Jacob sets his cell phone down on the kitchen counter.
“That was Matt,” he says. “He wants to come over and ask me some questions about his father and uncle. He and Sarah know there’s some evidence their dads may have survived and traveled through time. He wants to know what leads I have on their possible locations.”
“And why would he want to know that?” the young, blonde woman sitting on his best sofa asks, taking a sip of her tea from a fine china cup. She places it back on its matching saucer and leans back, giving Jacob a long look.
“He intends to look for them. And you.” His bright blue eyes are piercing, daring her to forbid it.
Elizabeth Morgan, now twenty-five years old after her most recent trip through a portal, shakes her head in consternation.
“Why, Jacob?” she asks, frustrated.
Jacob’s eyes may be piercing, but Lizzie’s are like two power drills, going deep inside the old man to discover what he’s not telling her.
He looks away, unable to keep up the staring contest under Lizzie’s more powerful gaze. “I may have told the kids you were probably alive.”
“Jacob,” she shakes her head, angry. “We talked about this. More than once. I don’t want my grandchildren chasing me through time. It’s too dangerous. It was better that they thought I just got old, got dementia, and died, like any respectable grandmother. That was the entire purpose of my very expensive and lengthy ruse, need I remind you?”
“Once Sarah traveled and came back, I thought it was safe to tell them,” Jacob says drily.
“Obviously they could know about time travel at that point, but they did not need to be made aware of the possibility of anything else. The possibility of their fathers being alive, my continued existence and search for them, those should have remained secret. You opened up a can of worms here, Jacob. I should have taken that memory box with me to the assisted living facility. Stupid of me to leave it behind. Sarah is so interested in genealogy, I thought she might go through it one day and see the daguerreotypes. She would love them.”
“I’m sure she did, until she realized that little girl in the family photos was you.”
“Again, my fault for labeling them correctly. It would have been better to give myself a new identity, and make my parents my great-grandparents. I just wanted her to have faces for names to fill out on the family tree. I didn’t even think that including my own name would tip her off. Just another ancestor. Elizabeth is a common name, and no one that old could possibly be her grandmother. She’s a clever girl.”
“Or, you’re not as clever as you think you are. All this deception, for years, and Sarah still got pulled back in time. Just like you went to all this trouble and expense to avoid. And now, Matt is going on purpose.”
“It was those letters from Professor Johnson that did it,” Lizzie admits, begrudgingly. “The few pages I left in the box were there as mere curiosities. I didn’t think anyone would actually take time travel seriously.”
“Have you been in touch with the professor lately?” Jacob asks, changing the subject. Lizzie’s moods are mercurial at best. It’s better to keep her focused on something not likely to irritate her. “I know figuring out how to make time travel work smoothly is an ongoing pet project between the two of you.”
Lizzie waves her hand at Jacob dismissively. “It’s been twenty-five years since I last talked to him. Of course, that’s the amount of time I just spent in the 2350’s. He was on his way back to Ancient Rome when I left. I don’t actually know where he stays when he’s in the 21st century; the government is after him in this time, you know. Our experiments have gained attention, and authorities at the highest levels want the secrets of time travel, so he has to be in hiding whenever he returns. He chooses a different location each time. I wait for him to get in touch with me, and we compare notes. Fortunately, I have personally managed to stay off their radar thus far. The professor is far more reckless about what he does than I am.”
“If it’s so dangerous for him to return, why does he come back at all?”
“Technology. The science of travel to the future is fairly well known, as Einstein proved it, but going to the past has long been thought impossible. Clearly, it isn’t. He goes to the past and then returns here to test any new discoveries he made about the process along the way.”
“But, you haven’t met anyone in the future who knows how it works, either?”
“I’m looking for my sons, Jacob. Caleb is almost certainly alive, as you well know, and somewhere within three hundred years of here, most likely in the future. Elijah may be alive, too; I’m not as sure about him. But, if he is, he’s in the past, possibly the medieval past. Yes, I ask questions when I’m in the future, but if people know about time travel, they’re not talking. At least as far as five hundred years from now, which is as far as I’ve been, it’s still a well-kept secret among a select few.”
“How old are you now, Lizzie?” It’s an abrupt change of topic once again, but for different reasons. This is a question he asks periodically, because he likes to keep up.
“I don’t even know anymore,” she says, truthfully. “I lost count after 300, but I’m fairly certain I haven’t reached four hundred yet. I think I might be getting close. I’d have to sit down and write out all my trips, how long I spent there, and how much I aged backward each time I went through a portal. Getting an exact figure will take some time, and I need to get going again.”
“Why, when Matt is going to go look for Caleb and Elijah? You can take a break. Spend some time with Sarah and her children. She misses you. So does Matt.”
“You need to talk Matt out of it.” Her tone brooks no argument.
