Sarah, Returned--Chapter 18 (A Steemit Original Novel)
My face is a dirty, sloppy mess after all that digging and crying, and my clothes do not exactly blend in, but I’ll have to make the best of it. Worst case scenario, some passerby or gas station attendant thinks I got lost in the woods or just escaped a kidnapping, possibly while rehearsing a play. Maybe the kidnapper made me dress like this, or I’m doing an immersive history project for school. Nothing that can’t be explained. Since I’m 20 again, passing all this off as a school project is actually not too much of a stretch.
It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the nearest all-night gas station. The fact that it’s here and open tells me I can’t be too far from my original time. There isn’t a newspaper box outside, but I see a few leftover papers from this morning against the glass inside. I look around. No cars, no other customers. The building is well-lit, but empty, except for a lone clerk with severe acne, reading a book. He can’t be more than 17. This is probably an after school and weekend job for him. Normally, it would be risky to work at a gas station at night, but Dover is never truly busy, even during the day. At night, it's essentially deserted, and is a safer town than most. In Dover, being a night clerk at a gas station is a pretty sweet job if you like things quiet and easy.
I take the white linen cap off my head just outside the store, and push it down the front of my dress. I look strange enough as it is. Why make it even more obvious?
He looks up as I walk inside, and his bored expression transforms to one of slight alarm when he sees my face, hands, and clothes. “It’s okay,” I assure him. “School project. History class at UNH. I just wanted to look at your newspapers.” He nods, saying nothing. He’s probably wondering what type of school project would have me rolling around in the dirt while wearing colonial clothing. I walk over to the newspapers. There are only three left, all the rest having been purchased throughout the day, probably the bulk of them in the morning, when people were on their way to work.
The date stands out to me so much it may as well have been written in neon letters: May 12, 2017.
Exactly one month after I left.
Holy crap. That is almost a direct hit on my original time. How did I end up so close to where I started? The odds are astronomical. For the first time, I genuinely believe God, or some other unbelievably powerful celestial being, is controlling all of this. Joshua believed it. It's starting to make sense.
If that’s true, if there is an intelligent force behind the time travel, it/he/she will surely send me back to Joshua and the kids. Right? Eventually, after I’ve done whatever I was brought back here to do?
Okay. Take stock. I haven’t been gone long enough for Matt and Karen to be married…probably. I’m almost definitely considered a missing person now, and the concern won’t be so much for my mental state at this point, but my physical safety. All my things were gone from the thicket. Assuming they weren’t stolen, they were likely found by the police, or other people helping with the search for me, along with my car. I wouldn’t just walk away and leave everything behind, like my purse with $1,000 cash in it, my phone, and everything else. They all probably think I was kidnapped. Or worse.
I’ve got to call Matt.
Calling my traitor cousin serves two purposes: Matt will be relieved to know I’m okay, which is a peace of mind I'm grateful to be able to provide him, and it means I get easy entry to the house to search Grandma’s room. Of all the possible scenarios I went over in my head on my walk here, this is one of the better ones. I got lucky. Or, someone up above is watching out for me. When you spend 14 years hanging out with Quakers, living their lifestyle, the possibility of the divine starts to become a legitimate explanation for things to you.
“I need to use a phone,” I tell the confused clerk. “My car broke down and I need to call my cousin to come get me. Can I use yours?”
“Where is your phone?” he asks, suspicious. Can’t say I blame him. I look suspicious.
“Battery died. I left it in the car.”
Wow. This story is coming to me without me giving it a thought, almost like someone is putting words in my mouth.
“Yeah, okay,” he agrees, making an executive decision to trust me. “You look pretty worn out. Just be quick, yeah? I’m not supposed to let anyone use it. It’s for employees only.”
“I won’t be a minute,” I assure him.
Seeming more comfortable now that he knows I’m not some psycho who just wandered in from committing a murder, he lifts the store’s landline phone out from behind the counter and pushes it toward me. It’s been years, but I still remember the phone number to my house. It’s never changed from the time I moved in when I was seven, and is ingrained in my memory as securely as my own name. On the third ring, someone picks up.
“Hello.” Matt’s deep, rich voice says with a hint of irritation, no doubt annoyed a strange number is calling so late at night. You never know who might be on the other end of those calls. I stopped picking up on any number I didn’t recognize when I was 10, but Matt always picks up, even when the caller ID says “unknown.”
God. It’s Matt.
The realization washes over me, and nearly brings me to my knees. I honestly never thought I’d see him again. When I found myself stranded in the 17th century, I missed him. A lot. To deal with it, I forced myself to stop thinking about him at all. It was hard at first, but became easier in the chaos after the Penacook raid, when there were so many other things on my mind. By the time I started raising a family and being a farm wife, Matt, and everything else to do with this life, faded away like a long-ago fantasy. I succeeded in pushing him out of my mind almost completely, except for the occasional dream appearance or fleeting thought, because I had to.
Now, hearing his familiar voice pulls up emotions I didn’t know I’d suppressed. We parted on bad terms, but that never overshadowed all the good times we had together, before Karen, and certainly not the love I’ve always had for him. I’ve missed this stupid love-struck puppy so freaking much.
