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Edge of Time



Melissa Lynne Blue

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Edge of Time

Copyright © 2012 by Melissa Lynne Blue

Cover Design by Rae Monet

ISBN-13: 978-1479222537



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.

For more information: www.melissalynneblue.com

Dedication



For my husband who never settles for second best… And Amanda… Fly Me To The Moon is for you and Makayla.

One

Was it possible to just pick up and start a whole new life?

The question weighed heavily on twenty-six year old Marissa McClafferty’s mind as she prepared to leave the war zone her work place had recently become.

Or better yet, just drop off the face of the earth entirely?

The oversize wall clock behind the nurses’ station read eight-thirty and angrily Marissa kicked the blood spattered white shoes from her aching feet. She should have been out of there an hour ago. Her shift had ended at seven-thirty but as usual disaster struck at the stroke of seven and here she was preparing to trudge home late and microwave another lonely TV dinner.

Wearily she shrugged a light jacket over her pale blue scrubs, the second set she’d changed into that day, and stuffed her feet into the worn brown shoes that would carry her home. Slipping through a side door behind the emergency department Marissa made her way through the ever darkening parking lot. As if her day hadn’t been bad enough, Brian had dropped by that afternoon to inform her that if she didn’t get the rest of her “stuff” out of his studio by the end of the week he was going sell it or dump it.

As if she’d had the time! Brian knew how busy she was and how much stress she had been under lately. Oh well, Marissa sighed, it didn’t really matter anymore. It was over between them and with her two weeks of vacation starting tomorrow, she would have plenty of time to gather up the remnants of her engagement from his studio and shut him out of her life forever. But she didn’t really want to go over to his place. She didn’t want to see him or… Marne.

A shooting star streaked across the black oblivion of the nighttime sky and Marissa could not resist throwing a silent wish heavenward, I really want a new life… A different life… Sliding behind the wheel of her sporty white Chevy, thoughts of Brian and Marne—and Marne and Brian—refused to be thrust from her mind. Two weeks ago that day her former fiancé had appeared unexpectedly at work, work of all places, to announce that he had fallen in love with his latest model.

Marne.

Marne was essentially everything Marissa was not: tall and willowy with radiant raven curls and blue-green eyes that perfectly matched the color of the ocean before a summer gale. Marne could best be described as Marissa’s polar opposite. But as much as Brian’s devastating betrayal hurt, the knowledge that she should have seen it coming, had known it was coming, was far more depressing. She had always been a strong, career oriented woman, one who would never allow herself to get caught up in girlish romantic fantasies.

Or so she had thought. One look from the dark brooding artist and she’d practically swooned in his arms. Following a whirlwind courtship he’d proposed after a mere six months. Marissa had felt like the luckiest woman alive. Busy schedules had prevented them from getting around to setting a date for the wedding and after two years…

She should have known better than to fall for such a romantic illusion of a man. But the bottom line was that as much as his betrayal hurt she could not allow this one man to wreck her… She was Marissa McClafferty strong, independent woman and she did not need Brian Whitely. Even as she pounded the words through her brain they felt hollow, unconvincing and the powerful realization was that Brian had wrecked her… The miserable break up had left the shreds of her heart and soul like a shoddy patchwork quilt, barely held together with old yarn, and a gaping hole in the very center.

The silhouette of a man in the middle of the road became visible in the yellow glow of Marissa’s headlights, snapping her from her musings. “That’s weird,” she murmured slowing and shifting to the shoulder of the road, away from the frantic figure standing on the dotted yellow line. Cautiously Marissa inched ever closer and spotted a beat up little car stopped on the opposite side of the old highway. The Toyota compact definitely appeared to be out of service with all of the lights out, and the vehicle was parked at an extremely odd angle in the road. With a contemplative sigh Marissa warred over the wisdom of stopping and cursed under her breath when good conscience won out. Inching the window down just enough to speak with the man she opened her mouth to speak.

“I need help!” The panicked voice exploded through the window opening.” My girlfriend is having an asthma attack.” The boy couldn’t have been more than 18. “But the car broke down before I could get to the hospital and my cell phone is dead!”

“Okay, Okay,” Marissa said soothingly feeling instantly guilty that she had considered not stopping. Subconsciously an internal switch flipped to ER nurse mode and Marissa sprang into action. “I’ll call an ambulance for you.” Quickly she dialed 911 and filled the dispatcher in on the present situation. Stepping from the car she snatched the stethoscope off the passenger seat and handed her cell phone to the distraught boyfriend. “What’s your name?”

“Tom.”

“All right, Tom, I want you talk to the dispatcher while I go to check on your girlfriend.” Though soft, her voice held an authoritative tone that brooked no argument from the teenager.

“Are, are you a doctor?”

“No, I’m a nurse.” Marissa tossed him a quick reassuring smile. Sliding into the driver’s seat of the young man’s car it was immediately apparent that the girl was in a severe state of distress. “Hi. My name is Marissa, I’m a nurse in Community’s ER and an ambulance is on the way. Right now I want you to try and relax, okay?” Even as she laid a gentle hand on the teen’s arm a siren screamed, coming rapidly closer.

The flashing lights of the ambulance cast a reassuring red and blue aura over the landscape surrounding the car and as the large vehicle sped to a screeching halt in front of the crippled automobile a burly man leapt from the back of the wagon and strode with urgency to the car. “Oh, hey, Marissa.” The EMT was obviously surprised to see her.

“Hey, Dan.” Marissa gestured to the distressed teenager and quickly relayed her assessment of the situation. “Do you think her boyfriend could ride in on the ambulance with you? Their car broke down and it’s only a couple of minutes into town.”

“Hey, that’s no problem.” The EMT grinned widely at the worried boyfriend. “Hop aboard, kid!” Dan had an appealing manner that could lighten even the most dire of situations.

The teenager turned a grateful smile to Marissa. “Thank you so much. I hope you don’t mind but I called a tow truck about my car.” The boyfriend placed the cell phone back in Marissa’s hand. She shoved it into her pocket.

Marissa just smiled. “That is absolutely fine.”

Within moments the ambulance was speeding away. Marissa sighed, more than ready to begin her two weeks off. The black cloud of disaster seemed to be following her even when she wasn’t at work! Sliding behind the wheel of her car Marissa felt as though she were functioning on autopilot. Automatically she stabbed the key into the ignition and slipped the gearshift into drive. Steadily she pressed her foot to the gas pedal and began to accelerate past the broken down car.

“What the hell?” The curse escaped her mouth as her own vehicle’s engine made a strange whining noise and died. In vain she wrenched the key in the ignition willing the car to start, but it was no use, it seemed as though the entire electrical system was out. Grabbing her wallet she threw open the car door and stormed from the vehicle. Lifting the hood wouldn’t do any good because she was anything but a mechanic. She would never recognize a problem much less fix one. Leaning against the car she flipped the cell phone open to call Triple A. It was dead. It wouldn’t even power on, which could not be possible as the phone had been fully charged when she’d left work not twenty minutes ago.

A glance up and down the road revealed not a single, solitary light—anywhere! How far had she come from the hospital, anyway? And where were some of the nearby houses? Dusk became darker. This must be a massive power outage.

“Ahhhrrgg!” In total frustration Marissa pounded her fists on the top of the shiny white car, sending her cell phone flying in the process. Could one more thing possibly go wrong? The phone bounced and rolled into the roadside ditch between her and the edge of a barren field bordering an old brick farmhouse. “Well, I guess that’s what I get for losing my temper,” she grumbled.

In what light the full moon lent she stumbled down the embankment and bent to pick up the cell phone. As she reached for it, Marissa noticed that her watch had also stopped. Taking it off, she shook it beside her ear. Nothing. Growling in dour frustration she beat down the urge to hurl the watch into the field and stuffed it into her scrub pocket instead. It was then she noticed a single light shining from the first floor of the rustic brick house in the field. Marissa surmised that was her best bet for a working telephone. She’d always thought the place was deserted, but maybe someone had recently bought it. On the chance there was someone there, she set to her jaw and strode determinably across the field at a brisk clip, more than a little nervous about approaching this particular house.

Most people in Charleston said it and the woods behind it were haunted. A hundred or so years ago there had been a murderer in those woods. Everyone knew the story and many claimed that every twenty years someone disappeared in the vicinity of the farmhouse. Every Friday the 13th or Halloween night a group of teenagers from the nearby high school came out here looking for ghosts. Marissa had never put much stock in ghost stories but just the same she’d never seen fit to tempt fate. Even now a bizarre white mist visibly emanated from the woods, creeping around the moss laden tree trunks.

About half-way across the field she slowed as it became apparent the pale beacon shining from the farmhouse was neither a reflection of sorts or from an electrical source. The way the glow bounced and flickered, Marissa thought it must be candlelight. Swallowing back the unease welling in her throat she reasoned that the farmhouse must have lost power as well. Carefully she averted her gaze from the ‘haunted’ woods and pondered the possible causes of such a mass power outage.

“Ouch!” Marissa swore as she stumbled over a large rock and fell. Grumbling under her breath she righted herself and brushed the thick dust from her thigh. Tucking her blonde hair back into its twist as best she could, she took more care walking in the dark. Her eyes—and ears—must be playing tricks on her. The swirling fog emerging from beneath the trees created a surreal aura over the landscape; an unearthly stillness descended upon the field and Marissa shuddered with cold dread as wraithlike silhouettes seemed to dance and bob, fading in and out of her visual field. With a fervent shake she rubbed the flat of her palms across her eyes and stared.

I do not believe in ghosts, so I’m not seeing them now! But... Did the sky really seem lighter? Why did the field suddenly look… different? Had someone painted that ancient porch? Surely it had never been white before.

A powerful gust of wind sparked Marissa from her trance and she broke into a terrified run for the farmhouse. The stars faded in the evening sky and it almost seemed as though the sun were rising back out of the west. Impossible! Ghostlike figures continued to eddy on the wind around her and another gust threatened to steal the very breath from her lungs. An intense flash of light lit the sky and the blanket of stars shattered into a thousand glittering orbs of spectral light.

A scream built inside her, but an even more horrifying sensation of being paralyzed swept over Marissa, blocking it in her throat. She was unable to move, or cry, or scream. In desperation she fought to tear herself from the hellish chaos of the weird half-night, half-day she found herself in. Intense light flooded the world around her and the ghostly wraiths bent and twisted. The sights and sounds and smells of the night merged in a stunning collage of sensation and color. The wraithlike figures grew even more distorted, altering her perception of everything around her. The earth, the grass, even the farmhouse changed before her very eyes. Then all at once she felt solid ground beneath her feet, and she could move again, running toward the house… in terror.

She never saw him coming, never noticed the man who materialized like a ghost from thin air, but she certainly felt it when she plunged headlong into him. Marissa cried out in surprise as she and what felt like the solid trunk of a tree collided. For one long moment all she saw was gray… gray, scratchy wool. Marissa held out her arms as a shield, but found them entwined with pair of long masculine arms. Spinning and off balance, Marissa squeezed her eyes shut, tensed in anticipation of the inevitable collision with the ground. At the last moment the man with whom she was falling shifted his weight to cushion her fall, and they tumbled to the ground in a tangle of limbs. The two lay for a moment unmoving, stunned.

Upon opening her eyes Marissa became acutely aware of two things: One, it was light out, and two, she was lying on top of the rock hard, well-toned form of a man. Raising her head she looked frantically around, heart still hammering with the terror she’d experienced just moments before.

“Madam, your knee!” The man beneath her grunted in obvious discomfort.

“Huh?” Marissa was far too disoriented to comprehend, much less form, intelligent speech.

“Move your knee, woman!” the man said with considerable urgency.

“What? Oh!” Realizing the delicate area in which her left knee had landed Marissa hastily scrambled off of the man and sat beside him, struggling to get her bearings.

“Oh, God.” The man she’d plowed into rolled away from her with a grimace. “Getting run over by a stagecoach would have been less painful.” With a deep breath, and another grimace, he rose to a sitting position facing Marissa in the grass. He picked up his hat, brushed it off and replaced it on his head. Then he jumped lithely to his feet and held a hand out to assist her up.

Marissa shook her head, trying to make sense of all this. How can it be daylight again? The last shades of dusk had fallen only moments ago on the highway.

“It’s light out,” she marveled aloud.

“Well of course it’s light out. It won’t be dark for nigh on an hour.”

Marissa, still trying to collect herself, took her first good look at the man in the field with her. Her heart gave a sickening lurch as her mouth gaped in disbelief. In a word the gentleman’s attire appeared… odd. He wore a snug fitting gray woolen tunic with a high stiff collar embroidered with decorative gold scrollwork. A rich scarlet sash encircled a trim waist and intricate gold buttons closed the front of the jacket.

A Civil War officer? Impossible! Unless this is one of those re-enactment groups? And if that is the case, he is really into his character. Nobody said ‘nigh onto’ anything anymore.

Narrow straps atop each of his shoulders bore captain’s bars, if badges of rank were the same now as the time he was dressed up to represent, and the initials “M. S.” bedecked the impeccable high collar. Marissa dragged her gaze up the shape of a man who appeared tailored to fit the uniform and not the other way around. Neatly trimmed sandy hair shown beneath his gray cap, and he possessed a strong, clean shaven face. Under normal circumstances Marissa may have thought him handsome—no not handsome; this man was beyond handsome—but when her gaze slid up to meet his eyes… her breath froze… the arresting blue hue left her totally dumbstruck. After several mindless moments, reality returned and she snapped her mouth shut, but confusion continued to swirl through her mind as she returned his equally puzzled gaze. Never had she seen eyes so captivatingly blue.

* * *

Craig Langston studied the woman he’d collided with in a fashion as openly fascinated as she appeared to be. She was young, probably in her early twenties, very pretty, with cornflower blonde hair streaked with silvery strands pulled into a half-hazard bun. Her ebony eyes contrasted vividly with pale milky skin, and the delicate bone structure of her heart shaped face deserved more than a casual glance. This woman was undoubtedly a timelessly classic beauty. However, it wasn’t the young woman’s looks which held Craig Langston enthralled, but her attire.

She was clad in a pale blue uniform of sorts which somewhat resembled a sailor’s dungarees. The clothing was constructed of a light-weight fabric, pale blue in color, and consisted of an unrestricting short sleeved blouse tucked into similarly unrestricting trousers that tied off with a draw string at the waist. The blouse had a V neck which, when she leaned forward as she did now, revealed a great deal more flesh than the girl probably would have liked; she was certainly not wearing any sort of chemise or undergarments he was accustomed to. The woman’s appearance was scandalous at best, and he couldn’t help but notice how the thin fabric clung provocatively to her voluptuous curves. Tearing his eyes away from her peculiar attire he forced himself to look at her face again. She looked positively stricken. He surmised her expression was likely a result of her inappropriate state of dress and their compromising position a few moments before.

“Captain Langston!” a voice called out.

Craig startled and turned to see Mrs. Harris practically sprinting across the field toward them. A long full skirt hindered her pace and black high-heeled boots showed beneath her flying petticoats. He tugged his jacket swiftly back into place and leaned forward, grasping the peculiar young woman beneath the arm and helping her to her feet.

“Thank you so much for stoppin’ by, sir,” Mrs. Harris drawled breathlessly. She smiled sweetly, drawing his attention away from the girl.

“No, trouble at all, ma’am.”

“If the mare isn’t any better by tomorrow I’ll send Fredrick out for you again,” Mrs. Harris’s said casually. She didn’t seem at all perturbed by the odd woman on her farm. “If that is all right with you of course.”

“Perfectly, fine, Mrs. Harris.” He glanced again toward the younger woman, wondering at the bewildered expression lining her face.

“Oh, where are my manners!” Mrs. Harris exclaimed. She reached for the girl. “Captain, I see you’ve met my niece.”


Two


Niece?

Stunned, Marissa flicked her gaze to the lady Captain Langston had referred to as Mrs. Harris. Concern flickered briefly in the other woman’s pale eyes.

“You must forgive my niece’s attire, sir, but she is just arrived from Atlanta and has been helping me with some handiwork around the farm. With all the men gone to fight in the war we women have had our hands full.”

Atlanta? I’ve never seen more than the airport in Atlanta, Marissa thought but her voice froze again.

Captain Langston nodded in immediate understanding. “Of course, Mrs. Harris. These are times when we must all do our share to help one another. As for your mare, there is no need to send Fredrick out tomorrow, I’ll make a point of stopping by in the afternoon when my shift at the hospital is through.”

“Why thank you, Doctor,” Mrs. Harris gushed as the captain turned to Marissa and tipped his hat,

“My apologies for the rather abrupt meeting this evening, Miss—?

“M-McClafferty,” she stammered out, grateful she could form any coherent thoughts or speech. “Marissa McClafferty.”

He nodded. “Good day to you, ladies.” And with that Captain Langston took his leave.

To say Marissa was confused would have been the understatement of any century. Marissa knew she was still standing in the field outside of the old brick farmhouse, but everything was different.

Even the air smelled differently.

Where the highway should have been she saw a wooded area with a dirt road winding through, and a barn lay off one side of the house where none had existed seemingly moments before. The dilapidated house she’d driven past countless times appeared in excellent repair with the trim and porch neatly painted white. The yard was decorated with a tasteful collage of flowers, and freshly washed linens had been hung out to dry. The word picturesque came to mind and Marissa turned tentatively to the woman who had proclaimed her a member of the family.

“Let’s get you into the house, child.” Mrs. Harris spoke kindly and her refined southern drawl had a soothing quality. Her pale hair with the slightest hint of gray about the ears had been pulled into a proper bun at the nape of her neck and her pretty face flushed with color. “We can’t have anyone else seein’ you dressed in such a fashion.” Mrs. Harris took Marissa by the arm and led her behind the house toward a back door. “Don’t worry, darlin’,” she whispered emphatically. “You’re not crazy, that much I can promise you.”

“What!” Marissa spun away from the woman, dumbfounded.

“You are not crazy.” Mrs. Harris stopped and turned to her, excitement sparkling in her blue-green eyes. “I have to ask, Marissa, what year is it where you come from?”

Marissa’s eyes widened in alarm. “Well, I come from here,” she hedged, unsure of how to respond.

“Yes, but what year is it?”

Mentally she threw up her arms and went out on a limb. “2012.” Oddly terrifying as the declaration seemed she sensed Mrs. Harris already knew.

The woman nodded in satisfaction. “Twenty years on the nose. I’ll be damned! Excuse me, I suppose a lady shouldn’t use such language.” Mrs. Harris let out a short almost hysterical laugh then shook her head as though to clear it. “It was 1992 when I found myself here and now it’s 1863.”

Marissa’s mouth went dry. 1863. It could not be possible. Charleston, South Carolina 1863 meant… Mouth agape she could do nothing but shake her head in fervent denial. None of this could be real! “I’m dreaming. I must be dreaming.” Perhaps she’d hit her head on that rock in the field and was unconscious.

“Come along, Marissa, I’ll explain everything inside over a nice cup of hot tea.”

Marissa entered the house, immediately struck by its charming appearance. Golden wood floors gleamed with fresh polish and crisp white walls reflected the natural light from the windows lending the home a light, airy aura. Mrs. Harris led Marissa into the parlor, and instructed her to make herself comfortable. Marissa sighed as the other woman stepped out of the room. Wearily, she flopped into a wingback chair, trying to make some sense of recent events. Through the lacy curtains she spied the reddening of dusk in the clouds and realized that she felt strangely numb. I think I must be in shock.

“Have you eaten, Marissa?” The kind almost motherly voice pulled her from her musings and she turned to find Mrs. Harris carrying a tray laden with a silver tea service, biscuits, preserves, and a steaming bowl of soup.

“No, not since lunch, but that was—” She shrugged and let out a short laugh. “Well, I suppose I don’t know when that was.”

Mrs. Harris bestowed another understanding smile upon her. “I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor. Now, you eat and I will explain to you everything I know.” She sat opposite Marissa and lifted a cup of tea. “My name is Imogene Harris, but you can call me Genie. I was born July 8, 1968 in Atlanta, Georgia, as Imogene Garret.

“That’s my birthday,” Marissa mumbled.

“What was that dear?”

“July 8 is my birthday.”

“Well, it must be fate.” Genie grinned and then continued with her story. “In 1988 I came to Charleston to attend college and in 1992, with one semester left to go I was driving along the road that will someday pass by this house and my car broke down. I waited a long time for another car to come past, but the road was almost always deserted at night and I finally decided to see if there was anyone in the farmhouse who might be able to help me. I cut across the field right out in front here.”

Mrs. Harris gestured in the general direction of the field Marissa had also ventured through. “When I was mid-way across the whole sky lit up and—” she chewed at her bottom lip as though struggling for the right words “well, I can’t rightly describe it, but the next thing I knew everything was just... different. An elderly widow took me in. The year was 1843, and it was exactly 20 years ago today.” She leaned forward, speaking earnestly. “The way I figure it we passed through some sort of wormhole to the past or an inter-dimensional doorway of some kind. I was never much for quantum physics, but that is the only explanation I can think of.”

Marissa’s mind reeled wildly. She had never given much thought to quantum physics or time travel either, but was it possible she’d actually traveled into the past? Had she really passed through the fabric of time to Charleston, South Carolina and the year 1863?

Leaning forward she set her tea cup on the table. It rattled in its saucer. “The same thing happened to me,” she said. “Exactly the same thing! I stopped along the side of the road to help a couple whose car had broken down. I called them an ambulance with my cell phone, and right after the ambulance pulled away my car broke down too. When my cell phone didn’t work I tried coming to this farmhouse for help, though I’d always thought it was deserted. I saw a flicker of light through a window. Or, I thought I did. It seemed to be the only light for miles around.”

Genie’s face scrunched into a vise of puzzled amusement. “I have to ask. What is a cell phone?”

“Oh.” Marissa reached into her pants pocket. “I suppose cell phones didn’t exist in 1992.” She pulled the phone into view and handed it to Genie, issuing a disgusted snort at the totally blank screen. “It’s a portable phone that uses special towers to send signals.”

“My God, it has been so long since I’ve seen any sort of contraption like this. Is it like a satellite phone the military would use?”

“Kind of.” Marissa watched Genie turn the phone over in her hand.

“Well, we’ll have to destroy or hide everything you have brought back with you.” Mrs. Harris rose and walked over to a large oak bookcase lining the wall. Pulling out several books from the top shelf she opened what appeared to be a secret compartment in the wall and removed a box. Carrying the box to the sofa she sank onto the seat beside Marissa, pulled a key from around her neck, and opened the box.

Slowly Genie handed Marissa a small rectangular object. It was a South Carolina driver’s license with Genie’s younger face smiling back at her. Marissa swallowed hard. This was it, the final nail being hammered into her coffin. Everything she had witnessed and heard, no matter how impossible, was real. The year was 1863 and she was trapped in the past.

No!

Hot bile welled in Marissa’s throat and her entire being retched at the thought of being stuck in the past. Uncontrollable shaking took hold of her entire body as the denial gave way to shock. “What about getting back?” she whispered hoarsely.

Genie put a comforting arm around her shoulders. “I gave up hope of that a long time ago, my dear. I am inclined to believe the portal is one way.”

A burning sensation seared Marissa’s throat. “Why?” Anger built in her voice and she spat, “How could you possibly know the door is one way?” Tears blurred her vision and she swallowed the intense urge to scream. “Didn’t you even try to get home?”

Unruffled by the outburst, the other woman wrapped compassionate arms around Marissa as she broke into tears. “About a year after I came back to this time I saw the highway briefly but couldn’t get back through to it. I could see cars driving by, and a dog run across the field. None of them were affected so I assume the doorway wasn’t actually open. It was not long after that I realized I didn’t really want to go back, not anymore that is.”

Genie drew back, fixing Marissa with empathetic eyes. “I was working as a school teacher, a wonderful man had asked me to marry him, and I felt that my place was here and that I could do good things for the people who needed me,” she paused, “in this time.” Her voice was quiet and soothing with a quality that reminded Marissa of being read a bedtime story. “I now believe that I was always meant to be here, and maybe you’re meant to be here too. Perhaps this is our place and time to be, to exist.”

Marissa’s mind rebelled as she desperately sought to reject Genie’s words. Violent sobs tore from her body and Genie held her and stroked her hair, quietly murmuring words of understating until Marissa regained a small measure of control. Pulling away Marissa rubbed her tear stained face, feeling as though her eyelids were made of sand paper. Looking at her new friend she realized how lucky she was that Genie had found her as soon as she did. Straightening, Marissa squared her shoulders desperately grasping at some measure of determination. “Well, I guess it’s time to face the music.” Wiping tears from her eyes she put on her best game face, but failed miserably at a smile.

The women talked for hours, Marissa filling Genie in on advancements in the two decades of she had missed, and Genie assuring Marissa that everything could turn out as well for her as it had for Genie. She also reinforced the history lessons Marissa had learned in school, filling in gaps with present day local knowledge.

“You’re a registered nurse then?” Genie asked finally, gesturing to Marissa’s scrubs.

“Yes, I work in the Emergency Room.” Marissa put a hand to her brow and shook her head. “Or worked in the Emergency Room. I don’t know if I still do or ever will again.” Her voice broke and her composure threatened to crumble again.

“Good,” Genie said briskly, as if to forestall any further show of emotion and put a positive spin on Marissa’s presence in this time and place. “You can be of use at the hospital then.”

“The hospital?”

“Yes. There is a Confederate Army hospital here in Charleston, and you have more medical training than anyone claiming the title of doctor this day in age.”

“So much for my Bachelors degree,” she said wryly. Marissa knew that in the mid-19th century two six-month semesters of medical school or an apprenticeship with an established physician were all the education required to earn a medical degree. “But I don’t know about working at the hospital. I don’t really know much about medicine in this era and I have absolutely no idea what kind of medicines are available or what treatments are used. “

“Do you know a little somethin’ about anatomy and physiology?” Genie’s drawl was like sweet molasses over pancakes and Marissa felt overtly comforted.

“Well, yes, but—”

“Do you know some about wound care, and caring for the sick and injured?”

“I—”

“I know you do, because my mother was an RN and believe me, you can be of use to the sick and wounded in the hospital, and the community.” Genie’s tone left no room for argument. Marissa realized her hostess was trying to make her see she could have a purpose in this new life, but Marissa clung hard to her determination to somehow get home and made no commitment to so much as look at the army hospital.

The women talked for another hour concocting and perfecting an identity for the niece of Mrs. Harris who had recently arrived from Atlanta. “Well,” Genie said in a chipper voice, “that is enough for now. Let’s find you some clothes and then get to bed. You’ve had quite a day and it won’t do for me to keep you up all night jawing.”

Marissa rose wearily to follow Genie out of the parlor and up a flight of stairs. Darkness had settled over the farmhouse hours before and Marissa didn’t know whether she found the night comforting or terrifying. In its obscurity she could pretend everything around her was familiar, normal. When the world was concealed by shadows the evidence of her predicament was swallowed along with time itself. As she struggled to find something coherent to hang on to, she watched Genie expertly strike a match and light a kerosene lamp. A warm glow cast through the room. It was as though the light lent a degree of clarity to her thoughts and Marissa smiled into the comforting yellow light, allowing her to see that a home was a home and a friend was a friend regardless of the time or place.

“You’ll have to teach me how to do that.” She nodded toward the lamp with a slight smile toying at the corners of her mouth. “I have never had the need for such a ‘contraption’.”

Genie threw her head back with hearty laughter. “No, I suppose you haven’t! I still find it amazing how items I once considered antiques are now the latest technology—contraptions I had no idea how to use. But I learned, and so will you.”

Marissa tilted her head thoughtfully. “Rather humbling really.” Here was the opportunity for an entirely new life she had been silently begging for just hours before. Was she ready for it?

* * *

Marissa woke to the soft patter of rain on the window and stretched catlike beneath her quilt. Smiling, she breathed deeply of the sweet dampness in the air. Nothing smelled better than a South Carolina rainstorm. Nothing smelled fresher than the scent of wet grass and flowers wafting through the air like a heady perfume. Eyes still closed she felt more rested than she had in months. Thank God for vacations. The last thing she remembered was—

She sat bolt upright in bed, her eyes darting frantically about the unfamiliar room. The gray, overcast sky cast a dingy quality to the surroundings, which only added to her instantly black mood. Flopping back onto the bed Marissa rolled over and buried her face in the pillow. She screamed into the feathers as memories came crashing in on her. “This has to be a dream,” she said aloud, sitting up again.

Viciously she pinched her arms. It hurt.

With equal ferocity she slapped her face. Yes, that hurt too.

As she clenched her teeth in tortured frustration, a bitter metallic taste leeched onto her tongue. Blood. Unwittingly she’d bit the inside of her cheek, and with the tang of blood so came the realization that none of this was a dream. Blood—real blood—was not something one dreamed about and Marissa had seen plenty of real blood.

Everything was real. She was in Charleston 1863 in the midst of the Civil War’s Confederate south. Tears welled once again in her eyes and she lacked the strength to even attempt stemming the onslaught scorching her cheeks like lava. Feeling defeated, dejected, and more than a little frightened, Marissa cried in anguish for her lost life. Everything she’d worked for, had ever earned was for naught, not to mention her family.

Would her parents and three older brothers even know she was gone? Instantly she banished the thought from her mind, No, fervently she sought to assure herself, my family cannot possible miss me because they haven’t been born yet, and neither have I for that matter.

Oh! But, that doesn’t make any sense!

“Nothing makes any sense,” she muttered aloud. Wiping fat salty tears from her eyes, Marissa turned and watched the rain weep down the glass window panes. Drawing herself up with what felt like Herculean effort, she squared her shoulders. I shall just have to make the best of this situation until I can get home, she resolved, and I will get home. With that thought she made a valiant attempt to put all nonproductive thoughts aside.

Swinging her legs over the side of the bed she set to the task of getting dressed.

Genie had pulled a trunk full of clothes out of the attic the night before, saying, “My daughter has a love for clothes that goes unmatched in any century, and I sometimes wonder how her husband affords her massive wardrobe. Carolyn was only sixteen when she married, I was against it, but,” Genie shrugged, “when in Rome..."

Marissa smiled as she thought back on Genie’s words; apparently some things never changed, like the love some women have for clothes and shopping. Rifling through the garments she was hardly sure of what to be seeking. Genie had given her a quick instruction as to proper 1860’s dress the night before, but Marissa’s mind had whirled just trying to keep the undergarments straight.

After a full thirty minutes of struggling with the myriad of buttons and ribbons that held things together, Marissa turned triumphantly to the full length mirror in her room—admittedly she’d cheated a little and was still wearing her own bra. The reflection staring back at her was unrecognizable. It showed a demure, southern belle who must be a ghost, because it could not possibly be her. The ghost was garbed in a gown of pale coral which perfectly flattered her petite figure, fitting snuggly against her bosom and torso before flaring at the hips to give her waist a remarkably slender appearance. Almost hesitantly Marissa raised a hand to the modestly dipped neckline as though to ensure it was her in the mirror.

A small bubble of excitement welled up and seeded itself in the back of her mind where the childhood fantasies of wearing such clothes had long ago been stored. Though the chore of getting dressed had not been much fun, the act of wearing the gown made her feel like a new person, a new person with a new life. She tidied her long hair with the brush Genie had provided the night before, wearing it down rather than try to fashion it into some sort of upsweep. The oversize alligator clip she’d worn to keep it up and out of the way yesterday would never pass muster in 1863. Quietly, she descended the wooden stairs and smiled at the sight of Genie bustling about the kitchen humming what sounded like a Beatles song.

“Good morning, dear.” The older woman smiled warmly, motioning for her guest to come forward. If she had heard the outburst from a little while earlier she gave no indication. “You look absolutely lovely. I don’t think Carolyn wore that dress more than once before convincing her father she needed a new one.”

Marissa smiled at her new friend. “I think I would like to meet Carolyn. Where does she live now?”

“Oh, she’s in town. That girl was never much for farm life and she married a solicitor almost two years ago. Just after the war started. A lawyer,” Genie supplied at Marissa’s questioning glance. “When her husband joined the Confederate army I invited her to come stay with me, but she elected to stay in town, not that I’m surprised, mind you.” Genie’s cheer was positively infectious and Marissa felt herself genuinely smiling at the other woman as she heaped oatmeal and biscuits onto a plate. “It’s been lonely with my husband gone,” Genie continued. “My husband, Jim, rode with Jeb Stuart’s cavalry, but he was killed six months ago.” Her voice broke and she paused a moment before continuing. “My son, Andy, is only fourteen but he’s driving an ambulance somewhere in northern Virginia.”

When she looked up there was no mistaking the worry and loneliness in her eyes. “I was a history major in college,” Genie went on, “so I have no illusions about this conflict and what sort of devastation it will bring to the south.”

Marissa spoke then, moved by the other woman’s emotions. “Genie, your whole family is fighting for the Confederacy, but you already know the outcome of the war and—” Marissa stopped, groping for the right words to voice her question.

Genie laughed, though no humor shone in her clear blue eyes. “You want to know which side I’m on?” At Marissa’s affirmative nod the other woman continued, “I stand by my husband’s memory, but truthfully I cannot put my heart into the cause. All of Charleston knows how I abhor slavery and I think most of my family and even some of my neighbors know I secretly sympathize with the Union.” Genie lifted her shoulders in a helpless shrug. “Although it isn’t so much sympathizing as having no faith in a hopeless cause. You just have to support the people you love. Because when the fighting is over the people are the only thing left, it doesn’t matter which side of the barrier they fall on because in the end there will be a lot of pieces to pick up.”

Thoughtfully Marissa nodded and a vision of the handsome officer she had met the day before flashed before her mind’s eye. “And what about the Confederate officer who was here yesterday?” For whatever reason, she could not banish the sight of those intense cerulean eyes from her mind.

An arch smile spread across Genie’s pretty face. “Impressed, were you? Dr. Langston. His entire family has lived in the Charleston area for years.” Her cheery demeanor returned in an instant. “I volunteer at the hospital a couple days a week and he was kind enough to come out and look at my mare that is close to foaling.”

Her voice took on a wistful quality, “I tell you, if I were twenty years younger I would have a mind to chase after that man myself, or one of his brothers. There are four Langston boys in all, and every one of them as handsome as he is. They take after their father.” Casting a suggestive look in Marissa’s direction she changed the subject slightly. “Which reminds me—” Genie tapped a finger on the table “—we need to inquire about a job for you at the hospital. I gave it much more thought after we discussed it last night and I think it will be just the thing for you.”

Marissa opened her mouth to protest, but Genie cut her short with a wave of the hand. “We can’t very well play off of your nursing knowledge, but we’ll tell them that you trained alongside your father who was a doctor.”

Marissa had to smile at Genie’s enthusiasm for seemingly all aspects of life, and then decided it may not be such a bad idea to get a job. It would provide a necessary distraction while she worked toward getting home and she could at least pay Genie back for her help and kindness. Marissa had heard many a tale about the hardships that the citizens of the Confederacy had undergone and anything she could do to prevent straining Genie’s life further would be welcome. “Actually,” Marissa said throwing Genie a conspiratorial glance, “my father is a doctor, or was… or will be… Oh, I don’t know how to put it. This is all so confusing!”

Her friend flashed an understanding and compassionate smile. “I know, Marissa, but I do promise you that it gets better.”

Desperately trying not to succumb to tears, Marissa choked back a sob and instead said with a smile, “Okay, but how long before you stopped reaching for light switches on the wall?”

“Oh,” Genie chortled gleefully, “Never! I still do.”

* * *

Marissa spent the day with Genie Harris helping her adjust to her new surroundings. Hah! As if it was possible to adjust. Marissa followed her dutifully around the farm, met Fredrick and Grace, the elderly black couple the Harris’s employed to help her with the farm a few hours each day, and made a half-hearted effort to keep up with Genie’s constant strain of chatter.

All she could focus on was that it was hot! And dusty! And totally without modern conveniences!

Marissa grew more frustrated by the hour, though she did find the ice house truly intriguing in that even in the intense southern heat it stayed cold. She’d never considered where the ice had come from, but Genie explained it was cut from frozen lakes in the north, insulated in sawdust or straw and transported into the south. Marissa wasn’t sure which point was more fascinating, that the ice was actually transported from the north, or that sawdust made such an adequate insulator.

The bathhouse reminded Marissa of just how desperately she missed her shower, and bubble baths, and dear Lord—antibacterial soap.

And the privy—nothing more need be said about the privy. It was a privy. Though in all honesty Marissa had to admit she’d used worse facilities at her grandparents’ mountain cabin.

It was all downright depressing.

Antiquated items that she’d never realized existed were now necessities that positively boggled her mind and she’d finally begged Genie to limit the day’s lesson to use of the stove, kerosene lamps and water preparation for baths and laundry.

Late in the afternoon the women passed by the chicken coop and Genie pointed through the netting. “That is Toughie,” she said. A gnarly old rooster glared at them from his confines. “He is the meanest rooster I’ve ever seen, and if he gets out you just duck and run for cover.”

Marissa cocked a brow and glared back at the rooster who looked ready to eat them alive.

“If we let Toughie loose he could probably stand down the entire Yankee invasion and end the war today!”

“Well, what are you waiting for, maybe you could change history after all,” Marissa suggested wryly.

“It is tempting isn’t it?” Genie smiled back. “But I mean it. Watch out if he ever gets loose.”

The woods came into view, looking darker than was natural and the unease she’d experienced since being a teenager settled over Marissa. “Genie, have you heard that old story, or maybe it’s a new story now, about a murderer in the woods over there? I’ve been afraid of this house since I was a kid because of it.”

The other woman nodded instantly. “I remember the story, but as far as I know there is no murderer in the woods and there hasn’t been before now.” Genie shrugged. “Either the story is made up or the murders haven’t happened yet. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to believe that someone made up the legend to scare the living daylights out of kids on Halloween.”

“Okay.” Marissa nodded, grasping hold of the logic and her thoughts flew back to more pressing issues. Vaguely, she remembered hearing that life in this era was simpler. Well, whoever had said that was wrong!

“‘Okay’” is not a term you should be using,” Genie said gently. “Try to purge it from your vocabulary because it could mark you as not being from here even more than your accent will. It’s not a common term in Charleston in this time. Remember I said I was a history major. I think the term came into being around the end of the 1830s, in Boston, where some historians believe it was short for the slang term ‘orl correct.’ But others date it a little later, in the 1840s when a man named Martin van Buren used it, calling his presidential platform ‘the O.K party’—because his nick name was Old Kinderhook, name of the place where he grew up.”

“O—” Marissa broke off quickly. “All right, I’ll try to remember. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a Yankee.”

By the end of the day her mind was whirling with the effort of learning an entirely new way of life. It was rather like visiting a third world country she supposed, except that this was her country! The glamour she had perceived from watching movies about this era was definitely overrated. Everything was filthy, dusty, and hot. There was no TV to relax in front of, no showers to wash the sweat from her grimy tired body. No pint of chocolate ice cream conveniently stashed in the freezer to wallow away her sorrows.

Desperate to escape the cruel twist of fate known as her life Marissa went to the field and spent the better part of an hour stomping angrily across the stretch of grass that had thrown her into the past. Was this destiny? Had fate played some sort of cruel joke on her? Or had she gone completely insane?

“I wasn’t serious when I wished on that star,” she grumbled, shaking a fist toward the blue, cloudless sky. “My life wasn’t that bad.” Or maybe it was…

Finally tiring of the endless trek across the field Marissa sighed and, taking care to cut a wide swath around the chicken coop, wearily mounted the porch steps. Perching on the wooden swing facing the field she gazed at the beautiful country around her and drew a deep cleansing breath.

The air smelled fresh and clean, and the quiet was peaceful in a way she had never experienced. There was no noise or smell from passing cars and trucks, and the occasional horse or buggy traveling along the hard packed dirt road provided a nostalgic quality that she found oddly comforting.

Stretching her neck she looked out over the field, catching a glimpse of the blue sky around the edge of the porch roof as she enjoyed the sheltering shade. It was incredible, almost unfathomable, but for the first time in weeks, maybe even months, she didn’t feel overwhelmed by life. Considering her world had been turned topsy-turvy a mere twenty-four hours before she could only credit the change to shock; though she did seem a bit too rational for shock, which left madness as an alternative. But be it madness or shock, she felt relaxed. And she liked it. Her job had become so stressful lately she hadn’t taken the time to look at the sky or steal even a moment for herself. Not to mention the whole ordeal with Brian. Stretching her arms out in front of her she gazed at her hands, they looked remarkably feminine with the delicate coral sleeves framing her slender wrists.

* * *

Craig Langston stopped dead in his tracks as he cut across Mrs. Harris’s yard. Marissa McClafferty was quite simply a vision sitting on the porch. Sunny hair cascaded down her back in waves of buttery silk and the gentle breeze brushed soft strands enticingly across her cheeks. Craig imagined how it would feel to brush those errant locks away from her smooth skin, letting his fingers linger on the creamy flesh. Her huge brown eyes were cast downward and the slightest hint of a smile curved the corners of her full, pink—kissable—lips.

Never had he been so physically stricken by the sight of a woman, but the image of the ethereally lovely Marissa poised on the swing like a goddess in a dream pierced him to the core. Realizing his jaw had gone slack Craig snapped his mouth shut and shook his head before continuing his trek across the yard. Her eyes lifted, locking on his as he approached.

He’d nearly reached the porch steps when she rose from the swing, a demure smile lighting her face. “Good afternoon, Dr. Langston. Are you here to see my aunt’s mare?”

Craig was once again rendered quite speechless as he gazed into the wide ebony pools of her eyes; so dark and vast, surely if he ventured too close he would fall into them forever. “I’m--I’m sorry, what?” he stammered, unable to look away from her enchanting face.

“The mare?” she said.

“Oh! Yes, the mare. I have already been to see her. No change as of yet.” He cleared his throat in an attempt to grasp at a shred of composure before continuing, “Is your aunt at home, Miss McClafferty?”

“Why yes, Dr. Langston, she just went inside for a moment. Would you like to sit and wait for her?”

He grinned as she flashed him a coy, flirtatious smile. “Only if you will join me while I wait.”

She lowered her lashes. “Of course I’ll wait with you.”

As the delightful Miss McClafferty strolled slowly along the porch he enjoyed the sway of the skirt around her legs. She didn’t walk like other girls, with studiedly mincing steps, but moved with poise and something else he could not quite put his finger on. It was intriguing.

“Dr. Langston,” she said, gracefully reseating herself, “I am terribly sorry for running into you yesterday. It was not the friendliest of greetings.” She raised her eyes to him. “I do beg your pardon.”

He laughed, and when she joined in, the sincere quality of her laughter struck him. It was not the prim and proper tinkle of practiced amusement he was accustomed to hearing. “Well, Miss McClafferty what do you say to starting over then?” He turned to her, smiling, and cleared his throat. “I am Craig Langston, currently serving as a Captain in the Confederate Army Medical Corp.”

“Lovely to meet you, Captain.” Her head tilted slightly as she faced him, allowing her hair to cascade over a shoulder. “I am Marissa McClafferty. I arrived yesterday from Atlanta to stay with my aunt Genie.” She beamed up at him, the gesture friendly and totally genuine.

It was easy to smile back at her, her delightful voice and crisp accent refreshing after the scores of women whose words had been deliberately sweetened for the purpose of husband catching. “You say you’re from Atlanta, but I detect a bit of a northern accent.” Instantly her face clouded, and he feared having erred. She watched him closely before answering, as though searching for malice in his inquiry.

“I lived in Michigan as a child,” she replied after a moment. “I moved to the south when I was twelve years old.”

“I see,” he said. “And your family? Where are they?”

Craig watched the light drain from her captivating dark eyes, and her shoulders slumped sadly. “I’m afraid that aside from Aunt Genie I am very much alone.”

“I’m sorry.” He spoke quietly, silently kicking himself for his lack of tact. No doubt something terrible had happened to her family and that was why she had come to live with her aunt.

A single tear trickled down her cheek and she turned away as if to conceal the evidence of her distress. It was too late; Craig saw a teardrop splash onto her lap and his heart ached for her. The war had been cruel to so many people, it was difficult not to be consumed by bitterness. A desperate need to take Marissa’s pain away griped him, and on impulsive he slipped an arm around her slender shoulders. He knew it was not proper for a gentleman to touch a woman he wasn’t acquainted with in such a way, but a gentleman should never leave a crying woman without consolation either.

An audible sigh gushed past her lips as she leaned into his embrace, laying her head upon his shoulder.

An unexpected thrill of excitement surged through Craig. By damn… he hadn’t had this reaction to a woman in… well… ever.

“Dr. Langston. You made it.” Genie’s cheerful voice shattered the tender moment.

Guiltily, Craig snatched his arm back and jumped to his feet. “Yes, Mrs. Harris. I, uh… I’ve been by to see your horse and I should think she will foal within the next day or so. If you like I will stay on until she does.”

The relief on Genie’s face was evident, and with a wry smile she drawled, “Why, Doctor, as long as I’m not keeping you from necessary duties I would be very grateful. You know from past experience that I do not fare well when it comes to any sort of blood.”

Craig was unable to keep the mirth from his voice or expression when he replied. “It’s no problem. Perhaps Fredrick would take word to my regiment and let them know where I can be found should I be needed?” Craig knew Genie didn’t have much stomach when it came to blood and was terrified of having her mare foal while she was there alone. Fredrick was a skilled horseman, but rheumatism prevented him from assisting during a difficult delivery. Craig could not deny the fact that he was also looking forward to the opportunity to get to know Marissa McClafferty better.


Three


Genie and Marissa were put to the test of selling Marissa’s new identity over dinner. Fortunately, Dr. Langston tactfully avoided the subject of her family and past, seeming to understand it was a subject best not broached at the time.


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