Sarah, Returned--Chapter 48 (A Steemit Original Novel)
I pause to stop myself from raising my voice too high and catching the kids’ attention. Leaning my head down, I look up at his sincere expression, stunned. “What?” I whisper.
“Grandma has been traveling, looking for our dads, for years. Maybe she found them. Maybe she didn’t. But, I’ve been doing some digging of my own. Grandma has every reason to believe they survived. It turns out, there were no bodies in our dads’ coffins. Our moms were there, but not our dads. No wonder Grandma wanted a closed casket service. They might actually be out there, Sarah. And, Grandma is looking for them. Knowing her, she won't stop until she finds them; she may never come home in our lifetimes. I'm not willing to leave her out there, wandering through time, separated from her family. Jacob knows more than he's saying, on her orders. Of that, I have no doubt. We know I can travel. The portal tried to pull me in. If I can convince Jacob to tell me where she went on her last trip, when she didn't come back, maybe I can go there and find her. She has great-grandchildren now, one of whom is also her half-sister. She needs to meet them. I'm not going to ask her to stop looking for her sons. What I want is for her to take a break and let me look for them for a while."
This is insane. "Grandma spent our entire childhoods making sure we didn't travel through time. Do you think she will be happy to have you show up looking for her, having traveled on purpose? And, as far as our dads, if Grandma hasn't found them by now, what makes you think you can? She is a skilled, experienced time traveler, and she didn't know if only one or both of them survived. Maybe neither did, and they’re still under the mud somewhere in South America. If you go down this path, it might be you who never comes home.”
This is craziness. Matt is the levelheaded one. I’m the one who is wild and apt to go on ill-advised adventures like this, not him. What is he thinking? “She wouldn’t have spent all those years traveling to different times and places if she wasn’t reasonably sure at least one of them made it," he insists. "There’s got to be some convincing proof of it somewhere we haven’t seen yet. I’m going to ask Jacob what he knows, and then go. We know I can get back home. That’s not an issue anymore, not like when you did it.”
“When I did it, it was an accident, both times.”
“This will be safer and more controlled. Knowledge is power.” He gives me a smug smile.
“How are you even going to open a portal? We haven’t found anything that might work, except my 17th century dress, and the clothes Joshua and the kids were wearing when they came back, and we burned those for obvious reasons. Only one scrap saved for each child, Joshua, you, and me, just like Grandma did with her own 1864 clothing.” I eye him suspiciously as he looks down at the bar, away from me. “Wait a minute. Have you found something?”
This is the guy who spent two weeks combing every antique and thrift store in the state for our grandmother’s things in an attempt to re-patriate her belongings to her room on the off-chance she comes back. He says he’s come up empty-handed every time. But, has he? Did he find something, and has been hiding it from me? Did he bring it in the house where the kids might find it?
“Nothing of Grandma’s,” he is quick to assure me, sensing my tension. “But, I did find two rather old objects in this one thrift store in Northwood that the owner swears appeared out of nowhere one day. She has no record of anyone bringing them in, and she keeps careful records of everything that enters her store. Their mysterious appearance kind of creeped her out, so she was happy to sell them to me. No portal opened up when she touched them, but that might not mean anything. I used gloves to pick them up. I think maybe a traveler put them there, someone who decided to stay in our time and didn’t need them anymore.”
“You can’t know that for sure.”
“No, but I intend to find out. Just think, Sarah. What if I can bring both of our dads back home, and Grandma, too? If I can get her to come home and let me take over the searching for a while, I might find them. I mean, if her sons come back, she has no reason to keep traveling, right? We could all be together again. How wonderful would that be?”
“Pretty great,” I admit, with reluctance. I still don't like this idea. Matt has no idea what it's like to land in a foreign time, with no one to show you the ropes. I was lucky to find Grizel, but it was only after I'd been in 1685 for a few months. I had to navigate the beginning on my own, and it was the hardest thing I've ever done. And, most time periods are not going to have long-lost relatives to act as guides. I don't want Matt out there on his own.
