Brynne looked up at Payton, as he crossed back and forth in front of her, pacing. His face left no mysteries as to what he felt. He was pissed.
“What were you thinking?” Payton asked Brynne.
“I don’t know,” Brynne replied. “It was just this spontaneous thing.”
“Really?” Payton asked. “Well, this ‘spontaneous thing’ just created a very grave problem. Check that – it just created three very grave problems. And on top of that, you didn’t even fix the minor problem you were supposed to fix in the first place!”
“What’s all this talk about problems?” Hockley asked, stepping into the conversation. “I want to know what’s going on. I demand an explanation immediately.”
Payton looked to Bell, conveying a silent cue, which the latter promptly picked up on.
Bell turned to Cal, Rose, and Jeremy. “It’s been an eventful evening for all of you, I’m sure,” Bell began. “Mr. Bratt, I’m sure you and your companions could use some refreshment.”
Jeremy, disconcerted, looked to Brynne as he responded, and she wilted a little inside because she knew the truth, and she knew he would know the truth very soon, and it wouldn’t be good. “I can’t speak for Mr. Hockley or Ms. DeWitt-Bukater, but I sure could use … something. This experience has thrown me for quite a loop.” His eyes left her as he left the room. Rose, Cal, and Bell followed.
“Why, Brynne?” Payton asked once the others were out of the room and out of earshot. He sat down beside Brynne on the bed.
“I don’t think you would understand,” Brynne said.
“No, I think I do, which is exactly why we warn you rookies about this kind of stuff in training,” Payton countered. “You didn’t actually think that we could keep them here, did you?”
“For the record, I didn’t actually bring Cal and Rose here,” Brynne said. “They came through of their own volition.”
“It doesn’t matter how they got here. What matters is that they’re here, and that we need to get the back to where they belong.”
Payton’s cell phone rang. Before the first ring was done, the flip phone was open and pressed against Payton’s ear. “What is it?” he asked.
Bell re-entered the room. Brynne stood and met him at the door. “What did you give them?” she asked.
“I didn’t have many options,” Bell said. “It’s pretty bare in there.”
“Yeah, I know,” Brynne said. “I don’t get to make groceries that often.”
“I found a few cans of soda. I think Jeremy would have preferred something a little stronger, though. Did you tell him anything before today?”
“What do you mean? About me?”
“Yeah. You didn’t mention anything to him, did you? While you were on the ship, or while you were working together?”
“Damn!” Payton cursed.
Bell and Brynne turned to Payton. The boss man began barking orders into the phone. “I want every available tech and repair person on this. Get those links back up.” He snapped the phone shut.
“What is it?” Brynne asked.
“There’s a problem with the links,” Payton revealed. “They’re going out all over.”
“How long will it take to get them back up again?” Brynne asked.
Payton shook his head. “I don’t know. I put everyone we can spare on it. Just what I need – another problem.”
“What are we going to do with our guests?” Bell asked.
“They can stay with me,” Brynne offered.
“You’re already too involved,” Payton said, immediately dismissing the idea. “You’re the reason they’re here in the first place. Why on Earth would I leave them with you?”
“Where else are you going to keep them?” Brynne asked. “It’s going to be chaos at headquarters until we get those links back up. They’d just be in the way there.”
Payton looked at Brynne skeptically. Brynne persisted. “If you’re worried about the timeline, don’t be. The signatures, remember? They won’t remember this. They can’t possibly do any harm while they’re here or when they return – can they?”
“Actually, they can, but the chances of that happening are very slim.” Payton sighed. “Something tells me I’m gonna regret this. I will call you the minute we get the links back up. I would advise against taking them out in public.”
“How do we avoid that? You heard Bell – I barely have anything to eat in there. I don’t know if I want to leave them here, and I have to go get groceries.”
“I’ll have them delivered,” Payton offered. “Whatever you need, we’ll come to you. Just call.”
“Fine then. You can start with groceries, like you said. I’ll need bread, fruits, juice,” Brynne said, ticking off her list on her fingers. She stopped and looked at Payton. “Are you going to write any of this down?”
He picked up the pad and pen on the dresser and began to scribble as Brynne continued with her list.
