PART 38: COMING TOGETHER
Laurie finished shading in her drawing, then leaned back to get a better overall look. The kitten stared up at her from the page with small, sad eyes. “Oh, who am I kidding?” Laurie whimpered. She pushed aside her sketch pad and leaned over her desk, cradling her head in her arms. “Drawing won’t cheer me up. I should get back to my math.”
The redhead reached out and flipped open her textbook, pulling it over and staring down at it blankly. Golly, this unit was hard to figure out! It was bad enough trying to understand math under normal circumstances… now, what with Carrie in the hospital, and Clarke withdrawing, no doubt due to Julie’s disappearance…
“I can’t concentrate,” Laurie wailed aloud. She pushed the textbook away and picked up her pencil again. However, after less than a minute of doodling, Laurie had tossed it aside once more.
“I’ll see what Corry’s up to,” she decided. Heading out of her room, she went down the hall, making a point of knocking on her brother’s door.
“Who’s there?” Corry called out.
Laurie turned the knob and peered around the corner. “Who d’you think?” she answered.
“I said ‘who’s there’ not ‘come in’,” Corry observed dryly, turning away from his own desk. He reached out and hit pause on his music player, cutting off the sound of classical music.
“Close enough,” Laurie said. “I did knock.”
Corry rolled his eyes. “Guess that’s what confused me. Okay little sis, what’s up?”
She didn’t even think to call him out on the ‘little sis’ remark. “Guess I was wondering what you were doing.”
“Finishing my chemistry write-up,” Corry noted. “It’s due soon, and I’ve been putting it off.”
“Oh.” Laurie edged a little further into the room, glancing over at the music player then back at her brother. “So… that was Beethoven, right? One of his symphonies?”
Corry nodded. “Glad to see I’m finally having a positive cultural effect on you.”
“But you only listen to his symphonies to calm down when you’re upset about something,” Laurie pointed out. “So… so does that mean you’re troubled by what’s been happening?”
Her brother looked away. “Troubled? No, I wouldn’t say troubled. It’s been an interesting few weeks, that’s all.”
Laurie leaned back up against the door frame. “Oh.”
He looked back. “Laurie, are you feeling troubled?”
She shifted her weight back and forth. “Maybe.”
“About Julie or about Carrie?” Corry prompted. Laurie didn’t reply, merely shifted back and forth again. Corry sighed. “Look sis, there’s no point in getting all worked up over those two,” he continued. “After all, whatever’s happened with them, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Yeah… I know,” Laurie admitted. “Still it’s… well, it’s upsetting, yeah?”
“If you ask me, it’s nonsensical,” Corry countered, annoyance creeping into his tone. “Julie disappearing without a trace? Carrie going stir crazy in the hospital? I don’t get it. Makes no sense. So, better to put it all behind us and move on.”
“But… but how can you just DO that??”
“Simple, look towards the future. Not back at the past. For instance, have you started your math homework yet?”
“Kinda,” Laurie admitted sullenly. “It’s too hard though.”
“Tell you what then,” Corry continued. “Give me a half hour to finish up my stuff here, and then I’ll help you out with it. Okay?”
“O-Okay. I guess.”
Corry smiled reassuringly. “Cheer up, Laurie. Whatever’s happened, I’m sure it will work itself out in time. Until then, we move on with the rest of our lives. I’m sure Clarke would want you to do that, right?”
Laurie pursed her lips, then nodded again. “Yeah. Okay,” she repeated. “See you in half an hour then?”
Corry nodded, and Laurie slipped back out of his room, closing the door behind her. She still couldn’t bring herself to smile though. What was she going to do for the next half hour anyway? Maybe she should call Chartreuse. Yes, that was a good idea, Chartreuse always helped her feel better.
Laurie headed back to her room. However, before she reached it, she heard the doorbell ring. Straining to hear who the visitor was, Laurie heard a familiar voice speaking to her mother.
“Chartreuse, I was just going to call you,” Laurie said, bouncing down the stairs towards her. “Maybe this is one of those psychic ESP things you’ve talked about?”
Chartreuse smiled at her red haired friend. “There must be some good alpha waves going on,” she agreed. “Though I’m kinda here on a mission too. Mind if we, like, have a quick talk about something? In your room?”
