My sweet Lorelei,
In case you haven’t figured it out, you’re much farther away than you anticipated when you agreed to my favor. Not in miles, but in decades. That’s right, you’ve landed in 1956.
I'm sorry I tricked you. I know you'll find what I’m about to tell you hard to believe, but if you've already seen the town, the people, the inn, then you’re aware something is…off. You know Mr. Daws, my neighbor? He's a scientist. He has babbled on about time travel, though I never believed him. Then one day, imagine my shock when he proved it by making Thomas Edison appear for a visit. He sent him back quickly, said it wasn't something he liked to mess with anymore, because he was getting on, and he was afraid he wouldn't be able to correct it. But I begged him. And he agreed. He created a time portal. And I gave it to you. It’s the ring.
You'll meet me—young me. Young me will not know who you are or that you are a time traveler. I need you to correct an awful wrong that I caused. On Christmas Eve, I broke up with John. He was devastated. He drank himself into oblivion and later that night had an awful car wreck that killed him. This article tells the story. The man sobbing in the photo is John’s brother, Neil.
Lorelei studied the images. Even though his face didn’t show, she could see now that it was Neil in the photo. Dear God, was this true? Impossible… A realization hit her…she’d already met young Dorothy—Dot. She could see the likeness now. Dot was a younger version of Dorothy. Stunned, she continued reading.
I've carried guilt with me for decades. Neil became a recluse and lived in misery. I've had a wretched existence. And John’s life ended way too soon. My one act ruined so many lives. I can't leave this world without righting my wrong. It's not entirely selfish. I hope this experience opens up an adventurous side of you. You're too young and pretty to live like an old lady. You never go out with friends, you don't have a young man in your life. I hope this helps you find your brave self, and I hope you take a chance and actually live life instead of just sleepwalking through it. You can return to our time the day after Christmas, even if you have not succeeded at the task. You must simply drive back the way you came, as long as you are wearing the ring.
Lorelei stared at the ring, then the letter, then the article, trying to decide if she really believed this nonsense. But, in truth, how could she not believe it? The cars, the outfits, the lingo, the cheap meal, Neil’s confusion, the odd reaction to the way she was dressed. This was no vintage car show, this was truly, literally, the 1950s. She was astounded…but she had to accept it. How had Dorothy even known she’d find the letter? That she’d keep the ring on? She’d left an awful lot to chance.
A sudden burst of fury overrode her confusion. How dare Dorothy make that kind of decision for her? Lorelei was quite happy with her life. She’d decided romance wasn’t in the cards for her, but she loved her job as an admin for a charity that helped the poor. And, she loved her quiet life. She didn’t need anyone dictating her future.
But Dorothy hadn’t actually done it for her, had she? She’d done it for herself, because she hadn’t liked the way her life turned out. How selfish…
Although…she was attempting to save a life. And even though it was bizarre, the least Lorelei could do was try to correct her mistake…which would mean changing the past. A shiver ran over her skin that had nothing to do with the snow and ice lashing the window. How was she to prevent the tragedy? She couldn’t manhandle John and stop him from driving.
She sighed. She would do her best. And if it didn't work, her conscience would be clear. But as soon as she returned to her time, Dorothy was going to get an earful.
Neil introduced Lorelei to his brother that afternoon. John was better looking than in the newspaper photo. He resembled Neil, although his hair was lighter and his eyes bluer. A chill washed through her at the thought that he could be dead in less than twelve hours.
After they shook hands, he said, “I understand you have a message for me. Do I know you?”
“No, I uh…” What could she say? She couldn’t share Dorothy’s message now. “I met someone who knew you and they asked me to say hi. Uh…” A name popped into her head. “Justin Timberlake.”
He frowned. “I don’t know a Justin Timberlake. How did he say we knew one another?”
“He didn’t. Sorry, maybe it’s a mix up. I told him I was traveling through, and he asked me to tell you he said hello.” Lorelei cringed at the lies she was piling up. It all sounded so ridiculous.
“Okay, well, thanks for delivering the message. I guess since you’re here, and the weather is a real doozy, you’re sticking around for the bash?”
“I am. I appreciate you guys inviting me.”
