Jacob sets his cell phone down on the kitchen counter. “That was Matt,” he says. “He wants to come over and ask me some questions about his grandmother and where she went on her most recent trip through time."
"And why would he want to know that?” the young, blonde woman sitting on his best sofa asks, taking a sip of her tea from a fine china cup. She places it back on its matching saucer and leans back, giving Jacob a long look.
“He intends to look for her. And, his father and uncle after that.” His bright blue eyes are piercing, daring her to forbid it.
Elizabeth Morgan, now twenty-five years old after her most recent trip through a portal, shakes her head in consternation. “Why, Jacob?” she asks, frustrated. Jacob’s eyes may be piercing, but Lizzie’s are like two power drills, going deep inside the old man to discover what he’s not telling her. He looks away, unable to keep up the staring contest under Lizzie’s more powerful gaze.
“I may have told the kids there was a chance you and their dads are alive.”
“Jacob,” she growls, glaring. “We talked about this. More than once. I don’t want my grandchildren chasing me through time. It’s too dangerous. It was better that they thought I just got old, got dementia, and died, like any respectable grandmother. That was the entire purpose of my very expensive and lengthy ruse, need I remind you? Even the video was only meant to show them the reality of time travel, if they ever needed it, not send them searching for me. It was supposed to give them closure with me, if they had questions. And, knowing their fathers may have survived the mudslide? Jacob, how could you?”
“Once Sarah traveled and came back, I thought telling them the whole truth was the right way to go,” Jacob says drily.
“Obviously they could be shown the video at that point, but they did not need to be made aware of the possibility of anything else. The possibility of their fathers being alive, my continued existence and search for them, those should have remained secret. You opened up a can of worms here, Jacob. I should have taken that memory box with me to the assisted living facility. Stupid of me to leave it behind. Sarah is so interested in genealogy, I thought she might go through it one day and see the daguerreotypes. I wanted her to have them, since I knew she would love them.”
“I’m sure she did, until she realized that little girl in the family photos was you.”
“Again, my fault for labeling them correctly. It would have been better to give myself a new identity, and make my parents my great-grandparents. I just wanted her to have faces for names to fill out on the family tree. I didn’t think that including my own name would tip her off. Just another ancestor. Elizabeth is a common name, and no one that old could possibly be her grandmother. She’s a clever girl.”
“Or, you’re not as clever as you think you are. All this deception, for years, and Sarah still got pulled back in time. The very thing you went to all this trouble and expense to avoid. And now, Matt is going on purpose. Maybe if you had come home and told them all this yourself, it wouldn't be an issue now. Where were you for the past two months, Lizzie? I know you stayed away on purpose; you could have come back long before now if you wanted to.”
Lizzie's eyes darken, offended at having her actions questioned. "Where I was is none of your concern. And, as for how long I was gone, I did it for Matt and Sarah. It was time to set them free from caring for me. They need to live their own lives, without feeling obligated to go visit their batty grandmother in an assisted living home every couple of weeks. It was a kindness to them, Jacob."
Jacob suspected as much, but it's always wise to get verbal confirmation with Lizzie. He changes the subject. “Have you been in touch with the professor lately?” Lizzie’s moods are mercurial at best. It’s better to keep her focused on something not likely to irritate her. “I know figuring out how to make time travel work with more accuracy is an ongoing pet project between the two of you.”
Lizzie waves a dismissive hand. “It’s been twenty-five years since I last talked to him. Of course, that’s the amount of time I just spent in the 2350’s. He was on his way back to Ancient Rome when I left. I don’t know where he stays when he’s in the 21st century; the government is after him in this time, you know. Our experiments have gained attention, and authorities at the highest levels want the secrets of time travel, so he has to hide whenever he returns. He chooses a different location each time. I wait for him to get in touch with me, and we compare notes. Fortunately, I have managed to stay off the government's radar. The professor is far more reckless about what he does than I am.”
“If it’s so dangerous for him to return, why does he come back at all?”
“Technology. The science of travel to the future is fairly well known. Einstein proved it, you know. But, going to the past has long been thought impossible. Clearly, it isn’t. He goes to the past, stays a while, and returns here to test any new discoveries he made about the process along the way.”
“But, you haven’t met anyone in the future who knows exactly how it works, either?”
