My little story about Rachel and her time travels has developed to a point where I think she deserves a page I’m cutting and pasting everything I’ve done to date in chronological order. If you see ~~~ it means I need to fill in some spots still. There are some inconsistencies I’ll need to fix eventually. The curse of writing scenes to prompts
“’The last thing you expect to find in a swimming pool is jello.’ he said to me. Can you imagine?” Rachel pulled her cover-up on over her bikini and shifted the phone on her shoulder. A tiny charm, a miniature cat, bounced against her cheek. She scanned the room for anything she might have forgotten. The drive to the beach would take over an hour; there was no coming back for anything.
Listening intently to the person on the other end she tossed a bottle of sunscreen in her bag and ran down the stairs.
“No, I doubt he’ll do it. It would be impossible to get that much jello. Anyway, see you in an hour or so.” Clicking off, Rachel paused at the calendar hanging on the fridge. She circled next Saturday with a pink highlighter, already feeling the excitement building. This would be the party of the century, assuming James didn’t completely screw it up.
The beach was crowded by the time Rachel drove up. She hopped out and peered up and down its length. Amy had said to look for a bright green umbrella with large yellow flowers splashed all over it.
A voice caught her attention. Glancing over her shoulder her heart stopped.
“Nathan,” she whispered. She watched him walk over to her, her eyes greedily taking in every detail.
“Hey, Rachel! It’s been forever, huh? How’s it goin’ pal?” Nathan playfully punched Rachel on her shoulder. She bit her lip, struggling to compose herself. Of course, he still thinks of you as a friend. To him you are still the rambunctious tom-boy that used to fill in during the touch football games.
“Nathan! I wasn’t expecting to see you,” Rachel smiled brightly. Shoulders back, chest out. You’re a woman now Rachel, show him that. She grabbed her beach bag from the front seat of her car and fell into step beside him.
“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the time off so I didn’t mention it to anyone.”
Nathan stared off towards the water and they lapsed into silence. Rachel ground her teeth. Why did she always have such a difficult time talking to him? Before she could open her mouth again a group of people surrounded them, laughing and hugging Nathan. Rachel felt herself pushed to the outskirts, isolated and forgotten.
The rest of the afternoon Rachel felt like a stalker. She kept Nathan in sight at all times, waiting for an opportunity to get him alone. He was a social butterfly, chatting and laughing with everyone.
As dusk fell she noticed that Nathan was gone. Frantic, she ran over to Amy.
“He’s gone!” she hissed. Amy rolled her eyes. “No, he went to his car. He’ll be back.” She smiled and gave her a push in that direction. Stumbling, Rachel took off down the beach. By the time she reached the emptying parking lot she was trembling.
The lights in the parking lot were beginning to switch on, illuminating everything with an ethereal glow. Rachel stopped short as Nathan emerged from around a car. He smiled as he approached her.
“Hey, are you leaving? We never really got to talk.”
“No, I…” Rachel swallowed thickly and then stepped forward boldly. Grasping Nathan by the shoulders she pulled him in close, her arms entwining about his neck and kissed him, long and deep. He began to melt into her arms, letting his lips meld with hers and then stiffened, pulling back.
“I…I’m sorry Rachel. I can’t do this.” He pushed out of her arms and strode off down the beach. Rachel stood, dumbfounded, tears filling her eyes as she watched him walk away. Mortified, she turned and bolted in the opposite direction. She ran blindly around the edge of a bluff and stopped short at the opening of a cave.
Where did this come from?
She entered cautiously, desiring nothing more than a quiet place to cry. Leaning against the cool cave wall she slumped to the floor and wept. In time the tears eased but her heart ached. She stared off into the dim interior of the cave wondering if she would ever be able to face anyone.
Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a pile of old wood and miscellaneous garbage. It reminded her of a ship wreck. Curious she crawled forward and saw a glow coming through a crevice. She eased the wood to one side and squeezed her hand through the narrow opening. Her fingers found a smooth handle and closed around it. Slowly she plucked a large hand mirror from its hiding place.
The glass glowed softly, illuminating her features with a rosy hue. She turned it over in her hands, noting the detailed enamel work on the back. It was covered in flowers: roses, lilies, chrysanthemums, and violets, each done in exquisite detail, the colors bright and vibrant despite its obvious age.
Gazing into the glass she wondered if there was something about her that turned Nathan away.
“I wish…I wish he could see how I feel. All I want is to spend my life with Nathan. I would willingly spend my life showing him how much I love him,” she whispered. In response, the mirror glowed brighter and a voice echoed throughout, “Beware what you wish for…”
The world was spinning.
Rachel pushed up onto her elbows and gazed around the room. The objects blurred and shook then stabilized, then blurred and shook again. Moaning she curled into a fetal position and wondered how much she’d had to drink at the beach.
And then wondered how she managed to get home. Did someone drive her? Where was her car? Suddenly frantic she pushed up to her feet and stumbled over to the window. For the first time in her life she was grateful her condo complex didn’t have underground parking. Scanning the lot she breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted her car parked where it was supposed to be.
Her skin continued to crawl as she slowly and methodically tried to piece together the last few hours of her life. Her memory was being annoyingly cryptic. Frustrated she found her cell phone and punched in Amy’s number. If anyone would know, she would.
“Hello?” Amy’s voice sounded hollow.
“Amy? Are you in a tunnel?”
“Rach? No, just bad reception. I think it’s all the steel girders around me on site.”
“On site? Since when does an admin assistant go do site visits?” Rachel laughed.
“Rachel, what are you talking about? I’ve been doing site visits for over six months. Ever since I got that promotion as Project Manager.” Amy paused. “Are you feeling okay?”
Rachel stared at the phone, confused. Since when had Amy received a promotion? How could she, her best friend, not know about something as amazing as that?
“Rach?” Amy’s voice took on a concerned note. She had an uncanny sense of when something was going on in Rachel’s life, sometimes even before Rachel herself had clued in.
“Oh, sorry Ames. Just a brain fart. Anyway, I was calling to ask you something. Uhm…what happened last night? Did I get totally bombed at the beach party? I didn’t make a fool of myself, did I? And who drove me home?”
“Rach, you’re starting to scare me now. What beach party? It’s March. We haven’t been to the beach since that get together at the end of August.” Amy’s voice began to get higher pitched. “I knew there was something going on with you. You’ve bailed on me so many times in the past months. Listen, if you’ve got some new friends, fine, but don’t call me and…”
Rachel sucked in her breath. The beach party was over six months ago? What happened to her memories? What happened to her? She sat down onto the edge of her bed and choked back a sob.
Unnoticed by Rachel, a small hand mirror lying on her bedside table began to glow softly.
Raising her eyes, Rachel noticed the glow from the mirror and picked it up.
Where did this come from?
As she stared at herself, the reflection shifted imperceptibly from just Rachel to something more. She was drawn further into its depths, imagining she was no longer simply staring at herself but physically standing next to another version of herself.
Extending a single finger to lightly touch the shimmery glass she suddenly stopped. The reflection wasn’t copying her anymore. In fact, it was moving closer to her.
“So, “ the reflection said, “shall we get this show on the road then?”
Shrieking, Rachel dropped the mirror with a crash and backed away.
“Who said that? If this is some sort of sick joke…James? Is that you? You stupid ass!” Rachel began to storm through the room, tearing open drawers and flipping furniture. There was probably a hidden microphone somewhere. As she dumped out the laundry basket a loud “AHEM!” brought her attention back to the mirror. She glanced down and noted it was still glowing.
“What the hell…”she murmured and knelt down to pick it up again. Why didn’t the glass break?
“It’s a magic mirror you idiot. Magic glass doesn’t break when it’s dropped.” The reflection stared out at her, glaring. It shifted its clothing and brushed the loose tendrils of hair out of its eyes. Even though the mirror didn’t break, the reflection was clearly jostled about.
“Are you ready to talk to me? Again?” the reflection sat down on a bed that suddenly appeared. Rachel swallowed before answering.
“What do you mean, again? Have we talked before? Why don’t I remember?” Her eyes going wild, Rachel moaned, “Oh my God, I’m going crazy.”
“What looks like crazy on an ordinary day, looks a lot like love when you catch it in the moonlight” the reflection said.
“Something one of my previous clients used to say. It seems to fit with your particular wish.”
The reflection sighed heavily and rolled its eyes. “Seriously? How many times does it take to sink in?” the reflection groaned, speaking to no one in particular. Rachel could barely make out what it said. She wasn’t paying attention, her own mind whirling with thoughts.
Rachel looked back at the reflection, faintly ill at the sight of herself in the mirror…yet it wasn’t her at all.
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“Finally. I really hope this is the last time. It’s taken me three rounds to explain this to you. The other clients all got it after two.” The reflection held up a hand, stopping Rachel from asking a question. “Not yet. Just listen, then ask, okay?”
“You found me in my cave. You made a wish. A stupid wish, by the way, but then, really, all the wishes I get are stupid. Anyway, part of the deal is I bounce you back in time to accomplish your wish. It’s not always the exact same moment in time. Depending on how the last go around goes, the magic will shift where it drops you. The idea is always to put you in the best position possible to accomplish your wish. Depending on what you do, how you act, it changes things imperceptibly. Like the Butterfly Effect, okay?”
