The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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A Member of the Team

Present Day

Brackston and Ivan returned to the abandoned movie theater after their mission. They were surprised to see that Lula and Carter had somehow beat them back - which was the last thing they expected. The two thought for sure that Lula would have kept Carter locked in the historical society for an eternity.

Lula and Carter were talking in friendly hushed tones - laughing every so often as they looked through a series of black and white images. They were both completely unaware that Brackston and Ivan were standing there, watching the sight of the two being all friendly. They were borderline flirty and too sweet for Brackston’s taste.

“I think I’m going to end up with diabetes just watching you two,” Brackston piped up finally, clearing his throat.

The sound caught the attention of the soldier and the historian. Lula’s and Carter’s eyes shot up to the sight of Brackston smiling smugly, a brown package in his arms. Ivan stood nonchalantly against the entryway into the theater room, though his eyebrows were raised at the sight of just how comfortable Lula and Carter were.

“It’s about damn time,” Carter grumbled, shaking his head. “I told you that Brackston would browse the books all night. I mean, how long does it take to assess if a little old lady is in danger?”

Lula chuckled at Carter’s comment, shaking her head and opening her mouth to respond but stopping short when Brackston’s laugh drowned out her own.

This reaction earned a confused, startled glare from both Lula and Carter as they watched Brackston double over with laughter. Something Carter had said had nearly brought the man to tears.

Once Brackston had gotten himself calmed down enough to speak, he pointed at the neat little wrapped bundle in his hands. “You’ll be glad to know that not only did the bookstore have very little Star Wars books there, and that there was little browsing done... I mean, what store doesn’t have more Star Wars-”

“Brackston…” Carter groaned, rolling his eyes at Brackston’s rambling.

“Right, sorry… What you’ll be really shocked to know is that the ‘little old lady’ who owns the bookstore was actually a mid-thirties white chick with dark brown hair and a very young face,” he explained to the other two as he bounded into the room, sitting in one of the old folding theater chairs.

Carter’s eyebrows shot up, his nose wrinkling up in disbelief. “What? You can’t be serious! You’re pulling my leg right now-”

“Oh, I am totally not kidding. Did I also mention that she’s very pretty? I caught Ivan over here staring at her a few times like she was some sort of Victorian masterpiece,” Brackston rambled on, snickering like a five year old.

Ivan’s posture stiffened as he rolled his eyes. Leave it to Brackston to be a total child in a moment like this. He wished Brackston would have kept his mouth shut, for the remark about him staring at the woman would just give more fuel to Carter’s never ending game of getting under his skin. He could tell that Carter was already working on a snarky comment just from seeing the slight smirk spread across his face.

“You’re kidding? I bet that made her feel nice and welcome. Nothing like having some strange man you’ve never met with a funny accent undress you in his imagination,” Carter remarked, ignoring the swat that Lula placed on his arm.

Brackston shrugged his shoulders - unaware that Ivan was currently squaring his jaw. He was about five seconds away from joining the group in the middle of the theater room just so he could place a closed fist to Carter’s jaw...

It wasn’t possible that the situation could get any worse but then Brackston interrupted his thoughts. “Actually, I think the woman was kind of digging it. Digging him. I mean she gave him a personal invite to her book signing event tomorrow night. Said that she’d ‘give him the answers he was searching for.’”

It shouldn’t have been humanly possible for Carter’s smirk to grow any wider but at that moment it did - and with it, his eyes revealed a mischievous glint that did not go unnoticed.

“Answers? What, do you mean like he’s going to get some private time in the woman’s-”

“O-KAY…” Lula quickly interrupted, tapping her hand on the black and white images she was looking through with Carter earlier. “We should really focus on what we’re supposed to be here for.”

Ivan was silently grateful for Lula’s distraction at this point as he wasn’t for sure how he’d have responded to Carter’s statement. He would have to remember to thank her later. Out of everyone on the new team, she seemed to be the only one who really appreciated him being here.

“Carter and I found something at the historical society,” Lula began, earning a groan from Carter.

“You want to know what I found out? You think Ivan ogling the cute bookstore lady was weird? Try being me in that historical society. I swear that librarian would have had me in some dingy closet if it were not for Lula being there,” Carter explained, shaking his head.

Brackston wrinkled his nose with disgust at the thought. “So you’re telling me that she was all ready to go Fifty Shades of Leather in the library?”

Lula swatted Carter’s arm, tilting her head towards Brackston and raising her eyebrows as if she were insinuating “I told you so!”

