EVERYONE HAS TO LIVE with something.
For instance, my hair is the unmanageable kind of curly, the color of burnt toast. Imagine waking up every morning looking like the Lion King, or having to spend a disproportionate amount of your allowance on hair products that don’t deliver. Like the ones under my bathroom sink. Row after row of half-empty containers of mousse, gel, and hair tamer standing dejectedly like the third string of a basketball team that rarely gets to play.
The thing is, I would be fine with rag mop hair, truly, if only I didn’t have this other issue: uncontrolled time travel to the nineteenth century. I’ve never met anyone else with the same problem, either, so that also classifies me as some kind of freak.
On the upside—like a blind girl who ultra develops her other senses to compensate for what she can't control—I’ve picked up a few extra skills along the way. One survival reflex I’ve nurtured is how to be quick on my feet. I have good impulses, you could say.
Well, normally, this is an upside.
Until a second ago.
I was sitting with my best friend, Lucinda, on the sidelines of the football field. As usual, we were watching the yummy football players, rather than the scrimmage going on because really, who cared about the actual game? Despite the glare of the setting sun, I saw the brown speck hurtling towards me.
Impulsively, I jumped up and thump, Nate Mackenzie’s football, signed by the famed Tom Brady himself, was in my arms. I couldn’t believe it. I’d caught Nate Mackenzie’s ball!
Gingerly, I raised my head. Sauntering across the field, with all his hunky hotness, was the cutest boy in the school, the most valuable senior varsity football player of Cambridge High, and the love of my life. He stopped right in front of me.
“Good catch.” His rugged and manly voice lassoed me. He'd said good catch. I couldn’t move or take my eyes off his face. The way the sun glistened off his sweat, emphasizing his strong jaw and the brightness of his blue eyes, brighter still because of the contrast of his dark, shaggy hair…
“So, can I have my ball back?”
My hands gripped his football with sticky sweat. The ticker tape in my brain searched for the right response before flashing ERROR in red neon twelve-point font.
“Casey?” Lucinda nudged my back. With a slight swivel of my head I saw her expression. Mortification. Give the dumb ball back! Did I just have an aneurysm? I felt woozy, like throwing up. I imagined myself vomiting all over Nate’s feet.
Unbelievably, there are some things worse than puking in front of the football team. A wave of dizziness threatened to wash me away into black nothingness. But I couldn’t be so lucky to just faint. It was happening. Oh no. Not here. Please, not in front of Nate Mackenzie.
In an instant, my world brightened like a nuclear blast as I spiraled through a long white tunnel. When I opened my eyes, he was gone. Nate was gone and so were Lucinda and all of Nate’s football team.
I stood alone, in the middle of a lush forest painted every shade of green. My lungs filled with the sweet scent of undamaged air, my skin tingled with warm humidity. The furry and feathered inhabitants squealed and chirped with enthusiasm. I heard an unwelcome whistling noise and a pop. Nate’s ball, still in my hands, had an arrow sticking out of it.
So much for quick thinking and quick feet. I jumped behind a tree and hid as a couple of kids, maybe ten and twelve, cantered by on horseback.
“You missed it!” teased the older boy. The fortunate squirrel scurried up the tree, its little feet loosening bits of bark that rained down on my head. I could have been killed or at least drastically injured, but all I could think about was Nate’s football. The air seeped out as I tugged on the hand-whittled arrow. I slid down the side of the tree and groaned.
Tom Brady’s signature had a puncture hole right in the middle of it. I gripped the flattened ball as I stomped through the brush, pushing scratchy branches away from my face. Why did this have to happen in front of Nate Mackenzie? Why?
Pack your bags, self-pity. I was cursed with time traveling. I was a slave to it with no control over when or in front of who it happens, and as far as I knew there was no cure. Not that I had anyone to ask about it. I just had to survive, which fortunately, I'd gotten pretty good at.
I soon came to a wide dirt road scarred with uneven grooves ground in by irregular carriage travel and dotted with hazardous looking empty potholes. I imagined they filled up unattractively with muddy water when it rained. A waist-high rectangular stone marker, leaning slightly like a wounded soldier, had the miles to Cambridge MA etched in it. Good. I knew where I was.
Time travel, as expected, is fraught with complications. The immediate one is what to wear. Or more like what not to wear. As in blue jeans and sneakers I needed to ditch ASAP. I slipped back into the dense covering of the forest and kept hiking. The second immediate problem has to do with food and drink. Let’s just say that to solve these problems, you have to get creative.
I recognized a thick grove of lilac bushes and pushed my way through to the center, where a patch of wild grass opened up like a bald spot on the top of an old man’s thick crown of hair. When I travel—and this started when I was nine years old—I always end up in the same locale. The actual spot on the planet Earth stays the same; just what is on it is different. In the future, this is the location of my neighborhood.
I lifted off a thatch of twigs to expose a deep hole; one I had proudly dug myself having borrowed a shovel from a neighboring farm. Inside was a hatchet, spotty with rust, a piece of flint, a rugged slingshot and two musky smelling burlap bags, which I pulled out, one at a time. The first had food—dried beef, raisins and a jar of well water. I opened the jar, took a drink and grimaced. Stale. The second bag had clothing: a long ivory cotton dress with tiny bluebells hand stitched in a scattered pattern, ladies boots that looked like figure skates with the blades off, a pair of trousers, a pair of men’s boots, (yes, my feet were big enough to wear men’s) and a boy’s cap. I’d borrowed these during various trips, and hoarded them away for the “future.”
A stumpy, fallen log, green with moss and partially hollowed out by ants, served as a bench. I rested against it, laying Nate’s ball on the ground. I stared at it hypnotically, until I was lulled into a deep daydream, back to the football field at Cambridge High. This time I did everything right.
Nate says, Good catch, his eyes admiring me and my obvious, though previously hidden, athletic ability. I say, Thanks, and smile back with confidence, my hair perfectly tamed and my jeans fitting me exceptionally well. And most importantly, I give the ball back, offering it like a prize, our fingers lightly brushing in the pass. Nate throws it far and long, glancing back to see if I am still watching him.
I screamed. A garter snake had slithered over my hand. I jumped to my feet and did a little impromptu rain dance. I wasn’t even afraid of garter snakes, it just startled me. My heart settled back to normal speed and I shook my head, trying to clear it. Focus, Casey. Sometimes it was difficult separating my two crazy worlds. I so didn’t feel like being here in my alternate universe, the year 1860.
