Sarah, Returned

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Chapter Thirteen

“Sarah!” Matt shouts, frantic, his strong voice carrying down the hall.

“I’m okay!” I call back, sitting up on my knees. I should leave the room and go meet up with Matt. Clearly, this is not a safe place to be right now. But, every fiber of my being is begging me to stay and keep searching for that one special object that may be my ticket home. I haven’t even been back in 2017 a day yet, but it already feels like forever. I miss my family.

Of course, there is no guarantee I’ll find anything here, and I’m putting both Matt and me in danger the longer I stay in this room. If I want to be with my family again, I have to make sure I’m alive to go back to them.

There’s nothing for it. The search will have to wait.

Damn it. Fine, Universe. You win. I’ll wait, and trust you will get me where I need to go when the time is right. What else can I do?

“Sarah? Where are you?” Matt calls out again, his voice right outside the door this time. He’s probably on his way to my room, where the glass broke. I’ve got to stop him before he gets there, in case an intruder is waiting for him inside.

“Matt, I’m here,” I call, leaping to the door in two strides. I open it and there he is, just about to walk by. He stops and looks at me, confused.

“What are you doing in there?”

“I couldn’t sleep.” Well, it’s partially the truth. I actually did want to sleep, but couldn’t, because I had to search this room. “I thought I’d come sit in here and remember Grandma, but all of her things are gone.”

“Oh. We….” He begins, but is cut off by a loud knock at our front door.

Officer Baker, probably coming to make sure we’re okay.

Together, we take off down the stairs as he continues to pound with amazing force, hoping to get there before he breaks down the door.

“Mr. Morgan. Ms. Morgan. Are you all right?” He’s shouting through the door when we arrive.

Matt unlocks and opens it, and there the good officer is, sweating, his service revolver in his hand.

“We’re fine,” I say calmly, but reach for Matt’s hand anyway. Knowing someone wants to hurt you is pretty disconcerting.

Matt squeezes my hand comfortingly, letting me know he’s with me no matter what.

“What was that noise?” Matt wants to know. “It sounded like someone breaking Sarah’s bedroom window. Thank God she wasn’t in there when it happened.”

“Someone was on a ladder, trying to cut the glass on your window, Ms. Morgan,” Officer Baker tells us, his face grim. “It’s pretty dark out there, and your bedroom light was off, so I only saw the shadow. It was enough to take aim and shoot, though, but I think I missed the perpetrator. I might not have seen anything, the person was being so stealthy, except for the light coming from your grandmother’s room.”

“I was in there,” I admit. “Just happy to be home, and missing her. Trying to re-connect with her in some way.”

“You’re lucky. If I had to guess, I would say whoever it was intended on either getting in and killing you right here, or taking you away somewhere, maybe for ransom.”

Gee. How comforting. Clearly, I was better off dealing with Native raids, Quaker persecution, and smallpox outbreaks. Who knew?

“Wait. You shot at my cousin’s window?” Matt asks, horrified. “How did you know she wouldn’t be hit?”

“We’ve got a detailed map of the house from our searches when Ms. Morgan was missing. With her light out, I assumed she’d gone to bed, and I know her bed is located beside the window the perpetrator was cutting. She was in no danger from me.”

“If you’re not sure if you shot them, I take it they are still at large?” I ask, not feeling at all confident about any of this. If a person can get onto my heavily fenced yard, with a police guard on duty out front, how safe am I anywhere in Dover?

Officer Baker nods, looking apologetic. “They jumped off the ladder just as I shot. It was too dark to see how or where they landed, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t at least break an arm. This house is taller than an average two-story. The suspect ran away after they landed, and I lost sight of them. I had to make sure they didn’t come inside. That was a bold move whoever they made, coming up in the yard with a police car on the premises. Either they already knew I was going to be here, or they saw me out front, and took an alternate route to get behind my car without me noticing them. I caught sight of their shadow on the ladder in my rearview mirror.”

“Either way, that person is determined to get to Sarah,” Matt concludes. “We’re lucky you were so observant.”

“Not observant enough. This was too close for comfort. They almost got into the house. Look, I’ve called for backup. We’re going to surround this house, to make sure no one else gets near it without us knowing. I don’t think the suspect will return again tonight, but we don’t know for sure. And, with the suspect at large, I don’t want to risk moving you two to a hotel. It’s safer if you stay where you are, with me and about five other cops outside. We will protect you, I promise.”

