“This isn’t right … ” Rachel whispered. “I know this room … That’s me, asleep in the bed. Have I died or something?”
“No. You still sleep in the mansion on Angel Island.”
Rachel spun round. “Who are you? What’s the hell’s going on?”
“You, I know, have asked the question – what would my life be like if I had not joined the Legacy? Tonight, you will discover the answer. I am the Phantom of Past Decisions. Two more spirits will join you as you journey along the path of present and future.”
“Like in A Christmas Carol,” Rachel remarked.
“Similarities between that work of fiction and the events of tonight are purely coincidental,” the Phantom replied, sounding a little tetchy.
“So .. this is just a dream exploring the possibilities of an alternate life.”
“Exactly. Yes. I’m pleased you understand.”
“Well,” Rachel said, “it is no secret that I have asked the question – out loud and inside my head. Knowing the answer will certainly resolve a lot of issues. I take it we’re only observers an’ that no one can see or hear us?”
“Yes,” the Phantom confirmed.
Briskly, Rachel rubbed her hands together. “Great. Okay, let’s start.” She turned back to watch herself sleeping. She was alone in the bed. Then Rachel glanced back. “Is it just me having this dream?”
“You are the only one involved here. Why do you ask?”
“All the others are happy with their choice. If they’ve ever questioned it, it was never serious. It never meant anything. Whereas I have seriously wondered if I did the right thing,” Rachel replied. “And more than once,” she added quietly.
The phone started to ring. Rachel groaned as she forced her eyes open.
“Patrick, why didn’t you ..?”
“No,” Rachel whispered, stricken, suddenly recognizing what this was. “Not this night. Please, don’t make me go thru this again. Please.”
Her searching hand found only empty bed. Abruptly, she was awake, her heart in her throat. She lunged across the bed to grab at the phone on Patrick’s nightstand, her frightened eyes noting the time on the clock. He should have been home hours ago.
“Hello ..?” she gasped.
The Phantom of Past Decisions nudged her onto a different path. Beside her, Rachel’s eyes were filled with desolate tears, her hands clenched together and held to her mouth.
Rachel let out a gasp of startled shock and laughed abruptly, the tears falling.
“Patrick? Where the hell are you? Do you know what time it is?”
“There was an accident, Rach. Don’t worry, we’re fine. Connor’s gonna stay in the hospital overnight, just for observation – he got pretty shook up but he is fine. I swear to you.”
“He’s alive,” Rachel choked, wiping her tears away. “They’re both alive!”
The younger Rachel was shaking. Her heart still raced. Telling her not to worry was pointless. “Where are you? I’ll get Kat – ”
“Honey, c’mon, don’t scare her by waking her up. I just called to tell you what happened an’ that I’m staying here. We’ll both be home in the morning. Try not to worry.”
“How can you say that?”
“It could’ve been a lot worse. Lucky for us the guy realized in time an’ swerved. Missed us by a couple of feet.”
“My God, Patrick! Are you sure you’re both okay?”
“Tired. Little shaky. Connor’s got a stitch on his head where he banged it. Apart from that, we’re fine. Car’s a mess but we are fine. Really.”
Rachel closed her eyes. “Where are you? Just so I know.”
“Stay there. Kat an’ I will come pick you up in the morning.”
“Okay, honey. I love you.”
“I love you too. Tell Connor Mommy will be there in the morning, an’ give him a big hug from me.”
“Promise. Look, my money’s gone. I gotta go – ”
The line went dead and Rachel replaced the phone. She sagged back against the pillows, closing her eyes, letting her heart slow down. Silently, she prayed – something she hadn’t done for years – thanking God for sparing her son and her husband. She didn’t think she would be able to sleep but relief flooded her and swamped her, dragging her under.
“Do you know what this means?” Rachel said to the Phantom. “My family stays together. I don’t go to Ireland to visit their graves. I never meet Derek or Nick.”
“You don’t join the Legacy,” the Phantom agreed. “Here, this night, was when it started. Now, it won’t. Your life will be different.”
“And better,” Rachel declared. “I know it isn’t real, that it’s just a dream, but this means so much. It’s a precious gift. Thank you for giving me this chance.”
“It has only just started,” the Phantom pointed out. “You may regret it by the time it ends.”
Rachel shook her head. “Never.”
“Kat! C’mon, honey! Wake up!” Rachel called up the stairs.
