Shattering Time -- First Two Chapters
Chapter 1 – Stolen Time
Saturday, August 14, 2004, north of Orlando, Florida.
The scent of death lingered. The horrors were still fresh, still raw, and her own grisly destruction forever burned into memory. In this moment, Ronnie Andrews straddled time, caught somewhere between the eighteenth century and the sudden and unexpected return to her normal life.
She took a deep breath hoping it would calm her rapid heartbeat. Greedily she took another breath as her throat threatened to close off her air supply … again. She was really home. The constant struggle was over.
Ronnie stood in her apartment face-to-face with her best friend Stephanie McKay trying to make sense of what had happened. She had no idea how she had returned so suddenly from London in 1752. The modern furnishings and comforts struck her as overwhelmingly luxurious adding to the turmoil boiling inside her chest.
Fluffy, her white Persian cat, rubbed against her leg and purred loudly wanting attention. Ronnie picked her up and closed her eyes burying her face in the warm soft fur, needing an escape. It was surreal, but reality was knocking, and she would have to share her experience with Steph.
Her friend narrowed piercing blue eyes. “You okay, Ronnie?” Her familiar Scottish brogue was comforting. Though Steph was only five foot two, she was as fierce as any Amazon warrior.
Ronnie pulled herself together and hoped her voice wouldn’t shake too much. “You must have been so worried about me the last few days.”
“Last few days?” Steph shook her short blonde curls. “I saw you last night, Ronnie. What the hell?”
“Last night? What do you mean?” Ronnie asked.
“Luv, you are sounding rather batshit crazy right now. Here sit down, let’s sort this out.” Steph took her elbow and led her to the overstuffed chair in the tiny living room and sat across from her on the loveseat. “It’s Saturday. Ronnie, you’re scaring me. What did that jackass do to you?”
Steph’s angry expression surprised her. “What jackass is that? Surely you’re not talking about Jeffrey.” Steph had never been shy about expressing dislike of Ronnie’s boyfriend. They had been together for a year and a half when he was offered a position at the Central Florida Cloud Physics Laboratory last spring. Steph’s deep-rooted anger toward Jeffrey was making her nauseous. She pressed against her stomach willing it to settle down. From the beginning, Steph had not trusted him but could never express exactly why. She said it was just a gut feeling. That had never been enough to satisfy Ronnie. If Steph had something more tangible she might have given it a second thought, even if it was coming from one of her most trusted friends.
A knock at the door startled them. Steph welcomed Nick Sharer, who had just popped out to the car to retrieve something. They both returned to the couch. Though Ronnie had heard a lot about Nick, this was the first time they had met.
Ronnie sank further into the chair and studied his handsome face. His short light brown hair shone in the low light of the room. His high cheekbones framed kind blue eyes hinting at a wisdom his early thirty-something features belied. She never imagined meeting him under such strange circumstances.
Ronnie felt Fluffy’s low rumble of happiness that was in stark contrast to her own emotional state. “Nick, what happened to your arm?”
“Oh, this?” He held the fiberglass cast protectively. “I knew Hurricane Charley broke my finger but it turns out he broke my arm and collarbone too.” He touched his shoulder on the same side as the cast. “You should have seen Steph when she saw the damage to my finger.” He laughed and Steph looked at him like he had completely lost his mind. “Well Steph, you threw up.”
“Come on, let’s not change the subject.” Steph crossed her arms. “What the hell happened last night, Ronnie? You went to Jeffrey’s weather lab, didn’t you? I’d love to know what the hell he did that got you so upset. For God’s sake Ronnie, you don’t even know what day it is!”
“Ladies,” Nick looked from Steph to Ronnie, “let’s not get all out of sorts here. Ronnie, why don’t you start at the beginning and maybe we can sort this out.” He ignored the glare from Steph. “You left your apartment and then what?”
A wave of nausea engulfed Ronnie. “I’ve not eaten in almost twenty-four hours.” She hoped that was the cause, but the emotional weight of what she’d been through sat in her gut like a lead bullet. She stood and walked to the kitchen with Fluffy following close behind. “You guys want anything?”
“No,” Steph said.
“What do you have?” Nick said. She could hear Steph scolding him and peeked over the breakfast bar to see them across the tiny apartment living room.
