Sarah, Returned

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Chapter Eighteen

It’s amazing how resilient kids are. My three little ones have been pulled away from everything they’ve ever known and dropped into a completely alien environment, their father, brother, and sister in a distant, unreachable land. They walked into my house not knowing how to use a light switch or flush a toilet, much less comprehend what a TV was, or use a computer. When the cab picked us up, Hannah and Clara got a little freaked out about how it moved with no horses. Matt and I explained every new thing to them in the simplest possible terms, and now, two weeks later, it’s like they’ve lived here all their lives.

The only thing they don’t understand is why they can’t write to Joshua, Thomas, and Patience. Well, Clara and David don’t understand; Hannah does. She’s got a remarkably firm grasp of what time travel is, even if she’s as in the dark about how it works as the rest of us. I can talk to her about it with complete openness. After trying and failing to convey the information in an age-appropriate way with the other two, I just let them write their letters. After they were done, I put them away in my own memory box for some future, unknown purpose. I expect to keep doing this for the foreseeable future. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to start writing back to them, pretending to be Joshua, or there will be more awkward questions to answer.

I wonder if they wrote to me in a similar way when they were still in 1699.

Their first night with me in 2017, we all slept together in my bed. We were so happy to be reunited, and I didn’t want to let them out of my sight, much less my arms. Besides, sleeping this way wasn’t unusual at our house; in fact, it was typical for farm families to all sleep in one bed. If the family got too big, pallets would be put on the floor for the older children. So, it wasn’t surprising when the girls were so thrilled to be presented with their own bedrooms their second night with me. That’s a luxury even rich children didn’t usually get in the 17th century. Hannah and Clara thought they were queens. I moved an antique child’s trundle bed from the attic into my room for David; technically, he’s old enough to have his own room, too, but I want to keep him close to me for now, until I’m sure he’s perfectly acclimated to his new surroundings. Also, having him there makes me feel like Joshua isn’t so far away; after all, Joshua helped me make this adorable little boy, and David looks just like him.

We’re keeping Grandma’s room as it is, for now. If she still is out there somewhere, and if she comes back, Jacob will tell her we know everything. She might want to come back to us. Matt already feels terrible about getting rid of most of her things. I keep telling him she wasn’t expecting to live in this house again, so he shouldn’t feel guilty. He still does, anyway. That’s just Matt.

Matt and I finished searching under Grandma’s floor the first morning the kids were with us. We let them sleep in unusually late while we looked for that elusive piece of jewelry. I don’t know that any of them have ever slept past sunup. It’s part of the luxury of not having farm chores to attend to. We didn’t find the earring, or anything else. No matter. Now I know I don’t need it to open another portal, so finding it was just to satisfy my curiosity at this point. It would have been nice to find it, but I can live with it being forever missing.

I didn’t think I’d spend more than a day here when I stepped through the portal the second time and found myself back in 2017. Nothing mattered more than getting back to my husband and children. Now, I’ve got an odd truce with myself regarding the idea of living here permanently; I’m happy to be here, I’m thrilled to have the kids, and I know without doubt they belong here. I’m not taking them back to 1699, but I won’t be completely content until I’ve reunited my entire family.

That task may prove to be the hardest one of all.

I’m sitting at the bar, drinking my coffee and eating some fabulous blueberry pancakes, courtesy of Matt (our self-proclaimed resident chef), working on my laptop while the kids watch cartoons and eat cereal in the living room just behind me, when Matt slips onto the barstool beside me, wrapped cozily in a red and white striped robe.

“Find anything?” he asks. He asks this every morning. Frustratingly, the answer is always the same.

“Nothing,” I reply, irritated. I take a sip of the rich coffee and feel slightly better. “It’s like the guy doesn’t exist. Professor Robert T. Johnson not only never taught at UNH, he never taught anywhere. At least not Physics. I’m beginning to think he was writing to Grandma under an assumed name. Jacob said she went to the university to visit him in person a few times, so he must be a real person. Robert Johnson just wasn’t his real name. Maybe he wasn’t even a professor. He could have been another time traveler. I’ve searched every university and community college in the United States, Europe, and Australia over a fifty year period going backward from this year, and haven’t found a trace of him. I’m going for Asia, Africa, and South America next.”

“You’ll find him,” Matt assures me, giving me an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “Someone wrote those letters.”

“I know. It’s just frustrating. He’s the only one I know of who might be able to tell me how to get Joshua and my other two children through the portal. I miss them so much, Matt. Every day without them is painful. Like, actually physically painful. Never mind the emotional. I need them to be with me.”

“I know you do. They need you, too. That’s why you’ll find each other again. I know it.”

“Matt, I can’t even find a record of them in the past, at least none after I left. I’ve been searching genealogy records online, too. Our marriage record is there, as are the births of all the kids. Quakers kept excellent records, by the way. When I was there, I hoped maybe one day you would start researching our family history and find those records, so you would know what happened to me. You’re smart. You would have figured it out.”

Matt’s eyes light up with an idea. “If you can’t find any records of them, maybe it’s because they come to the future to be with you. It’s already happened back then, but just hasn’t happened for you yet.”

