"So, what were you thinking about before you asked Bob to leave us alone?" Matt asked Elyse as he closed the attic door. Elyse was already down two steps, her left hand on the railing. Matt joined her.
"I was thinking about how cool it's going to be to have the chance to get to know my grandfather as a young man," Elyse responded, as Matt took her free hand and hobbled down the rest of the steps beside her. "Except for being a little bit overprotective, Grandpa Bob is totally awesome!"
"Interesting vernacular. More late-twentieth-century expressions?" Matt asked as he opened the door at the foot of the attic stairs.
"Uh-huh," Elyse replied, nodding as they stepped into the hallway. Matt then closed the door at the foot of the attic stairs and they headed toward the main staircase.
"So, you live in this house in the future," Matt said, as they traversed the hallway. "How did that happen? Did Bob and Fran leave it to your parents, or something?"
"Yes, they did," she replied, as they descended the main staircase together. "And, since my dad is their youngest child, I've always wondered why. . . Also, Grandpa Bob was the one who gave me my name. I've always wondered about that, too."
"I think," said Bob, as Matt and Elyse stepped down onto the main floor together, "that this might very well be the reason for both."
"You were listening!" said Elyse. "So, why do you think you left the house to my dad?"
Bob smiled with mild amusement and approached Elyse. Matt, therefore, released her hand and stepped aside. Bob put an arm around his granddaughter's shoulders and said, "Look at it this way: you came here because of some dreams, a journal entry, and a sketch. If I left this house to your dad, it was probably so that you would be living here, find the journal and the sketchpad, and come back here to meet us. And, of course, since your name is Elyse, I had to make sure you got that name, didn't I? Otherwise, everything could've gone askew."
Elyse nodded. "I guess you're right. . . It is a paradox, though . . . for you to know something was going to happen that hadn't happened yet, I mean."
"Maybe I dreamt about it before you were born," Bob suggested.
"I suppose that's possible," Elyse averred. "It all had to have a beginning somewhere, didn't it?"
"When did your family move into this house?" Bob asked.
"After Grandma died and the estate was settled. I was in first grade then."
"I hate to say this, but . . . maybe that's why Fran and I had to die when we did: so that you and your family could move into this house sooner than you would have if we'd lived longer. You needed to live here long enough to feel at home and comfortable here—and well-acquainted with the attic."
"Whatever the reason, you are here, aren't you," said Fran with a sunny smile. The moment she heard voices, she exited the kitchen, bearing a silver-plated tray containing a cut-glass pitcher filled with lemonade, four glasses and a sugar bowl. The pitcher sat in the middle of the tray, the matching glasses in a semi-circle behind it. The sugar bowl—also an obvious part of the set—sat in front of the pitcher.
Entering the living room clad in a pair of beige slacks, a short-sleeved white blouse, and a brightly-flowered half-apron, Fran set the tray in the center of the coffee table and then turned toward her young granddaughter. Bob removed his arm from Elyse's shoulders and allowed his wife to approach.
"Hi, Grandma Fran," said Elyse, accepting and returning a warm embrace. "You are so beautiful! No wonder Grandpa Bob fell in love with you!"
"You are a dear!" said Fran. "Please, sit down, sweetie," she added, indicating the sofa with an outstretched hand, "—and pour yourself a glass of lemonade. I brought sugar, if you want it sweeter."
"Thank you," said Elyse.
"Matt, honey, you can sit beside her, if you like," Fran said. She winked and smiled at him. He rolled his eyes.
As Elyse entered the Early-American-maple furnished living room and sat in the center of the three-cushioned sofa (with Matt on her left), she noticed that there was an armchair directly across from it (in which Bob was now seated), and a duplicate armchair to the right of the coffee table, as seen from her vantage point. An end table was placed at an angle between the sofa and the second armchair, with a matching end table to the right of Bob and his armchair. Both end tables held shade-covered lamps, neither of which was currently lit, as the afternoon sunshine of late spring poured brightly in through the open drapes.
After setting the journal atop the coffee table, next to the silver tray, Elyse poured herself a glass of lemonade, took a sip, nodded and smiled. "It's just right, Grandma Fran," she said.
