"You'll never catch me, Sis!" Annie tore after the tall shape of her older brother, giggling so hard she could barely run. The smell of cherry blossoms in the spring air was lovely, surrounding them. Her pinafore was already grass stained, but she didn't care. It was warm and she was having a wonderful time.
"Wait!" She called breathlessly, "We're going too far!" She stopped, seeing the looming figure of the mansion just ahead. "Henry, stop!"
She looked around, trying to find her brother in the tress, but was nowhere to be seen. Creeping over to the hedge, she scanned the area.
"Henry?" She whispered, stopping dead when she heard the sound of other children's voices.
"I don't care, Devonny." A boy's voice said in irritation. "Now leave us be. We're going to ride bikes and you can't come!" Annie peered through the leaves and saw a sandy haired, adolescent boy in knickers standing with another boy. A tiny blonde girl stood with her hands on her hips.
"But you never want to do anything with me." The little girl protested. "It's boring by myself."
"Go inside and play with Harriett." The boy instructed his sister. The little girl actually stomped her foot.
"She's having her piano lesson." The girl informed him.
"You're not coming, Devonny, and that's final." The boy said with a touch of childish arrogance. His friend snickered. Annie scowled at the boy, thinking he needed to be a bit nicer to his sister. "Come on, Walk. Race you to the ice cream shoppe!" The boys disappeared and Annie turned to leave.
"There you are!" Her brother's voice came from behind, making her shriek.
"Henry." She protested, catching her breath and throwing one of her black braids over her shoulder. "You scared me."
"You know it isn't polite to spy, Sophie." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Especially on the Strattons."
Annie lifted her head, gasping as she woke up. She was bent over her desk, with her pen still in hand and her notebook lying open, page blank. She had accomplished nothing on her Modern World History essay. Groggily, her eyes flitted over to the digital alarm clock on her night stand. 10:30. She'd wasted two hours sleeping instead of finishing homework. Annie gave up, setting aside the pen and closing the notebook. She would work on it over the weekend. In the meantime, she had to work tomorrow. Since she was majoring in journalism, she had begun a part time job at the local Times office. It was a small building, crowded with people and messy, with papers spread over every and any available surface. Annie loved it. She loved it even more because she had access to the archives.
Of course, right now, the extent of her job was answering phones, getting coffee for anyone who asked and proofreading. It was a comfortable, fairly laid back environment and, best of all, she was allowed to wear jeans to work. On the down side, the pay was atrocious, which was why she was still going to be living with Mom and Dad probably until she graduated or died. Whichever came first.
On the whole, things couldn't have been going better. She was in school, had a job in the field she was going into, she had a boyfriend (kind of), and was almost afraid to admit that she was deliriously happy. Strat was too good to be true, even if this version of him did enjoy Nintendo and bloody action movies. She couldn't fault him for that. They had fun together, which was something that Annie hadn't really ever had a chance to do with Strat before. There had always been some unimaginable obstacle in their way, whether it had been his obligation to Harriett, being framed for murder, breaking him out of an asylum—
Yeah, that was probably not the healthiest of ways to conduct a relationship.
Tomorrow, she was going to turn her attention to something else for a change. Her own family. She wanted to know more about Henry and Anna Lockwood and their children. And of course, the woman she'd gotten her middle name for.
She'd had them all on her mind since her chat with her father and she found herself wondering where they'd lived, what they'd looked like. She wanted to know about Sophia's first husband who was murdered. She wanted to know what her second husband's name was. Vaguely, she wondered if any of their children were still alive. It was doubtful, of course. She knew all of her father's aunts and uncles were gone by now, so it stood to reason that their cousins were no longer alive either.
Annie had spent enough time on Strat's family. She still longed to know how his story had ended, but she had resigned herself to the fact that maybe she wasn't meant to know. Thinking of him dead and gone was too painful. Even though she suspected in her heart that Lockwood Stratton was really Hiram Stratton Jr., the thought of her Strat growing old and gray and dying made her chest ache. The thought of beautiful, honey haired Devonny being a hundred years old and holding her great-grandson was a terrifying thought too. She couldn't picture it.
She didn't really need to.
What she needed, was Strat to remember her.
Tod was debating whether or not he wanted a vanilla or a chocolate milkshake from McDonalds. It was cold today, forcing him to wear the stupid looking coat his mother had bought him for his birthday last January. She'd insisted he would look more professional in it, but it just made him feel like a dork. It was gray and made of wool with big buttons. It definitely didn't go with his casual T-Shirt, which today feature the logo of the Yankees.
