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by Shaara
Rated: 13+ · Book · Sci-fi · #1820930
A time-travel story and a love story
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#737967 added October 31, 2011 at 5:29pm
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Chapter One
Laurie peeked down the aisle around Mrs. Martin's skinny body. Broad-shoulders, muscles taut, shiny black hair. Oh, my. She felt like whimpering, like wiggling about on the hard wooden pew, acting the role of a nursery toddler. But she held herself firm, pretended control. Ooh, he's so good-looking, she thought. The tiniest breath of a sigh released itself, a sigh almost soundless.

Even so, it reminded her that she must behave. Her eyes dropped to the song book. Her fingers touched a word, then stopped, paused although the choir sang on and everyone around her continued.

God's firmament forms a mighty . . .

She wet her lips, attempted to jump into the refrain, but her thoughts whiffled about like unburied ants.Who is he? Where has he come from? Oh, I have to find out. I just have to.

The song ended. A man behind her coughed. Off to the right a baby cried. She heard the sounds, familiar sounds, but they didn't waken her from her speculation about the man, the handsome man, the man she'd never seen in church before.

Her younger brother kicked at the pew in front, his legs flapping back and forth, back and forth.

"Stop that, Harry," she said.

The man turned about then. He couldn't possibly have heard her, yet his eyes, bluer than lake water, bluer than the sky after rain, gazed back at her, met her look, nodded, smiled.

Oh, my. Laurie's mouth opened to gasp her amazement, her eyes widened.

Harry started swinging his legs again. On the rebound, his foot struck her shin with a sharp, piercing strike.
"Ouch," she said, forgetting they sat in church, forgetting for the moment everything, except the pain in her leg and the fact that the man had turned around and smiled at her.

She rubbed the sore spot, placed her other hand on Harry's shoulder. She could afford to be kind to him, even to forgive him for kicking her, since after all, it was his foot that had brought the man's attention to her.

Harry's legs stopped swinging. He glanced up at her, sighed, fidgeted a bit like a rope swing caught by a hand's grip. A streak of irritation flashed over his face but didn't land. Harry's thoughts moved on. Like his legs, they were restless, in constant flow.

The choir director called for the congregation to sing another song. Everyone rose. With a clear and vibrant voice, Laurie opened her mouth to sing the well-loved song, "Onward Christian Soldiers."

Perhaps he heard her clear soprano voice. Once again he turned to gaze back at her. They exchanged a second smile.

"Stop that," her mamma said, nudging her.

Guilt paled Laurie's complexion. Was it a sin to smile at a man when she should be worshipping? She closed her eyes so she wouldn't be tempted to peek again, concentrated on the words, used her voice to proclaim good tidings.

We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

Every note carried her higher, into the bosom of the church and of goodness. The song ended, she sat down, readied herself for the minister's sermon. Reverend Seamwell clutched at the pulpit, leaned down as if he could by words alone prepare their souls for his purge of their sins. Laurie recognized what was to come, closed her mind, tried to prevent the darkness of the minister's admonishments from stealing the fiber of her happiness.

"Your time on Earth is almost come to an end, brothers, sisters. Have you thought about that?"

Reverend Seamwell's fist struck the lecturn. It startled poor little Bonnie who sat directly in front of Laurie. The child practically jumped out of the pew. With her mother's firm reminder, she slid her little body firm against the hard wooden bench back. Laurie observed that the child then focused on something she held in her hands. Clever child to bring a toy, Laurie shifted to see better, watched as the child bent and twisted a couple of pipe cleaners. Her chubby little fingers formed a flower, a dog, then something Laurie couldn't identify.

"You need to pay attention," Laurie's mother said. Her eyes flicked a look of irritation, but it lasted only a second. She gave Laurie's hand a gentle pat to smooth out the scold, then lost herself again in the preacher's words, her eyes glazing, mouth soft in admiration.

Laurie nodded once, though she knew her mother didn't see, was lost again in the power of faith, oblivious to earthly interruptions. Laurie wished she felt the same way. Why did Reverend Seamwell's words cause her dismay instead of bliss, why did Reverend Seamwell, himself, only make her shudder?

"God has told us, has ordered us to repent our Earthly sins. Have you done so, have you put aside your greed, your gluttony, your lust . . .?"

Lust? Was that what she felt for the man with the blue eyes? She wanted to look at him again, but she didn't dare. She stared at Bonnie, realized the child had formed a giraffe this time, one with a neck so long it seemed like a caricature. Laurie thought about her mother's admonishment, pulled her eyes away, gazed over to the left.

