Stuart leaned back in his swivel desk chair and exhaled with a definitive sound of satisfied accomplishment. His printer, busily churning out his precise and thorough list of conditions to be met before he would turn over his life's work. Stuart preferred to think of them as his demands because he would not waiver on any single item. He carefully checked his work one last time before heading back to Columbia University. His plan had been meticulously orchestrated and there was no margin for error. Dr. Curry had already called it a day and was closing his briefcase when Stuart arrived.
"Besser…I wasn't expecting you back so soon. Well...what do you have for me?"
Stuart removed a stack of papers from an oversized manila envelope and dropped them on the desk. Dr. Curry promptly scooped them up and quickly studied Stuart's detailed list. His eyebrows raised slightly as he vocalized his reaction with a few " hmmmm's" and "Uh huh's" and then finally, "You serious, Besser?"
"Quite serious. Have a problem with it?"
"No, I didn't say that but I'm going to need some time. Have to make a few calls…but I do believe I can make this happen."
"Good. I'll be waiting…but don't take too long."
Stuart walked out as Dr. Curry sat down to fully examine the list. He could not believe that he would finally get his hands on what could be the most extraordinary scientific finding in the history of man. He would do whatever Besser wanted, no matter how crazy, because he was not about to let this once in a lifetime opportunity slip through his fingers.
For the next month, life had carried on quietly for all. Kate remained in the country; visiting the city on occasional weekends. Her health was excellent and her pregnancy uncomplicated. Kate had some unexpected good fortune when she was offered and accepted, a prestigious job as the editor-in-chief of an online marketing trade journal. It was perfect for her since she could work out of the house and would rarely need to attend a meeting in person. Kate wanted to always be there for her son and was beginning to accept the reality that she could always would be a single parent. Although Leopold would never be there to help raise their child, Kate fully intended to make certain that little Leo always knew who his father was. At least she had pictures and stories to prove that his father had really existed. She had no idea what she would actually tell Leo about his father, but she gratefully had ample time until that day came.
Emotionally, nights were still the toughest for her, especially with the addition of Little Leo's acrobatics. Kate's nights had already been consumed with thoughts and longing for Leopold and now their son shared the painful nights along with his mother. Although she continued to move through the expected and normal stages of grief, Kate doubted that she would ever reach a level of true acceptance for what she had lost.
Life in America did not prove to be as bountiful for Leopold as Millard had hoped. Even he found it difficult to witness his nephew struggling with the unexplained disappearance of Kate. Millard encouraged Leopold to return to England, but Leopold would hear of no such thing. Leopold would argue that Kate would never be able find him if she returned. Millard and his wife had returned to England for several months and set sail without their nephew. But now, Leopold could bear no more and finally made the decision to spend the rest of his life far from New York and the memories of his wife. After several months of holding onto hope that she would return to him, Leopold finally decided to move back to England later that month.
In preparation for his journey home, Leopold had sold his invention to a small but promising engineering firm in New York. He had lost interest and his ability to concentrate on schematic drawings and engineering plans. Part of the sale contract allowed for Leopold to name the division which would eventually market the future elevator. Leopold chose the name "Otis" to honor the man whom Leopold felt loved him above all others.
Stuart had been back to school for only one week when Dr. Curry called with his news; all of Stuart's conditions were accepted and he was free to sign an agreement and pick his research up. Stuart was ecstatic, but not without mixed emotions as well. He took a leave of absence from his teaching position and quickly returned to New York. Taking possession of his life's work was like welcoming back an old friend. He immediately began spending countless, sleepless nights delving into complicated mathematical calculations. It took him two weeks to be certain that the equations were accurate and his data correct with 100% certainty. The date was set for the 3rd Friday in November. Less than one week before Thanksgiving, which Stuart thought was quite fitting.
The day had finally arrived and Stewart was up early, but not too early. He wanted to wait until the morning rush hour began to wind down and the number of pedestrian commuters on the bridge was at a minimum. Stuart wore the same disheveled ensemble that he sported the first time he had jumped though the portal. He somehow had the misconceived notion that he looked like he belonged, when in actuality he stood out like a sore thumb. At 8:30 A.M. he left his apartment and headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge.
Stuart had vacillated on whether or not to even let Charlie know of his plans. He had kept it a secret up until now because he could never quite trust Charlie to not go running off to his sister with the news. What would happen if he then returned without Leopold? Even he would not take the chance of further breaking Kate's heart. He decided that keeping the secret until he returned was for the best.
It was a predictably chilly day for November; the sky clear and strikingly blue. Stuart walked briskly; very much like a man on a mission. Although he did not consider himself religious in any way, he prayed to whichever God would listen to him for a safe and successful trip to retrieve Leopold. He was soon painstakingly moving across the steel girder and leaping toward the frigid waters of the East River.
Stuart could never begin to describe the actual experience of passing through time, but in an instant he was standing on a cobblestone street in 1876 as if he had been there all along. It was as he remembered; bustling and lively, but yet, elegantly refined. No one seemed to pay much attention to the oddly dressed man who quickly navigated his way to Millard's stately home. Stuart knocked anxiously on the thick wooden door. It was promptly opened by a younger footman who momentarily lost his composure upon the sight of a clearly out of place man.
"May I …..help you, Sir?" the footman asked, eyeing Stuart suspiciously.
"Yeah…I need to see Leopold."
"And whom may I say is calling, Sir?" The footman hesitantly inquired.
"And your full name, Sir?"
"Just Stuart….he'll know who it is."
The footman was clearly displeased with not being able to obtain a simple piece of information like a last name. "Very well Sir. Please wait here."
"Hurry! I need Leopold…right now!" Stuart yelled as he was about to boldly walk into the house.
And with that, the door quickly closed, leaving Stewart standing purposely outside. The young footman might be new to domestic service but he knew enough to not allow a seemingly crazy man into his master's home. He left to locate Otis, who would know exactly what to do.
Stuart began pacing back and forth, He wasn't sure that Leopold was even there. This was a one time opportunity…there were no second chances. If he returned without Leopold, he would still have to give his work up. This did not sit well with Stuart. Several moments later, the door opened and a pleasant looking older gentleman stepped outside.
"Excuse me Sir, may I be of assistance?"
"Yes! I need to see Leopold…right now." Stuart responded as he climbed a few steps closer to Otis. "Is he here?"
"Yes…he is. And your name, Sir?"
"Your full name?"
"Jeeze! Besser…Stuart Besser."
"And you are acquainted…..how?"
Stuart was losing his patience with what he perceived as some sort of interrogation. "A friend!" He shouted a bit louder than Otis was usually accustomed to hearing.
"Very well, Sir. Please wait here." Otis didn't think Stuart seemed dangerous; just odd. But nevertheless, it seemed best to have him wait safely outside.
"Yeah…yeah." Stuart muttered under his breath. He knew he was less then welcomed, but as long as he got to see Leopold, who cared what the help thought about him.
Otis promptly closed the door behind him and walked upstairs to Leopold's quarters. It was 9:00 A.M and in the past, Leopold would have already been up since 6:00 AM; washed, dressed, fed and busy with his invention. Nowadays, he often slept late, citing that he had nothing to wake up for. There was not much to be done for depression at that time or melancholia as it was known. But, everyone in the house knew that the young Duke was suffering.
Otis quietly entered the darkened room, announcing that it was quite late and time for Leopold to begin his day. He pulled open the heavy draperies, allowing the bright morning light to fill the room. Leopold groaned, pulling the blanket over his head.
"Your Grace, there is a gentleman outside requesting to speak with you."
"I am not in the mood to see anyone this morning."
"Very well, I shall send him away."
"Wait, who is it, Otis?" Curiosity had gotten the best of Leopold. He could not imagine who would be paying a visit.
"He said his name is... Stuart Besser. I doubt you are even acquainted with him."
Leopold could not imagine that he had heard Otis correctly. "What did you say his name was?"
"Stuart Besser." Otis responded, enunciated each syllable distinctly.
Leopold pulled the blanket down and quickly sat up. "You must be mistaken."
"No, I am quite certain, your Grace. Are you even acquainted with this gentleman? He seems quite adamant and, well...peculiar."
