The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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Present Day

Elinor raised the hood on the hoodie Brackston had given her, zipping the jacket up as far as it could go so that she could hide her face beneath the hood. After the embarrassing situation that went down in the lounge area, Elinor didn’t want to see anyone, let alone, be seen. A part of her was mortified that everyone had to witness her meltdown and another part was distraught that they all had to find out about her visions in such an unnerving way. More than either of those things though, she wished the moment she truly could forget was the second she dropped the bomb on them about her condition.

She could see it on all of their faces - the mixed expressions of surprise, alarm, and pity. Every one of them had their own opinion about the matter without even making their voices heard.

Carter looked surprisingly ashamed, she could tell that he was kicking himself for his reaction, especially after Lula walked in. Brackston looked like he was fighting with feeling distraught and confused. His lips were pressed tightly together as he blinked rapidly. She wasn’t for sure if he was simply nervous or if he was blinking back tears at the sight of her being so upset. Layla’s expression was the hardest to read. There were some subtle hints of skepticism on the woman’s face, almost as if she doubted Elinor’s words.

Elinor couldn’t even bring herself to look Ivan in the eyes after her confounding reveal, terrified of what his expression might look like, even more frightened by what he might say. She was honestly afraid of what any one of them would have had to say.

Sniffling softly, Elinor reached for one of the pillows on the bed she claimed as her hiding spot for the time being, bringing it close so that she could hug it to her chest for comfort. The only place she could think to go was Ivan’s room, seeing as it was the only place she felt safe and comfortable. What bothered her was that this pillow annoyingly had the warmth and scent of Ivan. The familiar, musky scent should have been relaxing but instead, it was a painful reminder of what had happened out there.

Pushing those thoughts and feelings aside, Elinor stared at the wall across the room as she allowed the heavy silence of the room to envelop her. As time went on, she could feel her body relaxing as her racing thoughts calmed down. The familiarity and warmth of silence weighed on her mind, her eyes growing heavy as the soothing feeling pulled her into a heavy feeling of exhaustion. She was contemplating laying down into the bed to give into sleep when the sound of a knock on the door distracted her.

She perked up quickly, her gaze flicking to the door as she tried to force her eyes open. She opened her mouth to ask who was there but the person on the other side of the door didn’t even bother asking if they could come in first. The door opened slowly, her curious eyes watching to see who would enter in. She was surprised, catching sight of Ivan as he cautiously peered in. His expression was slightly concerned as he carefully welcomed himself in.

Groaning inwardly, she buried her face into the pillow before his soft eyes could make contact with hers. She grumbled frustratingly into the pillow, squeezing her eyes shut as she bit back the urge to scream. “Of all people, why did it have to be him?” she thought to herself.

“I’m not accepting visitors,” she mumbled from her pillow, hoping that he would get the message.

“Ah, I must have the wrong room,” Ivan’s voice met her ears, surprising her with the hint of playfulness she heard in it. She almost expected him to sound crestfallen or disappointed. “Last I checked, I was not sharing a room with Brackston.”

Elinor kept her face buried in her pillow, drawing her knees up to her chest so that she could rest more comfortably against the wall behind her. She realized that he was making that comment purely because she was wearing Brackston's hoodie.

“Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not Brackston,” she mumbled hoarsely, her throat irritated from the constant crying. “I’m just a walking time bomb.”

“I see,” Ivan responded, the sound of a chair being dragged across the floor filled the once quiet room. She almost glanced up to give him a menacing glare for the rude disruption of the peaceful quietness in the room but she decided against it.

“I think I have someone who might be able to defuse this time bomb that you speak of,” Ivan admitted softly, a hopeful tone in his voice.

Elinor huffed softly, hardly able to breathe with her face pressed in the pillow. Forcing herself to peek up from the safety of her hiding spot so that she could catch a breath, she used the opportunity to also sneak a glance over at Ivan, who was giving her a gentle stare. She was surprised to see that in his hands was her teddy bear, the raggedy, well-loved stuffed animal that she had for as long as she could remember.

His fur was missing from the top of his head from all the times she’d bury her face whenever she was upset. The rest of him seemed to be in pretty good shape, other than his arm, which was sewn back at some point in her life.

Swallowing hard, she rested her chin against her knees, staring thoughtfully at the old bear. “It would seem that Teddy and I have both seen better days,” she mumbled, shaking her head. “In fact, that stupid bear has probably seen way better days than I ever have. At least he was well-loved.”

Ivan frowned deeply at her comment, somewhat surprised by her rash comment. “You’re loved too, El,” he reminded her, keeping his eyes on her. “A lot of people love you.”

“Are you sure about that?” Elinor challenged him, her voice dark and monotone. “Because last I checked, Whittaker murdered my parents, destroyed my bookstore, took away my second family… oh, not to mention, they wiped the only home and community I ever had off the face of the map,” she snapped harshly, surprised that the thought didn’t bring tears to her eyes. “Oh, and let’s not forget that now we’ve got to deal with the loss of our child, too.”

Ivan pressed his lips together tightly, keeping his gaze on the crestfallen Elinor. He didn’t want her to see it but he was feeling just as bad about all of this as she was. He blamed himself for everything she had gone through, especially the possibility that the details of her vision were true. Outside of losing his wife and nearly losing Elinor, Ivan couldn’t ever imagine a worse pain than that of losing a child.

“You know,” Ivan started softly, carefully gazing at the bear in his hands as a smile crossed his face. “My daughter, she would have liked your bear. She had one similar to yours, though a little more modern. She liked to call him Bear and said that he was an important part of our family. Everywhere my daughter went, Bear always went with her.”

Elinor’s eyes lifted from the bear, studying the way Ivan’s face lit up as he talked about his daughter. She almost forgot that before her, Ivan had had another life. There was once a reality where she imagined Ivan lived a happy, normal life. A heavy feeling washed over her as she remembered what Autumn mentioned about Ivan’s wife and daughter, the way the redhead taunted him over their deaths.

“I know it’s probably wrong of me to ask but what happened to your wife and daughter?” Elinor questioned softly.

She watched as Ivan’s jaw tightened slightly, his smile disappearing along with the light in his eyes. He stared darkly at the bear in his hands, his expression serious.

“Life happened,” Ivan explained finally, swallowing hard as he glanced up at Elinor firmly. “Actually, I am pretty confident Whittaker happened. But according to my prison sentence, I have no proof of that.” Ivan shrugged slightly, his leg bouncing slightly.

“Prison sentence?” Elinor repeated, her eyes growing wide.

Ivan nodded as he recounted the dark memory. “It’s a long story… but before all of that took place, I used to work for the Whittaker Foundation.”

“You’re kidding,” Elinor sucked in a breath. “You worked for Whittaker?”

Ivan met her question with another nod, his jaw clenching as he stared down at her bear in his hands. “Whittaker wanted a security person, I was the perfect fit and desperate for a job, so they hired me. I was just supposed to make sure that things ran smoothly at the facility, that no prying eyes were going to break in and run off with Whittaker secrets and that employees were doing their job.” he explained, shaking his head. “One of the employees there was having a major tech problem and couldn’t find an IT guy to help him out, so he begged me to help him since he knew I was more familiar with computers. It should have been a simple fix but what I found wasn’t a standard computer issue. This employee had somehow gotten into secure files that shouldn’t have been accessible to him. I didn’t really see anything but I decided to warn a superior about it. He looked as if it was nothing serious but I could tell by the look lingering in his eyes that whatever was found wasn’t anything good. He told us he would take care of it.”

Elinor’s face darkened, her eyes wandering over Ivan’s faraway expression. She was somewhat surprised that he was keeping his composure as much as he was. She didn’t know if she could remain that calm while retelling a story so dark. “When he said he’d handle it, you mean...?” her voice trailed, almost afraid of his answer despite already knowing where this was going.

Ivan’s eyebrows furrowed together, his tongue licking his lips nervously. “It means that their way of silencing you is to silence those closest to you. Permanently. Which is exactly what they did,” Ivan clarified, squaring his jaw. “I took my wife and little girl out for dinner, something we used to do every month. Aubrey and I were big about not drinking with our daughter around, so we ordered a couple of sodas. It wasn’t until after I had to drive that I noticed something was wrong, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it felt as if I had just had one too many drinks. I figured it was just exhaustion from working so much, so I shrugged it off as if it was nothing.”

“It wasn’t just nothing, was it?” Elinor asked, giving him a knowing look.

Ivan shook his head slowly, his lips pressing into a thin line as he recalled the memories of that dark night. “I was just five minutes from home, we were so close to safety. I had managed to safely drive almost the whole way home. That damn intersection right before our house was always notorious for changing too fast… but never this fast,” he confessed, sucking his teeth. “I wasn’t even half way through the intersection when the light turned red for me. This vehicle plowed in front of ours out of nowhere. I woke up days later only to be told that I was driving drunk when I ran a light, causing an accident that took the lives of three people, two of which were my wife and daughter. The third life just conveniently happened to be the gentleman who was having computer issues at Whittaker, which led me to the suspicion that Whittaker was trying to cross off the people who had seen that file. It was all just too coincidental for this to be an accident.”

Elinor chewed on her tongue nervously, the heaviness of Ivan’s voice as he vaguely explained the accident that led to the deaths of his wife and daughter left an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. It reminded her too much of the way Autumn had taunted him in front of Ivan and threatened her in front of Wells, silencing them over everything except for the answers they wanted. It was what Whittaker did when they shot her father.

Desperately wanting to change the subject, Elinor cleared her throat softly. “Can you tell me about them? About your wife and daughter?” she suggested, hoping that he wouldn’t turn the offer down.

Sighing deeply, Ivan blinked as he brought his focus to Elinor, somewhat grateful for her suggestion. “I can do better. I can show you a picture of them if you’d like,” Ivan admitted, watching as Elinor nodded slowly.

Reaching over to the nightstand next to the bed, Ivan carefully picked up a little black book Elinor often found himself reading. He carefully opened the book, pulling a small picture from the inside before handing it over to Elinor carefully.

“These are my girls,” Ivan explained quietly, watching as Elinor gingerly took the photo. “Aubrey and Faith.”

Elinor took in the picture of the two people, observing the details in each of their faces. The woman had vibrant blue eyes and a soft, warm expression. A young girl was in the women’s arms, with similar hair as the women’s and a soft, bright, playful glint in her sparkle in her eyes. “They’re beautiful,” Elinor admitted softly, carefully handing the picture back to Ivan. “I can see why you’re proud to call them yours.”

“You know,” Ivan quietly observed the tone in Elinor’s voice, the way her eyes refused to meet his. “You’re my girl, El.”

Elinor shook her head, almost as if she was disagreeing with Ivan. “You deserve so much more than what I have offered you. You deserve a long life, a safe and happy life... with them.”

“Believe me, you deserve the same,” Ivan assured her, watching as her eyes grew dark at his statement. “If we were to have an argument over who deserves someone better, it is most certainly you.” Ivan rubbed his forehead, allowing his hand to rest against his head as he closed his eyes. “Believe me, after the horrible things I’ve done… I am not worthy of your kindness, nor the opportunity to feel love again. If anyone is undeserving of such a life, it’s me.”

She drew her lower lip in between her teeth, her eyes filling with tears as she lowered her face back into her pillow so that she wouldn’t have to look at him. “I just want all of this to stop,” her voice quivered, her body shivering lightly. “All the pain, all the uncertainties in my life, all the things constantly going wrong, all the tears... I just want it to stop. It’s embarrassing.”

Ivan stared at Elinor quietly, the heaviness of her words and the sight of her tears weighing on him. Seeing her so devastated, left him feeling like a failure, especially if she thought that it was embarrassing to be vulnerable like this.“You are aware that it’s normal to feel these things, right?” Ivan questioned her, leaning forward in his chair. “After everything you’ve been through, you have every right to feel the way that you do.”

Elinor sniffed softly, lifting her head so that she could use the sleeves of Brackston’s hoodie to wipe the tears that had started streaming down her face.

Ivan gave her a sympathetic smile, grateful that she was allowing him to peer into her eyes again. He only wished that he could help stop her crying.

“All these feelings make me feel so weak,” she admitted, a tiredness to her tone. “I’m tired of having the weight of the world on my shoulders when I’m clearly not even strong enough to carry myself.”

Ivan tilted his head, softly staring at Elinor as he pondered her words for a second. “I don’t know, El. You’re a lot stronger than you realize. I don’t know a whole lot of people who can face what you have and still manage to be just as kind, loving, thoughtful, and encouraging as you have been,” he acknowledged, smiling softly. “Just a few out of the many reasons why I love you.”

Elinor stretched out her legs, tired of sitting so cramped on the bed. She was about to bring the pillow into her arms when she wrapped her arms around her waist, remembering the whole reason she was distraught in the first place. “What if my vision is true?” she questioned softly, her eyebrows knitting together. “What if I did...” Her voice trailed off, getting caught in her throat as she blinked back more tears.

“Then we’ll handle it as we have everything else before and we’ll face it together,” he assured her, reaching his hand out for her to offer to her when he realized that he was still holding her bear in his hands. Extending his arm out, he offered the bear for her to take instead. “You have my word, El. I won’t let you face this alone.”

Elinor stared at the bear, pondering if she should take it or not. After sitting a couple of moments in silence, Elinor slowly scooted over and patted the space beside her, giving him a weak smile as she encouraged him to sit beside her.

He returned her smile, standing up from the chair, he climbed into the bed beside her.

Without any hesitation, she curled up to him, resting her head gently on his shoulder as she relaxed into his arms.

He gently embraced her, his arms tightly around her were a reassurance that he meant every last word he said to her tonight.

Despite everything that had taken place on this day, Elinor couldn’t help but feel that this was the most at peace she had felt in a long, long while as she started to slowly drift to sleep in the safety of his arms.

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