Women's fiction with a time-travel twist, mystery, and suspense.
Lily’s life isn’t going well. Her husband is clueless, her children are rudderless, and she’s had a trying day in traffic. It's little wonder she seeks comfort in her dreams, unaware that her grandmother’s rubies have transported her back through time to a safer, saner existence.
When she learns that her dream lover is not a dream after all, but a real man who lived and died years before she was born, she fears her marriage won’t survive her unintentional infidelity. But she and her husband work at repairing it and are nearly back on track when she accidentally sends herself back in time without her return ticket, the rubies.
Tears stung at Lily's eyes, causing her to blink repeatedly to keep them at bay. Despite wearing her sexiest nightgown, Sam had fallen asleep almost immediately last night. At one time it was all she could do to hold him off until the kids fell asleep. Now, their lovemaking had dwindled from three times a week to three times a month. Even then she had to initiate it.
A man of few words, Sam seldom raised his voice or lost his temper. If he was troubled or angry or filled with joy, he never showed it. It was that easy-going manner that first attracted her to him. Now, it simply infuriated her.
At first she thought he might be having difficulties at work. Perhaps the men he worked with prior to his promotion resented working under him now. But he'd had problems at work before and it never affected his desire for her. No, any problems Sam had were definitely with her.
He stirred and she pretended to wake as well. "Morning," she said, rolling toward him.
He grunted, his version of a greeting, scratched his bearded chin, then yawned.
She slipped the sheet down to her waist, aware that her breasts partially spilled over the top of her gown. Making love fresh from sleep had always appealed to Sam. He used to boast that he did some of his best work before the sun came up. Hoping he still felt that way, she ran her fingers over his chest. He held them for a few seconds, giving hope that further intimacies might follow. But just as she cozied up to him, he pushed her hand away. Stifling a sob, Lily rolled to her side of the bed.
He still hadn't forgiven her for sleeping with Daniel, even though she thought it only happened in the libidinous vapors of her mind.
* * *
Three months earlier
Lily Manning cursed the driver ahead of her. She'd left the house early, hoping to get back in time to talk to her daughter, Molly, before the girl returned to school. Now she would miss her, and all because she'd allowed some idiot to sneak in front of her. Involved in thoughtful meanderings, she hadn't noticed the wide distance between herself and the car in front, allowing the audacious driver to squeeze in. As if that weren't enough, he then had the nerve to hold up traffic while he attempted to switch to the fast lane for an upcoming turn.
Tapping her fingers on the wheel, Lily thought about the disagreements she'd had with her family at breakfast. Eighteen-year-old Molly had announced she was giving up her dorm room to share an apartment with her boyfriend. On this, Lily and Sam presented a united front; both opposed the move.
Also pushing the boundaries was son, Todd, who thought his newly acquired drivers license entitled him to his own set of wheels. The boy was too irresponsible, she'd argued, always needing a reminder to take out the trash on the right day. Consequently, Todd stalked out without finishing his breakfast. Sam's intercession on the boy's behalf only made matters worse. Soon they weren't speaking either. Not that it made much difference. Sam rarely wasted his breath on her, as disinterested in her as she was fast becoming of him.
Now, as if she didn't have anything better to do on her day off, she had to watch fourteen cars pass her in the fast lane before the driver in front was able to scoot over. In all likelihood her ice cream, soft when she picked it up, had already seeped into her cereal boxes.
That was another bone of contention between her and Sam. He was a stickler for neatness, his dresser drawers always neater than hers. And when he reorganized the pantry after her on market day, his rows were always precise. She wouldn't be at all surprised to see her canned goods alphabetized someday.
With nothing but open highway ahead, Lily floored the gas pedal, and the signs along the side of the road melted into one long, multicolored blur. In the hills beyond, new homes seemed to have sprouted up overnight, like fairy rings in the lawn. At one time, she and Sam had hoped to be a part of that burgeoning group of homeowners. But as the years passed, one thing after another claimed their meager savings. By the time she inherited her grandmother's farm, the dream of owning a new home had fallen victim to the realities of parenthood. Molly's college tuition and Todd's braces. Which was probably for the best as many of those new homes now had foreclosure signs planted in their front yards.
And the expenses continued to mount. This month the old farmhouse's slate roof needed repair, which meant another chunk of savings gone. Unlike some of their neighbors, they weren't able to profit from escalating land prices a few years back because Grandma had sold most of the land around the farmhouse to satisfy the tax collector. The only bright spot in the abysmal state of their finances was Sam's job. After nearly twenty years of punching a time clock, he'd been promoted from mechanic to head of the department at the Auto Emporium. On salary now, he could even afford to take time off without worrying about his job. But, as was often the case, after a few days of fishing along the creek bed that fed the new, hydroelectric dam, Sam couldn't wait to get back to the grease pit.
A half-mile from home, Lily's anxiety peaked as she anticipated another confrontation with her daughter. She needn't have worried though. Just as she pulled into the driveway, Molly pulled out. The girl waved and kept going, her way, Lily knew, of declaring her independence.