"Elyse," said Bob, "I know this might be kind of hard for you, but . . . is there any way you could call us just by our given names? We may be your grandparents in your mind, but for us that hasn't happened yet. Right now, we're just a pair of newlyweds with an old car, a new house and a mortgage. I feel more like an older cousin than a grandfather. . . I have the protective instinct: you are family, after all; and I'm getting used to the idea of your being my granddaughter, but still . . ."
Elyse shook her head. "I don't know. I've been looking at so many photographs of you two and thinking of you the entire time as 'Grandpa Bob' and 'Grandma Fran'. . . I don't think I could possibly call you just 'Bob' and 'Fran'. It doesn't . . . feel right."
Bob sighed. Fran smiled. "Give it time," she said, pouring herself a glass of lemonade before sitting on the left arm of the chair in which her husband was seated. Since neither Bob nor Elyse was certain to whom she was speaking, each assumed she was addressing them. As she placed a loving hand on Bob's shoulder, Fran continued, "I'm sure that, after you've spent some time with us, Elyse, you'll come to realize that we really are only a little older than you. Maybe then it'll be easier for you to use our given names. For now, though, you may continue to address me as 'Grandma Fran' if you really feel the need."
Elyse nodded and said, "I've thought of you as 'Grandma Fran' and 'Grandpa Bob' ever since I started reading the journal and looking at photos of you when you were . . . I was going to say 'young'." She chuckled and said, "—photographs of you before you got old."
"Well then," said Grandpa Bob with a sigh, "I suppose we'll just have to live with the 'Grandpa' and 'Grandma' in front of our names . . . for a little while, at least. . ..
"Now," he continued, "isn't it time we started talking about your 'cover story'?" Addressing the room at large while pouring himself a glass of lemonade, he asked, "Does anyone have any ideas as to what we should tell my parents about Elyse?"
Elyse bit her lip and then said, "I'd like to tell them the truth." She followed the statement with a long drink from her lemonade glass.
"So would I," said Bob, "but getting them to believe it could be a bit difficult." He took a drink of his own lemonade as he waited to see what someone else might have to say about that.
"Not necessarily," said Matt. "After all, Bob, Elyse has your journal, brought back here from the future." He picked the journal up from the coffee table and asked, "Don't you think it looks a good deal older than the one you wrote in this morning?"
"Let me see that," said Bob, setting down his glass and reaching across the coffee table for the journal. As Matt handed it to him, the look on Bob's face told Elyse that either a figurative light bulb had just gone on over his head, or he was surprised that he hadn't thought about—or noticed—the age and/or appearance of the journal before. He nodded as he examined the cover and then opened the book to look at the pages. "The ink is faded, and the pages are yellowing," he said. "If we show this to my parents—along with the one I wrote in this morning—with the handwriting and the entries in both being exactly the same—they won't be able to argue that it must be a fake."
"Along with that, there's the matter of my clothes," said Elyse. "This isn't typical daily wear for a college coed in this time, is it?" It sounded more like a statement than a question. She shrugged. "It is in 2010. . . Anyway, a lot of the material is manmade; it's been that way for a long time. . . When cotton is used in making clothing in the future, it's generally combined with manmade fibers to make it easier to wash—and it wrinkles less . . . and wool blends are becoming more common, too: maintains the warmth, but cuts down on itching. Also, a lot of clothes that are sold in the U.S. in the twenty-first century are made in foreign countries—and not just the high-fashion stuff that's still made in France."
"Wow!" said Fran. "Easier to wash, less wrinkles, less itching . . . I wish I could get my hands on materials like that!"
"The most common manmade fiber—polyester—will make its debut in the sixties," Elyse added, "and its blending with cotton will come a few years later. . . But, if the two journals and my clothes aren't proof enough—" she set down her glass, got to her feet, reached into her jeans pocket and withdrew an object unlike anything either Matt or her grandparents had ever seen before and said, "—I also have my cellphone."
"Your . . . what?" Bob asked.
