“Alert for Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County is currently under tropical storm watch. You may be interested to know the last tropical storm hit California in 1997.” The radio personality droned on.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Twenty-year-old Lissa Edward turned off the radio and glared out the window. A tropical storm? That’s all she needed today. She banged on the steering wheel of her beat-up Jeep as she sat in the parking lot formerly known as the 110. She pushed a damp blond tendril off her forehead. California was in the middle of a mega heat wave. Her AC had died last week, she had no money to fix it, and the fan in her car was only blowing more hot air on her. This was how she was going to go; death by hot air. She cranked her window down. “I’m going to be late. This could be my big break. . . well it could be my big break.” With a loud sigh, she leaned back in her seat. “Just keep calm. You can get off at the next exit.”
Staring ahead at the mile long stream of cars ahead, she felt a twinge of despair. Her agent of sorts, a.k.a. her roommate’s current boyfriend, had pulled major strings to get her this interview. While it was true it could be her big break, it was just as likely that nothing would come of it. If she ever got off the damn freeway.
It wasn’t every day that she had an interview with an actual movie production company. A bit off the Hollywood beat, but still a major deal. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t nervous. Glancing at the print copy of her screenplay on the passenger seat, she looked worriedly at the clock. A film school student, she’d written a historical romance screenplay – a wildly popular genre these days – for a class. She’d been surprised when her roommate’s boyfriend, an up and coming in the industry, had actually liked it. The rest was history, if all went well today. Otherwise, she was in deep shit financially. Graduation was looming and she had zero job prospects.
The drive from Pasadena into L.A. usually took about twenty minutes, depending on traffic. Add traffic and it was a completely different story. Which was why she’d left her apartment with, what she’d thought was, plenty of time to spare. Obviously not. The car ahead of her inched forward and stopped.
She had to make this appointment. She couldn’t reschedule. Who knew if her roommate would even have the same boyfriend next week let alone long enough to line up another interview. No, she had to get off this freeway and back on route.
With a quick look heavenward, she inched onto the narrow shoulder and slammed on the gas pedal. Car horns blasted at her as she zoomed by and took the next exit. Come on, car. Don’t give up on me now.
Off the freeway, she headed down York Boulevard toward West Hollywood. A glance at the clock confirmed she still had time to make it.
She needed a distraction. To take her mind off the heat and her interview.
Her car hit a pothole hard and suddenly stopped dead in the middle of the road.
“Damn it!” She banged on her steering wheel again. “I don’t have time for this,” she muttered as she fished around in her purse for her cell. No signal. “That’s strange.”
She stuffed her screenplay into her purse and grabbed the bottle of water from the console. She stepped out of her car, slamming the door a little harder than necessary. Her four inch heels were not suited to walking, but made her legs look longer and shapelier. Especially when paired with her short, black skirt. This morning, she’d needed every ounce of confidence she could muster. With a flick of her golden hair, she left her car behind and started walking.
After a mile or so, she cracked the lid on her water bottle and took a long swig. The sky darkened. She looked up. A lone figure appeared on the road walking toward her. She jumped up and down, waving her arm excitedly.
“Can you help me?” she asked eagerly. “My car broke down.”
The man took off his wide brimmed straw hat and held it to his chest. He shot her a confused look.
“Do you speak English?” she asked slowly.
Lissa swallowed her impatience. He was the first person she’d seen since she left her car. Forget the interview, she’d long ago missed her appointment, right now she needed help. “Do you live around here?” She tilted her head and took in his outfit. A roughly sewn blue flannel shirt, blue jeans that had seen better days. His hair was shaggy and looked like it hadn’t seen a sharp pair of scissors in a while. A thin layer of dust coated his pants. And none of that disguised the fact he was model material with his rugged good looks and defined biceps. Any other time, she would have been very interested. Not even his unkempt appearance was much of a deterrent. Oh I get it! Clad in period costume, he was probably an extra on a movie set.
She flashed him a wide smile. “I’m sorry to bother you. Is your set nearby?”
He just stood there, looking at her.
“I just need to use your phone for a minute. Then I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Telephone? Cell, if you have one?”
“Well,” he drawled. “There’s a telegraph machine at the General Store.”
“You don’t need to stay in character. Seriously.” She looked around and laughed nervously.
“I’m forgettin’ my manners. Excuse me, ma’am, our place is around the corner, my mama would have my hide for not offering you hospitality.” He motioned for her to follow. “My sister is about your size too.” He put his hat back on and motioned for her to follow.
Okay. “Thanks.” This is crazy, but it’s not like I have a lot of options right now.
She followed him down the dusty road, over a little hill. A small white house appeared nestled in a little valley. A couple horses were tied on a wooden fence.
Yes! Civilization! Finally!
A woman clad in a plain, brown dress with puffy short sleeves came out of the house carrying a toddler. “Aaron O’Connor, where have you been?”
“Sorry, Mama, I got sidetracked on the way.”
The woman shifted a child on her hip and looked intently at Lissa. “Who do we have here?” she asked curiously.
Lissa stepped forward and held out her hand. “Lissa Edward. My car broke down. Can I use your phone?”
“She seems awful confused, Mama. Must be the heat.”
“You can call me ‘Mama’, child, everyone does, although my given name is Mary.” Mama put her bundle down and shooed the little boy into the house. “Come along, Lissa, we’ll get you a tall drink of water and some proper clothes.”
Dropping her outstretched hand, Lissa followed Aaron down the hill toward the house. Mama opened the door and motioned her inside. Lissa stepped over the threshold and into a time warp. She quickly scanned the dim room for a phone. Then a light switch plate. She stepped back and walked right into Aaron’s solid chest.
“Oh my,” she swooned as her knees buckled and she fell into his arms.
He lifted her into his arms and carried her to the day bed by the stove.
“Where am I?” she murmured.
“Do you think she hit her head? Sprouting nonsense the way she has?” Mama asked, as she put a wet cloth on the girl’s forehead. “What kind of name is ‘Lissa’ anyway? And look what she’s wearing?” She shook her head. “Fetch me one of Sarah’s day dresses. They look about the same size.”
Aaron quickly brought a dress to his mother. Mama shooed him out of the room. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he went to the pump to wash up. When he came back into the house, Mama had dressed Lissa in his sister’s plain blue dress and low-heeled shoes.
Mama caught him staring at her and her lips curved into a half smile.
Aaron felt the warmth of a blush spread across his cheeks. He was glad to see Mama smile, after all she’d been through lately, even if it was at his expense.
“Pretty little thing, ain’t she?”
Aaron squared his shoulders. “Don’t matter none.”
Mama’s face softened. “Ah, Aaron. Just because your Pa is gone, don’t mean your life-”
“I’ll take care of the family. Don’t fuss over me, Mama.”
“I’m your mama, I get ta fuss.”
Lissa stirred and moaned on the bed.
“Did you speak with Jacob?”
Aaron shook his head. “Never made it over there. Saw her.” He jerked his head toward Lissa.
“I’ll watch her now. You go on over and talk to Jacob.” Mama’s tone left no room for argument.
“Sarah’s not going to be happy about this.”
“Sarah knows. You best be going now.”
God, I wish we had another choice in this. Aaron stood up and plucked his hat on. “Yup.”
“I’ll tend to this one.”
They both glanced at Lissa’s still form.
“Looks like you got the better deal,” Aaron muttered as he trudged out the door. Dragging his feet along the road, he hesitated on the task ahead. Pa was gone, for sure, but they didn’t have to marry Sarah off. Not right away. She was still mourning. They all were. Jacob seemed a nice enough man with a prime piece of land, solid house, and good livestock. None of that would matter to Sarah. His sister was a dreamer. She deserved to find love. Not to be sold like cattle to the highest bidder. It wasn’t that bad. They weren’t actually selling her. It just felt that way to Aaron.
Aaron came to the top of the hill and looked across the field at Jacob’s spread. Sarah, I’m sorry. Then he squared his shoulders and walked toward the house.
Lissa opened her eyes and saw a motherly looking woman in a long dress peering down at her, her face illuminated by a flickering light. She closed her eyes again. A wonderful smell filled the small cabin. Her stomach growled. Her mouth felt like cotton. She licked her lips and tried to swallow. When she opened her eyes again, the woman was holding out a glass of water. Mama. The name suddenly came to her. “Mama?” she asked timidly.
Lissa struggled to sit up and noticed her blouse and skirt had been replaced with a long dress. “Where are my clothes?” she demanded. “What am I doing here?”
The door opened and Aaron walked through.
“Oh, she’s awake!”
“And what news of Jacob?” Mama questioned.
“Later, later,” Aaron shrugged. “Where’s Sarah?”
“Not here.” Mama exchanged a worried look with Aaron. “Where could that girl be? She knows better than to be out when a storm is brewing.”
“It’s gonna be a bad one by the looks of it.”
Lissa drew her knees to her chest just before she started to panic. Her breathing quickened and she felt like she was suffocating. While they were talking, she stood up and ran out the door.
“Lissa!” Aaron came running after her.
The world started spinning around her. She looked off into the distance and didn’t see anything. Dark clouds had gathered in the sky and the sun had started to set. Even in the evening light she knew there were no other houses around. She sunk to the ground and buried her face in her hands. Aaron sat down beside her. She knew it was him by smell alone. He reminded her of the outdoors unlike most of the men she knew who smelled like a department store perfume counter.
He silently took her hand.
“What’s going on?” she asked him without looking up.
“My sister is missing.”
Lissa looked up and took in Aaron’s troubled face.
“It’s getting too dark to look for her now. Plus with the storm… We’ll have to wait for morning.”
“What about me?” she asked, not unfeeling toward his current situation.
“You can stay here, in Sarah’s room, for the night and I’ll take you into town tomorrow.”
“You’re different from other men I’ve known,” she said, tilting her head and staring him right in the eyes.
“And how many men have you known?” he teased.
She blushed at his words. “No one real.” She touched his cheek. “Where I come from everyone is pretending to be someone else. Even me.”
“And who are you, Lissa Edward?”
“I don’t know.” She started to remove her hand and Aaron captured it. His hand was large and rough with many calluses.
“You feel real to me.” He lightly kissed her cheek.
“I uh,” she stammered as her heart started beating madly out of her chest. Affected by a mere kiss? “I’m a sophisticated, 21st century woman,” she muttered under her breath.
Aaron jerked back from her. “Did you say 21st century?”
“Yeah.” She shrugged, confused at his reaction. “It’s 2014. What year did you think it was?”
Her jaw dropped. “You can drop the whole act, Aaron.” She looked around nervously. “Oh, I get it. Where’s the hidden camera?”
Standing up, Aaron backed away from her like he thought she was possessed. His gaze never left her as he inched toward the cabin.
“Aaron!” Mama admonished from the open doorway. “Landsakes, child,” she called out to Lissa. “Come back in and get some supper.” Putting both hands on her hips, she glared at Aaron as he walked around her and muttered something Lissa couldn’t hear.
I don’t believe this. What am I going to do now? Lissa stayed on the hill, hugging her knees when she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She looked up. “Aaron?”
“You took me off-guard,” he said gruffly. He pulled her to her feet and gathered her trembling body into his arms. “It’ll be all right, Lissa.” His grip tightened around her small waist. “You’re safe here.”
She pulled back a little and tilted her head toward his. They stared at each other. The tension in the air was as audible as the crickets in the distance. “I know,” she murmured before she pulled his head down for a kiss. Heat surged between them as their lips fused together. He cradled her head in his hands. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on as her knees grew weak.
Aaron broke the kiss and rested his head against hers. “Oh, Lissa.”
“This is crazy. There’s no way I can make sense of any of this.”
“Tomorrow is soon enough to figure it out.”
“But what about-”
He cut of her words with a quick, hard kiss. “Never borrow tomorrow’s worries, Lissa. You have to live for today because today is all we have.”
* * * * *
The room was cold. She was cold. She tried to open her eyes, but there was a sharp pain in her head. When she touched her face, she felt a wide cloth wrapped around her head. A moan escaped her lips.
“Doctor, Jane Doe is starting to wake.”
She opened her eyes at the sound of the woman’s voice. A dark-haired woman wearing a shirt with butterflies on it leaned over her. A woman in a white coat entered the room and shone a bright light in her eyes.
“Hello, my name is Doctor Lane. Do you know where you are?”
She shook her head.
“UCLA Medical Center.”
She shrugged her shoulders. That name didn’t mean anything to her.
“Do you know what day it is?”
What a strange question. “August the 6th.”
“Very good.” Doctor Lane nodded approvingly.
“Do you remember your name?”
Of course, I know my own name. “Sarah O’Connor.”
“That’s good. We can stop calling you Jane Doe,” the woman with the butterfly shirt said.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Doctor Lane asked.
“I was walking down the road and then nothing.” Sarah bit her lip. “How long have I been here? Mama will be so worried.”
“What’s her number? We’ll give her a call for you.”
“Number?” Sarah looked at the two women with a perplexed look on her face. “What kind of number?”
Shaking her head slowly, Sarah replied, “We don’t have a number.”
“That’s okay, Sarah,” the doctor reassured. “The nurse will contact your family. In the meantime, I’d like to ask you a few more questions.”
“Who is the President?”
“Hmm. Are you currently being treated for any medical conditions?”
“Who is your family doctor?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Who is the Governor?”
“John something. I don’t know. John Weller. That’s it!”
“Right.” Doctor Lane made several marks on the paper. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
She watched the doctor leave. All these odd questions. She just wanted to know when she could go home. Mama and Aaron must be worried sick. She didn’t even know how long she’d been here. In this medical center.
The butterfly nurse came back with white pills in a little cup. “This will help you sleep.” She tilted Sarah’s head back and dumped the pills in.
Her eyes felt heavy and the room started to fade away.
Her eyes fluttered open at the sound of the doctor’s voice.
“What year is it, Sarah?”
“1858,” she mumbled before she closed her eyes again.
“The accident has completely rattled her brain.”
“Possible. Could be delusional. I’ll check at area hospitals for previous treatments.”
Two sets of footsteps left the room.
The medicine the nurse gave her had made her eyes heavy and her brain foggy, but she wasn’t too out of it to understand they thought she was crazy. And maybe she was? She couldn’t remember anything today beyond walking on the road. There might have been a bright light of some sort. One minute she was waving good-bye to her family. The next she laid here. There was no in-between. What she wouldn’t give for a bit of Aaron’s strength right now or a bowl of Mama’s stew. Even a hug with Toby’s sticky fingers making her skirt dirty would be welcome now. Would she ever see them again?
* * * * *
Lissa awoke with the sun streaming through the window. She smelled wood burning and bacon frying. Mama had laid out another of Sarah’s dresses for her to wear. What I wouldn’t give for some coffee. Poking her head around the sheet that sectioned off Sarah’s room from Mama’s, she saw only a little boy sitting at the table.
“Where’s Mama and Aaron?”
The little boy pointed to the door.
She left the little cabin and stood on the front porch. Although cool inside, the morning heat promised another scorcher. Mama was pumping water. Aaron was feeding the horses. Walking over to Aaron, she asked, “Can you take me to the road where you found me yesterday?”
Aaron nodded. “After chores, I can take you. I need to search for my sister.” He wiped the sweat from his brow. “It’s not like her.”
“I can help you look, if you like?” Why did I say that? I need to get home.
“Can you ride?”
Aaron jerked his head toward the horses.
“Guess not.” He chuckled. “If I had the time, I’d teach ya, but this time you’d just slow me down.”
“Okay,” she said, feeling the disappointment claw at her.
“Just let me wash up and we’ll go.”
“You’re not going anywhere, son, until this poor gal has a chance to eat. Come join Toby in the kitchen for a bite.”
“Thank you,” Lissa said, gratefully. “I appreciate it.”
Mama chucked. “Nonsense. You’re all skin and bones. A little extra feeding wouldn’t hurt you none.”
Ushering Lissa back into the cabin, Mama filled a plate with bacon, eggs and bread.
“I can’t possibly eat all that.”
“You can and you will.”
Lissa surprised even herself by finishing off the plate.
“Ready now?” Aaron stood in the open doorway of the cabin. His muscles bulged under his worn shirt as he leaned against the frame.
Lissa gulped. He looked better than he ought to look. Usually attracted to a polished, well-groomed man, her mouth went dry just by looking at this rough cowboy. Her usual type never had that effect on her before.
She nodded. “Did you eat?”
Hurriedly, she picked up her plate and brought it to the counter. Picking up her purse, she waved good-bye to Toby, and walked toward the door. Aaron wordlessly waited until she stepped outside.
“Are we going to the road first?”
“Last place I saw Sarah.”
“Do you think-”
“I’m not thinking nothing right now.”
“Oh.” Lissa bit her lip. She hadn’t meant to make Aaron feel bad. Resting her other hand on top of his arm, she gave him a little squeeze. The heat from his solid body radiated into hers. It distracted her. It prevented her from forming a coherent thought. “Do you think we’ll find her?”
“I hope so.”
They continued walking to the road. Aaron held her arm firmly as he helped her up the grassy hill to the dirt road. The empty dirt road.
“Where’s my car?” Lissa looked up and down the road. There was complete silence. No buzz of traffic from the 110, nothing. “I don’t understand. When you saw me yesterday, you saw my car, right?”
Shaking his head slowly, Aaron replied, “Nope, only saw you.”
“Where’s my car?” she repeated hysterically. She walked away from Aaron on the road. “It’s gotta be here somewhere. Cars don’t just disappear.”
Aaron easily caught up with her. “People just don’t disappear either.”
“Do you think they’re connected?”
“The simplest answer is often the one right in front of you.”
“Right in front of us.” Lissa stopped walking and glanced around. “I’m sure I left the car about here.” She took a step forward and heard the distant sounds of the city. Stopping again, she asked, “Do you hear that?”
Aaron shook his head and took a few steps forward. “I think I hear something!” he exclaimed excitedly. “It’s coming from-”
“What?” Lissa shrieked as she watched Aaron disappear into thin air. She sprinted down the dirt road as the sounds got louder. The dirt road turned into asphalt and she saw her car up ahead.
Aaron was ahead of her. Moving his head back and forth, he watched the traffic whiz by. “What is this place?”
“Home, Aaron. Welcome to the 21st century.”
“Do you think my sister is here?” He glanced around, his posture uncertain. He looked as out of place here as she had been in his world.
“There’s no other explanation.”
“We’ve got to find her.”
“I know.” But I have no idea where she could be. “Let’s go back to my place and figure things out. Jump in and we’ll see if this kitty will purr.”
Aaron suspiciously sized up the car before opening the door and sitting in the passenger seat.
“You have to buckle up.” Lissa reached over, pulled the belt around his waist, and snapped it in place.
The car started on the first try. With a squeal of the tires, she raced back toward the freeway. She eased up on the gas pedal when she noticed Aaron’s white knuckles. He seemed both mesmerized and terrified by the steady stream of cars zooming by.
Not far from her apartment building, Lissa soon pulled into the parking lot. “Come on.”
Aaron tried to stand up, but his seat belt prevented him from moving.
“Oops,” she said as she quickly released his belt. She got out and walked around the car to open his door.
Aaron followed her to the apartment. Lissa rummaged through her purse for keys and opened the door. The place looked the same as always. The radio was on low in the kitchen. The answering machine flashed red. Lissa pressed play.
“Lissa, where are you? You better have a damn good reason for missing your interview. Do you know how many-” Lissa paused the machine. Enough of that. Her day sucked enough without listening to her roommate’s boyfriend chew her out. She had more important things to do. Like find Aaron’s sister. How were they going to find his sister? In a city the size of L.A. it would be like a needle in a haystack.
The deejay played the news report jingle catching Lissa’s attention. “In other news, an unidentified woman in her mid-twenties was found wandering in the Highland Park neighborhood early yesterday morning. This woman has now been identified as Sarah O’Connor and police are urging anyone who knows Sarah to come forward.”
Lissa gasped and quickly dialled the police department. She was told Sarah was at UCLA Medical Center. Aaron dropped to his knees when Lissa told him the good news.
“But we can’t go pick her up dressed like this.” She disappeared into her roommate’s room and re-emerged with a pair of men’s jeans and a white t-shirt. “Here put this on.” She handed the clothes to Aaron and disappeared into her own room.
“Ready?” She had changed out of the plain dress into a strapless flowery sundress.
Aaron had changed into the clothes she’d given him. Lissa sized him up and gave him her approval. He made the transition from sexy cowboy to hot urbanite seamlessly.
“Let’s go get Sarah.”
* * * * *
Sarah lay in the bed under a thin cotton sheet staring at the ceiling. She felt cold and more alone than she ever had before.
And now she was imagining things. Wanting to see her family again so badly, she thought she heard Aaron’s voice calling out to her.
“Go away,” she muttered.
“I don’t think you mean that, girl.”
Sarah sat up straight in bed and her mouth gaped when she saw her brother standing in the room. “What are you wearing?”
Then Sarah noticed the woman with Aaron. “Who are you?”
“This here is Lissa Edward. She helped me find you.”
“Pleased to meet you, Lissa,” Sarah said demurely. “I’m much obliged for your help.”
“We’ve asked the doctor to discharge you,” Lissa said. “We’re going home.”
Home. Sarah smiled. The nurse brought a bag with her dress in it. Lissa and Aaron left the room so she could change. Sarah was wheeled out the main entrance and Lissa went to get the car.
“I don’t remember anything,” Sarah told Aaron in a worried voice.
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell ya later.”
The car pulled up to the curb and Aaron helped his sister with her seat belt.
“I don’t understand, Aaron. How can this be?’
“I can’t explain it right, sister. Just know we’re going home.”
Lissa pulled the car out of the parking lot and headed down Westwood Plaza. “We’ll be there soon.”
The car bumped as Lissa moved into the next lane. Sarah tensed and reached for Aaron’s hand. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. Not letting go of her lifeline, she stared out the window as many unfamiliar sights whizzed by.
Lissa swerved to the side of the road and stopped the car. Aaron helped his sister with her seat belt and opened the door.
“This is it.” Lissa waved Aaron and Sarah forward. Aaron grabbed Sarah’s hand and started walking down the road.
Aaron paused and turned his head. “I guess this is good-bye.” He searched Lissa’s face for her reaction. Sarah tugged on his hand impatiently. “Go ahead then, go on.” Aaron gave Sarah a small push down the road. With a huff, Sarah continued walking and disappeared. Aaron turned to face Lissa again. “Come with me.”
“No,” she replied immediately. “I can’t.”
Gathering her hands in his, “Don’t ask me how I know this, but you are my future. I can’t stay in your world, but you can follow me to mine.”
His eloquent words moved her. The city disappeared around her, the traffic, the sirens, the pollution, and the people. There was only him.
“I can’t come with you.”
He dropped her hands. Squaring his shoulders, he looked her in the eyes, and walked away without a word.
Lissa watched him walk away. He was a decent, kind man. A real man with a heart the size of California. What did she have here? A fantastic job? A caring boyfriend? Family who loved her? No. All she had was a dream. And her dream was walking away.
The man ahead stopped in his tracks, but didn’t turn around. She ran over to him and spun him around. He looked at her with an easy smile. “Come on darlin’, let’s go home.” He offered his arm and together they walked toward their future.
(c) 2014 Maya Tyler