Rachel nodded mutely. The reflection smiled and continued. “The reason you don’t remember what’s happened the past six months is part of the magic. Jumping through time can mess with the memory. I think it jostles the hippocampus each time, disrupting the transfer of information from short-term to long term. Anyway, eventually your brain adjusts to the jumps and protects itself accordingly. Got that so far?”
“So, I’m going back in time? To do what?” Rachel furrowed her brow.
“To make your wish come true. You wished you could show Nathan how much you loved him, make him see that you were THE ONE for him. And you said you were willing to do whatever it takes, take the rest of your life even, to do so. “
As soon as the reflection said ‘Nathan’, everything came crashing back. Rachel’s mind whirled with the missing memories. So much had happened in the past six months. She gripped her head in her hands, trying to stop the sudden headache.
A finger of soft light extended from the mirror’s surface, lightly touching her forehead. The pain immediately disappeared.
“No problem.” The reflection shrugged. “Do you have any other questions?”
“Will I remember things now?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Maybe? That’s all you can give me? Maybe??” Rachel crossed her arms and flopped backwards onto her bed. “What kind of genie are you if you can’t make sure my memory stays intact?”
“First of all, I am NOT a genie. Second, I have no control over how the magic will affect you. I am simply the vessel.”
“Alright then. Well, now what do I do?” Rachel rolled over and looked at the reflection expectantly. It rolled its eyes again.
“How the hell should I know??” it snarled before disappearing in a swirl of mist. As Rachel stared into the mirror, the only reflection she still saw was her own.
Rachel glared at the mirror. “Stupid magical thing,” she mumbled before getting up off the bed. The reflection had said each jump positioned her in the best possible way to make her wish come true. So, was she just supposed to go about her life and let the magic guide her?
It always looked so much simpler in the movies. She decided lunch was a good idea. Maybe she could meet up with Amy and ease the fears she was probably having about her best friend’s sanity. Smiling to herself, Rachel dialed Amy’s number again and prepared to grovel.
“So, are you going to explain that?” Amy asked. She didn’t need to say what ‘that’ was. Rachel knew she was referring to the odd phone call she had made to her earlier.
“Oh, uhm…well, I’ve been dealing with some stress. And I haven’t been sleeping…so my memories are a little…jumbled,” Rachel answered vaguely. She wasn’t positive but in the movies you could never talk about the magical things happening to you so she figured to be safe she’d just make something up. It sounded plausible to her.
Amy gave Rachel a look while she sipped her water. Rachel knew that look. Amy wasn’t going to accept her answer.
Damn. Rachel prepared to explain when Amy suddenly smiled. “Okay, sleep deprivation definitely explains it. I remember when you had insomnia during finals one year. How you managed to pull off a C- in Calculus is still beyond me.”
“Right,” Rachel laughed weakly. She busied herself with a napkin while Amy looked over the menu.
So far so good.
“So, Ames. What site is this you were visiting today? Big project?”
Amy’s face brightened. She always enjoyed talking about work. Even when they worked together at Pizza Hut in high school she loved talking about things she did or saw happen at work with anyone who would listen.
“Oh, this is hilarious! You remember me mentioning Stella, my colleague?”
Rachel frantically dove through her scattered memories and plucked out a shadowy one about a blonde suck up Amy had to report to when she started with the consulting firm.
“The woman you reported to? The one who made your life a living hell?”
“Exactly. Well, we’re essentially equals now and she came by the site to ‘check on something’ but really, she just wanted to spy and give a poor report to our boss about how I’m handling things.”
“What a bitch.”
“I know. So I’m filling out this paperwork when a scream erupts from the other side of the lot and Stella comes bolting around a corner. She’s hauling ass, in heels no less, as she comes towards me.” Amy pauses to smother the laughter that begins to bubble up. “She gets closer and the heel on her shoe snaps and she goes down flat on her face. Best part? The construction site manager had his dog there that morning and the mutt had just taken a huge dump. Right. Where. She. Fell.”
Amy erupted into laughter as Rachel stared at her. She was surprised at her friend’s attitude, even though this woman possibly deserved it. Amy had always been the sweetest person you ever met. She never gossiped and she always saw the brighter side of a situation.
“So, what made her freak out?”
Amy struggled to regain her composure before answering. “Oh, she saw a spider. Scared silly about them. She walked through a web and just went ballistic.”
“What happened to her?”
“We all had a good laugh, she left with her pride in tatters, and I’m pretty sure I won’t see her poking around on my sites in the future.” Amy smiled wickedly.
She went back to scanning the menu and Rachel let her mind wander a bit. She looked around the restaurant Amy had chosen. It wasn’t anywhere she’d been before. Perhaps fate would step in and Nathan would appear. Her heart did a little jump at the thought of him.
“Rach? Earth to Rachel. Do you know what you want? The waiter is here to take our order,” Amy’s voice broke through her daydreaming. Rachel shook herself and looked up to meet the waiter’s gaze. He grinned at her, his eyes dancing mischievously. Rachel felt a chill run down her spine. Why did he make her feel afraid all of a sudden?
“Uhm, can I get a clubhouse sandwich with a salad? Water is fine to drink.” Rachel handed over her menu and shivered as his fingers brushed hers.
“Wonderful choice, “the waiter said, his melodious voice belying the sinister nature of his look. Rachel was relieved when he left. Turning to Amy she asked, “Did that guy give you the creeps? Or was it just me?”
“Must be you. He’s hot. I’ve been coming here a couple times a week, hoping he might ask me out. No such luck.”
Rachel watched the waiter weave through the tables. Amy had changed since her last solid memory of her. She never commented on guys like that, never delighted in the misfortune of others. It was like she was in an alternate universe.
Her eyes widened. Was it the magic? Was it changing her friend’s personalities? Rachel wasn’t so sure if she wanted to continue on with this. Was love worth her friend’s doing a complete 180 in personality?
She decided to talk to the mirror as soon as possible, maybe ask her to just put Rachel back to where this all began, to forget about Nathan. Suddenly happy, Rachel sat up straighter and tried to catch Amy’s eye.
“Oh.My.God.” Amy stared over Rachel’s shoulder.
“That guy. He has the most scrumptious ass I’ve ever seen.”
“What? I’m single. A girl can drool, right?”
“Sure but…” Rachel turned her head to see what Amy was frothing at the mouth over. The guy was hot, she had to agree. Dark hair with a slight curl, muscular build, and an ass so perfect and round in dark wash denim. Rachel felt her own heart leap. She watched him walk down the sidewalk and turn a corner. As he moved from view, Rachel caught a glimpse of his profile.
“Nathan!” she whispered. Pushing up out of her chair she wove through the tables to the exit. Behind her she could hear Amy yelling.
Sorry Amy. I’ll make it up to you.
She bolted around the corner and ran head long into someone. She could feel herself falling backwards and landed hard.
“I’m so sorry!” A man bent down to give her a hand up. “I didn’t see you come around the corner.”
Flushing, Rachel stood and rubbed her backside. She felt like an idiot. And gazing over the man’s shoulder she couldn’t see Nathan anywhere.
“It’s alright. I should have been more careful coming around the corner. Oh, did you happen to see a man walk past you? Tall, dark hair?”
“Sorry, dear. My eye sight isn’t that good. I hardly notice people except as blurs.”
Sighing, Rachel turned to go back to the restaurant. Amy was waiting at the table, arms crossed, her face screwed up in displeasure.
“What the hell, Rach? You ask me to lunch, act like a total space cadet, then take off without a word.”
“I’m so sorry Amy. I thought…I thought I saw someone I knew.” She fidgeted in her lap as Amy continued to fume.
That’s another un-Amy trait. She always forgives people as soon as they apologize.
“Fine!” Amy huffed. “Just don’t do that again. It’s rude.”
Rachel sighed quietly and hoped their lunch would arrive soon to distract her. “So, Amy…do you remember Nathan Anders? He was a few years older than us. He played football with my brother.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember him. I think I heard he moved back East to go to school or something. He hasn’t been in town since graduation.”
Rachel’s ears perked up. He hadn’t been in town since graduation?? Then who did she kiss at the beach? Or did she never do that in this particular reality? But then, how did she find the mirror…The implications of this made her head hurt.
“Wait a minute. Wasn’t he here for that huge bar-be-que at the beach in August? I swear he was there.”
Amy pulled out a file and began working on her nails. “I don’t really know Rach. I wasn’t paying attention to who was or wasn’t there. I was busy showing James what snake charmer really means.” She grinned wickedly and laughed. Rachel shook her head. This was all too much. She glanced at her watch.
“Do you need to get back to work?” Amy asked.
“Rachel, are you sure everything is okay? You’ve been acting so weird. It’s creeping me out.”
“I’m fine, really. Work. Yes yes, I should get going. I guess lunch will have to wait.” Rachel pushed up out of her chair and turned to make a quick exit. Amy pulled out her phone and punched something in.
“I’ll swing by the courthouse and get you at six okay? We’ll go to your place, get changed and then go to the museum.”
“Okay, sure, see you then,” Rachel said hurriedly and left before Amy could say anything more. Her head was spinning with everything that had happened in the last hour. Amy was hyper-sexual, Nathan hadn’t been in town for almost five years, and she worked at a…Rachel stopped in the middle of the sidewalk.