Annoyed with her day, her life, and her family, Lily salvaged what she could of the frozen foods, stashing them wherever she found room in the freezer; she'd deal with Sam later. Then she removed her rings and washed the sticky residue from the thawing foods off her hands. Parched after her stressful morning, she filled a pitcher with ice and water, added the contents of a can of thawed lemonade, and poured herself a glass.
As she sipped at it, she wondered how and when her life had become so complicated, so unsatisfying. Was it when she succumbed to the demands of motherhood and allowed herself to become a dishrag for her family? Or when she and Sam lost the magic?
Seeking comfort, Lily took her drink and retreated to the window seat in her bedroom, her favorite part of the house. It was here she curled up whenever the world threatened to close in on her. At one time the little nook looked out over lush, green meadows dotted with wildflowers. Now, all that remained of its former vista was a grassy median between dual ribbons of asphalt.
Lily smiled as she envisioned her grandmother sitting in that spot. Life was simpler in Grandma Lilith's time. Problems were less complex. The most a mother had to worry about was her daughter holding a beau's hand on the way home from an ice cream social. She never had to worry where her children were come nightfall, or what new ways they'd dream up to harm themselves. Even intimate moments with her husband were cut and dried. All she expected from her marriage bed were babies, and in that she wasn't disappointed, often giving birth every year.
Thinking of Grandma Lilith, for whom she was named, Lily fetched a small jewelry box from a closet shelf. As she sorted through some of her grandmother's favorite pieces she came across her favorites, an antique, ruby brooch with one matching earring. Its mate had been missing for years. Because Grandma wouldn't wear the set with only one earring, she'd allowed Lily to play dress-up with it. Anxious to relive a pleasant childhood memory, Lily pinned the brooch to her shirt and hung the lone earring from her ear. But when she looked at her reflection in the mirror and saw the hectic nature of her morning etched on her face, she let out a disheartened sigh. Burying her face in the cushion of the window seat, she yearned for a time long gone, a simpler time when white was white and black was black, with no gray areas in between.
The whine of traffic whizzing past the fence posts lulled her into a gentle half-sleep, and Lily welcomed the temporary respite. As she sank deeper into oblivion, a faint scent permeated the air, rather like the incense she and her friends had used in college to mask the odor of pot. The fragrance dissipated, and she awoke to the warbling of a sparrow on the window ledge. Mesmerized by its serenade, she listened in awe as the tiny bird sang his little heart out.
Then she became aware of the absence of any hums, whirrs, or honks. Rising to her knees, she spread the curtains and gasped. Beyond the fence posts was a world that had perished years earlier. With eyes agog, she saw cows grazing on sweet, green grass, hills that seemed to roll on forever, and reigning over all, the clearest, blue sky she'd ever seen.
Puzzled, she looked around her room. Grandma's four-poster bed was still there, but the posts Sam had painstakingly scraped to bare wood then finished in a golden oak were now its original dark mahogany. Even the tiny clusters of roses in the patterned wallpaper had bloomed into huge, cabbage roses, as if doused with Miracle-Gro.
Anxious to see if her fantasy extended beyond her bedroom, Lily ventured into the kitchen, amazed to discover that it wasn't her kitchen. Gone were her granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, and in their place stood simple furnishings: a plain porcelain-topped table, a Hoosier cabinet, and an icebox leaking water onto a linoleum floor.
A young girl sat at the table snapping green beans. At her side, a bushel of fuzzy peaches awaited her nimble fingers. Standing over the cast iron stove, a woman stirred a large pot. The heat in the room was oppressive, and Lily fanned herself with her hand as she inched closer.
"Hello?" she called out.
When the women worked on, seemingly unaware of her presence, Lily gave in to a smile. Given this wonderful glimpse into the past, she wandered through her, their kitchen, curious to see how much it had changed over the years.
Beside the back door, where her new side-by-side refrigerator usually stood, an old hand pump drew water up from a well. On the counter, where she kept her appliance garage, plump loaves of dough awaited their turn in the oven.
The young girl spoke and Lily jumped. "These chores are going to take all day," she said in a whiny voice. "And I won't have time to do anything fun."
Lily grinned, amused to see that young girls hadn't changed much over the years.
The girl's mother checked the seals on her canning jars, then turned to her daughter. "Now, Lilith, keep those hands busy and you'll be done in no time flat. Idle hands are the work of the devil, you know."
Lily smiled. Lilith. The girl was Grandma.
Studying the women more closely, she saw the same green eyes that ran in her family. Molly and Todd had inherited those striking eyes, while hers were a nondescript brown, apparently having skipped her generation.
Gliding into the dining room, Lily admired the handmade tablecloth adorning the oak table. The delicate lacework reminded her of the edging her grandmother used to add to hankies. Grandma had called it tatting, and the art seemed to have died with her.
Outside, she sniffed air without exhaust fumes tainting it, admired the silent flight of birds instead of noisy jetliners, and reveled in the feel of cool earth beneath her sandaled feet instead of baked asphalt.
