She could feel the weight of his body protecting hers in the chilled autumn air, hard ground pressing under her back, her cheek raw from the rough wool of his jacket. A volley of musket fire exploded, followed by a cloud of smoke. The sound of fife and drums kept getting fainter as the mismatched band of countrymen marched further down the road. When the air finally cleared, she could smell the heady scent of Concord grapes lifting off a tangle at the edge of the field. She didn’t want him to move.
With the buzz of her alarm, Sarah Sutherland realized her recurring dream ended where the town reenactment maneuvers began. She was aroused, anxious, and irritated that she’d miss the Colonial Muster, because she had to show a house.
In her four years as a real estate agent, she had never shown an antique home, let alone a property of this stature. The Covington estate was a local landmark, entrenched in American history, and preserved with considerable accuracy.
Upon the death of the last Covington, Sarah approached the executors about representing them and was delighted when her firm landed the account. Jingling her keys, she waited in her doorway, planning to drive with her prospective buyers to the location. She rehearsed her pitch as she stared out the window. “The Covington estate is one of the oldest in town…built in 1714 by a gentleman farmer, who came from England. Been in the same family for at least twelve generations,” she recounted. A horn beeped, and she saw the Randolphs scuttling up her walkway.
“Sorry we’re late, Sarah,” Mrs. Randolph apologized, mumbling something about traffic.
“No problem,” Sarah said, closing the door behind. “I’ll lead, and you follow.”
The Randolphs were a middle-aged couple looking to live in a vintage home. They were moving north and had heard of the Covington estate. Sarah wasn’t exactly sure what they did for a living, but she knew they were affiliated with a college. She was encouraged in thinking their intellectual capacity would make them ideal buyers for a house steeped in history.
Sarah remembered the first time she saw the house…the rush of stale air that filled her lungs, the hint of smoke that lingered from long ago, and the musty odor of heavy English furniture. Wide-pine floorboards set the stage for a massive stone fireplace and beehive oven. Some of the rooms were wallpapered in delicate floral prints; others were stucco white. The style was both rustic and elegant, depending upon which corner you turned. And, there were many.
What began as a modest house sprung out like an octopus, providing space for sons and daughters, spouses and children, in- laws and parents, and in the far reaches, kitchen help, and farmhands. The property boasted a large barn, shed and smokehouse…a root cellar, stone walls, and gnarled apple orchard…all earmarks of a quaint New England past.
As Sarah turned down the winding road to Baker’s Cove, she noticed that autumn was taking hold, and with it, a glorious blaze of color. Massive oaks were laden with crowns of yellow. Maples shuddered in shades of rust. Poison ivy, once deadly green, was suspended in points of vermillion as it wound like rope along a fence. Fields were harvested and baled round; she remembered growing up where bales were square.
Signaling left, she praised her shocks as she turned onto the rutted drive. A chevron of geese was forming behind the chimney of the Covington house. “That Tory roof,” she thought, as she stared at the peak centered above the front door. “So distinctive. So symbolic.” It immediately conjured up images of rally cries and Redcoats.
Joining the Randolphs at the side entrance, she leaned into the master key that dangled from her key ring, forcing it to fit the lock box. The door resisted. When the lock finally gave way, a mudroom with a stone floor greeted them. Pegs for drying herbs poked out from the wall beams. A spray of sage hung head-down, tied with a twist of string. A single stalk of yarrow, yellow buttons now burnt to brown, dangled from a spider web.
“Spiders can go months without eating,” she thought, at the same time wondering why this random fact had popped into her head. There was something about this place that electrified her senses and opened her mind.
“What’s this?” Mrs. Randolph called out. Her name was Ann, but Sarah felt more professional remaining formal. That’s not to say Ann Randolph wasn’t friendly, but Sarah detected something distant in her.
“Oh, that’s an access door leading into a crawl space above the main room. I don’t think it serves much purpose, but you can open it if you want.”
Mr. Randolph, David, eyed the cleaning supplies lined up along the wall near a small writing desk. He reached for the broom and pushed the handle against the ceiling panel. Propping a stepladder under the opening, he climbed up, peered in, and craned his neck. “That’s just what it is,” he confirmed, letting the door slam down with a bang. A small poof of dust materialized and dispersed.
Mrs. Randolph charged ahead and went out the back door into the garden. David quickly followed his wife, making Sarah wonder if his attentiveness was due to admiration or fear of admonition. He certainly seemed to be a docile soul. He had already apologetically explained that he and his wife would sometimes be absentee buyers while they settled matters at home—home being in North Carolina, Sarah learned.
As she leaned on the kitchen counter, watching her clients weave in and out among the cold weather cabbage and dry cornhusks, she contemplated whether they might make an offer.
Sarah’s thoughts drifted to a time when she and her husband, Carter, were looking for a house of their own, figuring out finances, and planning a family. She let out an audible sigh. “We were so happy when he first landed that teaching job at the local high school,” she reminisced, recalling, out loud, how her husband had anticipated spending endless hours in a well-equipped science lab. Of course, the advent of two children quickly changed that.
Sarah’s nostalgic smile began to uncurl when she was interrupted by a feeling that started at the base of her spine, crawled up her back and rippled across her shoulders—a distinct sensation that someone was standing behind her. She turned around, but no one was there. She dismissed it as a draft and continued waiting for the Randolphs.
When the Randolphs returned, Sarah led them up the narrow stairway to the second floor sleeping chambers, comfortably warm and smelling sweet from a tin of rose petal sachet. The last of the Covingtons had given great attention to the décor. The low ceiling of the master bedroom was met by a shallow rope bed, complete with a linsey-woolsey blanket and a beige and navy patchwork spread. She recognized the simple Shoo Fly pattern from her quilting class and admired the carefully cut triangles that played tricks on her eyes. She thought it interesting that the family had not selected a more sophisticated design—appliqué flowers centered on pristine white—since broderie perse was preferred by wealthier Colonial families. But, in that choice, Sarah saw a political stance—a disregard for European convention and a show of New World practicality. She liked that.
A bow-back Windsor rocker rested in the corner, scuffed at the rungs and worn where hands once gripped the arms. The shiny black finish revealed a hint of green milk paint at the edge of the seat where tired knees once bent over it and rubbed against the surface. On the spindly chair sat a much-loved doll with no face, stuffing making a quick escape at the elbows. A round silvered mirror with an ivory handle and matching comb were laid out on top of a bun-foot bureau, perhaps souvenirs from the first whaling days of Nantucket.