“It’s too early … ”
Rachel had been bitten by the anxiety bug again so she ran up to Kat’s room. “Katherine, c’mon. Your breakfast’s all ready.”
“She looks so young,” Rachel murmured, hugging her shoulders. “I remember .. how I had to sit down an’ hold her an’ tell her that her Daddy an’ her brother were never coming home again … I had to be so strong for her .. and, inside, I was frozen, shattered into a million pieces.” She looked round sharply. “Is Kat having a dream like this? Is she affected?”
The Phantom shook her head, but said, “The extent of how she is affected is twofold. One, she is a part of your life and is, therefore, a necessary element in this gift of knowledge. Two, how you react at the end, what you learn and take back with you, if your emotions are unchecked, they will alter your perception. Kat will be affected by how you act in the aftermath.”
“Do you know how this will end?” Rachel inquired.
“No. I am only a guide. This is your life, Rachel. You are the one making it happen.”
The Phantom looked at the younger Rachel. “Her. She is you.”
“Where’s Daddy?” Kat asked, yawning.
“Your Daddy is in San Jose,” Rachel replied. “We gotta drive down there to pick him an’ Connor up. Daddy called me late last night to say they’d been in an accident an’ they were in the hospital, but,” she went on quickly, “they are both fine. Your brother’s got a stitch in his head an’ he was a little shaken up so the doctors decided to keep him in till the morning. That’s why we have such an early start today. So you hurry up in the shower, then come eat your breakfast. Okay?”
“They’re really all right?” Kat questioned in a small, wary voice.
“That’s what your Daddy said an’ he doesn’t lie to us, does he?”
Kat shook her head and hurried to the bathroom. Rachel and the Phantom went back downstairs with the younger Rachel.
“She’s forcing herself to eat,” Rachel commented. “She doesn’t have any appetite, not for food. She won’t feel normal until she sees Patrick an’ holds him, then makes a big fuss over Connor. And, for that alone, I envy her so much. What she wants right now .. is a drink.”
They watched Rachel’s eyes drift to the bottle of bourbon on the counter.
“Y’see? I’m an alcoholic. These days .. it’s never easy but it’s easier. Back then .. it was very tough.”
“Back then is only seven years ago, for you.”
“For her, it’s right now,” Rachel remarked.
Rachel deliberately looked away and picked up her tea. Crashing on the way to the hospital because she was drunk could kill her and Kat. It wasn’t worth the risk, not when she’d come so close to losing her husband and son in a car wreck. It would be the supreme irony.
She tried to make the trip an adventure, keeping her voice upbeat and her face animated, but her hands gripped the wheel so tightly her knuckles were white. It was only as she reached the city limits that she realized she didn’t know which hospital they were in. It took several fraught phone calls to track them down.
The scene moved to a hospital room. Connor had a stitch on his temple and he looked pale and subdued. Patrick was unharmed but he looked worn out. Both smiled though when Rachel burst into the room.
The Phantom stepped back. Rachel could hardly breathe as she crept forward, feeling absurdly like an intruder in this reunion. She stared at Patrick, her hand reaching out to touch his face but stopping short.
“I miss him so much … ” she whispered to the Phantom. “He was my rock, y’know? No matter how bad life got, if he was there, I could cope. That makes me sound the weak an’ feeble woman .. but it wasn’t like that. I’m talking .. when the door closes an’ the world’s shut outside .. he was always there for me. Someone I could always talk to. When he died .. I lost that.”
“Until you joined the Legacy,” the Phantom suggested. “They saved you.”
“Yeah, but it was never the same. Patrick knew just by looking at me. Derek .. and the others .. they had to learn all that.” Her gaze switched to her son. “Connor … My baby. How I wish I could hold him, just once.”
“She will do it for you,” the Phantom murmured from the corner. “She is you.”
“Poor baby,” Rachel said to Connor, hugging him. Patrick picked up Kat and spoke softly into her hair as her arms tightened fiercely around his neck. “How are you feeling now?”
“I wanna go home,” Connor replied. “The dumb doctors won’t let me out.”
“Hey, your Mom’s one of those dumb doctors,” Patrick scolded mildly. “Quit with the insults, partner, okay?”
“Okay,” Connor sighed.
“Why won’t they release him?” Rachel asked.
Patrick shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m a smart architect, not a dumb doctor.”
