@ JM Dragon 2010
Julia Stokes had lived her life in the small town of Lancaster, just by the shores of the Lancaster River, whose tributaries ran eventually out to the Atlantic. There was no mystery about Julia or the rural town where she was born-they were both were quite average.
Having grown up in the town, she knew everyone of her age group that she cared to know. Her mom used to call the crowd she didn't know hippy weird and told her to stay away. Since she wasn't interested anyway, Julia duly listened to her mother. The truth was she really didn't care about those people since her life was filled with the study of her favorite subject-physics.
A month before leaving for a university that was a hundred miles away, she was drawn into a dare...
Kristine Albany and Shauna Rice had been her best friends forever. After an evening watching a movie followed by a long drawn out supper, they emerged from the restaurant in the early morning hours to walk home. It was a bright night filled with stars and the full moon glanced images off the cars as they stepped by them.
Kristine, flung back the bangs of her mousey brown hair and announced, "I think we'll do truth or dare on the way home…it'll be fun."
Shauna, the tallest of the threesome, laughed at the childish suggestion. Some might call her rangy while others would think of her as athletic. "Oh, Kris, give it a break. Every time we walk home, you ask us to play that silly game. Can't you change the record? Besides, it's way too late. Although, I like being a night owl since it gets us ready for college and the all night parties and stuff."
Julia listened to the banter between her friends for a few minutes with her hazel eyes going from one to the other. Finally, she quietly added, "Let her have her fun, Shauna. It might be the last time we are all together for a while."
The two other girls turned to their friend. Shauna, with her piercing gaze from her steel blue eyes had a look of incredulity on her face. "My, that's a first, Jules! You hate the game."
With her thin shoulders shrugging, Julia gave her friend a pained look. "Not hate it exactly… I think it's a waste of time."
"I know why she thinks that," Kristin chuckled, "because there's nothing to tell in the truth department. Maybe I should just call it the dare game since zilch happens here that we don't already know." The smile on Kristine's face an infectious quality about it that invariably won over any disagreement between them-there weren't many of those. Kris was a stocky girl with a heavy hand and gave what she thought was a gentle slap, to Julia's back.
Julia's hand snaked around behind her to rub the part of her back where her friend had inflicted some pain. "That would be more to the point."
Shauna stood at the edge of the sidewalk and contemplated the words for a few seconds. Her black hair cut in a boyish style, which Kristin didn't like, didn't move forward as she vigorously nodded. "Ok I'm game. Who's first?"
Kristine laughed and pointed to Shauna. "You spoke first, Shauna, so go for it. We do need to set the forfeit before you start. Any ideas?"
Julia shook her head. Her hair and its style was another bane of frustration for Kristine-she loved the rich burgundy color but the style, which hung in long rat's tails, was horrendous and often held in check by a simple hair band. Julia didn't have fashion or style sense since she preferred her books. She was what some would call black and white in most things, except when it came to science-she loved to explore all possibilities.
Shauna pursed her lips and ran a hand through her incredibly short hair barely moving a hair. Growing up, her hair was always so unruly that no amount of hairdressing techniques had ever tamed it. Over the years, she had tried about every product on the market without success so the short style was her new approach and she seemed to like it. "Right…how about we give up a day of our break week for the Christmas holiday if we lose."
Puzzled, Kristine asked, "To do what?"
"Hmm I hadn't thought of that well…"
"We could help at Juniper's Rest Home. They're always looking for volunteers," Julia injected and was pleased when her friends agreed.
After both Shauna and Kristin had completed their dares, Shauna confidently announced, "Julia, we dare you to go inside the old hippie compound and spend half an hour there."
Julia frowned. "That's not fair! You both had real easy dares. Why do I end up with the longest one?"
Kris grinned. "Sorry, Jules, but it's the only place around here. Let's face it, of the three of us, you're the most likely not to be scared. Don't get me wrong, but you look the part too."
Julia gave her friend an indignant look as she smoothed a hand over her serviceable plaid shirt and worn jeans. Turning, she gazed at the long abandoned hippy compound that hadn't seen anyone in it for the last ten years. Her mother had always warned her about the place but that was when people lived there-no one did now. The full moon and sky filled with stars were the only evidence of light that shown on the dilapidated buildings and overgrown grounds.
With a shake of her head and a low chuckle, Julia asked, "What can you both possibly be scared of? It's a mass of old buildings. End of story."
Shauna hesitated then quietly said, "I've heard rumors there are ghosts there."
Julia scoffed at that. "Really? When did you believe in ghosts?"
Shauna looked embarrassed as she remarked with bravado, "Well of course I don't…not exactly…but people have said."
"Yeah and I've heard it too," Kris remarked in defense of their friend.
Julia shook her head. "You are both such cowards. Ok, I'm game. Half an hour you say from now right," she looked at her wristwatch, "it is one fifty-five." She pushed at the chained and padlocked large gate, which gave way enough for her slim body to slide through. Looking back, Julia grinned. "One of you is going to spend your day at Juniper's and it won't be me. See you soon." Julia walked away jauntily, her path made easier by the light from the brightly lit moon.
Kris looked at Shauna. "Do you think we should follow her? You just never know if some vagrants are living in there…or something else." Her eyes strained to see Julia who disappeared into the darkness.
Pursing her lips, Shauna shook her head. "You know Julia…she wouldn't thank us for that. Besides, she's right, it's just old wives tales about this place."
"Well, I think she deserves to win the bet for just going inside," Kris announced softly.
Shauna laughed as she checked her wristwatch. "She has another twenty-six minutes to go."
They both stared into the darkness of the compound. All they could do was wait.
Julia whistled softly as her footsteps took her closer to the main building. Her whistling was one of the defense mechanism that took over when you weren't sure of what you were getting into. Not that she'd say she was scared, but the place was kind of creepy. Derelict buildings flanked her wherever she walked. Some were barely huts while others like the one she passed to her left were barn-like structures. Continuing on, Julia heard several sounds creaking and scuttling. Her senses increased as she peered around at her surroundings-nothing was there to make her scared. In most other circumstances, she'd have expected her friends to try a stunt to make her jump out of her skin however, she had the distinct feeling this place wasn't one of them.
"Probably mice or worse, rats." A shiver of aversion ran down her back at that last possibility. If she squealed like a little girl, her friends might discover that she wasn't as fearless as they thought. Determinedly, she walked on before pressing the light on her wristwatch-exactly two am. "Twenty-five minutes to go. A piece of cake," she announced more to bolster herself than any other reason. Walking faster, she saw what she thought was the area's largest building. "Must be the original community building." With a giggle she added, "Or the Bates motel."
The moon glowed overhead, drawing her to the building like a beacon from a lighthouse. She stopped abruptly at the foot of the four tier steps that would take her onto the porch that appeared to circle the whole of the lower floor. Julia cast her eyes upwards. It was a two story building that she thought was probably, in its heyday, quite presentable. "Well I guess I'd better knock," Julia she said with a grin as she took the creaking steps carefully. She reasoned that the elements that had been trying hard to take over the buildings elsewhere wouldn't have left this one alone so caution was necessary. She considered it such a shame that whoever owned it now had left it dilapidated. She heard all kinds of stories about developing the place for a new residential area but those rumors never seemed to pan out. Arriving at the main door, she smiled. "Here goes nothing," she said as she lifted her hand and rapped on the door loudly-the sound echoed all around her.
While standing on the porch, Julia glanced at the buildings that she could see realizing the regimental feel of the main layout of the area. Obviously, someone had gone to great lengths to make it structured. Not that she knew what that structure had been. I wonder why that is?
An unusual sound penetrated her concentration and she swung around with her face screwed up in consternation. Then she glanced around before muttering, "No way."
As the sound continued slightly louder, Julia gave the area a puzzled frown and then shook her head before loudly shouting, "Ok, girls, which bright spark decided to turn on the radio."
There was no answer. All she heard was the distinct soft tones of the music. Annoyed, Julia remarked, "Look, this isn't fair. I didn't do this on your dares."
The melody continued.
Under her breath she muttered, "I'll get you both back for this. I just need to find you. Where are you?" Her gaze swung to a window, which the glow of the moon seemed to have single out. As she listened to the music, it appeared to be coming from the same direction. Shaking her head, Julia said, "Funny. Ha, ha, girls."
Confidently heading toward the light and the music, she was astonished to see that the moon wasn't giving off the light. Cupping her hands to look inside the remarkably clean window she saw a single, naked, light bulb hanging from the room inside the building. Julia hesitated as she considered this. How come they have power? Then the more she thought about it the more she decided there must be a caretaker. "Yeah, that stacks if there is interest in the property." Although she hadn't heard there was. Maddy, a friend whose father owned the biggest real estate brokerage in the city, hadn't mentioned it and Julia was certain she would have-extra marketing for her dad was what she called it. For a few moments, she allowed a kernel of fear to wrap itself around her then she shrugged it off. "I can do this I can." She whispered into the night.
Her natural curiosity took over as she peered once again inside the window of the starkly lit room. It was sparsely furnished and clearly retro. A pod like plastic chair in black and white stood to the left. A wooden slat bed with the gaudiest bedspread she'd ever seen outside of an art deco shop covered it. It was the only color there. The walls were white with a large black mural painted on each one. To Julia's sensibilities, the swirling stabs of paint she saw in each wall painting hadn't any rhyme or reason to it.
On a small wicker table to the right, she saw a white plastic white oblong shaped radio with two dials on either side of four buttons on the top. A gold mesh screen on the front that Julia surmised was the speaker that obviously still worked, as the music was louder. The big question-should she knock on the window and attract the attention of whoever was inside? Her eyes tried to go deeper into the room to see if anyone was there. No evidence of anyone in the room. But they could be on patrol.
Glancing at her watch, she saw that she had another twenty minutes to go. "Well I guess it won't do any harm to knock on the window." Without hesitation, she rapped softly on the pane of glass. Still amazed that the window was clean unlike the grimy other windows that she would need to wipe to see inside the rooms, this one was spotlessly clean. She ran her eyes over the rest of the building-nothing else appeared as clean as the window pane.
Julia once again peered inside the window. Nothing. She decided to knock again with increased strength in her knock. The tap echoed into the still night.
The sound of crunching of gravel had her swinging around as her heart raced. Whoever might be behind her might not react favorably to her intrusion. Oh, crap!
Her initial vision sweep showed -no one.
Julia gave the area around her a puzzled look before turning back to the window. Her heart jumped as she allowed herself a silent shriek of fear. A face in the window was staring at her. Indigo eyes gazed into Julia's hazel ones.
Scared by the suddenness of the appearance yet mesmerized by the gaze, Julia pulled back fractionally. She could do nothing to draw her eyes away from the intense scrutiny. Like a tug of war, the two sets of eyes pulled one another to win the game that, for Julia, was to escape the enforced dominion the indigo eyes had over her.
When the link suddenly broke, Julia almost fell over in surprise. Balancing her body, she quickly drew in a deep breath. Here goes nothing. "Hi, I'm sorry to disturb you. I didn't realize someone was here." Although her voice wasn't steady, what it lacked in conviction she made up for with a genuine smile.
From Julia's point of view, full, even large lips, reluctantly forced a returning smile. With a sense of relief, Julia felt her shoulders relax. She watched in fascination as slim fingers unhooked the latch that held the window closed and slid it open without a creak or groan.
"Hey, look I didn't realize that anyone still lived…or…worked here. My name is Julia. I live about half a mile away." With a shrug and a chuckle she explained, "My friend's dared me to come here for half an hour. They say there are ghosts here but it looks to me like it's more that no one realizes you still live here."
There was no reply or comment to her apology. Julia stood dumbfounded as she scratched her head. "I guess I'll be going then." She turned to walk away but was sure she heard the muffled sounds of please don't go. She turned half expecting to find the window shut with no one there.
The penetrating gaze caught her again.
"Are you the caretaker here?"
The intensity of the gaze continued but this time Julia moved her eyes away quickly. She then realized that the person on the other side of the plane was a woman with long, very long, brunette hair that hung loosely around her shoulders. Her face was arresting. The eyes caught her attention immediately but in no time, she noticed the almost flawless creamy skin with the lack of appreciable ageing. Therefore, deciphering the woman's age was difficult-she could have been anything from twenty to a lot older. Her clothes, matching the retro feel of the room, were something out of the time machine. A purple long skirt and tangerine blouse, heavy embroidered in pink stitches, enhanced the effect. How very strange.
Julia thought as she attempted once again to converse with the silent woman. "Have you been here long?"
Julia's eyes widened when she received an unexpected reply.
The enthralling rich melodious tone of a voice said, "Come inside?"
Taken aback by the request, Julia allowed that earlier fear to take over. She frowned slightly, and backed away. "I think I'd better go back to my friends."
The stranger stared at Julia and the more she did the more Julia felt her fear ebb. Something about that compulsive gaze that made her feel safe. Taking in a shallow breath, she smiled.
"Sure, is the door open?"
The stranger merely looked toward the window.
With a slight frown, Julia gazed at the window. Interesting. "Ok the window it is then." Gingerly climbing inside the room via the window, she was surprised that the frame took her slight weight without any problem. As she climbed inside, Julia remarked brightly, "Was this all left intact? It's remarkable considering the circumstances. It must be worth a fortune now. Some of this retro stuff in good condition costs a fortune."
The woman didn't reply and motioned for Julia to sit. Other than the bed, which she didn't want to sit down on, Julia chose the weird egg shaped chair. She almost had to crawl into to the thing and found it wasn't as uncomfortable as she'd expected. With a smile, Julia repeated her earlier remark, "Good to meet you I'm Julia, Julia Stokes. Have you been caretaking the place for long?"
"You ask a lot of questions."
"Sorry, it's in my nature my mom taught me to ask about things if I didn't understand. She said it was the best way of learning." With a wave of her hands in the air, Julia teasingly quipped. "Between you and I, she regretted it in the end. I've never stopped since I began to talk. I'm going to California Technical University next month, she'll get a break."
Julia noticed that the indigo eyes appeared kindly appearing to understand her comment in the harsh light of the bulb the woman stood overhead. She guessed that the woman's body was quite slim although the flowing nature of the clothes she wore disguised that. She had a way of holding her body like a tree swaying in a light breeze. It was like the rest of her-fascinating.
"What will you study?"
Julia grinned. "Physics. I know that's a rather broad brush statement. I'm still unsure which branch I want to concentrate. I pretty much love it all so far that is, although I love watching the stars. Who knows. Mom worked a second shift for two years to provide a private tutor, which was a feat in itself as we live in such a small town. I travel every Saturday morning to Brinkley, which isn't too bad, only thirty miles away. When I was old enough to have a part time job I paid for the tutor myself."
"You not only ask a lot of questions you talk a lot too."
"Really? Wow no one has ever said that about me before. In fact the opposite when it comes to talking that is-generally." Julia considered that, it was true. Of her friends, she was the one least likely to begin a frivolous conversation. Perhaps it is the fact that this stranger is different. She's interesting like one of my scientific puzzles. With a chagrined expression Julia replied, "Well you don't talk much at all, do you. I don't even know your name."
Julia smiled slightly, her forehead lined as she thought of something then asked, "Are you related to the Carter's who live at Tremont house?"
There was an intense look from Evelyn before she nodded. "For a long time now."
Julia couldn't equate this woman with the Carters. Maybe she is the black sheep of the family. The Carter's on Tremont were the richest in the area and owned pretty much all the real estate worth owning in town and in half the state too. They were always immaculately dressed and wealth seemed to permeate them like an expensive perfume. Checking out Evelyn's clothes again, Julia was sure they wouldn't be seen dressed like her.
"I think I mentioned this was a dare, right? I suspect my friends are getting worried about me probably think I've been accosted by a ghost." Julia chuckled, and then glanced at her watch frowning-it had stopped. "Oh no, my watch has stopped. Please do you have the time, Evelyn?"
An enigmatic expression crossed Evelyn's features as she inclined her head, her words matching the appearance. "I have all the time in the world. Dance with me."
The suggestion took Julia aback and apprehension began to dissolve her previous bravado at the situation. It was clearly a weird scenario her friend probably wouldn't even believe her. Yeah, at the same time the curious connection she had when this woman caught her gaze was compelling, drawing her into the woman's suggestion like a Venus fly trap to its unsuspecting victim. She listened to the song playing on the radio. "Oh, it's a slow song. I don't do slow songs." She replied with a shrug.
"With the right person the slow songs are the best. Remember this song in the future, Julia Stokes."
Taking a hint from the sensible part of her brain at last, Julia stood up. "I'd better get along, or you'll be entertaining three silly girls." The word entertaining was hardly a fitting euphemism, but it appeared to make Evelyn smile for a split second. Holding out her hand, Julia said, "It was good to meet you, Evelyn. Maybe our paths will cross again…when you shop in town maybe."
Evelyn moved to take the slight hand in her larger one. Her slim fingers seemed to curl around Julia's hand and for a second, Julia had the distinct impression that in some way they were connected. That is a ridiculous thought. For a few seconds, she almost regretted the decision not to dance with her.
"Good luck in your studies, Julia Stokes. I think the stars are for you." Evelyn paused for a moment as a small smile curved her lips. "One shooting star in particular."
With a faint smile, Julia looked at the door and then Evelyn pointed to the window. I guess it's polite to go out the way I came in. She almost laughed at the thought but climbed out of the window anyway. With feet firmly on the porch, Julia turned to say goodbye to the woman-she wasn't there. Gazing back through the window, she heard the radio still playing the same tune when she'd first heard it and the room looked as it did when she first saw it. Except it appeared to be fading-must be a trick of the eyes in the dark, Julia thought.
With fleeting steps, she headed back the way she came and was grateful when she saw two shadowy figures at the fence.
Sliding through the small entrance she'd made earlier, Julia grinned at her friends. "Did I make the half hour? My watch as stopped at five past two?"
Suddenly both her friend's hugged her hard.
"Hey guys what's wrong?"
Shauna drew in a shuddering sigh and looked at Kris. "You tell her."
Kris bit her lip. "There was a bright light over to the left side of the main building. It was as if someone had placed a beacon there. We figured at first that it was the moon. When we didn't hear you scream or anything we decided to not go after you but wait. Then it disappeared…we were just about to call the police when the light appeared again and all of sudden here you are."
Julia's face contorted in consternation. "That doesn't make any sense. There wasn't any bright light where I was. Are you both sure that you're not just making it up? Besides, if you were that worried why didn't you both just come get me?"
Her two friends shared a guilty glance.
"Don't tell me you were scared! I wasn't taken by aliens or had a ghostly apparition accost me. In fact, it was a simple matter of meeting the caretaker. She was quite nice…well kind of the silent type but as normal as you and I. Her name is Evelyn Carter. Have either of you heard of her? She said she was related to the Carter's on Tremont, though I think she's far removed from them now. Ok, girls. How long was I gone?"
Kris glanced at her watch. "Thirty five minutes."
Rubbing her hands together, Julia grinned. "I win my dare. Now it's up to you two to decide who should do the forfeit."
"We both decided to go together as we were such cowards. There could have been someone hurting you and we didn't have the courage to help," Shauna admitted.
Julia giggled. "Let's go home, I'm tired. I'll tell you about Evelyn, as we go…not that there is much to tell. She actually thought I was gregarious." Her thoughts recalled Evelyn saying I think the stars are for you. Maybe they are she thought as she glanced at the full moon. Yes maybe they are.
The tension disappeared as her friends gave incredulous hoots of laughter at her comment. Then, as they headed away from the derelict buildings, Julia began her short story.
Mary Stokes smiled lovingly as she watched her only daughter arrive home. Julia had been gone from Lancaster for close to eight years. Admittedly, she had returned home on the holidays when she attended the university. However, once she'd ensconced herself in a job, in the depths of the dessert in Nevada, she rarely had time to come home. She'd been there for the best part of five years. Her baby was now a grown woman of twenty-six and her birthday was that weekend. They were going to have a party at Carters, the swankiest restaurant. Mary had saved hard for the last year to pay for the privilege.
Watching as Julia climbed out of her car, a large a midnight blue SUV, Mary noted that it looked out of place in the tiny driveway. It even dwarfs the house. Her eyes concentrated on her child. She had grown into a lovely young woman. Gone were the pimples and lanky, unkempt hair. Now, it was gleaming for all the right reasons-the short fashionable style curved around her fresh looking oval face. When her lips curved into a tiny smile Mary knew her daughter was glad to be home. She continued to watch as her daughter glanced around the area and the smile grew apparently satisfied with what she saw. Her intelligent hazel eyes wouldn't have missed a thing.
When her partner, Jack, found someone else new when Julia was three, Mary found herself alone with the responsibility of raising a child on her own. Jack, a drifter at heart, left town and had never returned or attempted to contact her. Not that she minded for Julia was her reward and she loved her dearly. Fortunately, for Julia, the lack of a father figure wasn't a problem.
Her intelligence had compensated-Julia's head always buried in a book of one kind or another. Now she was back, and though it was only for a week, every second would be worth it.
Mary couldn't help the tears that rolled down her cheeks as she came face to face with her child. As she hugged her tight, she whispered, "Welcome home, honey, I've missed you."
Julia had her own tears glistening as she kissing her mom's cheek before whispering, whispered, "I've missed you too, Mom, and I'm glad to be back."
"Let's go inside shall we. I have your favorite to go with coffee-carrot cake."
Julia chuckled."Now ,I know I'm home." She linked her arm with her mother's as they ambled inside. "Thanks, Mom."
"I can't believe she did this, but it's wonderful," Julia commented her genuine appreciation of her mother's generosity.
Shauna Rice pursed her lips as she announced, "I was stressed. Even if we are semi rural, being sheriff in town has responsibilities. I was just glad I had something to look forward too."
Kris and Julia chuckled. Neither one of them had an inkling that Shauna wanted to be a police officer. In fact, they were sure she hadn't thought that far her ahead with al her energy going into parties and generally partying through college. Then she announced shortly after graduating , that it was her aim. They were proud of her and her achievements for she'd far surpassed what many in town had thought possible.
Kris initially worked in bank before opening her own beauty shop in town and was married a local boy, John, she'd known all her life. It hadn't been until she finished her beauty therapy course that she'd accepted John's invitations to date. Now, married for the past five years, she was expecting her first child in two months-she was happy with her lot in life.
Julia smiled recalling Kris's wedding day. She knew then that Kris would be happy living the dream of a husband and family. What made Julia smile even bigger was the compliment Kris had paid about her appearance-especially her hair when she came back this time. It had made them both laugh as they recalled her rather unfashionable hairstyle when they were growing up.
"I don't know about you being stressed…what about me? I feel like I'm carrying around a baby elephant. John is sure I'm having twins but I told him definitely not-they'd have told us." Her eyes scanned the room. "Ah, there he is talking with Maddy. Why did you have to bring the most beautiful woman in town as your partner tonight, Shauna?"
Shauna and Julia glanced at the average size man with a mop of black curly hair that just touched the collar of his shirt. His tie half pulled away from his neck and was clearly captivated by the petite blonde woman who was talking to him.
"Oh, she was free and I figured it wouldn't hurt my reputation to have a beautiful woman on my arm. Being the sheriff does have its benefits. Besides, there isn't a guy around here who will even ask her out…I felt sorry for her."
Julia glanced at her friend. "Why not? She is as you've both described-beautiful. I doubt she'd have any trouble finding a man. From what I recall in high school, she was always the most popular girl. Wasn't she prom queen?"
Kris laughed. "Yes she was. Made us all look like dogs. However, that isn't the problem. Maddy has high standards and I don't think the guys or...girls around here are good enough for her. Sorry, Shauna."
Shauna picked her light beer and drank a mouthful. "Yeah, well a girl can try. Anyway, Julia, what about you? You've been cagey recently about your romantic status."
Julia shrugged her hand reaching for the glass of wine next to her empty plate. "Nothing to tell. I'm totally engrossed in my job. I don't have time for romance."
Shauna winked at her friend. "Oh, come on now, Jules. With being stuck in some desert hole for months on end there must be someone who rings the odd hot bell in you."
Julia laughed, "Sorry no. I was only thinking the other…" Her gaze suddenly captured by the arrival of a small party of four who were being seated at the furthest table from their party.
Kris and Shauna had seen Julia's expression turn pale. They both looked where she was staring so intently. "Have you seen a ghost, Jules?"
Julia disconnected her gaze from the strangers and looked enquiringly at her friends. "A ghost? No, why would you say that?"
Kris shrugged, "No reason except you looked pretty surprised at something or someone when you stopped in mid-sentence. That definitely isn't like you-you are rarely knocked off balance."
"I agree, though if you are interested in that crowd I can have Maddy introduce you…she knows everyone in town," Shauna replied confidently. "Here comes our errant buddies now."
Julia watched as John and Maddy made their way toward them both holding a tray of drinks. Once they settled the tray on the table, they began complaining bitterly about the long wait to at the bar.
Smiling a thank you for the drink given to her, Shauna asked, "Hey, Maddy, who are the four seated at the back of the room?" She nodded at the almost dark corner.
Madeline Kincaid glanced around as her pale blue eyes searched the room. Once she spied who Shauna was asking about her bud shaped lips pouted. In a soft voice she replied, "Oh, that's the Carter clan. At least the most prominent and wealthy part-Jacob and Samuel are the two older brothers. The woman on the left is Andrea Shalloff and she's engaged to Jacob. She hails from New York City and her dad owns a fair chunk of property in New York State.
"What about the other woman?" Julia asked as all eyes turn to her in surprise.
Maddy smiled warmly. "That's Evelyn Carter. She's apparently a bit of a mystery. She doesn't socialize like the others and from all accounts is the brains behind the fortune these days. A bit of a philanthropist, at least that's the gossip, although I figure it's more romantic than that. Not that I'd know of course."
"Julia you've gone white. Are you ok? Do you want us to find your mom?" Kris asked as she touched Julia's hand in concern.
Julia shook her head. That couldn't be Evelyn Carter. Not the woman I met years before-could it. "Guy's do you remember that dare you made me do just before we went our separate ways after high school?"
Both of her friends nodded.
"I certainly do. You scared the hell out of me and that's why I became a cop." Shauna announced to the incredulity of the others.
"That's why you became a cop? Why?" Kris asked flabbergasted at the comment.
Julia was surprised as well. They'd asked over the ensuing years why Shauna had chosen her profession-their friend had always been cagey.
"Because I realized what a coward I was and someone could have hurt Jules and neither one of us had the courage to go inside and find her. I decided after that I was going to do better in that respect," Shauna announced.
"Wow, it must have been some episode to have an epiphany of that dimension. What happened?" Maddy asked as her hand touched Shauna's lightly.
John looked at the four women and then shook his head. "Was it that time you dared Julia to go in the old hippy compound?"
Kris nodded. "Yeah, we were silly eighteen year olds about ready to embark on the next adventure of our life and I was stupid. I always did truth or dare when we walked home."
John laughed. "Truth or dare? Wouldn't you all know the truths being best buddies and in a place like Lancaster where if you didn't change your shorts everyone would know."
Kris winked at her husband. "What a wonderful description, darling. It ended up being a dare only."
John grinned as he took a sip of his beer. "You caught the short straw then, Julia. What did your dear friends have to do? You were always reticent about that part my love." His eyes caught Kris's as he tenderly smiled at her.
Julia chuckled. "Kris had to get by old mad Harry's pit bull and knock on his door. Shauna had to steal the gnome from Miss Fisher's feature garden under her bedroom window." Laughing Julia continued. "Kris managed to get by the dog but Harry was still up and confronted her at the door. She lost the dare."
Maddy gazed her doe like eyes at Shauna. "What about you, did you win your dare? Miss Fisher, huh."
Shauna blushed. "Not really. I did pick up the gnome only to find that Miss Fisher had it alarmed. I found out years later the gnome was under constant threat of being stolen." Shauna grinned. "She threw her slippers at me."
Shauna shrugged. "She must have forgiven me as she's on the local council and voted for me to take over when Devlin retired."
Kris grinned at her friend. "There wasn't another candidate or one as qualified as you darling. She'd be a fool to do otherwise. Besides, she's still got that damn gnome and it constantly annoys everyone when it sings."
Julia allowed the laughter and general camaraderie of the moment to wash over her. She missed this-her friends, home, and her mom. Her eyes wandered to the other two tables of relatives and friends who were attending the party. Her mom was talking excitedly to Jeffery Sinclair who was the town doctor and a distant cousin on her father's side. He'd been in a town practicing medicine for the last five years, having been a big shot Consultant in Florida for years. She was sure he was in love with her mom. Besides, her mom deserved to have a life outside of her; she hoped things would work out finally. She lamented that her work meant she had to sacrifice this kind of camaraderie to keep her career on track. Lately though, as much as she loved her work, she wanted something more. What that was and how she could achieve it had her torn.
"Am I the only one who doesn't know about Julia's dare? Please tell," Maddy insisted and blinked her long deep blue mascara covered eyelashes in Shauna's direction.
Kris looked at Julia. "Are you going to do the honors?"
Laughing, Julia nodded and proceeded to tell the story as she remembered it.
After the retelling the story, Maddy looked intently at Julia. "Is that for real?"
Julia frowned. "Yes, why do you sound so disbelieving?"
Shauna spoke, "Don't forget her dad is the only real estate broker in town. He'd have known everyone and anything going on at that time and now she does." She winked at the blonde next to her who was still holding onto her hand.
With her gaze intent on the small woman, Julia asked, "What do you know about that place, Maddy?"
"For one thing, there's never been a caretaker…ever."
"Well, there was that night because we all know Julia isn't one for making stuff up," Kris replied in defense of her friend.
"Oh, I wasn't being …well are you sure. I can tell you now, Evelyn Carter might be a lot of things, but no way would she dress in sixty's hippy clothing or live in a derelict building. I don't even think she was in town then."
"Maybe the Evelyn Carter I saw and the one you know of isn't the same person." Julia replied quietly. Her gaze swung to the woman in the room who apparently had the same name and did look from this angle to have the same build.
Maddy quietly replied, "I wasn't the one who made the comparisons, Julia."
Kris intervened, "Look, why doesn't Maddy introduce you to this person and you can check it out?"
"Great idea, oh pregnant one. You know since you've become pregnant your intelligence had doubled," Shauna said teasing her friend. "Maybe I need to try it."
"Will you?" Julia asked quietly.
Maddy gave Shauna a quick look then nodded. "Sure, come on."
They left the table and headed toward the back of the room.
Julia felt her stomach do a double flip as she watched Maddy move toward the table. When Samuel Carter stood up on her arrival, his weak features beamed at her as his sallow complexion turned ruddy.
"Mmms. Kincaid, a ppppleasure to see you again," he stuttered.
Maddy, smiled warmly at the man and offered him her hand. He shook it. "Good to see you too, Sam. I thought it was you and Joe when you turned up. Congrats, Joe, and, Ms. Shalloff, on your engagement. I hope you'll both be very happy."
Joseph Carter stood up with the same studious expression that always seemed to be there-even now when he accepted her felicitations. "Thank you, Ms. Kincaid."
Maddy turned and grinned at Julia. "This is my friend, Julia Stokes. She's a brilliant astro...something or another and it's her birthday."
The two men acknowledged Julia politely and wished her a happy
Andrea Shalloff did the same.
"Ah, so that's why Evie mentioned coming here tonight. She said there was a special birthday celebration and dancing as well. It's the most excitement in this town for ages," Andrea Shalloff remarked accompanied by a pert smile.
Julia had listened on the peripheral as her gaze was on the silent woman who hadn't said anything or even seemed motivated to do so.
Maddy must have been thinking along those lines as she pointedly spoke to Evelyn Carter. "Ms. Carter, good to see you again."
Intent dark blue eyes flashed to Maddy. Julia noted that they looked faintly annoyed. "Ms. Kincaid."
Julia couldn't help it-she laughed. It wasn't that the comment was funny but it was the miniscule amount of words used. The few words said in the rich tone that she recalled from years ago. For whatever reason, Evelyn Carter had been whom she saw at the old commune eight years ago-seeing her up close verified that-Julia was sure of it. Right now, her curiosity had been assuaged and they could go back to their own table. She felt embarrassed at the surprised looks on the others face. "Maddy, we need to get back."
Maddy gave her a sympathetic look. "Sure, good to see you all. Ms. Shalloff, the dancing is due to start in half an hour. Enjoy!"
As they turned away, Julia began to walk back toward the table until Maddy's small hand stopped her. "I thought you wanted to at least talk to Ms. Carter?"
Julia shook her head. "Thanks, Maddy, but I know what I saw and I know what I think. The rest…well…that's always left for speculation."
Maddy's left eyebrow drew down heavily over her eyes as she asked, "Can I ask what you think? I promise not to say anything to the others if you don't want me too."
Julia grinned. "That Evelyn Carter is my Evelyn Carter from eight years ago. I suspect that whatever she was doing there she had her reasons. I guess that's the end of the story."
Maddy gave her a surprised look. "Surely someone like you who looks for answers as a profession wants to know why she did that." She shrugged. "I know I would?"
Julia laughed. "People do strange things for the most normal of reasons. Maybe that's it."Julia fixed the woman with a playful look. "Incidentally what about you?"
Maddy gave her a polite look and asked, "What do you mean?"
Julia knew Shauna had given a pathetic excuse for why she asked the woman out. She remembered from high school that Madeline Kincaid was one of those people who were high profile but managed never to alienate people. She was intrigued and wanted to know Maddy's take on the date, Julia asked, "Why did you want to come tonight?"
"Shauna asked me. It's Saturday night and trust me, this is the best party in town. Besides I know we weren't good friends like you and Kris and Shauna but we were friends."
"That's a little harsh on Shauna isn't it? We both know she likes you," Julia said.
Maddy looked at the table where their friend's sat. Then she drew in a deep breath. "I've been waiting for her to ask me out for years and tonight patience paid off."
Julia gave Maddy a startled glance. Then, collecting her thoughts, she remarked, "You'd better make sure she knows that or it could be years before she asks you again. She might come over as brash and self confident and she is in most things but love…well I think she's like the rest of us we get out of our comfort zone."
"Oh, she'll know. Trust me on that." Maddy winked before they continued toward their table.
"Well?" Kris asked as her hand rubbed her bulging belly.
Julia shook her head and laughed softly. "Nothing to tell. She does look like the woman I met that night but…she wasn't very vocal and she looked more annoyed than anything else. It didn't look like she knew me, therefore my assumptions could be pure speculation that she was the same person."
Shauna rolled her eyes. "Said like the true scientist you are, Jules. Maddy, what do you think?"
Maddy, grinned, then sat down next to Shauna and took her hand. "I think the Carters are interesting folk and can pretty much do what they want around here. If she were there, she probably wouldn't admit it anyway. Whatever Julia thinks, I'd agree with her. After all, she's the only one who really knows."
Shauna, with a bright smile as she gazed intently at her hand that Maddy was holding, said, "I agree, maybe it's one of those mysteries we'll never have the answer to."
Julia sat down and took a sip from her wine then her gaze shot up and she looked toward the far table directly into the eyes of Evelyn Carter. Perplexed, she gave a tiny smile and then sipped her drink again. I'm sure it's her. The announcement that dancing was to begin had Julia's mother making her way toward the table.
"Hey, Mom, marvelous party. Thank you again. I love you." Julia stood up and hugged her mother tight.
"You deserve this, honey, you really do. I'm just sorry that you'll be leaving again so soon. We all miss you…right girls?"
Everyone nodded and John sheepishly replied, "The guys do too."
Kris turned to her husband and kissed him that made him turn bright red at the show of public affection.
Julia grinned as her thoughts focused on her friends rather than the enigmatic Evelyn Carter. "Well, I think it's time we had a girly dance together. Do you remember when we used to sneak into Holly Chapman's barn dances in the summer? They made a mess of all the line dance movements. Come on, girls, they're playing our song."
They all got up and Julia tugged her mother to go along. "You too, Mom, this is as much your party as mine."
The sounds of Shania Twain's, You don't impress me much had them moving to the dance floor.
Julia sat alone at the table as she watched her friend's and her mother dancing closely together with their partners. Her mother had finally admitted she liked, even more than liked, Jeffery Sinclair and Julia had approved wholeheartedly-her mom had been alone too long.
Something dragged her gaze to the table at the far end of the room and she felt a stab of disappointment when she saw it was empty. What did I expect? It was eight years ago and I was a pimply teenager who was barely recognizable to the woman I am now. I'm sure she must remember telling me my future was in the stars. How do you forget something like that. Sowing the seed of what she eventually decided on as a career-. astrophysics. Even her thesis, which had brought her the ideal job offer of work in a large privately owned observatory in Arizona, had great merit according to her professors. In the past five years, she'd written several papers and been given a couple of minor awards for her work. Her boss had asked her recently to consider moving to Europe on a new project. It was a challenge and one she had mulled over for several weeks. In fact, when she returned to her job her boss expected her answer. Her original contract of employment was due to finish and she knew they'd probably keep her on even though the operation was scaling back. To stay put wasn't the best place for her to be if she wanted a high flying career.
"As it's your birthday, why aren't you dancing?"
Julia closed her eyes for a few short seconds and allowed the rich tone of voice to envelope her in a cocoon. Then she turned slightly in her chair and gazed into those intense indigo eyes. With a shrug she motioned with her hand at the dance floor. "Slow songs are a bit limiting when you're alone."
Evelyn Carter nodded. "Yes they are. Do you mind if I sit?"
Julia nodded at the chair next to her and motioned to the bottle of wine on the table. "Do you want a drink?"
Evelyn's lips curved into a slight smile. "Thank you no. I don't drink when I'm driving."
"Good practice. In fact, I think I've drunk my month's concession tonight. Although surprisingly I'm not drunk…at least I don't think so." Julia giggled. She knew her face was flushed as she felt heat stinging her cheeks. She tried to discern why that was and came up with a combination of things not the least of which was the presence of this woman.
"Besides, it should be me offering to buy you a drink…after all it is your birthday. You're what, twenty-six?"
Julia blinked rapidly. "How do you know that?"
"I'm sure Miss Kincaid mentioned it."
Julia was sure Maddy hadn't but then she hadn't paid much attention to the conversation only Evelyn's facial features. "What happened to the rest of your party?"
Evelyn cast a glance to the makeshift dance floor. "Samuel has finally acquired the gumption to ask a female to dance with him and Joseph is in a rather close clinch with his fiancé. Needless to say, I'm a spare wheel."
"I wouldn't call you a spare wheel," Julia immediately retorted.
"Thank you," Evelyn replied seriously.
Julia ran her tongue over her teeth as she summoned up the courage to ask a question. Perhaps in a crowd Evelyn hadn't wanted to mention that we'd met before. "Maddy, didn't say what it is that you do, Ms. Carter?"
Evelyn moved her gaze once more to the dance floor before quietly replying, "I'm a custodian."
Julia frowned. "Oh. Isn't that a bit ambiguous." Her gaze floated over her friends then to her mom who was happily dancing close to the doctor.
"Depends on your point of view."
Julia took the bait and asked, "Custodian of what or whom?"
Evelyn smiled slightly and Julia felt another tug of recognition. She is the same person I met at the disused compound. "If I answered that, you'd know the greatest question of all."
Julia laughed softly. "What would that be? The meaning of life? I thought that was number forty-two, according to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I'm a scientist and that sort of romanticism doesn't equate in my world."
Evelyn stared hard at Julia and then answered in an ambiguous voice, "Perhaps you need to think less and feel more. Good evening I hope all your hopes and dreams come true."
Julia was puzzled and quickly asked, "I know you don't I? It was eight years ago- do you remember me?"
Evelyn moved to stand and as she left the table. As she walked away, her voice floated back to Julia. "This is our song."
Julia didn't reply it was fruitless Evelyn Carter had gone. It was like a blur the resonating sounds of her voice drawing her in and at the same she hadn't actually said they'd met before? Then she concentrated on the music and tried to remember who sang it and the title.
"Honey you look upset?"
Julia gazed at her mom and then smiled. "No, I was just wondering what this song is?"
Her mother smiled widely. "All I Have to do Is Dream, by the Everly brothers." Mary chuckled. "Is this a pop quiz question? Late fifties or early sixties I think. Well before your time honey, why do you ask?"
Shrugging, Julia replied, "No reason I've heard it before though, years ago." The same music was playing when she'd met Evelyn at the hippy compound.
"I can ask Jeffery if you'd like. He's pretty knowledgeable about music if you want more information."
"No, it's fine. I'm glad you've finally decided to go out with him in public, Mom. You deserve to be happy."
Mary, laughed self-consciously. "I was an old fool he kept telling me that. I guess I should have listened. You really don't mind do you, Julia?"
Julia grinned and hugged her mom tight. "I think it's wonderful. Don't keep him waiting too long for an answer though."
Mary gave a surprised look then laughed. "You always could see right through me. When we name the day will you be able to come to the wedding? I know you can't always get away but ...."
"Mom, I'll be there come hell or high water." Julia looked across to where Jeffery was watching them intently and smiled then winked at him-his face flooded with happiness. "You'd better give him the answer so we can make it a double celebration."
A few minutes later, there was an announcement from the DJ about the engagement and her friends all rushed back to the table, exclaiming their surprise.
The evening went on well into the early morning with the champagne flowing along with dancing.
Two days later, Julia walked into a music store and headed for the vinyl records. Her goal-find the old record that had been playing in her head constantly since she reheard it at her party. Searching fruitlessly for over half an hour, she eventually decided to do what she should have in the first place and ask. Walking over to the counter, she sighed. There were two men behind the counter both younger than she was. She didn't hold out much hope that they'd even know the song.
"Hi, I'm looking for an old record…do you think you could help me?"
One of the two young men beamed at her. "Have you checked the vinyl's in that corner." He pointed to where Julia had previously spent her time.
"Yes, I can't find it. Do you have a catalog of what you have in the store or could you order me a copy?" Julia asked wondering if this were, a long shot that wouldn't pay off.
"Ok, what's the record please?"
"All I Have to do Is Dream, by the Everly brothers. Is it something you've heard of before? It's from the early sixties I think."
The young man frowned heavily. "Sorry, not my field I'm hip hop and country." He turned to the other fellow behind the counter. "Max, any good with the sixties stuff?"
Max turned in their direction. He had a small beard that covered his chin in fair almost downy hair. "Sorry, if you return next week our parents are back from vacation they would know for sure."
Julia rolled her eyes. "I'm not here next week. Oh, never mind." She turned to leave and then Max shouted out.
"Check on the internet. You find lots of those golden oldies there and you can probably download it there cheaper than here. Just don't tell my parents I said that."
Julia thanked the young man and left the shop. It was almost eleven and she was at a loose end until that evening when she was having dinner at Kris's house. Her mom had arranged to work only one day that week. She would have had the whole week off but someone was sick. This meant she pretty much had the day on her own. Walking toward the main street, she decided to have coffee at the local diner. She recalled that their coffee had always been top notch.
Entering the aptly named Copper Kettle, she looked around at the place. It still have the fake fireplace that held a large copper kettle, which was the focus of the place in its heyday. The name sounded like a quaint English name and in fact, it was. The original proprietor had been an English woman who married a soldier from this part of the world after the Second World War. She'd opened the diner or cafe as she called it, a couple of years after settling in Lancaster. It had always been a good place to go for coffee or a meal. When the lady died twenty years ago, a guy who epitomized the greasy spoon image took over keeping the name of the diner along with the props for nostalgic purposes.
It was before the lunchtime rush so there were plenty of tables free. She chose one that had a view of the main street through a window. A few minutes later, with coffee in hand waiting for a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, she literally watched the world go by for about five minutes. Then, a voice brought her out of her reverie.
"Do you mind if I join you?"
Julia gazed at Evelyn Carter in surprise-it was a nice surprise. With a smile, she nodded. Her gaze took in the deep blue expensively tailored jacket, a pristine white shirt, and black trousers that molded her body perfectly. Around her neck was a dainty necklace that was so small Julia couldn't make out exactly what it represented. She smiled again and said, "I see you've decided to make it before the lunchtime rush."
Evelyn moved her head to one side in a considering gesture. "Actually no, I saw you alone in the window and decided to see if you needed company."
Astonished at the statement, Julia felt sure her mouth was still open after she said, "Oh." Her sandwich arrived at that moment along with whatever Evelyn was drinking-it wasn't coffee. Desperate for something to say, Julia said, "That looks like dishwater...sorry."
Evelyn smiled and it made her face, which was as arresting as it had been when Julia first saw her years before, take on a glow. Not beautiful exactly but serene. "Tea, black or in my case rather wimpy. I'm not a strong tea drinker I prefer it...as you say…dishwater strength."
"I didn't mean to be rude. Look, forgive me laboring the point but did we meet eight years ago at the old hippy compound?" Julia asked directly.
Evelyn sipped on her tea the steam gently rising from the cup. "It isn't possible. I was out of the country and didn't return to the US until five years ago."
Frowning, Julia persisted, "The other night you said as you left that this was our song. The same song played that night when I met you all those years ago. I'm certain it was you."
There was a light chuckle from the woman opposite Julia and she shook her head-it was obvious that the woman wasn't taking her seriously.
Evelyn said, "It was a general statement. Why do you think it was me that you met? Other than I guess there must be a strong resemblance."
Julia sighed heavily and looked at her sandwich that was cooling rapidly. The cheese was beginning to congeal. "Yes! At least your hair is shorter you have a fringe and you didn't back then. You have the same eye color and your face it's the same, in fact you don't look any older."
"I see," Evelyn stared at Julia intently, "anything else?"
Reluctantly, Julia mentioned the clothes she wore. "...you didn't look as sophisticated as you do now."
Evelyn curled her upper lip slightly, cynically replying, "Should I be grateful for that I think so it hardly sounds fashionable."
Julia decided this was an impossible situation so picked up her sandwich-it didn't taste good. Her face probably mirrored her inner frustration as she wondered what she really hoped to gain by this contact with Evelyn. Maybe I was dreaming just like that song.
"I'm sorry I'm not that woman. Was she important to you?"
The tone of voice had Julia stare directly into Evelyn's eyes. There was a serious nature to the question-she felt it in her gut. "No, I barely knew her. It was a dare. I suppose I owe you the story if nothing else." Julia saw the faint smile and she re-told her story again. She had the distinct feeling that people were going to call her the woman who couldn't let go of her childhood if she continued to tell this story any more.
When she was finished, Julia pushed away the barely eaten sandwich. "I guess I'd better be going," she said as she stood.
Evelyn didn't move but then she stood too. "Have you been back to the place you say this happened?"
Julia shook her head.
"Would you like to go back there with me and perhaps we can exorcise the ghost of this story together? I seem to be pivotal to its hold on you and that fascinates me." Evelyn caught Julia's gaze.
Julia, for her part, wavered. She wasn't sure but then decided, what the hell. "Thank you I'd like that."
Julia hadn't been by this end of town since she arrived home and was pleasantly surprised at the change in the area. Many of the carefully restored properties were now in their original splendor-the old derelict compound wasn't derelict anymore. Several of the old buildings were gone but the main house and barn fully restored still stood. It literally glowed with a new lease of life.
"Wow, no one mentioned to me that this has taken place." Julia pondered her words then wondered why Kris or Shauna hadn't mentioned the fact the other night. When I go to Kris's house for dinner tonight I'm going to have words with her.
"It's been a lengthy project. Most people probably don't think anything of it anymore since it's almost complete," Evelyn replied as she approached the brand new gates that formed a perimeter around the old compound.
Perplexed, Julia added, "I'm sure my mom would have mentioned it but she didn't. I really don't understand." Something this huge in development so close to home would have been a topic of conversation, if not now, at least when it began. To the best of her recollection, this was the first she knew of the project.
Evelyn didn't answer as a guard from a small hut located next to the gate walked toward her with a smile.
She must know him, Julia thought as she listened to the interchange.
"Hello, Charlie. Do you mind opening the gate? I want to show a friend what we've been doing with the place…she only remembers it as it used to be."
The guard, a large man both in height and weight, let out a chuckle that seemed to rumble in his massive chest as he turned his attention to Julia. Then, with a small device in his hand, he pressed a button and the gates began to open automatically.
"Let's go, Julia, and before you ask, yes, the Carter Corporation is responsible for the restoration." Evelyn smiled slightly as she motioned for Julia to follow her.
Walking almost step for step as she remembered it that night, Julia lost herself in the wonderful way the restoration had taken place. The barn was now painted brick red with a matching tiled roof while the main house was magnificent in white with red shutters on the numerous windows.
As they walked, Evelyn remarked, "I suspect it looks nothing like it did."
Julia merely continued to look around at the flower beds noting the pleasant feeling it gave her. Finally, she quietly asked, "Who lives here now?"
Evelyn gave a brief smile before shaking her head. "No one yet. It is in the final phase but is still incomplete. I'm told it's a month or so away."
Frowning, Julia glanced around-she couldn't see any work going on. "I don't think I'm blind," she said with a quizzical look. "What other phase? Am I missing something?"
Placing a finger to her nose, Evelyn raised her eyebrows. "It's a surprise for someone special. At least that's the plan."
"Ah, so you're the motivator behind this?" Julia asked.
"Perhaps. Would you like to see inside the house?"
Wide eyed, Julia exclaimed, "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. Besides, you can show me the room you mentioned," Evelyn said as she walked up the three steps to the porch.
Julia watched as she took out a key and began to unlock the door. "I never actually went inside the room from the house but I can point it out to you from the porch."
"Go for it, "Evelyn replied.
Julia was surprised Evelyn took her comment in her stride but refrained from asking her any questions. Instead, she hesitantly walked down the side of the house and then stopped outside one of the windows. Half expectantly peering in, she couldn't see anything-heavy curtains covered the window. Turning, she pointed at the window and said, "This one."
Evelyn was standing at the door with her face a blank mask. She nodded. "Pity that it's that one for it is full of junk. I guess there's not much point going inside then is there. Although, I can open it if you want."
Disappointment flooded Julia. She had half expected it to be exactly has she remembered. What a ridiculous notion. "No, it's fine. Look, am I keeping you? I'm sure you must have something more industrious to do than show me around."
Evelyn didn't comment for a short while but then Evelyn inclined her head, and said, "If it's of no interest then sure I have other things to do with my time."
Julia closed her eyes at her unappreciative response. It wasn't this woman's fault she was disappointed. "I'm sorry. I'd love to see around the house."
An hour later, they stood by the front door after taking their time to go over every room except the one that Evelyn said contained junk. The house was impressive-although every convenience was in the home, it had a contemporary feel too. Julia suspected that the cozy home would be a great place to live. About to leave, Julia asked, "Are you going to live here when your secret phase is complete."
Evelyn considered the question before she casually replied, "Perhaps, I'm waiting for that special someone to give their verdict."
"Wow, I'd live here! It's wonderful. It feels like home as soon as you walk in," Julia replied softly as her eyes covered the exterior of the building.
Evelyn gave a tight smile before announcing, "Unfortunately, I do have to go…I have a meeting across town." She gave Julia an intense look and with a small smile then asked, "Would you like to have dinner with me this evening?"
Julia felt a tug to go to dinner with Evelyn but she already had arrangements and shook her head. "I'm sorry I can't I'm going to dinner at a friend's tonight."
"Right, of course you would. Do you want me to give you a lift anywhere?'
To Julia, Evelyn sounded disappointed. "No, I only live about a half mile away. It's a beautiful day and I have the time for a leisurely walk. I hope I didn't keep you from your business."
"No, I'm pleased you like the place. It was renovated with love. Well, Julia, I hope you enjoy the rest of your time at home." They walked swiftly to the gate and it opened automatically.
"Thanks, I will. Thank you for bringing me here, Evelyn. It's a beautiful place now and I hope that someone special thinks the same."
Evelyn nodded. "Yes, I hope so too." She then walked toward the Lexus she'd drove to the site.
"Goodbye, Evelyn," Julia half shouted as Evelyn's long strides took her further away.
There was faint voice in the breeze. "Goodbye, Julia." Then moments later, she heard the engine start and watched until Evelyn's vehicle was gone from sight.
Julia turned to look at the buildings again and sighed heavily. "I should have asked her to have dinner with me tomorrow." What an idiot I am." Turning toward home, she trudged despondently along the familiar route-she had no way of contacting Evelyn Carter.
Julia knocked on Kris's door and was immediately greeted by her friend who whisked her inside.
"Hey, you're dead on time. Pity I can't say the same for dinner. We've had a slight delay." Kris happily moved Julia farther inside the two storey house.
As Julia stepped over the threshold for the first time, she felt that cozy homely feeling permeate her. It was much the same feeling she earlier experience in the much larger old house. "This is nice, Kris. It's much more spacious than your last place."
Kris laughed and placed a hand on her bulging belly. "We decided that it was better for us to trade up while we still had a couple of salaries coming in then try once the baby was born. John, by the way, is cooking the beef that decided to roast a little too slowly," she smiled at her friend, "but it's getting there."
Once they were in the main living area, Julia looked around the room. There was a worn but comfortable sea-green long sofa and two matching reclining chairs. A large television, which she guessed was probably fifty inches, hung from the wall. It was complete with a home theatre system nestled on a glass and aluminum cabinet underneath. She smiled as she saw the prerequisite DVD player along with a stack of DVDs. The room's decoration was simple with pale cream color walls, emerald green satin look curtains, and a wheat and black patterned carpet.
"I like this, Kris. It feels like home," Julia announced softly to her friend.
Kris grinned. "Yes, John and I are happy here. Sit, I'll fetch us a drink. What can I get you?"
Julia suddenly remembered the bag she was carrying. "Oh, I brought wine…a red and white along with something for the non drinker." She winked at Kris who was happily snatched the bag and peeked inside. Her friend had always loved opening packages and things hadn't changed.
"Oh, you shouldn't have, Julia," Kris remarked but her eyes shone as she pulled out a box of prettily presented chocolates. "My favorite, thank you." She began to amble out of the room then stopped and asked, "White or Red?"
"Red is good," Julia said before settling on the sofa and gazing at the prints on the wall. They were mainly blown up photographs of various landmarks that she assumed Kris and John had seen together.
Kris came back into the room with John following behind her with a tray of drinks.
"Hi, Julia, sorry dinner's late. Although, I can assure you it won't be a burnt offering." His eyes seemed to twinkle in the light of the room. "Here are your drinks, ladies. Now, I'll leave you two to catch up for a while. Just remember that when I say dinner is ready it means ready. Okay?" He then grinned at Julia before kissing Kris's cheek and leaving them alone.
"You caught a good one there, Kris," Julia said softly.
Kris smiled warmly before sitting in one of the recliners and moving her feet upwards with a press of a button. "I know. My parents were over the moon when I finally brought him home. Do you remember some of the deadbeats I dated during college?"
They both laughed.
"I know we asked you before, but what about you, Jules? Don't you really have an eye on anyone in the romance department? Are you going to be the old maid of the group?" She gave her friend a smile to soften the sting of her words. "Incidentally, Shauna is in love."
Julia grinned. "I take it you mean Maddy?" She saw Kris nod. "She's been in love with Maddy Kincaid since the first moment she saw her in high school."
Kris laughed. "Oh so true. They are officially dating. Although that could be Shauna's term for spending the last three nights sleeping at Maddy's house."
"Trust me they are dating. Maddy confided to me at my party that she's had a thing for Shauna for years. Let's hope they make a go of it…I think they make a wonderful match."
With a chuckle, Kris added, "Hmm, more like mighty and the mouse. You're right though, Shauna deserves the break. It isn't that easy being a lesbian in Lancaster. Shauna says that not many in the area chose to come out publically. I actually believe she didn't want to approach Maddy for dates in case Maddy didn't want to make her preferences public."
Julia nodded. "That would be just like Shauna…cautious to the end."
"I haven't let you off the hook. What about you, Jules?" Kris sank back in her chair sipping on the water she'd picked up before reclining the chair.
Julia mused over the question for a short time then shrugged. "Oh, I was never one for romance. My studies and now career have always taken first place."
"Ah, do I hear an element of did about that comment. Has someone or something changed your mind?" Kris badgered good naturedly.
"Don't be silly. I told you there isn't anyone at work and, to be honest, my social life isn't that great. If I'm not working at the observatory I'm working on a paper at home."
Kris pulled a face. "You need to get a life, Jules. You know I don't remember you ever having a date. Even at the prom, you went with nerdy Colin Frew who was more interested in computers than girls. He, by the way, works for the Carters. Speaking of which, I did a little research on the Carters…Evelyn to be more precise," she grinned and looked down at her stomach, "I have time you know."
Julia quietly asked, "What did you find out?"
Kris smiled. "Apparently she is the only daughter of Edward Carter, old Stanley Carter's elder son, who left Lancaster to make his fortune in Africa in the mid sixties. Her mother was...wait until you hear this…she was the leading figure at that old hippy commune before she ran off with Edward. Not much else is known and remains a bit of a mystery."
"In fact, I went there today. It's completely renovated and is really beautiful now." Julia frowned and asked, "Why didn't anyone mention it to me at my party?"
Kris nodded. "We didn't? That's odd. Anyway, the Carters have been pumping money into that project and the whole downtown area now for nearly three years. Coming back to Evelyn, eight years ago her and her mother where involved in a freak car accident in Tunisia. A lightning bolt hit their car and they went off a ravine. It was bizarre they say, as the weather was perfectly calm. To cut a long story short, Evelyn was seriously injured and her mother was killed outright. They say Edward was devastated and he died. The romantics would say of a broken heart while the skeptics keep with the heart attack theory. Five years ago, Evelyn came back to Lancaster and has been forging on since with the cleanup campaign downtown. I think the commune renovation is for her mother. What do you think of that story?"
Julia allowed Kris's story to penetrate her thoughts before gazing at her friend intently. "It's beautiful inside. Evelyn is doing a great job. She indicated to me that it was for someone special, but didn't elaborate." She shrugged slightly. "Maybe it is for her mother as you say."
Kris's eyes widened. "You've been inside? Wow, when did you and Evelyn Carter become such good friends?"
"We aren't. She joined me quite by accident at the diner before lunch and asked if I wanted to see the old place. Told me it might rid me of the ghost of what I thought I saw all those years ago."
"Did it? It can't have been her since she wasn't even in the country. In fact, it was around that time she and her mother had the accident."
Julia pulled at her bottom lip then sighed heavily. "Evelyn asked me to dinner tonight."
Kris moved suddenly in the chair and realized that she was reclined and pushed at the button to return the leg stand back into the chair. "She did? What did you want to do?"
"I told her I had a prior dinner date and couldn't cancel. For the record, I didn't want to."
Kris grinned. "And?"
"I would have liked to go to dinner with her. She...I don't know…there's something that draws me to her. Silly really." Julia shrugged again and took another sip of her wine.
"Are you going to dinner with her tomorrow? You have only a couple more days before you go back to work right?"
Reluctantly, Julia admitted she didn't have her number.
Kris laughed. "Well that's easily taken care of. She slowly got out of the chair and walked over to the door and left the room only to return seconds later with her cell phone and a note pad and pen. Pressing one digit on her phone, she waited for an answer. "Hey, Shauna, ask Maddy if she has Evelyn Carter's number?"
Julia listened and it was obvious that their mutual friend was making some sort of comments. When she heard Kris's reply, she smiled.
"Don't give me that, we both know you're lying. Maddy's there I can hear her breathing. Have you been making out?"
Julia shook her head at the comment. It was good they knew each other very well-with a suggestive remark like that some people would have been offended.
"See ya, and don't do anything I wouldn't." Laughing as she disconnected the call, placed the cell on the coffee table, and wrote down the number. "Here, call her."
John put his head around the door and grinned. "Dinner is served, ladies."
Julia took the paper and shook her head at her friend then impulsively hugged her tight. "Thank you."
"Anytime, Jules, anytime. Let's go eat…I'm starving."
Shortly after ten, Julia arrived home. She had a lovely evening with Kris and John. Kris had begun to get tired around nine. Although she had protested when Julia said she was leaving, they both knew Kris would be asleep before ten-company or not.
John had gallantly driven her home almost an hour later. Unlocking the door, she wondered if her mom would be home. Then she smiled remembering that her mom and Jeffery were having friends over for dinner at his place. She didn't expect her mom home until midnight. Tomorrow mom and me will have a chill out day together.
Walking into the lounge, she switched the table lamp beside the chair on and sat down before pulling out Evelyn Carter's number. Would it be an imposition to call her now or should I wait until the morning? Her stomach churned at the thought of making the call. "What if she isn't receptive to dinner or even to seeing me again?" She frowned heavily-what was she thinking? "I'm acting as if I'm asking her out on a date." Over the years, she'd never considered romance as a factor in her life. If she was truthful, she had to admit that she never went out with boys or girls except for her best friends. She'd concentrated on her studies through high school then more intensely at the university. She had ignored any overtures from anyone interested in her and became what her roommate called, the classic social recluse.
It didn't mean she was socially inhibited for she wasn't-her life merely revolved around her work and career. Her mom had made sacrifices when she was younger to help her and she'd gone those extra nine yards to make sure she didn't squander her mom's efforts. Now, she was as nervous as hell about calling someone who was a stranger to her. Yet, deep down, she knew Evelyn Carter was anything but a stranger to her. The connection she felt with Evelyn was so strong that it kept drawing her in deeper and deeper. She thought it much like a planet pulling an asteroid into its orbit.
Flipping open her cell phone, she drew in a breath and punched the number Kris had given her. After what seemed like an eternity, Evelyn Carter answered.
Julia's hand shook slightly as she exhaled and then quietly said, "Hi, Evelyn, this is Julia Stokes, look I'm sorry I'm calling so late."
There was a slight delay. "Hello, Julia, give me a minute please."
"Sure, no problem." Julia listened intently and could hear muffled voices. When Evelyn spoke again seconds later it startled her..
"All yours, Julia. What can I do for you?"
Julia frowned. "I'm sorry if I am disturbing you. Is it a bad time to call?" She grimaced knowing it was a stupid thing to say since her call had obviously interrupted Evelyn.
"Never a bad time...for you."
Julia felt buoyed by the immediate response. Gathering her wavering courage she asked, "Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night? I'd understand if you are busy and can't make it but I just thought..."
Julia blinked rapidly as she heard the reply through her own stumbling words. "Yes?"
There was a chuckle at the other end of the line. "Yes, you sound surprised. I think I asked you to dinner this evening and you had a prior appointment why would you think I wouldn't accept your invitation?"
"I guess I shouldn't should I. Good…no that's great…um…what time shall we meet?"
"I can collect you around seven. Do you have any preferences as to where we eat?"
Julia knew that the best place in town was where she'd had her party. "I guess the best place is Carters, unless you know better than I."
"Hmm, I'd suggest a smaller venue. Leave it with me, okay."
"Sure. Look, I can meet you then you don't have to pick me up."
"Is there a problem if I pick you up?"
To Julia, Evelyn's voice sounded strained so she quickly replied, "No…not at all…thank you. I live at..."
"I know where you live, Julia. I'll see you tomorrow at seven and thank you for calling and the invitation."
The call was over before Julia could do more than wish Evelyn goodnight. Then, she mused over who was taking who to dinner. Shaking her head, she smiled. "Tomorrow was going to be a great day."
Julia checked her makeup, applied lipstick for the second time, and then pouted at the mirror. She had mentioned to her mom that morning she was going out to dinner with Evelyn Carter. Although her mother seemed surprised, she didn't comment much about the prospect. Though, she insisted that Julia buy something new to wear. The knit knee length dress in an earthy gray color molded her body perfectly. She wore sheer translucent stockings with black sling back two inch high heels to compliment the look. The dress looked good on her-maybe too good. It was definitely a look for impressing a date and she didn't know if that was what the dinner was.
As she left her room and made for the kitchen, a low wolf whistle greeted her when she opened the door. She twirled at the appreciation and grinned at her soon to be step-father. "Thanks, Jeffrey."
"If I wasn't in love with your mother, I'd be falling for you right now, Julia." Jeffery winked before placing his arm around Mary who was chuckling.
"I take it I pass inspection," Julia said as she looked around for her handbag. She knew she'd left it in the kitchen after she and her mom had arrived back from their leisurely, if a little hectic, shopping trip. Ah, there it is.
Mary smiled lovingly at her daughter, "You will love."
Julia was about to take a seat to wait when she heard the sound of a car pulling up outside. She knew that another vehicle wouldn't fit in the drive since Jeffery's car and hers were already there.
"She's here. Don't wait up for me. I'll see you in the morning. Have a great night you two." Julia kissed her mom on the cheek and left the room, not before she heard… She? I didn't know that Julia was... before hearing her mom say, Shush, she'll hear you. I'll explain later.
Julia rather bemused by the comments, opened the front door, and quickly ran down the porch steps. She saw that Evelyn had just reached the beginning of the drive and smiled.
Julia quickly checked Evelyn out. She was dressed in a sea blue chiffon dress longer than Julia's and hiding her body curves well. It looked expensive. Probably a darn sight more than the eighty-six dollars I paid for this dress.
"Hi, excellent timing," Julia said with a smile. "Do you want to come in and meet my mom or..."
Evelyn smiled slightly causing her left cheek to dimple in the middle. "Another time perhaps." Her smile grew quirky. "Unless of course you want me to go in to check me out as suitable for taking her daughter to dinner," she paused, "I can do that."
Julia grinned at the amusement in Evelyn's expression. "Nope, my mom knows who you are."
"By any chance, are you expecting a bad time?"
"On the contrary, I'm expecting it to be wonderful."
Evelyn smiled widely. "Let's go then. I wouldn't want to delay that wonderful feeling."
Evelyn gallantly opened the passenger door of her Lexus and Julia climbed in. Moments later, they were on their way.
"Where are we going to eat?"
Evelyn didn't glance her way as her attention fully was on the road, "Let's just say it's a surprise."
Julia laughed. "A surprise it is then," she said sinking into the supple leather of the seat. Her nerves about this date dissipating as she allowed the subtle perfume of Evelyn's to invade her senses. Maybe this is a date. Since she had never really been on a date she had nothing to compare the experience with.
Half an hour later, Evelyn pulled up outside a small restaurant that looked like an overly long log cabin. Colored lights blazed from the roof line and the windows gave a welcoming glow as Julia peered at the sign. The Old Log Cabin.
"Not very imaginative for a name but it looks marvelous. I didn't even know it was here," Julia remarked as she turned to Evelyn only to catch her breath. It was obvious that Evelyn had been watching her and Julia was surprised that she hadn't felt that. Normally, if someone that close, checks you out, you instinctively know it.
"It wasn't here until two years ago. I vacationed around Whitefish, Montana five years ago and saw it in a deserted stretch of forest disused. I had time on my hands and came up with the idea to move it here, renovating it and voila. Shall we?" Evelyn pointed to the welcoming lights.
"Wow, it must be a calling in you... renovations that is." Julia climbed out of the car and a few minutes later, they were being shown to their table. It had a view of the outside and Julia thought that on a clear day the mountain that intersected the valley around Lancaster would be excellent and excellent view.
Although Evelyn had to have strong links with the restaurant, as far as Julia could see, there was no special treatment given to her. Seated, they were given a menu and Julia grinned. "I love this menu… it's in keeping with the theme of the great outdoors."
Evelyn smiled as she looked at her menu. "Yes, fish, fish and more fish along with beef, venison and wild rabbit. I'm going to give the rabbit a miss."
Julia grinned. "Did you have a pet rabbit once?"
Evelyn shook her head. "No, nothing as noble as having a conscience. I just don't like the taste. What about you?"
"I'm game for anything when it comes to eating new dishes. Oh, that was a pun…sorry." Julia laughed softly and then allowed her gaze to drift to Evelyn.
"Nothing to be sorry about. What would you like to drink? I can recommend the wine cellar. I had a hand in its inception and still help with the restocking."
Indigo eyes caught Julia's and there was no pulling away from the attraction. Julia's bottom line-she was attracted to Evelyn Carter. If she was honest with herself she was probably felt the attraction ever since she saw the woman eight years earlier. Although, according to Kris, it wasn't this woman. If it wasn't her then the big question is, who was it? "In that case, I'll let you chose."
"Ah, you're fond of experimenting with wine too. Anything else I need to know that you enjoy experimenting in?"
Julia wanted to say you but shook her head instead. "I think that's enough for now."
Two hours later, replete from a marvelous meal that had amazed Julia with the presentation, Julia looked at Evelyn and asked, "Do you have a gourmet chef in the kitchen?"
Evelyn replied, "We have two chefs. One is from the old school of cooking and one is a relatively new recruit that studied culinary arts at a local college."
"I'm stuffed," Julia said as she leaned back in her chair with a deep smile on her face. "Hopefully when I get up this dress won't split."
Evelyn smiled slowly as her gaze roamed over Julia's features and then to the part of the body she could see. "You look wonderful. I don't think you'll have a problem. I, on the other hand, am thankful that I have a more forgiving dress."
"It's a beautiful dress and the color suits you perfectly." Julia replied as her gaze traveled to the upper part of Evelyn's dress. The ample cleavage and the slow movement up and down of her breasts mesmerized her. Her senses were going in all kinds of directions-none had ever traveled down before.
"I'm leaving town in two days," Julia lamented. "Back to work…no rest for the wicked," Julia announced unsure why she mentioned the fact.
Evelyn nodded and didn't comment about her statement until she quietly said, "You enjoy your work, Julia? The star gazing."
Julia moved forward in her chair her face glowed as she spoke, "I love it. The fascination with the stars, planets, asteroids even. My friends think I need a life outside of my work, but it's been so satisfying for me that I don't notice that I might be lacking in some areas."
Evelyn twirled the stem of her wine glass in her hand and replied, "Don't you find that a lonely existence?"
Julia considered the question carefully. "Truthfully, if you'd asked me that a month ago I'd have said a categorical no. Now...maybe it's worth exploring other possibilities."
"Because your friends think so or has something altered dramatically in your life to change your mind?"
It was a natural question in the context of their conversation. Julia found it hard to answer logically. "Not just my friends. I realized that I missed that connection on a regular basis with my mom. Though she's getting married soon and that probably means less time she'd have for me."
Evelyn reached out a hand and touched Julia's. "I doubt that very much."
With a sheepish smile she nodded, "Yeah, I know and then there's the question of my job." Her blood seemed to be on fire at Evelyn's touch.
"Is there a problem with the people who employ you?"
Julia shrugged. "Not really. They want me to move to Europe. The facility here is downsizing and if I don't leave then much of my research will be abandoned since there will be no funding."
Evelyn smiled slightly. "A dilemma for sure. The European continent I would have thought would appeal to one so young."
Julia chuckled softly. "You make it sound as if you're ancient." She let a small smile curve her lips. "I guess I never thought of myself as a homebody before but I must be. Anyway, that's enough about me what about you?"
Evelyn drew her eyebrows upwards slight creating a couple of furrow lines on her forehead. "Not much to tell really. I've been pampered all my life."
Julia grinned. "Oh, I'm sure you're rich but you don't have the arrogance of someone pampered… is that rather bourgeoisie of me to say."
Evelyn laughed. "Thank you. My parents made sure I understood what money could do-both good and bad."
Julia heard a soft tone grace Evelyn's voice as she spoke of her parents. "Tell me about your folks…if you want that is?"
There was a pause then Evelyn nodded. "I loved them much as you do your parents I suspect."
Julia interceded, "My mom. I've never known my dad. Apparently he was a bit of a waster."
"I'm sorry to hear that. My parents fell in love at first sight so they had me believe it is true."
"Do you believe or was it lip service?" Julia asked quietly.
Evelyn gazed keenly at Julia then replied, "I wasn't sure at first. But now, yes, I believe."
"My mother was a leading crusader in her day. Some might call her a hippy or the cult leader type. Apparently, the commune was heavily populated by like minded souls at one time back in the early sixties. I'm told they were not very welcomed by the vast majority of the residents of Lancaster."
Julia was about to reply that her mother always warned against the place, but something stopped her from commenting. "I guess the cult status thing seems to have a tarnished image…even more so these days."
"Yes, too many bad things are associated with it, along with megalomaniacs who want to take over the world. My mother wasn't that type. She was into civil rights and the Vietnam war chaos of the time." Evelyn paused for a few seconds her face blank then she smiled slowly. "My father was the opposite. Being a Carter, he came from a rich background of privilege. The family didn't understand the whole hippy movement and was given the task by his father to take care of the problem. He was the eldest son so it was on his shoulders to rid the town of the menace that many thought they were. Also, he was to reclaim the land in the process. My grandfather had an ulterior motive-he wanted to build a shopping mall there."
"Oh, how wonderful, intrigue and a love story to boot."
"Yes. He went there of course to try and speak with them and my mother was the mediator. From all I'm told, he fell head over heels in love with her and her with him. A month later they eloped leaving Lancaster and traveling to Africa."
"You were born in Africa? You don't have a strong accent?"
"Yes and lived there until five years ago. Living with two American parents the accent came as part of the package. Occasionally though, you will hear the odd strange twang or word. My father was an astute business man even then. He was only twenty-five, and used it to good stead. My mother found a whole new realm for her humanitarian ways as my father called it." Evelyn laughed as a memory obviously surfaced.
Julia waited a few seconds and then quietly said, "I heard you were in an accident."
Evelyn nodded. "Yes, my mother died and I was in a coma for three months. I think that was the only reason keeping my father alive once mother was gone. He wanted to ensure I was going to be okay. When I finally was released from the hospital he passed away a month later."
Julia felt tears welling in her eyes. "He died of a broken heart."
"If you believe in that kind of things then yes I guess he did. Although technically, he had a heart attack," Evelyn said in a matter-of-fact tone.
"I know you might think this strange but I believe in that kind of thing." She laughed self-consciously. "Coming from an astrophysicist I know that's hard to accept as true. However, I am known for my open mind about theories. Hey, I star gaze what could be more romantic."
Evelyn gazed absorbedly at Julia then she nodded. "I know we haven't had dessert but I'd like to show you something. Do you mind if we leave now?"
Julia, slightly surprised, nodded agreement. "I was never one for dessert anyway."
"I promise you won't be disappointed." Evelyn stood up and said, "I'll pay the bill. Be right back."
Julia stood up too. "I asked you out to dinner remember it's my bill."
Evelyn shook her head. "I can afford this Julia remember the rich girl."
"Yeah, I remember but I want to buy dinner. It will make me happy." Julia waited for a reaction and was pleased when Evelyn capitulated by raising her hands in defeat.
"I wouldn't want you to be unhappy. I'll fetch the car and meet you out front."
"Sounds like a plan to me." Julia moved toward a waiter who was almost hovering yards away. "I'd like the bill please." She followed the man who headed for the concierge counter.
The ride back to town was almost silent and Julia didn't mind. In fact, she was thankful as she tried desperately not to fall asleep on the journey back. Every time she tried to keep her eyes open, they drooped on purpose. Cat napping was a good expression for her condition. When the car slowed down, she blinked back the sleep and looked around her. It was familiar. The metallic opening of the gate signaled where she was-the renovated commune.
"Oh," Julia murmured obviously loud enough for Evelyn to hear as the woman turned to her.
"You're awake. Anyone ever tell you that you snore...delightfully I might add."
Julia knew there was no malice intent Evelyn's expression said she was amused but affectionately so. "Must be the great food, wine and company what I can say. Besides, don't tell me you've never done that before."
Evelyn laughed, "Not on a date. However, yes I've been known to drop off on a long journey."
This is a date!
Julia felt her lips curl into a wide grin as she allowed that fact to penetrate every fiber of her being. It made her stomach churn in a deliciously excited way. I'm on a date!
The car slid silently toward the main house and stopped.
"Don't tell me you've decided to let me into the secret project," Julia said laughing softly and caught Evelyn's eyes and her laughter stopped replaced by incredulity. "You really are going to show me the secret project?"
"I guess, I am, but first I want to show you something that might make sense at least to you."
Intrigued, Julia followed Evelyn inside the house. Not long after, they stood outside the door that yesterday Evelyn had said was full of junk. "You're going to show me the junk room?"
Evelyn reached for the handle of the door and sighed. "I should have shown you yesterday. I needed to be sure."
Quickly Julia asked, "About what?"
"You, me, and us. I know it doesn't sound the perfect reasoning, will you indulge me please."
Julia moved swiftly and placed her hand on Evelyn's that was on the door handle. "I'll indulge you and I trust you," she remarked softly as she saw a fleeting smile tug at Evelyn's lips.
Evelyn's face seemed to take on a warm glow as she softly replied, "Thank you. This was my mother's room. She recorded things in a journal and I've resurrected it as she wrote when she met my father. Is this what you saw eight years ago?" Evelyn opened the door and allowed Julia to walk by her.
Julia walked inside and drew in a shallow breath-it was exactly what she'd seen eight years ago down to the light bulb without a shade. Spinning around, Julia exclaimed. "This is exactly what I saw!"
Evelyn moved into the room and stood by the door. "When you mentioned your experience I ...I recalled my mother having a journal she used to read snippets to me when I was a child. I searched for it yesterday in some of her personal belongings I've kept in an old trunk."
Julia held up her hands replying quixotically. "You did this for me? This is marvelous, Evelyn. You're now going to tell me that it was you here eight years ago, right? Maybe you were on vacation visiting family?"
Evelyn shrugged. "Unfortunately not. Do you recall the date exactly you had this encounter."
Julia moved toward the window and gave a soft chuckle. "You asked me in, but I had to enter through the window. Bizarre of course, but I did it anyway, even left that way."
"Julia, it wasn't me. I came to Lancaster five years ago for the first time. You can check my passport if you want proof."
"I don't understand I thought this was why you brought me here?" Perplexed Julia turned to Evelyn. She was standing much as the Evelyn Carter of eight years ago had, under the naked light bulb.
"Do you recall the date and time Julia?" Evelyn asked with more urgency this time and moved toward Julia near the window.
With a perplexed expression, Julia eventually replied, "Yes, August 28th, 2am or at least within ten minutes or so. We'd had an evening out, night owls you might call us fluttering our wings for college days and as usual ended up daring each other. My dare was here as I told you and I met you…ok someone who looked like you."
Evelyn sucked in a breath her face paled considerably. "My mother and I had the car accident on that day at eight in the morning. We were going into the city from her home on my twenty-seventh birthday. Freak lightening caused the accident or so they said."
Julia pulled at her lip and asked, "Don't you remember?"
Evelyn's expression changed to one of consternation. "I was driving. My mother and I were talking about ...love of all things. She was telling me about the night she and my father eloped. She loved to tell me that story. Always said there was someone just like that for me. Then it happened. Suddenly there was a bolt of light and then nothing."
Evelyn collapsed on the bed, her hands wringing together as she frowned heavily. "Nothing in that the next recollection of the real world I have is a hospital room and my father at my bedside."
Julia watched Evelyn being taken over by her own trauma of that day. Her heart bled for her and what she lost that day. The frustration of not knowing what happened must carve a big hole in the soul.
Evelyn sighed heavily. "They said it was a freak accident. A bolt from the blue, it was a clear day and nothing on the road. All I know is that I'm responsible for my mother's death and ultimately my father's."
Julia rushed over to the bed and sat next to Evelyn. "You can't say that…you can't! Isn't it right that there wasn't anything you could do? You can't predict mother nature's actions not all of them anyway," Julia soothed gently, as her hand reached out and took Evelyn's in hers.
Evelyn didn't reply as she gazed at the contact of their hands and Julia felt that it calmed them both a little. She'd never felt such depth of emotional distress for someone other than her mom before.
They remained silent for several minutes then Evelyn drew in a breath and she squared her shoulders. Turning to Julia, her eyes filled with unshed tears, she whispered "Thank you. I seem to be saying that a great deal to you."
Julia smiled slowly. "You're welcome…anytime."
"This is a pitiful way to end our date isn't it?" Evelyn sadly remarked.
Julia grinned. "Hey, I'm glad you've shared and this," she waved her hand around the room in a circular motion, "well it doesn't give me all the answers. Frankly, it's brought more forward. Now, I know it wasn't my imagination."
Evelyn smiled tightly. "Maybe there are some things in the universe which can never be explained."
Julia considered that and shrugged. "Ah, but we try. I know you mentioned that you couldn't remember anything about the actual accident. What did you mean by the real world?"
Evelyn hesitated to answer. Instead, she stood up, walked over to a small table, and picked up a tattered looking book. She walked back to a standing Julia and handed it to her.
"If you look inside you'll see photographs. Please tell me what you see?"
Perplexed, Julia took the book and looked at the scrawled writing on the front. This is the personal journal of Evelyn Edison and obviously added later in a different colored ink-Carter. "You're named after your mom?"
Evelyn nodded. "Go ahead and take a look at the oldest photos."
Seconds later, Julia gasped as she gazed at the fading photo of a woman in exactly the clothing she had seen that night eight years ago. In fact, it was the woman. Her gaze drifted up to look into Evelyn's face and it wasn't easy to see the differences but they were there. "It was your mother!"
Evelyn shrugged and looked at the photo Julia was concentrating on. "My father used to say I looked like my mother. I guess you must think so too."
Julia whistled softly. "You do, although now looking at this and you in the flesh. I can see subtle differences. Your mouth isn't as full and you have a slightly higher forehead but those eyes it's like a mirror image-oh my goodness."
"I guess you saw my mother," Evelyn simply remarked.
Julia stared at the photo again as her logical mind tried to make sense of the situation and she couldn't. There really wasn't an explanation. "How old was she in this photo please?"
"Twenty-three, it was taken the night she and my father eloped. She was telling me just before the accident," Evelyn moved toward the window and drew back the heavy curtains. "My father wasn't welcome at the commune…they called him a subversive." She chuckled softly. "My father was the least subversive man on the planet. Anyway, he used to sneak in too see my mother through the window. She told me that night they both left through the window and that there was a shooting star overhead and it was a sign from above that they were meant to be together. They were rarely apart after that so I guess she was right." Evelyn sighed and looked up at the sky and softly remarked, "Lots of stars."
Julia glanced again at the journal then placed it on the bed and moved to Evelyn's side. Gently she remarked, "I think that's a beautiful story and if I was someone who believed in ghosts and stuff I'd say she was here that night." The more she thought about the unlikely event the more it made sense as incredible as that might seem.
"One thing it brought us together," Julia said warmly.
Evelyn switched her gaze to Julia's and her eyes seemed to fixate on Julia's lips. Then she smiled as her hand moved to trace a finger over Julia's lips. "I remember the smile in my dreams. I remember you."
The sensation of Evelyn's touch was creating havoc with her senses and she almost lost all coherent thought when she croaked out, "In your dreams? Since you met me a few days ago you mean?"
Evelyn shook her head. "No, when I was in the coma I remember drifting in dreams of shooting stars, my mother's face, and you. We danced to that old song. You see, you aren't the only one with weird experiences."
Julia gasped in astonishment. "Are you telling me that you dreamt of me…that pimply teenager of eight years ago?"
"No, I saw you the woman you've become. A very beautiful woman I might add. I've waited for you, because in my heart I always knew that one day you'd come out of my dreams and into the flesh. It was like a dream come true when you came to our table at your party. I was literally blown away and lost for words. I had a feeling that any moment I was going to be in that dream and wake up and you'd be gone. " Evelyn didn't move her gaze she continued to watch Julia carefully.
Shaking her head, Julia said, "How could you possibly see what I'd become from all those years ago?"
Evelyn smiled gently. "A window in time perhaps. How could you possibly see me or at least my mother eight years ago? We were thousands of miles away and as it turned out she was dead."
Julia heard the matter of fact description and frowned heavily. "You know this is kind of weird."
"I know and now I guess I'd better take you home. I'm sure with your scientific brain you'll want to think about this in detail." Evelyn sighed softly and turned away from the window.
Julia remained there and looked out and up toward the sky-full of stars. Then she turned and smiled tenderly at the retreating back. "I think things happen for a reason, Evelyn. You and I might have needed the intervention of...let's say the stars to point the way. What do you think?"
Evelyn smiled slowly and spun around before walking back to Julia's side. "I think you're a very astute woman, Julia Stokes."
"Thank you. Didn't you say you had a secret place to show me or is this it?"
Evelyn laughed quietly. "No, this isn't the place. It had to be in this sequence and I think you'll understand why." She held out her hand and Julia took it immediately.
"Lead the way, you have my full attention."
Evelyn led Julia to the far end of the long corridor of the bottom half of the house and unlocked a side door. It led to a pathway and at the bottom of the path was a rather plain building. White stucco walls were the only thing she saw in the darkness-the shape, Julia was unable to make out.
Laughingly Julia said, "Don't tell me you have a secret wine cellar?"
Evelyn shook her head and squeezed Julia's fingers slightly. "Patience."
Julia chuckled. "I can do patience." In truth, her heart was racing as she felt the warm link of their hands clasped together.
Evelyn dropped the hand clasp as she unlocked the white door.
Julia felt the place was vaguely familiar and once inside she gasped as Evelyn switched on the lights inside the building.
"What do you think?"
Julia had a hand over her mouth as she exclaimed, "You have a private observatory!"
Evelyn laughed. "Yes, I told you I dreamt of shooting stars for three months and more so I thought it appropriate."
Shaking her head in wonder, Julia went toward the telescope "You've got an expensive piece of equipment here. I've not seen one like this outside of a professionally funded environment before. In fact, it's better than the one I used at the university."
Evelyn chuckled. "I've impressed you. I'm pleased. Does this mean you know how it works?"
Julia turned to Evelyn. "You mean you've spent tens of thousands on a telescope that you can't use? Why?"
"I was hoping that someone special might one day want to do research here and could teach me."
Julia's mouth opened and then shut before she squeaked out, "I'm the someone special aren't I?"
A faint almost self-conscious expression twisted Evelyn's lips. "Yes."
"Oh my god! You know this is a dream of mine to own such a set up. I figured I'd have to work hard and save for the rest of my life then maybe retire and build a small place. Nothing this expensive though." Julia was in awe, and it reflected in her voice as she gently fingered the cool metal of the telescope case.
"I know how to do one thing and they finished it today. Allow me to show you." She reached around Julia to a button next to the scope.
Then with a gentle whirl of machinery, the top of the building split in half and moved away and the telescope began to move upwards.
"I've died and gone to heaven," Julia remarked as she watched the night sky open like a plateau above them.
"There you go…try it…please." Evelyn began to move away and Julia prevented her with a hand on her arm, gazing directly into those dark blue eyes.
"I'd rather do something else first." Julia didn't give Evelyn time to answer as she placed her lips on Evelyn's and began to tentatively kiss her then they were drawn swiftly into a deeper kiss that made her senses zing. Their lips moving gently at first then as passion built more rapidly. Their mouths opened to allow contact with tongues. It was some time before flushed, both women, came up for air.
Breathlessly, Evelyn spoke first, "Now, I know I've died and gone to heaven. It's as I dreamed it would be. I'm glad I never gave up hope of finding you."
Bemused, Julia lifted a finger and stroked the lips that had scorched hers with an intensity she had never experienced before. "Hmm, I think you're right this is far more agreeable. As for the finding me…I always felt that there was someone special out there for me and I think that feeling began the day I came here all those years ago. I just never realized it until I saw you at my party."
Their lips locked again and this time both women reveled in the sensual overflow and it was some time again before they moved away slightly. "Evelyn, I'm going to find you a shooting star."
"You can find me a shooting star?"
Julia grinned. "I'll name a solar system after you." Then her eye moved to the telescope and she began to twiddle with the optics and moved away from the telescope. "Look up, Evelyn," Julia's said.
They both looked up and there in the heavens was a shooting star.
"Oh my goodness," Evelyn gasped, tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.
Julia grinned at the awesome sight. Turning to Evelyn, she saw her tears and gently brushed them away. "We're going to be fine, Evelyn. We have a shooting star watching over us, like your parents." Then she twisted Evelyn's face to hers and they kissed again.
When they broke apart, Evelyn held out her hands. "Dance with me."
Julia gladly went into the waiting arms and as they moved closer she was sure somewhere in the background there was music softly playing their song.
Dream, dream, in the night when I need you all I have to do is dream.
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