I shake my head and throw up my arms. Oh, I wish so badly there was something I could shake. I need to get one of those punching bags for kids, so I can knock something down over and over again. They always pop right back up. “Hannah was listed in the historical records long before I went back in time. The Natives killed her. You said you remember that version of the story, as well as the new one. I changed things, and now the history books tell a different story. She was rescued and adopted by Joshua and me. Hannah and I were the only two people to make it out of the Otis garrison without being killed or kidnapped. Mary Varney and Margaret Otis were the only kidnapped ones to come back. Why would the history already be changed regarding Joshua, Thomas, and Patience, when I haven’t done anything yet?”

“I don’t know. Maybe dig a little deeper? Go down to the county courthouse, or the state archives. There are tons of records there that aren’t online yet. You might find something.”

“Yeah,” I admit, relaxing a little. “That’s a good idea. I’ll do that. Not today, because I promised Jacob I would take the kids to see him. But, maybe tomorrow?”

“Good girl. That is the Sarah I know. Determined and undefeatable. You will get them back, Sarah. Don’t doubt it. If anyone can do it, it’s you.”

“And how are you so sure?” I eye him suspiciously. He seems super confident about things today, which is strange for a guy who’s 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, and come up emptyhanded every time. He should be as frustrated as me at this point.

“You’re Sarah Morgan,” he says, taking a long gulp of his coffee. He doesn’t even look at me. “You can do anything.”

“Since when?”

“Since you traveled through time twice without knowing where you were going or how to control the destination, and managed to come back to where you started. As far as I’m concerned, you have superpowers.”

It’s a good thing there is no coffee in my mouth just now, or I would have spit it all over my laptop. A hearty laugh rips itself out of my mouth, and I absolutely crack up. It feels good to laugh. I haven’t had a real chuckle since the second portal took me away from Joshua.

“Thanks, man,” I say, a hint of a giggle still in my voice, making it wobbly. “I needed that.”

“I mean it,” Matt insists, looking at me this time. I think his coffee cup must be empty. He tends to pay little attention to anything else while he’s drinking it. “Travel is completely random, unless you’re thinking of a place. You didn’t know that, and yet you ended up back here.”

“All I was thinking of was how to keep the portal from pulling me in. I was frantic that it not take me away from Joshua and the children. I wanted to stay there.”

“Then, maybe the portal returned you to your origin point, since you weren’t giving it any other information.”

“Shouldn’t my destination have been random, then?”

“Ah, such are the mysteries of portals, my dear cousin.”

“It’s funny to hear you talk about them like they’re something you’ve known about your whole life. Just two weeks ago, you wanted to commit me to a mental institution for suggesting they exist at all.”

“I’m a wiser man, thanks to you.” He abruptly turns toward the kids. “Clara! Chill!”

I turn and see a piece of cereal flying through the air toward Hannah. It lands on her yellow pajama bottoms without a sound, but Hannah’s blue eyes darken with annoyance. She’s really thrilled about all of her interesting new clothes, and not happy to have a sticky, almond milk-covered piece of cereal leave a wet mark on them.

Clara sheepishly looks back at Matt and me. “Sorry,” she says, bowing her head a little. The way she barely hides a smirk and gives her shoulders a tiny shrug tells me she definitely is not.

Sisters. Pretty much the same in any century. I hate that Patience is missing out on this.

“Don’t tell us, tell Hannah,” I say, pretending to be stern. She can see right through me, but does as I say, anyway.

“Sorry, Hannah.”

“It’s okay,” Hannah says, and I love how quickly she’s picked up on modern colloquialisms and contractions. “Just don’t do it again, or I’ll tell Mother and Uncle Matt.”

They go back to watching TV as if nothing happened, and Matt laughs softly. Under his breath, he whispers to me, “It’s still so weird, hearing them call me that.”

“Well, neither of us has real siblings, but we think of each other that way. My kids and your future ones are the closest thing to nieces and nephews we’re going to get. Uncle Matt seemed more appropriate than Cousin Matt, or just Matt.”

“Thank you for the honor. It really does mean the world to me. And you’re right. If I’m ever so lucky as to have children of my own, you shall be Auntie Sarah.”

Aunt Sarah will be fine.”

Kids back under control, we turn toward the bar and my computer once more.

“Thanks for helping me out with them, by the way,” I say, closing my browser window. “It’s so cool of you. Going from zero to three kids in the house in a month has got to be an adjustment.”

“Think nothing of it,” he assures me. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. By the way, have you decided whether you’re going back to school? I’ve been meaning to ask you. I know it’s summer break and you have some time to consider it. But, are you?”

“I’m going to ask to take a leave of absence for the fall semester, so I can get the kids acclimated to 21st century school, and spend more time trying to bring Joshua and the other kids to us. Hopefully, that will be all the time I need. My disappearance was publicized, as was my return. The school just doesn’t know the specifics. The admin department will assume I’ve been through a terrible trauma, and give me at least a semester off, I’m sure. But, yeah, I do plan on going back at some point. I’m 20 again, remember? Even with all these kids, I still need to finish my degree.”