“Then I will go find out.” She took a step away then halted. “How are you doing?”
“I’m .. gonna feel a lot better once I’m home,” he replied. “You know me an’ hospitals.”
“Yeah, I do. I’m amazed you married a dumb doctor,” Rachel grinned and continued on her way. Rachel and the Phantom went with her to the nurses’ station.
“Hi, I’m Dr Corrigan, Connor’s mother. He says you won’t release him.”
“The doctor hasn’t seen him yet this morning. He is on his rounds so it can’t be much longer.”
Rachel nodded. “Can I see his chart?”
The nurse hesitated then handed it over, watching Rachel carefully as she examined the notes.
“Pretty disturbed night,” she commented. “To be expected.”
“He may need counseling,” the nurse remarked. “By all accounts, it was a close call they had last night. I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet just how close it was.”
“I’m a psychiatrist as well as a medical doctor,” Rachel smiled. “I’ll see they both get thru this.” She handed back the notes. “Thank you.”
Back in Connor’s room, Rachel closed the door. “What happened?”
Patrick shrugged again. “This guy .. I guess he fell asleep at the wheel,” he replied. “We were heading home an’ .. he just crossed the median an’ came right at us. Connor yelled. I hit the horn. Must have woken him up. He swerved back toward the median .. missed us by this much,” he said, holding his hands a small distance apart. “I hit the brake an’ kinda lost control for a second.”
“We ended up in the ditch,” Connor said. “I banged my head.”
“My God .. you were so lucky,” Rachel breathed, horrified all over again.
“Yeah, well, we are both alive so I guess it wasn’t our time, huh?” Patrick said, smiling reassurance at her.
“Not this time,” the older Rachel agreed.
The scene shifted again, back to the family home. Rachel was preparing dinner. Kat and Connor were squabbling at the table instead of doing homework. Patrick was trying to read some papers.
“Kids, c’mon,” he said shortly. “Cut it out. Homework first, then you can fight.”
“We’re not fighting, Dad. We’re arguing,” Connor responded with a child’s irritatingly impeccable logic.
“And I’m trying to work. Fighting with fists or words .. makes no difference. It’s still loud an’ it’s still a big distraction.”
“Your Dad’s right,” Rachel said in support. “Homework’s important or the teachers would not give it to you to do. Now, if you can’t work quietly at the table, you can go up to your rooms an’ work there.”
“Yes, Mom,” they chorused.
Rachel refilled Patrick’s coffee mug. “Tough day at the office?”
“He looks tired,” Rachel remarked to the Phantom.
“Not so bad,” Patrick replied. “I’m just up against a tight deadline. I need to really concentrate, honey.”
“Okay.” She backed off.
“That isn’t like him,” Rachel breathed. “I’m not saying he never felt pressure but he never let it intrude on our life.”
“Have you considered the possibility that his brush with death has changed him?” the Phantom responded. “His dying irrevocably altered your life, Rachel. His not dying doesn’t mean everything stays the same. You didn’t join the Legacy. You’re a different person. So is he.”
For the first time since this began, Rachel felt a thrill of unease.
“Package for you.”
“Oh. Just one second.” Rachel pushed the door almost shut and ran to get her purse. A few minutes later, she was carrying the heavy box into the kitchen.
“What’s that?” Rachel asked the Phantom.
“Wait and see. She is just as curious as you are.”
Rachel got some scissors and began slicing thru the tape, her eyes quizzical. Eventually, with the older Rachel crowded at her shoulder, she lifted the lid.
“Oh my God … ” Rachel whispered. “It’s from my Aunt Rebecca’s house.”
The younger Rachel picked up an envelope and opened it. “Aunt Rebecca … ” She scanned the typed lines. “Bequeathed in her will the contents of this box .. she wants you to have it .. an’ use it.” She shrugged. “Okay.”
She set the letter to one side then lifted out a book.
“Is that what I think it is?” Rachel inquired in a hollow voice.
“Your Aunt’s spell book,” the Phantom nodded. “Witchcraft runs in your family, Rachel. In the Legacy, you were protected. There were friends who could and did help. You don’t have that now. She’s never heard of the Legacy.”
“Look,” Rachel began, sounding a little worried, “I know that woman. I know how she thinks. I didn’t totally change when I joined the Legacy. Yes, I did have to start considering some way out theories, but I am first an’ foremost a scientist, and so is she. She won’t start to dabble.”
