The hourglass door, p.5
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       The Hourglass Door, p.5

           Lisa Mangum

  Jason leaned closer. He closed his eyes.

  Our lips met.

  There were no fireworks.

  At least not for me.

  Jason pulled away and I saw the firework lights in his eyes, in the flush on his skin, in the tremulous curve of his smile. “You’re my best girl, Abby. Thanks for the best birthday yet.”

  I felt so much older than seventeen. Cold and old and hollow.

  I felt like crying.



  Abby.” Hannah’s voice sounded loud right next to my ear.

  I started awake, rolling over and blinking at my sister who stood next to my bed, a smirk—there was no other word for it—on her face. Morning sun streamed through my curtains, turning my room a soft shade of white-yellow.

  “There’s someone here to see you.”

  I checked the time on my new watch: 8:12. Way too early on a Saturday morning for visitors.

  “Whoizzit?” I mumbled, flopping my pillow over my face. “Jason? Tell him I’ll call him later.”

  “It’s not Jason,” Hannah said. “It’s some guy—Dan something?—from your drama class?”

  My eyes flew open and I sat up in bed. “Dante? What’s he doing here?” How does he even know where I live? I wondered.

  Hannah shrugged. “I don’t know, Abby. Why don’t you go downstairs and ask him yourself?”

  “You let him in the house?”

  “Why wouldn’t I?” Hannah asked. “It’s the polite thing to do.”

  “It’s the insane thing to do, Hannah,” I growled. “Do you know what time it is?”

  “I’ll tell him you’re coming right down.” She smiled sweetly at me as she flounced out the door.

  Grumbling at having to bear the burden of a younger sister, I crawled out of bed and shoved my feet into a pair of slippers. As I descended the stairs, I wrapped my robe around me and tried to smooth down my hair.

  Dante was waiting for me in the front room. When I saw him, I stopped on the last step, feeling extremely frumpy and frazzled.

  He had unbuttoned his navy blue pea coat, and I could see the long lines of his body underneath. He had brushed back his hair, though it still threatened to fall over his clear gray eyes at any time.

  I caught my breath at the sight of those eyes. I had forgotten how beautiful they were. I felt like I could spend hours studying them.

  “Abby?” That now-familiar small smile crossed his lips.

  “What?” I startled back to the present moment. “Oh—” I hurried into the front room.

  “Please accept my apologies, Abby. I didn’t mean to wake you. I guess I didn’t realize it was so early.” Dante tugged at the gloves on his hands.

  “No, no, it’s okay,” I said, trying furtively to pull my hair into a ponytail and out of my eyes. “What’s up?”

  Dante watched me curl up on the love seat and swallowed hard. He shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets. “I had hoped to speak with you about the play. But I could come back if now is not a good time . . .” He gestured to the front door and took a step away.

  “No, it’s fine.” I didn’t want to see him go. I was curious to find out why he’d come by. It couldn’t just be to talk about the play, could it? I felt my breath quicken as I realized I hoped I was wrong. “It’s a little early, but, knowing Dave, he’ll want you ready to go by Monday’s rehearsal. You may not have noticed, but he’s a little intense about his work.”

  “I’d noticed,” Dante said dryly.

  I pulled a pillow to my chest and grinned.

  Hannah appeared in the entryway, her attention immediately fixing on Dante. “Abby, Mom wants to know if your friend wants to stay for breakfast.”

  I looked at Dante. “Would you like to? It’s okay to say no,” I said in a stage whisper.

  Dante’s eyes flickered to the front door again and he looked so uncomfortable that an impromptu idea flashed through me. I turned to Hannah. “Tell Mom thanks, but no, we’re going out for breakfast this morning.”

  I couldn’t tell who was the most surprised at this statement, Hannah or Dante or me. I stood up from the love seat. “Just give me a minute to get ready, Dante, and we can go, okay?”

  Dante nodded, naked relief in his eyes. “I’ll wait for you outside.” He slipped out the front door.

  Hannah crossed her arms and frowned at me. “Mom’s not gonna be happy about this.”

  “It’s not a date,” I said gruffly.