“Good,” he says with sincerity. “I’m glad to hear it. You might need to find a babysitter for them when you do go back, though.”

“Oh?” Are you going back to work?” That’s surprising. Neither of us has to have a job now, with the inheritance, and I know teaching was something he was only doing until he found his true passion.

“No,” he says, swiveling around on his barstool to face me fully. “I’m going to find our dads.”

I quickly stop myself from raising my voice too high and catching the kids’ attention. I lean my head down, looking up at his sincere expression, stunned. “What?” I whisper, conveying as much surprise as possible with soft tones.

“Grandma has been traveling, looking for them, for years. Maybe she found them. Maybe she didn’t. But, I’ve been doing some digging of my own. It turns out, there were no bodies in our dads’ coffins. Our moms were there, but no dads. No wonder Grandma wanted them closed during the service. They might be out there, and so might she. Maybe they are looking for a way home, and haven’t been able to find one. They probably don’t know how to open another portal, much less control where it takes them. It took Grandma and Professor Johnson years of experimenting and research to learn those things. We know I can travel, Sarah. The portal tried to pull me in. It didn’t do that with Joshua. His letter said so. If I can re-trace Grandma’s steps, maybe I can find them and bring them back. Jacob said she had leads she was following.”

“She also 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.”

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. 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. That’s not an issue anymore, not like when you did it.”

“When I did it, it was completely on 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 I’m saving that for getting Joshua, Thomas, and Patience here.” I eye him suspiciously as he suddenly looks down at the bar, and away from me. “Wait a minute. Have you found something?”

“Nothing of Grandma’s,” he is quick to assure me. “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? How wonderful would that be?”

“Pretty great,” I admit.

“I’m leaving one of them here for you to use, in case they are portal openers. You may need more than just your dress to retrieve your husband and kids. I’ll take the other and go get the rest of our family.”

“I won’t try to stop you,” I assure him after some careful thought. “It wouldn’t be fair for me to travel and tell you that you can’t. Just be careful, Matt. Wherever you go, backward or forward, you’ll be landing in a time you know little to nothing about. It can be dangerous.”

“I promise I will go as prepared as I can, and take no unnecessary risks,” he solemnly swears, hand dramatically over his heart like he’s making a pledge to me.

“When are you leaving?”

I smile. Strange. I’m not worried about Matt at all. He’s smart and capable. Wherever he goes, he’ll be able to handle it. After all, I did, and if I can, my strong, courageous cousin can, too, even if he comes out the other side as a pre-teen. He’ll be okay.

“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 in wonderment at him. Like he even needs to ask.

“Of course you do, dummy,” I say, and give him a kiss on the cheek. “No one can say you don’t go above and beyond for our family, Matthew Morgan. Just promise me you’ll come back to us safely.”

“I promise.”

“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.”

“If this works, we’re going to have to start locking up traveling artifacts and hiding them from the kids,” Matt points out.

“I’ve been thinking about that, and you’re right,” I agree. “Just like Grandma did.”

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 here, I certainly understand Grandma’s motives much more than I ever did. That knowledge alone gives me a feeling of communion with her, even if she’s not here.

“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, happily watching cartoons with Clara and David. 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 broadly, and sigh with contentment. I’m so glad he’s happy, and that the girls seem to be, too.

“More than the other two,” I admit, turning back to him after filling myself up on the fuel that is my children’s glee. “She knows exactly what Joshua did to open the portal, why he did it that way, and that the portal only accepted some of them. 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 extremely bright, from the beginning. I wouldn’t put it past her to try to go back if she starts missing Joshua and the other two kids too much, or if she becomes unhappy here for any reason. 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 both physically and emotionally much sooner back then. 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 her papa wants her to stay here, and try to make her as happy in this time as possible. Having Clara and David in this time is going to help. She feels a responsibility to care for them as their older sister. She won’t abandon that easily or without careful thought.”

“It’s so weird to know she’s our half-great-aunt,” he says softly, 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 carefully. Time travel is a strange thing. I’ll always be grateful for it for giving me Joshua and the children, though, 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.”

“Our great-grandmother, Grizel,” he begins.

“Sarah, in her original time,” I remind him.

“Yes, Sarah. Grizel. Whatever she prefers to be called. Did she know you were planning to adopt Hannah as your own after you rescued her?”

I nod. “When she realized it would be impossible for her to keep Hannah, 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 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, and Clara and David scramble onto our laps.

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 a remarkable 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 without her being present, why she pretended to have dementia, why she kept so many secrets. We may only just now 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.

We’ll do the same with Hannah, Clara, and David. At least until I get their father and siblings back. And, make no mistake, Universe, and Unknowable Forces of Time, I will get them back. Mere physics, and even the supernatural, are but a minor inconvenience. They’re no match for my determination to be reunited in this century with my middle two children, and the man who is most definitely my soul mate.

I’m getting them back. There is no question. I don’t bother to entertain any other possibility, because there is only one outcome to this situation. My will is stronger than mere physics. Maybe Matt is right; maybe I do have superpowers.

Joshua, Thomas, and Patience, my loves….I’m coming for you.

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