The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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A Peculiar Connection

Present Day


Ivan’s assumption about Brackston was correct. The moment Ivan returned to the movie theater, he recapped his morning to Brackston, Lula, and Carter. Needless to say, Brackston’s face broke out in a huge grin as Ivan explained how he was meeting Elinor later this afternoon to look over what she had translated from the copy of “The Time Machine”. Ivan awaited his doom.

“You know, Ivan,” Brackston started, leaning forward in the movie theater seat he was sitting in. “I heard that German is one of the more difficult languages to learn. Maybe Elinor will let you study her lips so you can get a better grasp of how the language works.”

Carter actually turned his head from where he had been glancing at his phone, a half smirk crossing his face at Brackston’s smart remark. Lula rolled her eyes and swatted Carter on the arm, not at all surprised that Brackston and Carter were being crude about this.

Ivan knitted his eyebrows together as his eyes darted to the side before he glared at Brackston with a look of confusion. “I can speak German, you smartass.”

Brackston wrinkled his nose, quietly mumbling under his breath as he mocked Ivan for his snide remark.

Ivan ignored Brackston’s mocking behavior of him and turned his gaze to Lula. She placed her chin on her hand, tilting her head as if encouraging him to continue on with his story.

“This book she has, Lula… This copy of ‘The Time Machine’? I fear it might have more secrets within its pages that could potentially be dangerous. Wells went to some great lengths with these ciphers to hide something,” Ivan admitted, his eyes growing distant as he reflected back on the meeting this morning.

Whatever playful attitude that was there before had quickly disappeared the moment Ivan mentioned the dangers of the book, a heaviness falling over the room.

“You really think her defaced copy of ‘The Time Machine’ is that dangerous?” Brackston questioned, his tone concerned as he thought about the possible dangers this book might possess.

Ivan shrugged his shoulders, his lips pressed tightly together. “The contents it possesses points to Whittaker. I think if Wells was writing about Whittaker’s plans in easy to translate German, imagine what must be hidden within the different ciphers.”

Carter made a noise that caught the attention of the other three, bringing their eyes to where he sat checking over his gun. “If it’s so dangerous for her to have, then why don’t we steal the damn thing?”

The mortified looks that crossed Lula’s and Brackston’s faces at his suggestion left Carter staring at the two in confusion. He never even got the chance to question them before they both started chewing him out.

“Are you crazy? What good will that do? Whittaker would still be out to kill her and it would totally destroy any progress that we’ve made!” Brackston cried, shaking his head in disbelief at Carter’s remark.

“Not to mention, we need her translations. I’m sure both you and Ivan could translate the German but who’s to say she hasn’t already figured out some of the ciphers? We need what she knows,” Lula replied, rolling her eyes as Carter raised his hands defensively.

Ivan almost felt sorry that the two were ganging up on Carter, for his suggestion wasn’t entirely that ridiculous. Likewise, Brackston and Lula were also right. Stealing it, unfortunately, wouldn’t solve any of their problems.

“I think what Brackston and Lula are trying to say is that El is starting to trust me. Stealing from her would be a breach of that trust,” Ivan acknowledged, frowning as Carter shook his head and laughed in response.

“Of course you’re worried about ruining her trust,” Carter retorted, looking at Ivan with a discomforting glint in his eyes. “You just want to keep her trust in hopes that maybe she will allow you to breach-”

“Carter!” Lula stood up forcefully, her voice raising itself. “What is it with you? You were never this way before. What, you think your girlfriend cheating on you gives you the okay to play victim so that you can be a dick? Is that it?”

Lula’s outburst rendered everyone in the room speechless, especially Carter - who was wearing an expression of complete shock. It wasn’t often during this mission that the historian raised her voice but when she did, it proved to be as scary as hell. She glared disappointedly at Carter before turning her head to give Ivan an apologetic look. “We are not stealing from Elinor and we are sticking with the plan. Do I make myself clear?”

Ivan’s eyebrows shot up with surprise, the burning look on Carter’s face almost brought a smirk to his face. He kept his face neutral, however. He didn’t want to face the same wrath that Carter was currently facing.

Brackston cleared his throat nervously, glancing at Ivan as he gave the man a reassuring thumbs up. “I guess you’re good to go do what you do best.”

<>

The afternoon passed by dreadfully slow before it was finally time for Ivan to meet Elinor. Ivan thought another second spent in that movie theater would have cost him whatever sanity he had left. Ever since Lula went off on Carter, the soldier was like a pouting, agitated puppy. Not even Brackston could get any sort of response out of the man with his quips and pop culture references. So long as Ivan was in the building, Carter would continue to be a grumpass.

Ivan was silently grateful when it neared 4:30pm and for the excuse to go out. The moment he stepped out the theater door and into the afternoon sunlight, Ivan could already feel the tension from the day melting away as he made his way through the alleyway. The park Elinor spoke of this morning was less than a minutes walk from the theater but it felt like an eternity had gone by before the park even entered his sight. Each time he agreed to meet her, it felt like he was growing more and more anxious about their meetings. He had to remind himself that there really was no reason to be.

As Ivan entered what appeared to be the back of the park, he was surprised to be greeted by a giant winking pumpkin on the side of a large, outdoor stage. He wasn’t sure what to make of the winking gourd but figured it was something he could ask Lula about it later. The historian was familiarizing herself with the town more than any of them currently.

He glanced around the spacious park, taking in the large shelter house with round picnic tables sat up underneath it. His eyes landed on a gazebo just to the right of where the outdoor stage sat and noticed a figure sitting at one of the round picnic tables underneath it.

Unlike this morning, Elinor was early and already waiting on him. As he made his way closer to where she sat, he grew concerned about having kept her waiting but then he noticed that she had distracted herself with reading from a book she had laying flat on the picnic table.

The first thing Ivan noticed was how relaxed she seemed as her eyes were lost in wandering the contents of her book. She held onto the corner of the page carefully with her fingers, almost as if she were willing herself to read more quickly so that she could turn the page to see what happened next. It was clear that she was so wrapped into her book that she was oblivious to his presence as he stood before her. He felt guilty that he would have to interrupt her.

“That must be a really good book,” Ivan spoke softly, unable to help the smile that crossed his face as Elinor looked up at him with wide, surprised eyes.

Elinor’s face flushed slightly as she quickly placed her bookmark into its place before closing the book shut. “I’m sorry,” she laughed, shaking her head embarrassed as she held out the book for him to see. “It is a really good series. I’m behind a book or two so I’m trying to play catchup.”

Ivan wasn’t aware that her holding out the book was a gesture for him to take it from her. Her eyes staring at him expectantly gave that away. He took the book from her, careful not to brush against her fingers as he did. The book resting in his hands had an antique photo on the cover of a little girl sitting on a swing, the girl’s head was resting against her hand dramatically as her somber face stared so seriously that it felt as if she were staring deep within his soul.

“Peculiar Children,” Ivan mumbled, sitting down at the table before he gingerly flipped through the pages, only to realize that there were more bizarre old fashioned images throughout the story. “You really have a taste for unusual things, don’t you?”

Elinor shrugged, smiling as she watched him glance through her book. “I’ve always liked antiques and anything historical for as long as I could remember. I was kind of the odd one in my family. While my siblings were off doing normal kid things, I was the strange girl hanging out at antique shops and buying skeleton keys.” She shook her head, releasing a heavy sigh. “Guess you could say I’m as peculiar as the characters in that book.”

Ivan noticed that there was a heaviness in her voice as her eyes grew distant the moment she mentioned her siblings. He could sense that there must have been something upsetting about her family situation but instead of asking her to elaborate, he peeked up from glancing through her book. “When I was a kid, I was going to grow up to be a cowboy. You have probably come across many different cowboy and western books at your store…” he trailed off, noticing that she was giving him an amused smile as she leaned forward to rest her chin in her hands. The way she had herself sitting comfortably at the picnic table reminded him of an eager child preparing herself for a story. He lost his train of thought the moment he made contact with her soft eyes.

Elinor wrinkled her nose at his sudden silence, tilting her head slightly as she looked at him with an expression of concern that was trying its best to mask her amusement as he took in her face.

“Are you going to finish your story there, cowboy?”

Ivan blinked as soon as she made her comment, clearing his throat as he scrambled to gather his thoughts again. “Damn... That little flirt,” he thought to himself as he drew his lower lip in between his teeth. “All I was going to say was that I wanted to be a good guy, to fight outlaws, save people… Maybe to even have my own horse.”

Elinor chuckled lightly, keeping her eyes locked firmly on Ivan’s. “Well, I think you can check saving people off your list. Your rescue the other day at the book signing was very ‘Walker Texas Ranger’.”

Ivan smiled at her comment, amused that she threw out a pop culture reference. Brackston would have probably applauded her if he were here. “I like to think that we got lucky,” he admitted, shrugging as if his heroics from the previous night were no big deal.

Elinor narrowed her eyes as she tried to hide the smile crossing her face by allowing her mouth to hang open in protest. “You’re kidding?” she asked, incredulous. “You reacted so fast and somehow remained so calm. It was like being at the center of a hurricane.” She chuckled at her own comment, shaking her head. “Hey… Cowboy ‘Hurricane’ Ivan has a nice ring to it. Maybe I ought to start calling you that.”

Ivan scoffed at her comment, making sure to smile at the woman so that she didn’t think he was offended by her words. “I don’t think I’m the calm center of a hurricane,” Ivan admitted gruffly, thinking back on the stupid decisions he made over the last year. “If anything, hurricane is a fitting nickname because according to my friends, lately I’ve had the tendency to make reckless, impulsive decisions.”

Elinor noticed the way his expression grew dark. She frowned at the sudden shift of light in his eyes, wondering what he could have possibly done that would warrant such a dark expression. “Well if it means anything to you, I’m grateful for that. I don’t think I’d be sitting here today if it had not been for you acting on your impulses, Hurricane.”

A smile teased at the corner of Ivan’s lips as he pushed his tongue out in a way to hopefully distract from the smile. He felt that she was giving him more credit than he truly deserved.

“I like the park that you chose,” Ivan decided to bring the subject to a lighter topic, glancing around the vast area.

Elinor perked up slightly at the mention of the park, the reaction reminded him of an awful lot of Lula whenever someone brought up a historical figure. He could tell that he was about to receive a wealth of information.

“The park is great, but the park is the least interesting thing about this location,” Elinor spouted off, leaning forward as she lowered her voice. “This spot used to be the home for the American Hotel. It was a beautiful building with a lot of rich history. It was said that Abraham Lincoln stayed here sometime before, well… John Wilkes Booth assassinated the man.”

“You sure know your local history,” Ivan confessed, chuckling. “You would really get along with Lula. She’s a walking history book.”

“You should invite your friends to join us one night,” Elinor suggested, excitement crossing her face. “There’s so many places we could go out. I don’t know what your preference is on food but we have everything from All-American to a New York style sub shop and even some of the best Mexican food in the area.”

Ivan couldn’t decide if this woman was being sneaky in setting up another get together between the two of them or if she was genuinely intrigued to get to know the other team members. She had a connection with Brackston and he could see her liking Lula. Carter, however? Carter would probably rather be shot.

Ivan was about to make a comment when he noticed that he was still holding her “Peculiar Childrens” book in his hands. He subconsciously scooted around the round table that they were seated to sit beside her, all with the intention to return her book. “I should probably let you have your book back,” he admitted, though all thoughts on her book disappeared the moment she brought her hands down to rest over her stomach as she tensed visibly.

“Are you alright?” He asked softly, his hand reaching out to touch her shoulder comfortingly but he quickly stopped himself. He wasn’t sure at first what she had gotten tense about all of a sudden but he soon realized that her reaction was due to him being too quick to cross into her personal barrier that she had built around her. It was one thing for her to choose to cross that barrier herself, another thing entirely for him. He crossed a line that shouldn’t have been crossed.

Setting her book down a safe distance from her, he distanced himself back to what he deemed was a safe spot away from Elinor. He squared his jaw, annoyed with himself for what he had just done. Ivan knew that something really serious had to happen at one time to make her react this way. He just didn’t realize how serious it was.

Elinor seemed surprised that Ivan had distanced himself from her so quickly. Most men ignored her body language and did whatever the hell they wanted. She looked up suspiciously to see what game he was playing only to notice the hard expression that was on his face, his eyes locked on the table before him. It didn’t take long for her to realize that his expression wasn’t because he was turned off by her cold behavior. His eyes gave away the impression of guiltiness as if he were blaming himself for the situation. Ignoring the fear that gnawed at her internally, she reached a hand out to place it on his clenched fist. Her gentle touch nearly startled him as his head whipped around to see the apologetic look on her face.

“I’m sorry,” she spoke weakly, her voice shaky as she tried to think of an explanation for her behavior. “I wasn’t trying to be rude. I’m just not all that comfortable…” Her voice trailed off as she stared at him hopefully.

Ivan’s hard expression melted as he looked down at her hand resting on his. That was an incredibly bold move for someone who tensed every time a man so much as breathed in her direction. “You don’t have to apologize,” Ivan stated, lifting his eyes to meet hers. “You have a right to be distant. You barely even know me-”

Elinor huffed irritably, shaking her head as she tightened her grip reassuringly on his hand. The gesture alone was enough to render him speechless. “This isn’t because of you,” her voice trembled as her eyes glistened. Ivan wished she would stop trying to make a point before she made herself upset. He didn’t want a repeat of the night prior. More importantly, he didn’t want to be the reason the woman had a panic attack.

“I understand you’ve been hurt,” Ivan voiced finally, trying to keep his tone calm in hopes that it would keep her from getting too overwhelmed. “It was by someone close to you, wasn’t it?” Ivan shook his head as soon as he asked, regretting he even asked the question. “On second thought, you don’t have to answer that. Not unless you’re ready. I’m not interested in knowing anything until you’re ready to tell me.”

Elinor couldn’t help the shock that crossed her expression at that moment, her mouth hung open in surprise as her thoughts failed to think of a proper response. She couldn’t even begin to comprehend what he had just said, let alone think of a proper response to give him. “Holy shit,” she mumbled finally, her choice of words catching him slightly off guard. Ivan wasn’t for sure what this was supposed to mean. “Who the hell are you and why are there not more guys like you?” Elinor asked sternly, her question wasn’t directed at him but more as if she were voicing the thought into the air.

Ivan’s eyebrows shot up slightly as he tilted his head down a bit to get a better look at Elinor’s face. He wasn’t entirely sure how to take her question, let alone, how he should respond to such a question. “I’m flattered?” he softly mumbled finally, his voice making it come out as more of a question and less of an actual statement. Ivan was grateful that his response at least brought a smile to her face. He was worried that he had ruined that trust he had slowly been building.

“I’m sorry,” she tried again, removing her hand from his so that she could rub her temples softly as she closed her eyes. “We are way off topic and you came here for something specific. I’m probably wasting your time-” she reached into her bag to pull out her copy of The Time Machine, ready to bring it out when out of the corner of her eye she noticed movement.

Ivan, no longer sitting at his spot at the picnic table, stood before her. Her eyes trailed up to his face where she met with his soft eyes, her face flushing red as she realized how small the man made her feel in comparison.

Ivan mistook her flushed face as embarrassment over her near panic attack a few moments ago. He tilted his head, his thumb gesturing towards the sidewalk as he gave her a reassuring smile. “Let’s get out of here.”

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