Chapter Sixteen

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The next morning, I was awake before Mr. Best again, and I was grateful for it.

I looked high and low for a place in my room where I could hide the cursed book, and I found it in a loose floorboard in the corner. I tucked the book beneath it and then hurried out of the apartment and to work as quickly as I could.

For a week, my routine was the same. Pick up the parcels, log them at the store, and deliver them; repeat the process in reverse for outgoing mail. I had little opportunity to interact with Marigold, though any time she looked at me, it was with great sadness and longing. Once or twice when we crossed paths, she opened her mouth as if to say something to me, but stopped when we were quickly interrupted by the vulture I had come to know as Mrs. Elvira Wilson.

It was the start of my second week in Wishing Cross, and I had fallen into a routine: work, dinner, reading the book, and sleep.

Mr. Best did not broach the book again, and I was grateful. I was having a hard time processing what I read. J. Howard Fox had not just had a one night stand with the wife of the local Stationmaster and gotten her pregnant. He must have truly fallen in love with her, and managed, somehow, to find his way back to Wishing Cross again after his first visit, though he was careful not to be seen by the locals—except, of course, by Aurelia Belle. I had no proof of it at this point, only a feeling. One I hoped would be confirmed by the contents of the rest of the book.

After another day's work, I settled into bed with the book, and I saw a note scrawled into the margin.

Marigold Belle, born July 2, 1862. Suspect Sutton knows something isn't right because of the way Aurelia Belle is behaving toward me this visit. So distant. The only moment her eyes brightened at all was when she saw the necklace. Having it made was a good decision. To the world, the symbol will mean nothing; to us, it means Wishing Cross. To us, it means everything.

Stolen moments, a few here and there, and I held the tiny girl in my arms and knew...just knew she was mine. She has my eyes and her mother's lovely face. There is no doubt.

There has got to be a way to bring them back with me, or for me to remain here somehow...to save them from a life with this man with so little regard for either of them.

My next attempt to keep us together will be tested soon. I can only pray to God it works.

I turned the page and found a later entry.

September 17, 1882. Things have become worse for Aurelia at home. Sutton might have loved her once, in his way, but now his affection has turned to rage, and I fear for her life, and that of our child, should they remain here.

I also can't risk losing Aurelia and Marigold the way that Jasper was lost. Such an unfortunate outcome to an experiment I hoped would end better for us both. It saddens me that, in my attempt to take him from Wishing Cross and give him a better life in my world, that he...

Suddenly, the text cut off.

I bolted upright. "Jasper? Damn it, who's Jasper, and what happened to him when he tried to leave Wishing Cross? What the hell?"

I searched the margins I'd already read for another mention of anyone named Jasper but I couldn't find one.

I scanned the pages beyond and still found nothing.

I knew that there would be only one person who might help me figure out who Jasper was, and why he tried to leave Wishing Cross with J. Howard Fox. Whatever had happened to him clearly confirmed for Fox that Aurelia and their child couldn't be taken from their own time.

I had more questions now than ever.

And in the next entry, I found words that struck me numb.

In memory of my colleague, Charles Kelly, who courageously volunteered to go back with me into the past and was hidden from all but Aurelia.

Kelly attempted to stay behind in Wishing Cross to see if it could be done. When next I saw Aurelia, she told me how Kelly vanished right before her eyes, immediately after the special left with me on it. He disappeared as if he'd never existed.

I can only conclude from these events that if someone stays in the past beyond the special's next trip, they won't survive. They must go back when the train returns or all is lost.

It is killing me to leave Aurelia and Marigold behind. To know I cannot stay and they cannot leave.

There must be a way, by God, and I swear I'm going to find it. But the window is about to close, and I must go back or suffer the same fate as Charles.

You never did find it, I thought. You couldn't stay, because Charles tried and disappeared when his window in time closed. But why couldn't you take Aurelia and Marigold back with you? What exactly happened to Jasper?

There were many more blank pages, and then handwritten notes I struggled to make out, with no idea who had written them. Perhaps, I imagined, Mr. Donahue's father.

Notes about a passage between the lines of time; an opening at Wishing Cross and back home that always varied in time but never in location...it was always a direct link between the two places.

I found another photograph wedged in between the pages; this one was of Aurelia Belle, looking very thin and somber, holding a small girl with light-colored curls upon her lap. There were no names on the back, only the date: July, 1865.

"So Marigold was three in this photo," I whispered to myself. "Then what happened?"

I turned the page and was completely unprepared for the next notation I saw within the pages.

Aurelia Belle Sutton, dead from pneumonia, January 4, 1866.

No...

I could only begin to imagine J. Howard's heartbreak. I held my breath a moment, exhaled deeply, and read on.

I've named the engine after my darling, departed Aurelia Belle. I will devote my life to finding a way to come back here, at an earlier time, one in which I could possibly save her from the jaws of Death. There must be a way, and I will live every day of my life searching for it, and seeking out those who might help me find it.

Sleep, Aurelia Belle, until the time I wake you and finally bring you, and our Marigold, home.

A knock sounded at my door, and I stuffed the book beneath the mattress. "Come in."

"You want to know, don't you? The truth about Aurelia." Best looked at me with haunted eyes, and I gestured for him to come in.

He sat in the small chair beside the bed and held his head in his hands. "I had my suspicions, I think the entire town did. Most dared not speak them, for fear of Sutton's wrath. But my wife...upon her death bed, was delirious with fever." He rubbed his eyes, then stared at the floor. "She said many things I thought made no sense until I put all of the pieces together. Certainly Aurelia had confided in her, and my wife kept that confidence until her mind was taken by the fever that soon also took her life. I swore I'd never speak of it to another living soul."

"But I already know," I whispered. "Aurelia Belle and J. Howard Fox were lovers, and Marigold resulted from their union. There is no doubt, the book confirms all."

"Then you were right about what must happen to it before you go home," he said, a new determination taking over his tone. "The book must be destroyed."

"I agree. But I can't destroy it now. Not just yet."

"Why not?"

"Because without it, I may never be able to leave Wishing Cross."

"I... I fear I've confirmed too much," Best said, his skin paling as he suddenly rose. "Goodnight, Mr. Wainwright."

"Wait," I pled. "I have to ask you about Jasper..."

He shook his head and quickly departed, repeating, "Goodnight, Mr. Wainwright!"

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