“I’m looking for my sons, Jacob. That's my main objective. Experiments into the nature and workings of time travel are only a side pursuit. I don't put all of my focus into it. Caleb is almost certainly alive, as you well know, and somewhere within three hundred years of here, in the future. Elijah may be alive, too; I’m not as sure about him. But, if he is, he’s in the past, possibly the medieval past. As long as there is hope they are out there, I have to keep looking, and that is most of what I do on these trips. Yes, I ask questions when I’m in the future, but I've discovered precious little. There are others who are doing time travel experiments, beginning around two hundred years from now, but they don't talk about it. As far as five hundred years from now, which is as far as I’ve been, it’s still a well-kept secret among a select few. I’ve infiltrated a few secret societies, and even at the highest levels, talk of time travel is fleeting, cryptic, and veiled in metaphors. Anyone with knowledge of it aims to keep tight control over it. Those who control time are the most powerful in the world, as you can imagine.”
“How old are you now, Lizzie?” It’s an abrupt change of topic once again, but for different reasons. This is a question he asks periodically, because he likes to keep up.
“I don’t even know anymore,” she says, truthfully. “I lost count after 300, but I’m fairly certain I haven’t reached 400 yet. I think I might be getting close. I’d have to sit down and write out all my trips, how long I spent there, and how much I aged backward each time I went through a portal, both going and returning. Getting an exact figure will take some time, and I need to leave again soon.”
“Why? Lizzie, Matt is going to go look for you. He knows how to open a portal and control where it goes. I can’t stop him, and neither can you. Stay here and let him find you. Take a break. Spend some time with Sarah. Meet her husband and your great-grandchildren. She misses you. So does Matt. In fact, save Matt the time in finding you, and he can go look for his father and uncle, while you stay here for a few years. Let your great-grandchildren get to know you.”
“You need to talk Matt out of it.” Her tone brooks no argument. Her singular attention is still on finding her sons. After centuries of searching, it is understandable she wouldn't want to turn that search over to anyone else. A different approach is needed to get her to change tracks.
He was going to tell her before she left again, anyway. And, Elizabeth Sarah Otis Morgan never stays in the 21st century for more than two or three days at a time, at most. He may as well mention it now. “Lizzie, Sarah met our mother.”
Lizzie stares at him blankly for a long moment, long enough for Jacob to wonder if she heard him correctly. Just as he’s about to repeat it, he notices how white her face is. "What?" she whispers.
“Now, don’t worry,” he reassures her. “I didn’t tell them I’m actually your brother, and not their grandfather’s. Honestly, though, Lizzie, I don’t know why it has to be a secret. So you accidentally brought your youngest sibling through the portal with you. It wasn’t your fault. I just happened to be nearby when you touched that mirror, and got pulled through the portal with you. Changing my last name, making me go by my middle name instead of Nathaniel, getting your husband and his parents to go along with it? It doesn’t make much sense. Why couldn’t I have just been your brother?”
“Because anyone who was interested in the family tree, like Sarah, would be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together more easily if they knew. I intended to have children, and wanted to protect my family; I stand by my decisions. Just be thankful my husband and his family were willing to go along with the ruse simply because I wished it, and they didn’t ask too many questions. You were eight at the time, Nathaniel Jacob Otis. You would have ended up in an orphanage if my in-laws hadn’t claimed you as their own. Now, tell me again, little brother. What’s this about our mother? How could Sarah have met her? As far as you’ve told me, my granddaughter went to 1685, stayed for 14 years, and returned here. Did she go elsewhere?”
“Sarah met our mother in 1685, Lizzie. You know the story of the Otis family, and how Richard Otis’s third wife, Grizel Warren, was taken captive by the Natives to Canada, along with her infant daughter, Margaret?”
“Yes. And her older daughter, Hannah, was killed. I think. It’s strange. I know this story so well, but it’s like there are two different versions of it in my mind. In one version, Hannah survived.”
“That’s because Sarah also knows the story. I’m sure you told her when she was a child, and every school in Dover teaches it when they cover local history. Knowing what she did, Sarah changed history by saving Hannah. In fact, Hannah is here now. Sarah adopted and raised her. She’s 12 years old, Lizzie, and our half-sister.”
“What? How can that be?”
“Because, Grizel Warren is our mother.”
“That’s impossible,” Lizzie snaps, refusing to entertain the idea. “How could you possibly know?”
