PIECES OF DESTINY
Just after dawn, I headed back into town while Lem and Travis went about their morning chores, Mr. Colt barking over their shoulders. I had agreed to work all day at McBillin’s general store, but I’d get off by sundown — too late to check out Marsen’s Cave, but I was sure I’d have time on Sunday afternoon for that. I’d have to figure out a way to sneak away from the house.
In the meantime, I still had Faith to deal with. McBillin had reluctantly given me two hours off from the store, warning me that ‘there’d be the devil to pay’ if I didn’t get back by 1PM. Luckily for me, our late-morning rehearsal at her house went better than I had expected.
“That was wonderful,” Faith gushed. “If we can perform it just that way in an hour, I think mother will be very pleased.”
“I’ve actually heard this one before,” I said, adding a little keyboard flourish and nodded towards the sheet music. “That’s actually a song my parents used to play. A couple of guys named Simon & Garfunkel sang it.”
She frowned. “I don’t believe I’ve heard of them. This is an old English tune, one of my favorites.”
I noodled on the keyboard again. “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,” I sang. “Yeah, the harpsichord is perfect for this.” I sniffed, then looked around in search of the delicious aroma. “Hey, are we getting close to lunch?”
Faith nodded. “They’ll have sandwiches in a few minutes. But those are for mother’s guests. I can get you something from the kitchen if you like.”
As I followed her out of the parlor, I glanced out another window that gave me a clearer look at Shaw family’s enormous backyard.
“Wow,” I said, gaping at the view. “This is a pretty amazing house you have here.”
Faith nodded, then handed me a sandwich. “I believe we have 10 acres. It’s quite lovely. Would you like to see it? We still have half an hour before mother’s friends arrive.”
The gardens were incredible, like something out of a movie. A path of trees lined some steps that led out to a small pond. Large shrubs wound down a hill to the right, with a few horses visible in a distant stable. The landscaping was lush and beautiful, like an upscale country club — or, at least, an 1864 version. Yesterday’s brief snowfall had melted, so the ground was a little damp, but the tree leaves were still thick and full. Their landscaping bill must be enormous, I thought. With or without slaves.
“What’s that over there?” I asked, pointing to a rough mound of dirt and wooden planks just to the left of the path.
“Oh,” she said, “that’s just an old well we had taken out. We have a new one closer to the house. Don’t get too close. We really should have Willie put up a sign or something as a warning. Oh, look — the geese are on the pond. Don’t they look lovely?”
I agreed. Their estate looked like a theme park, with a bright foliage to our left and a gentle slope that led down to a small lake. As Faith and I reached the bank, I skimmed a rock across the gentle ripples causing the geese to honk in protest and dart away. I glanced back at the house, with its magnificent stone columns and shrubbery, noticing for the first time that it was actually a three-story mansion. It looks even bigger from here, I thought, judging the distance to be at least a good 200 yards. Majestic, almost like a smaller version of the White House.
Faith smiled. “You sing remarkably well,” she said, her blonde hair rippling slightly in the breeze. “And you’re a very fine musician.”
“For a farmboy, you mean,” I said, grinning.
She shook her head. “No, you’re definitely not that. I declare, Jason Thomas, you are possibly the most unusual boy I believe I’ve ever met.”
I finished my sandwich, then licked a few stray crumbs off my fingertips. “Not really that unusual,” I said with a shrug. “I mean... I’m just a guy.”
She took my hand in hers. Her skin was soft and her lace blouse brushed against my arm. “You’re so different from the other boys, Jason,” she said. “They’re all so... so coarse, so unrefined. Why, you have a sense of culture. Mother says that’s very important.”
I looked away nervously, watching the geese as they waddled up onto the distant bank and off to their nests.
She was close enough now that I could smell her perfume. “And you’re very attractive,” she said. “In a most unusual way.”
“No,” I protested. “I’m barely passable. Travis is good-looking, not me.”