He'd finally busted his old varsity jacket last winter, which left him with this creation. It was embarrassing. He felt like a girl.
"Are you going to order, or can I go?" An impatient voice came from behind him. Tod whirled around to find himself looking down into the greenest pair of eyes he had ever seen. A girl he vaguely recognized stood there, a full head shorter than him, her delicate eyebrow raised. His eyes felt to the soft, buttery colored strands of hair around her face.
"Sorry." He managed to mutter, stepping up to the bored looking cashier and ordering a chocolate milkshake.
"Laura's Fabric Shop, right?" The girl said, once she'd ordered. Tod looked down at her, confused.
"You're the coach for Laura's Fabric Shop soccer team. The six to seven year old division." She explained. Tod blinked, staring blankly at her.
"Um, yeah." He replied, shoving his hands nervously into the pockets of his ridiculous looking coat.
"I'm Poppy Wilder." She told him. "I coach Sam's Garage."
"Oh yeah…" Tod answered, now remembering where he'd seen her from. Across the field at their first game of the season. "I'm Tod. Lockwood." He said casually, taking his milkshake from the girl over the counter and nearly dropping it.
"I know. I remember." Poppy replied, nodding. Her sweet honey and butter colored locks were half pulled back into a barrette. She wore no makeup as far as he could tell, but she didn't need to. Her cheeks were pink, not the vulgar tan that a lot of girls wore these days. Her eyelashes were darker, framing her brilliant emerald eyes. Tod felt panic begin to flutter in his chest. He had to get away from her.
"Poppy…" He said, trying to think of something to say. "That's an unusual name." He winced. That had been the wrong thing to say. You were not supposed to insult girls by telling them they had funny names. To his surprise, Poppy laughed – an intoxicating sound.
"Yeah, yeah…it's my mother's favorite flower. She was sort of a hippie." She shrugged, taking her tray and giving him another one of those beaming smiles. "Well anyway…see you on the field, Tod."
"Oh. Yep." He nodded awkwardly, swallowing. "See ya." Tod then did the only thing he could think of.
Annie flipped through an old book of archived newspapers, searching for something…anything with her last name on it. She'd been through some of these at the library already, looking for information about the Strattons, so she came across quite a few things she'd already read. She saw the announcement about Devonny Aurelia Victoria Stratton marrying the Duke of Winden again. She scanned through every article looking for something mentioning anything about Henry Lockwood.
Finally, after two hours of reading, when her eyes were starting to blur over and she was sure she was going to need glasses, she saw a headline that caught her eye.
Young Factory Worker Murdered.
December 24, 1897
Annie's eyes widened, remembering something her father had mentioned.
On Christmas Eve, a young man was shot and killed on his way home from work. The man has been identified as Christopher Hume, 21, a factory worker at Stratton Locomotive.
Annie gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. She felt a lump form in her throat even though she did not recognize the man's name. How awful.
Police are investigating the situation, questioning any possible witnesses as to who might have committed this crime. Mr. Hume is survived by his wife Sophia, formerly Lockwood, 18. She was not available for comment. If anyone has any information regarding this situation, please contact the Police Department.
Annie's eyes blurred over, and she felt her lower lip begin to tremble. Her poor aunt! A year younger than Annie and losing her husband. On Christmas Eve, no less! Of course, Dad had told her that she had remarried, but it was still a terrible thing. She quickly scanned the office to make sure that no one saw her tearing up like a goofball over a dead relative that she had not met and would never meet. The only other article she could find, was a wedding announcement of her great-grandparents.
So, Annie made sure that she was the only one home after work, when she pulled down the trapdoor outside her room and climbed up into the dusty old crawlspace that was their attic. Feeling her way along the wall, she found the string hanging from the ceiling and pulled, watching the dim light flicker on. She sagged in defeat seeing piles of cardboard boxes all over the place.
How was she ever supposed to find anything in this mess?
Annie decided to try the first box and checked first to see what it was labeled.
Annie Baby Clothes/Toys
Nope. Shoving that box aside, she next moved Tod's box. The third box read, David and Amelia Wedding. Annie smiled, despite herself. That, of course, referred to the first wedding her parents had had. The one that had spawned the awful bridesmaid dress Annie had been forced to wear to the second one. The eighties had been a terrible, terrible time for fashion.
Annie was nearly ready to give up as it was getting harder to breathe up in this dusty prison until she finally came to a box that said, Lockwood Family. This box definitely looked more weathered and delicate than the other. She used her fingertips to gently pry the box open. Inside were some ancient looking photo albums with inserts that had yellowed over time. Gently tucked between them were a few framed photos. Annie was almost afraid to look.