"It's a cellular telephone," Elyse said, holding the object up so they could all see it, "—cellphone for short. . . I'm not sure why it's called that; I've never bothered to ask." She opened up the back of the phone and said, "It has this battery that has to be charged on a regular basis. . . A charge usually lasts for several hours, though—longer if you turn it off now and then or don't use it constantly."
The three older people in the room were stunned; their mouths were open to varying degrees, and they couldn't seem to take their eyes off the new object. (Elyse had an iPod in her other pocket, but she chose to wait and show it to Matt sometime when they were alone together and had more time. She could then share her favorite tunes with him in private.)
"How does that thing work?" Bob queried, "—aside from the battery . . . which is . . . incredibly small. May I see it? —the phone, I mean." He set the journal back on the table and reached out for the cellphone. Elyse handed it across to him, holding the back cover in her hand.
"Just be careful with it, Bob," said Fran. "You don't know anything about how it works; and it looks . . . delicate."
Elyse nodded. "They can break if they're treated too roughly or carelessly."
"I promise I won't drop it," said Bob. "This tiny little rectangular thing is a battery? I've never seen anything like that! How do they . . .?"
"Elyse isn't an engineer or a technician of any kind, Bob," said Matt. "I doubt she knows much about exactly how it works—or how they can make a battery that small that has enough power to operate a telephone . . . of any kind."
"There are no cords or wires . . . This battery must really be incredible! But how do you call other people?"
"Come over here and sit next to me," said Elyse, patting the sofa on her right side. "I'll show you how it works—a little, anyway."
Once Bob was seated next to Elyse, he handed the phone back to her, and Fran took his spot in the armchair. Elyse put the cover back on the phone and flipped it open. The screen lit up and showed a bright, color picture of a medium-sized mongrel dog, sandy-colored, curly and shaggy, with a square snout, a long tail and floppy ears. "Whoa!" said Bob. "How'd you get a photograph into this thing?"
"Is that your dog?" Matt asked from the other side of Elyse.
"Yes. He was called 'Sandy' after Little Orphan Annie's dog—for obvious reasons."
"Part Schnauzer, I'd say . . . and maybe . . . cocker spaniel," said Matt.
"Exactly," said Elyse. "Dad got him from some friends as soon as he was weaned. The litter was big and they wanted to find good homes for as many of the puppies as they could. Sandy and I grew up together. He died a couple of years ago. I keep his picture here to remind me of how much a part of my life he was and how much I loved him."
"Enough about the dog!" said Bob. "How—"
"Do you see this little circle here, Grandpa Bob? It's a camera lens."
"Wha—? You can take pictures with this thing? Where do you put the film?"
"There isn't any film," Elyse said. "It's totally digital." She sighed. "Like Matt said, I'm not a techno-geek or anything like that, so I don't really know what makes a cellphone work. I only know how to operate it. . . Right now, though, it doesn't do much. I do know that, in order to make phone calls with it, there have to be communication satellites in orbit around the earth, and cellphone towers up all over the place. . . But, those things don't exist yet, so I couldn't call anybody with it if I wanted to. . . In 2010, this screen showed the date and the time, as well as the photo of Sandy, and there would be small vertical bars in this corner, showing how strong or weak of a signal the phone is picking up. There are only a few apps I can really use right now: the camera, the games I have installed, and the calculator."
"Where do the pictures go when you take them?" Bob asked, apparently more interested in that than any other aspect of the phone's utility.
"Here—I'll show you." She brought up her "My Pictures" file and scrolled through the photos, one by one. There were pictures of her parents; her siblings and their respective spouses and children; her friends; various relatives; more pictures of Sandy; and shots of scenery and other memorable moments from her young life.
"Which of these are mine and Fran's kids?" Bob asked.
"I'm not going to tell you," said Elyse determinedly. "I don't want to mess up my family's future by revealing too much about them."
"I'd guess this guy here is Elyse's father," said Matt, taking the phone, and—with a great deal of savvy and deftness—scrolling to a particular photo. "He looks a lot like your dad, don't you think, Bob? And he's about the right age to have fathered the ones she identified as her siblings."
"Yeah!" said Bob, nodding excitedly. "Yeah! . . . And the woman next to him is almost a dead ringer for Elyse . . . older, but with the same basic features."
