§ § § - June 1, 2008
Kalora was back at two-thirty, still with that annoyed look on her face. Roarke was nowhere to be seen. "What happened to your dad?"
Leslie cleared her throat. "He wasn't feeling very well…can't imagine why. But don't worry, I'll be seeing you off into the last memory."
To her surprise, a contrite look crept over Kalora's features, and she bit her lip. "I, uh, well…that was probably my fault. I was mad and I, uh, shoved that crystal bowling ball at him when he came in. Kinda hard, I think. I just didn't think it was that hard." She gave Leslie a sheepish look. "If I don't see him, could you tell him I'm really sorry?"
Leslie smiled, amused in spite of herself now that the mystery had been cleared up. "Sure, I'll do that. But I guess right now you want that last stab at making one of your memories come out for the better."
"You got that right," Kalora declared. "Let's get to it."
Leslie led her into the time-travel room and extracted the last deep-blue sphere from the fog-filled box; when she handed it to Kalora, the fog dissolved into nothingness and all that remained was the clear box. "So you mentioned that you wanted to change a memory that involved that Allen Feemstra?"
Kalora nodded. "Like I said, somebody arranged a blind date for me when I was 25, and when I got there, I found out it was Feeble-stra himself. I felt humiliated later on when I thought about my reaction—I ran away, remember?" Leslie nodded. "Well, I'd always wondered why he made that wisecrack in high school about taking me out in his bulldozer, and I realized that was probably my last chance at finding out why. So that's what I want to do this time around. I want to ask him why he made fun of me back then."
Leslie waited for more, but Kalora had apparently finished. Surprised, Leslie prodded gently, "Is that all?"
"That's all," said Kalora with a half-shrug. She focused on Leslie then, read her expression, and grinned. "I guess you were expecting something a little more earthshaking, huh? No, really, that's it. Maybe I'd get a little peace of mind out of it."
"Okay," Leslie agreed, daring to think that there might just be a tiny chance that this time their guest would achieve her objective. "You know Father's instructions by now. So good luck, and I hope this time your blind date isn't quite such a washout."
"You and me both," said Kalora dryly. Leslie grinned and let herself out of the time-travel room, blowing out a long breath when she was safely alone in the study. It had been quite a weekend, and not just for Kalora Calhoun.
This time, Kalora was gone for quite a long time, long enough that Leslie lost track of time while she was taking care of some of the paperwork. She was separating acceptance letters from rejections, preparing to stuff envelopes for outgoing mail, when a knock on the door startled her. "Come in," she called out.
Christian came in, looking quizzical. "Hi, my Rose," he said. "So this is what you're up to. Is Mr. Roarke still feeling indisposed?"
"Yeah, he decided to see if a nap might help, but he's been up there since lunch." She tossed a glance at the grandfather clock, then looked again in disbelief. "Holy paradise, I had no idea it was that late. Finish work for the day?"
He nodded and settled into one of the chairs in front of the desk. "I take it things have been quiet here."
"Pretty much," she said, resuming her task. "What brings you around here?"
"You didn't make the usual rounds as you tend to do, so I thought I'd come and see what was happening. Quiet is unusual here, on a weekend."
She laughed. "Yeah…enough that now I'm starting to wonder what happened to Miss Calhoun. She's been in there for almost three hours." She nodded at his reaction. "She was out within an hour the other three times, so I'm getting this funny feeling that things might have gotten more out of control than even we bargained for."
Christian made a commentary noise and resettled himself in the chair. "Where did our illustrious babysitters take the children off to?"
"Oh, Haruko took them to that children's wading pool Father had installed some years back. So they're in good hands and getting some relief from the heat." She stopped herself, looking up and across the room at the time-travel-room door, which showed no sign of opening anytime soon. "I'd love to know what the heck's going on in there."
Just then they heard a door open upstairs and glanced at each other; a few seconds later Roarke descended the staircase, impeccably dressed as always and looking fully refreshed. "Ah, hello, Christian," he greeted his son-in-law, stepping down into the room. "How is Miss Calhoun's fantasy progressing, Leslie?"
"I'm not sure. She showed up for the last phase at two-thirty, right on time, but she hasn't come back out yet. Whatever's happening, it must be big."
Roarke cast a curious glance at the door in question, then nodded once or twice to himself. "I am sure she'll be out in due time. I need to see to the Wundermann fantasy."
"You seem to be feeling much better," Christian observed.
"I am, thank you, Christian. If you don't mind helping Leslie hold down the proverbial fort for another half hour or so, I would be very appreciative." Christian nodded, and Roarke thanked him again and left.