Pulling out the first album, she opened it and saw her grandparents, James and Trudy Lockwood and their four children. Her Aunt Sarah and Uncles Henry and Chris, and of course, Dad. This album was filled with photos from her father's childhood. Setting it aside, she took out the next, which looked to be falling apart at the binding. This one looked a bit older. The pictures looked extremely fragile, as if they could turn to ash at any given moment. The first picture was a group of nine children. All of whom had been labeled in feminine scrawl.
Gretchen, Caroline, James, Jack, Peter, Margaret, Robert, Leo and little Harriett.
Wait, Harriett? Her father had said Helen.
Annie knew that Harriett was a very common name for little girls back then, but it made her sad to think of the Harriett she had known who had died wanting only the love of a boy. The children were all grinning in the sunlight, some of them darker haired than others. Little Harriett looked to be missing her front teeth, showing them off. Annie tore her eyes off of the kids, looking at the next photo, a picture of a very young, attractive blonde holding a chubby baby.
Anna and Gretchen, Christmas 1900.
Gretchen? Annie cringed at the names of these poor kids. She was secretly glad that she had been born in a time when girls had somewhat more attractive names. Another photo had three older, more adolescent children posed together very solemnly as most family portraits of that time.
Sophie's brood. John "Jack", Leo and Harriett.
Annie studied her aunt's children, trying to find similarities to herself in them. She definitely saw a resemblance in Harriett's lovely face, but for some reason, when she looked at the boys, all she could see was Strat. Now she was seeing his face in her own family? Annie shook her head and shut the photo album. Perhaps that was enough for one afternoon. Her eyes were tired.
Carefully, Annie picked up a small, framed photo so that she could settle the photo album back into the box without disrupting anything. It was covered in dust. She used the bottom of her shirt to wipe it clean and turned it over to inspect it.
Her own face was staring back at her. With trembling fingers, she unlatched the back of the flimsy frame and removed it so she could read the back.
Sophia Maria Lockwood, 1897
Annie wanted to drop it and flee down the ladder, back into the house. Back into normalcy, but she could not stop staring at the photo.
"Annie?" Tod's voice called from below. "Are you okay?" Annie barely heard him, did not respond. "Annie?" He must have seen the ladder hanging down, because he appeared at the opening a second later, still dressed in his coat. "Hey, what's wrong?" His hand moved across to rest on her arm. Vaguely, she thrust the miniature into his hand, staring straight ahead.
"Holy crap!" He exclaimed, studying the picture. "Who's this?"
"Aunt Sophia." She whispered. "Our great-grandfather's sister."
"Wow. It's scary, Annie." He exclaimed. Annie met his eyes, which were alight with something she hadn't seen in a while. Was it hope?
"You seem in a good mood." She observed, sucking in a breath and taking the picture back, clutching it to her chest. They both descended out of the attic and shut the trapdoor. Annie took a few gulps of clean air.
"I…met someone today." Tod admitted. Annie realized, nearly laughing, that Tod was actually wearing the pea coat their mother had bought him for his birthday this past year.
"Well, I guess not met so much as ran into." He went on, leading her down into the living room. Annie still held onto that ancient photo. "Her name is Poppy Wilder. She's the Sam's Garage coach."
"Oh, really?" Annie said, momentarily forgetting her distress. "And?"
"And what?" He asked with a shrug. "I bought a milkshake, she bought a burger and I left."
"You didn't even stay and eat with her?" Annie asked, looking at him in disbelief.
"Why would I do that?" He genuinely looked confused.
"Well, did you ask her out or get her number?" Annie demanded, now impatient with her brother. His blue eyes widened with panic.
"No!" He cried. "I think we said all of ten words to each other."
"Do you find her attractive?" Annie asked. Tod turned red, indicating that he did, indeed, find Poppy attractive. Annie felt a slow grin come over her face. Finally! "Well, when do you play them again?"
"Two weeks." Tod replied, rather miserably.
"Well, why don't you invite her to Mom's work Halloween party as your date?" Annie offered, thinking of the party in a couple of weeks. Tod pondered this momentarily.
"I don't know…I don't know." He groaned, agonizing. Annie could not keep the smirk off her face. "What if she says no?"
"What, are you going to be alone forever because you're afraid of rejection?"
"Possibly." Tod said, unsure. Annie rolled her eyes.
"Don't be a moron. Man up!" She punched him in the arm. "By the way, I'm loving that coat. It's so New York City." Throwing a wink at her brother, she started for the kitchen.