“That’s utter nonsense!” Caledon Hockley shouted.
“I know it sounds ridiculous, but you tell me if you have any other explanation,” Brynne dared. She’d abandoned her 1912 clothing for 21st century clothing, though after wearing nothing but corsets and long dresses for a year, wearing clothing that actually took the wearer’s comfort into account felt awkward. Sitting in the chair next to sofa, she squirmed in her t-shirt and jeans.
“It’s impossible,” Cal insisted, pacing behind the sofa where Rose sat. Jeremy stood alone at the window, gazing intensely out at D.C.
“Ms. Larence, it does seem to be a bit far fetched. You have to admit that,” Rose said. “Place yourself in our position.”
“I have,” Brynne said. “I was in your position when I moved into this apartment. I couldn’t believe my ears, but the evidence was there, staring me in the face.”
Cal stopped directly in front of Brynne. “You expect me to believe that because we walked through a wardrobe with a trick door of some sort, we traveled nearly a century into ‘the future’, as you call it?” he asked, his words drenched with sarcasm.
Brynne stood and stared at him steadily as she answered. “I don’t care if you believe it or not, Mr. Hockley, but the fact of the matter is that it’s true.”
Neither Cal nor Rose could refute what Brynne had told them because they couldn’t offer a better explanation at the moment.
Brynne turned to Jeremy. He hadn’t said anything at all since she’d revealed the truth about where they were. And he hadn’t spoken to her since Payton had left over two hours before.
“Jeremy?” Brynne said, cautiously approaching him.
He didn’t respond right away. He lowered his eyes to the floor and avoided looking directly at Brynne. “Forgive me if I don’t … ” he began. “This is all a little difficult to take in.”
“I know.” Brynne felt like she shouldn’t just leave it at that, but she didn’t know what else to say to him.
“Will we be able to get back?” Jeremy asked.
“Yes,” Brynne replied. “Eventually. Right now, the links – that’s how you got here – they’re malfunctioning. Well, if I understand it correctly, they aren’t functioning at all.”
“How long will it take to repair them?” Cal asked.
“I don’t know. I told Payton that you could all stay with me while we wait. If you want to.”
“Thank you for your kindness and generosity, Ms. Larence,” Rose said, accepting the invitation on behalf of the group.
“I’m the one who got you all into this mess, anyway.”
“Yes,” Cal said. “You did, didn’t you?”
“Cal,” Rose said in a tone of warning.
The apartment door opened, and Payton entered with bags of groceries. Bell followed him inside, also carrying bags. They deposited the bags on the kitchen counter and the table.
“I found everything on your list,” Payton said. “Except the pulpy orange juice, so I had to get the kind without pulp.”
Brynne walked over to the kitchen. “That’s fine,” she said. “It’s not that big of a deal.” She began removing products from the bags. “They had everything else?”
Payton nodded. “Yeah.” He looked her over, noting her change in appearance and attire. “I see you didn’t waste anytime settling back in.”
Dawn was only a few hours away, and Brynne was wide-awake on the couch. It wasn’t that her sofa was uncomfortable. On the contrary, she had often fallen asleep on it pretty quickly on many occasions at her old apartment. But she’d never been in a situation like this when she was at her old apartment. She’d never had three people from 1912 sleeping in bedrooms only a few feet away from her.
She sat in her pajamas, blankets and pillows scattered around her. Damn, what had she gotten herself into? It seemed to her that she’d been asking herself that same question everyday since Moocher wandered into the closet and activated that link.
Brynne stood. She didn’t want to start pacing, but she felt herself leaning in that direction. She would much rather have turned on the t.v., so that it could lull her to sleep, but she didn’t want to wake her slumbering guests, whom she knew weren’t used to the background noise of a television.
“What’s wrong? Is the sofa uncomfortable?” Jeremy stood at the edge of the hallway. He was barefoot and had discarded everything except his slacks and dress shirt, which was open from his collar down to his chest. His hair, normally impeccably styled, was disheveled, as if he’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to sleep.
Brynne, mildly startled, turned to him. “The sofa isn’t the problem,” Brynne replied. “What about you – is something wrong with the bed?”