So, Jacob takes another approach. He was going to tell her before she left again, anyway. And, Elizabeth Otis Morgan never stays in the 21st century for more than two or three days at a time, at most.
“Lizzie, Sarah met our mother.”
Lizzie stares at him blankly for a long moment, long enough for Jacob to wonder if she heard him correctly. Just as he’s about to repeat it, he notices how white her face is, and she whispers, “What?”
“Now, don’t worry,” he reassures her. “I didn’t tell them I’m actually your brother, and not their grandfather’s. Honestly, though, Lizzie, I don’t know why it has to be a secret. So you accidentally brought your youngest sibling through the portal with you. It wasn’t your fault. I just happened to be nearby when you touched that mirror, and got pulled through the portal with you. Changing my last name, making me go by my middle name instead of Nathaniel, getting your husband to go along with it? It doesn’t make much sense. Why couldn’t I have just been your brother?”
“Because anyone who was interested in the family tree, like Sarah, would be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together more easily if they knew. I wanted to protect my family, and I stand by my decisions. Just be thankful my husband and his family were willing to go along with the ruse simply because I wished it, and didn’t ask too many questions. You were eight at the time, Nathaniel Jacob Otis. You would have ended up in an orphanage if my in-laws hadn’t claimed you as their own. Now, tell me again, little brother. What’s this about our mother? How could Sarah have possibly met her? As far as you’ve told me, she only went to 1685, stayed for 14 years, and returned here”
“Sarah met our mother in 1685, Lizzie. You know the story of the Otis family, and how Richard Otis’s third wife, Grizel Warren, was taken captive by the Natives to Canada, along with her infant daughter, Margaret?”
“Yes. And her older daughter, Hannah, was killed. I think. It’s strange. I know this story so well, but it’s like there are two different versions of it in my mind.”
“That’s because Sarah also knows the story. I’m sure you told her when she was a child, and every school in Dover teaches it when they cover local history. Knowing what she did, Sarah changed history by saving Hannah. In fact, Hannah is here now. Sarah adopted and raised her. She’s 12 years old, Lizzie, and our half-sister.”
“What? How can that be?”
“Because, Grizel Warren is our mother.”
“That’s impossible. How do you know?”
“You’ve spent the past fifteen years traveling through time looking for your lost sons, and you believe anything can be impossible? You’re quite the dichotomy sometimes, Lizzie. You know the Otis family took Sarah in when she came through the portal. Grizel discovered your memory box early on in Sarah’s stay in the 1600’s. She saw the daguerreotypes. In private, she admitted to Sarah that the woman in them, our mother, was her. She ended up in 1683 when she disappeared from our lives. When she got there and realized where she was, she told people her name was Grizel Warren, since she remembered the stories, and no other Grizel was in town. With no obvious way home, she resigned herself to staying and marrying Richard Otis, even though she knew what would happen in the future. When Sarah showed up, they conspired together from before Hannah was even conceived to save her when the time came.”
“My God. So, Mother is there, in the 1600’s, a captive in Canada?”
“Not forever. Remember? She is eventually set free and marries a Frenchman in Montreal. Her baby, Margaret, comes back to Dover, re-christened as Christine, and marries a Baker. Mother knew she and Margaret would be all right, and she resigned herself to that, but she was determined to find a way to save Hannah. With Sarah’s help, she did.”
“But, we don’t know what happens to Grizel after Margaret returns to Dover, twenty-five years after the capture.”
“No. She gets re-christened with a Catholic name herself, and disappears from history when Margaret leaves Canada.”
“Jacob, this is wonderful. We could save her. Think about it. We always wondered what happened to Mother, but had no clues, not one. Now, we know exactly where she is. We could retrieve her from Canada and bring her here. She would age backward and be a young woman again, like we remember her, maybe younger. We could be a family again. All it would take is one trip.”
“You would have to stay there a few years, or you’ll be a teenager when you return,” Jacob warns her. “What are you going to do in 18th century Montreal for that long?”
“I’ll come up with something. I always do. What’s a few years, when I’m used to staying for decades in the places I go?”
“Retrieving Mother would be lovely,” Jacob admits. “I was a baby when she vanished, so I have no memories of her. She’s just an image in a few daguerreotypes to me. I would love to get to know her. I have an idea. Let Matt go and search for your boys. Caleb is his father, after all. He wants to do it, and he’ll go at it with fresh eyes. You’ve been doing it for so long, maybe you’re starting to miss clues. Don’t get mad.”
He backs off for a moment when he sees the fire in his sister’s eyes, and holds his hands out in a placating gesture.
“I know you’re experienced. You know what you’re doing. I’ve never questioned it. It is entirely probable you’re the most experienced time traveler in all of human history. I’m just suggesting you give Matt a chance. See what he can do. Meanwhile, Sarah will be here, searching for a way to bring her husband and other two children to her. In the meantime, why don’t you look for our grandfather? Mother’s father disappeared, too, as you’ll recall.”