I put on the trousers. Fortunately, the fashion for boys in the nineteenth century was loose and baggy, so no need to lie flat on my back to wrestle with a zipper (which wasn’t invented yet, anyway). Picking up Nate’s ball, I tucked it securely under my shirt. I had to make sure the ball came home with me when I went. It served a second useful purpose, adding the illusion of boyish thickness to my waistline. A bit of twine made for a functional belt.
Shoot. The pant legs ended at my ankles. Okay, I forgot to add to my list of imperfections, (chronic bad hair days, the time travel thing, paralyzing crush on a way unobtainable hottie) that I’m also overly tall. Not graceful catwalk model tall or academy award winner beauty tall. More like ostrich tall. Without the feathers. Long limbs with knobby knees and elbows.
I pushed my hair behind my ears and into the cap. I hadn’t picked up the habit of wearing make-up because a) a bare face aided me in my attempts to blend in and b) it was a liability to me when I traveled and wanted to pass myself off as a boy. I practiced at lowering my voice: Hello, my name is Casey.
I cleaned up my stash and worked to wipe out the evidence of a human visitation. I decided to head for the Watson farm, to see if Willie Watson would hire me again. It was grunt work, cows and chickens and the like, but it gave me a way to make a bit of money and get food. There were also a ton of kids and I could easily get lost in the mix.
At the main road I turned east towards Boston. Mid autumn leaves shook in the cool breeze causing goose bumps to pop up on my arms in defense of the chill. I rubbed them vigorously with my long fingers. Behind me I heard the growing rhythmic clip-clop of a single horse and cart. A young man with a mass of red, curly hair came to a stop at my side, stirring up a minor cloud of dust. I recognized him despite that fact he had filled out since the last time I’d seen him and unfamiliar stubble now shadowed his face. It was Willie Watson.
“Can I offer you a lift?” he said.
It was show time. I lowered my voice. “Willie?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
He cupped his hands over his eyes to block the sun. “I hardly recognized you. You’ve gotten so tall.”
“Where you off to?”
I shifted my weight, in a manly (I hoped) way. “Well actually, I was wondering if I could work for you again.”
Willie nodded. “We can always use an extra hand. Get in.”
I shared the back of the cart with a bale of hay and a little goat with a gray beard. Willie snapped the reins, the initial thrust tossing me to the back end of the cart where I settled in for the ride. I was happy to get out of the long walk to the Watsons’ farm, not too happy about hitching a ride with a goat. It sensed my discomfort and immediately reached over to nibble on my shirt. I swatted the air between us. “Back off!”
Willie called over his shoulder. “What happened to you? You just took off last time without saying anything.”
I had my cover story ready. “I had to get back to Springfield. Family stuff. But my ma just had number thirteen so Pa sent me out to work again.”
“Aye, I understand. My own mother is kept to her room with number ten.”
I’d first met Willie when we were both twelve. He’d caught me stealing eggs from their chicken coop. Not my finest moment, I admit, but I plead desperation, driven to petty theft due to the fact that I had crossed off day eight in the past. Up until then, my trips had usually only lasted a couple days, but that summer things changed. Hungry and panicked, I’d thought I was stuck in the past forever, never to return home, never to see my parents or my younger brother, Timothy, ever again. I'd crept like a fox at dawn to the nearest farm.
Thankfully, that was the Watson farm, and the Watsons had turned out to be the nicest and kindest people I’d ever met. Anyway, Willie had caught me with my hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. “You gonna eat those raw?” he'd said. I hadn’t thought about that. I'd shrugged, too stunned and frightened to say anything of intelligence. “We have hotcakes in the kitchen, you can come for breakfast.” The thought of eating with all those Watsons was just too scary. My face must've reflected that, since Willie went on to say, “That’s okay, I’ll bring you some. Wait for me on the dock.” I'd nodded and watched in silence as Willie gathered the eggs before leaving.
I'd made my way to the small lake situated in the middle of the Watson farm, thinking that I was either going to get a yummy breakfast or Willie was going to return with a gun and take me to the jail house. He'd showed up with breakfast.
“Thanks,” I'd said. Willie’s voice hadn’t yet changed so he didn’t think twice about my high-pitched squeakiness. I ate the warm and sticky pancakes with my dirty, bare hands. I'd tried to imagine what I looked like to Willie. I hadn’t showered in ten days, and my hair was grimy and in hysterics. Just like those kids in Lord of the Flies after a few weeks without parents to boss them around. He never snitched on me about my chicken house raid and got me a job pitching hay. I’d stayed in the past for a full three weeks, and from that point on the “rules” of time travel had altered. Now, I never knew how long I’d be gone.
We rode the rest of the way to the farm in silence. Well, except for the goat, ba-aa-ing and nipping at my pant legs.
I rubbed my butt when we arrived, though the bumpy ride was appreciated by both me and the goat.
“I could use help milking the cows and keeping the barn clean,” Willie said, pointing to the prominent red out-building behind the stately family home. “You can sleep in the loft, like last time,” he added. I strutted away, concentrating on my gait, mimicking my brother’s boyish walk. Swiveling hips would get me into big trouble. Times like this made me thankful for my poached egg sized breasts. Just call me Mr. Casey.
Someone watched me walk across the yard. Of course, there were plenty of people around, other workers, Watson kids playing tag, but I felt his eyes on me. Cobbs. He was shorter than me now, but beefy like a boxer with a round beer belly popping out. His face was pink and shiny and his dark beady eyes scanned my body.
Ew, what a perv. I’m a boy, weirdo! Or could he tell I wasn’t? Did he remember me from before? Either way he was a creeper. I let my gaze fall to the ground and kept walking, away from the barn. When I was sure Cobbs was out of sight I circled back and slipped into the barn, climbing the ladder to the loft. I hid in the pokey straw and even though it was only dusk, I immediately fell asleep.
The tiny irritating saw of a mosquito buzzed near my face, and I flapped my hands dramatically. A rooster crowed and I sighed, disappointed I was still in the past. Not that I would travel in the night. I never traveled while sleeping. Ever. Didn’t know why. Some kind of time travel law.
And I was hungry. Better go milk me some cows and earn my breakfast. A dozen Jersey cows lined up in a row. Grabbing a tin pail and wooden stool, I settled in under Betsy One. I called them all Betsy: Betsy One through Thirteen.
Willie joined me. “Mornin’, Casey.” He grabbed a short three-legged stool like the one I sat on, and plopped a pail under Betsy Three. It had been a while since I'd had to milk a cow, and honestly, I never did get the hang of it. First of all, cow teats are like short slippery ropes. Kind of gross to touch. And you have to pull on them just so, sort of a milk-releasing-rhythm. The cows get fully irritated when you don’t get it right.