Leopold immediately felt the adrenalin pulsing through his veins and his heart beating wildly. With that description, Leopold knew that is was Stuart. He gave no thought as to how to explain their connection and impulsively cried out, "He has brought Kate back to me. She is here…I am sure of it." Leopold was out of bed in an instant and frantically pulling clothing out of the armoire.
"He appears to be alone, your Grace."
"No, you are wrong…Kate is here. I am certain of it. She is just hesitant to come directly to the house."
Leopold quickly removed his sleep garments and pulled on the first pair of pants he could lay his hands upon. Otis held out a shirt and attempted to assist Leopold with the multitude of buttons. Leopold declined his help and rushed out of the room with his shirt partially buttoned and barefoot.
He stood at the top of the stairs for a moment, to gather himself; taking several deep calming breaths before descending the expansive staircase. His anticipation and speed grew the closer he got to the bottom. Leopold opened the front door and saw Stuart standing on the sidewalk. He practically leaped down the stairs; surprising Stuart with a sturdy embrace.
"Good Lord, Stuart!" Leopold cried out as he anxiously scanned the area certain that Kate would appear at any moment." Where is she? Where is my wife?"
"She's not here …I came alone." Stuart watched Leopold's expression of nervous anticipation surrender to complete despair.
"Then why have you come alone? Is she..." Leopold hesitated, afraid to ask the next question. "Have you come bearing bad news?" Leopold looked away, afraid to make eye contact with Stuart.
"No...that's not it. She's fine."
"So she no longer cares for me?" Leopold's voice was laced with pain.
"No! That's not it either. She doesn't even know I'm here. Look, we need to talk …in private" Stuart said as he looked up at Otis who watched with curiosity from the open door.
"Very well." Leopold obliged; there was nothing else that Stuart could say that could make matters worse. He had nothing else he could possibly lose. Leopold led Stuart through the house to a small sitting room. He closed and locked the door before taking a seat on a brown leather arm chair. "Very well….tak."
"I came to bring you back." Stuart said somewhat matter-of-factly.
"Back?" Leopold looked at Stuart with a baffled expression. "But, I had wanted to stay and you said…"
"Yeah…I know what I said….but I was wrong. She didn't belong here, you belong there."
Leopold stood and faced Stuart. "And you came to this realization…how?"
"Well….she loves you…she's devastated."
"And may I remind you that she left me."
"She made a mistake. She begged me to help her get back, but I couldn't. I wanted to."
'But, yet here you are. Explain why you are here alone."
"This is why." Stuart reached into his jacket pocket and handed a photograph to Leopold.
"What is this?" Leopold asked as he studied the strange and somewhat unidentifiable image.
"Your son. You're going to be a father, Leopold."
"My….son?" Leopold inhaled a deep breath and looked again at the picture. Shaking his head in disbelief, he looked back at Stuart. "This is a photograph of an unborn child? Impossible!"
"Pretty amazing…huh? So, now you know why she isn't here with me and why you belong there. Your child, although unborn, is alive in the 21st century and the world has not collapsed. Elevators are still working. I was wrong about it all."
"So... she really has no knowledge that you are here?"
"No…no one knows. How about if I couldn't find you and came back alone? So? You are coming back with me, right?"
"This is so sudden and unexpected. My head and thoughts are spinning out of control. But, yes! Of course I will!" Leopold exclaimed. "We shall then return one day with our child, as a family." This was the first time Leopold smiled. It was more than a smile, he was jubilant, holding his hand over his heart as if it might burst with happiness.
"I have to tell you one thing." Stuart said, his expression changed to serious. "You can't ever come back."
Leopold hadn't thought beyond the idea that he could be reunited with Kate. The notion of never being able to return and that he would never see Otis or his family again now seemed unthinkable. That they will never see him happy and with a family. He would have to say goodbye forever to Otis, today and he would never be able to say goodbye to his family or Constance. And, what could be possibly say to Otis? He couldn't actually say that he leaving forever.
"I need some time to think." Leopold said; his new found happiness tempered by feelings of sorrow. But, never seeing Kate again was even more inconceivable.
