The hourglass door, p.6
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       The Hourglass Door, p.6

           Lisa Mangum
 

  Dante’s countenance subtly shifted, his eyes growing distant and hard, his voice lowering in timbre and gaining in strength as the words poured out of him like smoky honey, like liquid fire.

  That woman, terrified of the Trojans’ hate

  For the city overthrown, terrified too

  Of Danaan vengeance, her abandoned husband’s

  Anger after years—Helen, that Fury

  Both to her own homeland and Troy, had gone

  To earth, a hated thing, before the altars.

  He closed his eyes, sweeping his hands through his hair before continuing. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his chest rose and fell as he gulped in air.

  Now fires blazed up in my own spirit—

  A passion to avenge my fallen town

  And punish Helen’s whorishness.

  He leaned across the table. Heat seemed to radiate off him in waves.

  “Shall this one,” he hissed,

  “Look untouched on Sparta and Mycenae

  After her triumph, going like a queen,

  And see her home and husband, kin and children,

  With Trojan girls for escort, Phrygian slaves?

  Must Priam perish by the sword for this?

  Troy burn, for this? Dardania’s littoral

  Be soaked in blood, so many times, for this?”

  He looked at me from underneath lowered lids and his voice was deadly quiet.

  “Not by my leave. I know

  No glory comes of punishing a woman,

  The feat can bring no honor. Still, I’ll be

  Approved for snuffing out a monstrous life,

  For a just sentence carried out. My heart

  Will teem with joy in this avenging fire,

  And the ashes of my kin will be appeased.”

  He slumped back against the booth and drained his water glass in one swallow. When he placed the glass back on the table, it was like a switch had been flipped: he was back from being Aeneas to being Dante. The transformation was startling.

  Chills walked up and down my spine. “I’m convinced,” I said. “Where did you learn to act like that? It was . . . incredible.”

  Dante smiled wanly across the table. “Grazie.”

  “Does Dave know you can act?” I asked, then quickly shook my head. “Maybe it’s best if he doesn’t know. He’d want to recast Much Ado about Nothing and then there would be much ado about everything. It’s too bad you didn’t transfer back in December when we held auditions. You would have sewn up Benedick’s role, no doubt.”

  “I’m happy just being an extra,” Dante said, toying with his toast.

  “But to play Benedick? It’s the best role in the play. He has all that great verbal sparring with Beatrice.”

  “I’m enjoying the verbal sparring with Abby at the moment,” he said with a smile.

  I felt myself blush, and a twinge of guilt wormed its way into me. Seriously, what was I doing? Not twelve hours ago I had kissed my boyfriend for the first time, and now I was having breakfast—and flirting?—with someone else? But this wasn’t a date, I reminded myself. This was a working breakfast. Maybe it was time I started treating it as such before things got out of hand. At least more out of hand than they already were.

  I cleared my throat and took a sip of my juice. “Speaking of the play . . .” I pulled open my backpack and fished out my tattered copy of Much Ado about Nothing. I set it on the table between us, a shield to deflect the growing attraction I knew we both felt. “I assume you’ve already read the play, but you can borrow my copy if you want to brush up on the story. You may be happy just being an extra, but Dave requires everyone to be familiar with the entire play. Even those of us without any lines.” I pointed at Dante. “Even those of us backstage.” I pointed at myself.

  “Abby—”

  “I think I’ve got a rehearsal schedule here somewhere.” I dug in my backpack again.

  “Abby.” Dante cleared his throat.

  I looked up. “Yes?”

  “I . . . I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with this play.” Dante touched a finger to the copy on the table.

  I blinked. “Really? Oh, well, it’s one of Shakespeare’s easier plays to read—not like Hamlet or Richard the Third. . .”

  Dante looked down and aligned the edge of his fork with the place mat on the table.

  “You haven’t read Hamlet, either, have you?”

  Dante moved his empty water glass a quarter of an inch to the left.