“Yes, but we have no idea where he might have gone. There’s never been a single clue. I know I was only five when he vanished, and you never met him, but he was a sweet, wonderful man, and I miss him. Believe me, I’ve done my fair share of searching for him and Mother in my travels. There’s never been an iota of information on either of them, until now. And, why would I go after him, when we know where Mother is right now?”
“That’s the beauty of this plan, Lizzie. I don’t just sit here idly keeping your secrets while you’re gone, you know. Being retired, with my son and grandchildren in California, I’ve got time on my hands. I do a good deal of research, historical research. I haven’t forgotten Mother or Grandfather, either, though I don’t personally remember either of them. You may not have a clue where Grandfather went, dear sister, but I do.”
“You do?” Lizzie sounds almost offended that he would research without her. “How long have you had this so-called clue?”
“Just a few months my time, since your trip before this one. I didn’t tell you before you left again, because you were in and out of here so quickly. There wasn’t time.”
“You said historical research. You think he went to the past.”
“Yes. Pretty far back in the past, actually. We’re talking Roman Britain.”
“How could you possibly know that? There are so few written records of that time, and it’s so long ago. Professor Johnson has been back that far, but I’ve never gone beyond the Norman Conquest.”
“I have friends in academia, too, sister.”
“Well, you’ve been a busy bee, haven’t you?” Lizzie folds her arms and gives him a level gaze that would make most grown men’s blood freeze; however, Jacob is long accustomed to his sister’s moods, and used to them. “But, why should I go after Grandfather first, when we know exactly where to find Mother?”
“Because, I will go retrieve Mother.”
Lizzie stares blankly at him, mouth agape.
“Oh, don’t give me that look, Lizzie,” Jacob says, dismissing her stunned expression with an irritated wave. He crosses the room and sits down on the corner of the formal receiving chair, positioning himself as close as possible to the sofa on which she sits so he can look her in the eyes. “We always planned a trip for me. I’m 87 years old, Lizzie, and I haven’t been through a portal once since I came here with you. Though I’ve taken extra care to keep myself in excellent condition, I need to do this now, if I’m going to do it. For me, it will be a quick trip in and out of the early 18th century. I don’t have to stay there long. As old as I am, I’ll age backward when I go back, and again when I return. By the time I bring mother back to 2017, I’ll probably be in my 30’s, or maybe even 20’s, and so will she. As young as you. It’s the easiest trip I could take, and now is the time to do it. You’re the more experienced traveler. You’ve picked up a dozen languages over the centuries you’ve been doing this. I’m sure Latin is among them.”
Lizzie sighs, and puts a hand to her forehead in a dramatic fashion, as if it’s all just too much for her to coordinate, and the burden of being in charge of everything is an annoyance.
“Please, Lizzie,” Jacob prompts.
Sighing loudly, Lizzie leans forward and slumps her normally ramrod straight shoulders in a most uncharacteristic manner. “Fine. Go. You’re right, Jacob. It’s your turn. It has been for a while. I’ve been selfish in continuing to go off in search of my sons without giving you your chance to regain your youth. I never wanted to let you get old enough to lose you, and it looks like I’ve just about done it. I’m sorry. Of course you should go retrieve Mother. What will you tell your son, though?”
“Lizzie,” he says, taking her hands, “the kids aren’t kids anymore. We no longer need to protect them like we’ve done in the past. We have at least three, maybe four family members lost in time. Now we know how to control where we go, and how to get back. Any of us with the genetic ability can travel whenever and wherever they like. I say we go with the truth. Matt and Sarah already know. Christopher can know now, too. One person can’t be expected to do all the work of finding and retrieving everyone. This can be a family enterprise now. If we let the younger generation take on the truth of the matter, they can help. There’s no reason to continue to keep this secret. As long as the youngest ones are protected from accidentally traveling on their own, even they can know. Hannah already knows most of it. Let this be a family gift, rather than a secret. It’s time.”
“You’re right,” Lizzie says, conceding. “I’ve been secretive for too long, and demanded it of you when I shouldn’t. I kept you from having the relationship with my grandchildren you should have had when they were younger, and I’m sorry. I was just so worried I’d lose them, too. I wanted to control their environment so much, so as to never risk them touching something that would send them back. I banned antiques from the house, and forbid them from going anywhere that might have them, like garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. I even inspected the homes of each of their friends for hidden dangers before I would allow them to visit. In fact, Sarah was already out of my custody and being raised by Matt before she was permitted to go play at a friend’s house, because I never examined a house that didn’t have antiques in it. They’re so common around here. I almost had a fit when I found out Matt let her do it, but I had to keep it to myself, bite my tongue, because they already thought I had dementia. All Sarah’s friends had to come to our house when I was in charge. It never occurred to me that Matt would let her go into an unexamined environment. Apparently, I’ve been unfair to everyone. But Jacob, you know I was just trying to keep my family safe.”