  Hannah sniffed. “I’ll say it right now, then—I told you so.” She waltzed back to the kitchen.

  I ran up the stairs, tossing my robe onto my bed the instant I closed the door behind me. My mind raced. What was I doing? I had just asked an almost complete stranger to go to breakfast with me. A potentially dangerous stranger, if Valerie was to be believed. A small laugh bubbled up. This was something the old Abby would have done—no schedules, no planning, just . . . seizing the moment, following where the day would take me. I hadn’t realized how confined I’d been feeling until I realized how liberated I felt instead.

  I changed out of my pajamas and pulled on a pair of jeans and a light green turtleneck sweater. I ran a brush through my hair and twisted it into a quick French knot at the base of my neck. On the way out of my bedroom, I grabbed my backpack, my jacket, and my keys.

  I had just swung down from the stairs when Mom called my name.

  “What’s this about a breakfast date with someone?”

  “It’s not a date, Mom. Dante’s in the play I’m directing. This is like a . . . a working breakfast. Look, I’ll explain everything when I get home, okay?”

  Mom crossed her arms and frowned; she looked just like Hannah. “I’m not happy about this, but—”

  “Thanks, Mom, you’re the best!” I kissed her cheek, pulled on my jacket, and slipped out the door.

  I saw Dante straighten up from where he had been leaning against the porch railing. His breath plumed in the cold air.

  “Ready?” I asked, jingling my keys.

  Dante hesitated, looking down at the fuzzy blue slippers on my feet.

  I laughed. “I guess this’ll be a blue-slippers-and-breakfast kind of day. I’m surprised you didn’t get the message.”

  “Perhaps it’ll come later this afternoon,” Dante replied with his small smile.

  I cocked my head at Dante and felt another laugh bubble up inside me. Jason wouldn’t have played along with me. Jason would have made me change into shoes. Of course, Jason wouldn’t have shown up unexpectedly on a Saturday morning at all.

  “Dante,” I said, “I think we are going to be friends.”

  The rising sun changed Dante’s eyes to silver, and the sudden tingle in my fingertips had nothing to do with the January cold.

  “I’d like that very much.”

  “Shall we?” I gestured to my car parked at the curb.

  I had taken only one step before Dante swept me off my feet, literally, and into his arms, cradling me to his chest.

  I caught my breath as time seemed to coalesce around me. I had time enough to watch the sunlight slowly pool in the empty footsteps that led across the front yard, up the driveway, up the porch, and to my front door where Dante stood, holding me close. I had time enough to feel Dante’s strong arms tighten around me, to hear the sharp intake of his breath. I could almost taste the dusty odor from his pea coat.

  And then we were standing by my car. Dante lowered me to a clear spot on the curb and stepped back. I blinked, disoriented, my heart beating faster at Dante’s nearness.

  “I didn’t want your slippers to get wet,” he said quietly, tucking his hands back into his coat pockets. He looked a little pale.

  “Th-thanks,” I said. I opened the door, and the movement helped shake off the lingering sense of déjà vu.

  Dante walked around the car and slid into the passenger seat.

  “Where would you like to go?” I asked, turning the key in the ignition. My car rumbled, coughing and sputtering, to r
eluctant life. “The Dungeon’s not open for breakfast, is it?”

  Dante shook his head quickly. “No, let’s not go there. Where’s your favorite place? Someplace not too crowded,” he added in a hurry.

  “How much time do you have?” I turned the heater to full and breathed warm air into my cupped hands.

  Dante’s eyes were serious. “I have all the time in the world.”

  “Excellent. Helen’s Café it is.” I turned on my CD player and pulled out onto the street, the opening notes of “Stopping Time” by Darwin Glass trailing behind us like falling snow.

  Only you can turn the time

  Only you can stop the tide

  Only you can turn and save me

  From tomorrow’s bitter ride


  The parking lot for Helen’s Café was empty. As usual. The service was so slow at Helen’s that hardly anyone ever ate there anymore. But I didn’t mind. In fact, on some days I liked the peace and quiet that Helen’s offered.