Forgetting for a moment that I’m not back to stay, and he is only my key to Grandma’s bedroom, I let my emotions take over. I can't help it.
“Oh my God, Matt!” I cry, ecstatic, words tumbling out, one upon the other. “It’s me, Sarah! It’s so good to hear your voice. I'm okay, Matt. I'm okay.”
“Sarah?” Matt exclaims, incredulous. “Oh, thank God. Where are you? What happened to you? Are you hurt? Oh my God, I thought you might never come back to me.”
That was the plan, but I'm too caught up in the moment to dwell on that detail.
“Yes, yes, I’m here, and I'm fine,” I insist, reassuring him. “I’m at the Sunoco on Central. Can you come get me? I’ll explain everything, I promise.”
“I’ll be right there,” he says, frantic to get to me before I disappear again. “Don’t move. Don’t go anywhere. My God, Sarah. We found your car with the keys still in the ignition, and all those things you left in the thicket at the park, but there was no trace of you. At first, we thought someone kidnapped you, probably to get a ransom from your inheritance, but no one ever contacted us. When we didn’t hear from anyone after a few days, we thought maybe something worse happened. But, you’re alive and okay. This is wonderful. It’s a dream come true.”
Oh, Matt. I wish I could say the same.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” I say, and mean it. I would never put Matt through that kind of hell if I could have avoided it. “There was no way to call you where I was, or I would have, believe me. I’m back now. Just come get me and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“I’m on my way. Sarah?”
“You’ve been gone a month. There’s an open and ongoing missing persons case on you. The police are still questioning people and looking for evidence of your whereabouts. I’ll have to call them. They’ll want to question you.”
“Of course. I understand. Look, I can’t stay on this phone long. Just come, Matt. Take me home. I’ll give you the whole story and tell the police anything they want to know.”
“Leaving the house now. I love you, Sarah. I'm so grateful you're safe.”
“I love you, too, Matt.”
I hang up the phone and push it back to the clerk. “Thank you.”
He gives me a sympathetic nod, then turns back to the book he was reading when I walked in. I step outside to wait for Matt, leaning against the wall under the glaring fluorescent lights. To say my feelings are mixed is quite the understatement. Karen is still around and the police are involved. It’s not surprising. With my status as a well-known heiress, the state police are probably involved, too, and maybe the FBI.
Still, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. I hoped Matt would have seen through Karen’s spell by now and broken up with her. Or, maybe the stress of my disappearance, coupled with her likely indifference, would have driven them apart. Knowing how I feel about her, he would have told me on the phone if they were no longer together. In my absence, he probably turned to her for comfort, and she played the part to perfection. With the new exception of Great-Uncle Jacob, Karen is all he has left, besides me.
Talking to the police will make this take longer than I hoped, but there's probably no way around it. I wanted to get in, search Grandma’s room, find what I need, and get out to start looking for Professor Johnson. Hopefully, the police interview won’t delay me too long in finding a way back home. If I have a believable story, it should allow them to wrap up their investigation nicely, leaving me free to pursue my goals. The question is, what will I tell them?
I can’t give anyone the real story, or that looming psychiatric hold Karen kept dangling over my head before I left will become a reality, and maybe keep me from exploring Grandma’s room at all. I can’t feign amnesia, because I already told Matt I’d give him the full story. I’ll just have to play it by ear and make something up that sounds believable, without implicating a real person in my disappearance. I don’t want anything keeping me in the 21st century a moment longer than necessary.
Matt will be here soon. The gas station is only a few minutes away from our house by car. After 14 years away, I’m beyond thrilled to get this reunion. Before I trained myself to stop thinking about him, there were so many times I wished Matt was there with me. Like, when I discovered Grizel is our great-grandmother and a fellow time traveler; he should have been there to meet her, too. Matt is not just my cousin, he’s the older brother I never had.
Now, he’s on his way to pick me up, and I can finally fill that Matt-shaped hole in my heart, always there but never acknowledged. I can’t wait to throw my arms around that broad neck and feel his silky black hair brush against my face. I will savor every moment of it. This time, I will get the proper closure with him I should have had from the beginning of this adventure.
Yes, reuniting with Matt will be glorious. But, I have a mission here, and I can't let anything distract me from it. There may be something in Grandma’s bedroom that will open up another portal for me, and, with any luck, I will find it, and return to my husband and kids. Once I’m in the house, I must take the first opportunity to locate it.
My life in this time is a good one, Karen notwithstanding, and I appreciate the chance I’ve been given to go back to it. The 21st century is far better than the 17th in most ways; I don’t think anyone would argue that point. However, the one way the 17th century is better is the most important way of all...my husband and children are there. It's the only way that matters.
The 21st century isn't my home anymore. My true home is wherever Joshua and the children are, now and forever. Compared to a comfortable 21st century life without them, the hardships of the 17th century mean nothing.
I have to get back to my family. They’re waiting for me. ________________________________________________________________
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