Thwap, thwap, thwap. The sound of milk shooting into a metal pail. Unfortunately, not my pail. Willie was showing me up.
I peeked around the back end of Betsy One, spying on Willie’s Olympic cow milking performance. Betsy One didn’t like my peering around her rear end, and whacked me hard with her tail. Kind of like getting smacked with a bull whip, but one covered in fur.
“You okay, Casey?” Willie called.
“Uh, yeah, fine.” I mimicked Willie’s timing, one, two, three, four, and thankfully the milk started to shoot out.
By the time I finished my fifth cow, (meaning Willie whipped my butt by milking eight), my forearms burned and throbbed like mad. We carried the pails to the kitchen where the Watson kids poured the milk into jars so the older boys could make deliveries in the neighborhood.
The eldest Watson kid, Sara, oversaw the whole operation. Her red hair was parted down the center and two braids close to her face looped up like crimson handles. Though fashionable for this century, not a very becoming look as far as I was concerned. It seemed like she had a large lampshade under her skirt, the way it spread out at the bottom, and since women didn’t normally wear hoops while working at home, I assumed that she must be about to go out. When she saw me, she propped her hands upon her waist.
“Willie,” she called. “Who do we have here?” She didn’t remember me because Willie, and his father when he was around, took responsibility for farm staff. She, when her mother was ill or with child, controlled the kitchen and house staff.
“Ah, you remember Casey Donovan? He’s worked here before.”
“Really? I don’t recall.” Sara pinched her eyebrows together. Then she called out, “Duncan, Josephine, Charlotte, Abigail, Jonathon!” A collection of kids with either curly red or brunette hair entered the room.
With the guidance of a stout and bright faced woman named Missy, they went to work bottling the milk, careful not to get knocked to the ground by Sara’s hoop skirt.
Willie left and I turned to follow, but she cleared her throat, stopping me. I waited to be dismissed, but she held my gaze. She got right to the point. “How old are you?”
“Uh, almost sixteen.”
“Do you shave, Casey?”
“Uh,” My hand jumped to my chin. “Sometimes. I’m a late bloomer. It runs in my family.”
“I dare say. Did you spend the night in the loft?”
“I think so. I fell asleep shortly after my arrival yesterday. I don’t remember seeing anyone else.”
“That’s a relief,” she said.
“Why is that?”
She removed her apron and smoothed out her skirt. Then she looked me straight in the eye. “Because Casey Donovan, I believe that you are a girl as surely as I am one.”
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MY COVER WAS BLOWN. I’d always expected this would happen someday—just not so soon. Sara motioned for me to follow her across the kitchen. Though bigger than most nineteenth century kitchens, it obviously lacked modern appliances and conveniences. No fridge or microwave, though there was a stove. It was an over-sized, cast iron, wood burning fancy looking thing. Water came from a pump in the yard.
The Watson house was bigger than most farm houses. Its large entry with nice oak doors opened up to a staircase with a run of mosaic carpeting down the middle. You could tell that, whatever it was that Mr. Watson did when he went away, he made money doing it.
I followed Sara up the stairs and down a hallway, until she opened the door to a bedroom that obviously belonged to her and at least one sister. Two beds with lacy canopies filled the corners of the room. An ornate wooden vanity desk with an oval mirror sat in between them, brushes and combs with pearl-like handles lay elegantly on top.
She turned around sharply and crossed her arms. “Please explain.”
“Well, I, uh, you see, my family is very large and come upon hard times, and I, uh, needed to seek work to help out, so because, of course, it’s not prudent to travel alone as a girl, I thought I should dress in my brother’s clothes….”
Sara put a hand up, rescuing me from my rambling. “I understand. You are making the most of a difficult situation, and I respect that. However, it is highly inappropriate for you to work alone with the men, and so from this moment on you shall assist me in the house.”
She walked to the wardrobe on the opposite end of the room and fished through a row of dresses, choosing one. “I will find you suitable clothing. There’s plenty of work for another woman around here. Indeed, your arrival is timely. With Mother bed-resting and Father off to London, there is plenty to do.”
She eyed my figure. “Here, this should be fine, though you are rather tall. Just hike the slip down a couple inches.” She tossed me a pair of shoes and I smiled. She had big feet, too.
“I’ll leave you to get dressed,” Sara said. “Meet me in the kitchen when you’re ready. Oh, and Casey isn’t suitable for a young lady. We’ll call you Cassandra.”
Cassandra. That was a mouthful. But I wasn’t about to argue with Sara Watson.
The dress was soft to the touch and I pressed it against myself as I studied my image in the mirror. I couldn’t help but break into a waltz and dance with the dress around the room.
I suddenly felt dizzy. I reached for the back of the vanity chair and let the dress drop onto the seat. I wasn’t about to go anywhere with Sara. I was about to exit stage right. Just in time I remembered to grab Nate's ball from my waistband.
I fell into a dizzying flash of white light and in a split second I was back—on the school field with Lucinda at my side and Nate right in front of me. They had no idea about my recent adventure. I was back in my regular clothes and the only change in my appearance, I knew, were the dark circles under my eyes that always appeared after I traveled. All they saw was me having just made a spectacular catch.
Nate’s expression morphed from congratulatory to perplexed in two seconds flat. Why, when I finally got to be this close to him, did I have to look like crap?
But he wasn’t looking at my face. He was looking at my hands, or rather, at the deflated object in my hands.
“What happened to my ball?”
I hate my life!
“Man!” Nate took the ball from me and examined the flattened mess. “There’s a hole right through Tom Brady!”
“I just caught it,” I whimpered.
All Nate’s friends surrounded me, and then to make matters infinitely worse, Jessica Fuller and her gaggle of cheerleaders pushed through. Jessica Fuller, aka Nate’s girlfriend, was a strawberry blond beauty queen with a great big toothy smile. She was Nate’s one flaw, which I attributed to Jessica’s bewitching deceitfulness and chose to ignore. Nate was new to Cambridge High, having moved from Toronto just last year, and Jessica had gotten her artificial claws into him before he could see what was coming.
“Ew!” She looked at me like I had just eaten a worm.
Her eyes squished into small holes, and she pursed her puffy lips together. She wouldn’t stop staring. It was like she was seeing me for the very first time, like a pimple that appears overnight. A miniature irrigation system embedded under my skin suddenly sprayed in each armpit.
“Casey?” Lucinda’s eyes were wide with near panic. “Are you okay?”