"Is there anything there I can help with?" Christian queried, scanning the various piles of papers sitting around the desk.
"Actually, yes." Leslie pulled out a drawer, pawed through a few things till she found a roll of stamps, and handed it across the desk to him. "Grab those two stacks of outgoing letters and plaster stamps on them for me, would you, my love?"
"I suppose I can manage that without much trouble," he quipped and winked at her when she snickered. Quiet settled over the study again while she continued stuffing envelopes and he began ripping stamps off the roll and adhering them to envelopes.
He was almost half through, and she was finally nearing the last of the letters to be sent, when the time-travel-room door swung open and Kalora Calhoun came out, looking dazed, clutching the now-clear sphere for all she was worth. Christian and Leslie both stopped where they were and stared at her; then Leslie dropped the letter she had been about to fold and stood up. "Are you okay?"
Kalora blinked rapidly for a moment and focused on her, still looking stunned. "I'm not sure if I wish I'd never gone through this last memory change or not."
"Well, come over here and tell me what happened," Leslie suggested, tugging gently at the glass ball till Kalora blinked again and released it into her grip. She set the ball on the tea table and returned to Roarke's chair while Kalora sat in the last empty chair, giving Christian only an absentminded nod when he greeted her. He met Leslie's gaze for a second or two, shrugged and resumed pasting stamps on envelopes. Leslie knew, though, that he'd be unobtrusively listening.
"Did you get what you wanted?" Leslie asked, trying not to let her exploding curiosity show too much in her voice.
"You could say that," Kalora said, her eyes losing focus for a couple of seconds. Then she blinked again, squeezed her eyes tightly shut and violently shook her head in the sort of movement that is better described as a shudder. "Feemstra told me he made fun of me that day because he wanted to see if I was really a human being."
Even Christian couldn't keep from reacting to that. "What?" he chorused right along with his wife.
"That's what I said at first." Kalora nodded, now alert and eager to talk. "I spent a lot of time studying in high school, see. I had some friends, but most of them had different classes from me, for the most part, and none of them at all were in that class I shared with Feemstra. Feemstra had a reputation for picking on people anyway, and he'd been doing it to me since about sixth grade when he first moved to our area and started going to all the same schools with me. I was one of his favorite targets. But I was always trying to tune him out by either studying, or pretending to. So he said he decided to see if there was an actual person in there, instead of a reading machine."
"Hm," Leslie mumbled. Then she focused directly on Kalora. "So how come it took so long for you to come back out, if that was all you needed to know?"
"Because…well, I don't know how it happened, but Feemstra told me…I mean, my other self…that he'd actually had a crush on me for a long time. He said the reason he laughed when he first saw me is that he couldn't believe his luck in getting me for his blind date. So he and I…the other I…started talking, and talking, and talking…and talking some more…I might as well not've been there. The date was a smashing success. And then the scene changed and I was looking at myself sitting on a park bench beside Feemstra, watching people—and lo and behold, he gets down on one knee and pops the question."
"Wow," Leslie uttered, astonished.
"It gets better," Kalora assured her. "The other me said yes! I thought I was gonna keel over! And the two of them started laughing and kinda crying, and hugging each other and jumping around and dancing, and making a couple of jackasses out of themselves, and I couldn't keep looking—it was too embarrassing. It just didn't even seem like me, even a different me, doing all that. I mean…Allen Feemstra?"
"I see what you mean," Leslie murmured, now struggling to hide her amusement. Her husband was having considerably less success at this, and she had to be careful not to look at him for fear of losing her own tenuous control.
"So next thing I know, I'm standing in a great big old church near where I grew up, and my whole family's in the front pews, and his whole family's there, and about a thousand guests, and I see myself strolling along down the aisle all decked out in the biggest white thundercloud of a wedding dress that ever existed." Here, Christian ducked his head and began snickering helplessly at the description; thankfully, Kalora was too caught up in her own remembered shock to notice. "She—I—well, that other me was beaming from one ear to the other, and so was Feemstra! And there I am, watching myself get married to him! And before I've really recovered from that, the damn thing changes yet again, and I've got a little kid running around my feet, and a baby in my arms, and Feemstra bragging about his wife and family to some fat-cat-looking character with a cigar and a big ol' vat for a gut, and it…it was like freaking happily ever after! And that's when it finally ended." Kalora sagged in her chair and blew out a huge breath. "What a nightmare!"
This finally stopped Christian's laughter. "Wait a minute. Falling in love and getting married and having two children, and being taken pride in—that was a nightmare?"
"It was Allen Feemstra," Kalora said earnestly, as if Allen Feemstra were a particularly famous bully. "Seriously, Your Highness—I couldn't imagine that kind of life with him." She turned to Leslie while Christian contemplated this. "I spent a long time wondering if it was supposed to be some sort of joke, before I realized that I was the one who told myself to ask Feemstra the question, and that's what really started it all." She shook her head. "I know it sounds like a happy ending, but it sure wasn't what I expected."
"So do you think that's why Allen Feemstra laughed at you on the real-life version of that blind date?" Leslie asked with interest.
Kalora thought about that. "You know, it's possible." She frowned at the desktop, then met Leslie's gaze. "I suppose I could possibly have learned to like, maybe even love, old Feeble-stra, if it'd gone that way in real life. Maybe I wouldn't still be looking for my Mr. Right, y'know?" Leslie nodded in sympathy. "But…well, who knows. What happened is what happened, and here I am." After a moment's heavy thought, she focused once more on Leslie, with noticeable reluctance, and slowly admitted, "I guess Mr. Roarke was right. You really can't change the past. And if you could, the changes might be even worse than the original version."
"Do you think your fantasy was a success or a failure, then?" Leslie queried.
It was a moment before Kalora responded. "I gotta think about that one." She stood up and cast Leslie an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound abrupt or anything. I just have some thinking to do. Listen, thanks for putting up with me…and tell Mr. Roarke I said thanks too." She nodded at Christian, then departed.
Once she was safely gone, Christian began to laugh. "Well, there was an unexpected twist. I have the feeling she was anticipating going through an evening of high-school-style taunts from what's-his-name, and instead she married him!"
"In a thundercloud of a wedding dress," Leslie agreed, laughing too. "I kind of wish I could've seen that. I don't know if Father planned it that way or not—I know he'd say he didn't, but even so, you can't help wondering. But if he did, that's quite a twist."
"You're not kidding," said Christian, speaking through lingering chuckles. "I'm looking forward to your father's reaction when you tell him what happened."
§ § § - June 2, 2008
All of them—Roarke, Leslie and Kalora Calhoun—were very surprised indeed when Kalora found herself with company as she prepared to board the plane on Monday morning. Darius Langford, looking a bit sheepish, hesitantly approached, his face radiating hope. "I don't want to interrupt anything," he began, just as Kalora was thanking Roarke and shaking his hand.
"Not at all, Mr. Langford," said Roarke warmly. "What may we do for you?"
"Well, it's really more what Kalora could do, if she wanted to," Darius said, his eyes sliding back and forth between Roarke and Kalora. "If I'm not presuming."
Kalora grinned. "On our dinner date last evening, you mean?" She caught Leslie's and Roarke's looks, and explained, "Well, see, I was on my way back to my bungalow when I saw Darius here. We started talking, and he got around to asking me out for dinner, and it was such a lovely evening. I thought it was a shame he and I couldn't spend more time getting to know each other better, but then he said he might be able to do something."
"I did," Darius said. "That's why I called your house last night, Leslie. I was checking with Christian to see how much vacation time I had coming, and if I could take any of it right now. He's one heckuva generous guy—he told me I could take two weeks, and they'll get along without me like they did before they hired me. Wished me luck, too."
"That was really nice of him," Kalora remarked, impressed. She grinned at Leslie. "Tell him I said thanks, and thanks to you both for listening to my crazy story last night. And you know, Mr. Roarke…I guess I gotta admit, you were right about not changing the past. I finally realized what kinds of insane things could happen if it were actually possible to do it." Roarke chuckled, Leslie laughed and Kalora grinned again. "Thanks again, Mr. Roarke. And you too, Leslie."
"Have a safe trip," Roarke said with a warm smile.
"You really don't mind me coming with you?" they heard Darius ask as he and Kalora strolled toward the plane dock.
"Well, I tell you, you beat the living heck out of Allen Feemstra," Kalora told him, and burst into laughter at his blank expression. "I'll tell you on the plane." They accepted leis, turned to wave at Roarke and Leslie, and were gone.
"You made a quip about her 'helping herself' yesterday morning," Leslie recalled, gazing after them. "I think she did—into a much better future than the one she'd been hoping to achieve with all those impossible changes."
"Indeed she did," said Roarke, smiling broadly.
Next story: Christian turns 50, and half the family turns up for the party, not to mention a LOT of other people. And of course, some reminiscing goes on…