I also know I can't stop him, no more than he could have stopped me from going back to the 17th century, if Joshua and the children hadn't come here.
“I’m leaving one of those objects here for you to use, in case they are portal openers," he continues. "You never know. If it doesn’t work like we think it does, you might need to come find me.”
“Oh, I will. You can count on that." We're both quiet for a moment while I contemplate all he's said. After some careful thought, I assure him, "Just be careful, Matt. Wherever you go, backward or forward, you’ll be landing in a time you know little to nothing about. It's dangerous.”
“I promise I will go as prepared as I can, and take no unnecessary risks,” he solemnly swears, hand over his heart. He's making a pledge to me. I have to believe he will be okay.
“When are you leaving?”
"I don’t know. I need to talk to Jacob first. But, soon. Do I have your blessing?” He looks up at me, hopeful.
I smile and cock my head at him in wonderment. Like he even needs to ask. “Of course you do, dummy,” I say, and give him a playful punch on the arm. “No one can say you don’t go above and beyond for our family. Just promise me you’ll come back to us safe and sound.”
“Hey, you know if you get the timing down as well as Uncle Jacob said Grandma did, we may not even realize you’re gone.”
“You were gone a month,” he reminds me.
“Ah,” I protest, “but I was unpracticed and uninformed. You are neither. If your artifacts are portal-openers, I think you’ll be able to figure out how to get back mere seconds after you leave. Of course, you may have been gone for twenty years or more on your end. We’ll never know it, unless you tell us.”
“We’re going to have to start inspecting any house or school we send the kids to,” Matt points out. "That includes all the new friends I'm sure they will make here. There can be no antiques. And never, ever take them to a museum.”
“Just like Grandma did with us,” I agree. A funny thought occurs to me, and I suppress a chuckle. I look at him in mock horror, opening my eyes wide, and grip him by his collar. ‘My God, Matt, we’re turning into Grandma!”
He cracks an incredulous smile, then breaks out laughing; I do the same. You’re supposed to wait until you’re much older to turn into your parents or grandparents. Seeing as somewhere out there, our grandmother is probably our age or younger, it’s not so far-fetched for it to be happening to us now. With my children and husband here, I certainly understand Grandma much more than I ever did. That knowledge gives me a feeling of communion with her, wherever she is.
“How much do you think Hannah knows about time travel and how it works?” Matt asks, once we’ve spent ourselves laughing. He glances over at the back of her head where she sits on the couch in the casual living room, immersed in cartoons with her siblings. David is having so much fun looking at those colorful animated figures prance across the screen, it’s like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen. His occasional loud squeals of little boy laughter make me smile, and sigh with contentment. I’m so glad he’s happy, and that the other kids seem to be, too. Even Thomas smiles when you put him in front of a cartoon; they seem to be timeless happiness generators for children of any century.
Thomas is the only child who doesn't seem thrilled to be here, in this time, with me. It's not like he's unhappy, and he has always been the most reserved of my children; he's just not enjoying this interesting new world as much as the other kids. At least, if he is, he isn't showing it, except in occasional glimpses here and there. I think Thomas would be happier if Joshua was; he’s so like his father, and takes his cues from him. That will all come in time, though, and Joshua isn't miserable, just un-anchored. I’ll fix it. If I can manage time travel, I can manage that.
“Hannah knows more than the other kids,” I admit, turning back to him after filling myself up on the fuel that is my children’s glee. “She knows what Joshua did to open the portal, and why he did it that way. She also understands the concept of us being in two different times. We’ve talked about it. Hannah is a clever girl, Matt. She’s always been brighter than most, from the beginning. I wouldn’t put it past her to try to go back if she becomes unhappy here for any reason, or once she becomes a sullen teenager. We’ll have to keep a close eye on her. But, she’s also 12 years old. That’s almost marriageable age in 1699. Joshua and I were already discussing who in Dover or the nearby towns might make a good match for her in three or four years. Kids have to mature much sooner back then, both physically and emotionally. She thinks of herself as just barely shy of being grown up, and truthfully, she is. If she wants to go back, we might not be able to stop her from trying. The only thing we can do is remind her that we love her and want her to stay here, and try to make her as happy in this time as possible. Having the whole family here is going to help. She feels a responsibility to care for the little ones as their older sister, and she loves Joshua and me. She won’t abandon us easily or without careful thought. But, it's a possibility we must bear in mind and be vigilant in guarding against. I wouldn't want to lose her after going to so much trouble to save her, and Grizel wanted her to stay with me.”