  The café was deserted when we walked in, and the sign by the hostess desk invited us to seat ourselves, so Dante and I selected a booth by the large picture-frame front window. The décor was classic kitsch—porcelain chickens nesting on high shelves; knockoff watercolors of limp water lilies; collections of spoons, shot glasses, and thimbles from around the world.

  Dante looked around, seeming half interested, half appalled.

  “Try not to look at anything directly,” I suggested. “It makes it easier.”

  “This is your favorite place?”

  I shrugged. “I admit the décor is terrible, and the service is worse, but the food is surprisingly good. Plus, with no one around, we can stay and talk as long as we’d like.”

  “Are we going to talk long?” Dante raised an eyebrow.

  “Depends.” I handed him one of the menus stacked on the side of the table.

  “On?” He took the menu but didn’t open it.

  “On how much there is to say,” I said lightly.

  Dante regarded me with those clear eyes. “Then we might be here a long time.”

  I felt a flutter of anticipation and excitement. Quickly, I perused the menu even though I knew exactly what I wanted to order. I could still feel Dante’s eyes on me. A thrill danced on my skin.

  How long had it been since I’d had a getting-to-know-you conversation? I knew everything about Jason; I knew nothing about Dante.

  “Sorry for the wait.” A waitress appeared at our table, notepad in hand, not sounding sorry at all. “What’ll you have?”

  Dante ordered pancakes (blueberry), eggs (over easy), and two slices of toast (rye). I ordered my favorite: a Belgian waffle with a custom raspberry, blackberry, and whipped cream puree, half an English muffin, toasted, and a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. In January, a rare treat.

  As the waitress left, I closed the menu and reached for my backpack. “Okay, here are the rules.”

  “Excuse me?” Dante frowned in confusion.

  “The getting-to-know-Dante rules,” I said, placing a notebook and a pen on the table. “Don’t panic. There are only two rules to remember. First, you have to write down the first thing that comes to your mind when I say so. Second, you have to be completely honest. The game won’t work if you lie about your answers.” I ripped out a blank sheet of paper from my notebook and slid it across the table. “Ready?”

  Dante looked from me to the paper and back again, a strange light in his eyes. “You are a dangerous woman, Abby,” he said softly.

  “Ha! No one’s ever called me dangerous before.” I felt myself blush under his gaze and thought that perhaps I shouldn’t like so much the way my name sounded in his mouth.

  “You are not afraid to ask for the truth. And you strike me as a person who is not afraid to hear the truth, either. That makes you dangerous.” He picked up the pen and uncapped it. “I will play your game.” He grinned at me. “I can be as dangerous as you.”

  He’s dangerous, Valerie’s voice reminded me. I pointedly ignored it. Dante had been the perfect gentleman so far this morning. I wiggled my newly pedicured, freshly repainted, lucky-green toes in my warm—and dry—fuzzy slippers.

  “Number one: What do you think of when I say the word . . . breakfast?”

  Dante wrote down two words and then looked up at me expectantly.

  I blinked. “Um, that’s it?” Usually when I played this game with one of my friends, it took hours because we all wrote such epic, rambling, convoluted responses. In fact, Valerie liked to see how much she could write before we forced her to the next word. Her record was a page and a half.

  “You said to write down the first thing I thought of.” Dante looked down at the paper in front of him. “Have I done something wrong?”

  “No, no, it’s fine. What about . . . Italy?” Surely that would spark a sentence or two.

  Two words.


  Another pair of words. Okay, I thought. Interesting.

  I fired words at him faster and faster, some of the best ones I’d ever come up with for the game—beauty, temptation, goal, wish, love, future, laughter, hope, heaven—determined to get him to write a complete answer or sentence—something more than two words. But after each one, Dante wrote down just two simple words.


  Dante flinched, the pen hovering over the page.

  “Hesitation!” I said as though I was calling a penalty. “Remember, you have to write down the first thing you think of. And you promised to be totally honest.” I tapped the top of the paper.

  The color drained from Dante’s face. He didn’t look at me. His hand trembled as he scrawled an answer across the page. Then he deliberately replaced the cap on the pen and folded the paper in half once, then in half again.