"Shut up." Tod grumbled from behind her. Annie laughed to herself, leaving him standing in the living room so that she could go process the new discoveries she had just made.
There was to be a ball. A real ball for arrival of the British Prince and his family. There was a rumor that the since the queen was getting on in years, her son was starting to do the travelling and visiting in her stead, in preparation for the crown he would inherit soon. Of course, he was no young man at nearly sixty years old! Still, the whole family was coming to boost morale of their soldiers, though they would not be staying long.
Sophie was standing with Camilla watching the young men dig as they did every day. It was very odd to see men standing around with no shirts on as they toiled away in the blazing Sudan sun. She was glad that she had coiled her black hair higher on her head today since there seemed to be no relief from the heat. She wasn't able to stand a full day dress, instead opting for a simple white blouse with the sleeves rolled to her elbows and a lightweight canvas skirt.
"How can they stand it?" She muttered, fanning herself with her hand. Camilla peered down at her from under her wide brimmed hat.
"This heat." Sophie sighed. "Aren't they afraid they'll be burnt to a crisp?"
"I suppose it's the lesser of the evils." Camilla replied, "Some of them would rather burn than sweat through all of their clothes."
"The poor dears." Sophie agreed, nodding. One of the young men looked up at her and blew her a kiss, infuriating her. "And then they do that." She groaned.
"Why must they all be suggestive?" She asked, shaking her head. "Especially the college boys."
"They're young…they're idiots and you're beautiful, Sophie." Camilla told her, laughing at Sophie's startled expression. "You are."
"I'm sweating, my hair is a fright and my face is sunburned. How can I possibly attract any of them?" She wanted to turn away and run back into the safety of one of the tents, but something else caught her eye. "Camilla," She said, grabbing her taller friend's arm. "Is that – is that Mr. Stratton?" Sophie pointed to the shirtless young man facing away from her. She only knew it was him because of the messy crop of light brown hair, which had lightened tremendously from his time spent in the sun.
"Where?" Camilla asked vaguely, shielding her eyes to look. "Oh, yes. He's been very helpful in the digging lately. Since his camera is gone now, he wants Archibald to know how much he appreciates him, so he's been very active in the digging." Sophie stared, slack jawed, at the way the muscles in his back undulated with every movement he made. Ashamed once more, she looked away.
"You like him, don't you?" Camilla uttered quietly, studying her. Sophie looked up at her in horror.
"Strat, of course." Camilla giggled, covering her mouth with her hand. "You do, don't you?"
"Oh come off it, Millie." Sophie scoffed. "You know I'm not interested in men. It's only been—"
"Two years, Sophie. It's been two years since Christopher died." Her friend told her sympathetically. Sophie felt her friend's delicate hand cover her own. "It's only natural that you should want to find love again." Shaking her head furiously, Sophie backed away, not allowing herself to look back at the young men.
"I can't. It's wrong…he wouldn't want me to." Sophie insisted, blinking against the tears.
"Of course he would!" Camilla's voice was forceful, but obviously she was still trying to be gentle with Sophie. "You and I can go into Cairo and we can find ball gowns to wear to the Prince's ball—"
"I am not going to that, Camilla." Sophie protested tearfully. "And besides, even if I were to go, no one wants to marry a widow. Men want women who haven't been…you know," Her blue eyes flitted around, "Intimate." She whispered. Camilla, who was only seventeen, knew very little about these sorts of things.
"Strat certainly seems to like you." Camilla pointed out, looking back at the young man, who was chatting with two of the college boys. He must have noticed them staring, because he waved. Sophie practically dove behind Camilla in embarrassment. She did not want to look at Mr. Stratton and his broad chest or the lovely shadow of beard that he wore on his face. In fact, Sophie wanted to go and hide from him, as if burying herself in her tent could protect her from his charms.
Camilla wrestled with her in confusion, laughing.
"Sophie, what are you—?" She spun around, while Sophie dodged her. "Stop moving!" She chortled. Sophie buried her face in her hands, absolutely mortified.
"What are you doing?" Camilla asked dryly. Sophie shook her head.
"I'm going out of my mind." She replied, feeling dizzy from the heat and sinking to sit into the sand.
"Let me get you some water, dear." Camilla insisted, patting her shoulder and running for the tent. Sophie continued to hide in her hands, willing her pulse to return to normal. The heat was awful, boring down on the top of her dark head.
"Mrs. Hume! Are you unwell?" A worried voice inquired from above. Swallowing, Sophie removed her hands and dragged her eyes up the sinewy body of Strat. She was sure her eyes were full of shame, but she did not look away.