I cleared my throat. “I, uh, need to go.” Like the Red Sea parting, the football players and cheerleaders moved. With my sweaty armpits and black ringed eyes, I slunk away. Lucinda, because she was a great best friend, ran after me.
“Casey?” Her eyes scanned my face; the dark rings were a big giveaway. “You tripped?”
Trip was our slang for time travel. She was the only other person on the face of the earth that knew about my secret life.
This was because I'd accidentally taken Lucinda back once. That was how I'd learned about the dangers of skin to skin contact. We were ten, playing tag in the back yard. The air had been moist and warm, and we’d just finish drinking homemade lemonade. I'd tagged her saying, “you’re it” and off we went, down a spinning bright ride, but believe me, it was no Disneyland. It was the first time Lucinda had ever spent the night away from home. Also the first time she had to spend the night outside. No tent, no nothing. She freaked out so much she didn’t speak to me for a week afterwards. I apologized, explained to her that it didn’t happen very often, and promised that it would never happen to her again. She just couldn’t touch my skin.
And neither could anyone else. These were terms she could live with. Eventually.
“That was so humiliating!” I moaned.
“But are you okay?”
“Define okay.” Lucinda eyeball scanned me. “Well, you’re in one piece. How long were you gone?”
“Two days. Oh, Lucinda! When I imagined Nate Mackenzie finally noticing me, it wasn’t like this!”
Lucinda just nodded her head in sympathy. “Tomorrow is another day.” She flipped her long dark hair over her shoulder. “Everyone will have forgotten all about it by then.”
“Nice try, Luce. I wrecked Nate Mackenzie’s ball.”
“Um, yeah, that’s unfortunate.”
Understatement of the year! We parted ways when my bus arrived. I leaned my head against the window of the first available seat, closed my eyes and cruelly let the incident replay on the theater screen of my mind. Over and over. Each time the disgust I saw on Nate’s and Jessica’s faces grew, until practically gremlin-like.
Why did that have to happen to me? Why couldn’t I just be normal? I felt sick, a rock sitting heavy and hard in my stomach. When I got home, I checked all the rooms in the house, calling for my mom and Timothy.
Once I was completely certain that I was home alone, I shut myself in my bedroom, flopped on my bed and screamed into my pillow. I was a freak, a monster, an alien.
The only solution, I decided in that weak moment, was to quit school. So what if I was a sophomore still two months away from my sixteenth birthday?
Maybe I could do night school. Small classes, no jocks to distract me or cheerleaders to intimidate me. When I finally screamed myself out, I found that I felt a bit better. I put on my comfort clothes, SpongeBob Squarepants pajamas and monkey slippers, and shuffled downstairs to the sofa and the remote control.
I almost succeeded in pushing Nate out of my mind. After watching a series of mind numbing infomercials, I snapped out of my dark mood and came to my senses. Quitting school was a dumb idea, and besides I suddenly had a better one. Instead of loving Nate, I would hate him. Yes, Hate Nate Mackenzie. And that silly, stupid girlfriend of his, too. Suddenly, I felt lots better.
The next day, I went to school, more determined than ever to stay on the down low. Must avoid Nate. Must avoid Nate.
Unfortunately, his evil girlfriend cornered me after first class. “I remember you,” she said. Yeah, duh. My public humiliation was just yesterday. So much for Lucinda’s prediction that everyone would forget about it. “You’re one of those losers who watches the football practices after school.”
Was she saying that everyone who watches the practices after school is a loser? My silence didn’t shut her up.
“You have a crush on Nate, don’t you?”
Finally, I found my tongue. “I do not.” In fact, I wanted to say, I now officially hate him.
“I can tell, you know. The way you and your sorry little friend stare at him all the time.”
First of all, Lucinda wasn’t sorry and she didn’t have a crush on Nate, even though she agreed that he was hot. Second of all, I couldn’t disagree with the last part about staring at him all the time, but I was determined to change.
“We stare at all the guys.”
“He’s mine. You stay away.”
“Yeah, sure.” I maneuvered away from her and her peeps. “He’s all yours.”
“And don’t forget that.” She added loudly, so all her little cheerleader peons could hear and laugh. “You’ll never be good enough for Nate Mackenzie.”
Did I mention how they laughed? Must avoid Nate and Jessica. Must avoid Nate and Jessica.
But now I had English, which, because Nate sat two seats in front of me, made a dizzying drop from my favorite class to my absolute worst class. I used to think that it was fate that put us both in the same English class. Nate, a senior, was in an English 11 class because his courses got mixed up when he moved here from Canada. I was in this class as a sophomore because the Advanced Sophomore English course was full, and so the powers that be bumped me up. Now I thought it was a curse.
My worries about how to avoid Nate were unnecessary, since he didn’t look at me once. Everything was back to normal. Normal meaning that he didn’t even register my presence but all my senses were completely and totally ignited. Hating Nate would take some work.
Lucinda was in line at the cafeteria and waved me over when she saw me walk in. We hadn’t talked since the incident. “I texted you,” Lucinda whined.
“Shush.” I pressed my finger to my lips in warning, motioning with my eyebrows that a certain someone was in the near vicinity. “Not so loud.”
“Oh, my bad.” She lowered her voice, “It’s just that I was worried about you.”
Fortunately we arrived at the front of the line and had to stop talking while the café worker poured the hot meal, I think it was chili, onto the plate. Lucinda, who was average in height, went first and then me, the lumbering giant. At least that’s how I felt next to her.
We met up again at our usual table, chosen so we could get a good look at the guys at the jock table. Not that we were completely boy crazy; we did retain our sanity slash dignity for, say, 75% of the day, but at lunch and after school practices, why not enjoy the scenery? An almost undecipherable musical tune came from Lucinda’s bag. Her cell phone. Lucinda could hear like a dog. With a hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye expertise she had it opened and hidden under a sheath of her long hair.
“My sister,” she mouthed, then started talking in wildfire fast Portuguese.
I took a bite of the chili. Not great but not bad either for caf food. I snatched the opportunity with Lucinda occupied to glance furtively around the cafeteria. I saw Nate with his friends at the jock table, but I only let my eyes linger for a nanosecond.
Lucinda snapped her phone shut, “So, like, what exactly happened yesterday?” She flung her long black hair and waited.
I envied Lucinda’s hair. It was so straight and shiny. “You already know, I tripped.”
“Yeah, but before that. You jumped up and caught his ball.”