Faith giggled. “Fiddle-dee-dee. Why, Travis Colt looks more like a girl, if you ask me. His face is too delicate, almost pretty. Travis isn’t manly at all — he’s just a child. But you, Jason...” She took my hand and kissed it. “You’re very masculine, yet you have an appreciation for art and music. That means so very much to me. And you’re very sensitive. You have all the right qualities for a gentleman.”
I stepped back, my feet splashing momentarily into the pond. “Uh, listen, Faith... isn’t it close to noon? Shouldn’t we be getting back to the parlor for the recital?”
She took me by the arm and led me over to a nearby platform that overlooked the lake. “This is the gazebo,” she said, a little breathlessly. “I believe we have almost fifteen minutes before mother’s friends arrive. Why don’t you show me how you kiss all the girls back home?”
“I don’t really...”
“Jason, please. I don’t want to beg you.”
She pulled me up the steps and locked me into an embrace, then kissed me forcibly.
I think I’m about to be raped, I thought, my mind racing.
“Listen, uh, Faith... I appreciate the compliment, but really... I’m not interested.”
She took my hand and placed it against her breast. “Just for ten minutes,” she said breathlessly. “Surely you can’t refuse a request by a lady?”
I started to reply, but then she pulled me close again, grinding our bodies together. She began to pant slightly. “Oh, Jason,” she whispered. “Forgive me for being so forward, but I do so want you to take me.”
“Here?” I said, incredulously. “On the gazebo? But the geese...”
“The geese won’t mind,” she said, pulling me down to the floor. “And no one can see from the house. We’re all alone out here.”
Faith shushed me and began unbuttoning my pants then slid them down. “I’ve never done this before,” she said, reaching for my underwear, “but I so want to become a woman.”
“NO!” I cried, pulling my pants back up and rolling away from her. “This is a really bad idea, Faith!”
Her face reddened. “Don’t tell me you don’t want to do this. Don’t you find me beautiful?”
I stared at her. Her breasts were heaving, and her lace dress left little to the imagination. I had to admit, she was pretty good-looking — almost like a less-slutty 1864 version of Britney Spears, but maybe a little taller, and with less eye makeup.
“You... you look great, Faith. Really. But I can’t be with you. I’m... well, the truth is, I’m actually...” I stood there, fumbling. How was I going to explain that I was gay?
“Is there someone else?” she asked. “That must be it. Is that what you were trying to say?”
I decided that was as good a lie as any. I gently took her hand off my thigh. “Yeah, something like that. I’m... involved. I can’t have a girlfriend right now. I’m really sorry.”
“How dare you lead me on like this!” she shrieked, getting up to her feet. “Why, I believe you deliberately misled me!”
“I did not!” I snapped. “Look, you asked me to play at your recital, and I agreed to do that, just as a friend.”
“A friend?” she sputtered.
“That’s all,” I said, calmly. “Come on, Faith — the guests are going to be here any minute. We really should be getting back to the house, and...”
“To hell with you, Jason Thomas,” she snapped, pushing past me and down the gazebo steps. “You boys are all alike. You don’t understand that women have needs just like you do! You’re all so very selfish, so cruel. It’s just unfair, that’s what it is. So unfair!”
She made her way onto the path, continuing to argue. She was clearly on the verge of tears. “You just deluded me into thinking I was in love!”
“I did no such thing!” I yelled back. “Look, we sing well together, but that’s it, OK? Let’s just get back inside and get this recital over with.”
“Damn the recital!” Faith cried, storming off down the path. “And damn you, Jason Thomas! You are not a gentleman! You’re nothing but a cad!” She was almost running now, her dress now slightly muddy at the bottom as we jogged back up the hill.
“Slow down, willya?” I yelled. I almost caught up with her, but she suddenly veered off the path.
“How could I have been so stupid,” she cried, choking back tears. “It’s clear that music was all you were interested in. You should just go back to your... your farm, and those Colts, and just stay far away from me. I never should have asked you here in the first place. In fact...”
Suddenly, she let out a loud scream as the ground beneath her feet gave way. Her hands clawed at the dirt and she plunged down a black hole, disappearing into the darkness.