“Hey!” Rachel shrieked and ran over to the table where she’d left the mirror. She grasped the handle and began to shake. “Wake up! Geni…uh, Fairy…Magical being, whatever you are, WAKE UP!”
The mirror began to glow suddenly, like a switch had been flipped. The reflection stumbled into view, grabbing the edges of the mirror to steady herself.
“Seriously? You felt it necessary to shake the living daylights out of me?” The reflection glared back at Rachel. The experience made Rachel pause. She still wasn’t quite used to seeing herself looking so angry while she was actually happy. The reflection seemed to delight in being the exact opposite emotion that Rachel was actually feeling.
“Next time, “it continued,” a gentle tap, or even a caress around the frame will do. Perhaps a lightly breathed word of welcome…” The reflection took on a dreamy look as it stared off into space.
“Uh, hello? Big news here? The reason I woke you?” Rachel flicked the reflection in the head. It winced, rubbing its head and gave its attention to Rachel. “Oh, right. So what’s happening? Nathan kiss you? Ask you to marry him? Impregnate you with his baby?”
“No, but this might help get to that,” Rachel grinned and took a deep breath, “I WAS PUBLISHED!!”
The reflection looked at her blankly. Sighing, Rachel brought forth the newspaper.
“I wrote a letter to Dear Abby. And they published it! She always gives great advice. I’m sure she’ll tell me something that will make Nathan fall in love with me. As soon as I saw my letter I stopped reading. I wanted to read the answer with you, so you could give some of your magical insight.”
Rachel looked at the reflection, hope blazing in her eyes. The reflection fought the urge to roll its eyes. After all, the client was always right…or some such nonsense. “Okay, read your letter.”
Smiling happily, Rachel cleared her throat and began to read.
I have been in love with the same man for more than 12 years but he doesn’t seem to know I exist. I’ve tried flirting, I’ve tried doing subtle things for him like baking cookies shaped like hearts, once I even outright kissed him for a reaction. But nothing. In desperation I made a wish in a magic mirror and I’m now reliving the same period of time over and over. I keep running in to him and taking crazy chances to get him to fall in love with me. Each time it doesn’t work, I get zapped back to the beginning of the cycle and I relive it over again. I know if we get married, he’ll understand that I am the woman for him. Do you have any ideas how I can get him to propose?
Rachel looked up for a second before reading the response. She wanted to gauge the mirror’s reaction. The reflection looked shell shocked. Gulping, it whispered, “Quick, read the answer.”
I think you might be suffering from a mental illness. Please see a doctor immediately.
Rachel and the mirror sat in stunned silence. Then the mirror burst out laughing.
“Oh, my GOD! That is HILARIOUS! That Abby, she sure can pick em, can’t she? I don’t think I could have given better advice myself.” She continues to laugh, rolling about the mirror. It danced and jolted on the bed as she moved.
Rachel glared at the mirror, crumpling the paper in her hands. “Oh, shut up.”
Grumbling, Rachel stopped in front of the Self Help section at the bookstore. Was she crazy? Did she need help?
“Damn you Dear Abby,” she mumbled under her breath. Once the reflection had regained its composure it disappeared, leaving Rachel staring at the newspaper, wondering if maybe Dear Abby wasn’t too far off. Who talked to mirrors, besides Snow White’s wicked stepmother?
“Can I help you find anything?” The voice came from nowhere. Rachel leaped in the air, swallowing a shriek. She turned, ready to give the salesperson a piece of her mind and stopped.
“Nathan! Nathan Anders?”
“Yes, “ he smiled. Rachel could tell he was trying to place her. His smiled broadened. “Rachel! It’s been, what, five years?”
“At least that. What are you doing working here? I thought you went to college to get into journalism.”
“Yeah, but with the decline in traditional newspapers it’s been tough finding work. I do a little freelance but not enough to pay the bills so I took this job on.”
Rachel stepped back and took a long look at him. He’d changed but he was also exactly the same sheepish boy she’d known and fallen in love with all those years ago.
“So how come I’ve never seen you in the store before?” she asked.
“I just started last week. Actually, I transferred to this store from one in St. Louis. My mom has been going through some things and I came home to give my support.”
“Well, we should get together, catch up.”
“Definitely. I’ll grab your number before you leave. Now, what can I help you find?” He glanced at the self-help books on the shelves. Rachel felt her cheeks go red. How could she talk herself gracefully out of this one?
“Oh…uh, I was looking for one of those ‘Dummies’ books. On, uh…”Frantically looking around the store she caught sight of a mobile of origami cranes. “Origami! Yes, I need to learn how to fold origami.”
Nathan looked at her for a moment, considering. Rachel smiled weakly and crossed her fingers he didn’t call her on such a weak excuse.
“Well, our ‘Dummies’ books are over here. I’m sure we can find one on…origami.”
“It’s supposed to be relaxing,” Rachel protested. Nathan just smiled and continued walking. Behind his back Rachel smacked her forehead.
“Here we are, “ Nathan announced. He scanned the shelves and pulled out a book. Grinning he placed it reverently in Rachel’s hands.
“Thanks” she mumbled and made a show of flipping it open to scan the information within. “Yup, I think this should do just the trick. I’ll be folding intricate origami in no time.” Rachel turned to go to the checkout. A hand on her shoulder stopped her in her tracks.
“Wait, I never got your number,” Nathan said. “So we can go or coffee or something.”
“Right. Do you have a pen?” Rachel asked. She was determined to play it cool this time around. The last few jumps she’d been overeager and pushy. She was certain that was what pushed Nathan away. That, and the advice from Dear Abby still lingered in the back of her mind. She didn’t want to be disregarded as some crazy chick.
“Damn, no.” Nathan patted his pockets. “I’ll just run to the front. Wait here, okay?” Rachel watched as he darted off, weaving in and out between the shelves. An idea sparked in her mind and smiling to herself she opened up the origami book.
Nathan rounded the shelves and held up the pen triumphantly.
“Okay, what’s your number?” He asked and stopped. Rachel was gone. He looked around the store, scanning the aisles. She was nowhere. His brows furrowed in concern. Had he said something, done something? Coming back to the ‘Dummies’ section he noticed the book of origami poking out from the shelf and directly above was a little origami swan.
He picked it up and saw some writing on the bottom: Open Me. Laughing under his breath he unfolded the little creature and found Rachel’s phone number written inside. Whistling, he went back to work sorting shelves, the little scrap of paper tucked securely in his pocket.
“So, have you ever eaten Indian food before?” Nathan pulled out Rachel’s chair for her when they reached their table. Even the hostess looked impressed with his chivalry. Rachel felt herself flush with pleasure.
“That stuff you can get from food courts. Curry in a Hurry, you know. Never at an authentic restaurant.”Rachel glanced around noting she and Nathan were the only white people there. “I hope it won’t be too spicy.”
“We can control the level of heat added to your dishes,” the hostess assured her. Rachel smiled and turned her attention to the menu in front of her. Everything sounded interesting…but scary. She wasn’t familiar with many of the spices or terms used.
“My mother used to warn me about creases if I frowned too much.”
Rachel looked up and met Nathan’s eyes. They were dancing with suppressed mirth. She let her expression relax and felt the tension slip away.
“I’m out of my element,” she confessed. “Could you suggest something good?”
Nathan looked at her for a long time, as if he was assessing her. She quirked an eyebrow and waited. Finally, he grinned. “Leave it to me. I’ll give you a dinner you’ll remember forever.”
When the waitress arrived he pulled her to his side and quickly pointed out a series of items on the menu. Rachel tried to see what he was ordering but he kept blocking her view. She sat back and entertained herself by looking at the murals painted around the dining room. They were all artistic representations of various Indian gods. She thought she recognized Shiva but her knowledge stopped there.
Nathan cleared his throat and held up his wine glass. “To beginnings.”
Rachel clinked her glass with his. “To happiness.” She couldn’t have imagined a better start to any date, especially a date with Nathan. He was everything she had dreamed of. He’d been so attentive and courteous it was a shock to her system.
The sound of music took her attention away from Nathan. Off to the left a group of entertainers were entering the dining room and moving towards a small raised platform at one end. Nathan leaned in and said over the music, “This is why I wanted to come tonight. They have really great live shows.”
Rachel turned in her seat to watch the performers set up. First a small group of women in saris did an amazing traditional dance. She watched mesmerized as they twirled and moved on the stage. Following the dancers a solitary man walked out, a pole with two baskets dangling on either end slung over his shoulder. His snow white turban glowed under the stage lights. He placed each basket down on the platform and then unrolled a thick mat. Seating himself cross-legged he pulled out what looked like a flute and began to play a drowsy tune.
Rachel felt her heart leap into her throat. Looking over at Nathan she squeaked, “Are there snakes in those baskets?!”
He reached over and grabbed her hand across the table. “Just watch. We’re far enough back. It’s safe.”
Rachel clutched his hand as if it was a life preserver. Her body tensed and prepared to leap out of her seat if a rogue snake got close to her.
The snake charmer finished his opening tune and then leaned forward to remove the lid from one basket. He began another song, still slow and drowsy sounding but with a slightly erratic tempo. In moments the head of a cobra peeked out and began to sway in front of the charmer. He sped up the music and in response the snake lifted higher and bobbed its head up and down.
