The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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The Date

Present Day

It was late afternoon the next day when Lula and Carter decided to make their escape. Brackston was distracted with reading through one of his recently acquired copies of Star Wars, while Ivan was off somewhere in the abandoned theater preparing for tonight’s mission.

Sneaking out of the theater was almost too easy - Carter secretly wished sneaking out of the lab could be the same. Honestly though, there was really no reason to keep the four members of the team from going out to explore the little town they were stationed in. For all these Homeland Security agents knew, they were going out as part of their mission.

The two traveled through the parking lot next to the theater before Carter finally relaxed and placed his arm around Lula’s shoulder.

“You know, Agent Simone would have our asses if she knew what we were doing,” he pointed out, earning a shrug from Lula.

“What Simone doesn’t know won’t kill her. Besides, who’s to say we aren’t working? Maybe we needed someplace quiet to go to think…” Lula knitted her eyebrows together as she realized they were J-walking across a quiet little street. “Where are we going, anyways?”

Carter smiled, keeping his lips pressed tightly as he shrugged his free hand. Lula knew from this little gesture that there would be no way that Carter Reyes would be spilling his guts on this one.

A short walk through a bank parking lot led the two of them to a small aging building with faded cream colored walls and blue trim.

Lula was still confused as to where Carter was leading her but all that changed when a giant, friendly sign entered her view.

“Wittich’s Candy Shop.” Lula looked at Carter, a small smile forming on her face. “Don’t tell me, you brought me here so you could make up a bunch of your cheesy pick up lines about me being sweet?”

Carter smirked at her comment before pointing to the sign. “Actually, I picked this place because according to the website it has a lot of history. I think I read that it’s been around for 180 years? One of the oldest candy shops in the nation.”

Lula’s soft eyes widened, her jaw slightly falling open as she took in the little building before them. She would have never guessed that this building was housing something so historic and unique at the same time. Carter was really starting to pick up his game.

“I’m impressed,” Lula admitted, nudging Carter playfully. “It would seem that Carter Reyes really does know a way to this girl’s heart.”

“If you think that’s impressive, wait until we get inside,” he responded with a smile, leading her towards the building.

Once they were both through the door, they were met with the pleasant sound of a little bell chiming but that was quickly forgotten when the strong, overwhelmingly sweet aroma of chocolates enlightened their noses. Lula’s eyes grew wide at the sight that laid before them as they wandered to take everything in.

A long display to their right was filled with all kinds of chocolate imaginable - anything from standard chocolate to vividly colored sweets with little designs. To their left stood an old fashioned wooden soda bar with bright green stools. Lula had to remind herself that this wasn’t a trip to the 1950s and that they actually were standing in this place in the present. She found it hard to believe that such a hidden treasure could still exist.

Carter smiled as he watched Lula take in every little detail of the place with almost a childlike reaction, loving how bright her eyes had gotten in the short few moments that they were standing there. It took him nudging her playfully to remind her that he was still here. She broke her wandering gaze away from taking in the whole place to look at him.

“I take it you like it?” he asked softly, earning an excited smile from her as she nodded.

“I just want to say, you’ve really outdone yourself, Reyes… But do you know what would make this better?” she asked him, tilting her head towards the soda bar. “If we actually ordered something.”

Carter chuckled in response as he pulled Lula over to the bar. Once the two were comfortable on their stools, an older woman with short curly gray hair and soft eyes greeted them with a kind smile.

“What would you kids like to have?” the woman asked them, Lula almost giggled at Carter’s reaction to the woman’s greeting. It wasn’t too often that they were called kids. The thought was almost too nice to be considered but they would surely take it without any complaint.

Being time travelers had a funny way of making you feel older than you really were and being kids insinuated that they could be carefree. She had a feeling there wasn’t going to be too much of an opportunity in their new lifestyle to have such a thing. However, they would take the opportunity whenever life threw it at them - even if it meant only for long enough to enjoy something as simple as an ice cream cone in the oldest candy shop out there.

Carter pulled one of the menus from behind a napkin container before cringing at the variety that laid out on the menu. There were all kinds of different options and Carter wasn’t sure there was any easy way to narrow it down. Making eye contact with the woman, he slid the menu towards her.

“If I’m going to be painfully honest, we’re not from around here…” he admitted, grimacing at the announcement. “What’s something the locals like?”

The woman’s eyes sparkled as she held up a finger, insinuating for them to give her just a moment. “I think I have the perfect thing for you two.”

She didn’t even speak again. Instead she settled herself on focusing on whatever it was that she felt Lula and Carter would enjoy.