“What do you think, Sarah?” Matt asks, deferring to me. I’m the one being stalked, after all. Matt obviously isn’t a secondary target after all, since the perpetrator could have gone to his window as easily as mine.

“Officer Baker is right,” I reply, nodding, looking at Matt, firm conviction written on my face. “We stay.”

We stay, but we do not get any sleep. We don’t say it, but we are both too concerned the suspect will return and either cause a bad scene outside with the officers, who are set up at every possible entry point to our house and yard now, or will slip past them and break in. Neither one of us feels like we can let our guards down now that we know the person who tried to hurt me is out there, and making a second attempt at it. No, sleep is out of the question tonight.

The one good thing to come of it is Matt is completely off the list of suspects now. Officer Baker confirmed it when I asked. That’s something to celebrate, anyway.

So, celebrate, we do, in our own, weird way. Matt makes us both some more of that heavenly coffee I had at dinner, and, even though I feel like I haven’t slept in a million years, we sit up together on the couch facing the breezeway between the formal and casual living rooms, which also gives us a side view of the back door. If anyone comes inside, we’ll know it. Neither of us owns a gun, but we both have large kitchen knives within easy reach; I also grabbed a can of pepper spray from my purse in my room, accompanied there and back every step by my freaked out cousin.

He can’t understand why anyone would want to hurt me. Then again, neither can I. Other than Karen, I don’t have any enemies, at least none I know of. I’ve always had a lot of good friends, I’ve been involved in charity work and community volunteering, and I’ve never hurt anyone, as far as I’m aware. I still think the person behind all this is Karen. I mean, who else could it be?

We sit up all night like this, side by side on the sofa, only getting up to refill our coffee or go to the guest bathroom located just across from the kitchen (and when we do, one of us stands guard outside the door, because there’s a window in that room). We must have gone through three or four cups each by the time the sun comes up, yet I still feel like I could nod off at any moment. Even with our talking all night long about Karen, Grandma, Great-Uncle Jacob, my disappearance, his teaching job (which he quit upon getting his inheritance), my school, our hopes, dreams, and ambitions, the pull of sleep just keeps getting stronger. I’m going to have to get some rest sometime, and soon. My body is demanding it, and is going to enforce it whether I’m in a safe place or not.

Eventually, daylight comes, and as the sun goes high in the sky, waking up the world around us, Officer Baker knocks on our door once more. There were no more sightings of the suspect, and officers searching the town saw no one suspicious; without a good description, it was always going to be unlikely they would find someone walking the streets, but they had to look anyway. He’s going off duty, but Officer Daniels is back, and she and another officer will guard our house today during daylight hours, one officer stationed at each door. He recommends we don’t go out, even to check the mail, but I don’t think this is going to be an issue. As soon as he leaves. I go back to the sofa and drop down on it like a falling piano, gradually stretching out across its entire length.

I’m vaguely aware of Matt fluffing up the decorative sofa cushions for me, and I hear the distant creak of the hall closet door before he returns with a real pillow to put under my head, and a blanket, which he lovingly tucks around me. I try to open my eyes and mouth to thank him, but fail miserably at both. He kisses me on the cheek, and I manage a brief glance at him, laying down on the sofa opposite me, before I’m pulled down into the deep slumber that has been calling to me ever since I left 1699.

It’s a glorious sleep, sound, restorative, and, I think, dreamless. I honestly think I was too tired to dream when I flopped down on the sofa. It’s like dreaming would take energy, and I didn’t have any left to devote to it. I must have dreamed something at some point, though, because later, in the deep, heavenly darkness of rest in which I’m enveloped, I begin to feel like I’m shaking, and a familiar voice calls my name from far away. I’m in another world, a whole other dimension just made of sleep, but eventually, Matt’s urgings reach me there, and I slowly come back to this reality, opening my eyes with some difficulty. The lids feel so heavy.

“Sarah. Sarah, wake up,” Matt says gently, over and over. He’s all blurry, as my eyes are still half closed.

Where is my tongue? I could swear it was there when I went to sleep. No, not there. Not there, either. Ah, there it is. I wiggle it, testing its strength and willingness to obey my commands. Emboldened by those successes, I use it to speak, my voice coming out in a hoarse crackle.