Margaret Thannigan wore her soft pink sweater, the one Laurie always admired. If the reverend didn't made such a big deal about sin, she'd covet it. Laurie sighed and gazed down at her folded hands.

"Without your doing something about it, the end will come. You will be cast among the sinners, wretched, in misery. IN HELL my friends, IN HELL."

Laurie glanced up. Reverend Seamwell's face already glowed with pearls of moisture. In minutes sweat would slide down his face, drip onto his light gray minister's robe, darken it to black. She knew the signs. Next would come the heavy pounding, pounding that punctuated each warning, each note of doom. Laurie shuddered, looked away again, allowed her eyes the escape she wished her body could take.

To the right of Margaret sat her little sister, Francie. The child had pale blue ribbons in her braids. Were they the same color as his?

Oh, what was wrong with her today, why couldn't she take hold of herself and listen?

Laurie closed her eyes, hoped that would help to center her.

Little Francie was in first grade, in a room three doors down from the second grade classroom where Laurie taught. Would Francie be in her class next year? She hoped so. The child seemed sweet.

Laurie smiled, let her mind drift away, back to the school day where she spent so many hours. For some reason, she pictured Donald's freckles. The pattern of them, the way they stood out against his pale skin, like little brown beacon lights. She almost let out a giggle at her thought, barely caught herself. She straightened up, moved her legs, refitted her hands.

On Friday, Lizzie had said the freckles formed a hop scotch down his nose. The children laughed. Not kind at all. Donald's face turned red. Laurie scolded the children. Told them that freckles were angel kisses. Donald's eyes lifted then. He smiled a shaky smile, but problem averted.

Laurie nodded to herself. She'd handled it well, but she did have to admit, Lizzie had a good eye, an even better imagination,

Laurie's mind played over other problems, Susie's arithmetic, Sam's sleepiness, the way she needed to conference with Frankie who kept forgetting his homework. For a moment she let herself worry over Tina's scratchy penmanship, the way the child's hand cramped because she clutched the pencil too tightly. She resolved to do something about it. She could buy a plastic grip, one that might help. But what about the other children? They'd be jealous, want one. Maybe she'd best buy a class set. Would they sell such a thing at Walmart? Did she need to go on-line?

Her thoughts traveled on, then grew hazy, general -- the yellow daisies Dalia had brought her, the sweetness of the children's smiles when they first saw her Monday morning --- smiles, oh, no. Once again she recalled the man's grin, the way his teeth looked so straight, so white they made her think of white carnations, calla lilies -- picket fences . . .

She must put that man out of her mind. He'd only smiled at her. Good heavens. What a simpleton she was. Even though those blue, blue eyes, twinkling with . . .

Oh, no. Harry must be kicking again. Mrs. Martin had turned about to glare at him. Laurie reached over and stopped his legs. For a moment it worked, he stilled, but then he twitched away, too restless, too young to understand that Reverend Seamwell's sermon wouldn't take forever. The sky would still wait for his notice, the trees stand tall, ready for him to climb -- the frogs out in the pond would croak just as loud.

Laurie smiled, thinking about how Harry had tried to take his latest acquisition to church. Petey Frog now sat inside an old glass jar mama had found. He'd be fine until Harry got home, probably better off than in the pocket where he'd almost ended up.

Reverend Seamwell fist-banged, whooped, hollered. "Righteousness will be yours, my friends . . ."

Laurie's eyes scanned on, met the man's gaze again, froze. She swallowed, looked down, fidgeted her hands worse than Harry. Was the man watching her?

She shot a secretive glance back his way, noticed his position, half twisted in the pew so he could see the preacher, but still look backward to scan the people behind her. Was he doing so, checking out everyone?

No. His eyes met hers again, centered on her, remained fixed.

Flustered, she shot a glance at her mother. Mom's eyes had closed, not sleeping, of course, listening. She loved Reverend Seamwell's sermons, practically doted on his message each Sunday, then replayed it in the week's conversations, quoting and paraphrasing ad nauseum.

The sermon dragged on. Laurie glanced at her watch almost every breath, knew to the second exactly how much longer the minister ranted, Harry kicked at the pew in front of him, and the man continued to stare back at her, tossing her a smile each time she dared look up.

Finally, the congregation stood to allow the reverend to walk down the aisle so he could greet them at the door.

"Land sakes alive, said Mrs. Martin, just after the preacher passed by. "Looks like you got yourself an admirer, Laurie."

