Sarah, Returned

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Chapter Ten

Jacob waits with respect as I shower. My God, that shower is transcendent. I can’t believe I forgot just how magical hot and cold indoor plumbing is. There’s nothing like it, washing in a stand-up shower with water pressure so strong it blasts the dirt right off of you. The first blast of warm water sends tingles of pleasure right down to the tips of my toes, and even raises a few goose bumps on my arms. It’s that good. Funny how you become used to bathing in wooden tubs heated by fire-warmed water poured in by the bucketful, just because nothing else is available. Even cleaning up in a cool stream when the weather is good becomes just one more part of everyday life after a while. You forget how awesome a real shower can be.

Liquid soap, high-end shampoo and conditioner, a soft washcloth, and a loofa all feel like the ultimate spa experience as I strip fourteen years’ worth of dirt and grime off me. It’s not like I’ve been filthy the entire time I’ve been away. Ancient Quakers are all about cleanliness, but it’s been nowhere close to this clean. You simply can’t compare old-fashioned bathing with modern showers. They’re not even in the same realm.

I luxuriate in the shower far longer than is necessary, just because it feels so damn good. There’s concealed dirt coming out of places I didn’t know it was hiding, and the squeaky, pristine sensation it leaves behind when it comes off is amazing. Eventually, the hot water begins to run cold, as it must, and I reluctantly turn it off, open the glass door, and step out.

I pat myself dry with what feels like the fluffiest towel in the universe, then rub it over my hair to soak up the excess water that’s dripping onto the floor. Once I’m mostly dry, I wrap the towel around my torso, tuck the ends under to hold it there, and step in front of the steamy mirror. When I wipe it clean with the side of my arm, I realize it’s the first decent look I’ve had at myself since I walked through the portal all those years ago.

Mirrors aren’t a new thing to mankind, and it’s not like I never saw one in the 17th century. I even owned one, as Ebenezer and Mary Varney were kind enough to give one to Joshua and me as a wedding present. Humans have been using them since ancient times, but they’re kind of a luxury item in colonial New England. Just like all the antique mirrors I’d ever seen in museums as a kid, the one we owned had a darkness to it, where even if you held it right up to your face in full sunlight, you still didn’t get a pure, clear view of your reflection. The polishing process wasn’t perfected until much later, to allow a clean view with no shadows or distortions.

Happily, it appears I haven’t aged a day since I left, which I expected. Based on Grandma’s experience, as well as my own on my first trip, reverse aging seems to be part of the time travel process. Though the difference between 20 and 26 years old is subtle here, it makes a world of difference in how you look in the 1690’s. Life is hard in colonial New England, and people age faster there than they do here. Even with my healthy 20th century start, those few years there were already catching up to me at age 26, when I left. I had a decent supply of grey hairs sprouting, my sun-exposed skin was beginning to wrinkle on my face and arms, and my stamina was beginning to take a hit. I knew those things wouldn’t happen to me for another three or four decades here, but a shorter youth felt worth it for the privilege of being with Joshua and the children. And, though I’m thrilled to once again look (and feel) like I could still be in high school, I still believe the sacrifice is worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing, if only I can find my way back to my family once more.

It would be different if I’d been born a Native. They stay young for almost as long as we do today, even back then, because they’re in their natural environment. Their ancestors grew used to life in North America millennia ago. Europeans haven’t been living in North America permanently for even a century in 1699, and have not yet adapted to the unique hardships the continent presents. That will take a few more centuries, and much scientific advancement.

Funny how your priorities change. I never thought I would truly love Joshua as anything more than a friend; he was simply a means to an end for me to keep Hannah. Then, one day I woke up, and he was my world. Then, the children came, and my little family became my entire universe.

Yes, being back is fantastic, and has so many advantages. Yet, nothing as simple as material comforts or as shallow as personal vanity can compare to the absolute joy of being with my husband and children. Not even my newfound fortune left to me by Grandma. Let Matt and Karen have it. I have something far more valuable waiting for me about 320 years ago.

Jacob is still waiting patiently for me on the bed after I comb out my hair and slip into the comfortable jeans and light, long-sleeved T-shirt I brought into the bathroom with me. I dump the wet towel in the hamper beside the door and come in, smiling. He lights up the room merely by being in it. There aren’t too many people with that kind of sunshine built right into them.

He smiles back as I enter, and pats the side of the bed for me to come sit next to him.

“Happy to be back?” he asks, grinning.

“Yes,” I answer, and it’s the truth. I’m happy to be here, enjoying modern amenities, and seeing my loved ones in this time again, even if I’m not staying. It’s like taking a vacation; you love it while you’re there, but you know the whole time you have to go back, and you’re looking forward to getting back into your usual routine.

He stares at me in fascination for a long moment, and I start to wonder if he’s just glad I’m okay, or if he genuinely doesn’t know what to say.

I start to ask him about Grandma’s belongings. Anything she had before she met Grandpa will do as a test item. However, he jumps in before I can open my mouth, eyebrows shooting up like he just realized something incredibly important.

“Did you take Lizzie’s memory box with you?”

That’s a weird question to ask someone who’s been missing for a month.

“Um, yes. How did you know?”

“Matt and Karen have been going crazy looking for it. Karen is convinced it’s full of extra treasure, and wanted to file charges against you for stealing it, when they discovered it missing. Matt had to remind her the box belongs to you now, as much as to him.”

I laugh. Of course Karen would want to accuse me of stealing from my own home. She’s insane.

“Did you find anything interesting in it?” Jacob presses.

“I sure did. It’s full of old photos from 150 years ago, and some really interesting letters. They’re some of the last things I looked at before I….”

How do I finish that sentence?

“Before you left,” he finishes for me, quite matter-of-factly.