  “Have you read any Shakespeare at all?”

  Dante didn’t say anything, embarrassment staining his skin like a dark shadow.

  “Right. O-kay.” I frowned, confused. “But you’ve read the Aeneid and Homer . . . how did you miss reading Shakespeare in your tour through the classics?”

  Dante looked at his hands. “My education has been . . . uneven at times.”

  I nodded. “Well, that’s easy enough to fix.” I dug in my backpack again, withdrawing my drama notebook and slapping it down over the copy of the play. “Borrow my notes as well. I had to outline the whole play for Dave, plus do character analyses and plot summaries and identify the predominant themes of the play along with ideas of how to communicate those themes on stage.” I grinned at Dante. “Dave can be a little obsessive about his plays.” I tapped the cover of the notebook. “If you have any questions, just ask.”

  Dante gathered up the notebook and play. “Grazie, Abby. You are a good friend to help me.”

  I shrugged. “It’s what friends do.”

  “I’m glad we can be friends,” he said. He almost reached for my hand, but at the last minute he curled his fingers to his palm instead.

  He kept his fist closed tight the entire drive home. We talked about school—I told him which teachers were the best and which days to avoid eating at the cafeteria. We talked about my family—Hannah’s obsession with Victorian romance novels, Mom’s latest cooking fiasco, Dad’s love of bad puns. We talked about my friends—Valerie, Natalie, and Jason.

  It wasn’t until I had dropped Dante off at the Dungeon and watched him slip into the side door that led to what must be an upstairs apartment that I realized we had talked about everything—except him.

  ~

  Tossing my backpack and jacket on the table next to the front door, I called, “I’m home.”

  “Abby, is that you?” Mom’s voice came from the kitchen. “I thought you were going to breakfast with your friend.”

  “I did. I just got back.” I walked into the kitchen and stood next to Hannah at the table.

  Mom cocked her head. “But you just left . . .”

  I felt a strange jolt, and my surroundings stuttered and jumped around me like a missed frame in a movie.

  Time seemed to stop, and I had a chance to look around the table. Dad was still reading the sports page—the first section he liked to read in the morning. Mom was still in her bathrobe and slippers. Hannah was still in her pajamas. Breakfast was still hot—the bacon still crisp, the pancakes still steaming under puddles of sticky syrup, the juice glasses still full.

  I glanced at my watch: 8:45. A wave of heat washed through me, followed by a splash of cold. It had been just over half an hour since Hannah had woken me up. Enough time to drive to Helen’s Café and back—provided I hadn’t stayed to eat. But I had. Hadn’t I? I didn’t feel hungry. If anything, I felt uneasy and disoriented. I sat down at the table.

  My hand shook as I reached in my back pocket for the receipt from the café to check the time printed on the slip. My pocket was empty. How could that be? I clearly remembered paying for breakfast. But at the same time, I clearly remembered Dante picking up the check, paying for the meal, and pocketing the receipt. They couldn’t have both happened. How could I remember two different things? I shook my head. Without the receipt, there was no proof of the hours I had spent with Dante at breakfast. Just my memories. How did I already have a morning’s worth of memories if the morning had just started? What was going on?

&
nbsp; “Abby, are you all right? You look a little pale.” Mom pressed the back of her wrist to my forehead. “Why don’t you have something to eat?”

  I shook off her hand and pushed away the plate of pancakes like it was poisoned. “I’m fine.” Though I wasn’t. “I guess I’m still a little tired from the party last night.” Though I wasn’t. “I’m sure I’ll feel better by lunch.” Though I wasn’t sure of that, either.

  Chapter

  6

  I slammed my hand against my locker. Stupid lock. Sighing, I shifted my backpack and tried the combination again. What was it again? 36–24–34? No, 34–24–36. That didn’t sound right either. Why couldn’t I remember three little numbers?

  Crowds of people flowed up and down the hallway in a steady stream, eddying around chattering knots, parting, drifting, and re-forming in seamless currents. The constant motion around me was soothing and a little hypnotic. I felt like I could watch the patterns for hours.