"Just a bit overexerted in the heat." She murmured, watching him lower to sit across from her, cross legged. "Camilla just went to fetch me some water. You don't have to sit here. Really." I really can't handle being this close to you.
"I don't mind at all." He told her with a smile that would have made her weak in the knees had she still been standing. "Your hair looks very pretty wrapped like that." He added. Sophie looked down into her hands, feeling like a girl of fifteen again.
"Oh you are a terrible flirt, Mr. Stratton." She replied, though she smiled despite herself.
"Well you have the terrible part right." He chuckled. "I'm afraid I'm not much of a flirt at all."
"Me either." She assured him. "I married the only boy I ever knew who wasn't my brother." A nervous laugh fell out of her before she burst into tears, once again burying her face into her hands. A moment later, a cup was thrust into her hands and she was lifted to her feet.
"Come on. You need out of the sun." Strat told her with authority, walking her past Camilla, who had a small smile on her lovely face. Sophie sniffed helplessly, allowing herself to lean into the sun warmed skin of Strat. "Drink, Sophie." He instructed, sounding entirely too bossy for her liking. She managed to glare at him, but took a long drink of the cool liquid.
"Don't tell me what to do." She told him through gritted teeth. He stared at her oddly and, for a small moment, she thought he'd reprimand her. Instead, he began to laugh at her! He was making fun of her!
"There's a girl!" He cried, good naturedly. "I wondered when I'd see the feisty side of you."
"What do you mean?" She asked, reluctantly letting him help her sit in a hammock, settling in beside her.
"Oh, I mean no offense, Sophia." He told her. "I'm impressed. You just…reminded me of someone I used to know. That's all."
"Oh." She took another long sip.
"Tell me about your brother." Strat said, moving to pull his shirt on. Sophie vaguely realized he'd brought her into his tent, but she wasn't scared.
"Well…he's three years older than me." She began. "We're very close. He went to work in the factory when he was fourteen. Our father was manager, but then he became ill, so Tod covered in his place while he was out."
"Sophie…your brother's name is Henry." Strat told her slowly. She stared at him in bemusement.
"Yes, it is. He was named for my father." She agreed, swallowing.
"But, you just called your brother 'Tod.'" His face was pale beneath his tanned skin. Sophie furrowed her brows, completely lost.
"Who is Tod?" She asked him, raising an eyebrow. He did not answer, but he certainly looked like he might know the answer, which was all the more worrisome. "I'm sorry…the heat." Her voice wavered. "Well, Father died of pneumonia and since Henry had already done the job well, he was promoted to Factory Manager."
"I'm sorry." Strat said sincerely, pointing to the tin cup in her hand. "Please finish."
"Strat, it's so totally not cool when you boss me around." She blurted, not really knowing what she was saying. Closing her eyes briefly, she attempted to regain her composure. She saw that Strat looked mildly offended by what she'd said. "Goodness…I'm a mess today, aren't I?" Rising slowly, she made sure she wasn't going to pass out before sighing. Strat was on his feet in moments, watching her like a hawk.
"You should sit." He insisted weakly. Sophie made herself smile at him.
"I think I need a nap." She reached out to take his hand. He took it eagerly, shocking her when he reached out and brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. Sophie froze when his eyes half closed and she felt herself lean toward him, closing her own eyes. It wasn't until their lips barely brushed together that her eyes flew back open. Strat, however, was the one to break it before they'd really even touched.
"I'm sorry!" They both cried at the same exact time. Despite the extreme chaos in her mind, she smiled at him.
"The heat." He explained, shrugging. "Please don't think I'm one of those men who goes around treating women as they please like them." He nodded toward the digging site, where the vulgar college boys were still working. "I would never take advantage of a lady."
"I know." Sophie assured him, patting his cheek. "I trust you, Strat. Just don't judge me too harshly…I'm not what most men think of widows."
"I know." He looked down at their clasped hands and lifted it to his lips, pressing a kiss to the soft skin there. "Shall I walk you?" She shook her head.
"I'm much better now, thank you." She nodded and exited through the flap of his tent, practically running the short distance to her own living quarters, panting as she fell onto the uncomfortable cot, trying to sort through her thoughts.
She was in trouble.
She had nearly kissed Hiram Stratton Jr.
And, she now needed a ball gown.
Okay, I can tell you that I'm pretty sure that Edward VII and his family did not visit Cairo in 1899 or have a ball. But, for the purposes of this story, he did. I mean, if people can Time Travel, we can rewrite history slightly. Right?