The Randolphs skeptically eyed the commode tucked next to the bed, but Sarah assured them that modern bathrooms had been added and that plumbing was up to code. They continued their cursory tour and returned to the first floor, enchanted by the setting. Downstairs in the dining room, the brass chandelier glowed; candles now replaced with small flame-shaped bulbs. How grand this room must have been hosting long-skirted women and powder-wigged men. A clavichord stood near an ornate Oriental screen. “Wonder if it still works,” Sarah mused, pressing a key only to jump back as a clarion note rang out.
Sarah was comfortable here and didn’t want to leave, but the Randolphs were ready to go. She handed them her business card and offered to meet again.
Sarah lingered a moment longer and watched them drive away. She locked up the house and, then, walked to her car, preoccupied. She slid into the driver’s seat and headed towards the highway, knowing a TV set and hungry kids would be waiting for her.
Coming home was a jolt. The television sounded more raucous than usual and the children’s video games, more annoying, in contrast to the peacefulness of the Tory house. Sarah made hamburgers and a salad, but they didn’t hold a candle to the plump game birds she imagined turning on a spit in that stone fireplace.
Jared, 11, and Abby, 9, were clamoring for attention, as was Carter. Their day, his day, what about her day?
Meal cleanup was tedious. There was homework to check. Laundry to do. Bills to pay. Just as she was tucking the kids in for the night, the phone rang.
“Mr. Randolph,” her husband said, handing her the earpiece. He could hear his wife’s side of the conversation. “Is everything all right?” He saw her nod. Nod again. She talked in a tired, but accommodating, voice.
“Tough day at the office?” Carter asked after she hung up. “Just the usual,” she sighed. “Good prospect. Lost sunglasses.
Have to go back to the Covington estate tomorrow.”
Carter was a calm, rock-solid sort of man—a good husband for someone like Sarah, who tended to be more volatile. Whereas Sarah was outgoing and empathetic, Carter had the unique ability to remain detached. He loved academia and the arts—and played the part well, sporting a neatly trimmed beard that matched his dark hair, which perpetually suggested he had no time for a haircut and that his patience for vanity ended at his ear lobes.
Carter alternated between two tweed jackets adorned with obligatory elbow patches, which he wore when the weather was cold. In warmer seasons, he relied on a handful of muted-tone cotton sweaters that generously bagged over his lean form. His students thought he was cool in an effortless sort of way.
Sarah could never tell whether Carter’s distraction was part of his absent-minded-professor persona or a natural proclivity to ignore the non-critical. She knew he cared for her deeply, but he could be dismissive when something was on his mind. Usually he would rally with a stern look or an exasperated “Carter!” at which point he would give her his undivided attention.
Recently he had traded his wire rim glasses for square tortoise shell frames, which Sarah thought made him look like an intellectual cover model. When she enthusiastically mentioned that she liked his new, distinguished style, Carter pooh-poohed it. “I needed a new prescription and these frames were on sale,” was all he had to say in his practical, man-of-few-words manner.
But, despite their personality differences, Carter knew his wife better than most men know their spouse and his cerebral nature led to a quiet understanding of give-and-take. He respected her space and, in turn, expected the same from her. When Sarah surprised him by saying she wanted to pursue a real estate license, he supported her fully, although it was a far cry from her original interest in social work. When they had children, he became an equal parental partner and bestowed in them his own trusting, almost naïve, optimistic outlook on the world.
That night, Carter could see the toll Sarah’s profession was taking. Standing behind her, he massaged her shoulders until she relaxed and crumpled against him. Exhausted, she peeled herself away and headed for the couch, sinking into the soft cushions, and curling up with a magazine. She leafed through the sections: Letters to the Editor, feature story, Fashion, Food…not seriously reading but scanning the headlines and glancing at the quotes. A sepia-toned perfume ad caught her eye. In it, a man’s strong arms encircled the slim waist of a woman, reminding Sarah of that sensation in the house—the presence she thought she detected, the awareness she momentarily felt—but she flipped the page, closed the magazine, and went to bed.
The next morning, after Carter had taken the kids to school and gone to work, Sarah retraced her steps to the old homestead. She watched the fields go by, the rock walls, red ivy, and zigzagged fence. She turned left and bounced along the rutted driveway.
The door key turned more easily this time, as if she and the house had come to terms. Walking into the mudroom and through the kitchen, she made her way up the stairs to the bedrooms and back down again. No sunglasses.
“What a waste of time,” she groused. Then she remembered the access door in the ceiling. “Could have fallen out when he was up there,” she thought.
She slid the ladder under the opening and, using the broom handle as Mr. Randolph had done, she propped the access door open. It gave way with a groan. Climbing to the top of the ladder, she looked around. There was hardly space for her shoulders to turn. Nothing up there. But, from her vantage point, she was able to see the missing sunglasses sitting on the corner of the desk below. She also noticed, on the floor near the foot of the ladder, a small white triangle.
Inching down, she bent over to retrieve it. The tiny tuft of paper had flourishes of brown ink around the edges and resembled the dog-ear of a book. Eager to get back to her office, she grabbed the sunglasses, along with the shred of paper, and slipped them into the pocket of her light wool camel hair coat.
Sarah’s day was uneventful as she checked her email and online listings. She returned a few calls and left a message for Mr. Randolph. Thumbing through the local paper, she noticed her Tory house proudly displayed mid-page. The copy read, “Recapture the days of yore with this vintage home listed on the Historic Register.” The ad featured a close-up of the 1714 sign decorated with a border that resembled the edging on her scrap of paper.
That evening, the Randolphs called again, wanting to know about renovations—what had been done before and what might be allowed within historic guidelines. “Let’s meet in the morning at the Historical Society,” Sarah suggested, “and then we can go back to the house for a closer look.”
While the Randolphs riffled through reference materials, Sarah pondered the design that had been replicated in two difference places. On a hunch, she approached the receptionist and asked about it. Sarah quickly learned that the decoration was adapted from a border found in Colonial printing and was frequently used in promotional materials. While that didn’t quite explain what the little piece of paper was doing on the floor of the house, Sarah figured it had surfaced during cleaning.
After poring over documents, photocopying blueprints of the home’s expansive east wing, and printing images from electronic files, she and the Randolphs left the town building and drove toward Baker’s Cove. Walking together from their cars, the Randolphs excitedly talked about adding modern amenities that would not affect the footprint of the home. Sarah took this conversation as a positive sign.
As the trio approached the house in the mid-day light, it was easy to see that the east wing was almost as large as the main house. They entered quietly, respecting the silence of their surroundings, and walked down the east wing corridor. Sarah poked her head into one of the rooms, spotlessly swept and basking in the sun. Were it not for a spider web in the doorframe, the room was move-in ready. There she saw an old trunk with a gold leaf ‘TC’ painted on the lid. “Thomas Covington,” she thought, “or maybe his son Thomas II. Could even be his grandson, Terrence.”
After a leisurely tour, Sarah and her clients went their separate ways. That evening, she noticed a rosy glow on her left cheekbone, under her eye. “Strange,” she thought, “Maybe a spider bit me.” But, the sensation didn’t hurt. It felt more like a kiss.
Several days went by without hearing from the Randolphs, but Sarah vowed not to be pushy. She busied herself at office, frequently the last to leave. One quiet evening, engrossed in her work, she failed to notice the clouds billowing across the horizon. Looking up and sensing an impending storm, she quickly shut down her computer, put on her coat, flipped the window sign from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’, and then hurried out, locking the office door behind herself.
Rain was beating down in pellets by the time she reached her car. She took the short cut through Baker’s Cove, hoping to lessen her commute, but suddenly her wheels caught a puddle and she hydroplaned across the yellow line. Slowly pulling over, adrenalin pumping, she phoned Carter to say she would be late.
“I’m glad you called,” he replied. “Don’t come through the meadow. The road is flooded.”
“Well, what do you expect me to do?” she said, feeling the tension rise in her voice. “The main drag’s no better.”
“Just wait it out,” he suggested in his typical, even-tempered manner.
“But I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere!” she said, frustrated by his seeming inability to grasp her predicament.
“You’re near that old house you were showing, right? Why don’t you hang out there ‘til this thing blows over? I’m sure no one will care.”
Sarah didn’t like the idea of being on someone else’s property, but she agreed. This time, in a sea of mud, her car wouldn’t make it up the drive, so she left it at the bottom near the road and sprinted the distance to the house, trying to avoid the rivulets cascading down the hill. Flicking rain from her shoulders, she pushed her key into the lock box to open the side door, which yielded more easily than before.
The house sat solemnly bathed in gray. Flipping on the lights, she saw two sconces come to life and realized they had been wired for electricity. Their reflection danced in the windowpane—a rectangle of glass so rippled it resembled a fun house mirror. As she chained the door closed, she was immediately struck by the warmth of the room. She walked to the thermostat to see if someone had left the heat on and let her hand trail in front of the fireplace.
“That’s ridiculous!” she told herself. “I’m in a deserted house.” She decided the warmth was just a stark contrast to the cold front blowing in. Stepping out of her wet shoes, she peeled off her soaking coat and damp blazer, and wrapping her arms around herself, went to the kitchen. She noticed tea bags in a lidded jar and took one.
As water heated in the heavy kettle, she thought about the small piece of paper in her coat pocket. Maybe it had fallen from the crawlspace, she reasoned. After all, paper was once used for insulation. “Wouldn’t it be fun to find an old newspaper up there or something even better?” she allowed. She has heard rumors about a Revolutionary War map hidden in the walls. The boiling kettle started to sing and broke her train of thought.
How good the hot tea felt coursing through her chest, and how appropriate to be savoring the same substance that had separated the Colonists and the British in this very place. She was fascinated with history and there she stood, smack in the middle of it. As she looked around the room, all her senses were on high alert.
Rain drove against the roof with the beat of a fife and drum corps. Wind buffeted the shutters, clapping them like cannon. As the old house creaked, she could almost hear the low moans of Colonial women as they birthed their children and grieved for the ones they lost.
The tea was bitter—she had let it steep too long—but the bitterness seemed right, taking her back to the days of hardship and sacrifice. As dampness surrounded her, she could smell the history of the house. The fireplace was center to all, and its smoky residue permeated everything else. Unconsciously, her hand caressed the counter top, and she could almost feel it respond. As she glanced down at her cup where steam rose in a small cloud, her thoughts lifted with it, up to the window, and out to the dark silhouette of the barn.
Staring at the imposing structure, she replayed a scene that came to her often, ever since she slipped out of childhood and into womanhood. There she was, radiant in her youth, running around a barn like this—flushed and laughing, golden hair flying in the sunshine—startling chickens that went squawking and scattering in her path. Close behind was a tall, handsome young man, a bit older than she was, long fair hair swept back in a black twill ribbon. Chased into the barn, he would capture her, pinning her against the wall. She was breathless and willing as he closed in for a kiss, lips soft and new. Muscular arms trapped her securely, but she didn’t struggle to break free. His muslin shirt was open at the neck and his skin glistened, tan from working in the fields. He wore trim woolen britches, a honey-hued leather vest, cream-colored stockings, and black hand-tooled shoes. He was strong but gentle at the same time.
The couple giggled, nuzzled, and flirted—stopping only to pull away, look at each other intently, and resume their romp. Sarah could never tell whether this was a vestigial memory, fantasy, or part of a dream.
Suddenly there was a knock at the side door, and Sarah snapped to attention.
“Town police. Is everything all right?” she heard as a bright beam of light swept along the crack at the floor.
She hurried to the door and pulled it open as far as the chain would allow. A rain-soaked officer was outside, holding up his badge. Seeing the blue strobe of his cruiser flashing behind him, she released the chain and he stepped inside, shaking off water like a wet dog.
“What can I do for you, officer?” she asked, unnerved by the intrusion.
“Noticed your car at the bottom of the drive, ma’am,” he said. “And then I saw the light in the roof…,” he continued, motioning upward. “I knew this house was empty, so I figured I’d better check.” Embarrassed, she explained the situation, pulling a soggy business card from her blazer. “No harm done, ma’am, but don’t forget to turn off the light. These old timbers can be a real fire hazard.” She nodded, thanked him, and closed the door.
“What light?” Sarah wondered as she headed for the stairs. “I wasn’t even up there…unless I left it on the other day…but I didn’t see it coming in….”
The third-floor landing offered a sweeping view across the fields, over the rock walls, to the hills now dark and obscured by rain. No wonder this had been such an ideal lookout for early settlers. Although a Tory roof usually signified allegiance to the King, Sarah knew that wasn’t the case here. Somewhere in the Covington line there had been a change of heart. While the family remained outwardly loyal for years, word is that grandson, Terrence, secretly sided with the Colonists and helped fuel the Revolution.
Sarah looked around the eave and saw a bright lantern hanging from the rafters. Reaching to turn it off, she heard a whisper. “Wait,” the voice said.
She spun around, heart racing. Again, no one was there. Frozen in place, daring not to move, she became aware of the smell of lavender and lemon. Herbal. Pleasing. Maybe with a hint of sweet grass. The scent seemed to soothe her nerves.
Trying to compose herself, Sarah took a deep breath. Slowly her anxiety lessened, changing from fear to calm—a state of relaxation so pronounced that she felt sedated. She blinked a few times, attempting to focus, but she was surrounded by the oddest sensation. She wasn’t exactly dizzy but felt weightless, as if swaying in a hammock on a summer’s day. She wondered if there had been something more potent than tea in her cup.
“What the hell is happening to me?” Sarah asked out loud, trying to bring rational thinking to an irrational situation. She had no answer.
Using a straight-back chair for balance, she anchored herself before easing onto on a small cot wedged under the eave. She lay back, covering her eyes with her hand to block any light that might seep through her heavy eyelids. She felt warm breath on her neck and the softness of hair falling over her face. There was pressure against her, but not in a threatening way. It was far more seductive. Caught somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, she tried to assess the situation. “Did I hit my head? Am I getting sick?” she questioned, but her thoughts moved as if in molasses. No, this was something distinctly different. Something she had never experienced before. Something she liked.
Sarah kept her eyes closed, giving in to the feeling. She was overcome with a sense of falling, a fast spiraling descent, then a prolonged landing in which she hovered, but never quite touched ground. “Going down the rabbit hole?” a cluster of brain cells taunted. Trying to stay lucid, she struggled to find a scientific explanation: “Maybe I was hyperventilating…maybe I’m hungry….” But no longer able to reason, she stopped resisting.
Sarah had no idea how long she drifted there, eyes at half- mast, brain on low battery, but a movement near the window jolted her. Unsteadily, she stood up and pulled the thin curtains aside. Nothing was there. The smell of lavender had vanished. The rain had slowed. As soon as her head started to clear, she reached for the light, but not before spotting a small tip of paper laying at her feet. She grabbed it, turned off the lantern, and went downstairs.
Fumbling in her coat pocket, she lined up the two shreds. The match was perfect as if piecing together a puzzle. Suddenly aware of the lateness, she pocketed both and rushed to leave.
The kids were asleep by the time she got home. Carter was in his favorite chair reading. Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know was playing in the background. “You OK?” he asked, rising to help her with her wet gear.
“I’m fine,” she said, hanging her coat on a hook. “Probably good that I waited out the storm.”
“There’s some tea left if you want…it should still be warm,” he offered.
“I actually had some at the house,” she replied.
Sarah wanted to share her experience, but something held her back. Maybe it was the thought that Carter would laugh or worse yet, grill her—or maybe it was the intrigue of savoring the unknown. Either way, the experience went to bed with her.
The Randolphs were on vacation, so final decisions about the house would not be made for a while. They had put down a deposit to take it off the market, and a week before their expected return, Sarah received a call from Ann.
“Mrs. Randolph, how have you been?” Sarah inquired, anxious to learn about their plans.
“Fine, honey—we’ve been thinking about the house and we want to take it to the next step,” Ann replied.
“Super,” Sarah said, trying to temper her excitement.
“We’d like to send our inspector out next week and were hoping you could meet him. We do want to build a greenhouse off the back, so we’ll need some measurements, too.”
“No problem. Just tell me when the inspector can come, and I’ll be there, tape measure in hand,” Sarah offered. She thought it odd that they didn’t insist on being there in person, but she let it slide.
“You’re a peach. I’ll email you the date and time,” Mrs. Randolph confirmed. “We’re just so busy down here….” Her sentence trailed off.
The following week, after receiving Ann’s email, Sarah bundled up in a thick wool sweater, suede boots, and a long forest- green, corduroy skirt. She grabbed her saddlebag pocketbook, cell phone, and tote on the way out the door. Someone from Stuart’s Inspection agency was to arrive at 9 a.m. so she made sure to be there earlier. She waited, but no inspector came. Soon she received a text: “En route. Please wait. Flat tire. Sorry. – Stu.”
Once again, Sarah was alone in the house. She walked up to the master bedroom and lifted the small ivory-handled mirror from the bureau. She checked her hair and made sure her cheeks were properly blushed. Her pale hazel eyes stared back, wide and innocent. As she stood there, she became aware of the fresh herbal scent that had greeted her before. “What a great air freshener,” she thought. “I’ll have to ask the cleaning crew what it is.”
Mirror in hand, she paused for one last look. That’s when she noticed in the reflection, a shadow that resembled the form of a man. She impulsively turned around to touch it, but it vanished beneath her fingertips. “Gotta get more sleep,” she chided herself. She returned the mirror to its resting place and walked out.
When Stuart knocked, Sarah was within reach of the doorknob. He stepped in and smiled. “Oh, I know something about this house already,” he claimed with a wink.
Skeptical, Sarah asked, ‘What do you mean?”
“Aside from the pretty lady standing in the doorway, this house has a lot of personality.”
Sarah brushed off the compliment, surprised that a housing inspector would be so forthright. She said nothing and just smiled in return. “Yup, seen it before,” he went on, “but not often. Most homes just sit there—but this one has life, energy.”
“Really?” Sarah replied, trying to appear nonchalant.
“This baby’s a keeper,” he muttered as he glanced around. “Just look at it!” he said, whacking a beam with his hand. Sarah encouraged him to move along.
“Where do you want to begin?” she asked.
“Let’s begin at the beginning,” Stuart chuckled, laughing at his own wit as they headed toward the cellar. Stepping aside to give him space, Sarah couldn’t help but notice how his hairline crept over his skull and settled somewhere on the back of his head. His work shirt was faded but neatly ironed. Stu was just a tad paunchy, but otherwise physically fit. His nails were surprisingly clean for someone who worked in the trades.
The inspection was routine: floors, walls, a search for water damage, bugs. “I can line you up with a termite guy, if you want,” he said as he headed into the keeping room. “Can’t be too careful with these antiques.” Then Stuart paused and looked at her intently. “Did anyone ever find that old map?”
“What map?” she asked, feigning naiveté, hoping to gain more information.
“Oh, there’s supposed to be an old Colonial map hidden somewhere on this property.”
“Fascinating!” Sarah exclaimed as if she had never heard the story.
Stuart continued to prod and poke, stopping occasionally to jot a note in a spiral pad which he returned by feel to his left shirt pocket. “You seem to know a lot about this house,” Sarah commented. “Not enough,” Stuart said, shining a flashlight along the ceiling. “These old homesteads always hold one more secret. Won’t speak to just anyone, you know.” She let him do the talking…and he did a lot of it.
“Heck, once I was in a house they said was haunted. Ten different families lived there and never a spook. Then—poof!—in moves this new family and the ghosts come out of the woodwork!”
“Was the family scared?” Sarah asked, now intrigued.
“Sure, at first, but then they got used to it. One ghost ended up being like a big brother,” he laughed.
“Well, I don’t really believe in ghosts,” Sarah stated, “though I guess I believe in the possibility. I’m generally pretty opened minded.”
“That’s what they said,” Stuart noted. “They, who?” Sarah asked, puzzled.
“The Randolphs. They said you were open to new ideas and were helping them with some renovations.”