  C’mon, Abby. Think! I shook my head, studying my locker door and fiddling with the combination lock. But it was hard to focus. Hard to think. Grumbling, I dropped my backpack and hit the locker with the flat of my hand again.

  Ever since Saturday’s breakfast with Dante—days ago—my life had felt like it was one step behind and, as Hannah had so eloquently put it last night at dinner, I’d turned into a grouchy, grumpy mess.

  And to top it all off, I’d been late to rehearsal every night this week and Dave hadn’t been happy at all. I had a constant headache that no amount of aspirin could touch. I felt all twisted up inside like a Celtic knot; I couldn’t even begin to figure out where to start unraveling the mess. I could feel the pressure weighing me down, slowing me down, keeping me down.

  Leaning my forehead against the cool metal, I closed my eyes, feeling the rising pressure sliding through me like tentacles, sucking the energy and life from my limbs. I could still sense the ebb and flow of people moving—laughing, talking, jostling—all around me. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was drowning.

  A bright light flashed behind my eyes, stabbing into my brain like a hundred knives.

  Not again, I thought wearily, my hands clammy with fear.

  I’d been having these flashes every couple of hours, sometimes more frequently, for the last couple of days. And the terrifying thing was that they seemed to be flashes of the future. The first one had happened Sunday afternoon. A flash of white light and a glimpse of Mom cooking tuna casserole for dinner. I hadn’t thought much about it until dinner: tuna casserole. Weird, but not that weird.

  But then, when I woke up on Monday morning, I had another flash: Hannah wearing her blue shirt with the white lace trim. And that time I also heard the whisper of her complaint that her favorite red blouse still had a stain on the sleeve. When Hannah barged into the bathroom later that morning wearing that same blue shirt with that same complaint on her lips, I almost dropped the hair dryer in shock.

  The flashes had grown more frequent, more intense, and more accurate since then. It was like having some kind of a strange future déjà vu.

  No, please, not now, I thought as the light grew brighter, the sharp pain lacerating my mind. Frantic, I spun the dial and the lock popped open. Hallelujah! I grabbed my books at random and shoved them into my already stuffed backpack. Maybe I could get to class before—

  Natalie in a green shirt—

  “Hey, Abby. What’s up?” Natalie leaned against the bank of lockers, her green shirt the exact same shade as the one I saw in my mind’s eye.

  “Hey, Nat,” I said, grateful that my voice still worked. In my vision I heard myself ask “What time is it?” a bare second before the words left my lips in reality. A real-time flash? What was happening? My eyes hurt from the double vision.

  I saw two Natalies glance at the clock on her cell phone. “It’s almost noon. Is your watch broken?” She nodded to—a flash of gold on my wrist— the gold watch on my wrist.

  I shook it briskly, frowning. “I don’t know. It hasn’t been working right all week. It’s been running fast, and then, I don’t know, it’ll just stop for a while and then start up again.” My heart beat a double rhythm in my chest. Cold sweat covered my skin.

  “Weird. Maybe it needs a new battery,” Natalie said, waving the conversation away with her hand.

  Now she’ll say she’s late for history—

  “Listen, I’m late for history—what are you doing this weekend?”

  I shrugged. “Unless Jason has plans, nothing, I guess.” Just slowly losing my mind is all.

  “Great. Then you’re both coming to the Dungeon with us on Friday. If I don’t see you later—see you later!” The surging crowds swallowed Natalie whole.

  The double vision disappeared instantly. My constant headache roared with renewed strength. I blinked several times, my eyes dry and burning.

  “Both?” I said, and then I felt Jason’s hands slide over my shoulders. I hadn’t noticed that he’d walked up behind me.

  “You’re not planning on doing your homework during lunch, are you?” he asked with a smile. He held up a brown paper lunch bag. “I thought we had a date.”

  “What?” I looked down at the books in my hand. “Oh. No. It’s just . . . Is it lunchtime already?” I shoved my math book back into my locker.

  Jason’s forehead creased with worry. “Are you okay? You seem a little . . . distracted lately.”

  “No, really, I’m fine. Let’s have lunch.” Maybe some food would calm me down.

  I followed Jason through the crowded cafeteria to our regular table. He pulled out the chair for me and I sat down gratefully. My limbs felt heavy and uncoordinated. The hands of my watch lurched into motion, sweeping in a swift circle around the dial. The edges of my vision blurred with a kaleidoscope of swirling colors. “I could use one of your mom’s famous chicken salad sandwiches right now,” I said, dropping my backpack on the chair next to me.

  Jason looked at me quizzically. “How did you know Mom made chicken salad for lunch?”

  My heart dropped in my chest. “Just lucky, I guess.” I shivered despite the hot, crowded cafeteria. A sudden wave of nausea rushed through me and I grabbed the edge of the table and held on tight. The dizziness passed as quickly as it had come. When my vision cleared, I saw Dante standing across the table from us, concern in his stormy gray eyes.

  I saw his mouth move, but I couldn’t hear anything except a wild rush of wind in my ears.

  “Abby?”

  This time I heard my name clearly but I wasn’t sure who had said it, let alone when. What is happening to me? Real fear gripped me, leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

  I saw Dante hesitate a moment, then set his mouth in a thin line and walk straight for our table. “May I?” he asked, touching the back of the chair next to me.

  “Sure,” I said. With shaking hands, I lifted my backpack off the chair and pushed it out for Dante.

  He sat down and clasped his gloved hand around my wrist. Time, already fractured, seemed to stop altogether. The roar of the cafeteria dulled to a distant murmur. I watched Jason turn toward me in slow motion, a frown on his face.

  “I’m sorry, Abby,” Dante said quickly. “I was careless on Saturday. I shouldn’t have carried you to the car. I shouldn’t have . . .” He shook his head. “If I had known you’d been suffering all this time . . .” A dark shadow crossed his face. “I thought I had it under control.” He drew in a deep breath. I could almost see the flow of air into his body. “I know what you are going through and I will make things right,” he said in a low voice. “I promise.”

  “What?” My mind struggled to keep up with the flood of his words. The pressure inside me flexed like a clenched fist.

  “Meet me on the north side of the parking lot before rehearsal starts this afternoon. Alone.” Dante leaned close enough to me that I could smell the dusty-sweet scent of his wool coat. “Promise me you’ll be there, Abby. Ti prego.”

  His fingers skimmed over the back of my hand lik
e a summer breeze through leaves. Dante’s eyes met mine and a feeling like a shower of cold water washed over me, leaving me clean, cool, and calm. My heart settled back into its normal rhythm. My eyes stopped seeing horrifying double visions of the present and the future. The tight knot in my chest loosened, unraveling enough for me to take a deep breath. I felt myself on solid ground for the first time all day, all week.

  Dante removed his hand from my wrist and time snapped back into its regular rhythm. I could still feel the pressure in my bones, but now it was distant, tamed by Dante’s touch. I hoped I could handle the remaining pressure on my own. I hoped the worst was over.

  Dante leaned back in his chair as though we’d never had a whispered conversation in the middle of the cafeteria.

  Without taking his eyes off Dante, Jason shifted his chair closer to mine.

  “It’s nice to finally meet you, Jason. Abby speaks quite highly of you.” Dante tugged at the edge of his gloves, readjusting the fit of them over his strong hands.

  “Thanks,” Jason said with a curt nod of his head and a sharp glance at me. “When did you guys talk?”

  “During breakfast on Saturday,” I blurted and then immediately wished I hadn’t said anything. I took a bite of my sandwich to prevent myself from saying anything else.

  “Really?” Jason looked from me to Dante and back again, his hazel eyes hardening into amber.

 
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