As they walked upstairs, Chartreuse debated possible ways to broach the subject of what had happened to Julie. The direct method was probably best. Right? Except Laurie still looked a little distraught. Could she handle direct?
“So, what’s up?” Laurie asked, moving to sit cross-legged on her bed.
“Well, it’s, you know, something very secret,” Chartreuse began tentatively, as she closed Laurie’s bedroom door. She forced herself not to pace back and forth. “Along the same lines as your dream to become a professional animator.”
Laurie’s eyes widened. “But… you’re the only person I’ve ever told that to. Not even Corry knows about it.”
“And he can’t know about this either. Not right away,” Chartreuse asserted. “So promise you’ll, like, keep this quiet forever n’ ever, or, um, at least until circumstances change?”
Laurie nodded wordlessly.
Chartreuse took in a deep breath. Yeah, best to simply say it. “Okay then. So, Frank, Carrie and Luci had a time machine. But Julie took it to, like, escape into the past. So now we need your help to get Julie back. You follow that?”
Laurie stared. Her nose crinkled. “Waaaait… TIME machine?? And… me? Why me?”
“It’s got to do with some, you know, tricky spacials stuff. It hinges on the fact that you were born in Miami during the right year,” Chartreuse explained. She was having trouble figuring out if Laurie was more confused or excited.
Laurie’s frown deepened. “But… okay, well, I was obviously only in Miami from May 21st onwards, because birthday, so how does that connect and where did this time machine come from, did Frank and Luci invent it and how did you find out about it, for that matter how long have you known and does this have anything to do with why Carrie’s in the hospital now because oooooooh, golly, hold on, she wasn’t shot because of this machine WAS she, I mean there aren’t international spies running around trying to get it back from you are there, is your life in danger or is Julie’s, or was Julie in on it and is that why she was usually able to best my brother – it could explain some things – though it raises a lot of other questions too and golly I’m not really sure where to begin anymore but give me a second to keep processing this–”
“Laurie, hold on,” Chartreuse cut in quickly as Laurie paused for a lungful of air. At least the nonstop talking was a really good sign. “All your questions will be answered. For right now, what I have to know is… are you willing to help us out? Because it could be dangerous.”
Laurie’s lips pursed. “Seems like if I don’t help, nothing will get better for Carrie or Julie. Right?”
Chartreuse nodded reluctantly. “Probably. But regarding time travel, there’s a lot of stuff we’re still not sure of. So don’t, like, base your decision only on them… you’re hardly close friends.”
“Chartreuse, how long have you known me?” Laurie said indignantly. “If I can help make people feel better, I want to do it. Doesn’t matter if they’ll thank me or not, what goes around comes around, and I know there’s loads of times when I’ve needed people to help me out too.”
“Right… I should have, you know, figured on you saying that,” Chartreuse admitted. She should have found a way to phrase things better.
“So when do we leave?” Laurie asked, uncrossing her legs.
“Whoa, hold on,” her friend protested. “We don’t even, like, have the machine back yet. In fact there’s a lot of stuff still being organized, and… well, we’ll have to talk to your brother first.”
Laurie folded her arms. “Chartreuse, you JUST said that this was a secret that he can’t know about!”
“Welllll… it’s more we don’t want him finding out at a time which isn’t of our choosing,” Chartreuse corrected. “Otherwise he might react badly, given how Carrie and Julie are involved too.”
Laurie shook her head. “That makes NO sense. If you have a time machine, how can it NOT happen at a time of your choosing?” she protested.
“Okay, it’s not as simple as that,” Chartreuse sighed. “Again, we don’t have the machine now, plus I also said this was, you know, tricky and dangerous.”
“But you’ve travelled through time, haven’t you? And you look okay!”
Chartreuse blinked in surprise. “No,” she corrected. “I haven’t done any time traveling yet.”
“Oh.” Laurie thought on that for a moment. “Why not? I thought you’d jump at the chance.”
Chartreuse took a moment to try and phrase things right this time. “The opportunity never really, I don’t know, presented itself.”
“So when the two of us go, it will be your first time too?”
Chartreuse realized she still hadn’t properly explained the situation.
“Laurie, wait. This time trip that we need your help for, it’s very possible that I won’t be able to come along. You’d be with Frank and Clarke,” Chartreuse clarified.
“Oh,” Laurie repeated.