“I know you were,” Jacob says, leaning forward to kiss her forehead. “It’s why I always did as you asked, even if I didn’t agree with it. You were so traumatized by losing both of your sons, and then learning one or both of them may be out there in time somewhere. I knew you didn’t want it to happen to Matt or Sarah, which is why you were so overprotective. You love them.”
“But, I was an insane bitch about it, right?” she says with a rueful laugh.
“Well, maybe a little,” Jacob says. His face is serious, but a twinkle in his eyes lets her know he’s playing with her. Typical little brother, even after all these years. “But, you’re entitled. After what happened to us, then learning it probably happened to Mother and Grandfather, too, and then Caleb and Elijah….well, of course you had your reasons, outlandish as they were.”
“And after all that careful planning, it happened to Sarah, anyway,” Lizzie sighs, shaking her head.
“But, we can control it now,” he reminds her. “And controlling it means coming clean to everyone who is left in our family.”
She nods, giving her assent. “When will you tell Christopher?”
“No time like the present. I can get him on video chat right now, along with you.”
“Me?” she’s taken aback. “Why me?”
“Because, you’re my proof that all this is true. I don’t want my son thinking I’ve gone batty in my old age, now, do I?”
“Very well. And, after we bring Christopher into the loop?”
“Simple. I’ll talk to Matt and give him the information he wants on Caleb and Elijah. He can come here, and I’ll ask him to bring Sarah and the kids with him. Once he’s up to date on where to look, you will come out of your bedroom, have a long overdue reunion with your grandchildren, and meet your great-grandchildren. Stay here a while before going to look for Grandfather, Lizzie. Help Sarah in her quest. Get to know her again, and be a part of her children’s lives. One of them is our half-sister as well as your adopted great-granddaughter, remember.”
“But….” Lizzie starts to protest.
“No,” Jacob interrupts her, holding up a hand. “You are going to take a much deserved vacation. I may be your little brother, but I’m old enough to take charge of this venture for a while, especially after I shed a few decades by going through a portal. Spend some time with the family, Lizzie. I insist. I will leave from here to go fetch Mother. The whole family can watch me go. Get Christopher back on video chat so he can see it, too. I want him to have no doubt this is real. With any luck, I’ll be right back, and a new man, literally.”
“And then?” she grits the words out, disliking this whole “letting someone else take control” concept, though she knows Jacob is right.
“Then, we enjoy getting re-acquainted with our mother. It will be a nice family reunion. I’ll invite Christopher and the kids to come up and be with us. When you are both ready, after the reunion, Matt will go to look for Caleb and Elijah, and you will go home with Sarah and the children. Help her get her husband and two middle children back. There has to be a way. Once you’ve accomplished it, and I know you will, go search for Grandfather. With any luck, you will find him and bring him home.”
“It may take more than one trip,” Lizzie points out. “For all of us. You, Matt, and me. It’s taken me dozens so far, and I still haven’t found Caleb or Elijah, though I know almost without doubt that Caleb, at least, is out there. We could be doing this for a long time. And who knows how long it will take Sarah to retrieve her family, if it can even be done? Despite your confidence in me and my abilities, it might not be possible. What if she decides she’s tired of waiting, and takes the children with her back to 1699 to live there?”
“All bridges we will cross when we come to them,” Jacob assures her.
“We may also find more than one lost relative, or even trapped time travelers who aren’t related to us. Who knows how many people are out there, living under assumed identities in times that are not their own? Will we try to help everyone?”
Jacob smiles at her, this time with deep love and tenderness. He may tease her, even challenge her and get on her nerves sometimes, but that’s what little brothers do, even if they are 87 years old. There has never been any doubt between them that they adore each other. “Knowing you, the answer is yes. You’re not the type to turn down anyone in need. You may have found your calling, Lizzie.”
“Maybe one day, we can bring Father and our other siblings here, too,” she says, wistfully. “If we go to them just after we left, when the little ones are still children, before they’ve married in the 19th century and established lives of their own there. We could all be together again, in this century.”
“They’re not going anywhere,” Jacob assures her. “They’ll be there when we’re ready. Who’s to say we can’t do it? But, first things first, okay? It’s time for me to call my son, and for you to reunite with Matt and Sarah. I assume you have an appropriate artifact on you for me to use to go to Mother?”
“Wonderful,” he picks up his phone and waves it at her, his eyebrow arched in an unspoken question.
“Do it,” she tells him, nodding to let him know it really is okay with her. His plan is far less selfish and more sensible than what she’s been doing. She knows that now.
“”Excellent,” Jacob says, grinning once more. “Get ready, Lizzie. We’ve all got work to do.”
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