“Yes – Cal Hockley is sleeping right next to me.”
“Is it really that big of a problem?”
“It is when he snores like a wild beast.”
Both of them chuckled at the thought. Then, they stared at each other for a few uncertain moments. “I’m sorry,” Brynne said.
“Me, too,” Jeremy said.
“Why are you sorry?” Brynne asked, as he walked past her on the way to the window. “You didn’t do anything.”
“I know,” Jeremy said. “I’m sorry because I thought we had something special, and now it’s gone. I can’t even be sure that it even existed.”
“No, it did. That’s the honest-to-God truth.”
“How can I believe that?” Jeremy asked. He looked at the view of D.C. from Brynne’s apartment. He’d never seen anything like it before. “Everything I thought I knew about you was a lie,” he said. “You used me and manipulated me, Brynne, to reach your own little goal. You can’t just go bouncing around time, playing with people’s lives like they’re part of some game.”
“That isn’t the way it is, Jeremy,” Brynne said. She wished that he would at least look at her.
“I don’t like the idea of being part of anyone’s mission or experiment or whatever it is you want to call it.”
Brynne walked over to him. “Okay, I admit that I lied to you. I lied to everyone. And I used my position to get what I needed. But the friendships I made while I was there, the special friendships, were real. There was nothing fake about them.”
“I honestly don’t know how to believe you anymore.” Jeremy turned to Brynne with a look so piercing that it shot to the core of her soul.
“It’s easy,” Brynne said quietly. “All you have to do is make up your mind and do it.”
That’s just what Jeremy wanted to do. He wanted to so badly. But it was much easier said than done.
Through some miracle, Brynne did finally get to sleep, and she woke up around 7:30 that morning. Her immediate thoughts concerned why she had woken up on the sofa. She sat up, momentarily confused. Then, her eyes landed on the Titanic book on the coffee table, and it all came slamming back to her. She’d gotten so used to sleeping in 1912 that waking up in the 21st century had temporarily thrown her for a loop. After all, she had spent a year in the past, and last night had only been her first in her own time since she’d been back. She stood and walked to the kitchen. What would they have for breakfast?
It was on the way to the kitchen that Brynne noticed that the deadbolt on the apartment door was in the unlocked position, which she found odd, because she knew that she always checked the door before going to bed. At least, she used to before living in 1912 for a year. She thought she’d locked it the night before, but it was possible that she’d fallen out of the habit, as the necessity of performing the nightly ritual had lost its significance in a time when people rarely even locked their doors at night.
Not really expecting to find any explanations outside, Brynne walked over, opened the door, and peered out into the hallway. She looked up and down the hall. No one was there. She closed the door and locked it, still pondering the curiously unlocked door. As almost an afterthought, she thought that perhaps Rose, Cal, or Jeremy had stepped out earlier and had neglected to lock the door when they’d returned.
Why would they need to step out? Where would they go?
Had they come back, yet?
Brynne instantly arrived at a state of near-panic. She went to the master bedroom and gently knocked on the door. After a moment’s delay, a voice called from inside. Brynne quickly moved to the guest bedroom and repeated the action, but this time, no sound greeted her from inside the room.
She knocked again. It was possible that they were only asleep. After a third round of knocks, there was still no answer. Brynne pushed the door open. Then she panicked.
Rose appeared behind Brynne in the bedroom doorway. “Did you just knock on my door?” she asked. “I thought I heard a knock.”
Brynne didn’t answer. She just stared at the empty room before them. She stepped inside. There was no sign of Cal or Jeremy. Their clothes were gone. Even the bed was made.
Rose followed her into the room. “Where did they go?” she asked.
Brynne shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “Out, I suppose.” She turned to Rose. “Have you seen them?”
“I haven’t seen them since last night, at dinner,” Rose said.
Brynne closed her eyes. Could this mission be anymore screwed up?
But there wasn’t any time for dwelling on the negative now. Brynne had to find Cal and Jeremy.
“What are we going to do?” Rose asked.
Brynne looked at her. We? She smiled to herself. This girl was all right. She wasn’t like those other delicate flowers from her time. She was ready to get right down into the gritty with Brynne. “We’re going to find them,” she answered.