“You sound sure.”
“I am sure.”
“When your Aunt died in your life, what did you do?”
“I went down south. I wanted … ” Rachel fell silent.
“You wanted to learn more about your family. About your mother’s sister. You were fascinated by that side of your family. You think she is any different?”
“Being fascinated by secrets is one thing. Falling into that kinda life is totally different.”
The Phantom nodded. “We’ll see what happens.”
“If she has half the sense I know she’s got, she’ll burn that book,” Rachel declared.
“That’s Rachel Corrigan, Legacy member, speaking from past experience. She is Rachel Corrigan .. with no experience of the dangers she faces. Patience, Rachel. You wanted to know how your life would have been. This is it.”
“I don’t believe I would be so stupid,” Rachel stated, folding her arms.
The younger Rachel had flipped open the book to frown and stare as she slowly turned the pages.
“She’ll see it as a .. curiosity. Nothing more.”
“Perhaps she will,” the Phantom agreed.
“See? She’s putting it back in the box.”
“And she’s taking the box upstairs. She isn’t destroying it.”
Rachel shrugged stiffly. “This is just some kind of .. family heirloom.”
They followed her upstairs and watched her put the box in the bottom of the closet.
“And there it will stay,” Rachel muttered. “She’ll forget all about it.”
The Phantom said nothing.
Time flowed and Rachel’s life progressed smoothly. Connor celebrated a birthday, so did Kat. They went on a family vacation.
Rachel and the Phantom watched and Rachel soaked up this precious gift, this time with her husband and both her children. Even though she couldn’t touch them or make them hear her, it was enough for her to know that, in an alternate life, they had stayed together. Her unease faded and she dismissed it as a hiccup, a temporary blip in the cozy domesticity.
Patrick continued to do well at work, so did Rachel.
“Patrick,” she began one evening, after the children were in bed, “I’ve been thinking.”
“Yeah ..?” He was reading some papers but he looked up.
“Before I get too old,” she laughed, “how about we try for another baby?”
The Phantom glanced at Rachel whose eyes had widened.
Rachel nestled closer to him. “I can work part time. It wouldn’t impact the finances. I just feel .. I need to do this, y’know? I nearly lost you an’ Connor last year and … God gave us another chance. I want to celebrate that.”
“You sure? I mean, celebrate it this way?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“It’s a big responsibility, Rach. Connor’s ten, Kat’s eight. We’ve gotten beyond the midnight feeds and diaper changes. It’ll be starting all over again.”
“I know, an’ that’s why I wanna do it. I wanna try. God gave us a second chance, Patrick. Why not really start all over again?”
He put his papers down. “I don’t object to trying as much as you want,” he grinned, sliding his arm around her shoulders. “Sure. If that’s what you want to do, we’ll do it.”
“Does she ..?” Rachel whispered. “Does she become pregnant?”
The scene shifted abruptly.
Rachel eased her back. “I forget how much this makes everything ache toward the end.” She laughed softly. “Can’t stand up, can’t sit down, can’t get comfortable no matter which way I try.”
“You want a cup of tea, Mom?” Connor asked.
“That would be lovely, sweetheart,” she said as she awkwardly sat down. “Thank you.”
“Can I get you anything?” Kat inquired.
“A big hug,” Rachel replied. “Kat, you do know that I’m still gonna love you just as much after this baby’s born, don’t you?”
“Uh huh,” Kat nodded, but her mouth was turning down very slightly.
“Sweetie, this brother or sister in here is gonna take up a whole lotta my time an’ your Daddy’s time but we will never shut you or Connor out. Love is a magic thing, Kat.”
“Sure! It isn’t like .. the ocean .. or chocolate cake. There’s only a certain amount of ocean and it has to be shared out or everyone has a slice an’ that’s it. No, love is boundless. I can love your Daddy an’ Connor an’ you, an’ make some new love for the baby. Love grows, every day. The heart can hold any amount of love and can always make more when it’s needed.”
“Really,” Rachel smiled. “And I will need your help an’ your brother’s help when the baby’s born. Will you do that for me, Kat?”
“Sure,” Kat smiled.
“Here.” Rachel took her hand and placed it on the taut bulge of her abdomen. “Feel that?”
Kat’s eyes widened. “It kicked me!”
