Home > A Twist of Fate (A Stitch in Time #2)(7)

A Twist of Fate (A Stitch in Time #2)(7)
Author: Kelley Armstrong

“August,” I whisper. My fingers move toward him, but instead, they slide to caress the face of the boy. Of my son.

“Edmund.”

My knees buckle, and I fall against the desk, heaving for breath I cannot find. I knew my son was no longer a baby. Rationally, I understood that. Yet I held fast to the hope that time had not progressed in their world. Here is the proof that denies that dream. My son is no longer a baby. He is a boy, one who has never known a mother.

Never known a mother? I have no reason for saying such a thing. As soon as I disappeared, August would have had women queuing up on his doorstep, offering to mother his abandoned infant.

My son has almost certainly known a mother. It just wasn’t me.

I take deep, shuddering breaths until I’m able to slowly straighten.

My husband may have a new wife, and that will cut me to the core, but I will accept it. My son may have a loving mother, and that will cut just as deep, but I will accept it, too. There will still be room for me. Living in this world, I’ve seen families with more than two parents, children raised in an abundance of love.

I’m turning from the desk when a shape appears at the door. I jump, yelping. A cat fixes me with the most disgusted glare, tail swishing as she comes into the room.

A cat. A calico cat.

The kitten from the box. Not a kitten anymore, but a full-grown feline. One who has crossed and come back again just like William and his daughter and wife.

I take the photograph from the desk. Then I lift my bag and stride to the time-portal spot. I clutch the picture of my family as I fix my gaze on the cat. One is a sign of where I need to be, the other proof that such passage is possible.

I close my eyes and picture this room in William’s house. I let my son’s and husband’s faces hover before me, a tether to that world. The time is right, and the way is open, and by God, I will pass if I need to ram through time itself.

I clutch the photograph and focus on my family and on the cat. If she can cross, I will, too.

I will, I will, I will.

I do not. Even with my eyes closed, I know nothing has happened. The room feels no different. Sounds no different. There’s a meow, and fur brushes my bare legs as the cat rubs against me. With a sigh, I open my eyes, and I’m staring at that same desk. Even the picture still sits there, in its silver frame . . .

The picture sits on the desk.

The same picture I have in my hands.

I blink, and I see it is not the same photograph at all. Or it is the same pose, yet it is in black and white, with the sepia tone of a Victorian photograph.

I stare at that picture, and I throw back my head and laugh. Yes, it’s the same desk . . . because they had one made for both homes. The same photograph, too, using a sepia filter to look as if it belongs in my time.

In my time.

In this time.

My chest tightens, stealing breath. What if I’m wrong? Perhaps there was a second photograph, and that’s what I’m seeing. When I look about the room and discover I have not passed through time at all, it will destroy me.

In these four years, I’ve broken down more times than I can count. Those moments where I no longer wanted to live in a world bereft of every person I’d ever loved. Yet those black hours were spots of mold on a loaf of bread that I could not afford to throw away. Cut them out and move on.

That’s what I’ve done. I’ve made the new world my own. I’ve allowed myself to see the beauty in it. I’ve allowed myself to marvel and revel at technological advances. I’ve allowed myself to marvel and cheer at social advances. But even then, in the back of my mind, I wasn’t only thinking of how wonderful it was to walk the streets at night and not be thought a strumpet, to run my own shop and not be thought a harridan. I learned everything I could, all the while only thinking how wonderful it would be to take this knowledge home with me.

I could help August understand how his jealousy felt like control. I would ask—no, insist—on resuming my trade in whatever form wouldn’t dishonor his family. I would tell my sisters to pursue their passions, and I’d help them do it and never let anyone tell them they were fragile things in need of a man. I’d known all this in my heart before, but being in the new world gave me the confidence to push harder for what I believed in.

What happens if I look around now to see that I did not cross and must accept finally that I will never cross?

I don’t think I can bear it.

I will, though. For four years, I’ve kicked my fears from the darkness and soldiered on, eyes on the horizon even as my heart stayed in the past. I will do the same now if I must.

I slowly turn my gaze and . . .

The thick-cushioned recliners are gone, replaced with deep arm chairs. The shelves remain the same, but the books on them are different, old titles still gleaming new. While the structure of the desk also remains the same, it holds a very different collection of goods. A jeweled inkwell and pearl pen in place of a silver writing set. A stack of writing papers where there had been a stack of printed pages. No laptop cord snakes from a wall socket. There are no wall sockets at all.

I take it all in, and then I collapse atop my bag. I grip that bag tight as sobs of joy wrack my body.

Then I realize where I am. On the spot that holds the portal.

I scramble up, gasping and clawing and stumbling until I’m safely away from the spot. At a rumbling meow, I look up to see the calico cat watching me with disdain, rolling her feline eyes at this foolish human, making such a fuss over something as small as stepping through time.

She stalks off, and I rise, wiping my eyes and then grabbing my bag and . . .

I stop midstep. Where exactly am I going?

Back to August, of course. To my son. To my life.

No. I cannot. Not like this.

On the trip to Thorne Manor, I’d realized that if I did cross, I could not run pell-mell back to August. Unless he was at Courtenay Hall, I’d need to take a train or coach to London, which required not only Victorian currency but also a bit of time to acclimate to this new world, lest I be thrown into Bedlam for my bold and odd actions.

Yes, perhaps that shouldn’t matter. I ought to run all the way to Courtenay Hall, and if he’s not there, run to London itself. That is the impulsive and romantic solution. It is not mine.

I’m finally back, and I will not end up in a ditch, dead of exhaustion. My heart wants to fly to my husband and son. My head counsels pragmatism and caution.

There is also the strong likelihood of August having remarried. For everyone’s sake, I must know his situation in advance, lest I bring unnecessary turmoil and heartbreak to a difficult situation.

The answer is simple. William’s wife said they were in York for a week. Her first visit had been six days ago. That means they’ll be home tomorrow. I need only to settle in and wait.

 

 

Three days have passed with no sign of William or his family. I’m certain they travel between the worlds. There is ample evidence of a child in residence here in the nineteenth century.

Yet the house is shuttered tight, and the longer I wait, the more I must accept that William’s family may pass between worlds, but that does not mean they do so daily. It would be easier, if they were in York for the week, to shut up Victorian Thorne Manor for longer and give the staff a proper holiday.

I’ve noticed a local boy coming to tend the horses, but otherwise, I haunt Thorne Manor unbothered. And I do haunt it. I pace like a fretful ghost. With each passing day, I ask myself how much longer I’ll wait. How much longer I can wait.

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