Rachel forgot her fear as she watched the charmer coax the snake up higher and higher. After a few minutes he paused and removed the lid from the other basket. He started another tune and the first cobra was joined by a second. The two snakes moved in synchronization, twisting and bending with the music. The grand finale was the two cobras entwining into a single creature, swaying back and forth to the song. The charmer slowed the tempo again and the music became calmer and more soothing. The snakes untangled from each other and slid slowly back within their respective baskets.
As the charmer stood and bowed to the audience Rachel shook herself out of the trance she had been lulled into. “That was amazing!”
“I know. I love coming when they have a snake charmer. They bring in a couple different guys and each one has a different highlight to their act.”
He smoothed his thumb along the back of Rachel’s hand. She looked down, surprised. She’d forgotten he’d grabbed her hand at the beginning of the show. Settling back into her seat she left her hand where it was and enjoyed the conversation. Nathan began telling her about other shows he had seen in the past.
Her interest was held until the food began to arrive. The rich aromas filled her senses and she heard her stomach growl. Appetizers of samosas, baskets filled with warm naan bread, and decadent butter chicken. Rachel filled her plate with jasmine rice, chenna masala, and a vegetable moilly. It was the most delicious dinner she had ever eaten.
Nathan paused to watch her eat a few times, asking if everything was okay. Each time she sang her praises and dove in for more, completely forgetting the ‘rule’ of not making a pig of yourself on a first date. Just as she thought she couldn’t eat another bite the waitress brought a diminutive dish with some pale meat and vegetables still sizzling from the pan. She placed it between them and gave Rachel and Nathan each a small fork. Rachel looked at him, questioning.
“It’s a delicacy. Try it and let me know what you think.”
She speared a piece of meat and blew on it before popping it into her mouth. It was slightly chewy and had a sweet, yet spicy flavor from the spices used. As she chewed Nathan asked, “What do you think?”
“It’s interesting. Chewy. What is it?”
Rachel stopped in mid-chew and met his gaze. She could see a hint of a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. After a moment, she continued to chew slowly and methodically then swallowed it even though her throat wanted to close up in revolt. Forcing a smile she replied, “Tastes like chicken.”
When was the last time we hung out?” Amy asked. Rachel glanced up from her smart phone and observed Amy blankly. In response, Amy huffed and sat down roughly on the couch next to her friend.
“Rachel! Put down the damn phone and talk to me a minute.”
Confusion wrinkled Rachel’s brow as she did what Amy asked. She gently placed it on the table, her fingers caressing it imperceptibly. The gesture didn’t get past Amy’s notice.
“Seriously? Rachel, you and that phone are connected at the hip. Do you ever turn it off, converse with real people?”
Flushing, Rachel retorted, “Of course I do. I’m not always on my phone. It barely rings!”
“I’m not talking about ringing. It’s the texting. Who are you talking to all the time?”
Flushing deeper, Rachel mumbled and moved to get up. “Do you want a drink? I need a drink.”
Before Amy could open her mouth again Rachel escaped into the kitchen. Collapsing against the cabinets she sighed. This entire scene was like a bad case of deja vu. She should be used to the sensation.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t like you saw in a sci-fi movie. She didn’t endlessly repeat the same situations time after time. If you thought about it, that was physically impossible. She breathed differently, she bent a finger, she put on the other shoe first. The smallest action could direct her towards an entirely new path.
She hated keeping things from Amy but it was getting too complicated with her many jaunts back into the past. She got confused about what happened the last time around. Unlike everyone around her, Rachel remembered the events of her visits. Sometimes the information helped her. Sometimes it harmed her.
Rachel poured two glasses of wine and went back into the living room. Amy watched her, a frown on her face, and worry reflected in her gaze. Amy had known Rachel since they were in diapers. It was no surprise she was worried.
“You’re right,” Rachel said. “We haven’t hung out much. I’m sorry about that Amy.”
“We’re the only two in our group still single, Rachel. The only two with no ties to anything except a job. We have to stick together.”
Visions of Nathan danced through Rachel’s mind for a moment before she pushed them away. No, I need to focus on Amy. If I’m not careful I’ll ruin the best relationship I’ve ever had with another human being.
“Yes! We can go for dinner and then hit a club. Or maybe we can buy tickets to a musical or even a chick flick. I don’t care. I just want to spend the night with my friend. Is that too much to ask?”
Rachel’s phone vibrated, the plastic case rattling as it danced across the table. She fought every urge in her body to let it keep vibrating. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Amy watching her with narrowed eyes. When the phone stopped, Amy smiled slightly. “Was that so hard?
Forcing a smile, Rachel waved it off. She needed to keep herself grounded. Her friendship with Amy was a way to keep her from getting lost. Each time she restarted the loop she narrowed her focus. Her life became more and more about Nathan and how to win his love. His rejection time after time, for varying reasons, stole a piece of her soul, of her. She thought of the change as sliding down a slippery slope, gradual in intensity and speed. Her friends, seeing her for who she was in THAT moment, only saw the drastic and sudden change in personality. Social Rachel had become Obsessive, Secretive Rachel. Even knowing all this, Rachel could feel the pull of her phone, knowing there was a text waiting for her. Would this reply be the catalyst she needed to move forward in her relationship?
“Rachel? Are you listening?”
Blinking, Rachel looked at Amy and flushed. This “Paying Attention to Her Friends” gig was a tough one.
Rachel tossed and turned, the nightmare taking hold and not letting up. She thrashed in her bed, the blankets becoming tangled about her legs and just intensifying the feeling of being trapped. The hand mirror on the table beside her bed began to glow.
A stream of light pulsed up from the mirror, arching over until it gently touched Rachel’s forehead. Immediately she calmed and, within moments, woke. Pulling herself into a sitting position she shifted her clothing so it wasn’t twisted on her body. She noticed the mirror glowing.
“Did you do that?” She asked. She picked up the mirror so she could see the reflection.
“Yes. Your thrashing was disturbing my beauty rest,” it smirked back at her. Quirking an eyebrow Rachel looked the reflection in the eyes. She didn’t think her thrashing would disturb whatever magical being lurked within the mirror.
“Really? And here I thought you cared about me, Genie.”
The reflection grew tense and the light brightened enough to light the entire room. “Don’t call me genie! I am NOT a genie.” Crossing her arms, Rachel almost thought the reflection was pouting. “Genie’s are moronic creatures who get themselves trapped.”
Smiling slightly, Rachel tapped the mirror with one fingernail. “And the mirror you live in…”
The reflection made a dismissive noise. “At least I can see out. And moving a mirror where it needs to be is much simpler than those crazy lamps. Anyway, what was the nightmare about? “
“Who said I was having a nightmare?”
“Please. You weren’t getting twisted up in your bedclothes for fun.”
Rachel sighed. She disliked talking about her reoccurring nightmares to anyone. They seemed so silly once she spoke the words aloud.
“If you really must know, I have this dream where I’m being chased by a clown, a rabid dog and an angry swarm of bees. They get closer and closer and then I reach this fork in the road. Before I can choose a direction to go, I usually wake up. This time you woke me before I reached the fork so I don’t know what might have happened.”
The reflection pursed her lips as she considered the information. Rachel was surprised she wasn’t being mocked. The reflection hadn’t been known for its compassion.
“This is a reoccurring dream?” it asked. Rachel nodded. “Do you recall what was going on in your life the last few times the dream happened?”
Rachel thought back, pulling out memories and trying to piece together an answer. She hadn’t had the dream for a long time, not since…
“My parents announcing their divorce. That was the last time. And before that…high school graduation.”
“Stressful times,” the reflection announced sagely.
“You think it’s about stress?”
“Well, you are being chased. That can symbolize anxiety. Dogs usually refer to loyalty so the fact yours is rabid might indicate the fact your loyalty is divided or being attacked. Bees indicate a lot of activity in your life and usually wealth and happiness…but yours are angry so negative activities…have you ever been stung in a dream? That means something too.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been stung. The order they come changes though. Sometimes the bees are closer; sometimes the dog…the clown is usually trailing behind. It’s not even a very scary clown.”
“Maybe it’s just trying to remind you to keep your sense of humor,” the reflection mused. Rachel smiled.
“Do you think you will be able to go back to sleep now?” the reflection asked. It yawned hugely. “I need my rest.”
“I think so. I still don’t see why you need sleep. Can’t you just magically make yourself rested?”
“It’s not that simple. I do need to sleep, just like you…besides someday…” it trailed off and stared into the distance.
“Someday?” Rachel asked. The reflection met her gaze and opened its mouth. Rachel could see the indecision in its eyes.
“Nevermind. Just try to sleep quieter okay?”
The reflection vanished, taking the reassuring glow of light with it. Rachel sat in the dark, thinking about her dream and about the reflection.
I wonder what she was going to tell me…
“Let me in! Nathan, stop screwing around, I need in!” Rachel slammed her hand against the door, the thud echoing in the hall. She knew Nathan was inside, she could hear him trashing the place.
“Nathan! NATHAN!!” Rachel screamed. She felt her heart leap into her throat at the sound of smashing glass. She began to kick the door, not caring if the neighbors called the police. After three kicks the door soundlessly swung open. Cautiously, Rachel stepped in, her foot crunching on shards of glass.