“Saying hello to you,” Rachel grinned.
“Hello in there,” Kat called softly, bending forward. “I’m your sister. My name’s Kat.”
The Phantom glanced again at her companion. Rachel was white faced with shock.
“This doesn’t please you?” the Phantom asked.
Rachel shook her head. “It isn’t that I’m displeased. I am so thrilled for her. It’s just .. I never got to have another child with Patrick.”
“It’s more envy than jealousy,” Rachel replied. “Does she know how lucky she is? How precious her life is?”
“If you could, would you exchange your life for hers?”
“In a flat second.”
“This is still the past, Rachel,” the Phantom pointed out.
“I’d still give up the Legacy if it meant I could have her life.”
“You know that isn’t possible.”
“Okay, I am too old to have another child now and I wouldn’t want one. Patrick is still dead. So is Connor. But look at them!” she invited the Phantom of Past Decisions. “She’s happy and she has no idea of what the Legacy does. I could have that happiness. I could do what I’ve thought about so often .. an’ leave. Kat an’ I .. would have a normal life where the only thing we have to worry about is where to take a vacation an’ the only thing which would scare us is how we’re gonna pay for it.”
“Damn right I’m distressed! Seeing all this .. just shows me what I’ve lost.”
“Patrick’s still dead,” the Phantom said gently. “Leaving the Legacy won’t bring him back.”
Rachel closed her eyes. “It would give me a little peace. Can we move on? Better still, can we end this?”
“Not yet. Your life isn’t over.”
“So you’re gonna make me watch them grow old together?”
“Patience, Rachel. This is a gift.”
“Well, it damn well doesn’t feel like it,” Rachel muttered.
The scene shifted to a hospital room. Rachel was crying and laughing, grateful it was all over. Her body had pushed out a tiny miracle.
“It’s a girl. She’s beautiful.”
Patrick smiled proudly. “Just like her Mom.”
Rachel took the baby in her arms and gazed into the little, angry red face. “Hello … I’m your Mommy.”
“Do you have a name for her?” the nurse asked.
“Casey,” Patrick replied. “Casey Corrigan.”
The Phantom watched as Rachel crept closer, her hand to her mouth. “Oh .. look at her … She’s a little angel.”
“Patrick, go fetch Kat an’ Connor,” Rachel urged. “They should see their sister.”
“I love you,” he whispered, kissing her cheek, then touching a gentle finger to the baby’s chin. He smiled and went to fetch the children.
“Don’t you think she’s adorable?” Rachel asked the Phantom.
“Yes, she is. Do you still want this to end?”
“No. I have to see how she grows. How my family develops.”
“Do I have a choice?” Rachel asked, glancing round. “Really?”
The Phantom’s hooded head indicated no.
“That’s what I thought,” Rachel said.
“I’d forgotten how much sheer hard work babies can be,” Rachel sighed as she sat down.
“Worth every second though,” Patrick said with a smile. “She settled for the night?”
Rachel glanced at him. “Settled, yes. For the night .. who can say?”
He hesitated. “I thought I’d take the kids .. that is Kat an’ Connor away for the weekend. Give you a break from our demands as well. I was thinking of taking ’em camping. Get back to nature.”
“Peace an’ quiet,” Rachel remarked wryly. “They sure don’t get that here.”
“She’s just exercising her lungs, Rach. Getting in some early training for a career as an opera singer.”
Rachel thought over his idea. “Yeah, you should take them camping. I know we try very hard not to shut them out, to include them in everything but I’m sure they do feel we’re cutting back on our quality time with them. A weekend away with their Dad .. has to be good.”
“That’s what I thought,” Patrick nodded. “You can .. chill a little. Let the housework go.”
“Maybe, next time, we can all go,” Rachel added. “Or I’ll take them an’ you can stay home with our fledgling opera diva.”
Rachel watched this, marveling. “That’s what I miss at Angel Island,” she said.
“What?” the Phantom queried.
“That. Patrick just offered to give her time out for a weekend. I have to plead for time out. Patrick just knew I needed it. Derek .. is sometimes so blind.”
“You’ve been married to your husband for over ten years, Rachel. You’ve shared a home. A life. He would get to know you in that time, be able to read your expressions, sense your mood without you having to say a word.”