Elyse sighed. "Okay, okay. Yes, those are my parents, Bill and Ruth. Mom's a couple of inches taller than I am, and she has hazel eyes instead of the Stanhope blue that I have. Other than that, yeah, we look a lot alike. These are Balfour traits that I get from Mom."
"And your diminutive stature you probably get from me," said Fran with a smile.
Elyse nodded. "Probably."
"Your mother's a Balfour? —from Cincinnati?" Bob queried.
"Ye-es," Elyse replied with a somewhat puzzled look on her face.
"Well," said Bob, smiling with mild amusement, "that explains a lot."
"What do you mean?" Elyse queried, the puzzled look now more pronounced.
"Members of the Balfour family," said Bob, "have a reputation for being both highly intelligent and very attractive. They tend to choose equally attractive and intelligent mates, which in turn continues the status quo, producing attractive, intelligent sons and daughters."
"So, basically, I'm a product of generations of something bordering on selective breeding?"
Bob's brow furrowed. "'Selective breeding'? I've never heard that term before . . . although that was very probably the ultimate goal of the Nazi regime." He shrugged. "And I suppose the choosiness of the Balfours when it comes to spouses could amount to something like that. . . In any case, your parentsseem to fit the bill. . . Where and how did they meet?"
"They met at Ohio State when Dad was a junior in pre-law, and Mom was a freshman majoring in sociology, with a minor in child psychology. When Dad brought Mom home to meet the family before proposing to her, she really liked Bristow. She figured that, being as small a town as it is, it would be a good place to raise a family." Elyse nodded. "She was right—it is. I've always loved living here.. . .
"But, since I grew up living a somewhat sheltered life here, college was a rude awakening for me in a lot of ways. Although . . ." she bit her lip, "I think part of it was that I chose to wear blinders: I didn't want to see what a mess the world was becoming. As long as it didn't touch me personally in any way, I was content to be blissfully ignorant." She shook her head. "That was a mistake: going through life with blinders on just makes the rude awakening—whether it be in college or out in the work-a-day world—that much more painful and difficult to deal with. I came to realize that it's better to face life head-on and deal with it as best we can—with the help of friends and family, if we're lucky . . . and I've been lucky. I think I have just about the best family in the world . . . and I have some good friends, too—all wonderful people that I'm going to have to leave behind, since I'm planning to stay here."
"So . . . you have decided to stay, then?" piped up Bob.
Elyse nodded. "Yes, I have. Even if there was a way for me to return home at the exact moment I left—so that no one would ever know I was gone—I still wouldn't be able to go if I waited too long."
"How long is too long?" Bob queried.
"It's hard to say—there are too many variables. Not only is the timeline very probably changing with each passing moment, if I were to stay for several weeks, or even a few months—long enough to get to know Matt better and to give us time to figure out if we can make it together as a couple—I'd be older, maybe even more mature; and any physiological differences would be noticeable to anyone who saw me. My hair could be longer, or be a completely different style, and I'd have to change it back—if I could remember what it was like; I might put on or lose some weight. . . Any number of things could be different. So, if I'm going to return to my own time at all, it'd probably have to be today, before any major changes have time to occur that I may not be able to explain or deal with; and, since the new timeline will provide for another version of me to be born, there's really no need for me to return to the future. . . Anyway, I'm very much in love with Matt. I wouldn't leave him now, even if one of us had a dream that told me how I could go back."
"Then I guess you won't need this," said Fran, taking a folded sheet of paper from the pocket of her apron and handing it across the coffee table to Elyse.
"This is . . ."
"Your way home," her young grandmother finished. "I had a dream this morning, too," she said with an ironic smile.
"What?!" ejaculated Bob for the second time in one day. "Why didn't you say something?"
"I wanted to wait and see if Elyse really turned up," Fran replied with a shrug, "—and if she did, whether she'd decide to stay here, or return to her own time. . . I didn't see any point in bringing it up if it wasn't necessary." Then, looking at Elyse, she said, "I really was hoping you'd decide to stay—and not just for Matt's sake. . ..
"I don't know if you're aware of this," she continued, "but I wasn't born and raised here. I would love to have someone near my own age—a family member—that I could really get close to. . . I hope we can develop a kind of . . . sisterly relationship." Looking at her husband, she then said, "Don't get me wrong, Bob. I love your sister, but she's a lot older than I am, and she's a fulltime wife and mother who doesn't understand in the slightest my desire to continue teaching even after we start our family. . . And your sister-in-law, Josie, is . . ."
"Josie is Josie," said Bob with a half-hearted, crooked smile. He then looked at Elyse and said, "My little brother's wife is . . . a bit on the vacuous side. She can't add two and two together and get four. She's a sweet kid and as generous as the day is long, but . . ." he shook his head. "I can only assume Alan didn't marry her for her brains or her scintillating conversation."
"Is she blonde?" Elyse asked with just the tinge of a smile.
"No, she's not," said Bob, "—she's a redhead. But, what of it? You're blonde. . ."
Elyse shook her head. "Never mind; it's just another one of those late twentieth-century things. I don't think I could explain it if I tried. Even if you still die at seventy-one you'll live long enough to understand the reference . . . eventually. . ..
"So," she said, looking at Fran, "I guess I'll take a look at this paper and see what I'd have to do if I wanted to go home." She unfolded the sheet and her eyes widened as she read it. "But this means—"
Fran nodded again. "Yes. It means that you could either go back alone, or you could—"
"—take Matt with me!" Elyse finished.
All eyes turned to Matt. "Wha—?" he uttered.
"'So that her parents won't feel bereft, send Elyse back to the moment she left,'" Elyse read aloud. "Then there are two more lines: 'Since his love for her is deep and strong, let Matt Stanford go along.'"
"Wow!" said Matt. "It never even occurred to me that I could . . . Elyse . . . do you want to? —I mean, would it work?"
Elyse sighed. "With the rhymes and the Omega symbol and the double arrows pointing forward, I expect it would work . . . to get you there. But—" she shook her head and continued, "—if you did go with me, there'd be way too many complications—just look at my cellphone! And that's just the tip of a very large iceberg. . ..
"The entire world has become really technologically advanced. Birth, marriage and death records are all on computers now, and a lot of it can be accessed by just about anyone, anywhere. For you to live in 2010, you'd have to have forged documents that could be entered onto a computer by an expert hacker, who would not only charge you for performing the service, but would very likely extort money from you to keep it a secret. Even cars—to some extent—are computerized in the twenty-first century. . . The only way to understand it all is to grow up with it and watch it all as it happens, step by step, over the course of years. If you were dropped into the middle of all that, you'd probably be really disoriented and feel like a fish out of water."
Matt sighed. "I was hoping it would work. I don't have any family of my own here; you, on the other hand, do have family back in 2010. . . But what about you, trying to fit in here where there isn't all that technology?"
Elyse shrugged. "I'm a history major. I have a pretty good idea of what does and doesn't exist in this time period . . . which is why I brought all that stuff along that Grandpa Bob left in my room upstairs. Everything in the Walmart bag is commonplace in 2010 but doesn't exist now; they're things I'm used to having that'll be really hard for me to live without. . . Sooner or later, though, the disposable items will run out and the rest will wear out. I'd just like to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible and give myself time to adapt to this time period, little by little. . . Anyway, even though I brought so much stuff with me, it'll be easier for me to go to the public library to look things up than it would be for you to learn how to use a computer."
She then looked at her grandparents with a sly smile and said, "And I can give you really reliable stock tips. I know what companies are going to skyrocket. You could buy their stocks when they're first made available to the public and hang onto them until you make a ton of money. Then you could sell them for probably ten times or more what you paid for them . . . if you don't mind getting a little bit rich."
"Wouldn't that tend to change our lives too much?" Bob asked. "Before, you didn't even want us to know the names of the children we're supposed to have. If we got rich, everything could change—and not necessarily for the better."
Elyse chewed her lip and said, "That's true."
"Although," Bob said thoughtfully, "we could try investing in the stock market if we had a good reason."
"Outside of just getting filthy rich, you mean?" his wife asked with a sardonic smile.
"Yeah," he replied to his wife's query. Then, "Elyse, you said before that for Matt to be able to live in the twenty-first century, he'd have to have forged documents that could be entered into the computer system by a hacker. What is a hacker?"
"Hackers are very computer-savvy criminals," Elyse explained. "They 'hack' into computer files and programs by overriding any security measures that are in place. Then, they enter or delete data from the system without official access or permission. . . They're highly intelligent, but have little regard for other people's rights to privacy, autonomy or anonymity. . . Some even practice what's known as identity theft: they make outlandish purchases under the names of other people by using information they glean from the Internet—or the Worldwide Web, as it's also called. The Web is a communications network that pretty much covers the globe in my time. It's a powerful tool, but it creates a lot of problems."
"So, Matt would not only have to have a birth certificate that he could hold in his hand, but it'd have to be entered into this computer system, too?" Bob asked. "Why?"
"People are really into their roots—genealogy. They like to look on the Internet to find out things about their ancestors. And, because a lot of birth, marriage and death records have been lost in fires and other natural disasters over the years, having the records in computer files means they're no longer lost forever. Copies can be generated from the records in the computer's memory."
"So, a 'hacker' could take a phony birth certificate, somehow enter it into the computer system, and it would be accessible by anyone, anywhere in the world?" Bob asked.
"It would depend on the intention of the person who entered the information. A lot of the time, the information is for local, county or state use only. . . There are legitimate groups that collect information for people who want to learn more about their ancestors, and they make it accessible to anyone who wants it. But, in city halls or other halls of records, the information is usually kept in-house, or sent to similar places within the same state or county. . . Why do you want to know all this, anyway?"
"He asked those questions on the heels of saying that they could invest in the stock market if they had a good reason," said Matt. "Does that tell you anything?"
Elyse's brow furrowed as she thought about it, then an invisible light bulb suddenly went on over her head. "Oh!"
Bob gave his granddaughter a crooked smile. "So, you figured out what I was thinking."
Elyse nodded slowly. "You're thinking of amassing enough money to be able to create an identity for Matt, if he really wants to go to the future with me. You could hire a forger and hacker both, so that Matt could have a hard copy—that is, a paper copy—of a birth certificate and have it entered into the city's computer system once it's been created."
"Yep. Would it work?"
Elyse sighed. "If you went back a generation or two, it might. . . First off, you'd have to let it be known that Matt left town. . . Maybe the two of you had a falling out; or maybe he's felt like a third wheel since you and Fran got married. . . Anyway, he'd eventually have to marry, so you'd have to have a marriage certificate for the Matt who left town; a birth certificate for his son, followed by a marriage certificate for that son; and, finally, a birth certificate for his grandson. (For this to work, Matt would have to come to town claiming to be his own grandson.) Old-timers who remember Matt might recognize him, so using a phony name wouldn't work. . . His gimpy leg could be a problem, though. . . I mean, what are the chances that both the original Matt and his grandson would have the exact same kind of limp?"
Matt sighed. "Even with a million dollars, doing all of that could be pretty problematical."
"And you'd still have to deal with trying to get a handle on all the new technology," said Elyse.
"Well, Matt," said Bob, "it's up to you. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to give you the opportunity to live with Elyse in the future, if that's what you want. I'd make sure I had all the paperwork and computer work done by the time I'm seventy, just in case I do die at seventy-one, despite Elyse's efforts to the contrary. It's your call, buddy."
"I wish I had a day or two to think about it, but . . . since, as Elyse says, the timeline is probably changing moment by moment . . . Elyse, do you think I could go with you for just a few hours? —maybe take a look around and see what I'd be up against? Sometimes I enjoy a challenge: I wouldn't've become a pilot during the War if I didn't. But, if it all looks to be too much for me—if I don't think I can handle it—we'll just come back here to stay. . . Wha'd'ya say?"
"What if it's a one-way ticket? What if we can't come back?"
Matt shrugged. "I guess I'd just have to do my best to adapt—just as you plan to do if you stay here."
Said Fran, "You could use the rhymes from my dream to get to the future together, and then try to use the one from Bob's dream, plus the second one from mine, to get you both back here again."
"If it works," said Elyse. "It might not."
"That would be the one-way ticket, then, wouldn't it?" said Matt. "I'd have to adapt, and you'd be there to help me. . . To start with, I could take college classes in history and in computer technology."
"Listen," said Bob, "if you do decide to try it, and if you don't return within twenty-four hours of leaving here, I'll assume you weren't able to make it back and I'll start making some investments, as you suggested. Just . . . write some of them down for me, so I don't forget them over the years. Then, when the technology is far enough along, I'll have the documents created and put into the computer system and leave them in Matt's footlocker, so they'll be there when you arrive in the attic—assuming that you do."
"Since the poem says to send me back to the moment I left, we should," said Elyse. "But, if you two are still alive—thanks to the changes I've tried to bring about—we may not be living here, regardless of what the rhyme says."
"I'll tell you what: once all of our kids have left the nest, Fran and I will leave the house in your parents' capable hands and move into a smaller place—maybe a nice little apartment. If I remember correctly, you said you were six—and in first grade—when you moved in?"
Elyse nodded and said, "Yes, that's right."
"Okay, then," said Bob. "Fran and I will move out when you're in first grade. Do you remember, by chance, what month it was?"
"It was shortly before Easter. I remember because Mom was excited to have so many places to hide the eggs that year. Our first house didn't have as many nooks and crannies as this one does."
"All right," said Bob. "Sometime before Easter your family will move into this house, I promise. One way or another, it will happen."
"Are you ready to give it a try, Elyse?" Matt queried, a look of pleading in his eyes.
Elyse exhaled a soft, inaudible sigh. "I guess so. It's just . . . I'm sure that, even now, the timeline will've changed, and things'll be different when we arrive. I might be almost as disoriented as you."
"Then we'll feel our way along together," said Matt with assurance.
"I'll have to sneak you around . . . No one can see you 'til we figure out if we're going to stay."
"Understood," Matt said with a dip of his head. "If I have to, I'll sleep in the attic. Just bring me a pillow and a blanket and I'll be fine."
"I can get you an air mattress to sleep on," said Elyse. "The attic floor isn't very comfortable."
"Well, then, if we're going to do this . . ." said Matt, picking up the journal from where Bob had left it on the coffee table.
"Hang on a minute," said Elyse. "I need to make a list of some really good stocks, just in case. . . Do you have a pencil and some paper I could use, Grandpa Bob?"
"Um, I think we have some around here somewhere . . ." Bob said, looking around the room in a cursory fashion.
Fran rolled her eyes. "I put a tablet and pencil next to the telephone the day they installed it, remember, sweetheart?" she asked her husband, as she went to fetch both objects from the lower shelf of the telephone stand in the corner of the room.
"Oh. Oh yeah," said Bob.
Before taking the pencil and tablet from Fran, Elyse handed the sheet of paper with the rhymes and symbols to Matt to hold. She then put the numbers 1-10 in a vertical column on the left-hand side of the top sheet of paper and wrote the name of a company next to each digit. "There!" she said. "That should be enough to set you up for life. Just remember: even if these companies go through a rough time for a while, they'll recover eventually and come back even stronger; so, don't sell out if things get a little dicey. Hang on and wait for them to go up again." She handed the tablet and pencil to her grandfather.
"Ready now, Elyse?" Matt asked.
"As ready as I'm ever gonna be, I guess," she said hesitantly. There was still some reluctance in her eyes and voice. If it weren't for the fact that Matt wanted to do this so badly, she wouldn't have even considered it.
"Whatever happens, angel, at least we'll be together," Matt said as he handed the instruction sheet back to Elyse. After tucking the old journal into the waistband of his pants, he wrapped his arms around Elyse's waist. She held the paper in her right hand, placed her left thumb over the Omega symbol and the arrows, and then recited all four lines of the dual rhyme.
A heartbeat later, they were in the attic. Matt looked around. "Wow! It really looks . . . old. Is that . . .?" He let go of Elyse and took two giant steps in the direction of the window, stopping in front of his own footlocker. "It is! It's my footlocker! Is the sketch still in here?"
Elyse turned toward Bob's footlocker. She remembered leaving the sketchpad on top of it after having looked at it one last time. It wasn't there anymore. "I don't know," she replied. "It could be; it's not where I left it, in any case. If there really has been a change in the timeline, anything is possible."
Matt stooped, opened the lid to his footlocker and looked inside. Elyse followed and peered over his shoulder. There was the plastic zipper bag. The sketchpad was still inside of it, untouched. Elyse bit her lip. "I was afraid of that!" she said urgently.
"What?" Matt asked, removing the bag from the locker and rising to his feet.
"I took the pad out of the bag, looked at the sketch one last time, and then set the pad on Grandpa Bob's footlocker before I left. Since it's back in the bag again . . ."
"Your mother may have found it and put it back for safekeeping . . ."
Elyse shook her head. "Mom never comes up here unless she has a good reason."
"She may have come up looking for you . . ."
"Maybe, but I doubt it. I'm pretty sure I was right, Matt: the timeline has already changed. Since I told Grandma and Grandpa so much about the future; and since you and I have already made a commitment to each other—which, if it's taken to its logical conclusion, means that we'll marry someday—Mrs. Barker may not have written the play—or she may have written a completely different one."
"How do you figure that?" Matt asked, puzzled.
"Our relationship will probably have an effect on Sarah Ashcroft's point of view. . . Originally, she told her daughter the tragic story of the sad, lonely man you chose to be, despite how much in love with you she was. With the changes wrought by our relationship, she would've had to face the fact that you were in love with someone else, leaving her without a prayer. . . I don't think she would've told her daughter about that: it would've been too embarrassing. . . So, the entire story upon which the play was originally based has already changed, even though some of it hasn't happened yet—from our standpoint, anyway."
"You really think so?" Matt asked with a furrowed brow.
Elyse nodded. "Yes, I do." At that moment, her cellphone rang. She flipped it open and paled. "It's Mom!" she said quietly.
Placing the cellphone to her ear, she tried to speak, but her voice caught in her throat. Then she heard, "What's up, Mom? I was just texting with Jules!"
Elyse closed the phone again and tears welled up in her eyes. "Oh, Matt! It's already happened! I didn't think the changes would be this drastic this soon!"
"What, Elyse? What's happened?"
She swallowed a lump in her throat. It had formed when she was faced with putting into words what she could barely believe, let alone accept. "The other me already exists," she croaked. "I guess we have the same cellphone number. I heard her talking to Mom."
Matt sighed heavily. "Then this timeline is a reflection of what lies ahead for the rest of us."
Elyse shook her head. "Just the opposite," she said. "This timeline reflects the changes that were already caused by my going to the past and talking to you and Grandma and Grandpa."
"Then, what we do from this day forward—meaning May 22, 1948—could change the timeline even more."
"Everything we do from here on out will affect it," said Elyse, nodding.
"Well, since another version of you already exists, there's no point in my looking around at everything. We couldn't stay here now if we wanted to."
"I know." Tears filled Elyse's eyes again and she began to sob. Matt held her and kissed the top of her head. "I wanted to at least see my parents again, even if I couldn't talk to them. But now . . ."
"I understand how you feel, sweetheart. I felt the same way when my parents died. . . I was off at school, for crying out loud! It was their twentieth wedding anniversary, and I never even called them on the phone to wish them a happy anniversary! I've regretted that ever since." He pulled back and gazed at Elyse. "Looks like we're both orphans now."
"Let's go back now, Matt. I'm ready to return . . . home." She looked down, took Bob's journal from Matt's waistband, opened it to the proper page, and placed Fran's paper on top of the page opposite. Matt then wrapped his arms around her waist again as she placed her left thumb on the Alpha symbol and the backward-pointing arrows and recited, "So that dreams may come true at last, send Elyse to the past. Since his love for her is deep and strong, let Matt Stanford go along."
The air shimmered in the Stanhopes' living room and then Elyse and Matt reappeared, seemingly a mere fraction of a second after their departure. "What the—?" Bob exclaimed when he saw them.
Elyse dropped the journal and the paper, broke free of Matt's embrace and ran upstairs, sobbing uncontrollably.
"Fran—" said Bob. Fran nodded and hurried up the stairs after Elyse.