“You’ve spent centuries traveling through time looking for your lost sons, and you believe anything can be impossible? You’re quite the dichotomy sometimes, Lizzie. You know the Otis family took Sarah in when she came through the portal. Grizel discovered your memory box early on in Sarah’s stay in the 1600’s. She saw the daguerreotypes. In private, she admitted to Sarah that the woman in them, our mother, was her. She ended up in 1684 when she disappeared from our lives. When she got there and realized where she was, she took on the identity of Grizel. She knew the stories as well as us, and there were no other Grizel Warrens in town. With no obvious way home, she resigned herself to staying and marrying Richard Otis, even though she knew what would happen in the future. When Sarah showed up, they conspired together from before Hannah was even conceived to save her when the time came.”
Lizzie is silent for a moment, taking it all in. When she finally speaks, it is in a trembling whisper. “My God. So, Mother is there, in the 1600’s, a captive in Canada?”
“Not forever. Remember? She is eventually set free and marries a Frenchman in Montreal. Her baby, Margaret, comes back to Dover, re-christened as Christine, and marries Thomas Baker. Mother knew she and Margaret would be all right, and she resigned herself to remaining in the 1600’s and converting to Catholicism in Canada, but she was determined to find a way to save Hannah. With Sarah’s help, she did.”
“But, we don’t know what happens to Grizel after Margaret returns to Dover.”
“No. She gets re-christened with a Catholic name herself, and disappears from history at that point. The last record that mentions her says she was trying to talk Margaret out of going back to Dover.”
“Jacob, this is wonderful. We could save her. Think about it. We always wondered what happened to Mother, but had no clues, not one. Now, we know exactly where she is. We could retrieve her from Canada and bring her here. She would age backward and be a young woman again, like we remember her, maybe younger. We could reunite with her, and know she is safe. All it would take is one trip.”
“You would have to stay there a few years, or you’ll be a teenager when you return,” Jacob warns her. “What are you going to do in 18th century Montreal for that long?”
“I’ll come up with something. I always do. What’s a few years, when I’m used to staying for decades in the places I go?”
“Retrieving Mother would be lovely,” Jacob admits. “I was a baby when she vanished, so I have no memories of her. She’s just an image in a few daguerreotypes to me. I would love to get to know her. Tell you what. Let Matt go and search for your boys. Caleb is his father, after all. He wants to do it, and he’ll go at it with fresh eyes. You’ve been doing it for so long, maybe you’re starting to miss clues. Don’t get mad.” He backs off for a moment when he sees the fire in his sister’s eyes, and holds his hands out in a placating gesture. “I know you’re experienced. Yes, you know what you’re doing. I’ve never questioned it. It is entirely probable you’re the most experienced time traveler in all of human history. I’m just suggesting you give Matt a chance. See what he can do. Sarah will be here with her family, tracking down the professor so she can learn to protect her kids, even better than you protected her and Matt. In the meantime, why don’t you look for our grandfather? Mother’s father disappeared, too. With our family history, wouldn't you say the chances he traveled through time are high?”
“Yes, but we have no idea where he might have gone. There’s never been a single clue. I was only five when he vanished, and you never met him, but he was a sweet, wonderful man, and I miss him. Believe me, I’ve done my fair share of searching for him and Mother in my travels. There’s never been an iota of information on either of them, until now. And, why would I go after him, when we know where Mother is right now?”
“That’s the beauty of this plan, Lizzie. You know, I don’t just sit here, idly keeping your secrets while you’re away. Being retired and widowed, with my son and grandchildren in California, I’ve got time on my hands. I do a good deal of research, historical research. I haven’t forgotten Mother or Grandfather, either, even though I don’t remember them, like you do. You may not have a clue where Grandfather went, dear sister, but I do.”
“You do?” Lizzie sounds almost offended that he would research without her. “How long have you had this so-called clue?”
“Just a few months my time, since your trip before this one. I didn’t tell you before you left again, because you were in and out of here so quickly. There wasn’t time.”
“You said historical research. You think he went to the past.”
“Yes. Pretty far back in the past, actually. We’re talking Roman Britain.”
“How could you know that? There are so few written records of that time, and it’s so long ago. Professor Johnson has been back that far, but I’ve never gone beyond the Norman Conquest.”
“I have friends in academia, too, Lizzie.”
“Well, you’ve been a busy bee, haven’t you?” Lizzie folds her arms and gives him a level gaze that would make most grown men’s blood freeze; however, Jacob is accustomed to his sister’s moods. “It’s wonderful that you have a clue. But still, my original question stands. Why should I go after Grandfather first, when we know exactly where to find Mother?”
“Because, Lizzie, I will go retrieve Mother.”
Catch up with the entire "Sarah, Returned" series here: