The silence that echoed around my hospital room was oppressive. Mike's request hung suspended between us like a patch of fog on an otherwise sunny day.
I closed my eyes.
"I don't love Foyle."
Mike's breath exhaled noisily.
"That's not the most convincing statement I've ever heard. You'll have to do better than that at your post trip review."
I didn't trust myself to speak. My control was poor; I blamed my pain meds.
I felt Mike take my hand again; his palm rested over its back, his fingers tucked under and touching my palm. I didn't take hold, but I didn't pull away.
"Get some rest, Lily. Things won't seem so bad when you're in better physical shape. If you need anything, call me. Even if it's just to vent. You'll be okay, trust me."
I nodded, knowing I wouldn't call.
I could feel him looking at me, even with my eyes closed. But eventually his hand slid from mine and I heard him leave. I was alone again.
Like a kaleidoscope of colour flashing past my eyes, I kept seeing scenes from my visit to 1940. Little snippets of conversation, little peeks into a life that was never mine. I know my mission was successful; I'm still here, but I feel now as though something is missing. I kept my eyes shut to keep out the reality of my hospital room. I allowed myself to daydream until I fell asleep, and dreamed again of him.
When I surfaced again I could tell it was late. The medical staff were less busy, and my window was a square of black. I wondered what the time was, but wasn't sufficiently bothered enough to ask anyone.
"It's three in the morning."
I jumped in surprise and my back protested. The chair in the corner of the room was in shadow and occupied. Although I was groggy, the shape was familiar, as was the voice. My heart sang.
'Chris' got to his feet and came to my bedside.
It was Mike. I hope he didn't see my disappointment.
"How did you know I wanted to know the time?"
"It's the first thing I'd want to know. How are you feeling? Better, apart from being bummed that I wasn't 'Chris'?"
He air quoted the name and I scowled. He grinned and I could imagine how Chris would have looked aged thirty five.
"Why are you here?"
One eyebrow went up.
"Can't I just visit with a colleague? We've worked together for a long time; I consider us to be friends."
But you're a friend who has feelings for me, and I'm afraid that I might end up using you.
"Colleagues don't visit at three in the morning, and even friends aren't let in then. How come you're allowed here?"
Mike nodded at the female staff at the desk.
"Unlike you, they're not immune to a pretty face."
I looked around.
"Did you bring one with you?"
I found myself smiling, which surprised me. I did feel a little better than before, but everything ached like the devil.
Mike nodded towards me.
"Good to see you smile again. You should do it more often."
"Nah, spoils the rarity value."
I answered straight off the cuff as usual; have I always tried to keep everyone from getting close to me? Or had it just been Mike?
He rolled his eyes.
"I try. Ask anyone; I'm really trying."
"That much I know."
The effort to banter had wiped me out. I sighed shallowly against painful ribs. I was exhausted, but not so much that I didn't realise that my trip to 1940 had changed me at a fundamental level. I've no idea how it happened, but...I'm not the same person that went back.
Chris; he did this to me...or...maybe...
I can't believe I didn't think of it before. Neither of my agents (Chris and Christine, remember?) had done anything wrong. I had to meet Chris of 1940 in order to kick start in him the idea that he could feel something for another woman; to give him that push on his journey that would eventually get him to propose to Sam. What I don't understand is why it had to be me.
"Lily? Are you still with me?"
I looked at Mike as if he were a stranger, which in some ways, he was.
"You went away; for a while there you looked very pensive. What's wrong? Do you want me to call a medic?"
I felt my face try to form a frown. It still hurt.
Maybe my heart was broken in more ways than one.
"No...no, I'm okay."
At least, I hope I will be.
Mike was still there, holding my hand, when I fell back to sleep.
When I woke later, it was daylight and Mike had gone.
I told myself that the sharp feeling of disappointment was just down to me pining after a familiar face. Just which familiar face I was pining after was not something I wanted to think about yet.
The first thing Foyle saw when he switched on the bedside light was the letter from Lily. It was propped against the trinket box, right where he had left it. He closed his eyes briefly, considerably relieved that the whole incident had not been a dream.
He didn't bother re-reading the letter. He had it memorised last night by about the fifth or sixth read.
He had woken up early despite not getting to sleep very quickly, so he didn't have to get up just yet. Making himself comfortable, he mulled over the whole 'Lily' episode, from the moment of their precipitous meeting to her untimely disappearance.
Sam had seen her first. It was the sudden deceleration of the vehicle that brought his attention to the figure in front of the Wolseley. It was odd now, looking back over the scene from his recollection. He remembered it in much better clarity than he should, as if his brain was filling in the pictures after the event. Had her eyes really looked that open and been such a luminous green-brown?
Foyle remembered the expression on Lily's face when Sam told her that she was 'quite safe' with DCI Foyle. Looking back now, had it been surprise or shock? When Lily had got in the back of the car she had been so pale she could have been suffering from shock, he supposed. Her hands had been badly scraped, but she hadn't complained; she had even gone so far as to decline his offer of a handkerchief, saying that she would get it dirty.
Lily's long-limbed gracelessness had been endearing. He suspected that she didn't wear skirts that often back 'home', wherever that was. Possibly somewhere cold? Further north, perhaps? Foyle smiled when he recalled taking a moment to admire the slim ankles, decorously crossed. He hoped she hadn't noticed.
Lily hadn't leaped at the chance of working at the station when he mentioned the lack of staff. He had thought that she would. Did that make her the innocent party? Or a gifted spy?
He didn't know if he would ever have an answer to his question, but it wouldn't stop him thinking about it for a long while to come.
Had she done any harm?
No. There was no evidence that she had spied on anyone; none of the work he had given her had been 'sensitive' material; he was not that naive. The only thing that she had done that he specifically knew of was to take the last available billet in Hastings, which had caused some distress to Mrs Milner – a somewhat cold and unsympathetic woman by all accounts – and resulted in Sam staying at his house for a few days. That hadn't been a bad thing from his point of view.
His review took a brief detour when his mind stubbornly pictured Lily lying in his bed. He frowned at his brain's fickle behaviour. One woman was a challenge to think about, but two was courting disaster.
Frowning again, another thought followed on from an earlier one. If Lily hadn't kept him in his office, he might have missed Sam's call from the Bexhill depot. It was unlikely that Sam would have died, as the bomb had been badly assembled, thank heavens, but he wouldn't have had the fright that the incident had given him that made him appreciate Sam's presence all the more.
His mind drifted from one moment to the next, highlighting different little moments of happiness, curiosity, surprise, contentment, pleasure, guilt, sadness and, he could admit to himself now, joy. The meals, the interesting conversations, the simple pleasure in each others company. His irrational displeasure when Lily had failed to join him and Sam for lunch that made him go around to her house to see her.
Hmm, and just look where that got me.
Lily's insistence that Sam should not think that there was anything 'going on' between himself and Lily. Despite their mutual attraction and...what had she called it? Sparkage, yes, that was it. Even in the face of 'sparkage' Lily had denied herself almost to the end.
Foyle's mind shied away from the image that the words 'the end' engendered. He couldn't think about that yet. Think about something else.
The kiss under the stairs that had started so well and ended in an entirely unexpected manner.
Just who was 'Mike'?
When he had delicately moved his fingers through Lily's hair to find her bump and check that it wasn't bleeding, he realised that she wasn't a natural brunette. Although her hair had been a very convincing shade of darkest brown, he had seen the tell tale glint of a different colour in the roots close to Lily's scalp.
Her teasing comment about his 'distraction' being in fine working order was also unexpected. Was it the 'live for today' effect of the War making her so bold compared to the young women of his courting days? Or was it something else? She certainly hadn't been shocked at his lack of control over his aroused body; in fact she appeared to delight in it. He wondered – not for the first time – just how far Lily would have gone if he had not called a halt to proceedings on that occasion.
Lily was such an odd set of contradictions. She was feminine in a boyish way. She was capable and practical about jobs and didn't seem to see the divide between tasks that were for men or for women. She freely admitted that she preferred not to cook. And she didn't eat meat. What had she asked for at Carlo's? Vegetable pasta? No...no, it was vegetarian pasta. It wasn't something he'd come across before.
Foyle reached over into his bedside table drawer and pulled out a small notebook and pencil. He started to make notes of all the things that seemed out of place.
The more he thought about it, the more pieces of the puzzle that was Lily came together.
For example, the way she spoke; the way she used language.
At first he put her oddly nuanced speech down to the fact that she was possibly a spy, making English her second language. But her accent was almost local, a well-spoken – or well educated; recalling the seating arrangement joke Lily had made – London English. It was her use of the language that had the odd cadence. She used turns of phrases that were unusual. She used expressions that he had only heard used by the American soldiers, but their presence in Britain was still relatively rare and their version of English had not yet made a firm mark.
For no reason he could rationalise, a thought popped into his head and he couldn't shake it. How would Shakespeare or Chaucer sound to him if they visited Hastings today?
Or putting it another way, how would he sound if he visited them?
Foyle made another notation before glancing at the clock. It was time to get up. With a lighter heart than he had had in a while, he got out of bed and went to the hole in the floor. He hid the metal box back under the floorboards and replaced the screws. The letter from Lily he put in his bedside drawer along with the notebook. After a moment's consideration he turned the little key in the lock and removed it. No point making things too easy for a thief.
Very promptly, as was her habit, Sam turned up to collect Foyle at eight o'clock. When they returned to the car, Sam had to move some books from the front seat.
"Sorry, sir. Went to the library yesterday to get some more books. I'm afraid the ones at the house were mostly about rockets and improbable space things. Not really my cup of tea."
Foyle could guess what was her cup of tea, but he asked anyway.
"What sort of book do you like to read?"
"Oh, you know. Usual things, murder, mystery and mayhem. I rather like Agatha Christie's 'Murder on the Orient Express' because it makes one look at the facts from a different angle. It wasn't one person twelve times, it was twelve people once each. Brilliant."
Foyle hid a smile. She was entirely too imaginative.
"Bit of a busman's holiday, don't you think?"
"I can't help it if I find this sort of thing interesting."
He paraphrased her comment from the day they met.
" ' A nice grisly murder.'"
Sam glanced at him and smiled cheekily.
'Caught me out, Sir."
As the Wolseley bumped along the road, Sam made a note to herself that Mr F seemed to be back on form and she was very glad; she had missed him more than she realised.
Time was passing far too slowly for my liking. I wanted to be out of the medical unit and back at my apartment. Actually, I wanted to be back at work. I needed to see for myself that Sam and Chris...Foyle were okay. I know Mike said that they were, but I just needed to make sure for myself.
Mike visited me every day, sometimes more than once; mornings, evenings, lunch breaks, even the middle of the night. He even brought me English grapes; now that the planet was a little warmer all over, we were able to make passable wine in this country, too. He brought me other treats, too, some of them my favourites (Turkish delight, yum!), I should have guessed he'd know my preferences. It feels a very odd situation for me. I know he likes me a lot, but what worries me is that I can't see Mike as separate from Chris yet. The trouble is that they are so alike, and not just physically. Sometimes when it's late and dark in my room, it's almost like talking to Chris and I keep wanting to talk about something that we said or something that happened in 1940, and I have to shut myself up. Was he the same old Mike? I don't know. The old Mike – pre my trip Mike – seemed older, sadder and an object of pity, but the Mike since my return is different.
Or is it me that has changed?
I watched him today while he was talking about something funny at work. I can't remember what it actually was, but he was animated, expressive with his hands and his smile was wide and genuine. Against my pathetic will, I'm beginning to like him, and I find myself looking forward to his visits.
Then I feel disloyal to Chris.
The Medics looking after me tell me that depression is a common side-effect of trauma and the kind of surgery I've endured. Depression makes you tired and sleepy too, I've discovered. I can nod off in the middle of a sentence, and I don't really care that I have either. Although I feel as though Chris is alive in the past (I was only talking to him a week ago), I also know that he is dead,and so is Sam, and Milner, and all the others I came to know and care about. And that makes me feel upset, but I can't tell anyone, because I'm not supposed to feel like this.
I dream of Chris during the day and at night. I still want him with a passion that makes me wake up, yearning, on the precipice before orgasm. That's when I want to weep with frustration as well as sorrow. Gawd knows what my medical monitors are telling the medics. I don't care about that either.
I breathe deep and it doesn't hurt any more. I let the breath out slowly and make it last long enough to mutter;
"I want to go home. I want to get out of here."
"Your wish is my command. Well, half of it is; you're getting out of here today."
This time when I jumped out of my skin, it didn't hurt. I gave my semi permanent guest visitor a glare. It didn't work, as was usual these days.
"Don't tease, that's not funny. They said I had to stay in for at least another two weeks, even with the successful regen."
Mike waved his arm.
"Pooh, nothing of the sort. You're cleared for take-off. The Boss has taken care of the inevitable paperwork; yada yada shot in the line of duty, you know the drill. Your heart and lungs are as good as ever. They've even given the go-ahead for some moderate physical exercise."
My mind went straight back to 1940 and that frantic run, mostly uphill, to Chris' house during the air raid. I'd promised myself then that I was going to get in better shape.
Something Mike just said finally made it through to the front of my brain. I peered at him with suspicion.
"What do you mean by 'half of it'?"
Mike looked sort of shamefaced. When I say 'sort of', can one be 'gleefully shamefaced'?
"Well, they do want to know that you won't be on your own, for at least the first week."
Okay, so now I was very suspicious.
"It's up to you, really. Your family are not available locally, so you can either move in with me, or I'll move in with you. It's your choice."
He saw my murderous expression and hurriedly tacked on another few words.
"...of course, it's just a temporary arrangement, until the Medics say that you're okay to go solo."
I was silent while I contemplated the choice I didn't really have. Stay here and die of boredom, or risk ruining my friendship with Mike. I could already see the tension building in his face with the delay in my response.
He sagged, limp as a five day old 1940's lettuce.
"Really? That's great. I thought you'd put up more of a fight."
"...however, there are conditions."
I could tell he was thinking 'I thought there would be'.
"We stay at your place. I don't want anyone prowling 'round my flat while I'm asleep."
Mike was too busy grinning to be insulted.
'We keep this to ourselves. Anyone asks, I'm staying with family."
My head whipped round so fast I saw spots of light for a moment.
"What did you say?
Mike looked taken aback. At least it had wiped that silly grin off his face.
"What? I was simply agreeing with you."
If nothing else, my reaction had made my mind up for me. I was going mad sitting here all day. I had to stop seeing and hearing Chris at every turn.
"Sorry. I'm sorry. It's just so...so..."
I couldn't even tell him, but then he went and proved that I didn't have to say anything.
"Difficult. Yes, I have some idea what you're on about. Wanting someone who is unobtainable is never going to be easy. But you get through it, one day at a time, good and bad."
Now I felt ashamed as well as miserable.
"Do you want to change your mind about babysitting me?"
An odd expression flashed across Mike's face when I said babysitting but it was gone before I could interpret it.
"No, of course not. Just think of it as charity to the rest of the staff here."
"I haven't been that bad, have I?"
Mike held both hands up, palms facing me, a lopsided smile on his face.
"I'm not saying anything. Now, c'mon and get your gear on. The MAD chair awaits."
I eyed the patiently floating chair with some distaste. I'd rather walk out of here, but it's the unit's policy.
"I wonder what twonks sat around a table discussing what to call that thing and came up with Magnetized Assisted Delivery?"
'Could be worse. I hear they turned down 'Droid Assisted Mobility, because there's still copyright on the use of the word 'droid, Super Assisted Delivery, Floating Unit Chair Transporter, Hover Unit Mobility for Patients and Totally Inspired Transporter, for obvious reasons, though I suspect the last one is an urban myth."
I was already laughing before Mike finished. I moved into the small bathroom and changed into some clean clothes that he had thoughtfully collected for me. Obviously, he – or someone – had already been rooting 'round my place after all.
"Christine collected the clothes. She said I have no dress sense."
I paused in the doorway and looked him up and down.
"Actually, you have very good taste in clothing. It's just that Chris-tine thinks that you're not fashionable in the obsessive up to date sense, like she is, away from work, that is."
I hope he didn't hear my voice wobble on Chris.
"Following fashion slavishly is a waste of resources. Make do and mend ought to be your guide."
I nearly fell over.
Mike did not look like a man who made do and mended. He always looked nicely turned out as my dear old Great Nan would say. She and Great Gramps are skiing abroad at the moment, and I get the occasional tipsy catch-up with their global wanderings. But I digress.
"Make Do and Mend? Really?"
"No, not so much, but I'm trying to get in the swing of your..."
"No, not really. It's obvious that you have a natural affinity for history, I get it, but you've made no secret of your pet era, the nineteen forties."
I also got the unspoken message.
If you like someone enough, you see what they like and then it becomes something else you can share, even if the object of your affection doesn't know.
"I don't know why I like it so much, I just do. I suppose that finding out I had ancestors there explains it."
"We all had ancestors all through the past.'
"Yeah, I know. But now it seems more real."
And so much more personal.
Mike made a less than subtle attempt to change the subject while I packed my few things.
"So, Boss, any more conditions?"
"Uhuh. No channel swapping or surfing while I'm watching something, no sultanas in my Coronation Chicken, and no snoring. I need my sleep."
Although he was now behind me, holding the MAD steady while I climbed aboard, I could tell he was trying not to laugh.
"Check. No surfing, sultanas or snoring. My last sleepover didn't tell me if I snored, so I'm assuming I don't."
I was dying to ask him when – and who - that was.
Good Heavens, was I feeling a little flash of annoyance that he had someone stay over?
"Good to know. That you don't snore."
"Nope. Let's get you out of here. Next stop, Mi Casa."
With the radio playing softly in the background, Foyle was sitting in his favourite chair trying to read a book. Before the war he would have had a tumbler of decent whiskey beside him to sip periodically while he unwound from the strains of the day, but now, nowhere was one to be had even if he had been prepared to pay the shocking price demanded of late.
After reading the same paragraph for the third time, he gave up and closed the book. He was too distracted to concentrate on its convoluted plot at the moment. He got up and turned the radio off, then returned to his seat. Something Sam had said a few days earlier had stuck in his mind and would not shift. She had been talking about an Agatha Christie book, Murder on the Orient Express. It was not much of a confession to admit that he hadn't read it; unlike Sam, he didn't want to read about murder when he had to deal with it at work. He certainly didn't want to keep seeing all the procedural errors, and the absurd science that claimed to be able to narrow down the time of death to within a few minutes.
What had stuck in his mind was Sam's comment about looking at the facts from another angle. From one side the facts seemed nonsensical, but seen from another direction, could any sense be made of them?
A little while later, having looked at his watch, Foyle was surprised to see how late it was. He would normally be in bed by now. He couldn't believe that so much time had passed while he was thinking. He got up out of his chair and stretched. He made sure the fire was safely banked and the guard in place before checking that he had locked the front door. Ten years ago he might not have worried, but the War and national shortages had made more people morally ambivalent.
Fifteen minutes later, his ablutions complete, Foyle was in bed. He unlocked the bedside drawer and took out the little notebook and pencil. He read through the pieces of information, both fact and idle speculation. He noted down Sam's comment about seeing facts from different angles. He absently chewed his lip while he was deep in thought. Eventually he gave a heavy sigh and returned the notebook to the drawer.
As he settled down for the night and reached to switch off the light he wondered if Lily had made it home and if she was all right. He thought back again over the conversations they had had at Carlo's. He thought about the flirting at work and smiled when he recalled her asking him where he wanted 'it', referring to his cup of tea. She made him think like a younger man instead of the reserved widower he knew himself to be. He thought about soulmates. He thought about Rosalind and Andrew. He worried about Andrew; flying was even more dangerous than simply being shot at on the ground. He prayed to whomsoever was listening that his son made it through the war in one piece. He'd like to see Andrew married with children before he died. Carrying on the family line, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren – though he'd be long gone by then.