Again, an odd turn of phrase. Wouldn’t “before you went missing,” or “before you were kidnapped” be a more appropriate response?

“Yeah, before I left.” I stare directly in his clear, blue eyes. There’s nothing but happiness there. Not even curiosity.

What exactly does he know?

“It’s nice to be home, Karen notwithstanding,” I say, trying to not give too much away.

“She is a handful,” he agrees, nodding. “Do you know, she seemed positively thrilled when you didn’t come home that night? And, I could swear I saw her jump up and down with glee, just out of the corner of my eye, when the police said your car was found abandoned at the top of Garrison Hill.”

“I’m not surprised. How did she act when Matt told her I was back?”

“I wasn’t here yet when he told her, though I was on my way. He called Carter and me first. I guess he thought he had to break the news to her with kid gloves. I can tell you when I arrived, she was acting like someone asked her to take her little sister with her to prom as a chaperone.”

I barely stifle a loud chuckle at that one.

“Excellent,” I say, letting a smile transform my lips into a pretty bow. “She deserves to be as annoyed as possible.”

“I agree wholeheartedly, my dear. Honestly, I think Matt might have realized what she’s about and broken up with her by now if he hadn’t been so heartbroken over your disappearance. He needed someone to lean on. He’s a smart man, though. I noticed that about him right away. Don’t you worry, Sarah. He’ll get wise and break it off with her before they get to the altar. I’d stake my own fortune on it.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here to break them up earlier,” I say, and genuinely mean it. “Do you think she’s the one who tried to cut my brakes?”

“Hard to say,” he admits, stroking his clean-shaven chin. Not even a hint of white stubble peeks out from the edges of his smooth skin. “She’s a piece of work, no doubt, and there’s no question she’s only after Matt for his money. She’s eager to get her hands on your half, but of course, you know that. Honestly, I don’t know her well enough to say if she’s got it in her to try to kill someone to get what she wants. I’m not ruling it out, mind you. But, I can’t say it was definitely her, either. She must talk a convincing game, because the police haven’t ID’d her as the primary suspect yet. That’s still Matt. Even you being back, and him being the one to bring you home, won’t let him off the hook. We’ll need stronger evidence to get anyone convicted. Honestly, if no hard evidence can be found against anyone, the whole case might be dropped. What do you think?”

“Well, I know it wasn’t Matt.” Of that, I am absolutely certain. “But, I can’t say it was Karen, either. I mean, I’d love it if the police could prove it was her. Of everyone they questioned, I think she is the most likely suspect. Maybe she’s too obvious, though. I don’t know her all that well, either. What I do know, I don’t like, for reasons you can probably guess.”

“I guess we’ll have to wait for the police to conclude their investigation and see if they can come up with anything more solid in the way of evidence,” Jacob concludes. He sounds disappointed I couldn’t positively identify Karen as the culprit. I think he wants her to get the blame for this as much as I do, because it would get her away from our family, and force Matt to acknowledge she’s a gold-digger.

“I suppose so,” I agree.

Another odd pause in the conversation. He gives me that strange, wondrous look again, and pauses as if he expects me to say something important.

I bite my lip. What can I say that won’t land me in the psych ward before I get a chance to search Grandma’s bedroom?

Finally, realizing I’m not going to give up any information on my own, he leans back and looks away from me, toward the bedroom door. Whatever he’s trying to get me to say, it looks like he’s given up. He’ll probably suggest we go back down and get my meal before the police come to question me.

“How long were you really gone?” he asks, turning back to me, eyes piercing.

“Wh….what?” I sputter, falling back onto my elbows, completely taken aback. I’ve heard the expression of being bowled over by something, but I think I actually just was. Did he say what I think he said? I’ve got to be imagining it.

“You got younger when you left, yes? Did you get younger again, or stay the same age when you came back?”

“Huh?” I ask, desperately thinking of some explanation, any other one, as to why he is asking me these things. Things I can’t speak out loud. Even if I thought he believed in time travel, and that’s a big “if,” I can’t talk about it here. Karen is everywhere. If she heard me saying anything about where I really went….

“Sarah!” Matt calls, offering a blessed means of escape from this conversation that’s suddenly turned dangerous. “Are you coming down to eat? I’ve got your dinner ready.”

“Coming, Matt!” I call back. “Just enjoying my first real shower in a long time. I’ll be right there.”

I jump off the bed like it’s covered with spiders, and back toward the door. Jacob raises a questioning white eyebrow at me, and I shake my head.

“I can’t talk about this here,” I whisper, pleading, begging him to understand.

He seems to. His eyes, bright with curiosity, immediately fill up with compassion, and he nods. “Maybe later,” he says soft and low, a finger to his lips. “When prying ears aren’t around to hear.”


I turn and dash downstairs, eager to put a distance between us. I wanted to talk to him about Grandma, but I never dreamed he might know about time travel. Does he know about Grandma’s origins? If Grandma wrote it down, that letter didn’t make it into my possession. Maybe he knows about her correspondence with the professor? He could have seen that letter, or even talked with the man in person, with her. She might have told him everything at some point. But, if she did, why would he believe her? It’s an unbelievable tale, unless you’ve lived it. Everything in his questioning indicates he knows I didn’t just disappear into rural New England for a month. No. He knows something far more significant happened to me. How much does he know, though, and how does he know it?

Those are the questions, and there’s no way for me to get answers when Karen is here. Does she ever go home anymore, or has she moved in here permanently in my absence? Oh, God, she has, hasn’t she? It would be just like Matt to not want to tell me yet, knowing how I feel about her. If she lives here, then doing anything….having a private conversation with Jacob to find out what he really knows, and searching Grandma’s bedroom alone….is going to be far more difficult to pull off than I originally imagined.

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