“What is it?” I mumble, my words only partially resembling English. “Did the cops find the bad guy? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Matt says, kneeling down in front of me. “It’s you I’m concerned about. Did you know you were crying in your sleep?”

Was I? I don’t remember anything after closing my eyes on the sofa after the sun rose. But, wait. Yes. My cheeks do feel wet, and there are definitely droplets of water plopping down on my arm. Do people do that, cry in their sleep? I’ve never heard of it. Why am I doing it?

“No idea,” I murmur, absently wiping away some of the moisture on my right cheek. As my hand comes to rest on the sofa, I notice part of it is wet, too. Drops from my face, I guess.

“You were also calling out for someone named Joshua,” Matt says, lifting a stray lock of hair out of the plaster of water on my face. “Who’s Joshua?”

And, just like that, I’m wide awake and sitting up on the sofa. Joshua? Was I really dreaming about him? Why can’t I remember? And, how am I going to explain this to Matt?

“It’s nothing,” I insist, brushing away the remaining tears from my face. “Just a dream. That’s all.”

I turn my head toward the door so he won’t see my trembling lower lip.

Joshua.

God, I miss him so much. I was too tired to realize it this morning, but this is the first time I’ve slept without him by my side since we were wed.

I didn’t know how long I would be here, but it’s been too long, I realize with sadness. Today has to be the day I go back. No more wasted minutes without my husband and children. Every moment I’m away from them is one too many. I must devote the day to finding what I need to open a portal, and, if I can’t find the professor before the sun goes down, I’ll just have to take a leap of faith. Both portals took me where I needed to go; I have to trust a third will do the same.

Matt isn’t having my dream explanation, because he’s coming over to sit beside me on the sofa. Ugh. Just let it go. Please. I don’t think I can talk about it without crying, and there’s no way to say what really happened without him wondering if Karen was right about me after all.

We’ve just managed to return our good relationship to what it was before the Evil Queen came along. Please, Matt, let me leave with that still intact.

“Sarah, you were crying,” Matt pushes, annoying me. “And, you weren’t calling out quietly, either. It was loud, like you were trying to get someone to notice you. You know as well as me that people don’t do that in regular dreams. What’s going on? Is it something to do with the time you were away? Did you meet someone?”

“No,” I bark at him, with more harshness than I intend. “Just leave it, okay? It’s nothing.”

“Sarah, I’m worried about you,” he says, stubbornly continuing the conversation. “I’ve never seen you dream that way. I’ve never seen anyone dream that way. I understand why you went away and didn’t tell anyone, and it was largely my fault. I take the blame. I do. But, it also wasn’t like you to do something like that. You had to know I’d be searching heaven and earth for you. And, you went to a lot of trouble to make sure I didn’t find you. Now, you’re having intense emotional dreams. Maybe you should talk to someone.”

There it is. That stupid mental illness stigma from Mom’s side of the family. When have I ever exhibited any sign of it? Never, that’s when, except in Karen’s carefully controlled stories designed to make me look bad. He knows that now. But, deep in his subconscious, did she manage to plant a seed of doubt that stuck?

It’s infuriating, not only because of what he’s implying, but because his insistence on having this conversation right now is keeping me from going back to Grandma’s room and finishing my search of the space under her floor boards. There might yet be something there, and I won’t know until I’ve searched the entire floor.

“You’ve never talked to me like this, not until Karen came around and started putting doubts in your head about me,” I accuse, no small measure of bitterness seeping out into the words. “You know I’m not crazy, Matt. You know it. Why are you still letting her control your mind when it comes to me?”

“I’m not!” he leans away from me, hand to his chest, shaking his head like he can’t believe I just accused him of such a scandalous thing. “I’m just trying to understand you and help you.”

“Just because mental illness was on my mom’s side of the family does not mean I have it,” I spit out the words, trying to blink back tears that have nothing to do with Joshua. “I’ve never, ever exhibited any sign of it. Mom did not have it. Grandma was never concerned I may have inherited it. And, neither were you, until Karen came along. What am I supposed to think, Matt?”

“I just want to make sure you’re okay,” he whispers, hurt.

