walls; the bareness was a foreign sight.

When Nick did not immediately return, I seized the opportunity to take a closer look around his room.  His armoire gleamed in the sunlight; the box was filled with jackets and starched white shirts.  The roll-top desk in the corner held an ink well and thick paper.  Tilly’s note served as a weight atop the stack of loose pages.

“Here.”

“What’s that?”

Nick held the cloth out toward me like an offering.  “It’s a dress.”

Upon further inspection, I noticed the delicate buttons adorning the bodice.  “Whose?”

“Tilly’s.  I’m sure she won’t mind.”

“Nick, where are we going?”  I had not mentally prepared myself for a jaunt to 1902, let alone a tour of Barnard Hall one hundred and ten years ago.  Plus, I looked horrible.  And what would the staff say if they saw me leaving Nick’s bedroom?  There were too many unknown variables to consider before moving forward with this plan.

“You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Thinking.” 

Annoyed, I took a deep breath, grabbed the gown and headed toward the bathroom to change.  The sleeves were a bit short, but beyond that the dress fit like it had been tailored to my form.  The cut helped me to stand straighter, and made my spine more rigid.  The stiffness was not uncomfortable; it felt right.  I returned to the bedroom so he could finish buttoning the back of Tilly’s dress.  He kissed his way along my neck as he closed the fasteners.  Belatedly, I realized that his choice of garments had been strategic; the high neck would help conceal the marks from my attempted murder the night before.

“Well?” I asked, shyly turning to face him.  If his reaction was anything to go by, I looked pretty good.

“Perfect.”  He held his hand out to me and started toward the door.

“You never answered my question.”  I still wanted to know where in the heck we were going.

“Which one?”

“Where are we going?”

“Be patient.  You will find out soon enough.”  Nick opened the door a fraction and peeked around to make sure no one was in sight.  When the coast was clear, we raced down the hall but stopped in front of the yellow bedroom.  We looked silly, sneaking around in our own house.  If an outsider had stumbled upon the scene he would have thought we were thieves attempting to escape after stealing a valuable family heirloom or expensive jewels.

Nick turned to me.  “Callista, trust me.”

“With my life.”  It had proved a superior decision already.

When we stepped into the sunny room my head felt like a balloon filled with helium, attempting to detach itself from the rest of my body. 

The differences between the 1902 version of the space and my own were disconcerting.   Until this moment it had been easy to believe that our worlds mirrored one another.  But in this room, the bed was in the wrong spot and the quilt was dusky rose in color.  There were pieces of furniture I had not seen before and the pencil-post headboard looked new.  The carpet was darker and plusher, more inviting to my bare feet.

My inspection distracted me from one significant fact: Nick and I were not alone.

A stunning woman was tucked into the window seat; the sun glinted off her dark ringlets.  Her cheeks were flushed with the heat from the rays, and her dark eyes were filled with secrets.

Nick broke the awkward silence with his introduction.  “Mother, meet Callista Franklyn.  Callista, my mother, Maria Dalton.”

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