“SHIT!” I yelled. “Faith!” I leaped forward and leaned down into the abyss.
She had crashed through the thin boards covering up the old well. There was just enough light for me to see that she was dangling about 20 feet above the muddy water at the bottom of a stone shaft. Her dress had snagged on a jagged wooden plank at the top.
She let out another shriek. “My ankle!” she screamed. “I think I’ve broken it!”
“Give me your hand!” I yelled.
She waved frantically, then our hands met and I held on tight, giving her a tentative yank. She slipped and dropped down another half a foot.
“Oh, Christ,” I said, trying to get a better grip. “Can you push up against the wall?”
Faith began to sob. “I’m going to die in here!” she wailed. “All because of a stupid boy! This is so unfair!”
“Stop wiggling around, or you’re going to fall!” I cried. Her weight was starting to drag me down the narrow shaft. If we both fell in, chances are it could be hours before we were found — that’s assuming we survived the fall. And the underground walls were beginning to give way. I dug my feet into the dirt, in a vain attempt to gain some traction. I looked around, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of someone, anyone, who could help.
“Get me out of here!” she hollered. “My dress is totally ruined!”
The ground gave a sudden lurch, and a large slab of mud began to ooze down onto my right side.
“Hell with your dress,” I cried. “This whole thing is getting ready to collapse!”
Now Faith was really shrieking. A clump of mud fell on her face, turning her hair and dress brown and runny. She spat out the dirt and swung around.
“Do something!” she shrieked.
My grip was slipping. I looked up and saw a figure in the distance by the stables. “HELP!” I cried. “Over here! Faith’s fallen down the well!”
A man ran up. It was Willie, the butler who had let me in the house an hour earlier.
“What happened here?” he said, crouching down beside me in the dirt and reaching down. “Lord, what have you and Miss Faith gotten into? Oh, the judge gonna be pow’rful unhappy about dis.”
“He’ll be even more unhappy if we die in here!” I yelled. A large chunk of the stone wall began to collapse, raining down a shower of pebbles and rocks onto Faith, who screamed bloody murder.
“C’mon,” I cried. “Just pull, as hard as you can! Or else we’re all dead!”
§ § § § §
I sat back in the kitchen, my hair wringing wet, and took another sip of coffee. It had taken nearly five minutes, but luckily for us, Willie and I were able to pull Faith up just before the rest of the well collapsed. Faith cried at the top of her lungs the entire time — partly from the sheer terror of being trapped underground in the old well, but also from her embarrassment at my rejection, along with losing what she insisted was “her finest dress, imported from a shop in Paris, France.”
“You want another cup?” asked Willie. “I kin make some more if’n you want some.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “Hey, listen — thanks again for helping us. Faith was really out of control back there. I appreciate you keeping a cool head.”
The man started to answer, then he stiffened and stood up. I turned to see the scowling face of Judge Shaw.
“This is quite a mess,” he said, as he entered the kitchen. “Doctor Wells has put Faith to sleep with a sedative. It appears her foot is only sprained, but she’s completely hysterical.”
“I’m... I’m sorry about that, Judge,” I mumbled. “We were just walking along, and I guess we just forgot where we were, and...”
“Yes, yes, yes. I heard all about it from Faith” His face brightened. “Sounds to me like you were quite the gallant gentleman.”
My eyebrows shot up.
“Why, if you hadn’t been there, Faith might have fallen all the way to the bottom and drowned.” He turned to the servant. “Willie, I thought I had told you and Toby to fill up that old well a month ago. Damned infernal thing is unsafe.”
Willie nodded. “Yassuh,” he said. “Toby was sick for the last week, then the snow come in. We were goin’ to get to it first thing Monday mornin’.”
“You get on it right now, you hear me? I want that old well completely filled up so it’s no longer a danger to any of my family.” The judge turned to me. “And as for you, young man,” he said, “it would appear I owe you a debt of gratitude. You saved my daughter’s life.”
I shook my head. “No sir,” I said. “Willie helped just as much as I did.”
“Nonsense. Faith said you held onto her for several minutes until Willie came over to help. She would certainly have perished had you not been there.”
“I didn’t even think about it,” I said truthfully. “I mean... I’d do the same thing for anyone.”
“But as luck would have it, you did it for my only daughter,” he said, slapping me on the back. “Take some political advice from me, young man: a man of my position can be of great benefit to a young man like yourself coming up in the world. You ever need some help, you just let me know.”
As I made my way down the street to McBillin’s store on South Broadway, less than half a mile away, I mused over the dramatic events of the afternoon. Like it or not, I had saved a life. But what if Faith was meant to die, I thought. Now, history would be irrevocably changed!
For all I knew, Faith would eventually grow up, get married, have children. Maybe some of them would become important. Maybe they’d wind up as the ancestors of a President... or a great inventor, like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison. Or it could go the other way, I thought. What if their kids grew up to be monsters, like Hannibal Lecter? Or Adolf Hitler?
I’ve been in 1864 almost exactly a week, and I’d already managed to change history. “When I get back to 2007,” I mumbled to myself, “if there’s T-Rexes roaming the streets of Seattle, then I’ll know for sure I screwed up.”
I grinned at the bizarre thought, then trudged back into the general store — now emblazoned with an elaborate sign proclaiming it “McBillin’s Supermarket.”
§ § § § §
Mrs. McBillin was shocked at my muddy appearance and was kind enough to get me a change of clothes, back in the stockroom. As we were closing up the store at about 6:30PM, I heard the tinkle of the front bell.
“Sorry, we’re closed,” I said, not looking up. “But if you just need something...”
“I was lookin’ for you,” said a familiar voice.
“Travis!” I said, wiping off my hands. “What’re you doing out here?”
“Mom sent me into town to pick up a coupla things. Figured I’d give you a ride home in the wagon.”
“Gimme a sec.”
I took off my apron. Five minutes later, we were bouncing back down Old Country Road.
“Heard tell you’re some kinda hero,” Travis said, as we took the curve around some low-lying branches. “It’s already in the evenin’ paper.”
“News travels fast,” I said. “It wasn’t that big a deal. Faith fell down a well in her backyard, and I guess I sorta saved her.”
I filled him in on the sordid details, including how Faith nearly raped me in her back yard, which amused Travis to no end.
“They say Judge Shaw’s pretty rich,” he said. “He gonna give ya a reward?”
“He said he owed me a favor,” I said. “You never know — maybe that’ll come in handy someday. Might even be worth more than money.”
“That’d have ta be some kinda favor,” he replied.
The wagon gave a lurch.
“Hey, where we going?” I said, momentarily confused. “I thought the way to the farm was that way.” I nodded towards the path to the left.
“Got one quick stop to make. Won’t take long.”
A few hundred yards down the dirt road, the wagon slowed as we bounced across some railroad tracks.
“The Atchison-Topeka railroad comes right through here, three times a day,” he explained, giving the horses a gentle nudge with the reins as the buggy cleared the tracks. “You mighta heard the train whistle late at night. I figure this is prob’ly how Billy left town and went into Tennessee to enlist.”
After another half mile down the road, Travis pulled the wagon to a stop.
“We meeting somebody here?” I asked, looking around.
“In a manner of speakin’,” Travis said as he hopped off the wagon and walked over to a metal gate by the side of the road. He held up a lantern.
“St. Louis County Cemetery,” I read on the wrought iron gate. “You sure it’s OK to go in this late?” The stone wall looked forboding, and the surrounding trees were bare and forlorn.
“I don’t think the folks in there are gonna mind.”
The night air was chilly, and there was an unpleasant smell in the air. Travis swung the gate open, and I followed him down several rows of gravestones, which seemed to date all the way back to the late 1700s. We finally came to a stop at a small marker on the far left side, just a plain grey cross surrounded by unkempt weeds.
“‘Micah Artemis Finnegan,’” I read off the stone. “Your father, right?”