The hall mirror had been smashed. Rachel looked at a jagged representation of herself. She instantly thought of the mirror in her bedroom. Quickening her steps she moved through the apartment to their bedroom.
The door stood ajar and she could hear Nathan moving around. A sudden crash made her jump back. She eased the door open and peered in. Nathan was storming around the room, throwing books to the floor, pulling clothing from the closet, smashing items he encountered as he criss-crossed the room. Rachel felt her feet lock in place. She dared not step further.
With a snarl, Nathan pulled the curtains from the rod, the material shredding. As he stood with the gossamer shears drifting about his shoulders to land pooled at his feet, Rachel could hear the sobs breaking through the silence. She watched as his shoulders bowed and began to shake.
“Nathan,” she called quietly. At her voice, Nathan tensed, and then turned his head to look at her. The anger blazing forth made Rachel tremble and she stepped back out of the room. Growling in his throat, he leaped forward and grasped her arm, pulling her into the room and slamming the door behind her. Rachel fell to the floor against the bed and curled up into a protective ball. She watched him through the shimmer of tears building on her lashes.
He simply stood, looming over her, his hands clenching and unclenching. The silence was unnerving. Rachel felt her heart pounding in her chest, its rapid fire movements thudding against her ribs. Faster and faster and faster, her chest clenched in pain. Crying out, she wrapped her arms around her body and began to cry.
“Shut up!” Nathan snarled. “You don’t have a right to cry.”
Shocked, Rachel looked up. “What are you talking about? I don’t understand. Nathan, what happened? Why are you destroying our home?”
“How can you sit there and lie to my face?” he screamed. “I know you’ve been seeing him. I know you’ve betrayed me.”
“Nathan, I’m not cheating! We’ve gone over this. Again and again and again. I’m working. It’s my JOB to have meetings at night. You can’t keep freaking out when I come home late. You can’t keep stalking my email or cell phone. I can’t do this…”Rachel paused, gulping back her tears. Looking at him, she could feel her heart tearing in two. Regardless of how he’d been acting, he was still Nathan. Nathan, the man of her dreams. Nathan, the man she kept chasing through time.
“Nathan, “she cried softly. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t love you like this. I can’t be with you like this.”
He stared at her, his anger beginning to melt from his gaze. The full impact of what she said hit him suddenly and his face crumpled.
“No,” he moaned. “No, no. I’m sorry. I can’t lose you. I’ll work on the jealously. I promise…”
Rachel held up a hand and stood, cutting off whatever else he was going to promise. She slid past him and left the room, struggling to keep herself from turning around and throwing herself in his arms. As she moved down the hall she could feel reality begin to shift and the magic pulled her back to the cave.
The vortex into which Rachel is pulled stills all sound. For a brief moment it’s a sphere of absolute silence. Silence to contemplate, silence to cry in, silence to scream at.
But the moment is but a blink. The quiet is smashed by a swirling of discordant screams: voices from the past, voices from the future, voices from her. The sound is overwhelming, beating about her head.
Rising above it all is the constant moan: “Failure. Failure. Failure.” It’s absorbed into her soul, drowning out the cacophony, until all she can hear is that one word.
And then it’s over.
The tears fell unabated. She fought the urge to brush them away. Considering what she’d done, she deserved to cry.
“Rachel?” The voice floated through the air, ghostlike. Sniffing, Rachel looked around the cave, trying to pinpoint the voice. A glow behind a small dune provided her answer. Angrily she crawled over and plucked the mirror from beneath a thin covering of sand.
“What?” she asked, her voice trying without success to sound normal. It cracked halfway through, the anger and sorrow echoing in the dim cave.
“Something different happened this time. Do you want to talk about it?” The reflection actually sounded sad for her. Rachel wondered if her emotions, like her appearance, could be projected onto this magical being.
“Do I have a choice?” she snarled. The reflection looked taken aback at her wrath.
“Of course you have a choice. That’s what all this is after all, “it said, gesturing around. “You’re being given multiple opportunities to make choices in order to obtain your wish.”
Rachel slumped back again a large piece of driftwood and closed her eyes. The tears began leaking through and soon ran full force in rivers down her cheeks. The reflection dimmed the glow of the mirror and just waited.
Eventually the tears slowed and Rachel opened her eyes. She stared sightlessly into the darkness, her lips pursed.
“He wasn’t like anyone I ever knew. He was nothing like the person I love. Nothing,” she whispered. The reflection brightened the glow and came forward in the mirror. It kept quiet, recognizing Rachel’s need to just talk uninterrupted.
“So cold after begin so warm. So suspicious and angry…he frightened me.” Rachel turned and looked at the mirror, her expression begging for answers.
“What happened this time?”
Rachel brushed her hair from her faced and scrubbed the wet tracks off her cheeks. She began to absently draw in the sand by her feet and then the story spilled out.
“I ran into Nathan at a bookstore. After the first few jumps went completely wrong I played it cool, let him try to woo me. It worked, brilliantly. He called and we made a date. The date went wonderful and we planned for another. And another. And another.”
Rachel paused. She stared off into space a moment then continued. “I thought my dreams had come true. I could tell he was falling for me. It felt so right, so perfect!”
“But?” the reflection interjected.
“But…it all started going horribly wrong. We’d been dating seriously for six months, God was it that long? I can’t believe six months flew by like that. And I came home late from work one night and he flipped. He questioned where I was, he grabbed my cell phone and scrolled through the call log, he insisted on me logging into my email so he could check my sent folder. It was insane!”
Rachel grabbed up the mirror and stared the reflection down. “Did you have anything to do with this? Did you make him like that?”
“No! I’m not going to interfere with a client’s wish. I send you back, I bring you forward, I end it all if that’s what you want. I don’t stick my fingers into the pot so to speak. I have too much to do.”
Rachel wiped the tears away from her eyes again and nodded sadly. “I didn’t really think so. I guess this particular jump I met up with crazy obsessive Nathan.”
“It’s possible. I did mention that something you did during one leap could imperceptibly affect what happens in the next. Personality changes seem to occur from time to time. Did you find out what his issue was?”
Rachel nodded. “He had a girlfriend before me that cheated on him. Multiple times. It shook his trust, I guess. But no matter what I did, he couldn’t get rid of the feelings that other girl instilled in him. I kept getting the third degree over everything.”
The reflection looked at Rachel compassionately. She felt that if it was possible, her reflection would reach out and give her a hug. Just the thought of that made Rachel feel a little better.
“You leaped back to the cave,” the reflection stated matter-of-factly. Rachel sighed and nodded again as the reflection continued. “You only leap back if a decision is made that affects the wish. Usually it’s because of the other party…this time it wasn’t, was it?”
“I wanted so desperately to stay, I did. I tried so hard to ignore it, to think ‘this is NATHAN. This is THE guy you love. Love conquers all’ but…I was unhappy and scared and one day I said to him I couldn’t do this. He wasn’t the man I was meant to be with and we should part ways. I said I didn’t love him enough to stay. As soon as those words were out of my mouth I found myself back here.” Rachel looked around the cave, taking in the dimly lit interior. She was beginning to know this cave so well. She was very close to hating it. Each time she found herself here it meant she had failed. Rachel was getting tired of failure.
“Rachel, I know it’s difficult to understand, but there is a purpose to each leap you take. The ones like you, it’s more than just the wish, in the end. It doesn’t make the process much easier but maybe keeping that in the back of your mind will help.”
“Maybe,” Rachel whispered.
“When I was 13, I thought that everything would be easier once I was an adult,” Rachel confided. She stood at the door to her small loft studio conveniently located a stone’s throw from the cave. Picking up the hand mirror she grimaced. “Clearly, I was an idiot.”
The mirror glowed softly. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” the reflection said quietly. “Children always think that adults have it so good. I once had a client who wished herself older. She soon discovered that adult life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”
“Did you send her back to her normal life?” Rachel asked. The reflection looked at her, surprise etched on its features.
“No, of course not. She was granted her wish, there aren’t any refunds.”
Rachel looked back at her reflection, expecting to see some sort of smile, as if it got off a good joke. But there was none. The reflection gazed back at her as calm and serious as usual.
“But, I don’t understand. You’ve told me if I want to end this all I just have to ask. I can be sent back to the beginning…”
“Did I?” The reflection raised its brows. Rachel felt her stomach drop. She’d always believed she could be put back into her old life, to forget all this. What if she was stuck replaying this loop endlessly?
The reflection laughed suddenly, the sound was like chimes. Rachel was reminded of Tinkerbell from the original Disney Peter Pan movie, not the newer ones where she could actually talk.
“Oh Rachel, I do believe you were turning a little green there. I’m sorry if I scared you,” it smiled broadly; “I need to be allowed a little bit of fun, don’t I?”
Rachel glowered at the mirror and for the hundredth time wished she could smash it. Her hand tightened on the handle. It could be so infuriating at times.
“Okay, okay…I know that look. I’ll be serious, I promise.” The reflection held up one hand like a mock Girl Scout. “I’ll see if I can explain this. The girl couldn’t go back because she was jumped forward along her own timeline. Regardless of the magic, I can’t put her back exactly without really messing things up. In your case, you aren’t moving back and forth along your own timeline, more like through alternate realities. Your actions and movements don’t directly influence your ‘home’ reality because they are all separate.”