"What are you talking about?" Mama said as she flashed a look at the stranger. "Don't you encourage her, Mabelle. We don't know anything about that fellow. Other than he doesn't seem to know what's appropriate inside a church."

My face grew hot as a tea pot spout, I looking down, hoping he hadn't heard, hoping no one else had noticed the smiles exchanged.

Harry tugged at my dress, a newish calico flowered dress, one that Papa said made my green eyes sparkle sweetly. "Is he your new beau, Laurie? Is he any good at throwing balls?"

"Harry," Mom said, scolding him with a look.

Saved from answering, but not from my blush. The man suddenly stood at our side. Like a boulder in a stream, he resisted the push of the congregation's movement to head for sunshine.

"Hello," he said, sticking out his hand to Mama. "My name is Charlie Baker."

A moment's pause, she considered him, then took his hand, shook, smiled.

He nodded, turned to Mrs. Martin, repeated the action.

Other church members moved on by us, giving us a look that meant they wished they could stop and listen. Barbara Jodie dragged her heels, only her mother's firm grip on her elbow kept her moving forward. Barbara had an eye for men. I was sure the fact that this stranger had stopped to talk with us burned a hole right through her self-image. I think I saw smoke spouting from the top of her head as she argued the issue with her mother.

But they, like the others swept by us. The man's eyes turned to regard me. He directed his handshake in my direction. We exchanged a touch, a touch I was sure felt nothing like the one he'd given my mother or Mrs. Martin. Waves of electricity flowed through our exchange. The little hairs along my arm sprang to attention. I couldn't move my hand, couldn't free myself from the possesion of his grip. The look in his eyes told me he felt it, too.

"Where you from?" Mama asked him. The connection severed.

My face felt hot as a stove after baking. I wondered if my fair skin was usual displaying the reds of embarassment. I wanted to look down, to hide from him, but although our hands had separated, our eyes had not.

He smiled, a smile that traveled from lips to eyes.

"I come from Sacramento, California. Been traveling awhile, though, looking for something, something I needed. That's why I'm here. Your town of Briggly kept it hidden. But I found it. I'm here for good now."

I don't know what Mama and Mrs. Martin thought of his words. Maybe they just accepted them at face value. Lots of men folk searched for a place to set down roots, a place for life's contentment. I'd never heard of Belmont being the source of it, but I didn't know why it couldn't be. I'd always believed contentment lived in the soul, not in a location.

"Well, we're glad you're here with us today," Mrs. Martin said. She and Mama turned about and headed down the aisle, completely ignoring Harry who was crawling under the pews nearby.

Mama tossed me a look, said I needed to get my brother. Sundays were my day to manage him, something I'd offered and been granted years ago.

"Harry," I said with that note in my voice.

Since the stranger, I mean, Charlie, was still there, Harry popped out of his hidey-hole under the pews, shot up like a Jack-in-the-box, and scooted over to my side.

"Hi," Harry said, stretching out his hand like an adult. "I'm her brother. Do you play baseball?"

Charlie took the out-stretched hand, shook it firmly, released, then squatted down to Harry's level so they could meet eye-to-eye. Good thing. The man was tall, a six-footer at least, Harry looked like a four-year-old, though he was actually turning seven. Stunted in growth, perhaps, but wiry with a body well toned by outside play.

Batting averages attached to names of folk I'd never heard sped by me. Apparently the two males shared a common interest, they rattled terminology back and forth quicker than Harry's fast balls.

The sanctuary had almost emptied by then. When Charlie finally stood, we moved forward, following an elder man with a cane and a young couple who'd apparently remained to talk over something, somthing that kept them silent and non-touching as they crept toward the narthex.

At the door, when it was my turn, Reverend Seamwell captured my hand in his and held it a moment longer than felt comfortable. His eyes stared into mine as he questioned me.

"And did you enjoy the sermon today, Laurie?"

A fish on a hook wiggles about with the agility of urgency. Often it can free itself, but me, hooked firmly by social convention could not wiggle at all. Instead, I lowered my eyes, restrained my hand, and attempted to dredge up an acceptable response. The tension flustered me, stole away the empty praise I wanted to give him.

"Reverend Seamwell, I can't wait to shake your hand, sir," Charlie interrupted, his hand pushing forward, disengaging my painful capture.

I backed faster than good manners dictated, but couldn't help the smile that spread across my lips. I'd seen the look in Charlie's eyes as he took his place in line with the minister. His awareness of my unease. His intent to break me free. Charlie had just saved me. In doing so, he'd risen even higher on the pedestal of knighthood.

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