Travis nodded. “It’s his birthday today. He’s been dead almost six years now, but I try to come visit every October 22nd, just to remember him.”
He took his hat off and we stared at the grave.
“I know how you feel,” I said quietly. “It’s been less than a year since my father passed away, too.”
“You ever visit his restin’ place?”
I shook my head. “He loved the ocean, about two miles from our house in Seattle, so we scattered his ashes in the Pacific. Figured he’d like that somehow.”
Travis stood silent. I couldn’t tell if he was on the verge of tears, or just thinking about something. At last, he turned away. “We gotta get back,” he said.
“By the way,” I said, hopping up on the wagon next to him, “are we anywhere close to Marsen’s Cave?”
Travis rolled his eyes. “You ain’t gonna try that again, are ya? Colt will beat the beejeezus outta both of us if he finds out.”
“At least let me take a look around,” I said. “It’ll only take me a few minutes.”
He glared at me.
“I’ll just look, I swear.” I held up two fingers. “Scout’s honor.”
A short time later, we rolled up to the hill. “That’s where we found ya,” Travis said, pointing to a path on the right. “Ain’t much of nothin’ up there now. See where the mud’s slid down?”
I scrambled up the side of the hill at the exact spot where Jesse James had led me a week earlier. It seemed impenetrable, a rock-hard wall of mud, ice and snow. I cursed. It’d be impossible to dig through this, I thought, at least in this weather.
“How long you think before the rains wash all this away?” I said, giving the ground a few tentative pokes with my toe.
“Not ‘til spring at the earliest,” Travis said, chewing on an apple he’d grabbed back at the store. “Rains come in April. Should be back the way it was by May. But you got a good five, six-month wait at least.”
“Great,” I said, letting out a long sigh. “My little three-week vacation to St. Louis is turning out to be permanent.”
“Least ya got a place to sleep,” he said, taking another bite and spitting out some seeds.
“Speaking of which,” I said, as we hopped back up on the wagon, “you wanna come out and sleep up in the hayloft with me tonight?” I tried to keep my voice casual, but the truth was, I really missed being close with Travis.
He didn’t say anything for almost a minute as the horses clopped their way down Old Country Road. I was about to ask again when he turned to me.
“I been thinkin’ about it every day,” he said quietly. “Sometimes, it’s like that’s all I can think of — bein’ with you, that is.”
“Cool,” I said, sliding a little closer and putting my arm around his shoulders.
“It surely is,” he said, tossing the apple core off to the side. “Must be just above freezin’.”
“No, no,” I said, grinning. “Back where I come from, ‘cool’ means ‘good.’”
Travis seemed puzzled. “Wait a minute. You said I looked ‘hot’ the other day. Does that mean bad?”
“No, no. That means you’re... real attractive. You know — hot, as in...” I panted and wiggled my eyebrows for effect.
A sly grin appeared on Travis’ face. “Seems like you got a different word for everythin’. Makes no damn sense, if ya ask me.”
“Trust me,” I said, “it’ll make a lot more sense later on when we’re alone.” My groin throbbed in anticipation.
§ § § § §
Much to my surprise, Mr. and Mrs. Colt already knew most of the details about the Faith Shaw incident at the well. Apparently, I’d managed to become something of a local town hero, though the story had gotten somewhat inflated since that afternoon. Lem was convinced I had managed to single-handedly drag Faith out of a watery grave and bring her back to life. While we ate dinner, he stared at me with a combination of awe and wonder. I reassured him it was all luck and timing, and I had just been lucky enough to catch Faith at the right moment.
I omitted the little detail that we’d had a screaming match two minutes earlier, where she’d unsuccessfully tried to grab my dick. I figure I’d save that colorful addition for my autobiography, which might make a great story — assuming I ever got back home.
Travis seemed to forget our earlier conversation and headed off to bed before I could ask him out to the hayloft, not even making eye contact with me as he left the kitchen. I sighed, then took the path from the back door, down the porch, then across the dirt path that led out to the barn. I was completely exhausted by the day’s events, having been awake since 5:30AM.