The room was encased in shadows with the low light creeping in from the only window in the living room barely making it to the kitchen. Everything in the fridge was likely ruined since the storm had knocked out the power last night. She opened the cupboards to see if there was something worth offering but the food choices were limited.
“Whatever you’re having, Ronnie.” He smiled.
Ronnie grabbed a box of Triscuits, three almost-cold Diet Cokes, a plate, and the peanut butter. She leaned against the countertop feeling overwhelmed and absently shoved a handful of crackers in her mouth. A purring Fluffy rubbed against her leg.
Ronnie opened the silverware drawer only to remember all of it was still packed from her move from Virginia Beach four days ago. She’d been so busy preparing for the storm she hadn’t gotten to it yet. The box of plastic knives was on the counter and she grabbed two and made her way back to her friends now regretting the mouthful of food. She set the snacks down on the coffee table and lost a Diet Coke in the process.
Steph picked it up off the floor and said, “Thanks, Luv, now get back to it.”
Ronnie handed Nick the other Coke and wanted to apologize for the lack of exciting snacks but instead chewed the dry crackers, took a swallow of the Coke, and sat down. Her legs were shaky. Crap, she was getting low blood sugar and would have to get some protein or she’d feel horrible soon. Ravenous now she opened the peanut butter, spread it on a cracker, and handed it to Nick.
“Oh my God, Ronnie, start at the beginning,” Steph said. “Enough with the stalling.”
Sadness overcame Ronnie and she fought to gain her composure, thinking of Mathias. The compassion reflected in his dark eyes forced into her mind and a flush crept up her neck. She could almost feel the solidness of his arms around her and taste his kiss. Would she ever see him again?
Ronnie composed herself. “The beginning is as good of a place as any.” She told her friends the events that took place yesterday before it had happened, gathering her overnight things, driving to Jeffrey’s weather lab, and eating dinner. Her friends listened intently.
“That is the crux of the entire thing.” Another wave of sadness washed over Ronnie. Mathias was the only good thing that had happened to her. She wiped away the tears.
Steph took Ronnie’s hand. “Luv, what entire thing? Please tell me. Tell us.” She glanced at Nick.
Ronnie squeezed her hand and looked at Nick. How could she tell them what happened? It was too strange. She didn’t even know Nick he would think she’d lost her freaking mind. So would Steph but they’d been friends forever and she would know she wasn’t making it up. She leaned back feeling lightheaded.
“He served me dinner and we … I …” She shook her head. “I went back in time, Steph. I swear to God, I have no idea how.”
“You bloody what?” Steph said. Nick’s mouth dangled open. He looked away, likely uncomfortable with this new information.
“I went back in time and I have no freaking clue how that happened, but I went to eighteenth-century London.” Her lips trembled. Sitting in her own apartment surrounded by friends made it all seem impossible but the feelings, the smells, the sights were still fresh in her mind. It was not a dream. It had been her reality for what … the last three days?
Steph stood up. “How the bloody hell did you get there, Ronnie?” She was yelling now.
Nick went to her side. “Steph, come on let her tell us without you getting angry. She’s a mess, look at her.”
Ronnie sunk lower into the chair. “Steph, have you ever in your entire life seen me like this? Have I ever made shit up?” Steph’s reaction surprised her. She had not expected anger from her dearest friend. Not when she needed her the most.
“Ronnie, you know why I’m yelling. It was that fanny-boy of yours. He drugged you or something. Why else would you be like this?” Steph’s face was red.
“Do I need to gag you Miss Angry-Pants?” Nick shook his head. “How can you yell at her like this?”
“Nick, you don’t know the history. Jeffrey is a …” Steph shook her head. “You’re right. Ronnie, I’m sorry. I’ll keep my gob shut. Tell us what happened and we’ll get this sorted I swear.”
Steph sat back down and Nick turned his attention to Ronnie. “It’s only been a day. Why do you think it was longer?”
Ronnie took a deep breath. “Nick. I was gone for days and days. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Steph shook her head and appeared to swallow an angry remark. Her expression softened, “Ronnie, just tell us what happened.”
She’d already dipped her toe into the pool of awful memories. Might as well dive in. “After dinner, I felt sick and went into the bathroom. Steph, it was the weirdest thing. I was sucked into space, pulled a million miles away into the sky. I could see my body on the floor of the bathroom as I sped off and then I bashed my head on the ground in 1752 London.” She told them about the people she’d met and how she ended up in Newgate Prison. Nick and Steph sat motionless as she gave them the short version of what had taken place with her attempts to escape and return to Florida. The anger had left Steph’s expression to be replaced with wide-eyed shock. Nick looked more flabbergasted as each layer of the story unfolded.
“Steph. I died … it was horrible.” She wiped her eyes, “I really died. Then, I was in Jeffrey’s lab again.”
“What the hell?” Steph’s face turned red and she sat with her mouth dangling open.
“Steph, Jeffrey gave me a present for my birthday and …” Ronnie touched her wrist but it wasn’t there. “Oh my God, it’s gone.” She wiped away a tear, remembering the last time she held it in her hand in another time and place.
“What was the gift?” Steph asked sounding like the fight had left her words for the time being.
Ronnie’s hands were sweaty, and she’d have to lay down soon if her blood sugar didn’t even out. “Oh Steph, remember the watch we saw at the little shop in London? The rose gold one?” Steph nodded. “Well, Jeffrey had it replicated for me. But this one was waterproof.”
“Well, where is it?” Steph asked, “I’d love to see this amazing gift.” She was trying to sound calm but undertones of anger lingered.
“I don’t know.” Ronnie flushed again. She knew Jeffrey would be mad. “I think it’s back in time.”
“Are you sure you don’t have it anymore? You had it on after dinner, right?” Steph’s voice was shaking.
“Yes, I did.”
“It was on your wrist when you went back in time?” Steph grabbed Ronnie’s wrist to check for herself. “Was it there when you came back?”
“I had it on when I left and … well, no, that was the weird thing.” Ronnie looked away trying to remember through the fog. She had first thought seeing Jeffrey was just a dream after being so desperate to be back in Florida, but now she knew it was real. What had Jeffrey said to her?
“Ronnie,” Steph prodded.
“Jeffrey was there holding me when I came back. He wanted to know where the watch was. He was mad.”
“I’d be mad too, that thing must have cost a fortune,” Nick said but was met with a smack from Steph.
“Really?” Steph asked. “He was mad because whatever he did to you had something to do with the watch.”
“Steph, come on,” Nick said. “That’s crazy, why are you so sure Jeffrey did something to her?”
“Jeffrey is up to something, I can smell it,” Steph crossed her arms. Ronnie put her head in her hands. Was her friend right? Was Jeffrey behind it? She hadn’t had time to process any of this yet. She looked at her friend. “Steph, if you’re going to help me you have to stop doing that!”
Nick answered for Ronnie, “Blaming Jeffrey. Let’s keep an open mind so Ronnie can tell us what happened.” He got close to Steph and whispered, “We don’t want her shutting down.”
Ronnie shook her head. “Nick, grab the duct tape, we’ll shut her up so I can get this out of me and into the light of day.”
“Okay, I’ll stop blaming Jeffrey.” Steph held up her hands. “But Luv, you have to admit this is a crazy story.”
“It is not a story. This is me telling you what I’ve been through.” Her eyes stung as more tears fell down her face.
Nick grabbed Steph by the neck pushing her for effect. “Hush.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sorry. It is just so strange,” Steph said. “Tell me everything that happened when you came back. What did Jeffrey say and do?”
Ronnie took a deep breath. A massive craving hit her. “Bread.”
“Bread?” Steph looked at Nick.
Ronnie stood up and went to the kitchen, grabbed the bag of wheat bread and crammed a piece in her mouth as she made her way back to her chair. Her friends stared at her in disbelief. She crammed another piece in and chewed.
“Um Ronnie, is there something you want to tell us?” Steph asked.
Ronnie responded by shoving yet another piece in her already full mouth. Such desperation must be what crack addicts experienced. It was way more than low blood sugar. She’d never felt like this before.
Chapter 2 – One Slice of Bread in a Big Cosmic Loaf
“Ronnie, are you okay?” Frown lines showed between Steph’s eyes.
“No, Steph, there is nothing okay about how I feel right now.” She wanted to lay down but Steph and Nick were on the couch.
Overwhelming grief hit her hard. She had lost Mathias, maybe forever. Would he survive his wounds? Would Jack hunt him down and finish the job? Ronnie sobbed uncontrollably—she had to let out all the panic, fear, loss, and horror from the awful things she’d witnessed before continuing.
It had been so real, so intricate, so horrible, and nothing like any dream before. She’d always been a bit of a psycho with her night terrors, especially when she was stressed, but after she’d woken up she always recognized it as a dream. This time, it had lasted for days and everything was all so real, so painful, and so dreadful. Did Jeffrey have something to do with it?
Steph knelt and put her arm around her shoulders. “Let it out, sweetie. It will all be okay. We’ll figure this out.”
Ronnie blew her nose and tried to tamp down the wretched feelings. She held another piece of bread and rolled it into a ball like her mother showed her for those Saturday mornings when she wanted more sleep but Ronnie was up early and hungry. “Oh my God, I need to call my mom!”
“I’ll find your phone.” Steph walked into the bedroom and yelled back, “Where is the bag you took with you to Jeffrey’s? Wait, never mind.”
Nick stood up. “Ronnie, why don’t you lie down, you’re looking a bit droopy.” He motioned for her to move to the couch.
She clutched the bread bag like it was her childhood blanket and moved to stretch out on the couch. Steph carried Ronnie’s overnight satchel into the room and set it on the coffee table. “Find your phone, Luv. Maybe you can get a signal to call your mom.”
Ronnie dug around in the bag found her cell phone and opened it. It was one of the new flip phones that reminded her of the Star Trek communicators. There were no bars and therefore no cell service but it had nearly a full battery and read 4:52 p.m. Saturday, August 14, 2004. Saturday? It was hard to believe it had been less than a day since she’d left. Her life had been turned upside down. She dialed her mom’s number just to be sure, but the screen turned blank. She set the phone down on the table then grabbed the decorative pillow to support her head.
“How the hell did Jeffrey get me here with all the storm damage?” Ronnie asked.
Steph shook her head. “What I want to know is how the hell did he get you home without you remembering?” She pointed to the satchel. “See if the watch is in there.”
Ronnie sat up and dug around in the bag. Not finding it she emptied the contents onto the table and the bottle of K-Y Jelly rolled toward Nick. She snapped it up and hid it back in the bag.
Nick looked away turning a shade redder. “Uh, Ronnie, can I use your bathroom?”
“Yes, over there.” She pointed to the guest room past the kitchen.
“No watch?” Steph said rummaging through her clothes and toiletries.
“Nope.” Ronnie patted her shorts pockets and dug through her purse.
“Did you bring anything else?” Steph looked around near the front door.
“No, I don’t remember getting dressed or driving here. Why would that be?” Ronnie felt her sternum. Her bra was on. Why would Jeffrey bother to put her bra on if she were passed out? “Um, don’t answer that.”
Steph mimicked putting tape over her mouth.
Nick returned. “Steph? You’re behaving, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am.” Steph got up and pulled a barstool over to complete the circle of the couch and overstuffed chair. Nick sat down.
“Did you find the watch?” he asked.
Both women shook their heads.
“Ronnie, why are you eating like a starved homeless guy?” Nick nodded toward the half-empty bag.
“I’m feeling really weird like I’m desperate for food.” Her jaw was aching because she’d been shoving bread in her mouth so fast. Fluffy jumped up on the couch and rubbed against Ronne’s leg. She absently smoothed down her fur.
“Your body is probably trying to catch up after all you’ve been through. Just rest and let’s see if that helps,” Steph said. “Plus, you didn’t eat breakfast or lunch, so you’re probably just having one of those spells of yours.”
“Yeah, I hope that’s all it is. What if this has damaged me somehow? What if the cravings are from a reaction to the time travel or whatever this was?”
Nick and Steph looked at each other with worried expressions. “Do you want to go to the hospital? We were just there for Nick’s arm. They’ve cleared the roads on I-4 and it’s just down the street from here. That’s why we stopped by because we were close and I was worried about you.”
“I don’t know, Steph. I mean something really, really weird happened to me but if I tell them what really happened to me I’ll be thrown in the loony bin.”
“You could just tell them your symptoms and let them check you over,” Nick said. “They don’t have to get inside your head.”
“Let me see if I can calm down. It should end soon if it’s low blood sugar. I’ve certainly had enough calories.” Ronnie lifted the bag for emphasis.
“We really need to figure out what happened. Is there a way we can look up something from your experience?” Steph and Nick were holding hands now. They were just friends, right? Ronnie wondered if they had crossed that line last night. She hoped so as Steph had always spoken highly of him.
“That’s a good idea, Steph. Have either of you ever heard of the Gregorian time shift?”
Nick looked at Steph and shrugged. “Nope.” They sure were acting like a couple.
“In seventeen fifty-two, England lost eleven days in the month of September,” Ronnie said hoping it was a real event that had happened. Or was it something that just didn’t get much historical play? She’d have to do a search and see what would turn up.
“You’re kidding, right? Nick said. “How do you lose time like that?”
Ronnie stood up and walked with shaky legs to her laptop. She opened it and turned it on. It booted but she couldn’t get an internet connection. “No, I’m not. They had to catch up to the rest of Europe who had made the change to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar in the fifteen hundreds. I didn’t know that either, but if it’s true that would help support going back in time. I could also look up the people I met back then to see if they were real.”
“That’s a great idea, Ron, but we’ll probably have to wait for the power to come on,” Steph said.
“Yeah you should write everything down and you can look it up later.” Nick stood and turned to Steph. “I really want to go check on my parents. I’ve not been able to reach them with cell service down and they’re probably worried about me. Do you mind?”
Steph stood and put her arm around his waist. “You go check on your mom. Do you want me to come too?”
“No, I’m good. What are you going to do about getting home, though? You’ll be stuck here,” Nick said. “Ronnie, we didn’t see your car in the parking lot.”
“It’s probably still at Jeffrey’s lab.”
“Is it okay if I hang out here for a while, Ron? He can come back later and we can get your car or whatever we need to do,” Steph said and Nick nodded in agreement.
“Yeah that would be good, I’m not sure I want to be alone right now.” Ronnie watched Steph and Nick hug.
“Bye Nick, great to meet you.” Ronnie stood up.
Nick hugged her and turned to Steph, “I’ll try to come back around ten in case I can’t reach you on the phone. I can take you back home then if you want. See you, Ronnie, hope you feel better.”
“Okay, sweetie, see you in a bit.” Steph walked Nick to the door and then shut it behind him.
Ronnie crossed the living room and dug through a partially unpacked box with the hope of finding a notebook. Her legs were shaky but felt a bit more in control. “So, are you two a thing now?”
“Oh, Ronnie I never told you about our night. It’s just horrible what we went through. You can see what happened to Nick.” Steph pointed to her arm.
“Sit down and tell me everything,” Ronnie said, lying back down on the couch with the notebook clutched to her chest.
“Well, I guess we did get closer. He …” She visibly blushed. “Um … well, he came over when you went to Jeffrey’s and we got dirty pulling in my potted plants.” She smiled, pink-cheeked.
“Oh, you got dirty?” Ronnie asked.
“Yes, we didn’t actually do anything.” She looked away and rubbed her upper lip.
Ronnie knew there was more to it. “He’s a really nice guy. Plus, he’s much better looking than you ever let on. Damn girl. He is hot.”
She smiled obviously smitten. “But Ronnie when we were about to …um well... mess around we were interrupted by Hamish. He’d gotten out in the hurricane when we put the plants in the garage.” Steph continued to tell her about their misadventures as Ronnie pictured her friend’s orange tabby cat.
By the end of the telling, they were both crying and hugging each other. “God, Steph you’ve been through hell. It’s no wonder you and Nick are close after that crap!”
“I know. Nick handled everything so well, Ronnie. He’s such a good guy and finally dumped that stupid chick from the gym. For once we’re both single at the same time. He’s always been there for me but only as a friend, so it’s exciting to have a man in my life and to see how it all goes. For now, we have to figure out what happened to you.”
“He’s a keeper, Steph.”
“What is that book you’re hugging?”
“Oh, I liked your idea of writing everything down. I think it might be the key to figuring this thing out. Help me.” She handed Steph the notebook. “We can go through what I remember and search Google later.”
“Okay, let’s start with all the names you remember.” Steph sat across from Ronnie and wrote everything down. An hour later they had gathered a few pages of information.
The doorbell sounded. Ronnie got up and peeked through the peephole.
“Who is it?” Steph asked, setting aside the papers they had been working on.
A distorted view of Jeffrey showed through the glass and she was hit by a momentary panic. Was she ready to deal with him right now?