The reflection frowned at Rachel’s blank look and sighed. “Okay, let’s go about this in another way.”
Rachel watched fascinated as the reflection stepped back in the mirror and suddenly stood before a large white board. It took out a long pointer and began to sketch out two diagrams.
“This is the young girl. She’s sitting on a single continuous life line. Here,” the reflection tapped on spot and a small graphic of a girl appeared, “she meets me and makes her wish. I grant it and *whoosh* she is vaulted through time and lands here.” The pointer arches above the line and lands further along. A graphic of a young woman suddenly appears.
“Unlike you, she is much older. The magic basically fast forwards her aging process to bring her into adulthood. She experienced growing up but it all happened so fast, in the blink of an eye really, that the memories aren’t with her, at least not easily accessible in her current state. So what you have is a young girl with the maturity of a ten year old plunked into the body and life of her thirty-ish self. Needless to say, she wasn’t too happy.”
Rachel studied the diagram and asked softly, “And there was no way to fix it? Send her back?”
“Not without ripping the fabric of time. This isn’t like the movies, Rachel. Sometimes, you don’t get a do-over.”
“But I do. In my case I get dozens, potentially thousands of them if I want, right?”
“Exactly. In your wish, you said you would spend your life showing him how you felt. For the magic to be of any use, it gave you the opportunity to do so, over and over and over, until you got it right. BUT to do that you can’t be leaping back and forth along your own timeline. So,” the reflection turns and draws a serious of lines parallel to each other, “I take you from here,” it taps the beginning of the bottom line,” and plunk you down here.” Rachel watches as the pointer taps the next line above, a little further down.
“Each line represents an alternate reality to your world. There are an infinite number of realities. Most of the ones I’ll be using are close to your own, the differences are imperceptible except in certain situations.”
“Like the one where Nathan was the crazy jealous boyfriend,” Rachel broke in. “Or where Amy was completely man-hungry.”
“Is that really so unbelievable?” The reflection asked. Rachel laughed shortly. “You don’t know Amy,” she smiled.
“The beauty of using alternate realities is that you haven’t changed anything in your own reality. I can put you back to the moment before you find my mirror in that cave. It will be like nothing ever happened and you will go on with your life. Perhaps you will continue to pursue Nathan in a normal fashion. Or maybe you will forget about him and meet someone new.”
Rachel looked at the reflection incredulously. “I’ve been in love with him since I was twelve. I doubt I’ll ever stop.”
The reflection just shrugged and moved to erase her board. As she watched the diagrams disappear, something occurred to her.
“What happens if my wish is fulfilled and we end up together, blissfully happy, and married with two point five children, etc?”
“Then the magic stops. You stay put and live the rest of your life in your new reality. All the other options cease to exist.”
Fondly, Rachel traced the edges of the mirror with a finger. “I think I will miss you, when all this is done.”
Snorting derisively the reflection rolled its eyes. “Don’t get all sentimental yet, sweetie. This isn’t finished yet. Now, are you ready for the next leap?”
Setting her jaw, Rachel nodded. Memories of Nathan looming over her, his face screwed up in anger, flickered through her mind but she pushed them back. It was just that reality. It won’t happen again.
Rachel looked around the room, temporarily confused about where she was. The rustle of silk brought it all crashing back. She was going through it again.
Tears welled in her eyes and her resolution began to dissolve. Was the mirror right? Was she destined to relive the same loop in time, with endless possibilities, only to end up in the same place time after time after time? The old saying was “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” but in her case it was “Always a bride, never a wife”.
Shuffling across the faded wood floors she shimmied and twisted out of the ruined wedding dress. No matter, another one would magically appear when the time came. It always did. Sometimes she found it in a bridal store, sometimes she unexpectedly passed by a small consignment shop and it was in the front window, once it showed up in the shopping cart of a homeless person in a back alley. As the dress pooled around her feet and she stepped free it began to dissipate. Within seconds it was gone and Rachel was left naked and trembling.
She pulled some clothes out of a small closet and considered her options. Though really? Why? No matter what she did she would end up meeting Nathan somehow and the dance would begin anew. Rachel laughed shortly remembering the time she ended up in jail by mistake and Nathan was the officer who took her fingerprints.
Her grumbling tummy made the decision for her. There was a café down the street. She’d grab some breakfast and try to figure out a plan of action.
Rachel settled into her seat on the café’s patio and idly watched the world go by. There was a small park across the street that had a rose garden nestled in the corner. A beautiful archway was prominently displayed in the center of the garden. Rachel knew it was a favorite location for summer weddings and her heart ached.
Sipping the chai latte she reflected on her previous failures hoping she would catch her mistakes this time around. Absorbed as she was in her thoughts she didn’t notice the shadow lengthening over her table.
“Rachel? Is that you?”
Choking on her coffee she looked up and met the soft brown eyes of her fantasies. Her heart began to thud wildly in her chest and she struggled to take a deep, calming breath.
“Nathan! What a surprise. Would you care to join me?”
Nathan grinned and slid into the other seat. His dark brown hair tumbled playfully across his forehead and he absently brushed it back out of the way. Rachel hungrily took it all in. She might only have this brief moment to make him fall in love with her; she never knew how the magic would play out.
“What brings you to town?” Rachel asked, hoping it was a permanent move. Nathan had been living on the other coast for work.
“My mother is getting married again. This weekend. Can you believe it? Sixty-five years old, walking down the aisle.” He shook his head. “I’m happy for her, really. It’s just…weird.”
“I hadn’t heard. Please, give her my congratulations.”
Nathan looked at Rachel for a moment, clearly trying to decide something. She watched his eyes, trying to judge what conflict was battling inside him. Finally, he took a deep breath.
“Listen…I know it’s last minute but…would you come with me to the wedding? Be my date? “
Rachel’s mind whirled with the possibilities. A date? With Nathan? To a wedding? Could this be the change, could this be the shift in fate?
“Nathan, I would be delighted to accompany you to your mother’s wedding.”
“Did I ever tell you about the time I fell in a hole?” Rachel turned from the floor length mirror and picked up the small hand mirror on the table. Her reflection stared back at her, annoyed, before resuming the book she was reading.
“That’s very rude, you know. You’re my genie, or fairy godmother, or whatever. Shouldn’t you be listening to me?”
The reflection narrowed her eyes and put the book down.
“I’m here to send you back when you fail as per your wish Your stupid, impulsive wish I might add. I’m not your servant, I don’t have to listen to you prattle on about your pointless life. It won’t change the fact I am stuck here, caught in an endless loop of time.”
Rachel was sorely tempted to throw the mirror across the room. This was nothing like the stories. Why couldn’t she have gotten a helpful, obedient genie? Ignoring the reflection’s outburst, Rachel continued.
“I was twelve. They were building this new park in my neighborhood and I wanted to see what was happening. I waited until the crews quit for the day and then snuck out. It was getting dark and I wasn’t watching where I was going. Suddenly I found myself face down in the dirt, the breath knocked out of me.”
Rachel moved about the room, folding clothes, moving books, and shifting picture frames. The mirror she propped up against the wall so she could see the reflection.
“I’d fallen into a hole. The sides were too steep to climb out and no one knew where I was. I expected I’d be sitting there until the next day when the crews returned.” Rachel paused, waiting for exclamations of horror from the reflection. Nothing. The reflection just kept staring at her, mocking her with pseudo-attention. Rachel sighed, giving up. She pulled her dress out of the closet and began to get ready. Nathan would be picking her up for his mother’s wedding soon. She wanted to look amazing.
“Wait, you aren’t going to finish?” The reflection piped up.
“No. You don’t care. Besides, I need to get dressed for tonight.” Rachel ran a brush through her long dark hair, contemplating how to wear it. She half-heartedly pulled it up then let it tumble down onto her shoulders. Behind her, she could hear the reflection having a minor apoplexy.
“Something wrong?” she asked sweetly.
“Argh! I have to hear the end of it. Stupid rules. Besides, I’m sure you wouldn’t be wasting my time unless this story gave me an insight to your past.”
“My stories are never a waste of time,” Rachel retorted . “As I was saying, I was in the bottom of a deep hole and no way to get out. It was getting dark and cold. I was starting to freak out a little when I heard a dog barking. I hoped it was someone walking their dog and began yelling. A few moments later a voice called down to me, told me not to worry. He was going to get a rope or something to pull me out. So I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. And began to wonder if I wasn’t hallucinating the whole time. Just when I thought I was going to have to spend the night a rope came tumbling down. I tied it around my waist and my rescuer hauled me up.”
The reflection considered this and asked, “So, that’s it? Fell in a hole, trapped for an hour or so, and hauled up by some guy passing by? I was expecting more.”
Rachel smiled, pulling her dress over her head. Her storytelling established something she hadn’t been sure of: SHE was in charge of this little relationship. Regardless of who held the “power”.
The heady scent of magnolias filled the tent. Rachel stepped in through the opening and gazed around in wonder. The large white tent had been transformed into a magnificent garden. There were large ornate displays of lush exotic flowers overflowing in the corners and the center pieces on each table were miniature versions. Lilies, orchids, and irises dominated the arrangements. Rachel wondered why she could smell the magnolias so clearly. Glancing up she saw that full branches filled with live flowers had been arched over the opening into a bower of pink.