Well, good. I’m hurt, too. “I’m fine,” I say with as much firmness as I can muster without shouting. I get up and walk away from the sofa, toward the kitchen, then turn back toward him when I’m halfway there. “Did it ever occur to you how much it upset me that you always took Karen’s word over mine in every dispute I had with that woman? That you obeyed her every command, even when it was to my detriment? That you never once took me into consideration in any of this, or thought about how I must feel? God, Matt. No wonder I left. I couldn’t win with you when she was around. You both made me feel like maybe I was going crazy. But, it turns out she was gaslighting us both. And now, even though you know the truth, her voice is still in your head, continuing to turn you against me. You don’t even know you’re doing it.”

Matt stands up and faces me. He’s not angry like I am. That much is obvious with one glance. He’s confused, and genuinely concerned. About me. Somehow, it just enrages me more. He has no right to be concerned about anything at this point. It’s all been explained satisfactorily. Karen is gone. I’m home. What more does he want?

“Just tell me what you need, Sarah,” he says, softly.

I take a deep breath, calming my inner rage, and remind myself this is my cousin who loves me, and who I love in return.

“What I need,” I say slowly, deliberately, “is for you to stop asking questions.”

“How can I, when I don’t know the whole story? When I see you sobbing in your sleep? Obviously, more happened while you were gone than you’re telling me. Did someone hurt you? Rape you? What’s the real story, Sarah? You’re leaving things out. I want to know the whole truth. We can’t move forward unless you’re completely straight with me. You know there’s nothing you can’t tell me, right? There’s absolutely nothing you could say that I wouldn’t understand.”

Ha! If only that were true.

“How come you believed everything I said yesterday, and not today?” I press, challenging him, and changing the subject.

“That was before I saw you on the couch just moments ago. No one does that without some emotional scars. You didn’t have any that I’m aware of before you disappeared.”

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe it’s none of your business?”

Oh. I said that much angrier than I meant to, and my voice came out all screechy. Great. And there’s the instant guilt as his face falls in stunned silence. Perfect.

I roll my eyes. Could this be going any worse?

“We never used to keep secrets from one another,” he says quietly, looking at the floor.

“Yeah, well we also used to put each other first,” I say with as much gentleness as I can muster, while still presenting the cold truth to him. “Things change.”

“Karen had me fooled. I apologized to you. I thought you forgave me.”

“I did,” I assure him, meaning it. “I do. But, it’s hard to think you’ve really moved past her programming when you keep asking me all these questions about my dream and intimating I may need to talk to a professional. Come on, Matt. What am I supposed to think?”

“That I love you.”

“I know you do.”

“Then, tell me the whole story. Don’t leave anything out. Let me know what really happened to you. Because, something clearly did, and I want to know. You’re right. You’re not a kid anymore, and maybe it’s not my business. But maybe I can help you.”

“How can you help me?” I ask, my voice shaking, lip trembling again. If he would just shut up, just let me go continue my search in peace….

“By giving you a sympathetic ear to talk to. Just me. It doesn’t have to be a professional. Just open up to me, and whatever happened, we can work out what to do about it together.”

“Don’t you think we have more pressing things to be concerned about right now?” I point upstairs, indicating the broken glass still sitting on my bedroom floor from last night’s attempted abduction and/or murder.

“Right now, we’re safe. So, why not talk about it?”

He’s got his teeth in this like a dog that doesn’t want to give up his favorite chew toy. We’re both stubborn. Grandma always said we were two peas in a pod that way. If we want something badly enough, we don’t give up until we get it.

He’s not giving up. Neither am I.

I take a deep, steadying breath, and look him straight in the eyes. “Matt,” I say with as much tenderness as I can muster, wanting to be sure he has no doubt about my intentions, “I don’t want to talk about it right now. Later. I will tell you all about it later, I promise. Just leave it for now. I need time to process everything before I can talk about it. Surely you can understand that. All I want right now is to do what I can to feel like things are getting back to normal. I want to go upstairs and shower, change clothes, have some breakfast, and relax before I have to go down to file that restraining order against Karen. Can we do that, Matt? Just give me some normalcy before things get crazy again? Whoever tried to hurt me is still out there, and we’re going to have to deal with that. I just got home. Give me one completely normal day before we dive back into the crazy pool. Please. Can you?”

Matt nods and a hint of a smile forms at the corners of his mouth. “Yes.”

“Thank you,” I smile back, and start to head up the stairs. “I’m going to shower.”