  “What are you doing?” I asked.

  Dante handed the pen to me. “I have revealed as much truth as I can. Perhaps we can finish this later.”

  I reached for the paper. “Let’s see—”

  Dante’s hand slapped down on the folded square. “The rules said nothing about having to show you my answers.” His voice had a hard edge to it that I hadn’t heard before. In an instant, his eyes had changed from light gray to the dark gray of storm clouds.

  I slowly withdrew my hand as though he had struck me, even though his hands remained flat on the tabletop. Shaken, I wondered what had brought on this sudden change in his attitude. Was it the game? It was supposed to have been innocent and fun.

  I could feel the tension building between us, and that was the last thing I wanted to have happen.

  The waitress finally returned with our food, plunking down the plates in front of us.

  The interruption broke the tension. I could feel it draining away as we both fiddled with our silverware. As the waitress strolled away, I opened my mouth to apologize to Dante. He beat me to it.

  “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken to you that way.”

  “No, I’m sorry. You were a good sport to even play on such short notice.”

  Dante’s storm-cloud eyes lightened a little. “Perhaps it’s my turn to get to know you.”

  “Oh, I’m not that interesting,” I waved off his words.

  “You’re the most interesting person I’ve met so far,” he said.

  “How many people could you have met since Thursday?”

  “You might be surprised.” Dante took a sip of water. “Leo has been a very good host.”

  “So you are staying with Leo?” I asked. “I heard he was, like, your uncle or something?”

  Dante smiled crookedly. “Something like that. He’s my . . . sponsor? Is that the right word?” He shook his head and tried again. “He’s the person watching over me while I’m here.”

  “And how long will you be here?”



  “On how long you want me to stay,” he said lightly.

  Then you might be here a long time, I thought, a littl
e surprised at my instant reaction. Before I could say anything, though, Dante nodded toward the waitress who was leaning against the door that opened into the back room.

  “Is she the Helen of the Café?” Dante asked.

  “Who, her?” I spread a thin coating of butter on my English muffin. “No, there is no Helen. It’s just a name.”

  “Ah, but names are powerful. Telling,” Dante observed. “Abby, for example, means one who gives joy.”

  I smiled at the compliment. “What does your name mean?”

  “Lasting,” he said, a shadow crossing his features before he quickly segued with, “and Helen was the name of the most beautiful woman in the world.”

  “Helen of Troy.”

  “Helen of Troy.” Dante nodded, taking a drink of water.

  “Helen and Paris,” I said, sighing a little. “It’s kind of romantic, don’t you think? Running away with the man of your dreams?”

  Dante snorted. “What are you talking about? Helen’s broken marriage vow was the downfall of the Trojans.”

  I shrugged. “Maybe, but the Greeks were going to win that war. I mean, have you read the Iliad? The Trojans were destined to fall—”

  “Have you read the Aeneid?” Dante asked with a raised eyebrow. “There’s always another side to the story. There’s always more going on than you might imagine.”

  A slow smile crossed my face. How long had it been since I’d had a spirited discussion about something literary? About something other than Jason’s shop class or his truck?

  “The Aeneid? Never read it. I doubt it’s as good as Homer, though.” I set down my fork and leaned my elbows on the table, resting my chin on my laced fingers. “Convince me otherwise,” I invited.

  Dante glanced around at the empty café before regarding me with a bright light in his eyes.

  “C’mon, Dante,” I teased a little. “Convince me that Helen was the true villain of the story.” Watching the smooth lines of his throat moving as he swallowed a mouthful of water, I felt my own mouth grow dry.

  Dante wadded up his napkin and tossed it on the table. He bowed his head for a moment, the stillness I’d noticed about him more pronounced. He seemed to gather up the nearby space, drawing it around him like a hurricane around an eye. “Helen brought war to Troy and left nothing but devastation in her wake. Aeneas has had to watch his friends and family die, his homeland be ravaged by war, his home burn to the ground. And as he stumbles into the smoking ruin of the temple, who does he find?”


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