Clockwise, p.22
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       Clockwise, p.22

           Lee Strauss
 
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I WAS BACK. And I needed to find Nate.

  I sprinted to the cabin and flung open the door calling his name. Beds unmade, gray ashes in the fireplace, but no Nate. I checked behind the cabin and knocked on the outhouse. No sign. I headed to the barn, lifting my skirt as I trekked down the path, my anticipation growing with each step. That must be where he was.

  The barn door was stuck open part way, far enough for me to squeeze through. A waft of horse manure and stale hay tickled my senses. Stopping to pet a chestnut colored mare, I whispered in her ear, “Have you seen Nate anywhere, huh, honey?” I inhaled deeply of her sweaty horsiness.

  “Hello.” Nate leaned against the wall behind me, his arms crossed. I was giddy to see him and felt like throwing myself into his arms. Which would’ve been hard to do, what with his arms crossed like that.

  “Nate, are you okay?”

  “I am now that I know I haven’t been abandoned. I actually thought I’d be waiting a lot longer for you to come back. I have to say, it’s not a good feeling. Being stuck here.”

  “I’m sorry, Nate.” My mood dropped from giddy to depressed in ten seconds flat. Nate hadn’t worried about me at all. He'd only cared about what would happen to him—which was totally understandable, given the circumstances. But, still.

  “Are my parents worried? How did you explain my absence?”

  Though the distance between us was only a few feet, it suddenly felt like a huge chasm. I couldn’t guess how Nate would take this new piece of news, that there are others like me in this universe and that there was a chance I could potentially travel in new loops. That info might just push him over the edge. Honestly, I was just waiting for some breaker switch to go off and for him to bolt as far from me as possible.

  “Casey?”

  “Well, actually, I didn’t go back, uh, there.”

  Nate shifted his weight. “What do you mean?”

  “You remember Samuel?”

  “Yeah,” he said tentatively.

  “Well, I ran into him again, at the well.”

  Nate stubbornly kept his face blank, “And?”

  “So, I fell or maybe I fainted, and then he caught my arm.”

  Nate exhaled heavily. “Casey, you’re killing me. Just spit it out.”

  “He’s like me,” I whispered. “He’s a traveler.”

  I didn’t know what he expected, but by the heavy wrinkles in his forehead and the contorted expression on his no longer blank face, it wasn’t that.

  “Y-you traveled with him?”

  I nodded.

  “Where to?” I knew he meant when to, but that is just too weird to say.

  “Nineteen sixty-one.”

  He stopped. “Nineteen sixty-one!”

  I nodded weakly. Nate paced in a small circle, kicking up dust and straw bits. He ran his hand through his hair, his eyes wide and looking kind of wild. I took a deep breath and continued.

  “Samuel is a traveler, like me. His present is 1961, but he loops to the same year I do.”

  Nate stopped and looked at me. “Okay, so what happened there? Where did you sleep?”

  Where did I sleep? Did he think I spent the night cuddling with Samuel? I suppose it could’ve been a possibility if we were stranded somewhere, and it was cold, but….

  “I slept with his sisters. He has three.”

  He breathed out, and looked away. His fists were clenching and, though I really wanted to know what he was thinking, I had to answer his questions first.

  “Samuel gave me one of his sister’s dresses. Rosa. She was pregnant and didn’t fit her regular clothes anyway.”

  The horse whinnied in my ear, startling me. I caught my breath and kept going. “They live in an apartment complex for blacks.”

  “All blacks?” Nate whispered, raising his eyebrows. I nodded.

  “How’d that work for you?”

  “I kept a low profile. You know I’m good at that.” I decided to leave out the bit about Jerome and his groupies. “Anyway, the Joneses are cool with white people. In fact Rosa had a white boyfriend.”

  “Had?”

  “Yeah, well, that’s how she got pregnant. Not a great scene, really. Rosa told me she was giving up the baby for adoption.”

