Clockwise, p.18
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       Clockwise, p.18

           Lee Strauss
 
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DAD CAME FOR DINNER on Christmas day bringing us all gifts, even one for Mom. She fussed about how they had agreed not to exchange gifts, though she seemed truly pleased with the colorful framed painting that Dad bought her.

  “I was thinking of painting the living room again with these exact colors,” she said, propping it up against the living room wall. Good, she was thinking about painting our walls again. A sure sign she was recovering from her slump.

  I had knitted Tim a scarf. Yes, I know. Maybe because he had ticked me off so much recently. An interesting yellow/green color.

  “It looks like barf,” he said.

  “Tim!” my mother reprimanded. “She worked hard to make you that. Now say thank you to your sister.”

  “Thanks for the barf scarf, sis.”

  Nate and his parents went to Canada for Christmas when they found out his brother would be home on leave from Afghanistan for a few days. After seeing so much of Nate lately, it was weird to know he wasn’t around. I’d been watching for him on Facebook ever since he'd left. A lot. Kind of stalker-like. I checked his status to make sure he’d changed it from “in a relationship” to “single” which he had. Good. Finally, on the third day, I scrolled halfway down the page and there it was. His name. My heart did a little dance. His profile picture had been updated. The latest photo was of Nate and his brother, arms around each other, both with big grins.

  Nate Mackenzie is happy to see his brother, home from Afghanistan for the holidays.

  I pressed ‘comment’ and a little window opened up, next to my profile picture which was mostly hair. The cursor flashed, waiting for me to type something. What to say? I typed:

  Casey Donovan How’s Toronto? Say ‘hi’ to John for me. Was that too weird? Too familiar? I’d never even met John. I cleared it and changed it to:

  Casey Donovan So cool you can see your brother again.

  Holding my breath, I clicked the comment button. I stared at the screen, willing for a reply. Amazingly, it worked. His name popped up in the chat box at the bottom of the screen.

  Hi C. Toronto’s cold. Yeah, John’s cool.

  I quickly typed in:

  Cold here too. Not the same with you gone.

  I pressed enter without thinking. Oops. Did that sound too mushy? Pushy? Oh, no. Needy? Ugh. Why did I write that? Wait for a reply. Wait. Wait. Nothing. Maybe he had to go. Unlike me, he probably had lots to do, hanging with his brother and all. I re-read my comment. Not the same without you. That wasn’t so bad. Was it? I’d say something like that to Lucinda, wouldn’t I? Sure. I tried to comfort myself. It was a completely harmless comment. Then suddenly, his response:

  Are you staying put?

  A surge of glee coursed through me. He wanted to know if I’d traveled since the last time. He was checking up on me.

  So far. Kind of boring though.

  He sent back.

  Boring is good for you C, for a change. See you in January.

  I spent New Year’s at Lucinda’s for our annual, current-celebrity movie/TV series-sleepover marathon. We’d done this together every year since eighth grade, because neither of us ever got invited to the cool parties. Previous years had featured Zac Efron, Orlando Bloom, Robert Pattison and Brad Pitt (even though he’s kind of old, he’s still, well, wow).

  We didn’t talk about Nate, or tripping or her jealous/weird behavior. We kept the conversation to safe topics like celebrity crushes, and her sisters’ ongoing relational dramas.

  When school resumed in January, I tried desperately to keep my cool. I challenged myself not to scan the hallways for his face or think about him for every second of the day. However, I couldn’t avoid English (surprising how it jumped back to being my favorite class), and we had to finish our project.

  We met up in the library. Seeing him again was harder than I'd thought because, despite—or maybe because of—everything we’d been through together, he still made me nervous.

  “Did you have a nice Christmas?” he said politely. I nodded. He sat beside me but leaned back. I’m no body language expert, but I didn’t think that boded well in my favor. He acted so stiff, you’d think we’d never had that Facebook connection.

  “You?”

  “Yeah, lot of family stuff. Also visited York University.”

  My eyebrows shot up. “Why’s that?”

  “I’ve been offered a full scholarship.”

  My throat suddenly dried out. I choked, “At York? In Toronto?”

  He clicked his pen. “Yup.”

  “Oh, wow. That’s great.” That’s terrible! I forced a smile. “You must be excited.”

  “I’m relieved. It’s nice to finally know what I’m going to do after grad.”

  He might be relieved, but I was having a sudden panic attack.

  “What about you?”

  “Huh?”

  “What about you? You must have plans for after you graduate.”

  “Oh, yeah, sure, well, I still have a couple years to decide. And it’s not like I could do just any job.” I was grasping. “I couldn’t be a pilot like your dad, for instance.”

  “True. You need to do something that doesn’t require constant mental awareness.”

  “So brain surgery is out?”

  “I would say so. But you could be a writer, or computer tech or a number of other things that wouldn’t endanger your life or the lives of others, when….”

  Yeah, when I trip off to the nineteenth century.

  A knot of anger had formed in my gut. “You’re right, Nate. I should be thinking about how I’m going to keep a roof over my head when I’m not, you know, busy with other things.”

  It wasn’t fair to feel this way toward Nate. I couldn’t expect him to hang around for me. And he was right. I couldn’t live with my mom forever, either.

  “So, let’s get this done,” I said through gritted teeth. He might have been relieved to let me know he had plans. I was relieved to finish this dumb project so I wouldn’t have to sit so painfully close to him ever again. I wasn’t that great at hiding my feelings.

  “Casey, I know I upset you.”

  I faked a scoff. “I’m not upset.”

  “I think I know you pretty well. I can tell you’re upset.”

  He knows me pretty well? He’s right, he does know me! My face flushed and I pushed down the urge to bawl like a baby.

