I hadn’t had time to blow dry my hair after I showered and was worried my cowlick was going to stick out like a sore thumb. I didn’t need the extra embarrassment as I was already twenty minutes late. I tried to compensate by throwing on an extra squeeze of gel, but that only flattened my hair against my scalp and made me look like even more of a jackass. I checked my reflection in the train window and was satisfied, or at least thought it couldn’t be worse until all hell broke loose on the escalator.
The wind struck from the opposite side, flinging my hair over like a toupee and totally messing with my part. I quickly twisted the other way, but knew it was a train wreck and could feel my cowlick sprouting like cottontails stretching for the sun. I pictured the worst and figured all I needed was a red nose to complete the clown look. Oh well, I thought, as I rushed toward the restaurant, maybe it will distract them from noticing my cut lip.
I spotted Allison’s father and cringed as I approached the forward leaning, postmodern building. The massive windows spanning from floor to ceiling looked like the perfect stage for his overworked sense of grandiosity. The man stuck out in his decorated uniform as he passed something to Allison. I suddenly realized I had forgotten her gift and nearly emptied my stomach at the door.
Sensing my presence – or maybe it was the predator’s ability to smell fear – the Colonel turned and tracked me through the door. I shrugged it off as best I could and smoothed my hair down as I moved past the hostess. Thankfully, Allison jumped up, ran over and gave me a quick hug.
“You had me scared,” she whispered.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I replied.
“What happened to your lip?”
“Shaving accident,” I said and winked.
She thought about pressing, but stuck her hand in mine and guided us to the table.
All eyes focused on Allison’s father, who carried a conversation about something or another. I only heard a word or two before Mrs. Montgomery coughed suggestively and, as usual, greeted me warmly.
“Sorry, I’m late. What did I miss?”
“Not much, Trenton,” Mrs. Montgomery wisely answered first. “We were afraid you might not show.”
“Not much,” Katrina chimed in, “we’ve already eaten!”
Katrina was the oldest sister of three with Allison being in the middle. She was snappy and totally dependent on her fiancé Greg, a reserved, docile guy who dressed himself up in a banker’s suit each day since graduating college last year.
“Oh, be quiet, Kat,” Allison rushed to my defense. “You know he was only going to be here for dessert.”
“Please, sit down you two,” Mrs. Montgomery suggested in an effort to control the conversation before the inevitable took place. Allison nodded and positioned herself between the Colonel and me.
“Does your lip have something to do with you being late, Trenton,” the Colonel asked and the fun had already started. “I know some of us were growing concerned,” he added with a hint of sarcasm.
“The important thing is he’s here now and we can continue with the festivities,” Allison jumped in.
“Yes, I guess we can,” he said, dryly, “but Greg and I were having an interesting conversation during the delay.” He locked eyes with me and continued, “Actually, Trenton, we were discussing today’s news and the growing tension with China.”
I nodded casually and winked at Allison, whose hand had mine in a vice grip. After dissecting me with his eyes, the Colonel turned to Greg. “Did today’s news affect business at all?”
“Stocks shot up at first, but actually closed lower when they announced how far away the stuff is,” Greg responded dully.
“I heard the Chinese might get there first, Daddy,” Katrina suggested.
Allison frowned, not liking where this was headed.
“Just rumors, honey,” the Colonel insisted. “We’re light years ahead of them. Don’t you worry.”
“That’s what I am worried about,” Katrina shot back. “If they truly are that far behind, then why not attack us before we can get it? They’ve got nothing to lose.”
She had a point, I thought.
“Let’s hope they’re not that desperate,” the Colonel answered. He turned to me. “What do you think we should do about them?”
I stiffened a little, trying not to show my disdain for the man and his blatant probing techniques. The rest of the table sensed my reluctance. The tension grew. Sensing I was about to respond, Allison squeezed my hand tighter.
“I don’t really think about it,” I said.
“I don’t see how one cannot,” the Colonel spat, obviously irritated. “Especially someone your age since these events will have a significant impact on your immediate future.”
Our eyes locked and I debated whether or not to respond. To hell with it, I thought, and just as I was about to counter, Allison yelled out, “Chelsea!”
The rest of the table, anxious to avoid a confrontation, except maybe Katrina, quickly turned their heads toward the door in search of Allison’s younger sister.
Chelsea bounced toward the table with her usual bubbly smile. She was sixteen – a junior – and nothing like either of her sisters. Chelsea was more interested in being sassy than liked, which oddly, made her more popular. She was also a gymnast, which explained the chalk still plastered across her forearms and the reason she was given a pass at being late.
“Sorry, sis,” she said noticing her father’s disapproving look.
“Well look who’s here?” Katrina added sarcastically.
Chelsea stuck her tongue out at Katrina, bent over and planted a kiss on the Colonel’s cheek. “Oh, Daddy … at ease soldier,” she said sweetly and winked.
It was impossible to dislike her. Fighting a growing smile, the best the Colonel could do was shake his head. Chelsea continued the procession by kissing her mother, running her hand through Greg’s hair, which incidentally caused him to blush, and throwing me a customary wink. I smirked and Allison rolled her eyes. Regardless, she was grateful Chelsea had entered when she did.
“Did I miss the unveiling yet?” Chelsea asked as if she had made a detour in her parade and expected the real party to begin now.
“Be still, Chelsea,” Mrs. Montgomery harped.
Chelsea wiggled her nose at her mom and a waitress interrupted by placing a cake on the table.
“No, you’re just in time.” Allison glanced at her father and focused on the single candle resting below the number eighteen. A palm print accompanied the design just above the number. Allison blew it out.
“I bet she was a teacher,” Chelsea offered.
“I bet you were a mime,” Katrina replied.
“That would explain her constant babbling this time around,” Allison added.
“I bet you were a donkey,” Chelsea sniped.
“Better than being an ass!” Katrina finished.
Colonel Montgomery shook his head, while Greg and I enjoyed the show.
“Girls, quiet!” snapped Mrs. Montgomery.
The girls stopped, looked at each other and giggled. I could picture the same conversation taking place ten years ago. Chelsea completed the act by sticking her tongue out at Katrina, while Allison reached into her purse and pulled out an envelope. The table turned its attention to Allison as she carefully pulled out the crisp, heavy bound, white paper and silently read.
“Hah!” Allison burst.
In her past lives, I often thought Allison was involved in research of some sort. I figured there was a common thread that could be traced through a person’s past lives; that is, a steady tone denoting one’s character. Allison’s calling card took on the mark of a risk-averse individual. As far as I could tell, Allison had never suffered from karmic divergence. She was keenly aware of the fact that her next life would present even greater opportunities if she were to complete this life unblemished, or so she thought.
Unfortunately, this added an enormous amount of pressure on her decision making process and almost always caused her to side with caution. Sometimes, I wished she would just take a chance, but, then again, that wouldn’t be Allison.
“Well, what is it?” Chelsea insisted. “Who were you?”
“Yes, dear, don’t keep us waiting,” her mother added.
“Well, it says here that I was the first woman president of Mexico.”
Katrina’s eyes lit up in shock. “You were?”
Allison wiggled her eyebrows and waited a moment. “No, but you should have seen the look on your face.” She passed the paper to her father and added, “Actually, I was a librarian in Mexico and a marine biologist from Portland-”
“I knew it,” Chelsea interrupted triumphantly.
“But I was also...” Allison paused. “Why don’t you tell them, Daddy.”
Katrina grew anxious. “What? Who was she?”
Colonel Montgomery looked at Allison with a bit of reticence before complying, “Your sister was … a private detective.”
Unified laughter erupted and Colonel Montgomery handed the paper to his wife. I was surprised Allison hadn’t told them yet about her former exploits in Russia, but I guess she wanted to reveal the whole enchilada at once.
“You – a private detective. Where?” Chelsea asked in disbelief.
Colonel Montgomery spoke, “St. Petersburg.”
“Florida?” Chelsea asked.
Allison shook her head, obviously feeling good about her inquisitive past.
“Russia, dear,” Mrs. Montgomery answered.
“What else?” Katrina asked excitedly.
“That’s it,” Allison responded and shrugged.
“That’s it?” Chelsea chirped. “Only three? I thought most people had four, maybe even five or six if you died early in one of your past lives. You had five, right, Daddy?”
Colonel Montgomery nodded.
“I guess we know what that means,” Katrina said.
“Oh, hush, Katrina,” Mrs. Montgomery countered, trying to quell any spoiling of Allison’s moment.
“Maybe she can use her investigative skills to find out about her other lives,” Greg said, surprising us all.
“A joke … was that a joke, Greg?” Chelsea asked to everyone’s amusement. Greg blushed and joined the laughter.
“There may be a blank or two, but that’s not unusual considering tracking abilities in some countries during those early years,” Allison explained in a very librarian like manner.
“I don’t know…” Chelsea said with a mischievous grin.
Allison sat down, exhausted and happy, entertaining images of her past exploits. We passed the paper around for all to see, while Mrs. Montgomery handed out pieces of cake.
“Allison,” the Colonel said suggestively, “don’t you have another announcement to make?”
Allison snapped out of her daydream and winked at me before standing again. Mrs. Montgomery glanced at her husband curiously, obviously unaware.
“Well, as you know, I’ve been trying to get an internship with the Library of Congress and I was informed this week that I’ve been one of the lucky ones chosen to participate in a brand new program they’re initiating ... and it’s pretty big too.”
“Enough with the speeches,” Chelsea exclaimed. “Get on with it.”
“I’m one of twelve people across the country that’s been selected to be a tag-along witness to TTOP,” Allison said, gleaming with excitement.
I sneered at the Colonel and wanted to stick a pin in his overinflated ego. More than that, though, I didn’t like the fact that he had introduced Allison to Mr. Augustus Sloan of the TTOP division. I now understood the secretive glances he and Allison had been giving each other. I’m sure he was engineering a way for her to tag along with him. What a punk, I thought angrily. Not only was he trying to sweep her off her feet in this time zone, but he’d be able to romance her back in time where I couldn’t interfere. Damn time travel. Nothing but trouble.
“You get to travel back in time?” Chelsea asked in a high-pitched tone full of disbelief.
“That’s the plan,” Allison replied.
“It’s not as easy as that, though,” the Colonel interjected.
“No. First, there’s going to be a lot of research on whichever historical figure I’ll be tagging along to observe.”
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Montgomery announced. “Is it safe?”
“Of course it is, Mom,” Allison replied and looked at her father, who nodded reassuringly. “They wouldn’t risk it if it weren’t.”
“So when do you get to time travel?” Chelsea inquired.
“I’m not sure. I’ll get more info at the orientation, but I can’t wait.”
Allison sat down as excited as ever. I don’t think I’d ever seen her glow so much.
“Maybe you can let Trenton borrow the machine so he can travel back and buy you a birthday present,” Katrina fired, surprising even her husband. The spotlight was on me and boy was it bright.
“I forgot it at home in all the rush to get here on time,” I replied, shyly.
“You can give it to me later,” Allison responded and squeezed my hand.
I suddenly found my dessert very interesting and examined all of its intricacies, but just as quickly lost my appetite at the sound of the Colonel’s voice.
“You know, Greg may have been on to something earlier.” Allison’s grip tightened as she feared the worst. “Maybe you can put those old detective talents to use and help Trenton find out who his birth-parents were.” Allison glared at him, something I’d never seen her do before. He didn’t seem to care or notice because the punches kept coming. “Or do what Katrina advised and travel back to his birth so he’ll know who brought him into this world.”
One thing was certain, I thought, I definitely wanted to take him out of this one, the bastard. Allison sprang to her feet and turned red. I had had enough and figured if I lunged at just the right angle, I could stick my fork in his jugular.
“Daddy … you said you wouldn’t,” Allison shouted.
I shot up and Allison grabbed my arm, but it was too late. I threw my napkin on the table, delivered the Colonel a devastating stare and stormed out.
“What did I say?” the Colonel asked insincerely.
“Don’t give me that, Daddy. You promised you wouldn’t and you did it anyway.”
“He’s hiding something, honey. How could he not be curious?”
“Something’s not right, I’m telling you!”
That was the last thing I heard as the door shut behind me and I escaped into the night.