I wonder what the future will be like for them. An end to war I hope. People seeing the futility of it and learning to live side by side all over the planet. I very much doubt that, sadly. The Great war was now being called the First World War. That was a war to end all wars, and now here we are again, hiding under the stairs when the bombs fall, hoping that they'll hit elsewhere and leave us safe.
Naturally, thinking of the stairs made Foyle think of kissing Lily. Such urgency and pleasure in her unguarded response. Her sweet embarrassment about not even realising the raid was over.
Foyle suddenly frowned as he lay in the dark.
What about Lily's insistence that they would be safe at his house?
How did she know?
He remembered his fear about getting to a shelter in time. Lily wasn't afraid, not in the way that he had been. She had suddenly seemed different, as if she had stepped out of herself for a moment. What had she said? Something about where he would have been instead of being with her.
'If you hadn't met me today, where would you be right this minute?'
Thoughts battered at Foyle's memory thick and fast now; he tried to look at them from another angle.
Lily's peremptory demand about the directions to his house and their sprint to safety. Her refusal to go to the shelter. Almost...almost as if she had known what was going to happen, or rather, not happen; she had known that his house would be safe.
Foyle didn't believe for a moment that people could predict the future; all the so-called 'psychic' incidents he had read about in police files had been simply situations where unhappy and vulnerable people had been duped out of money with empty promises. Lily just didn't seem the type.
Had she left more clues, like the one she had left about the tin under the floorboards? Another book, perhaps?
Lily had been reading a book; when he had gone to see her about not joining him and Sam for lunch, there had been a book close by on the side table, a bookmark tucked in the page she had reached.
H. G. Wells.
The Time Machine.
Foyle's common sense rejected the preposterous idea that popped straight into his brain immediately. No. That was ridiculous and impossible. It simply could not be.
But the impossible has already happened, his traitorous brain slyly informed him. A young woman had vanished into thin air right in front of him. Wasn't he in the least bit curious as to where she had gone?
Of course he damn well was.
With a heaviness in his chest, Foyle reviewed the information he had in the light of the new possibility. Could all the anomalies be answered with the words 'yes, because she came from the future'?
Lily's sudden appearance in front of the car, at the edge of a park, as if from nowhere. Her unusual use of language and odd speech patterns. Her unfamiliarity with common everyday items; more things impinged on Foyle's mind now that he was looking for them. His overhearing her comment about plugging in her typewriter. Her simple joy over figuring out how to light the stove at work. He suddenly remembered Lily looking at the bread knife with such fascination. As if she hadn't seen anything quite like it.
Foyle thought it all through, all the odd bits and pieces. He turned on the light and took out Lily's hidden letter from the drawer. Re-reading it now, words took on a different significance. 'Up until the end of 1940' – as if 1940 had already ended from her point of view. Several times the word future seemed to leap out at him. Her advice about investments and stock purchases. Do not spend more than I have suggested; I don't want you drawing attention to yourselves.
Which to Foyle meant that she wasn't supposed to have told him the information. She said once 'I'm supposed to blend'. And more than once 'I could get into so much trouble', and 'I'm breaking so many rules'. It explained why he thought she was working for someone else. She had been sent back.
It was probably dangerous, probably expensive. Good God, did they even still use money?
If one were to apply the principle of Occam's Razor to all the 'evidence', then the simplest explanation for the whole business is that I have gone mad. However, as I don't think I am mad – who ever does? - then Sherlock Holmes has a better answer. When you have eliminated the probable, then whatever is left, however improbable, is your answer.
Foyle had been absently running his finger over the trinket box while he was thinking. He refocused his gaze on the delicate pattern and heard Lily's voice as she begged him to keep the box in the family.
For the future?
He hadn't really taken it in on the day she vanished, but now he remembered Lily had mentioned Sam. Something about not breathing without him.
Be patient, you'll have to wait a few years.
Love always, Lily.
The heaviness in Foyle's chest settled in. He knew now that he would never find Lily, no matter how hard he looked. He put the letter away, locked the drawer with its notebook inside, then switched off the light and lay back in the dark. He hadn't cried since Rosalind died, but this was the closest he had felt like it since.
Where are you Lily? Or should I say when?