  “Every time I see you,” he said, “the first thing I look for are rings under your eyes.”

  What, wait a minute. Really? “So?”

  “So, I care about you. I worry…” He worries? He cares? Except, what about York University? How does that fit in? How could he care about me from CANADA? How long before “out of sight, out of mind” kicks in? I shook my head. It wouldn’t work.

  “That means a lot, Nate. Thanks. But I have my whole life ahead of me, and I’m sure I’ll manage on my own.”

  I pushed away from the table. His pen rolled onto the floor.

  I leaned to pick it up. He did too. Our eyes connected, just like the first time we met and I could see the little freckle under his eye. My hand still reached for the floor. So did his. He missed his pen and grabbed my hand. My heart raced. And we tumbled towards the light. In one disconcerting moment, the library and all the shelves of books disappeared. The school, parking lot, students all gone.

  “Oh no,” I said, gently pulling away. Why was I tripping so much lately? I stared at Nate. He was the problem. He caused my heart to gear into overdrive and thrust us into the past. “I’m sorry,” I said. Though it was his fault.

  “It’s okay. It’s not like you can help it.” He smiled. “I guess I’ll have to work harder at keeping my hands off you.”

  Wow. I could not read this guy. Did he like me or not? And if he did like me and he didn’t mind an occasional time travel trip, why was he planning to move to Toronto? I collected my thoughts.

  “We should go back to the Watsons’.”

  “Do you think they’d take us in again? We ke
ep leaving without warning.”

  “I know, but they’re kind hearted and forgiving. Besides, I like them. Sara and Willie are my only friends here.”

  “Don’t forget Robert Willingsworth,” he said with a smirk.

  I punched him in the arm. “Not funny.”

  “Let’s get going then, if we want to make it there before dark.”

  We walked in the middle of the road, until we heard the horses. Nate clasped my hand and pulled me into the ditch behind the cover of the thick new spring growth. Six men rode by dressed in the blue uniforms of the Union soldier. I held my breath, waiting in silence until they were out of sight.

  “It’s 1861,” I whispered. “The civil war is beginning. Things could get dangerous.” We tracked back out of the bush. “I don’t remember when the draft started,” I added, “but we don’t want you getting suited up and sent south.”

  “Uh, I couldn’t agree more,” Nate said with a sudden seriousness. Was he second-guessing his willingness to come back with me? We cut through the forest to get to the Watson farm from the back, hoping not to be spotted until we could find a change of clothes. The cabin appeared secluded, and we managed to creep in undetected. To my relief, a dress remained hanging in the wardrobe. The sheet still hung in the middle, dividing the room in two. I held the dress to my chest, feeling very self-conscious with Nate in the room. Every time we came back, it was like starting over. Nate politely excused himself and went outside, taking a pair of trousers and a work shirt with him. He tapped on the door before coming back in.

  “Are you ready?” he said. I spread the skirt of my dress wide and twirled around.

  “How do I look?”

  “Exquisite, as per usual.” The way his eyes lit up, I believed he meant it.

  I was prepared for a lecture from Sara. Bewilderment from Willie. Indifference from the rest of the Watson clan. What I wasn’t prepared for were the tears and wailing. It had nothing to do with us. In fact the ripple our appearance caused was barely acknowledged. The whole family surrounded Willie. He was handsomely dressed in a blue Union soldier uniform. He was going south to fight in the war.

  “Oh no!” I shocked them all with my outburst. I couldn’t stop the tears. I knew what would happen. Over six hundred thousand Americans would lose their lives and many more would return maimed and emotionally scarred.

  “Willie? Are you sure? It’s really, really, really dangerous.”

  I tried not to get involved. I’d committed to leaving history to play itself out without my intrusion. But, Willie? I knew him. I liked him. He was my friend.

  “It’s my duty to my country, Cassandra.”

  I startled the room—Sara, Mr. and Mrs. Watson and Nate—by throwing my arms around Willie and bursting into tears. “Be safe, Willie, please.”

  “I’ll t-try,” he stammered. He hugged me back. “I promise, I’ll try.”

  I stepped back then, wiping my nose in a very unladylike manner, to let the family say proper goodbyes.

  “We’re praying for you, son,” Mr. Watson said, his eyes rimmed red, his normal jovial demeanor heavily subdued. Mrs. Watson cried without restraint, holding Willie tight. “God be with you, son.” Sara and all the rest of the Watson kids clamored at his legs. I felt like an intruder in a private moment.

  Nate and I slipped out the back.

  “I think I’ll just go use the restroom,” I said, not looking at him. Nothing so not attractive as bloodshot eyes and a matching red nose.

  “Sure, I’ll meet you back at the cabin.” He walked off and I went to the water pump to wash my hands and face.

  Samuel was there. “Miss Cassandra?” he said, as surprised as I was. “Are you all right?” I could feel the puffiness in my face.

  “Yes, I’m fine.” I pushed the handle until water rushed out, then splashed it on my face. “Willie’s going to fight in the war. It’s terrible. I’m so scared for him.”

  “It is terrible. I’m sorry to hear it.”

  “What are you doing here? What happened to you, anyway?”

  “Uh, well, I came back hoping to find you. I wanted to thank you again, for rescuing me from Cobbs. That was mighty admirable of you.”

  Right. That horse chase seemed like ages ago. “I’m sure you would’ve done the same for me, if our roles were reversed.”

  “I definitely would have.” I don’t know what happened next. It remains a blur. I think I fainted, probably a combination of lack of food—I hadn’t eaten since breakfast—and emotional overload. Samuel caught me before I hit the ground. I had a sense of his strong arms around me, his handsome face twisted with worry. And then a tunnel of light.

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 
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