“I almost forgot!” Sarah said, smacking her palm against her forehead as she remembered the greenhouse. She guided him to the proposed site and asked about the viability of the location. He assessed the ground and took some measurements of the supporting wall, producing a running narrative even though she was out of earshot. “Strange guy,” she thought, now eager for him to leave.
As Sarah returned to the kitchen, Stuart walked around the outside of the house, gazing up at the roofline and making additional notes. He stepped inside for one last look, starting at the top floor and working his way down, clicking off a few photos with his cellphone and talking into it. “That about does it for the main house. I’ll check the outbuildings before I leave,” he said, heading for the door, suggesting her company wasn’t needed or, perhaps, wasn’t wanted. “I left the light on, on the third floor, as you had it.”
Sarah thanked him and watched as he made his way to the barn, shed, and smokehouse. Following his form with her eyes, she imagined he was a farmhand helping the Covingtons bring a pig to slaughter. She could almost hear the squeals and could practically smell the sugary fruitwood burning in the smoking pits. After he drove away, Sarah hurried up the stairs to the alcove under the eave. Through a small window, Sarah scanned the panorama dotted with farms and orange trees. “So glad…so glad you’re here,” she heard in her mind.
Again, she felt light-headed and buoyant. Her pulse quickened. Her breathing became shallow. As the pressure against her chest increased, she backed against a wall to steady herself. She couldn’t move. She didn’t want to. She was the girl in her daydream, trapped by unseen arms. The force was magnetic, drawing her in. She was slipping yet strangely supported. Her head was spinning, her feet defying gravity.
“I’ve waited…waited so long,” the deep voice continued. She wanted to speak but couldn’t.
“What’s happening to me?” her logical brain demanded as her silent-self retorted: “I don’t know, but I’m not sure I care.”
Sarah could hear her own blood rushing in her ears. Every cell felt charged. Not daring to open her eyes, she yielded to the pull, and was suspended, as if being lifted and carefully carried to safety.
Drifting. Drowsy. The scent of lavender and lemon was upon her. She could hear the accelerated breathing of a man…a man who was enveloping her, pleasing her, forcing nothing but tracing her curves as if mapping a familiar road.
It wasn’t until much later that she found herself laying on the small cot under the Tory roof, not quite sure what had happened. She rubbed her eyes and tried to estimate the lapse of time. She shut off the light and walked slowly downstairs as if coming out of a deep sleep. She felt simultaneously rested and energized. That’s when she knew she would tell no one.
With the house inspection results filed, the transaction was underway. She sent the greenhouse specs to the Randolphs and assured them an in-depth report would follow. Although she tried to focus on daily tasks, thoughts of the Tory house kept intruding. Determined to get some answers, she planned to return on Saturday. “Someone else is looking at the old Covington estate,” she told her husband in a small white lie. She knew Carter was only half-listening, but she felt a need to justify her actions. “They want to be in line in case the sale falls through.”
Carter glanced up from the eggs he was scrambling. “No problem,” he said. “The kids will be playing at friends. They both got calls while you were in the shower. I can take them.”
“Thank you mucho; you’re the best,” she said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. She could hear Jared and Abby squabbling over a television show in the next room and knew that at 11 and 9, their age difference was akin to the Great Divide. “’Bye, guys!” she yelled to them, but neither answered.
“See you later,” Carter nodded. “When do you think you’ll be back?”
Knowing she had lost track of time before, she built in a cushion. “A couple hours…but don’t worry if I’m longer,” she covered. “I have to show them another property, too.”
“OK. If I’m not here, I’ll be playing golf,” Carter said. “The kids are good ‘til 4 and they’ll get dropped off.”
As Sarah headed toward the car, she told herself: “I really didn’t lie…. I am showing houses to another family…just not this house and not today….” It was so unlike her to stretch the truth that she immediately felt guilty. “But guilty of what?” she rationalized. “Nothing really happened. No one was there!”
Morning light filtered into the house, kicking off a crystal decanter and sending small prisms of color against the walls “What a great place,” she sighed. “The Randolphs are so lucky to have found it.”
This time she was brazen as she walked through the rooms. “OK, whoever you are—show yourself!” she demanded. There was no response. She stomped up the stairs and announced, “I want to see you! I want to see you now!” The house was silent.
Exasperated and feeling foolish, she padded down to the basement to check the electrical panel, thinking that might explain the unpredictable third floor light. She returned to the ground level with no reasonable explanation.
A perfectly natural voice called from the dining room, “Did you want me?”
Sarah stared wide-eyed, holding her breath. There, at the table, sat a commanding young man in a crisp red coat adorned with shiny brass buttons. He was slowly smoking a long- stemmed white clay pipe, leaning back to prolong each inhale. His fair hair was caught in a black ribbon, his britches defined his trim form, and his smile was the most winning she had ever seen. She stood mute. There was nothing unreal about him— other than his being out of place, out of time…and maybe, out of this world.
He was intently studying a folded piece of paper. “Come here and look at this,” he motioned. More intrigued than afraid, she edged closer.
“You’ll never see it from there, Sarah,” he laughed.
“My God, he knows my name!” she thought as she moved tentatively behind him.
“See, here’s the plan…for when the time is right. We’ll rendezvous at the house, take the weapons that are in the basement and meet the others at the gristmill. Then we’ll march to Concord and engage.”
Sarah hadn’t seen weapons in the basement when she checked the fuse box…but then again, she hadn’t been wearing a cotton apron, long skirt, and full-sleeved blouse as she suddenly was now. Sarah was speechless, which prompted him to add, “Don’t worry. They still think I’m a Tory, so we’re safe as long as I’m undercover.” Sarah blankly nodded as if she understood.
She noticed the tips of the page were missing and made a mental leap to the scraps of paper she had found. As she reached toward one of the corners, he looked up at her with a mischievous grin. “Oh, I was just teasing you,” he said, flashing a broad smile. “I just wanted to pique your interest.” She stared back, dumbfounded.
“You are interested, aren’t you?” he asked, coy and inviting.
She knew she had to answer, but she waited until the last possible moment. “Uh, I guess so,” she stammered.
“Of course, you are!” he exclaimed. “When I knew you before, we were inseparable. We’d make mad, passionate love in every room of the house,” he bragged.
The thought was deliciously naughty, but her responsible brain overrode it.
“Before?” was all she could manage to say.
“Yes—though that was long ago,” he said and gently added. “You returned to the cycle, but I didn’t.”
Sarah’s mind was racing. “Before? After? Cycle? What is this?”
The attractive man pushed back the chair and stretched his six- foot frame like a lean cat. Sarah dared to admire it from a distance.
“What do you want with me?” she tentatively asked.
“I want to continue the life we had. I want you by my side when we fight for what is ours.”
“Fight?” Sarah whispered.
“Yes, fight for the liberties we deserve as free people. Freedom from oppression under British rule.”
Sarah started to shake her head. “You must have me confused with someone else,” she said, backing away. “I don’t even know how I got here.”
“You belong here,” the stranger said as he stood up and moved closer. “Don’t run off now. It’s taken me forever to find you.”
Sarah forced herself to stand her ground and, in an ultimate test of proof, extended her hand to his forearm, fully expecting her fingers to pass through an apparition. To her surprise, her hand was met with cloth. Rough, hand-carded wool, dyed brilliant red, smoothed and folded many times over. She gazed up at him, amazed and intensely attracted. “Do I know you?” she whispered. “Oh, you know me better than you know yourself. We’re soul mates…kindred spirits…but we didn’t have enough time together.” He took her by the shoulders. “You must remember,
Sarah! Can’t you remember who we were?” he implored.
Sarah had no tangible recollection, but she felt so right standing there. “This is all happening too fast,” she told herself, as he leaned over, lips hovering near hers.
Sarah stepped back. “I can’t…. I’m married…. I have a husband…and kids….” she said out loud, not entirely convinced of her own words.
“Yes, and I’m that husband! Terrence Covington. I was your husband long before he was,” the handsome man challenged.
“What do you mean…before?” she started to ask.
“Stop talking, woman,” he grinned and pulled her toward him, planting a kiss squarely on her mouth. She was stunned, paralyzed. But, before she could protest, he came back for more.
When she recovered, she was standing alone in the room except for the subtle scent of lavender and lemon. She glanced down and noticed her skirt and apron were gone, replaced by a business- black pants suit. Someone was knocking at the door. Trying to look official, she hurried to see who it was.
“I was just curious,” a stranger said, peering in. “I know this house in on hold, but I’ve never repped one like it. When I saw your car in the drive, I thought you wouldn’t mind—agent to agent—if I took a little tour,” the over-dressed woman said as she elbowed her way in.
“Be my guest,” Sarah said, figuring she had no choice.
“Kind of old and musty,” the other agent huffed. “Not my cup of tea!” she remarked as she took off toward the stairwell and headed upstairs. Sarah could hear the floorboards squeak in the alcove under the Tory roof. After a quick glance around, the woman stormed down. “Someone should fix that light. Doesn’t even work,” she complained.
“Oh, really,” Sarah answered, amused. Clearly, the house ‘liked’ that woman about as much as she did.
“Well, thanks for your time,” the woman said as she ran her hand along a chair rail.
“Damn, splinter!” she swore, abruptly pulling her hand back. “Probably won’t be long until this property is back on the market. I can’t imagine people living here.” And, with that, she left.
Sarah sat down on the settle, bewildered.
“Guess you either like these old homesteads or not,” said an estranged voice. Sarah looked up and saw the compelling man standing in the hallway.
“I’ve gotta go,” she said, forcing herself to walk toward the door.
“Come back soon,” he said not moving.
Sarah hurried to her car, clearly rattled. After buckling her seatbelt, she nervously glanced at the building in her rear-view mirror. She saw nothing unusual. Just a vintage house basking in the glow of an autumn afternoon.
That Monday she went to the library, making a beeline to the cordoned-off genealogy section. Molly Rifkin, the librarian, had been there for years and was a wealth of knowledge. “Do you have anything on the Covingtons?” Sarah asked.
Molly adjusted her bifocals and toddled to a tall bookcase, dragging a sliding ladder with her and pointing upward. “Maybe you can reach it for me, dear. My hip’s just not what it used to be,” said the elderly librarian. “That thick brown volume with the leather tie.” “Oh, sure,” Sarah offered, steadying the ladder. She climbed to the top and retrieved the heavy book, handing it over.
Carefully, Molly brought it to a table. As if performing a sacred rite, she slowly opened the volume to a chapter marked with a strip of ribbon. “There you go, dear,” Molly said and headed back to her desk.
Sarah slid into a chair and pulled closer to the table. She noticed the frontispiece of the book bore the same Colonial design as the pieces of paper she had found. Immediately she looked around, fully expecting to see someone standing there, but all she saw was Molly staring at a computer screen.
Sarah flipped through the pages, hungry for information. “Terrence was the rebellious grandson of Thomas Covington and son of Thomas II. He was raised on the family farm as a staunch Royalist but had a penchant for politics at an early age. Although his parents wanted to send him back to England for proper schooling, he adamantly refused, far more intrigued by the promise of a new land.”
Sarah couldn’t read fast enough. “Terrence maintained the air of a loyal English gentleman, but those who knew him better said he was the first in the Covington line to question the King and acts of Parliament.”
“Posing as a Stamp Agent for the Admiralty Court, he’d slip away to the Long Room of the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston and meet secretly with a group of activists, who later became the Sons of Liberty. Some say he was among the men who ransacked the Hutchinson House in 1765, but that has yet to be proven. Records do show that he confronted General Gage’s army in the western part of the state and later went to New York City to support the Liberty Boys.”
“A well-to-do, strapping young man, Terrence was the fancy of many young woman, but he deflected their advances in favor of his true love, Sarah Hawthorne.” Sarah was spellbound. Her mother came from the Hawthorne line!
“Terrence wooed Sarah until she was old enough to wed. She blossomed around him and, according to local accounts, was often heard singing in the garden behind their house. By revealing his dual identity early in their relationship, he embroiled her in a role she never expected, posing as the devout Loyalist wife, while surreptitiously aiding her young revolutionary husband.”
“Sarah delighted in the masquerade as much as Terrence and was often with him during his most daring escapades. When Sarah became pregnant, friends weren’t surprised. She and Terrence seemed truly in love. Her pregnancy was uneventful until the baby was born a few weeks earlier than expected. Several days later, Sarah died. However, the infant survived.”
“After that, a heartbroken Terrence stayed close to home, raising his son and tending his land. Once the son had grown and taken a wife of his own, Terrence climbed into the Tory roof and shot himself. The note he left said, ‘Please forgive my selfish ways, but I cannot go on. All these years, I have longed for Sarah and missed her so. I am joining her now, because I can bear it no more.’”
Sarah stared at the page, entranced. The chapter concluded: “Today you can find Terrence Covington buried next to his young bride in the Southbridge Cemetery near the old town church.”
Sarah issued an audible “Wow,” then walked slowly toward the ladder to put the book away.
“Are you OK, dear?” Molly asked. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
Sarah nodded, but thought more accurately, “I feel as if I am
Sarah drove to work in a daze but, not being able to concentrate, left the office early to pick up her kids.
Jared was a handsome boy now in fifth grade. He had a lopsided smile, warm brown eyes, and a constant shock of dark hair falling into his face over his right eye. He resembled his father in many ways, elusive and introspective, but capable to breaking into a string of bad puns and self-deprecating humor that would surely serve him well later in life. Sarah had encouraged him to make friends at school, but she knew it wasn’t easy. He wasn’t exactly a loner, but it took time for people to win his trust. She had pushed him into scouting in hopes that he would find new buddies and gain confidence in camping. That tactic seemed to be working. In recent weeks, he spent increasing amounts of time with friends, shooting her disarming looks as if to say, “I know what’s going on.” In fact, she often got the feeling he could strip away what others were trying to hide. Not unlike herself.
Abigail was a third-grader, who enjoyed nail paint and pigtails, microscopes and mechanical toys. She was part princess, part tomboy. Other than fussing over her strawberry-blond hair, she had her father’s “I don’t care” attitude when it came to clothes and grooming. Even at this young age, Abby had mastered the art of getting attention by wearing mismatched socks and sweaters inside-out that would cause people to stop and comment. Sarah suspected Abby’s rebellion was related to her own career pursuits, being away more often that she should and now, distracted by the lure of the house. But, Abby never expressed resentment. Instead, the young girl busied herself with school projects and crafts, becoming precociously independent and bluntly opinionated. Sarah could see in Abby a curiosity not unlike her husband’s. This was a child, who marveled at caterpillars and computers with equal awe.
Both children dove into the middle seat of the minivan, bursting with details of the day—a stark contrast to the times they sat sullen and tight-lipped. Sarah welcomed their unbridled conversation. Jared was going on a field trip and needed a permission slip signed. Abby had been selected to be a flower in the school play.
Sarah looked at their glowing faces. Life was good and full, and she reprimanded herself for mucking around in the past. Carter wasn’t home yet, but she knew she could count on him to be there for dinner. As a high school science teacher, his hours were predictable, and he was the epitome of reliability. She often felt he was an anchor in life’s storms.
Sarah spent extra time that night making her family’s favorite meal—cucumber salad seasoned with sweet vinegar, chicken parmesan, garlic bread, and spaghetti. She even set the table with a checkered tablecloth and bright red napkins. The only thing missing was an empty bottle of Chianti plugged with the stump of a candle dripping wax dramatically down the side.
Dinner preparation took time, but she didn’t care. It helped keep her mind off the Covingtons and assuage the guilt she was feeling about her clandestine encounter. But, try as she might to forget the intriguing family from long ago, she knew she would have to visit the Covington plot in the Southbridge cemetery.
That weekend, she took Abby for a morning walk. They strolled through the center of town, past the war memorial, and over the brook to the little cemetery behind the church.
Although a killing frost had wiped out much of the tender foliage, clumps of asters clung to life in protected corners of the graveyard. Bees, slowed to a catatonic state, affixed themselves to the curled purple flowers, feeding on the last available nectar and soaking up the weak rays of sun.
Fascinated by inscriptions, Abby led the way, unaware of the somber atmosphere cemeteries were supposed to hold. “Look, Mom! Here’s one with angels and a lamb,” Abby announced, as she slalomed around the gravestones. It says, ‘Little did I know I’d die so young, but I breathed the Lord’s life and my heart has sung’.” Abby read slowly, looking at her mother for an explanation.
Sarah bent down and explained that it was a child’s grave. Abby’s demeanor darkened until a squirrel caught her eye. She followed it to a small mound. “This way!” Abby called as she conquered the little hill. “Cov-ing-ton,” she sounded out. “I think the whole family is here.”
Sarah felt an instant chill as she walked toward her daughter. The tallest stone was that of Thomas Covington, family patriarch, born 1690. To the right were his wife, Elizabeth, and their son,
Thomas II, born 1712. Also interred was Hester, wife of Thomas II, and their three boys, Thomas III, Theodore, and Terrence, born between 1735 and 1742. When Sarah saw the last marker for Terrence, she uttered an irrepressible “Oh!”
“What’s the matter?” Abby asked.
Sarah explained, “I just read about this person.”
“What did you read?” Abby bent down to pick up a handful of acorns as she waited for an answer.
“I read that Terrence Covington lived in the house I am trying to sell,” Sarah replied, not telling all.
Next to Terrence’s grave was a pure white stone etched with the profile of a woman. Abby’s attention shifted to the carved marker. “This one’s pretty. The lady looks like you when you wear your hair up,” she observed. Sarah stood still, her eyes darting between the two headstones.
The inscription on Terrence’s stone referred to his wife. “Too young to leave a son behind, always in my heart and mind. I will lie near you to finally rest, but only after I fill my quest.”
“What’s a quest?” Abby asked.
“It’s like a search…a long search,” Sarah answered, not paying complete attention. She was too busy reading the information on the white stone: “Sarah Hawthorne Covington: 1747-1766.”
Abby reached up to touch the cold marble.
“She was only 19 when she died,” Sarah said, a note of sadness creeping into her words. She remembered how full of life she had been at that age.
“That’s way old,” Abby decided, seeing the world from a child’s perspective.
“Well, just wait until you’re 19, my dear. It all goes by very fast,” Sarah cautioned as she guided Abby toward the gate. “We’ll come back another time, maybe in the spring,” she promised.
“What happens when you die?” Abby asked, deep in thought as they left the cemetery.
“No one knows for sure,” Sarah said, “but we like to think it’s something pretty and peaceful.” She hugged Abby and they walked home, hand in hand.
Sarah wasn’t certain Abby had grasped the connection between life and death, but it felt good talking about the natural progression of things. “You can ask Daddy more about it,” she had suggested, figuring Carter would provide a scientific spin.
Abby fed her fish as Sarah prepared lunch. “Could there be such a thing as reincarnation?” Sarah wondered as she set out jars of peanut butter and jelly. “Maybe there’s a portal—like a black hole—that would allow us to move between realms. What if it were possible to manipulate time to make a spiritual connection?” Sarah couldn’t shake these bizarre thoughts.
“Want some soup, Jared?” she called to her son, now plunked comfortably in front of the TV. “Abby?”
They both yelled back almost in unison. “Sure. Alphabet soup.
Not that weird pea stuff.”
Sarah laughed. “Don’t worry. No green pea,” she said, smiling as she went to the pantry.
Life in the present certainly had its moments.
That afternoon, just before the Randolphs were to arrive, the weather turned raw and windy. From the doorway, Sarah watched the fallen leaves spin across the driveway. “This is how it all began,” she thought, getting a distinct sense of dejà vu. The Randolphs’ car pulled in and Mrs. Randolph rolled down the window to wave.
“Hi, Mrs. Randolph,” Sarah called as she threw on a coat and reached for her tote. “I’ll be right there!” Sarah could hear Mrs. Randolph call back, “Ann, please!” This time the Randolphs would be driving. Sarah slid into the back seat with the idea of relaxing. The Randolphs appeared healthy and rested. Their skin was coppered from the sun and both exuded a sense of the good life. David looked as if he had just stepped off the links at Pebble Beach, wearing a pale pink shirt, tan pants, and a navy blazer—far less substantial than New England temperatures required at this time of year. Sarah noticed a thick gold chain on his left wrist and a matching ring on his left pinky finger.
Ann’s style was casually sophisticated and hinted of Old Hollywood as if you might meet her in a post-war cabaret where she would plant an air kiss on both cheeks before dashing off to someone more interesting. She always smelled of expensive shampoo and spa treatments. Sarah imagined Ann with long red nails, a thin cigarette holder, and crimped hair, saying things like “Over there, darling,” or “Pour me the Dom Perignon, please.”
“What a great escape,” Ann sighed. “The sun. The sand. The palm trees. Splendid.” Her eyes rolled back as if she were lolling on a beach.
Mr. Randolph goaded her on, “Sure, so strenuous, she almost didn’t have time to think about the greenhouse,” he teased.
“Nope, got my plans right here!” Ann said, patting a large flat envelope at the side of her seat.
“Have you been keeping an eye on the house for us?” Mr. Randolph asked over his shoulder. “I’m sorry we haven’t moved faster, but we’ve been up against some deadlines at school….”
Ann completed the sentence for him, “…and we had to take our vacation days before we lost it.”
“No problem,” Sarah answered. “I swung by a couple times.” Mr. Randolph glanced at his wife. “And was everything in order?” he asked, quickly adding, “I heard you’ve had some serious weather up here.”
“Oh, just fine,” Sarah answered. “No damage. But I ended up there one night on the way home. I hope you don’t mind; it was kind of an emergency. The road through the meadow was flooded and it was pouring so hard I couldn’t see, so I waited it out. The house was amazingly warm and—no leaks!” she caught herself. Mrs. Randolph turned and smiled, seemingly unbothered by her impromptu visit.
When they got to the house this time, the door was open. “Oh, no!” Sarah said, rushing in. “Look at this!” Wet leaves were blown across the floor and there were stains where water had dried. “I’ll get a cleaning crew in here tomorrow,” she apologized. “I’m sure I locked this, but I know there have been other real estate agents interested in the property.”
Mr. Randolph seemed concerned. “I hope nothing was taken,” he said immediately, on second thought adding, “Do you think another buyer could interfere with the sale?”
“Oh, no, just looky-loos,” Sarah assured. “I guess until that ‘Sale Pending’ sign comes down and a ‘Sold’ sign goes up, it’s not a done deal.”
As the Randolphs headed upstairs to make sure everything was intact, Sarah stayed on the ground floor. She settled into a rocking chair and called the cleaning crew on her cell. “Good, good,” she said as they promised to come over the next day and tidy up.
“So good,” a deep voice responded.
Sarah turned around and saw Terrence—or at least the appearance of Terrence—standing in the doorway. Tall, lanky, and terribly handsome. The Randolphs were gone, and there she sat, enveloped in a long, lace-trimmed cotton dress. “You scared me,” she said, trying to regain her composure.
“Never let me scare you,” he said with a tenderness she did not expect. She felt her defenses lessen.
“I, uh, just don’t know you very well,” Sarah replied, her words halting.
“But you do,” he insisted, taking her hands. “You’re my Sarah from long ago.”
None of this made sense and, yet, it seemed perfectly natural. She studied him closely. His face was clean-shaven, his jaw, square. His fingers were strong from working the earth, but they were tapered and refined by heritage. His hair rivaled the hay baled along the road.
She looked up into his eyes—piercing blue eyes—trying to size them up, delve into them. They held her fast, dismantling her modern liberation, dissolving her professional reserve, relegating her present-day husband and family to another age. She stood there, vulnerable and unguarded, a woman with a fiery heart, who lived centuries ago.
“I want to know what’s going on,” she demanded, hearing her own voice take on the quality of a stranger.
“And I would tell you if I could, but I don’t know how you came to be here and why now,” Terrence confided. “I promise I won’t hurt you.”
While Sarah couldn’t explain it either, she knew she was slipping into the life of someone else. Someone different, but remarkably familiar.
Terrence steered her down a hallway, to a rope bed. They sat for a while, talking. He traced the contours of her face and unbuttoned her blouse. She could feel the warmth of his hands on her neck and collarbone, moving down, flat against her skin. She reached under the folds of his shirt and explored the smoothness of his chest. She had traveled this turf before. White noise buzzed in her ears. Her surroundings fell away. Gentleness gave way to passion, and their intimacy left her breathless.
They lay there, spent—her hair ending where his began. Sarah looked up at the beamed ceiling and then around the room. Her lace-edged dress was crumpled on the floor, a pile of petticoats next to it. Terrence pressed his lips against her shoulder. “You’d better leave through the back door,” he whispered. She numbly agreed, not knowing why.
Sarah became aware of a clavichord playing in the background and heard distant voices of children being scolded. She pulled away to say something, but he covered her mouth with his hand. “Shhh. They don’t know we’re here. They’re too busy preparing the harvest feast.”
They, who? And what feast? Her mind was galloping, trying to make sense of it all. “An early Thanksgiving,” she thought, attempting to remember when the day became a national holiday. But, rational thinking had no place here nor did rigid timelines. “How can this be?” she wondered as she slid off the bed, tiptoeing as not to break the spell.
“I have to go now, too,” he said, eyes turning into a blustery ocean. “They’re expecting me, but I’m not sure they’re ready for you.”
Sarah shook her head in agreement as if she understood, but she understood nothing. It was all too strange, too bizarre, and too enticing to ignore.
She reached for her clothes, but the carefully hand-stitched garments were now replaced by denim. She slipped on her jeans and pushed her toes into her boots. As she opened the door to the back hallway, she could smell turkey, warm bread, and sweet spices. When she stepped outside, the harvest feast was gone, replaced by a gust of cold wind.
“There you are, Sarah,” said Mrs. Randolph, rounding the house and jolting Sarah back to reality. “We should be going. Our greenhouse plans look like they’ll work, and we have a great idea for an office.” Preoccupied with their individual thoughts, no one said much as Mr. Randolph drove through the leaves that whipped across the road. Bare branches scraped the sky and tore into the clouds.
“Must have been tough traveling through these parts in the olden days,” he said, finally breaking the silence. “Those folks had a lot of endurance.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Sarah thought to herself. That night she dreamed about Terrence and the old house.