“Amazing,” she breathed. Nathan glanced back at her and smiled.
“Apparently Mom’s husband-to-be owns a florist shop that specializes in exotic flowers for weddings. He created most of these by hand.”
“Wow. Your mom must be feeling like a queen. This is quite the setup.”
“Actually, she’s a bit embarrassed. She thought they would have a small intimate ceremony. But it’s George’s first marriage and he’s got a flair for the dramatic.” Lowering his voice and leaning in close he whispered into Rachel’s ear, “Apparently his mother doesn’t approve of this marriage. Mom joked he wants her to keel over with a heart attack when she sees the spread.” He paused. “It could happen. I hear she’s almost ninety.”
Rachel shivered as Nathan’s breath caressed her cheek. She looked into his eyes and grinned. “I’d love a wedding like this. The only difference would be I want the ceremony to be on a beach.”
Nathan cupped his hand on Rachel’s elbow and guided her through the maze of tables. He paused occasionally and pushed back the flowers to reveal the tastefully hidden numbers. Finally he stopped at a table near the front and off to one side of the head table.
“Here we are. Make yourself comfortable and I’ll go grab us some wine.”
Rachel sat and watched Nathan as he maneuvered through the tables to the bar. Every second she was with him just increased her desire. She’d had to stop herself from acting too brazen. While her relationship with Nathan developed deeper and deeper with each jump, it was as if they were meeting again for the first time for him. In his mind, they were friends, no more no less. She could tell he was attracted to her but was there anything more? Only time would tell.
The tent began to fill up with guests and Rachel could see through an opening in the tent that the sun was setting. The new couple would be arriving any minute. Nathan returned with a glass of white wine and they chatted idly about the past. Who was still in town, who was married to who, if anyone had achieved amazing success? She loved listening to him speak. His voice was rich and melodious, filled with energy.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand to welcome the new couple: Mr. and Mrs. Kaller!”
The announcement broke off their intimate discussion. Rachel twisted in her seat to watch Nathan’s mom walk hand in hand with her new husband. The joy on her face made her glow.
I want that. All of this, in the end, is to reach that point. Rachel turned and glanced at Nathan out of the corner of her eye. He was looking at her as well and then shifted his eyes back to his mom and resumed clapping and whistling at her. His mother turned and waggled an admonishing finger at him but her eyes sparkled with delight.
As the happy couple settled down in their seats Nathan stood to move over to the podium. He had told Rachel earlier he wanted to make a surprise toast to his mother.
“Good evening everyone. Thank you for coming and sharing this special day with my mother. I must admit, I never thought I would get to see my mom get married. But I am so happy that she has found someone she cares about so deeply.
There’s something about weddings, isn’t there? They’re magical in a way. How else can you explain a celebration that brings two people together?” Nathan turned and held up his glass towards the head table. “Mom, you are the most beautiful bride I have ever seen. The happiness and joy radiating off you is amazing. I wish you and George all the best in your new life together and I hope that someday I get to see you sitting in the crowd at my reception, looking at me and my new wife as we begin our lives together. To the happy couple!”
“To the happy couple!” Cheers and clapping echoed Nathan’s speech. Rachel felt her heart beat a little faster. Was it just her imagination, or was Nathan looking at her as he said ‘wife’?
Rachel felt the jolt as her body was transported through time into yet another alternate reality. She stumbled slightly and then lurched over to the bed. Her stomach twisted up and she bent over, clenching her teeth.
“Is everything alright, Rachel?”
That familiar lilting British accent floated up from the bedside table. Rachel glanced over and saw the reflection appear in the mirror. Her complexion was even paler than usual.
“Gee, if you’re looking sick and pale, I guess I must look like death warmed over,” Rachel said, trying to keep her voice light. Her stomach made another flip and she felt herself break out in a sweat. Concern filled the reflections eyes.
“Sit down, sit down. You don’t look well.”
Rachel slid to the ground and leaned back against the bed. Her body felt like it was on fire and her stomach continued to lurch. “I guess, I must have the flu or something,” she panted.
A steaming cup of tea magically appeared on the floor next to her. Rachel moved to pick it up but her hand was trembling too much. Before she could speak she passed out.
Rachel woke up in bed feeling flushed but no longer nauseous. She looked over on the bedside table for the mirror.
“Mirror? Hey, mirror?” she called. The glow instantly flipped on and the reflection appeared.
“How are you feeling, Rachel?”
“Better thanks. I appreciate you taking care of me.”
“It’s the least I could do I suppose. We magical beings are looked down upon should we lose a client,” she said. Her tone was prim and proper but Rachel could see a teasing glint in her eye. She smiled weakly.
“Do you think…I mean…we’ve been through a lot together. You’ve taken care of me better than my own mother through a lot of this…do you have a name? It feels wrong to call you an inanimate object.”
The reflection was taken aback, for once at a loss for words. Her normally serious demeanor softened and she smiled before the light in her eyes flickered. She frowned.
“I’m not supposed to Rachel. We aren’t supposed to treat our clients like friends. I’m here to do a job; I can’t let myself get emotionally involved.”
“Please,” Rachel pleaded. “It doesn’t even have to be your real name; just something I can call you.”
“Well…you can call me, Seraphina, if you would like.”
Pulling herself to a sitting position, Rachel leaned over and touched a finger to the mirror. “Pleased to meet you, Seraphina,” she said before collapsing back into bed and falling into a restless sleep.
The illness Rachel fought for the better part of a week left her feeling frail and listless. She was frustrated in her inability to get out and begin the search for Nathan again. It was only Seraphina’s company that kept her from going mad.
Usually she kept her distance as Rachel moved through her latest jump. This time she stayed close incase Rachel needed anything.
“Would you like to hear a story, Rachel?” Seraphina asked one afternoon while Rachel lounged in bed flipping through a well worn copy of Cosmopolitan. Rachel snorted. “What am I? Five?”
“I thought you wanted to be friends. Friends share stories, do they not?”
“Something about you? Sure, I’d love to.” Rachel put down the magazine and pulled her knees up to her chest. She positioned the mirror against a pillow so she could see Seraphina easily.
“Once upon a time…”
“Wait a sec. Seriously, ‘Once upon a time’?”
“Do you want to hear this or not?”
“Fine, continue.” Rachel leaned back and got comfortable.
“Once upon a time, there was a young woman who dreamed of being a teacher. She enjoyed working with young children and even became a nanny while she went to university.”
Rachel stopped her with a laugh, “It’s like Mary Poppins come to life!”
Seraphina glared at Rachel before continuing. “One day at the park, she lost her charges. She was frantic. She ran to every spot she could think of, looking for them. In despair she wished the children would magically appear before her. And to her surprise…they did.”
Rachel smiled and asked, “They were hiding?”
“No,” Seraphina shook her head. “They were gone and then they were there. It was magic. The young woman could do magic.” She met Rachel’s gaze. “She was so glad to see them safe and sound she dismissed the thought of magic. She thought, as you did, that the children had been hiding and chosen that moment to appear. Relieved she took them home and forgot about that terrifying afternoon…until a letter arrived.
The letter said that she had illegally performed magic without a license and that she was required to present herself before the Magical Magistrate at twelve noon, December third.”
“Wait a second, are you being serious?” Rachel interrupted, disbelief in her eyes.
“Just listen. She presented herself, as instructed, and learned that despite the fact she was unaware she had magical abilities she had still performed magic illegally and would be required to serve a penalty.”
“What did you have to do?”
Raising her eyebrows slightly, Seraphina gestured around herself. “You’re looking at it.”
Seraphina stared at Rachel through lowed lashes.
“Rachel, “she called, her voice deceptively sweet. “I have an idea. Can you come here?”
Rachel eyed the mirror lying on her bedside table, her ears perked up at the tone in her reflection’s voice. She picked up the mirror, and gazed in, her expression questioning. The glow shot out and enveloped her, pulling her physically within the confines of the mirror.
For a split second, she and Seraphina occupied the same space, and then Seraphina oozed out through the glass taking Rachel’s spot on the bed.
Shocked, Rachel screamed.
She slammed her hands on the glass, the sound echoing sullenly throughout the room. She could see Seraphina walking around the room, picking up discarded pieces of clothing and then dropping them back. Finally she settled on a tan suede jacket and looked at her appearance in the full length mirror hanging on the wall. With a small backwards glance towards Rachel she exited the room. As the door closed, the glass went dark and Rachel couldn’t see out anymore.
Closing her eyes, Rachel slumped to the floor. Her head was pounding. Why would Serphina do this? She thought they were beginning to understand each other. She thought they were becoming friends, of a sort. Tears of hurt and frustration leaked out, burning trails of anger down her cheeks. She could feel a pocket of anger growing in her chest.
Pushing herself up she scanned the room, trying to find something that could help her get out. The décor was something from a fairytale. Rachel thought she’d stepped into Cinderella’s castle. Huge framed pieces of art crowded the walls, each one fighting for domination. The frames echoed the enameled work of the mirror in which Rachel now found herself imprisoned.
A sound behind her grabbed her attention. Spinning slowly on her heel she gaped as a circular staircase spiraled down from the ceiling to connect to the floor. It looked like molten caramel oozing down, forming a delicate spun sugar staircase. She stepped forward, lightly touching one foot on the bottom stair. Pausing for a brief second, she gripped the iron handrail and climbed.
The room above was a bedroom from a dream. A huge four poster bed dominated the space. The lush fabrics surrounding the bed were in soothing tones, perfect for lulling you to sleep after a long day. Rachel felt herself pulled towards the bed, desiring nothing more than to collapse within its depths and sleep her life away.
Stumbling on a fold in the rug, she shook herself out of the fog and gripped her head in her hands.
“This place,” she murmured. “What is it doing to me?”
She knew she had to search for some clue as to why Seraphina had trapped her here. Systematically she began pulling open drawers and rifling through the contents. For a magical being, she seemed to have a lot of clothing. This seemed odd since she had always appeared to Rachel as her reflection. It had only been recently that she’d even given up her name and let her hair stay blonde instead of mimicking Rachel’s own long dark tresses.
Crouching in front of a trunk, Rachel lifted up the lid, coughing at the sudden burst of dust that escaped. Sneezing repeatedly, she began sifting through the items in the trunk. Some clothing, elegant Victorian style dresses, a few small hat boxes, and some old leather bound books dominated the space; nothing that gave her any answers. Rachel sighed and began placing the items back when she noticed a small silver box wedged between the side of the trunk and a stack of books.
She gripped the edges of the box and wriggled it out. The box glowed softly in the light. She turned it over in her hands before trying to open the lid. The metal warmed to her touch. Her fingertips brushed the etched flowers decorating the sides as she searched for the clasp to open it. Strangely, they felt three-dimensional but to the naked eye they appeared flat.
A sudden depression in the middle of one flower released the latch and with a musical ‘click’ the box opened.
She gasped at the contents.
With shaking hands she brought forth a photo she knew so well. The figures captured in time were burned into her brain. Paris, France. The graduation class trip. She posed with Amy, James, and Charlotte while others of their class milled about. It had been an eerie morning, the fog dissolving slowly to a mist that clung to their clothes and created sparkling halos about their heads.
Rachel breathed out slowly, her finger lightly touching the faces of her friends. Why would Seraphina have this picture?
Her eyes widened suddenly, spotting another figure partially obscured by the mist.
“Is it worth it?”
Rachel had been repeating that phrase over and over lately. She began this whole thing so focused on what she wanted regardless of the consequences. She’d been selfish.
But…it was about her. It was HER wish. Wasn’t she allowed a little selfishness in order to make herself happy? Wasn’t she allowed to discover her true heart’s desire?
Rachel spun around on the chair and just stared. She’d been all over this place and still had no idea how to get out. Seraphina hadn’t returned from wherever she’d disappeared to and Rachel was still struggling with why she’d locked her in the mirror.
Searching through the rest of the trunk had turned up nothing of value. Rachel pulled out the solitary photo with Seraphina in the background. She sadly touched Amy and Charlotte’s faces. Would she ever see her friends again?
And if she did see them…who would they be? Would they be the same people she’d known or different? Could she live in a world where Amy was a sexual predator? Or where Charlotte was a homeless drug addict? Rachel shivered over her memories of rounding a corner and finding Charlotte huddled behind a dumpster, track marks on her arm, a sense of hopelessness in her eyes.
And she could do nothing! She couldn’t help her friend because in that reality, they had never been friends. By a twist of fate, Charlotte ended up in the other grade five class. She made friends with the wrong sort of kids and began spiraling down. Rachel was trapped by the circumstances.
And then there was Nathan. Nathan, the only man she wanted to be with, the man of her dreams, her savior, her champion. Each leap back exposed a little more of him: his likes, dislikes, temperament, and character. True, the alternate realities had something to do with the unexpected behavioral changes but Rachel was discovering things she’d never known about him…and about herself.
She was stronger than she thought; resourceful and quick on her feet. She stopped hiding in the shadows and began taking chances. She had to put herself out there, be bold. Acting like a wallflower would not accomplish her goal.
Gazing around the lavish bedroom that served as her prison, Rachel realized that as long as she believed in herself she could do anything. She didn’t need Nathan to make her complete. She could survive alone if that was what fate decreed.
She decided that this was the leap to make it or break it. If she got out of here she was going to end all this either by satisfying the wish and getting on with her life…
…or by forgetting it all.
The sheet twisted around her leg like a snake. Stretching languidly as she arched her back, Rachel yawned. She stretched down to free herself from the sheet’s clutches.
“Pancakes okay for breakfast?” Nathan’s voice floated down the hall. Rachel smiled, her heart beating a little faster. His voice had a way of making her entire body react.
“Sounds great…wait, do we still have syrup?” She glanced over to the bedside table where an empty bottle of maple syrup sat in a sticky pool. Her cheeks flamed with the memory. Nathan’s sudden laughter intensified the burning. He appeared in the doorway, watching her with a sly grin.
Eyes narrowed, she let the sheet drop away as she walked to the door to grab her robe, deliberately moving slow and enjoying the appreciative gaze from her audience. As she slipped the soft terry cloth around her body Nathan asked, “Rach, when did you get a tattoo? I’m certain I would have noticed it before.”
“What? What tattoo?” Rachel slipped off the robe and attempted to look at her back, twisting her neck. “Where is it?”
Nathan ran a finger along the curve of her buttocks, tracing the tattoo. The moment his finger touched the tattoo, Rachel noticed his eyes began to glow.
The tattoo stretched along her lower back, an intricate design of flowers and vines, the colors muted yet alive. It looked alarmingly like the design on the back of Seraphina’s mirror.
“Uhm, Nathan, I think I smell breakfast burning,” Rachel said. Forgetting the tattoo, Nathan bolted down the hall. As soon as he was gone Rachel whispered into the mirror, “Seraphina! Get out here!”
The familiar glow appeared. Wordlessly Rachel showed her back to the mirror. Seraphina’s face appeared and her eyes widened.
“Would this be good enough?” Seraphina arched her brow. Rachel frowned. She felt like she’d been caught being naughty. Seraphina had a tone that made her squirm.
“Look at it!” Seraphina barked. Rachel turned her face and observed the scene playing out in the mirror. Nathan, running along a trail; Nathan, playing with a dog; Nathan, embracing a slim, attractive blonde. She shut her eyes tightly, blocking out the images.
“He’s lying to you Rachel. He has a girlfriend. Can you be satisfied being ‘the other woman’?”
“No!” Rachel shouted, her frustration erupting.
“Then tell him that. Make him choose.”
The waves crashed up on the shore, scattering the gulls foraging alone the edge for clams. A storm was blowing in, the clouds looming dark and ominous in the sky. Rachel glanced up and considered moving off the beach but decided she deserved to be rained on.
Dragging a finger through the sand she traced out her initials and then Nathan’s. Underneath she scratched in an eternity sign then, in disgust, swiped it away, leaving the sand smooth.
Her silk gown rustled in the wind. Angrily she tucked the skirt as much as possible in between her knees. She wished she could just rip it off and throw it into the sea. She never wanted to see this dress again.
The scream of a passing gull sank Rachel deeper into her melancholy. Always the beach, always the sea. Everything in her life revolved around it. What began as a place of happy memories during her childhood now became just a reminder of her failure.
Every failed leap brought her back the cave where it all began. She’d stumble out, disheveled and confused, gain her bearings and then wander to this spot. She’d sit and stare. Sometimes the sky would be clear, the sunset amazing. Other times it was stormy, the waves thrashing against the sand. She’s go over what happened in the latest venture. What worked, what didn’t before trudging up the slope to the small studio apartment she rented nearby.
At her feet the sand began to glow. Shifting back she brushed it out of the way and revealed the hand mirror that started it all. For a moment, she contemplated smashing the glass with her foot and being done with it.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Seraphina cautioned. “It wouldn’t change anything. Besides, you’d just end up hurting your foot. It takes more than a foot stamp to destroy me.”
Rachel glared down at her, annoyed at the smug self-satisfaction in her voice.
“How did you get here?”
“What, you think I can’t move myself wherever I need to be? That’s all part of the m-a-a-a-g-i-c-c.” She waggled her fingers, mocking the gestures typically portrayed by magicians and magical beings in movies and television. “You’re looking very morose this evening. Didn’t it work out? You finally got married this time, right?”
“Yes. And then, idiot that I am, I blabbed the truth to him. We had escaped the party, just the two of us. He was being all romantic…and then, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. It all spilled out. He took one look at me and I felt the *snap* of the magic. He stormed off and I found myself here…again…”
Rachel began to cry, all her buried sadness and frustration breaking through the dam she’d built up to get her through this. She knew in order to survive the numerous trips through time she had to be strong or the magic would break her.
“I’m sorry Rachel. I can stop it all, if you really want. I’ll send you back to the day you found me. It will be like none of this ever happened. You can proceed with your life normally.”
Rachel wiped her face and gazed at herself in the mirror. Seraphina looked back, compassion in her eyes. She closed her eyes for a moment, and then nodded. The mirror began to glow, the light expanding out to surround Rachel. She could feel herself being pulled through the fabric of time. Relaxing, she settled herself in preparation for the jolt.
Turning her head, Rachel saw Nathan running towards her.