Which was when, looking into Laurie’s innocent green eyes, Chartreuse really began to wonder whether bringing her best friend in on this had been the best idea. If something did happen to Laurie now, would Corry ever be able to forgive her? Would Chartreuse ever be able to forgive HERSELF?
Maybe she should do another vision quest to ensure that Laurie would come through this safely. Though after reading Carrie, another experience so soon after would be quite a strain on her system. And would it even work, since she forecasted the future, while Laurie’s future would be in the past?
Chartreuse refocussed. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“Why can’t you come?” Laurie asked again, softly.
Chartreuse sighed. “More tricky spacials stuff,” she said. “You know Laurie, it’s not too late to back out. We… we might be able to manage without you.” Oh yeah, THAT was convincing.
Laurie bit her lip, yet at the same time she shook her head firmly. “I still want to help,” she declared, although it was apparent that some of her earlier eagerness was being replaced by worry and doubt.
As it should be, Chartreuse reasoned. So why was she starting to feel so bad about this? “Look, Laurie, let’s put the time travel stuff aside for now, okay?” she proposed. “I’ll, like, get back to you on details either later today or tomorrow. All right?”
The redhead hesitated, but ultimately nodded slowly in agreement.
Chartreuse smiled encouragingly. “Great. So, how about some meditative exercises? Might, you know, help to take your mind off of things?”
Laurie shook her head again, surprising her friend. “I don’t think so,” she said quietly. “That is… maybe later, but right now I think I still want to spend a few minutes thinking about this. By myself. Okay? Maybe you can get us a couple glasses of water?”
Chartreuse looked closely at Laurie’s expression before nodding back. “Okay, sure,” she agreed. “Maybe even some orange juice instead?”
Laurie agreed to that, so after squeezing her friend’s hand supportively, Chartreuse headed out of Laurie’s room and down towards the Veniti kitchen. Yet she had only reached the top of the stairs before a voice stopped her in her tracks.
“Chartreuse. We have to talk.”
Chartreuse turned to face Laurie’s brother, offering a quick smile. “Hi Corry!” she greeted him. “Sorry, can’t stop, I…”
The words froze on her lips as she got her first good look at the expression on Corry’s face. It was in that instant that Chartreuse realized that he knew… that he had somehow overheard part of her conversation with Laurie. Oh no. Was he bugging his sister’s room?!
“We have to talk,” Laurie’s twin repeated icily. “Now.”
Chartreuse wondered fleetingly if things could get any worse.
“It’s worse than we thought,” Clarke agreed. “There aren’t ANY useful scientific records for the area and time period in question.”
Tim sighed. “I d-didn’t think there would be much call for small town American newspapers in our library anyway,” he said in resignation. “Still, given you found that one about Julie’s death, it was worth a shot.”
The shorter blond boy sat down at the table in the records room. “So… what now? The internet’s hopeless when you only have vague search terms, and we’ve now exhausted our town library.” He frowned. “What’s even the point in continuing to search like this?”
Clarke flinched. “I beg your pardon, Tim?”
Tim looked momentarily embarrassed. “Oh, d-d-don’t get me wrong. I still want to help Julie, it’s more… well, listen Clarke, what if the time machine we need really IS still around in this present time? Will that do us any good if we learn the machine is still somewhere down in Illinois? Or in Area 51?? We now have less than forty-eight hours to somehow recover it, a-and we can’t do that, we don’t have the resources.”
Clarke paused to consider the blonde boy’s words. “That makes sense,” he yielded. “But if I understand Frank’s logic, once we’re SURE about where the device is, someone could leave town to go there, and then use the machine’s geography to time travel back to here, now, when the rest of us can use it.”
Tim began to drum his fingers on the table. “Yeah, I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around those time travel rules. So… so maybe our best move is to ignore them. To play for the chance NOW.”
“You’ve lost me,” Clarke apologized.
“It’s l-like in the game of bridge,” Tim explained. “What if the only way you can make your contract is if your opponents’ hearts are split 3-3? Obviously, you play for that chance, since it’s the ONLY way you’ll win. S-So… what if the only way we’ll win here is if the time machine has already found it’s way back to us?” He pushed himself back to his feet.
“Yeah,” he continued, enthusiastically. “We shouldn’t be figuring out where the time machine COULD be. We should start by figuring that it’s already HERE. In town. After all, we’re the source of the problem. And this is where Carrie is. I mean, okay, Luci said we can’t set ourselves up, but why can’t fate or time or something be working on our behalf? Because otherwise… w-well, otherwise we’re wasting time looking for the needle in a haystack.” Tim paused, becoming unsure of himself. “R-Right?”
Clarke couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Tim that animated. But did that mean his reasoning was correct? “Maybe,” he agreed slowly. “But if that’s so, what do we do about it?”
“A local news search,” Tim proposed. “Mysterious arrivals of people or weird things here in t-town over the last seventeen years. Or since the LaMilles arrived. It c-could point us in the right direction.”
“Agreed,” Clarke stated. “It’s worth a shot.” His eyebrow lifted. “By the way Tim, when did you start playing bridge?”
“What? Oh, I d-don’t,” Tim assured him, looking embarrassed again. “But I read a lot, and I enjoy that c-column.” He licked his lips. “For that matter, the whole idea of acting on a chance… I never quite understood it. I mean, if taking the chance could leave you worse off than if you’d done nothing, why do it? But maybe I get it now. Now that it’s important, now that people’s lives are involved – we have to try this. Don’t we?”
Clarke smiled. “We do. Stop doubting yourself, it’s a good thought.” He cracked his knuckles. “Let’s get to it.”
Over an hour later, Tim’s doubts had fully reasserted themselves. They’d tracked back five years, and still hadn’t found anything that looked very promising.
“M-Maybe we need to make it even more personal,” Tim piped up at last. “Could we have missed something ourselves in events over the last month…?”
Before Clarke could answer, the voice of Lee cut in through the book stacks. “Beats me,” the library employee said. “But whatever you’re missing, I hope you find it in the next ten minutes. That’s when the library closes.”
Clarke looked at his watch, then over to Lee as their classmate ambled into view. “Damn. When does the library open again tomorrow?”
“Hours are posted right out front.”
“B-But we need to keep searching these records,” Tim stammered out. “It’s important! C-Can’t you make an exception? Or let us check some of them out tonight?”
“Nope,” Lee said apologetically, as he glanced down at the bound books of newspapers. “Those sorts of papers can’t leave the library. Though you can probably photocopy stuff, if you’re quick enough to avoid my deja vu.”
“Your… what?” Clarke asked.
Lee flashed a grin. “Sorry. You’ve reminded me of this incident over a week ago, when this weird cult-like guy was back here researching newspaper records too. Similar books, also happened as the library was closing. Say, you don’t know the guy, do you?”
Clarke and Tim both shook their heads. “B-But, wait, this guy…” Tim began slowly. “I d-don’t suppose he was reading anything related to a s-strange black box, was he?”
Lee quirked up an eyebrow. “Nope. He was reading up on the LaMilles. Granted, I once got a strange black box from them, but the cultist couldn’t have known that.” He chuckled.
Clarke took a step forwards. “Stop. Lee, you got a black box from the LaMilles?”
“Yeah,” Lee said, gesturing dismissively. “My mom bought it from the LaMille yard sale. You know, that big one their family had soon after moving into the mansion? If you ask me, I think they mixed in some old, broken stuff they’d been keeping in storage along with Linquist’s clutter. Hoping to take advantage of us small town Canadians.”
“Lee,” Tim said, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. “What did this black box look like?”
Lee thrust his hands into his pockets. “Oh, kinda like a flattened jack-in-the-box, except jack never popped up when you yanked the lever. Maybe because the digital readout was broken? Who knows – there weren’t any screws or other means of getting inside to fix the darn thing, so I… uh, did I spill something on myself? Why are you two staring at me like that all of a sudden?”
“Lee, this may be VERY important. Do you know where that box is?” Clarke said, reaching out to take him by the shoulders.
“Somewhere in my house,” Lee said, in obvious confusion.
“C-C-C-C-C-Could we s-s-s-see it?” Tim forced out.
“Maaaaybe,” Lee replied slowly. “Why? What’s this all about??”
Clarke let out a breath he seemingly hadn’t realized he was holding. He smiled at Tim. “It’s about playing for a chance,” he explained. “As well as saving a couple of our classmates’ lives.”
To Tim, it looked like Lee wanted to make some sort of joke. Except the seriousness of Clarke’s tone had him at a loss for words. Tim leaned back in his chair, wondering how everybody else would feel about letting one more person in on their time machine secret.