“And these clothes don’t work for me at all,” I thought, tossing them in a pile by my bed. Plaid was definitely not one of my better looks. I made a mental note to get some replacements once McBillin gave me my next paycheck.
I don’t know how long I had been asleep, but I was suddenly conscious of something warm touching my arm. I bolted upright, letting out a small cry, but a hand quickly covered my mouth.
“It’s me,” Travis hissed. “Keep quiet. Don’t want Colt to know I’m out here.”
My fingers fumbled for the shelf nearby, grabbed a match, then lit the kerosene lantern, filling the hayloft with a soft warm glow. Travis was kneeling beside me and already had his shirt off.
“I figure we got at least a coupla hours,” he said, letting his overalls drop to the floor. He was completely hard.
My heart began to pound and my groin gave a little twinge. “Oh, that’ll be more than enough time,” I said, tearing off my night shirt and underwear.
I kissed him on the mouth and we rolled together onto my bed. After a few moments, he lifted his face up.
“I never had anybody kiss me before,” he said, catching his breath. “’Specially like this.”
“Is it okay?” I asked.
As if to answer, he pulled me close to him and kissed me harder, more passionately.
“I’m gonna take that for a yes,” I mumbled.
Our groins began to thrust together. He rolled over on his back and I slid my mouth down his chin to his neck, stopping at his taut, muscular chest, making little swirls around each nipple.
“Who taught you how to do that?” he mumbled.
“Shut up and enjoy it,” I said. I reached down to fondle him, and he immediately moaned in response.
I pulled myself up again and he leaned forward, kissing me roughly. Our bodies began to instinctively thrust together, our erections throbbing against our bellies. Despite the cold, within minutes we were both slick with sweat. Travis’ movements became faster, more insistent. I slipped my right hand behind his head, combing my fingers through his thick blond hair, while our tongues parried and intertwined. I used my left hand to feel his tight, sinewy body. His arm was thick with muscle, and I reached back to caress his shoulder, feeling his warm body slide back against mine. He used both hands to squeeze my bare buttocks, pulling me tight, and we settled into a faster rhythm.
“Lord almighty,” he mumbled.
I moved my mouth off his and began to suck and nibble on his neck. He tilted his head back and began to whimper. Suddenly, he began to grind faster, more intently, then let out a loud groan and I felt a sticky dampness on my stomach. Travis fell back, his head lolling on my pillow, and he let out a long, satisfied sigh.
“I won’t ask if that was good for you,” I quipped, sitting up beside him.
“Mmmmm?” he asked, still in a daze.
“Let me just finish myself off here.” I gave myself a few strokes with my right hand, using my left to feel the warmth of his body. Travis looked so perfect, lying in the dim lantern light. He moved his arms up over his head and smiled at me and let out a satisfied sigh. I saw just a few wisps of dark blond hair in his underarms. He lay there, posed like a dazzling figure from a Renaissance painting.
God, he was beautiful.
In less than a minute, I felt a surge, then erupted and fell beside him, still panting.
“God, I needed that,” I said, snuggling closer. “We’ll clean up in a minute. Just give me a second.”
Travis reached out and touched my face. “I ain’t never felt like this before, Jason,” he whispered. “It’s gettin’ so I think about ya all the time, bein’ with ya. And now...” his voice trailed off. “Is this what love is?”
I gently kissed his nose. “Hey, look,” I said. “Let’s just enjoy what we’ve got right now. Faith thought she was in love with me earlier today.”
He shook his head. “This ain’t like that,” he said. “I know you got feelin’s for me.”
I sighed. This can’t work, I thought. Travis and I are two different people, from two completely different centuries. What do we possibly have in common?
He looked at me expectantly.
At last I kissed him lightly on the lips and lay my arm across his muscular chest, feeling it rise and fall with each breath. “It’s close enough for jazz,” I said. “I love you, too.”
He put his head close to mine and I pulled up the blanket, then reached up to dim the lantern. True love or not, it was the most blissful moment of my life.
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