A loud commotion from the middle of the room distracted us. Someone had dropped their tray, splattering chili all over the floor. It looked like vomit. From the cries of “ew” and “gross,” I knew I wasn’t alone in thinking it. Jessica made a big point of walking a wide circle around it, shouting, “That’s disgusting!” I watched for Nate’s reaction. He only gave it (and her) his attention for a moment before returning to a loud and animated conversation with Tyson and Josh about last night’s game on TV. Tyson’s black biceps flexed as he demonstrated a throw. Josh’s curly red hair seemed to spring with excitement. Must’ve been some game.
Jessica wasn’t the type who liked to share the spotlight. With Nate pre-occupied, she saddled up beside Craig Kellerman, and shamelessly flirted with him even though he was a sophomore.
“Why does Nate put up with that?” I said to Lucinda.
“She’s just trying to make him jealous so he’ll pay more attention to her.”
A large and colorful new poster hung on the wall near our table. I caught Lucinda’s eyes darting towards it repeatedly. “What’s up?”
“The Fall Dance is in two weeks,” said Lucinda.
With a mouthful of chili I said, “Yeah, so what?”
“I think we should go.”
I examined her dark eyes and wondered if she’d gone mad. “We never go to dances.” I sipped a bit of soda.
“But, this is our last chance.”
Did I miss something? “Our last chance for what?”
“It’s our last chance to practice for, like, the Junior Prom.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t exactly planning on going to that.” I took another bite.
“Casey,” Lucinda wiped her mouth with a napkin. “If we don’t practice for the Junior Prom we won’t know what to do at THE Prom.”
“So, you want to go to the Fall Dance in order to practice for the Junior Prom in order to practice for THE Prom?” Lucinda nodded with a big wide smile. “But, THE Prom’s still two years away and I probably won’t go to it anyway.”
Lucinda blew her bangs out of her eyes. “You totally have to go to THE Prom. It’s like a rite of passage or something. The Fall Dance is a chance to learn, to see how it’s done.” She pulled a compact mirror out of her purse and checked her teeth. “Also, we don’t want to screw up due to ignorance at the Junior Prom and thus screw up at THE Prom.”
She had been thinking about this. A lot. “Okay. So, this is sort of a fact finding mission.”
“No actual dancing?”
“Of course not.” Lucinda shuddered.
“I don’t know.” I put all my garbage on my tray. “It sounds risky.”
Lucinda reached into her purse and pulled out two strips of thin, shiny cardboard.
“You already bought tickets?” I said through clenched teeth.
“Casey,” Lucinda cocked her head and said gently. “It will be fun.”
She thought it would be fun. I thought it would be a nightmare.
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IT WAS WEDNESDAY. Wednesday was officially mean girl day. So was Thursday, and Friday and every other day of the week, because I was on Jessica’s hit list. Which meant whispers and giggles as I passed by in the hall. Disparaging comments about my wild hair. If I hadn’t had my nose in my biology textbook, I would have heard her coming.
“Move, people. Move it.” Jessica’s cheerleader trained voice pitched through the hall. Instead of floating past me like she usually did, she and her posse stopped to gawk. “Looky here,” Jessica said, popping bubble gum. “A weather vane. How’s the air up there?”
I looked down on her red/blond head, her naturally wavy locks mercilessly hot ironed into sheets. “Suddenly cooler,” I said.
“You mean, hotter.” She flicked her bangs off her face.“Right, girls?” The posse laughed. “Nice shirt, Casey.” I peered down at the 725 logo on my brown long sleeved T-shirt. “Isn’t that from WAL-MART?” Her girls giggled. They all dressed like Jessica—Lululemon hoodies in every pastel color of the rainbow, Guess miniskirts and Ugg boots.
“Do you need something, Jessica?” I said. “Tutoring?” It was rumored that when Jessica had first heard that Nate was from Canada, she’d asked him where he’d learned English. Parlez-vous francais, anyone?
“I don’t need anything from you, flag pole. Oh, there’s Nate.” I glanced over and saw Nate watching us from the door of the science lab. How long had he been standing there? Jessica ran to him, throwing her arms around his waist. He didn’t stop looking at me, even as he guided her into class. Was he mocking me?
It hadn’t dawned on me during the Fall Dance discussion that to go to the dance meant having to wear a dress. Not that I had problems with dresses; I owned a trendy skirt that I sometimes wore on weekends. But I’d made a career out of staying under the radar, something I had failed at miserably the last few days, and dress wearing was absolutely “radar” worthy. That, along with the necessary accompanying makeup and fancy hair, definitely didn’t fit in with my commitment to blandness and blending in. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do, except stay away from reds and satins, seeing as I'd already agreed to go.
Saturday was dress shopping day. Mom was already up drinking coffee in the living room flipping between the news channel and the home design network. Magazines on kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, outdoor space, you name it, anything that can be made over, were found in stacks in most rooms of our house. Paint samples were spread out like a fan on our table, along with fabric samples and short wooden and metal blinds samples of every color. Tucked next to them was a bulkier suitcase sized sampler with swaths of carpet choices. The collection had turned into a small mountain since Mom had gone back to work.
I sat beside her with my bowl of cereal and said between mouthfuls, “I’m going into Boston with Lucinda today.”
Mom muted the television. “What for?”
“Dress shopping. Lucinda has this crazy idea about going to the Fall Dance.”
Mom’s expression turned serious. “You’re going to a dance?”
I hedged. “Only because Lucinda talked me into it. It’s research for THE Prom, still eons away.”
“Do you want me to come?” Mom suddenly looked excited. “I should help you pick out your dress for your first dance.”
That didn’t go the way I’d thought. “It’s really not a big deal, Mom. I’m actually just going to help Lucinda pick out a dress.”
Mom’s shoulders slumped a bit. I felt terrible, but Lucinda wasn’t bringing her mother and it would be weird for me to bring mine.
“You can help me pick out my Prom dress, Mom. I promise. Okay?”
Mom shrugged off her disappointment. “Okay, you have fun, then.” She stood and gave me a soft smile. She was shorter than me, which I only really noticed when we hugged. She had blond hair cut stylishly short and not curly. The only thing I inherited from my mom was her fair skin and hazel eyes.“You can show me what you bought later,” she added before heading to the kitchen for a refill.
I met Lucinda at the train, just in time to catch the red line subway to the Downtown Crossing station. When we emerged, we were in the middle of Boston. Downtown Crossing was a pedestrian mall, and a palette for the senses: pungent smells from the hot dog vendors, boom boxes blasting as athletes “danced” with their basketballs, and the chatter of many languages.
“Ooh, I love coming into Boston!” Lucinda was almost glassy-eyed as we stumbled along the cobblestone walkway, peering in the shops, stopping every few seconds to admire some item of clothing or accessory in a window.
“Looove that top!” Lucinda’s never quite herself when shopping.
“It’s nice, Luce,” I said. After dipping into numerous boutiques we couldn’t afford, I begged Lucinda to please just pick a place. Shopping was fun for some, but for me it was laborious. Thankfully, Lucinda finally came to her senses and picked Filenes Basement. At least that was a place where I stood a chance at finding something I could afford. We weren’t alone. Could it be that every teenage girl in Metro Boston was dress shopping at this very hour? All at Filenes? It was shoulder to shoulder, which in any circumstance was nerve wracking. I needed space. I tugged nervously on my long sleeves.
“Hey, can we pick it up here? I’m starting to feel claustrophobic.”
Lucinda took charge. “Check this rack out.” She selected a number of dresses and thrust them at me. Then her cell rang and she answered it, wandering off to converse in Portuguese. At least I could be alone in the changing room.
I breathed deeply for a few minutes before stripping down. I decided on the first one. Why not? Why go through the agony of pulling countless dresses on and off, over my head. I knew what static did to my hair. Hello, Afro.
Mine was yellow. No, Lucinda corrected me, saffron. It was a plain princess style dress with narrow pleats gathering under my chest, a low-ish neckline and a hem just long enough to conceal my knobby knees.
“You look great,” Lucinda said when I showed it off. “Oh, come on,” I said.
“It’s true. That color looks really nice with your hair and eyes. It’s just perfect for your skin tone.”
Perfect for my skin tone? “Well, thanks. Does it make me look tall?”
Lucinda tilted her head. “But, you are tall.”
“I know, but do these vertical pleats add to my tallness?”
“Casey, it looks good on you.” Lucinda chose blue and I thought she looked stunning. Our dresses would be perfect for standing around in a large, dark, cavernous room for a whole night of watching other people dance. Mission happily accomplished.
Well, almost happily. Just as we approached the exit I spotted Nate. What was he doing here? Seeing him outside of the context of school was weird, though any context seemed to have the same effect on me. Dry throat, butterflies in my stomach, the urge to squeal.
I tried to make a smooth maneuver out of his line of vision, but instead ran directly into a rack of blouses, almost knocking it over. He saw me. Of course he saw me! The whole store stopped to observe. His eyes didn’t flick away. Okay, I’m a train wreck, you don’t have to stare.
He finally looked back at what he was watching before—Jessica presenting a pretty ivory dress. At first, she seemed startled to see me but then she grinned her evil grin. What? Did she think she was getting married to him? It looked like a dumb wedding dress. I really hoped she didn’t pick that one.
A wave of dizziness smacked me as I tried to stand. Then a flash of bright light.
I was nine years old the first time it happened. Mom was tucking me in and had just turned out the lights. The red digital numbers on my clock read 8:31. Like a lot of kids, I was afraid of the dark and monsters under the bed, and I had, without my parents knowing, watched a scary B movie that afternoon. Every time Mom had checked in on me, I quickly clicked the remote to switch to the family channel. So, as soon as Mom closed my bedroom door and left me in the dark, I panicked. I lost my breath, felt dizzy and fell into the brightness.
And yes, I freaked out. But, you can only do so much crying and screaming in the middle of a dense forest, which I figured out later, was the same piece of land my house had eventually been built on. To make matters worse, it was raining and by the time I had finished my emotional breakdown, my PJs were soaked. I'd finally gotten my wits about me and spotted a large tree with a hole worn out on the side, and crouched in it, out of the rain. I spent the whole night shivering, scared out of my mind.
The next morning the sun shone brightly, so I removed my PJs and set them out on a rock to dry. Basking in the sun had warmed me up, but I was hungry. I searched around for food wearing only underpants. I must have looked like the Jungle Book boy with my nine year old, prepubescent body, and my shorter dark curly hair. Eventually, I found some berries and ate them without considering that they could be poisonous. I've since done my homework, so I know, and fortunately those berries were fine and I didn't get sick.
I didn't know what triggered the trip back. Probably emotional and physical fatigue. I felt dizzy, but nothing happened right away, not like when I traveled from the present to the past.
I headed back to where I'd left my PJs, but couldn't find them. I was lost! However, it turned out I didn't need to worry about that. I fell into the tunnel of light and the next thing I knew, I was in my bed, with my PJs on, and my mother was just closing the door behind her. I looked at the clock—8:31. No time had gone by at all!
But now, here, I was whirling through the light in downtown Boston. Until this trip, I'd always traveled near my home in Cambridge, and similarly, near my stash and the Watson Farm. This was the first time I'd traveled while hanging out in Boston. I didn't know why. Nothing had ever triggered it before. I blamed it on Nate Mackenzie and the way he affected my pulse. At any rate, I was in foreign waters, so to speak. Actually, I was in someone's little wooden shack.
A dirty faced woman with a dirty long dress and a dirty apron to match was staring wide eyed at me. I could tell I was doing the same back at her. Then her eyes narrowed and she practically hissed. “Get ye out of me house, ya thievin'...laddie? Lassie? What are ye anyway?”
I didn't hang around to answer. I dashed out the door and onto a dusty street, narrowly missing getting run over by a horse and buggy. The lady didn't let my intrusion go. I could hear her shouting, “Thief, thief!” as I dashed away. I couldn't imagine what she thought I had taken. It didn't look like she had anything worth stealing.
I darted through the crowds, hoping to get out of sight before anyone could seize me. I shuddered at the thought of being arrested, and there was no way I could explain the way I looked—blue jeans, T-shirt, and long, out of control hair.
I turned a sharp corner and found myself in a dimly lit alley. A large rain barrel sat up against the building and I ducked in behind it. I didn't let myself breathe until I was certain I had not been followed. Thankfully, all the pedestrians continued walking past me, without taking a single interest in what was down the alley. Once I caught my breath, I took in my surroundings. My eyes had adjusted to the dimness and I was rewarded with a line of laundry hanging a short ways behind me.
I snagged a buttoned-down stained, white shirt, and shimmied on a pair of men’s trousers on top of my jeans. A quick scour of the trash on the ground produced a piece of twine. I tied my hair back into a low ponytail and stuffed it into the back of the shirt.
Keeping my eyes to the ground, I stepped into the flow of foot traffic and headed towards Longfellow Bridge. Which turned out to be a long way away. After a while, my legs ached, my head hurt and I was dying of thirst. I had to find a way to speed up my journey. When I got close to the bridge I spotted a carriage, the fancy kind with trims and a bumper. I ran behind it, grabbed on and pulled myself up. These were the days before shocks and efficient suspension systems. Thin wooden wheels riding on cobblestones and gravel rattled my ribcage. I held on tight.
People we passed by hooted and hollered at me; some thinking that hitching a ride like that was cheap thing to do, and others cheering me on, like a hero. I just kept my head down, glad that the large team of horses made a ton of noise with their clip-clopping and whinnying, and that the carriage didn't have any rear view mirrors. It came to a stop in Lexington. I hopped off and scooted into the neighboring forest. I wasn't home free yet, but at least I knew how to get to the Watson’s from here.
Finally, I got to the property. I stopped at the water pump and filled my gullet. Cold water never felt so good! I didn't even care that I was soaking myself. After I had enough to drink, I gave my face a good scrub. Then I headed to the house.
Time passes differently in the past and I guessed a month or so had passed for the Watsons since I'd caught Nate's ball, so I wasn't so sure how Sara would take my sudden reappearance, but I had no other options than to hope that Sara would give me another chance.
Sara scowled when she saw me. “You’re back.” A statement, not a question. I nodded.
“I wish to ask your forgiveness, ma’am, for my bad manners, leaving so suddenly as I did.” I could hear myself slipping into the speech patterns of the time. Another survival tactic I’d picked up along the way. “I was afraid. I’m hoping you will give me a second chance. I’m still in need of honest work.”
She stared at me like I was a new project. “I suppose there was no real harm done.” She studied me for a moment, then sighed. “Besides, you look like you could use some help.” I was certain I looked a complete and total mess. I was sweaty and dust-covered, and still dressed like a boy. Sara led me back upstairs, removed the same dress and shoes from the closet then squinted at me before leaving. I imagined her standing guard on the other side of the door. The first thing I did was peel off my clothes and sponge bath with the tepid water in the pitcher and basin on the dresser—ever so happy to see a bar of soap.
Once dressed, I carefully opened the door. Sara was nowhere in sight. I tentatively tackled the steps with my heels, grateful for the railing to steady me. I found Sara in the kitchen, and when she saw me, her jaw dropped. “My word, Cassandra. I'd never have recognized you.”
I must've cleaned up nice, because for the first time, Sara smiled. There was a heady, yummy scent coming from the room, and my stomach growled loudly. Very unladylike!
“Missy,” Sara said to the ruddy-faced, stout helper in the kitchen. “Please give our guest something to eat.”
Sara watched me as I ate a slice of warm, buttered bread—home made and an inch thick—and sipped on soup that was also really tasty. I hadn't realized how long it had been since I'd eaten and I was famished. But still, with this getup on, I forced myself to maintain the table manners my mother had taught me. Sara noticed, too.
“I see, Cassandra, that you are well-bred. Your manners and behavior seem inconsistent with your presentation earlier. I am perplexed.”
“Miss Watson,” I started.
“Please, call me Sara.”
“Sara,” I continued, “even though my family has suffered hard times, my mother taught her children manners.”
“How happy for you,” Sara said. “And apparently you were availed of an education as well? Can you read?”
“Yes.” She paused, and then seemed to come to a decision. “I'm going to the bookstore, presently. Would you like to accompany me?”
More than a bit surprised by her invitation, I nodded. “I'd like that.” Besides, what else was I going to do? After I finished my meal, Sara ushered me back upstairs, where she presented me with a hoop underskirt and a bonnet.
“Meet me at the front door when you are ready.”
I put on the big hoop skirt, and almost burst out laughing. How on earth was a woman to function efficiently when her clothing virtually pushed her two feet away from the very thing she was trying to grasp?
Sara started speaking the moment I entered the foyer. "Mr. Kelsey is at the bookstore most days. I want him to see that though he and those other buffoons won't permit us to attend university, they can't stop us girls from learning."
She handed me a shawl and a parasol. I felt like a little girl playing dress up. She had a driver take us by carriage into Boston. I found it more than odd to be going back into the city so soon, this time riding in the carriage and dressed like a lady. Could this day get any stranger?
At least this time I could take in the scenery in comfort. I stared out the window. No automobiles, no trains, no Mass Pike. This was the part that really messed with my head. I had been here in my time just this morning, shopping with Lucinda at Filenes! Nate had been there too, and his dumb girlfriend. Now Filenes didn’t even exist and there were far fewer buildings. It felt like a movie set.
Lots of horses, too, which also translated into lots of horse dung. The air in the city had a sour smell. The sewer was unmanaged, every chimney pumped out ash and smoke, and dirty children ran amuck, the effect of their once a week bath from a shared tub not lasting nearly long enough. The upper classes compensated by excessive use of perfume. After a while, my sniffing sensory just shut down.
I followed Sara into the Good Ol’ Book Shoppe, stunned by the great and ancient literary works. I picked up a volume of Gray’s Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical. And here I thought Grey’s Anatomy was just a TV Drama.
“Are you interested in medicine?” A masculine voice with a tinge of amusement said this. He was tall, (I always notice if a guy is taller than me), maybe in his late twenties, with dark eyes and hair. He wore a tailored suit, and had the confident smugness that came with having a lot of money. I glanced around to see if someone else was also perusing a medical journal. Nope. He must be talking to me.
“I’m not sure,” I said. No need to commit either way. Though I didn’t think medicine would be a good choice for a time traveler. Imagine giving someone a needle or stitches and taking off for a mid-appointment holiday to a destination a hundred and fifty some years away.
“Nursing is a fine profession for young women,” he continued. “If, of course, teaching is not of interest.”
Why was he talking to me? He stretched out his hand, “Excuse my manners. I’m Robert Willingsworth.”
“Hello, I’m Case, uh, Cassandra Donovan.” I shook his hand while nervously tucking a fly away hair under my bonnet. I was sure I looked horrid. I couldn’t conceive why this man was still standing here, waiting for me to say something. Sara came to my rescue.
“Oh, Mr. Willingsworth! How do you do?”
“Miss Watson.” He bowed slightly. “Always a pleasure.”
“I see you have met my companion, Miss Donovan.”
“Indeed.” He turned to me. “Are you recently to town?”
“Yes, I arrived just this morning.”
“My, your accent is endearing.” Robert’s eyes twinkled when he spoke and I blushed. Was he really flirting with me?
“From what town do you originate?”
“Really? I once had the privilege of visiting Springfield. I don’t recall the accent.”
“Oh,” I said quickly, “I’m actually from west of Springfield. A village no one’s heard of.” He studied me for a second and I worried that he would keep quizzing me. Then he smiled widely, splashing a set of large, straight teeth.
“Might I inquire, would you ladies allow me the good pleasure of a stroll? It’s a beautiful day for a walk through the Common.”
“What a delightful idea,” Sara said. “Come along Cassandra, the fresh air will do us good.”
He linked one arm through each of ours. The sun shone brightly and warmed the autumn air. Too bad these shoes were killing my feet!
Beacon Hill, Boston’s most prestigious neighborhood, lined the north side of the generous park. A row of attractive, red brick townhouses trimmed with white lined the street with the Statehouse on the eastern end. Its famous gold dome was only made of copper in the year 1860, yet stunning all the same.
“Mr. Willingsworth is a recent graduate from Harvard, Cassandra.”
“How nice.” I racked my brain trying to recall the name Willingsworth from my history lessons. Though I excelled at the subject of American History, I drew a blank.
“What do you think of the coming election, Mr. Willingsworth?” Sara said.
“Oh, such conversation is not fitting for young ladies such as yourself and Miss Donovan.” His little black mustache twitched. I wasn’t used to being talked down to and I couldn’t help releasing a small ‘hrumph’ of air through my nose.
“Nonsense, Robert,” Sara said. “I have a mind that can think.”
“Very well. Lincoln hopes to win.” He paused as if deciding whether to go on or not. I guess he decided we had brains enough to understand what he was about to say next, as he continued. “But, I fear he has alienated all the voters in the south due to his lack of, shall we say, enthusiasm regarding the institution of slavery.”
“Slavery is barbaric,” Sara said with feeling. I loved her feisty attitude and that she didn’t let this guy intimidate her.
“Perhaps slavery is a bit extreme,” Robert added, “but you must admit, they are great workers. Better than horses.”
Better than horses? Mr. Willingsworth’s charm had definitely worn off.
Sara lifted her chin. “If I could vote, I would vote Abraham Lincoln president of the United States of America.”
“Voting is very serious business, Miss Watson.”
“As is freedom.” Even though I knew the best policy for me as a “visitor” was to just keep my mouth shut, I couldn’t help myself. Robert and his ‘I’m a man and therefore I’m better than you, a mere woman’ attitude got on my nerves.
“Certainly, Miss Donovan,” Robert conceded. “Freedom is a serious business as well. As are economics and rights of owners to their purchases.”
“Even when the purchase refers to human beings?” I said with a tight smile.
“I meant no offense, Miss Donovan. I’m not necessarily stating my personal opinion.”
“Blacks are persons and should be treated as such,” Sara said.
I tried to keep it in, but it just popped out. “One day we may have a black president.”Chew on that, Robert. He and Sara stopped, staring at me wide eyed.
Robert cracked a smile and then laughed. “Or we might have a woman for president! Miss Donovan, you are the most intriguing individual I have met in a long while.”
We waited as a horse and buggy passed along a trail in front of us. “Mr. Willingsworth,” Sara said, tugging on his arm. “Cassandra and I are attending the meeting at Faneuil Hall this afternoon.”
“Abby Kelly Foster from Worcester is speaking,” she added.
“The famed female abolitionist,” Robert said, nodding. “Indeed, if you two beautiful ladies will be attending, I shall certainly be there as well.” Robert said his farewells, holding eye contact with me a little bit too long for comfort. He promised to meet us in an hour.
Sara and I continued by foot to Quincy Market. “He seemed quite taken with you.” Sara stared at the ground when she said this. I didn’t think she was too happy about it, but I wouldn’t insult her intelligence by denying it.
“For the life of me, I can’t see why,” I said.
“My dear Cassandra. Women who don’t recognize their own beauty are the most attractive of them all.” What the heck was she talking about? Unless opinionated, overly tall women with frizzy hair were considered beautiful in the nineteenth century.
“He’s too old for me, anyway.”
“Hardly. Girls our age marry men older than Mr. Willingsworth all the time. Cassandra, you say the most peculiar things.”
I really should keep my mouth shut.
A crowd gathered on the steps of Faneuil Hall, a two story brick warehouse-like building with a weather vane sprouting from the middle of the roof. A farmers’ market took up the whole ground floor which was filled with bustling shoppers and merchants. On the upper level an assembly hall was supported by several white pillars. An extra level of seating surrounded the room and increased the view of the podium. It was the only building of the three yet to be built which makes up the Quincy Market I knew. Fish stalls filled the lanes infusing the air with the tangy scent of the sea. I much preferred the sweet and savory aromas of the food court in my time as well as the festive air and craft shops.
Sara and I sat in the wooden chairs near the back of the first level of the Assembly Hall. Men and women occupied most of the seating, all murmuring with troubled expressions on their faces. I asked Sara about it.
“The city is much divided,” she said. “Though we are a northern state, there are still many who think we should keep our noses out of the south. And others, like myself, think the problems of the south belong to us all.”
Robert joined us as promised and, to my chagrin, chose the empty space next to me rather than the one beside Sara. I offered a sugary sweet ladylike smile, all the while comparing his features to Nate’s. Eyes? Nate wins. Nose? Nate wins. Smile? Nate definitely wins.
Stop! What was the matter with me? Why do I keep forgetting that I Hate Nate? The meeting suddenly overflowed with abolitionists and anti-abolitionists from the south, each group with their placards yelling at each other across the aisles.
“Slavery is evil! Abolish the Fugitive Act!”
“Slavery is the American way! Keep your nose out of the South!”
Two men from opposing sides went to blows, like a modern day ice hockey fight. Cheers erupted from both sides, and I feared someone would get thrown over the balcony and onto the shoppers below.
“Miss Foster should be beginning shortly,” Sara said, winding her face with her hand.
All the bodies and excitement in the room caused me to feel heated and flushed. I felt light-headed and took a deep breath. It wouldn’t do for me to faint. They really had too many people in this room. There would be a stampede in an emergency. Did they have fire safety standards in place yet in 1860? I grew dizzy. Dizzy? Oh. Oh no, oh no, oh no. I had to get away from Sara and Robert, ASAP.
“Excuse me,” I said, pushing my big hooped skirt past Robert, narrowly missing his nose. “I need some air.”
“I’ll assist you.” Robert grabbed my arm, holding me back. In a panic, I shook him off.
“No, I’ll be fine!” I ran down the stairs, dodging people trying to make it to the meeting upstairs, nearly tumbling down the steps with my hoop skirt knocking the unsuspecting out of my way. At the bottom, I mingled with the crowds to hide from Robert. I hunkered low in the mass of people knowing that a few would question their eyesight or maybe their sanity when I suddenly disappeared.
And then I was gone.