Neil said, “Speaking of the party, I’m way behind on the food. I’d better get back to the kitchen.”
“Can I help?” Lorelei wasn’t sure why she offered, other than because she had nothing else to occupy her time until tonight, when she could hopefully derail a tragedy.
He lifted his brows. “Really? I need to prepare a hundred canapes.”
She had no idea what a canape was, but she was certain she could handle it. “Sure, I’m in.”
As it turned out, canapes were small appetizers—in this case, white bread cut out in various shapes and grilled on one side, some topped with deviled ham and horseradish, others with bacon and peanut butter, which both sounded disgusting, but she didn’t have to eat it, she just had to make it.
It was a time-consuming task, but she didn’t mind…it gave her an opportunity to be with Neil, something she was enjoying more than was wise.
Neil told her about how he and John had lost their parents in a boating accident when Neil was in high school and John was twelve. The state wanted to take John, but Neil convinced them he could take care of him, and he’d raised him and seen him through high school graduation two years ago.
Lorelei’s heart warmed toward him. “That’s admirable, that you would put your life on hold to raise your brother.”
He shoveled another batch of the toasted bread onto a platter. “What else was I going to do? Family is everything.”
Was this guy for real? Sexy, kind, selfless… She almost sighed aloud.
As he spread the toppings on the bread, his taut muscles strained against the white t-shirt he wore, and she could barely focus on his words. He glanced up and caught her staring. She started to turn away, but he raised a hand toward her face, and she stilled.
His eyes dropped to her lips, and her mouth went as dry as chalk. Was he going to kiss her? She waited breathlessly, not sure how she’d react, but she didn’t have to worry about it for long. He brushed his fingertips along her jaw, then pulled back, showing her his hand. “You had a smudge of peanut butter on your face.”
She laughed self-consciously, her cheeks heating with embarrassment. So much for her sexy fantasy. “Oh…er…thank you.”
He nodded, studying her intently for a moment. A silent, charged current passed between them, and she knew he was attracted to her as well. “Lorelei, I—”
“Sorry.” She cut him off and busied herself with the canapes. “I’ve fallen behind, I’m afraid. Better get back to it.” He didn’t respond, and they finished in silence. She tamped down her irritation with herself. She’d made the right decision. Nothing could come of it, so what was the point?
That night at the party, Lorelei wore a dress she’d borrowed from Dot—a burgundy floral lace swing dress that was a little snug for her liking. Dot was petite and Lorelei, not so much. She was grateful, though, she’d have stuck out like an alien from another planet in her own clothes.
The room was dim, other than the twinkling lights from the tree and strung along the walls, giving the room a romantic, festive feel. Music played, alternating between non-Christmas and Christmas songs—a few she recognized and many she didn’t.
“I Was the One,” by Elvis began, and Neil appeared at the table where she and Dot sat. He looked incredibly handsome in black baggie slacks and an iridescent bronze dinner jacket with black collar. He held out a hand. “May I have this dance?”
Wordlessly, she placed her hand in his, and he led her to the dance floor, where he took her into his arms. His body was strong and warm against hers—very real, yet this night felt completely unreal.
They danced in silence for a few moments, then Neil whispered against her hair, “I’m not sure what’s happening, and I know it’s soon, but I just gotta tell you.” He leaned back and looked into her eyes. “I’m starting to feel something for you.”
She nodded, her voice shaky when she spoke. “I know. Me too.”
He smiled. “I guess we don’t have to figure out anything yet, we’ll just live in the moment.” He placed a kiss on her forehead and pulled her back against him.
She wasn’t a ‘live in the moment’ kind of person, and she and Neil most definitely didn’t have many moments left together. The thought brought on unexpected sadness and she incongruously felt like crying.
The song ended, and he led her back to her table. Her legs weak, she lowered into the chair. Was she actually falling for a man she just met? Someone with whom there was no future?
“Hey, is everything okay?”
She looked up to find Dot peering at her.
“Yes, fine. I was just—”
“You were just staring at Neil like he was a giant milkshake covered in whipped cream.” Dot smiled teasingly.
Lorelei’s face heated. “No, I wasn’t, I—”
“Hey, I don’t blame you. Neil’s dreamy. And, he’s a wonderful fella.” Dot bit into a piece of stuffed celery and chewed as she spoke. “Did you know that all the profit from this party goes to help the less fortunate? It’s a thing he started himself called Lend a Helping Hand.”
Lorelei’s eyes widened in shock. Lend a Helping Hand was the organization she worked for. And this man had started it? She groaned inwardly. Really? Could he get any more perfect? “He does seem great.”
“Yeah.” Dot’s voice held resignation. “And after tonight, he’ll probably hate me.”
She drew in a deep breath and placed the remainder of the celery back on her plate. “I’m ending things with John.”
Here we go… Foreboding gripped her. “You are? Why?”
She shrugged. “Honestly? I’m not good enough for him.” She lowered her voice. “I have a…reputation around town. I admit, I’ve made mistakes. I cheated on him. He knows it and forgave me, but I just feel so guilty, so unworthy.”
“You can’t break up with him!” Lorelei cringed as she almost shouted the words.
“What do you mean? Why not?”
“Because, you just…can’t.”
Dot’s expression set in a mutinous glare. “It’s honestly none of your business. This is hard enough already.” She shot to her feet. “Just stay out of it, would ya?”
Dorothy stormed off…and right up to John Whitten. Lorelei’s heart sank into her stomach. She rose and approached the couple, her mind running through ways to stop John from leaving. His accident happened at two a.m. That was hours from now. There was still time.
“How could you do this to me?” John’s voice was an anguished cry. “I forgave you for cheating. I love you. You can’t leave me!”
Dot squared her shoulders. “It’s over. I’m moving away after Christmas.”
“You can’t, please don’t.” He reached out for her, but she stepped away from his touch. He shook his head. “I’ll never get over you. I’ll love you til the day I die.”
His words sent a chill skittering over Lorelei’s flesh.
“I’m sorry.” Tears choked Dot’s voice. She turned and hurried away, bursting through the door leading to the kitchen.
His features etched with pain and anger, John whirled and headed to the front door.
Lorelei rushed up to him. “John, wait!”
He ignored her until she gripped his arm and stopped him, then he glared at her. “What do you want?”
“You…you can’t go. Please, don’t leave.”
He scowled, but she could tell he was fighting back tears. “There’s nothing for me here.”
“Maybe there is. You can stay, we can talk to Dot together.”
He gave a humorless laugh and swiped at his wet eyes. “I think I’ve suffered enough humiliation for one night.”
“Let him go.”
Lorelei released John and looked back to find Neil standing behind her. She shook her head. “I can’t let him leave.”
“He needs to be alone, not around a crowd of busybodies.”
She glanced around. The dancing and conversation had stopped, and the partygoers were gawking at them. “But, if he leaves, he’ll—”
Neil huffed out a frustrated breath and jammed his hands into his pants pockets. “Oh for God’s sake. It’s none of your business. She’s hurt him over and over. He needs to let go.”
“No, you don’t unders—” She shook her head, turning back to find John gone. “Where did he go?” How had she not seen him leave? She’d been too focused on Neil.
She hurried across the room and to the door. Neil called out to her, but she didn’t stop. She jerked open the motel door and ran outside. She shouted for John, but the freezing wind snatched her words away.
Behind her, she heard Neil say, “What the hell are you doing? You’ll die of exposure.”
She shot him a quick glance then frantically searched the parking lot. “Is his car gone?” Her teeth chattered, but she barely felt the cold. “Did I miss him?”
Neil shrugged his jacket off and draped it around her shoulders. “Why are you so worried?”
“Because,” the words choked out of her. “If we don’t find him and stop him, he’s going to die. Tonight.”
He glared at her. “You’re out of your mind.”
“No,” she cried, desperate to make him believe her. “I’m telling the truth. I know he’s going to die.”
“How do you know?”
She drew in a deep breath. “Because, where I’m from, it’s already happened.”
“What do you mean, where you’re from it’s already happened? That’s crazy talk.”
“It is, but I’m telling the truth.” She sucked in a deep mouthful of the icy wind. “I know, because I’m from the future.”