  Nate shook his head. “Look, Casey. I need some air. I’m going to go for a walk, okay?”

  “Sure,” I nodded, feeling sick inside. I watched him leave, certain that it was over between us. Whatever “it” was. I turned back to the mare, needing comfort.

  A board in the loft creaked with the weight of a man. I jumped back, squealing with fright. Someone descended. My heart froze.

  Robert Willingsworth scooted down the makeshift ladder.

  “What are you doing here?” I said, once I found my voice.

  “The better question, my darling, is what are you doing?”

  He smirked. “I saw you through a crack in the loft, hugging that colored boy.”

  “If you’re here for Cobbs,” I said, “then you’ll be disappointed. As you can imagine, the Watsons fired him.”

  “Yes, I figured that.” He took a step toward me. I involuntarily took a step back.

  “He's probably drunk in the tavern, the uncivilized lout. But, it’s true, I was hoping to find him, he has been helpful in the past.” He chuckled, while petting the mare. I realized belatedly, she must have been his.

  “That was quite the story you told that idiot brother of yours. Do you think he actually believed that?”

  I gulped. How much had he heard? Robert’s eyes scanned my face and my body, filling with something ugly.

  “Actually, it’s quite serendipitous, to find you here. Alone.” He took another step forward, stroking his mustache in consideration. “You know, you owe me.”

  “I owe you?” I said, taking another awkward step back. “For what?”

  “For reneging on a promise. Oh yes, and for publicly humiliating me. Do you know what kind of scorn I had to endure when word got around that you had, in the end, refused me?”

  I totally didn’t give one hoot about his public scorning. Robert took another step toward me, I took another step back. Okay, now I was afraid. He wasn’t strong like Cobbs in an old ox kind of way but he wasn’t a wimp either. There was no way I could take him, especially in this stupid dress. Worse yet, he had backed me into a corner.

  “I’m going to scream,” I whispered. He moved in closer. I took another tentative step back, my hand grabbing at air behind me hoping to find a shovel or pick. Anything I could use to protect myself.

  “Nate,” I coughed. My throat closed up.

  “Oh, he’s left you,” Robert said with a twisted, evil grin. “I watched him go from the window in the loft. My guess is your “brother” doesn’t want to share you with your colored friend.”

  Robert’s face pressed up to mine. I could smell his cologne and smoky breath and it made me gag. “But I don’t mind.”

  “Back off, Robert!” I thrust my hands into his chest and pushed. He grabbed my arms with one hand and I found my voice, screaming for Nate. I squirmed and kicked—he put his other disgusting hand over my mouth.

  “This is what I like about you, Cassandra. You’re so spirited.” He leaned in to kiss me, and I almost burst into tears. I didn't have a chance to think beyond that because suddenly Robert was off me.

  Appearing like magic, Nate pulled Robert away and right-hooked him in the chin. Robert stumbled, but righted himself and charged, thrusting Nate against the side of the barn.

  “Nate!” He pushed Robert off and sneaked in a left stab to the gut. Robert keeled over and fell. Nate ran to me, pulling me close.

  “Casey, are you all right?”

  I didn't have a chance to answer. Robert lunged from behind and they both fell to the ground, rolling back and forth. I spied a shovel. I grabbed it. Nate and Robert still wrestled in the hay. Now, I just had to make sure I hit the right head.

  Normally, I'm pretty coordinated. Even though I hide it well, I can shoot a bas
ketball into the hoop. I can run in a straight line. I can hunt quail with a slingshot. But normally I'm not surging adrenaline while watching someone I care for a lot fight a thug to save my life. Normally, I'm not wearing a nightgown in a barn with obstacles such as a bucket of oats hidden in the hay.

  From my peripheral I could see Nate. He was on top of Robert and winning. I saw this while tripping over the bucket, my skirt twisting between my legs. Even in this split second my mind assessed my surroundings. I'd fall in the hay, I'd be fine.

  I was wrong.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

 
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