Of course, I’m not going to shower, although I probably should take one more before I forever return to where they don’t have any. Unfortunately, there’s no time. If I don’t do it now, it might be days before I get another chance, and I can’t leave my family alone without me that long. I’m certainly past my toleration point of being without them. Knowing we’re separated by more than three hundred years is more painful than I could ever explain. With any luck, and a giant heaping of justice from the universe, I won’t have to.

“I’ll make you some breakfast,” Matt offers as I go. “Blueberry pancakes, hashbrowns, and coffee?”

“You know it,” I say, turning back briefly to give him a grin and a thumbs up.

The clock in the stairwell says it’s 11 am. No wonder I still feel so tired. I couldn’t have gotten more than four, five hours of sleep at the most, and I definitely needed more. Not only that, but Officer Baker is picking me up in an hour to go to the police station. I’ve got to hurry if I’m going to have any chance of being out of here before then, assuming there is something in Grandma’s room that will open a portal. I’ll catch up on sleep once I’m home.

As my feet hit the landing on the second floor, I realize I may not get to see Matt again, ever, if I find what I need in Grandma’s room. I want one more look at him, to take with me into the past, so I can always remember this sweet, wonderful, cousin who loved me like his own sister. I start to turn back one more time.

“Sarah?” Matt calls up to me before turn back, giving me the opportunity to do it without it seeming weird.

“Yes?”

He takes a deep, steadying breath, and places both hands on the granite kitchen counter. “No.”

What? No to what? I must have misheard. He probably said, “Oh,” like he just realized something.

“I’m sorry?” I rest an arm on the guardrail, waiting for his explanation.

“No, I am,” Matt says, turning off the stove, where he’d begun preparing breakfast. He comes around the counter, past the bar, and stands at the foot of the stairs, looking up at me, his face a study in seriousness. “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you that normalcy you want. I thought about it, and I tried, though I know it doesn’t seem like it. Sarah, I’ve waited for too long to find out what happened to you, praying every night that you were still alive, crying on Karen’s shoulder, not knowing she didn’t care. And now, you’re back. You’re safe, with me. And…I need to know the whole story. I’m sorry, but I do. I wish I could give you that one day of normalcy you want, and I will, but not today. You can have it when all this is over. Right now, I need you to tell me everything. I can’t wait.”

How fucking dare he? What I requested was reasonable, damn it, and he couldn’t even give me that. What is his problem? Why this intense need to know everything right this second? It’s the mental illness stigma, it’s got to be. He wants to be reassured I’m not a threat to myself or others. Delusional, like Karen always said about me. After our epic forgiveness moment last night, he’s got a lot of fucking nerve.

I feel the blood rush to my face and my cheeks burn with fury. Mere steps away from Grandma’s room, only an hour to search before Officer Baker picks me up, and who knows when I’ll get to try it again, and he has to know the whole story right now? What gives that smug bastard the right to make such a demand of me? Isn’t it enough that I’m home now? Can’t he just appreciate it? But no. He has to push, because he’s too damn stubborn and impatient, and a spoiled brat who has to have his way. Grandma was too easy on him. Maybe she was too easy on both of us, but Matt’s shortcomings are my concern right now.

“You want the whole story?” I scream, finally snapping, and let the dam of anger I’ve been holding back since he woke me up back pour through me. I stomp down the stairs, tears streaming down my face, eyes glaring so hard I’m surprised they’re not boring holes through his head, and march right up to him, leaving only inches between us. With one mighty push to his shoulders, I knock him back a few feet, and he stumbles, putting a hand on the bar to steady himself.

“Sarah….” he begins, maybe thinking better of his demand after I just told him I needed time and he should back off. Well, he should have thought of that before he opened his mouth. He just had to be an asshole about it.

I’m too angry to even see him clearly. He’s kind of a blur through my rage-filled eyes, along with the rest of the room.

“You think you want the whole story,” I shout, and I swear, I’ve never been this angry in my life. It’s making me reckless, and I know it. I should stop and take stock of the situation, take a moment and think before I speak. But I can’t. The words are flowing out of my mouth now, and I can’t stop them.

“I’ll give you the whole fucking story, Matthew Morgan. The question is, can you handle it?”

And, in what may be the longest run-on sentence in the history of the English language, I tell him. Everything.

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