The two fell into a comfortable silence while they waited. Carter was content on watching Lula take in every little detail about the place as held onto her hand. Everything felt like it was going perfectly, until he noticed a couple of moments later that her look of excitement had shifted. She went from being perfectly still to drumming her fingers against his hand, her eyes locked on a single spot and no longer wandering. It was obvious that something was bothering her.

Frowning, Carter squeezed her hand softly. The reassuring movement caused Lula to turn her head to face Carter. She could already tell from his expression that he was about to ask her something.

“Is something bothering you?” he dropped his voice as if he were worried that she’d be embarrassed if someone overheard them.

Lula did that thing - where she tried to smile but instead it came out like she was pressing her lips together in discontentment. It was a surefire sign that something was gnawing at her.

“I keep thinking about last night,” she admitted, sighing deeply. “I keep thinking about how you…” her voice trailed off, afraid to speak her next thoughts.

Carter raised his eyebrows but said nothing. He knew that if Lula wanted to speak her mind, she would do it on her own terms.

It only took a few seconds for the rest of her thoughts to come stumbling out in a jumbled mess.

“I keep thinking about Ivan,” she responded, earning a surprised look from Carter. The last thing he wanted to hear while out on a date was that his date was thinking about another man.

Lula noticed the startled look on Carter’s face and shook her head. “Not like that, Carter. I just meant the way you talked to him last night. We really shouldn't doubt him.”

Carter’s warm expression suddenly turned cold as he turned to take in the details of the soda fountain before them. He hoped getting them out of that theater and away from the others would distract her from the reality of their situation - that for just a few moments, they could pretend that this new life didn’t exist.

So much for that idea.

“Ivan hasn’t proven himself to me,” Carter spoke up finally, nervously messing with a cup of straws that sat beside him.

Lula rolled her eyes, shaking her head in disbelief at the nonsense she had just heard.

She was certain there were things that Carter was capable of that Ivan wasn’t and likewise, there were things that Ivan could do that Carter couldn’t. That’s what made them a team - the other members were here to fill in the blanks and to handle the things that the others couldn’t.

“Well, at least go easy on him until he does,” Lula finally whispered. “He may be our best lead on this mission.”

Carter wanted to further comment on her remark but their conversation was interrupted by the sight of two glass bowls being placed before them. Inside this bowl was a decent amount of ice cream topped with whipped cream, nuts, and a round piece of chocolate with some sort of design on it.

“Whoa,” Carter mumbled, taking in the sight of the ice cream before him. “I take it the locals take their ice cream seriously?”

Lula looked equally surprised by the sweet treat. She resisted the urge to pull out her phone to take a picture to show Brackston later.

The woman chuckled, nodding to the bowls she placed before them. “This is our Roundtown Sundae. The name comes from the fact that the piece of chocolate on the top actually has the image of the old roundtown map. You know, back in the day the downtown was actually in the shape of a circle. It had more of a real reason back then to be called Circleville than it does now.”

Whatever tension was in the air moments before, melted away when Lula and Carter laughed slightly at the woman’s explanation of the town. It was a weird thing if you really thought about it.

The two polished off their ice cream. They tried to savor every bite for as long as they could but wasting anymore time was going to result in a melted mess.

Carter stood to pay for the two desserts as Lula made her way over to the displays of chocolate. She was taking in a few styles that resembled old fashioned clocks, when she picked up the sounds of a conversation happening behind the counter.

“You really think that Miss Elsner’s publishing company sent a couple of people to attend her book signing tonight?” a voice questioned, disbelief in the person’s tone.

Normally Lula wouldn’t eavesdrop on a conversation but the mere mention of the bookstore owner’s name quickly perked her interest. She pretended to take in more of the varieties of chocolates before her as she leaned closer to listen.

“What else could it have been? They clearly weren’t from around here but they sure had a lot of questions about the bookstore,” a different voice admitted. “They were pretty cold and dressed a little too nice. Especially the redhead that was with them.”

Lula nearly choked on that last comment, biting down on her tongue, she held back any sudden noise so as to not draw any attention to herself.

If the descriptions of what the two voices behind the counter were talking were correct, then it meant that Autumn Whittaker was onto Miss Elsner.

Lula turned quickly to find Carter and nearly plowed into him. His hands quickly steadied her, a surprised laugh left his lips.

“Whoa, slow down there… Are you okay?” Carter’s smile faded the moment he looked into Lula’s eyes and noticed the worry that was deep within them. “What’s wrong?”

Lula swallowed hard, trying her best to steady her breathing as she looked Carter firmly in the eyes. “It’s Whittaker,” she began, her voice shaky. “I think they’re here for Elinor.”

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