They say that your mind is never truly at rest, not even for a moment. That at any given time, your brain is processing at least forty different thoughts, simultaneously taking in the smells around you, the temperature, the sights, the sounds, everything. It never stops, it never pauses.
Except, that couldn’t possibly be true. Because at that moment, I swear I couldn’t feel the cold I was sure filtered into the room or the discomfort of my clothes which I’m sure I’d have complained about at any other time—I don’t even think I was breathing. The world stopped, and I was numb. One word—only one—echoed in my mind as I stared at my mother.
“Lizzie?” my mother barely whispered. “Is it really you?”
Lizzie. She was the only person I’d ever allowed to call me that.
She was really here.
Something from deep inside me had crawled up and lodged itself in my throat, barring me from uttering even a syllable. My eyes locked on hers, my vision blurring as tears cascaded down my face.
She jerked against her captor’s hands, her gaze locked on me. “Are you hurt? Did they touch you?” She glared up at William, her hands fisting in fury. “If you laid even one of your meaty fingers on her, I swear I’ll—”
“Elizabeth?” Carter said, sliding off his desk and moving toward me. “What’s the matter? Who is this woman?” He turned, standing in front of me and partially blocking my view of my mother. “State your name.”
“Lizzie, please, just—are you hurt?” Mom asked again.
I swallowed hard, licking my suddenly dry lips. “No,” I croaked.
She breathed a small sigh of relief before she turned to Carter. “Let us go. We don’t have anything you could possibly want, I promise you.”
“No, you will not be released.” Carter cocked his head to the side. “Elizabeth called you—”
I shook my head, clutching the back of Carter’s shirt. “She’s not real. She’s not.”
The woman who couldn’t possibly be my mother frowned at me. “What—“
“No.” I squeezed my eyes shut. “It can’t be. I’m just—I’m…no, it’s not possible.”
“Lizzie, baby, look at me. Open your eyes.”
That was her voice, the same that had read me stories before bed and soothed me when I came home crying from school and laughed with me when Dad did something ridiculous.
Very slowly, I cracked open my lids.
It was her eyes that met mine. Hers. She smiled slightly and nodded. “I’m here, baby. I’m here.”
It was like all the air had fled my body and I could barely breathe. She looked more like Mom than she had ever looked in the past four years since Dad had died and I couldn’t help the tear that slipped down my cheek.
Hesitantly, I moved around Carter. He grabbed my arm to stop me, but I hardly even felt it, my gaze looked on my mother. I shook him off, and when I was right in front of her, I reached out with a trembling hand to touch her cheek. I had to be sure…
A sob wrenched out of me. “You’re really here?”
She smiled and turned her head to kiss my palm. “I’m here.”
“Oh, my God.” I threw my arms around her shoulders and buried my face in her neck. It had been at least four years since I’d hugged my mother. Four years. I squeezed her even tighter, breathing in the smell that was specifically Mom. “You’re here.”
“William,” Carter said softly, “let her go.”
And then her arms were around me and her hand cradled my head against her shoulder. “I’m here now, baby. I’m here. Everything is going to be okay.”
“Perhaps you would like a moment alone,” I heard Carter distantly before the door opened and shut, and my mom and I were alone for the first time, it seems, in forever.
I pulled away and laughed embarrassingly as I wiped my tears. “Sorry, I just—“
She pulled me in for another hug, cutting me off. “I was so worried about you,” she murmured into my hair. “You’ve been missing for months.”
She nodded and then backed away, holding my face in her hands. “Where have you been? Where are we? Who are these people? Did they hurt you? Are you okay?”
“Mom, just slow down,” I laughed as she turned my face from side to side. Mom was back, really back, and, God, did I miss her. “We’re fine. Everything is fine. I’ll explain everything but—“
She grabbed my hands. “I’m gonna get you out of here, I promise. When those two oafs come back in here, I’ll distract them while you escape.”
“I want you to run. Just keep running.”
“I’ll be right behind you, and then once we get away, I’ll think of something—“
“Mom, would you just listen to me for a second?” I yelled over her. “We’re safe here, as long as we stay on this ship.”
She blinked at me. “Have you lost your mind? Do you have any clue what kind of men these people—“
“Yes, I do. That’s why I’m telling you that as long as you stay here, with me, on this ship, you will be safe. If you just let me explain—“
“Lizzie, I don’t know what kind of crap these men have filled your mind with, but there is no way we are safe here. Either you decide to come with me, or I will make the decision for you. We are not going to stay on this boat one more minute than we have to.”
I stared at Mom, disbelieving. “Four years, Mom. Four years I have been making my own decisions. Four years I have survived on my own because you couldn’t be bothered to remember you had a daughter who needed you. And now, you just show up here and think you can tell me what to do? No. No, that’s not how this is gonna work. I will gladly explain to you everything that’s been going on, but if you think that the way I’ve survived for months in the nineteenth century is wrong and you’d rather try your odds on the streets of England all on your own, I’m sure one of the pirates will be happy to escort you off the ship. Otherwise, you can stop interrupting me and allow me to speak for just five minutes.” I didn’t realize how much anger and resentment I had buried deep down inside of me, but at that moment, all of it came boiling towards the surface and I felt myself turning red as I tried desperately to calm myself down.
Mom swallowed, staring at me as if I had gone insane. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I won’t…did you say nineteenth century?”