“You both need to get a new reading list,” Carter retorted, causing both Lula and Brackston to laugh. The comment surprisingly even brought a small smirk to Ivan’s face, who was still standing a good distance apart from the team.

“Anyway,” Lula began, gesturing to the table before her. “The building really did belong to a Henry Filby in 1932. It took some time but we were able to find an image of Henry,” she explained, holding up a copy of a grainy picture of a man in front of the building Brackston and Ivan had visited earlier.

“That sure looks an awful lot like H.G. Wells,” Brackston commented, his once joking and light voice was now laced with a serious tone, his expression stern.

Lula nodded, turning the picture back around to give it another look over. “I have no doubt that it’s him. What makes no sense is how no one today seems to recognize who it is. Surely people would have realized by now that Henry Filby is really H.G. Wells.”

Brackston shrugged his shoulders, watching as Lula grabbed another paper off of the table before her.

“We found an old newspaper clipping about the bookstore opening. Wells was asked about his reason for moving to Circleville and he mentions something about starting a new life after his wife and daughter died in a fire,” Lula explained, handing over the copy of the newspaper article for Brackston to read before continuing. “I personally think there’s more to the story here that we don’t know. If Wells was working with Einstein to make time travel a reality, then maybe something went wrong and it forced Wells to start up a new life. Why else would he change his name and go into hiding?”

Ivan’s eyebrows knitted together as he comprehended Lula’s question in comparison to Elinor’s words earlier on. He had a feeling whatever her big announcement would be would reveal some answers that they were looking for.

“You know,” Brackston started, a joking smile returning to his face. “Elinor says that the bookstore has a ghost named Henry. What if it’s actually the ghost of Wells? We could always break into the bookstore, maybe ask it a few questions?”

Lula looked at Ivan, her raised eyebrows and curious expression gave off the vibe that she was both confused and intrigued by Brackston’s statement. Carter, on the other hand, met it with a heavily exaggerated roll of his eyes as he groaned.

“You can’t be serious,” he grumbled, shaking his head. “Not only do you want to risk getting caught breaking and entering but you want to chase some ghost? Ghosts aren’t real.”

“Elinor seemed pretty serious,” Brackston admitted, shrugging his shoulders as Carter raised a hand.

“That’s another thing… Who the hell is this Elinor?” Carter asked.

“Elinor just happens to be our Miss E.A. Elsner,” Ivan spoke up finally. The question brought Ivan out of his quiet safe zone as the man forced himself to move further into the room that the team was lounging in. “She’s the owner of the bookstore and the author of the book. I’m afraid that’s the only info she gave me…”

Brackston snorted, shaking his head. “You mean the only info she gave you outside of the whole ghost thing? Let’s not forget about the way she’s forcing you to attend her book signing tomorrow just so you can find out more. This woman knows how to play her cards.”

Lula caught the look that was crossing Carter’s face - it was his usual smug, smartass look that meant there was about to be another smart remark coming from the soldier’s mouth. She unfortunately didn’t have time to stop these next words from flowing out of his mouth.

“I don’t think cards are the only thing she knows how to play. If you were to ask me, it sounds to me that this woman is like the librarian and she is playing Ivan right into her hands,” Carter admitted, looking at Ivan. “How do we know she isn’t working with Whittaker? Maybe they’re looking to teach Ivan a lesson for all the hell he put his family through when he got behind the wheel of one of their vehicles while intoxicated.”

“Carter!” Lula hissed through clenched teeth, glancing nervously up at Ivan.

She could tell that Ivan’s jaw was clenched and that from the way he was tightly holding his fists at his side, that Carter’s comment had visibly pissed Ivan off. She wouldn’t have been surprised if she had to step between the two to keep a fight from breaking out.

Swallowing down the feeling of anger that was rising from within his chest, Ivan released the tight grip he had his hands in. “I think I’m going to turn in,” he finally spoke before turning to leave the three remaining members of their team alone to stew over everything.

As he made his way into their makeshift bunking area, he forced himself to sit down on one of the four sleeping cots that were set up for the team.

It felt like no matter how hard he tried and no matter what he did, his new team out there was never going to fully accept him as a member.

Carter was the one that was really against the idea of Ivan being on their team. It felt like no matter what he did, Carter was always going to be a force against him, reminding him of wrongs that weren’t entirely his fault.

Ivan laid back into the uncomfortable cot, staring up at the old, peeling tin roof ceiling above him. It was as he was drifting to sleep that he decided that tomorrow would be the day he would prove all of them wrong, Carter included.

He’d prove that he was a valuable member to this team.

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