As Lily wandered up the dirt path, she came to a cobblestone road. Following it to an intersection, she saw a robot-like contraption rooted on one corner. Behind it, a corrugated tin shack struggled to stand upright, the sign over its door proclaiming in bold, red letters, EAT HERE AND GET GAS.
She barely had time for a giggle before labored chugs and gasps diverted her attention. Turning, she saw the forerunner of her morning's agitation bearing down on her at an impressive twenty-five miles per hour. As the box-like vehicle chugged past, she admired its shiny black finish and polished chrome adornments. Sam would give his eyeteeth to have that baby.
When she and Sam first met, he'd been restoring an antique auto similar to the one that nearly ran her down. Then marriage and children came along, and his time and money went to more important things like food, shelter, and clothing. The year after Molly was born, he sold his treasure to another car buff.
Lily stared long and hard down Main Street, amazed to be standing in the middle of an intersection that would eventually claim so many lives. Up ahead, a mix of horse drawn buggies and dusty automobiles vied for the right of way. The first traffic jam?
In the field behind the one-room schoolhouse later transformed into an antique shop, children played tug of war. Across the way, the post office and general store sported its original, white-painted clapboard instead of the drab green, aluminum siding it acquired when it became a real estate office.
Lily walked briskly, every step seeming to encompass ten as the scenery flew past. Adjacent to the livery, she saw a blacksmith plying his trade. Bathed in sweat, his powerful arm muscles rippled in the sunlight as he shod a dappled mare. Lily stopped to watch the obsolete craftsman. Though, truth be told, she would have stopped no matter the trade; the man was a modern day Adonis.
With sun-streaked hair and bronzed skin, the smithy had just enough stubble on his face to give him a rakish appearance. Upon completing his task, the man whipped off his work apron and wiped his brow with a red bandanna. Then he whistled to a fuzzy dog sleeping in the shade of a huge umbrella oak. "Okay, Cookie. Move over."
The pup complied and the man stretched out against the tree, blissfully unaware the entire complex would someday be torn down, reincarnated as the Auto Emporiums showroom and used car lot. And the stately oak would no longer offer shade on a hot day, having been bulldozed to make way for the auto dealer's parking lot.
Feeling adventurous, Lily wandered over to the newly shod mare and stroked her side. The mare bobbed her head up and down as if urging her to hop on for a ride around the corral.
Suddenly a deep voice called out. "You're a little far from home, aren't you?"
Startled, Lily spun around. Aside from the mare, the dog, and the smithy, no one else was around. She looked at the smithy and he looked at her. She moved to the left; his eyes followed. She moved to the right; they again followed.
"You can see me?"
"I sure can. And I must say you're a little bold to be wearing that get up. But I like it. Yes, ma'am, I sure do like it."
Lily blushed under the smithy's scrutiny. Although her shorts and hot pink, tank top were modest by 21st century standards, to a man many years before her time they would've seemed quite daring.
She pulled the hem of her shorts toward her knees. "I'm not from here."
"I guessed that." Grinning, he looked her over once more.
Unaccustomed to being ogled, Lily blushed. "If you don't mind," she said, breaking into a sweat, "I'd like you to stop staring at me now."
"You wouldn't be dressed like that if you didn't want men to stare at you."
"There's nothing wrong with the way I'm dressed. This is perfectly acceptable where I come from."
"Oh? And just where is that?"
She paused. "Uh, suburbia. Thats right. I live in suburbia."
"Then you're a long way from home, young lady, because I've lived in these parts all my life and I've never heard of such a place. He laughed, and his eyes crinkled at the corners just like Sam's when he smiled, which wasn't often these days.
Lily glanced back at the old farmhouse. "Oh," she said, grinning. "Its really not that far away."
"Do women in your neck of the woods usually chop off their hair like that?"
Her hands flew to her hair. She'd recently had it cut and lightened and thought she looked rather attractive for a woman in her late thirties. "I live in a very modern culture," she said, aware that women in his time piled their crowning glory atop their heads, letting it down only in the privacy of their own home.
He nodded toward the mare testing her new footwear in the paddock's dust. "Well, come on, Miss Modern." He threw a small sack over his shoulder. "Let me show you around our little backwoods community."
Lily hung back. Then she remembered that this man was nothing more than a figment of her imagination; anything that happened would happen only because her subconscious mind had written it into the script. And if dreams were merely another form of self-hypnosis, she wouldn't do anything she wouldn't do while conscious. Right?
Fully engaged in the fantasy, Lily flirted outrageously. "That would be nice," she said coyly. "But first, I make it a rule not to go off with complete strangers unless I at least get a name." She smiled so he would know it was a joke and that she wasn't as loose as he seemed to think.
"My name is Daniel." Grinning, he held out his hand. "And this rag mop here is Cookie."
Lily slipped her hand in his large, callused one. "Pleased to meet you, Daniel. And you too, Cookie. My name is Lily."
Without further ado, Daniel scooped her into his muscular arms and swung her onto the mare's bare back. With nothing to hold onto, Lily held tight to the horse's mane while he hopped on behind her. "You coming, Cookie?" He slapped his thigh, and the little dog leapt up. Then, before he could say, Giddy up, they were off and running.
The horse slowed at the crest of the hill, and Lily caught a breathtaking view of the valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond. Homes and farms lay nestled between undulating hills, and a narrow creek, its surface shimmering in the midday sun, snaked from village to village. Here and there, a church spire pierced the puffy, white clouds.
Her eyes filled up at the sight. "It's so beautiful," she said in a churchlike whisper.
He leaned forward. "More beautiful than your hometown?"
"Oh, yes. Much more." How could she tell him that soon after Todd's birth, the Army Corps of Engineers uprooted these trees, leveled the land, and flooded the picturesque valley to build a hydroelectric dam? A lake and recreation area now ran the length of the ten-mile tract. In more remote sections of the park, well-trodden footpaths leading down to the waters edge gave mute testimony to the villages' former existence.
Lily thought of the families who lived, loved, and played in those villages, and an immense sadness filled her. How devastated they must have been as their homes collapsed under tons of water.
Farther down the road, Daniel stopped under a cool, leafy canopy. "This looks like a good spot," he said, dismounting.
Lily had a moment of apprehension. "A good spot for what?"
"Lunch." He reached for her. "I think I have enough for all of us."
Years of hard, manual labor had honed the muscles of his arms into rippling masses; Lily happily leaned into them. He set her down, and she smiled back, amazed she could feel so comfortable with a virtual stranger.
Taking her hand in his, he held it up for inspection. "I see you're not wearing a wedding band."
"You're very observant." No lie there.
"Then I guess it's okay that I can't keep my eyes off you."
Although several years removed from adolescence, Lily found herself blushing like a schoolgirl. Getting a grip on herself, she pointed to his lunch bucket. "So what's for lunch?"
He dropped to the ground and reached in his lunch sack, pulling out buttered biscuits with ham, several apples, and a jug of water. He threw a chunk of meat to Cookie, then poured water into two tin cups, one of which he gave to the dog. "You and I can share the other one," he said to Lily.
Lily dropped down beside him. "What, no Twinkies for dessert?" she quipped.
"Bad joke. Sorry."
Too excited to eat, and reluctant to take the hard-working smithy's needed sustenance, she nibbled on an apple.
"Well," he said when lunchtime ended. "Time to go back to work." He swooped her up, deposited her back on his horse, and off they went.
Back at the livery, Lily debated whether to end her dream and return to her hectic life or stay and enjoy her temporary reprieve. She decided to chance it and stay. Watching Daniel work was much more enjoyable than listening to Sam grumble about the condition of the freezer and pantry.
Comfortable with her decision, she leaned against the oak tree beside Cookie and closed her eyes, mesmerized by the afternoon shadows playing across her lids.
Suddenly a blaring horn shattered her peaceful interlude. "Oh, my God!" She bolted upright. "What was that horrible noise?"
She blinked, noticed the small print of her wallpaper, and groaned. Her lovely dream had run its course. Sighing, she removed Grandma's brooch and earring and carefully placed them in the jewelry box. Then she set it on the closet shelf and reached for her lemonade, prepared to dump the warm drink down the drain.
But when she picked up the glass, ice cubes tinkled against the side. She immediately checked the clock on her dresser, stunned to discover only five minutes had passed. Was it possible to experience such an involved dream in only five minutes?
The honk of a car horn sounded again, and she peered out the window, her blood pressure rising when she saw a small car in the driveway with Todd at the wheel. The boy was revving up the engine while Sam fiddled with something under the hood. Fuming, she charged outside. "How could you do that, Sam? You know I didn't want him to have a car just yet."
"Now calm down, Lily. It's a good, little car and I got a great deal on it."
"I don't care how great a deal you got. You do this all the time. I say the kids can't have something, then you go out and get it for them."
"Come on, Lily, you're making a mountain out of a mole hill. The kid's old enough for a car, and I'm in a position to get him something safe, reliable, and cheap. Why do you have a problem with that?"
"You really don't get it, do you? This isn't only about the car."
"Then what the hell is it about?"
Aware of Todd listening to every word, Lily curtailed the discussion. "We'll talk about this later." To her son, she said, "Todd, go do your homework now."
"But, Mom, it's Saturday."
"Then go clean up your room!"
The boy shook his head, muttered something about crazy parents, then trudged inside.
Lily turned to Sam, tears stinging her eyes. "This is a new low, Sam, even for you."
"Yeah, yeah. If you say so." Unmoved by her tears, he started to walk away.
She grabbed at his sleeve. "Don't brush me off like that. I have a legitimate complaint here."
"For God's sake, Lily, don't start with me again." Turning his back to her, he resumed puttering under the hood.
His casual dismissal was the final straw. If Sam didn't want to talk about their problems, fine; she couldn't make him. But she could give him something else to think about.
Forcing calm to her voice, she addressed his back, "No, Sam. You've got that all wrong. I'm not starting anything; I'm ending it."
She saw his busy fingers still. Aware she'd finally caught his attention, she hurried back to the house, leaving him to ponder her parting words.
The finality of Lily's words stayed with her for days. Was she prepared to end her marriage as she'd implied? She didn't know. All she knew was that she didn't like the way Sam undermined her authority with the children. In any disagreement he always came across as the good guy, leaving her in the role of unreasonable harpy.
And she was sick of it. She needed more in her life; and she needed less.
If he truly respected her, he'd respect her opinion and not make her seem like an ogre in their childrens' eyes. If he truly loved her, he'd overlook her peculiarities as she did his. What difference did it make if her canned goods were mixed in with her boxed goods as long as she prepared a nutritious meal at the end of the day? Wasn't it more important that she always supported his dreams and encouraged him to reach higher. If not for her, he never would've applied for that salaried position at the Emporium, and they wouldn't have had the money to send Molly to her prestigious, and pricey, university.
Still upset by their quarrel, Lily sought refuge in her room. As she stared at the baby roses on her walls, she couldn't help wishing they were large, cabbage roses again. Strange as it seemed, she missed the simplistic nature of the old farmhouse and town. And she missed Daniel.
After a week of self-denial, Lily eagerly looked forward to the peace and tranquility of that idyllic place. With the house all to herself--Sam and Todd had gone to a car show--she curled up in her window seat and closed her eyes. "Come on, Daniel, I know you're there," she whispered. "Please, please let me into your world again."
Lying very still, she listened for birds warbling, insects humming, anything to indicate her dream world returning. But the only sound she heard was the whiz of traffic and the blast of air horns as tractor trailers rumbled down the highway pushing slower vehicles out of the way.
After trying for twenty minutes without success, she sat up. Something must have been different about that day. But what? She'd been upset and had taken her lemonade into her room, crawled into her little nook, and fallen asleep. Nothing unusual about that. The unusual part came when she opened her eyes to a glorious world that no longer existed.
Anxious to achieve the same results, Lily attempted to replicate that day minus her aggravating trip to the supermarket. She poured herself a glass of lemonade, dropped in two ice cubes, and returned to her room. Remembering she had removed her rings after getting frozen concentrate on them, she slipped them off. She was about to curl up in the window seat again when she remembered Grandma's brooch and earring.
She quickly retrieved the jewelry from the closet, fastened the brooch to her shirt and the earring to her ear, and then lay down. Within minutes, she felt as though she were falling down Alice's rabbit hole. She inhaled deeply. Yes, incense. Her rapid descent ended, and she listened for the harsh sounds of technology. Hearing nothing that smacked of modern day life, she slowly opened her eyes, delighted to see her walls papered with Grandma's huge, cabbage roses.
Heart beating wildly, she ran out, past her grandmother and great-grandmother still toiling in the kitchen, and up the street, anxious to see Daniel at the livery. When she reached the corral and found it empty, a sinking sensation settled in the pit of her stomach. Then she noticed Cookie snoozing in the shade; her breath eased out on a sigh. The dog's ears stood up upon spotting her and, tail wagging, she came over to say hello. Smiling, Lily ruffled the small dog's fur. If Cookie was there, his owner must be nearby.
She entered the stable. "Daniel, are you in here?"
"Did someone call me?" a deep voice immediately answered.
Lily followed the sound of his voice. "It's me, Daniel. Lily. Where are you?"
He stepped from a nearby stall. "Lily! Oh, my God, I didn't think I'd ever see you again."
"Me neither," she said in a breathless whisper.
"Where were you all this time? I asked around town, but nobody seemed to know anything."
"No, they wouldn't. And I'm not sure I can explain it either."
"I'm almost finished here. Will you wait for me to close up?"
Will I wait? Of course I'll wait, Lily shouted in her mind. Aloud, she calmly said, "Take your time. I'll play with Cookie till you're done. Come here, girl."
The little dog scampered over, and Lily ruffled her shaggy mane and scratched her ears. The frisky pup ate it up.
Daniel finally put away his tools and whisked off his apron. Seated on a hay bale, Lily watched as he scrubbed the grime from his muscular chest and arms, toweled off, then slipped into a clean shirt. He threw a saddle on the mare they had ridden bareback a week earlier, and then called for Cookie. Once they were seated, he reached down and swung her up, behind him this time. Unable to contain her excitement, Lily felt her heart doing flip-flops as she wrapped her arms around him. Then she, Daniel, and his furry sidekick soared over hills and meadows, lush and green.
Although it felt strange and a bit wicked clinging to a man she hardly knew, Lily hung on for dear life. And though she enjoyed it more than a married woman should, she told herself it was okay because Daniel was just a product of her fertile imagination.
Ten bumpy minutes later, in a stand of towering evergreens, Daniel slowed the horse to a walk. Lily had noted familiar landmarks along the way and vaguely recognized the area. The site now housed an industrial park that employed hundreds. She'd even found work in one of the plants assembling parts for a major supplier of electronics. The park had been hailed as a boon to the community's flagging economy until the recession hit and they cut everyone's hours.
The horse stopped and Daniel swung his leg over the saddle and slid off. "This is it," he said proudly. "My home." He held his arms out to her, and Lily wasted no time sliding into them. Aware she might be coming off a tad too forward, she blushed.
He grinned at her discomfort. "I have some lemonade in the spring house," he said, bridging the awkward moment. "Why don't we cool off with a glass?"
"A cold drink would be great," she said, certain it would take more than lemonade to cool her overheated jets.
She watched him sprint downhill to the spring house, and then she headed to the rustic cabin. She'd just entered the modest dwelling when a guilty shiver rippled through her. What must this man think of her to have brought her to his home? In his time, only women of dubious virtue entered an unmarried man's home alone. And it was clear by his comment when they first met that he considered her wearing apparel a little risque. Did he also think her easy?
Lily dispelled her guilt by telling herself the key word here was dream, meaning not real. So anything that happened between them couldn't possibly reflect on her character because Daniel only existed in the vapors of her mind. As such, he would think and act however she saw fit.
Having settled that minor, moral issue, she kicked off her sandals and curled up in a chair by the window, determined to see her dream through to its conclusion. Because of the erratic nature of dreams, who knew how long it would last? She might be at the best part and Sam would come home, wake her, and ruin her fantasy.
Entrenched in her daydreaming, she didn't notice Cookie jump on her lap until he began begging for a scratch. "You sure are a cute one," she said, nose to nose with the affectionate pup. Excited by the attention, the little dog wriggled and squirmed, and Lily had to hold tight to keep her from slipping to the floor.
The dog had just calmed down when she spotted Daniel sprinting back to the cabin. Lily saw him too, and her heart raced as she projected ahead in her dream.
"The glasses are in that cupboard if you'd like to get them," he said, setting the jug on the table.
Lily found the glasses on an upper shelf and as she stretched to get them, her top rode up, exposing her smooth, flat midriff. In the corner of her eye, she noticed Daniel observing her, and it brought a smile to her lips. It had taken a lot of painful exercising to get those abs, and she was glad someone appreciated it.
Seated at a table not much larger than a Monopoly board, Lily sipped at her lemonade. "So," she began. "Do you live here alone?"
He nodded. "For a few years now."
She looked around the cabin, taking it all in with one swift glance. To her left, by the window, was the chair she and Cookie had sat in; on the rear wall stood a wood stove and a Hoosier cabinet; on her right, a lumpy bed with a crazy quilt neatly thrown over it. Everything appeared clean and tidy, which amazed her. Someone, mother or wife, had taught this boy well.
"So who cleans this place for you? A girlfriend?" she asked on impulse.
A shadow fell over his face. "No. After my wife died, I learned to do for myself."
She winced. Nothing like a dead wife to put a damper on a developing relationship, real or imagined.
Aware their relationship would remain static until they got rid of the two-ton elephant in the room, Lily set her lemonade aside. "Tell me about her," she said. "Was she pretty?"
Her question lifted the shadow from his face. "Very. She had long, black hair, and she brushed it every night till it shone. She loved to tend to her garden out back, growing beans, squash, tomatoes, and anything else she could coax out of the soil. And every evening when I came home from the livery she'd have a delicious supper waiting for me. We had a good life together."
"How did she die?"
His eyes glazed over. "Childbirth."
"And your child?"
"I lost them both."
Lily lowered her head. "I'm sorry. You must have been devastated."
"It did set me back a bit." He shrugged. "But life's like that. You have to roll with the punches or get rolled over."
Lily recalled her own difficult deliveries. Despite having the best prenatal care available, when it came time to deliver, complications set in and she'd needed a C-section. She hated to think what could've happened had she attempted to deliver at home, assisted only by well-meaning friends and neighbors.
As the day and the jug of lemonade dwindled, Lily wished she'd stopped at one glass of lemonade. She looked around for the bathroom, realized the facilities were outside, and stood there awkwardly pinching her legs shut.
Daniel grinned at her discomfort. "Outside, to your left. You can't miss it."
"Thank you," she said, scooting out the door. When she reached the small outbuilding with the crescent moon cutout, she hesitated. Having heard old-timers talk about the stench of such facilities, she filled her lungs with fresh air, and then rushed inside the crude structure.
As soon as she finished, she burst out the door, gasping. With no soap or running water handy, she rinsed her hands in the nearby spring before heading back to the cabin. Okay, so maybe the good, old days had a few drawbacks.
When she entered the cabin, Daniel was fixing dinner on the wood stove. "Ah, a man who cooks," she said. "What a novel idea."
He laughed. "If I don't cook, I don't eat."
"What are you making?"
"Potatoes, eggs, and biscuits. Hungry?"
"Famished." She peeked in the frying pan. "Mmm, looks good."
He smiled down at her, and her heart soared. So far, he hadn't made any moves on her. A few suggestive comments about her clothes that first day, but no further indication that he found her the least bit attractive.
After dinner, she offered to wash the dishes, unaware she had to heat water on the stove. While the water heated, she sat on the edge of the bed. "Is there any more of that lemonade left?" she asked. "It's awfully warm in here with that stove blasting away."
Daniel poured the last of the jug in her glass. The ice had long since melted, and it wasn't refreshing at all. She downed it quickly. Then, reclining across the bed, she struck a provocative pose. "Do you find me attractive?" she boldly asked.
Stopped dead in his tracks, Daniel merely stared. Then he swallowed hard. "You know I do. You're unlike anyone I've ever known."
"Then why haven't you tried to kiss me? You certainly weren't shy about ogling me the last time I was here." With a deft shoulder move, the skinny strap of her tank top slid off one shoulder.
"I, uh, apologize for that. I--I was raised to be a gentleman," he stammered.
"Yes, yes." She waved her hand in a dismissive manner. "And that's refreshing. But where I come from, if a man finds a woman attractive, he'll hit on her."
"Hit on her?"
"It means to try something, make a move on her. You know what I mean."
"I, uh, think I do. But I thought it might be nice to get to know each other a little better first. I'm sure I'll do that sooner or later. Move--or--hit on you."
Lily saw her exciting dream hitting the skids. Abandoning the effort, she pulled her shoulder strap up. "Okay, I get it. I'm coming on too strong. I'm sorry."
"No, no. It's just that I . . . "
Before he could finish his sentence, Lily slammed her fists down on the mattress. "No, dammit, I'm not sorry. This is my dream, and I want you to make love to me!"
Daniel's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Now?" he squeaked.
"Yes. Right now."
"Uh, I don't think I can do that on command."
Lily stared back, puzzled. Something was definitely wrong with this dream. Shouldn't she be the one calling the shots?
Disheartened that she couldn't even stir an imaginary man to passion, she sat up. "Okay, forget it then. Just take me back to town. I don't need to be rejected by you too."
He looked at her askance. "Lily, I'm not rejecting you."
"I said to forget it. I made a mistake. Now, please, take me back to town." Blinking back tears, she turned her head away, too humiliated to face him.
"Will I see you again?"
"What's the point? I'm already involved with an uncaring man; I don't need another one to make me feel inadequate." Then, to her horror, she burst out crying.
Daniel immediately lowered himself beside her, comforting her as one would a child. "Don't cry, Lily. Please."
It had been a long time since she'd wept on a man's shoulder, and Lily welcomed the chance to unburden herself. "I'm so sorry," she said when the tears finally stopped. "I didn't mean to do that." She leaned back on the bed. "Oh, dammit. Crying always makes my head spin."
"Here." He tucked a pillow under her head. "Rest a minute. I'll make a pot of coffee."
Before she could tell him not to bother, that she never drank coffee this late in the day, her eyes began to swirl beneath her lids. Realizing what was happening, she forced them open. "No, no," she cried. "Daniel, Daniel, come back."
"Lily, wake up. You fell asleep."
She blinked. "Sam? What are you doing here? Dammit, I knew this would happen. Get out of my dream!"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
She glanced around her updated bedroom. "Oh," she said sheepishly. "Nothing."
"That must have been one doozey of a dream from the way you were moaning."
"I was moaning?"
"Yeah. A lot."
"Did I say anything?"
"Yeah. Who the hell is this Daniel guy?"
Unwilling to share her innermost dreams and desires with a man who'd only dismiss her concerns as the ranting of a hormonal woman, Lily made up a story about a dog she lost as a child.
"A dog, huh?" He gave a little snort.
"Yes. A dog," she said, soldiering on. "My dog, Daniel."
She waited for him to scoff again, prepared to let him have it with both barrels should he be so foolhardy. Instead he harrumphed and turned away, infuriating her even more.
Left hanging, she watched him walk off. Verbally impaired and emotionally distant, Sam had never been an effusive man, seemingly having only two facets to his personality--low key or no key. She was beginning to think the only way she'd ever get a rise out of him was to ram a stick of dynamite up his butt.
Then again, maybe she'd been going about it all wrong. Maybe if Sam suspected another man in her life, even if he only existed in her mind, they might stop skirting around the issues and actually get to the root of their problems.
Switching tacks, she ran after him. "Okay, Sam, you found me out. Daniel is my lover, and we've been getting it on every day in my window seat."
Although she'd clearly exaggerated for effect, Sam's jaw grew rigid; his glacial stare chilled her to the core. Then, almost imperceptibly, his eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. Before Lily could decipher the unfamiliar expression, he walked away.
* * *
With the weekend in full swing, Lily didn't get a chance to see Daniel again. Molly came home, but only to collect the rest of her belongings. Naturally a heated argument ensued.
"Why doesn't your new boyfriend come in and help you with these things instead of sitting outside with the car radio blaring?"
"Because he knows you don't like him," Molly retorted.
"Why would he think that? I've never even met him."
"What's the point, Mom? You never like any of my friends."
"That's because I don't know any of your friends." Lily heard her voice rising.
Molly emptied the contents of a drawer into a large cardboard box. "Yeah, well, I'm through talking about this, okay?"
"Are you ashamed of him? Is that why you won't let us meet him?"
"I told him he could come in. He doesn't want to."
Molly stopped packing long enough to give her mother a you're-too-stupid-to-live look. "Because he's got tatts and a nose ring, and you're not exactly the type of person who appreciates that kind of body adornment."
"I try to look beyond that. Just as I hope people look beyond your piercings and tattoos. Thank God, most of yours are in more private places."
"Sure, Mom. Whatever."
Although angered by her daughter's flip response, Lily resisted replying in kind. Frustrated, she returned to the kitchen to reorganize her thoughts. She'd hoped to have at least one conversation with her daughter without resorting to angry words. But Molly was beyond reason or compromise. At this point, all she wanted was out.
"Okay, I can't fit any more in this trip," Molly said, carting one last box from her room.
"Honey, wait," Lily said, giving it another try. "I know you're growing up, and I'm trying to accept the choices you've made. But it's hard when you won't meet me halfway."
Molly rolled her eyes. "Do you have to be so melodramatic about everything? Can't you accept the fact that I'm eighteen now, and whoever I want to hook up with is none of your business."
The girl's quick dismissal of her carefully considered peace offering pushed Lily to the edge; she decided to give her daughter a dose of reality. "I know that," she said more calmly than she felt. "But if you think you're so grown up, maybe you should do what other grownups do when they decide on higher education."
"What?" Molly asked in a bored tone.
"Get a job and pay for it yourself."
"I see that got your attention."
"You can't be serious."
Lily stood her ground. "As serious as a heart attack."
"Mom, I can't do that. I wouldn't have any time to study."
"You mean you wouldn't have any time to party."
"Mom!" she wailed. "Daddy, do something," she said to her father coming in on the tail end of the battle.
"Okay, calm down now, honey. Your mother's just a little upset right now. You know she only wants what's best for you."
Outside, Molly's new boyfriend leaned on the car horn. "I'm coming, I'm coming," she yelled out the door. To her father, she said, "I have to go now. I have most of what I need anyway."
She started to leave, and then turned back. "Oh, I almost forgot. I need some money for gas. I'm almost on E."
Sam reached in his pocket and pulled out a twenty. "Here. And don't worry about your mother," he added in a conspiratorial whisper. "I'll talk to her."
"Thanks, Daddy." Molly kissed her father, and then ran out. But not before casting her mother a look that cut her to the bone.
Betrayed and humiliated by both husband and daughter, Lily bit her lips to hold back the tears. Rooted in place, she waited until Molly was out of earshot, and then turned to Sam. "I can't believe you did that!" she said, choking back tears. "Again!"
"Hey, don't start on me now. It's not my fault you have a bad relationship with the kids."
Blinking rapidly, Lily ran into her bedroom and slammed the door. Didn't Sam care anymore? Was that why he refused to back her despite numerous promises? And why, even when he suspected her of having an affair, he'd barely reacted?
She'd always considered herself a helpmate to him, an equal partner in raising and nurturing their family. She saw now their partnership wasn't as equal as she thought. They may have jointly set rules for their children, but she was the only one trying to enforce them. Sam would much rather be their pal. No matter how grievous their offense, he always catered to them, trivializing their misdeeds and giving in to their wants because it was less aggravation than denying them. With that child-rearing philosophy, it was little wonder their children felt entitled.
Outside, while Molly struggled to fit the last box in her car, her boyfriend impatiently gunned the engine. Seconds later, amidst squealing tires and spewing gravel, the car shot away from the curb.
Curled up in her window seat, Lily wished she could vanish, disappear, or evaporate, whatever the hell happened to her when she entered that dream state. But with Sam and Todd in and out of the house all weekend, her return to that idyllic place would have to wait.
And so she licked her wounds and bided her time until Tuesday, her next day off.
The following excerpt is from the middle section of the book.
"You’re saying the rubies did this? The same rubies you played with as a little girl?"
"Yes, and I know what you’re thinking. I wondered about that too. And the only explanation I can think of why it never happened before is because I was just a child then. I had no concept of the past, only the future. And to my child's eye the future consisted of lipstick, pretty jewelry, and high heels. But the rubies are from the past, and I was thinking about the past when I wore them." She slumped back in her seat, chin to chest. "I can't tell you any more because I don’t know any more."
When he didn't respond, she stole a glance at him. She saw his throat muscles contract, as if he were having a difficult time swallowing her incredible story.
"I know you don't believe me," she said. "And if it's any consolation, he didn't believe me either until I showed him pictures of what happened to his cabin and livery in later years. He was very upset to learn his trade would soon be obsolete."
"And I suppose you comforted him."
She shook her head. "No. Nothing happened this last time. I slept on top of the covers."
He snorted. "Yeah, right."
"It's true. Once he learned I was married and had a family, he was a perfect gentleman."
Seeing the skepticism on his face, she nearly lost her cool. "Dammit, Sam, I never intended any of this to happen. All I wanted was to spend a few pleasant hours without worrying about everything that's going wrong in my life."
He rose abruptly, his chair scraping against the floor. "I need time to think on this. I don't know whether to leave you or have you locked up in a looney bin." He paced the length of the kitchen and back. Then he stopped pacing and headed for the door. "I have work to do in the garage."
Blinking back tears, Lily watched him stalk out. She couldn't blame him if he decided to leave her. And if he decided to have her locked up, well, maybe that's where she belonged, with all the other crazies babbling on about space ships, ghosts, and time machines.