“And I’ve known Derek Rayne for over six years,” Rachel countered. “Shared a house – ”
“Not as husband and wife. Even a man as sensitive as Derek Rayne needs to be told sometimes. The life you have shared with him has also been shared with Alex and Nick. You have seen your role in the Legacy as a job. Yes, it is something you were called to do but you have maintained a semi-professional distance from your colleagues. Perhaps, if you dropped the barriers around your heart and allowed yourself to get a little closer, they would all understand you a little better and act without you having to demand. Derek could become more the man you wish him to be.”
“People can change but only if they want to.”
“People can change but only if they know their current behavior isn’t all it could be. Derek is sensitive, not a mind reader.”
Rachel angled her head. “You know him pretty well, do you?”
“I know him as much as I need to, just as I know everyone as much as I need to.” The Phantom gestured at the couple on the sofa. “They have an easy familiarity due to intimate association over many years. You have an easy familiarity with Derek Rayne due to professional association. It could be more. People can change, Rachel, but only if they want to.”
Rachel flushed. “Derek is a colleague.”
The Phantom nodded. “You compare him and your life with him to Patrick and your life here.”
“Patrick is the only man I have ever truly loved,” Rachel retorted.
The Phantom slowly nodded again. “Then Derek can never win. You won’t let him.”
The scene shifted. The house was quiet and had an empty feeling. Rachel gently laid Casey in her crib and backed cautiously away, her fingers crossed that she wouldn’t waken. She felt she could use a long nap herself to recharge some of those jaded brain cells. But, first, she’d straighten the kids’ bedrooms and make a start on the laundry. The housework could wait but the laundry had to be done. With three kids, not doing it wasn’t an option.
Rachel went to Kat’s room, put the hamper outside the door, then briskly made the bed, tidied the desk, put clothes away. Kat was a fairly tidy child anyway so it wasn’t a big deal. Connor’s room was worse. Models of fighter planes cluttered every shelf. Laundry which should have been in the hamper was on the floor. The bed looked as if a football game had taken place in it. Rachel tidied and straightened, frowning over something sticky on a pair of jeans. Boys will be boys, she told herself, keeping the offending garment to one side.
Next, she collected the laundry from the hamper in her and Patrick’s room. It all went downstairs and she began systematically sorting it, going thru pockets for forgotten money, Kleenex, pieces of paper, turning socks the right way round and unrolling shirt sleeves.
The first load in the washer, Rachel made a cup of tea and sat down to continue the task of preparation. In one of Patrick’s shirt pockets, she found a slip of paper and she put it on the table, then, curious, unfolded it. A number was written on it. Rachel shrugged and rolled down the sleeves before tossing it onto the heap.
The quiet was really very pleasant. Casey wasn’t a bad baby but she was very impatient. Kat had been willing to wait while formula or meals were prepared, providing Rachel held her and rocked her on one hip. Casey wasn’t. She woke, whimpered to indicate she was awake, sucked in air and let rip at full volume. No matter how much she was held or rocked, she still cried as loudly as she could. Rachel had come to accept it because she had tried and failed to get Casey to understand that she was working as fast as she could. It was just one of those things Casey would grow out of. Rachel was already dreading the onset of the tantrums when she hit two.
But, for now, right at this moment, Casey was asleep and quiet. Why anticipate problems? Rachel drank her tea and went to stretch out on the sofa. She was asleep in seconds.
She woke abruptly sometime later to two sounds. One she recognized instantly. Casey was awake. Behind that was the sound of the phone ringing. Rachel shook herself, prodding her sleep fogged brain into a high gear.
“I’m coming, sweetie! Mommy will be right there!” she called as she raced into the foyer to pick up the phone. “Hello?”
There was a studied moment of silence.
“Hello?” Rachel tried again. The line clicked dead. She shook her head and ran upstairs. “It’s okay, Mommy’s here.”
To her astonishment, Casey fell silent then gurgled at her, and then smiled. Rachel smiled too and picked up her daughter.
“Hungry? Let’s get that diaper changed and fix you something really tasty, huh?”
“She’s adorable,” Rachel breathed, unable to stop the smile of pure delight from breaking across her face. “So perfect … Kat looked just like that when she was a baby.”
Once lunch was out of the way and Casey had been put on the floor to practice her slowly emerging mobility skills, Rachel remembered the strange phone call. It could have been one of Patrick’s colleagues who’d forgotten he was away for the weekend. That wasn’t so bad. Embarrassment at memory lapse could be forgiven. But it could have been one of Rachel’s patients in a crisis. She’d cut her practice back to a handful of clients, two mornings a week. If it was one of them, she had to help.
Rachel went back to the phone and pressed *69. She had a pen ready and wrote down the number. It seemed familiar. She scratched her head, frowning.
Rachel leaned in closer to read it. “That’s the same as on that slip of paper,” she remarked.
Almost as if she’d heard, the younger Rachel snapped her fingers and went thru to the kitchen. She unfolded the slip of paper and compared the numbers. They were the same. One of Patrick’s colleagues then. No crisis. Rachel could relax.
The scene shifted to late Sunday afternoon and the homecoming. Connor had scraped both his knees and gained a bruise on his arm. Kat was fine. Patrick looked tired.
“I fell out of a tree!” Connor announced jubilantly.
“Are you all right?” Rachel inquired.
“Aw, Mom, I’m fine,” he dismissed. “I’d never climbed a tree before. It was great!”
“What about you, Kitty Kat?” Rachel asked.
“I had a really great time, Mom. We stayed up late both nights an’ told ghost stories.”
“No nightmares?” Rachel wondered.
“No,” Kat laughed. “Daddy was really funny when he held the flashlight up to his chin an’ kept pulling faces.”
“Okay, well, upstairs both of you, outta those muddy clothes. Supper’s gonna be in about an hour.” Rachel watched them race away then turned to her husband. “And how was your weekend?”
“Exhausting,” he replied on a groan, leaning against the wall. “If it wasn’t fishing Connor out of mud puddles, it was cooking, hiking, pointing out different trees, trying to get them to sleep … I never knew they could be so much work! That isn’t true,” Patrick said instantly. “I knew they could .. I just never realized people so small could have so much energy. How was your weekend?”
“Actually .. I think we turned a corner. Can you hear anything?”
“Some kinda miracle, huh?” Rachel grinned.
“Yeah,” Patrick agreed, sounding amazed.
“Oh, someone called for you yesterday but hung up,” she went on, going thru to the kitchen to start supper. “It was this number.” Rachel picked up the slip of paper from the shelf. “I found it in one of your pockets when I did the laundry.”
Rachel and the Phantom were standing by the door. The Phantom watched the entire scene. Rachel only gazed at Patrick, feasting her eyes, drinking in every detail. The slight silvering of gray at his temples. The deepening laughter lines around his eyes. But, at her mildly spoken words, she tensed.
“What is it?” the Phantom asked.
“You know damn well.”
“This is your life, Rachel. Why would I know? Why have you tensed?”
“Because he has.”
Rachel turned. “Patrick?”
“Oh .. er .. yeah. Someone from work.”
“I figured as much. Forgotten you’d gone away for the weekend.”
“Yeah,” he said and grinned.
“He’s lying,” Rachel whispered. “He’s lying to me. Look at how he’s standing! He’s defensive.”
The younger Rachel could see it too. “Patrick, what aren’t you telling me?”
She blinked and took a step back. “Who is she?”
He flushed. “I told you. Someone from work. A friend. Nothing more.”
“Are you having an affair?” Rachel demanded in a brittle and controlled voice.
“No, Rach. It isn’t like that – ”
“Don’t lie to me! How long has this been going on?”
His shoulders dropped. “Couple of months,” he muttered, half turning away.
Both Rachels gasped and put a hand to their mouths.
“Rachel, honey – ”
“Don’t you ‘honey’ me!” she flared. “Get away, leave me alone!”
“Rachel, it’s nothing.”
“Two months of nothing!”
“How could he do that to me?” Rachel whispered, her voice choked with pain. “I thought he loved me.”
The scene shifted. Rachel, her eyes red and puffy from crying, lay exhausted on her bed. Patrick was nowhere to be seen. The clock said it was gone two in the morning.
“So .. what happens now?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t know. This is your life, Rachel. Would you still want to exchange places with her?”
Rachel couldn’t answer. “Do they stay together?”
“It isn’t for me to decide either way. You have always been a woman capable of extraordinary passions. Used for good, they can forge alliances which transcend time.”
“And for bad ..?”
Rachel rose from the bed, her eyes blazing, and went to the closet. She hauled out the box and opened it.
“No … ” Rachel whispered.
“Maybe she just needed the right catalyst,” the Phantom remarked.