"I know you'll make the right decision. Here….take this." Stuart said as he handed an empty, oversized backpack to Leopold. "Pack whatever you're bringing in here. You surely don't need to bring extra clothes. But…think about what you have.…..coins, jewelry, books. It could be worth a lot of money."
Leopold nodded in acknowledgement of what Stuart was suggesting. They walked to the front door and shook hands. Stuart voiced a few last words of encouragement and promised that he would be back in a few hours.
Leopold returned to his quarters so he could sit for a short time and try to absorb everything that had just taken place. But, within a few minutes, Otis knocked at the door.
"Come in Otis, I need to speak with you at once."
"Certainly, your Grace." Otis responded as he entered the room and looked quizzically at the strange item Leopold carried. "Please enlighten me as to whom this gentleman is."
"Stuart is….a friend." Leopold hesitated for a moment. "You will not believe why he has come. He has located Kate and wishes to bring me to her."
"This is wonderful news, your Grace." Otis looked at Leopold with a curious expression. "You do not appear happy. Why would you seem troubled by this news?"
Leopold could not tell Otis why he was troubled. He could not tell him that everything he would say to him from this moment on would be a lie; that he would never see him again or the child Otis would know nothing about or that he would be living in another time Otis could never imagine.
"Stuart informs me that Kate is... quite a distance and if I were to go I will be gone for some time. Actually…..quite some time.." Leopold hated lying to Otis, but he didn't know what else to say. How could he tell Otis that "some time" actually meant forever.
Otis did not seem troubled by the idea of an extended trip; that was more of the norm in those days. "But you will eventually return with her. Your Uncle seems to be a changed man and will welcome you both home."
"Yes...we would return some day." Another lie. "Otis…..how do I know that this is the right path for me? So much has happened between Katherine and myself."
"What does your heart tell you, Leopold?"
"It is telling me to go to her; that I cannot live without her."
"Well then…there is your answer, Leopold. There is no instinct like that of the heart…. .it will never deceive you."
Leopold carefully and completely memorized this moment; the sound of Otis' kindly voice, the joyful glint in his eyes, the face of this gentle soul. All that Otis was, Leopold would carry in this memory for eternity.
Leopold could no longer contain all of his news. "Otis, there is more to tell." Leopold took a breath as he looked down and breaking his eye contact with Otis. He didn't speak and was clearly overcome with emotion.
Leopold looked up with a smile which did not quite match the pain in his eyes. He knew Otis would never know his child and now he regretted what he was about to reveal. "Kate is with child."
"This is wonderful news, your Grace. But, you must be aware that this changes everything. Now you must alter your plans and return home immediately with the Duchess."
"Immediately?" Leopold questioned.
"Certainly. She will require specialized care. And how would you live? I mean no disrespect but, you will now have a family to feed and a roof to keep over their heads. In as much as you and your Uncle do not see eye to eye...he is your sole means of support, Leopold.
"Then I am a man whom cannot provide for his own family. What sort of man is that, Otis? That is a disgrace...is it not?" Leopold said, looking away in shame.
"You cannot help the life you were born into, Leopold."
"Yes...you are correct. I cannot change my past, but now I see that the future of my family is within my grasp to change. I have much to think about and a decision to consider. I cannot make a mistake because it will be irreversible."
"I do not understand your meaning" Otis replied with a puzzled expression.
"May I have some privacy now." Leopold asked.
"Certainly, your Grace. Just ring when you need me."
Otis left the room, closing the door behind him. Leopold picked up the backpack and sat on the edge of his bed. He looked around the room at the trappings of his Victorian life as he held onto an object from what could be, his life in the future. He thought his decision had been made, thought that his love for Kate was all that was needed. But now, he had been hit hard with a painful dose of reality. He would need much more than just love to be a proper husband and father. Leopold had always lived as a man of honor. In his shattered heart, he knew that becoming a lifelong burden to Kate would be the dishonorable thing to do. He would be nothing more than another mouth to feed. He sat on the bed, dropping the empty backpack on the floor. He wept as he questioned what he had done to deserve this sorrow. Happiness had finally been within his grasp and it was cruelly snatched out of his hands.