“It’s so weird knowing she’s our half-great-aunt,” he says, leaning in to me to make sure the kids don’t hear. He needn’t be concerned. The TV is on loud enough and we’re far enough away they won’t hear anything but the cartoons, as long as we talk at normal volume. “Grandma’s half-sister. And yet, she’s also your daughter.”
“Did you ever hear the genealogy song? It’s called ‘I’m My Own Grandpa.’ The situation with Hannah reminds me of that if I think about it too in-depth. Time travel is a strange thing. I’ll always be grateful to it for giving me Joshua and the children, and for putting me in a place where I had some foreknowledge. It was that foreknowledge that allowed me to save Hannah, and make her my daughter. I'm also grateful to it for sending me back here and bringing my family to me. I was prepared to go back to them, with no regrets, but I'm so happy they came here, instead. I didn't want to live in the 17th century, Matt. I only wanted to be with my husband and children.”
He nods. "I know. I'm glad it worked out this way, too. I much prefer having you here, and getting to be part of your children's lives. They're my family, too."
I smile. "They are."
"I have a question. Our great-grandmother, Grizel,” he begins.
“Elizabeth, in her original time,” I remind him. “Yes. Elizabeth. Grizel. Whatever she prefers to be called. Did she know you were planning to adopt Hannah as your own after you rescued her? I know she wanted Hannah to stay with you, but adoption? Was she okay with that?”
I nod. “When she realized it would be impossible for her to keep Hannah after the raid, having me become her new mother was what Grizel wanted most. I delivered Hannah, did I tell you that? Grizel insisted I be trained as a midwife, so I would be close to Hannah from the beginning. She wanted Hannah to be saved, of course, but it made her feel even better to know she would be with family.”
“Family,” Matt muses. “We are her family, regardless of the official relationship. Adopted daughter or biological half-great-aunt, she’s one of us. She’s related.”
“She sure is,” I grin. “And, you know Grandma would be pleased about us raising her half-sister, if she knew she had half-siblings.”
“Maybe one day, she’ll find out.”
“I really hope so.”
We re-fill our coffee mugs, and go join the kids on the couch for some well-deserved family merriment before Matt leaves on his adventure. Hannah snuggles up to me, Clara does the same to Matt, who she has taken a particular shine to, and Patience and David scramble onto our laps. Thomas sits on the floor at our feet, quiet, but close to us.
As we settle in, Matt and I gaze at each other for a moment, unspoken words flowing back and forth between us; we always had this amazing ability to have entire conversations with each other without saying a word. The words are clear now, just like always. It’s a weird family we have, stranger than we ever knew. Our grandmother did a remarkable job of keeping us shielded from the “crazy” for as long as she could, and afforded us normal childhoods in the process. It’s why she kept Jacob away, why she wouldn’t let us touch the memory box, why she pretended to have dementia, and why she kept so many secrets.
We may only just be getting to know the real woman behind the “Grandma” title she wore so proudly, but in getting to know her, everything she did makes perfect sense. And, more importantly, it was all done out of love. Now, with Joshua and the kids here, Great-Uncle Jacob back in our lives, and the genuine possibility of Grandma and our dads returning, Matt and I have that love back in spades. We will do our best to honor it, and the people like Grandma and Grizel who sacrificed so much to make it possible.
We may be a weird family, but we are, all of us, unbelievably blessed.
Catch up with the entire "Sarah, Returned" series here: