Smiling again, I had one arm around Roger’s waist, one hanging onto Charlie, life was good. Roger let Joe take his own path to Martha’s house, making his way through the woods on a morning nothing short of glorious. The larch needles glowed in the slanting rays of sun. Joe’s hooves crunched the fallen maple and spotted service berry leaves in a lovely fall rhythm. I was mentally working on what plausible lie I could come up with next. Martha thought I’d been separated from my father on a scouting trip, Roger thought I was on a holiday, and they were about to meet. Uh oh. Better come up with something quick, not sure I could ad lib an appropriate story that would mesh. Unfortunately, the slow-paced, early morning horseback ride with a handsome man kept distracting me from dealing with reality. The immediate reality was fine with me. This is the stuff my dreams were made of! Charlie was having a great time. He was snuggled into Roger’s lap riding on that saddle like he was born to it. We’d packed a picnic of bread and canned fish so the dream would last until after lunch anyway.
Then the reality of going back would have to take priority. I needed to be alone in the house to try to get home to my own time, so I’d have to pay attention for an opportunity. Sadly, Roger had to start asking more questions.
“How did you say you know the Petersons?”
“I only know Martha, and not very well, she was just helping me out, a friend of a friend sort of thing.” I tried not to stumble over my impromptu lie.
“And how much longer are you staying?”
“I really have to leave this afternoon. I don’t want to but I have to get back. I’d consider staying here if I had more time to consider my options.” This felt good, not a lie at all. I wished I could give Roger more details.
“Do you think you could write stories to go with your marvelous sketches? I could hire you to work at the paper. A woman reporter would be great for the paper, expand the kinds of stories we run, boost circulation! And it just so happens I have a room to rent over the newspaper office. One of the railroad bosses was transferred last month and I’ve yet to rent it out. Roger tried turning in the saddle to smile at me. “Any options I haven’t covered? I’m trying to help you out, and I would like to get to know you, Ms. Burke, but this is a business proposition that I believe would be good for both of us. What do you think?”
I was momentarily speechless. I breathed in the cool autumn air, trying to think clearly. There was no logic to this whole situation. I didn’t know if there was a right or wrong answer, any decision could only be based on a situation that wasn’t possible in the first place!
“I think I’m overwhelmed.” I finally replied. At that moment we broke out of the trees onto a path paralleling the railroad tracks. It bordered a small lake, mirror like and pristine. I caught my breath when I realized this was “my” lake, the lake I camped on when visiting the old homestead. Even in my own time this little jewel had been left almost untouched. The level was a bit higher but there was still the marsh on the south side, where I watched hopefully every camping trip for moose. And today a huge bull moose, his muzzle dripping into the tall marsh grass where he grazed, lifted his enormous head to see what creature had just stepped out of the trees. Roger brought Joe to a halt.
“Overwhelmed by this spot or by my offer?” I could tell Roger was smiling, and that he, too, was enjoying the scene before us.
“Let’s go over there.” He said. “There’s a nice flat shady spot we can stop for a few minutes and talk.” Roger nudged Joe in the direction he had pointed, there where in my time was my camping spot. I was almost in tears, I wasn’t sure the emotion was remembering all the good times spent here or realizing I was about to enjoy new good times, about to have a picnic in my regular spot but 90 plus years in the past. This is where Julie would come looking for me if I couldn’t get home. I wanted to talk her so badly, to tell her what was happening. I wanted her to tell me what to do. Assuming I even had any choices?
“I’ve been here before.” I told Roger. We were settled on a blanket just up from the water’s edge, lingering over our picnic. Charlie had played all he wanted, explored his usual places, splashed his feet in the cool water, and was now sacked out, using my ankles for a pillow. “I came here with my dad once, he liked this spot, too. He’s the one who taught me to love the woods, the quiet places away from the cities. We had some good times.”
“Where are your folks now?”
“It’s just me now, me and Charlie. It has been for a while, I’m used to it.” I gave Roger a reassuring smile, knowing the next comment, judging by the concern on his face.
The moose had wandered back into the woods. I knew it was time for us to get going too. We were quiet as we cleaned up our picnic. I wanted to think that Roger was sorry to have our visit end, too. It was only going to be fifteen minutes or so until we reached the Peterson’s. What then? My stomach was filled with a whole rabble of butterflies doing their best to make me sick. One last time I wrapped my arms around Roger. I knew I had to go home, if nothing else to wrap things up back in my time and maybe try to come back. But chances were I’d never see Roger or the Peterson’s again, so I’d just wing it when they all met and not worry about it. We stepped out of the trees along the creek, walking along the tracks until we saw the Peterson’s house. My homestead, all brand new and whole. I could hardly wait to tell Julie.
When Roger helped me down off Joe I held tight onto Charlie. We stood in awkward silence, knowing this was goodbye. I kept glancing at the cabin’s door, expecting to see Martha or her husband but no one came out.
“Looks like no one’s home. Do you think they’re out searching for you?”
“No, probably just went to town. I’m sorry you won’t get to meet them.” I lied. Half my battle was won. The other half was tearing myself away from this man, this time, and going home.
“I don’t want Charlie running off, hold on.” The front door opened right up, I put Charlie inside and told him I’d be right back.
“I’ve had a wonderful time since meeting you. Thank you for all your hospitality. And I’m sorry about your car.” I held out my hand to Roger, having no clue what the protocol was for 1919. Instead of shaking my hand he took it and gently kissed it. I almost giggled. Men didn’t do that in my time, a shame, it was very gallant! He didn’t let my hand go either.
“I can’t say when I’ve had a more enjoyable time myself, despite the car mishap. I was very happy to be of service and would be again if you’d give me a chance. ” He bowed ever so slightly and seemed reluctant to let go of my hand. He stepped close for the briefest moment and gently kissed my cheek. The butterflies were multiplying and it was suddenly very warm.
Just before Roger disappeared into the trees he turned and tipped his hat and gave me that magical smile. I was sure I’d never forget that face. I watched those trees for ten minutes after they’d swallowed him up. How could I even be sure it had all been real now?
And so, nothing to distract me from reality – it was now or never. I looked around and saw no one. I walked all around the house, and there where I had stepped just yesterday afternoon into the rubble of an old cabin there was a solid wall, fresh timber and solid chinking. There were also no iris and I smiled as I dug the little sack of bulbs out of the deep pocket of my skirt. Martha’s skirt. Time to change and get ready to go. I let myself in the front door, feeling guilty for intruding once again. Charlie danced around wondering what our next adventure was going to be. Upstairs in the little front bedroom I was sorry to change out of the pretty skirt and blouse. Off came the L.L. Bean boots so I could change back into 2013 jeans and a flannel shirt. I was near tears again.
I carefully went back to the kitchen. Still no one was around. I couldn’t help but poke around just a bit, admiring the new old stuff. There was a stack of enamelware, pretty white plates with green rims, stacked on a sideboard. There was the graniteware teapot sitting on the stove. The stove was warm and there was a roughly woven basket full of fist-sized chunks of wood ready at its feet. There were a few potatoes and carrots washed up in a basin, and Martha’s apron hung on a hook under a little wooden shelf by the front door. There was an Arcade coffee grinder hanging on the wall next to the window where one day Martha would look out and enjoy the blooming iris. I fished out the pencil she’d lent me and wrote a little thank you note right on the brown sack. No way I could thank her enough for helping me.
I opened the door to the cellar and Charlie ran right down. Movies all made it sound like speed was necessary to time travel. Should I throw myself down the stairs? Run, jump, what? I went carefully. Charlie had run down the stairs and he was still there. So were all the pretty jars and a very intact ceiling. I pounded the ceiling, each wall, jumped up and down on the floor. First it was a test, to see if one was a portal, then it became frustration. The feeling that came over me can only be described as a chill running down my spine. I sat down on the bottom step, trying to think clearly. Charlie panted at me in the dim light, wanting to know what was next. I shivered hard and wrapped my arms around myself, trying to stay calm and focused. There was nothing else to do at the moment besides go upstairs and start dinner. I wasn’t going anywhere.