The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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Harsh Decisions

Present Day

Layla could have sworn she had heard the sound of someone groaning softly, the gentle noise meeting her ears as soon as she exited her room. The sound was rather alarming, seeing as it was still pretty early and she could still make out the quiet sounds of Brackston talking in his sleep and Carter snoring a couple of doors down.

Eyebrows knitting together, she pushed herself towards the direction of the pain filled sound. She realized that it had come from the shower room, where she could hear the soft sound of the shower running. She couldn’t make out the sound of anyone moving on the other side of the door but she could make out the gentle noise of someone sniffling. It didn’t take long for Layla to put together that the sniffles belonged to Elinor.

Raising her hand slowly, Layla gently knocked on the door. The sound of her knock had caused the sniffling on the other side of the door to cease as she imagined Elinor was trying to gather herself before answering.

“I’ll be out in a few minutes, Ivan,” Elinor’s hoarse voice met Layla’s ears, causing the other woman to frown.

“It’s not Ivan,” Layla spoke up finally, listening as the room beyond the door fell into a heavy silence. Layla struggled to hear over the sound of the shower running, wondering if she had triggered another crying spell for the woman. It pained her to know that the woman was going through so much.

Layla jumped at the scrapping sound of a chair being removed from the doorway but she gathered herself quickly so that her alarmed expression wouldn’t upset the woman. She was relieved to see Elinor had opened the door enough for her head to peer out. Though her face visibly red and puffy from crying, Elinor tried to give off the impression that nothing was wrong.

Layla gave Elinor a sympathetic smile as she carefully lowered her voice. “Is everything okay?” she asked softly, her eyes wandering over Elinor’s distraught face.

Sighing softly, Elinor tried to blink back the tears that were already lingering in her eyes. She should have known there wouldn’t have been any easy way for her to fool Layla at this rate. Pulling her head back inside of the shower room, Elinor opened the door enough for Layla to slide in.

Once Layla was in and the door was shut securely behind her, she could see that the room was filled with a slight steam from the shower Elinor had turned on, fogging up the mirrors.

Elinor stood awkwardly by the row of sinks, still dressed in the sweatpants and t-shirt she had gone to sleep in.

Layla could make out the slightest bit of tears welling up in the woman’s eyes, leaving Layla to question what could have set the woman’s emotions off. Her hair was slightly unkempt and a bit frizzy, no doubt from the heat inside the shower room. Layla had a hard time discerning what the reason was for this emotional episode but seeing as Elinor’s life was a mess right now, Layla knew that it could have been a number of things.

“I’m sorry if I’m using up the hot water,” Elinor responded softly, her face turning scarlet red as she stared at Layla embarrassingly. “I didn’t want anyone to hear… that I was getting sick.”

Layla pressed her lips tightly together, nodding her head gently. She didn’t even think about the possibility of her condition being the reason that she was so emotional. She couldn’t imagine what life in the lab was going to look like over the next several months with both Lula and Elinor expecting. That was, if Elinor’s vision hadn’t already taken place…

“Morning sickness?” Layla suggested, pushing her thoughts aside and watching as Elinor paled slightly at the mention of her condition.

“No,” Elinor mumbled softly, her arms wrapping around her stomach gently. “No, I don’t think so. It’s just… Altman discovered something huge. He cracked a cipher in my father’s journal and he found the location of my father’s… erm… Tesla’s time machine.”

Layla’s eyes widened slightly at the mention of the infamous time machine they’ve heard so much about, her thoughts racing. “Whoa,” she gasped, slightly understanding Elinor’s distress. It was one thing to talk about the machine that had single-handedly flipped her entire life upside down, another thing entirely to locate it. That meant Elinor would have to see it face-to-face. “That’s huge. Also, kind of scary…”

Elinor shook her head slowly, cutting the woman off before she could continue her words any further. “That’s not why I’m so upset,” Elinor admitted, blinking rapidly as a couple of tears streamed down her cheek.

Layla watched quietly as Elinor sucked in a heavy breath, knowing better than to press the woman for answers. She figured if Elinor wanted to open up about whatever was weighing on her so heavily, she’d be better to let her speak up about it.

“My father is a distant relative of the Whittaker family,” Elinor blurted out finally, her arms removed from around her stomach, allowing her hands to wring together nervously. “And apparently, he wanted to make time travel a reality and the Whittaker family offered him the means to make it possible. I’m not sure if he just wasn’t aware of what he was signing himself up for or if he was so wrapped up in the excitement that he would be achieving this monumental goal that he didn’t realize just how messed up the Whittaker family was until it was all too late.”

Layla swallowed hard, somewhat surprised but at the same time not entirely thrown off by this revelation. It seemed that a lot of the greatest figures in history were able to achieve their goals because someone had once promised them wonders. Thinking over the words Elinor had thrown out, she looked up at Elinor questionably.

“But wasn’t Wells hiding from the Whittaker family?” Layla pressed, her eyes narrowing slightly. “From what Brackston told me, Wells was terrified that they would find him, find whatever key it was that he stole from them. If he was working with them, why would he run?”

Elinor glanced somberly at Layla, a dark expression in her gaze that made Layla’s stomach churn slightly.

“Oh,” Layla breathed, her eyes widening as a sudden realization crossed her mind. “He ran away to protect you.”

Elinor nodded slowly, drawing her lower lip in between her teeth as she glanced at the floor. “It would seem that a lot of the decisions my father has made was in some way because of me. Running from the Whittaker family, finding Tesla, building the machine… Sending me off God only knows where in that same unstable time machine, sending Tesla in afterwords to bring me back and leaving the poor man stuck between realities. It hit me this morning, Wells has ruined countless lives just to protect one.” Elinor shook her head, a bitter laugh leaving her lips as she flicked her gaze up to Layla. “And the worst thing about this? Wells being a Whittaker family member means that I am some part of this sadistic family, too. Whittaker’s attempt to ruin my life is more than just their way of getting their hands on some stupid key or for me to make up for my father’s unpaid sins. It’s a painful reminder that my life belongs to them.”

Layla frowned deeply at Elinor’s statement, her nose scrunching up in response. “Hold up,” Layla began firmly, her eyes locked deeply with Elinor’s. “Your life doesn’t belong to anyone but you, Elinor. You’re in control of your own fate and your own destiny. No one… not Whittaker, your father, or even Ivan, can dictate your future. Only you can.”

Layla expected Elinor’s face to soften with the firmness of her words but she was surprised to see that the woman’s face had darkened instead. Layla could see that there was a small glint of fear in Elinor’s watery eyes, the way her eyebrows drew together tightly revealed that there was something else bothering her.

“Ivan knows,” Elinor mumbled softly, her face still red as she glanced at Layla darkly. “Ivan knows that I’m a Whittaker. However, just like everything else in my life, it doesn’t seem to surprise him. In fact, it’s like he already somehow suspects these things.”

Layla smiled softly, chuckling as she leaned against the wall beside her casually. “Ivan’s pretty good at that,” Layla mused, shaking her head. “Seeing as how you two are close, that alone makes it easier for him probably more than you realize,” Layla admitted, concerned at the frown that deepened on Elinor’s face. She had hoped the words would be an encouragement but it seemed that it was only upsetting Elinor more.

“He deserves better,” Elinor responded coldly, her arms crossing over her chest tightly. “He deserves someone that isn’t some part of the entity that probably stole his wife and little girl from him.”

Layla felt that there was a sense of déjà vu with Elinor’s words as she thought back to the time where Elinor had admitted that same thought before.

However, there was a stark contrast from the statement she made ages ago to the one she made now. Before, it was just a mere thought that it wasn’t fair to Ivan to have to find himself falling for another person who was at risk of being gunned down by Whittaker. It wasn’t anything that Elinor really wanted to push herself away from Ivan for. Now, however, Layla could see that her declaration meant something else entirely. She could see that it was a response that signified Elinor was struggling with a tough, heavy decision on whether she would make a response of staying or leaving, to flight or fight. Layla only recognized this because she had been through it all before when her parents were dying.

“I’ve told you this before,” Layla spoke, shaking those thoughts from her mind. An edge to her voice, she gave Elinor a dark stare.

Layla had decided that the only way she could get Elinor to understand the severity of making such a rash decision, was to lay it all out there for the woman. “Pushing him away isn’t going to do anything but hurt him, Elinor. If you truly care about him, the last thing you need to do is run from him. Because Whittaker will still be out there no matter what decision you make for yourself and they will still hurt him... whether you’re standing directly at his side or you’re making a run for it.”

With those heavy words out there in the open, Layla left Elinor alone in the thick steam of the shower room so that she could ponder over the hardest decision she was ever going to make.

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