Neil took hold of her wrist and tugged her inside the warm lobby. The cold hit her all at once, and she trembled, wrapping her arms around her body. He pulled an afghan off the sofa and slid his damp jacket off her shoulders, replacing it with the afghan. She wanted to lean into his warmth, but not only was it the wrong moment, he thought she was a raving lunatic.
“What the hell do you mean, you’re from the future?”
She sighed. No way was he going to believe her. But, she had to try. She explained everything, from the moment Dorothy asked for the favor, to the moment Lorelei found the letter.
Neil shook his head. “I don’t know what kind of weird game you’re playing, or maybe you really are mentally unstable.” He perused her face and then spoke as if calming a skittish colt. “If you are, we can get you help.”
She shook her head rapidly. “No, I’m not crazy. It’s true. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” She ran upstairs to her room, snatched up the letter and the article, and hurried back down, thrusting them at Neil.
His eyes scanned them, his features creasing in confusion. “What is this?” He looked up. “How did you fake this article?”
She groaned in frustration. “I didn’t fake it. That’s an article from tomorrow’s paper.” She nearly stomped her foot. “You have to believe me. Your brother’s life depends on it.” She pointed to the photograph of the sobbing man. “That’s you, right?”
Anger sparked in his eyes. “It looks like me, but I don’t even own that sweater. I’ve never seen it before. When you planned this out, you should have been a little more accura—” His gaze went to the Christmas tree where a handful of presents lay at the foot. He rushed over and grabbed a gift the size of shirt box and tore it open. “Son of a…” He turned to Lorelei, his face pale. In his hands, he held a bright green sweater. Although, in the photo, it was colorless. But she recognized the snowflake pattern.
“This is from John.” His voice shook. “I hadn’t opened it yet, but I would have by tomorrow, when the article comes out.” He took a step toward her. “Dear God, it’s impossible, but I think you’re telling the truth.”
“I am.” Relief flooded her. “And we need to find him, before that”—she jabbed a finger at the image—”happens. The accident occurred at two a.m. We have a few hours. Where would he go to drink at this time of night?”
Neil shook his head. “I don’t know. We live here at the motel. There are no bars open…”
“I know where he’d go.”
They turned. Dot stood in the doorway of the lobby, tears streaming down her face. “I—I might have killed him?”
“No.” Lorelei took her gently by the hand. “We can save him. It’s not too late. Where would he have gone?”
“There’s an abandoned cabin by Haddon pond. We stash booze there.”
“Come on, I’ll drive.” Neil headed out the door, not bothering to grab a coat. Lorelei would have offered to drive, but Neil was familiar with the area, and for all she knew, she’d drive them right into 2018.
The roads were treacherous, but Neil handled the car skillfully, driving quickly but cautiously.
On the way, Lorelei explained everything to Dot, who sat in the back seat, trembling and crying.
“You were never happy without him. He loves you and doesn’t care about what you’ve done, about your past. All that matters is your future.”
“This is…” she sniffed. “…unbelievable.”
“I know.” Lorelei reached back and patted her knee. “I’m still not sure I believe it myself.”
They slowed at a turn-in. The ’54 Chevy bumped over a snow-packed drive until the car’s beams shone on a vehicle parked outside a shack.
“Thank God,” Neil breathed. “That’s John’s car.”
The three of them jumped out. Neil tried the cabin door, but it was locked. He banged on it. “John! I know you’re in there, let me in.”
Neil continued to knock and shout. “If you don’t open this door right now, I’ll kick it down. Then, I’ll kick your ass.”
A few seconds went by before the door opened. John looked over Neil’s shoulder where Dot and Lorelei stood shivering.
“What are you doing here?” He tipped a whisky bottle up to his mouth.
“I need to talk to you,” Dot said, stepping around Neil.
He glared at her. “I think you’ve done enough talking. Now go away. I just want to be alone and get schnockered.”
Neil pushed his way past him into the room. Dot and Lorelei followed behind. Lorelei sighed gratefully when the door closed behind them and blocked out the biting wind.
“You can drink all you want,” Neil said. “But you can’t drive.”
“Screw you. You can’t boss me around.” He staggered and gestured toward Dot with the bottle. “And screw you too. I don’t need you nohow.”
Dot stepped forward, her expression beseeching. “I was wrong. Can you give me another chance?”
He narrowed his eyes as if suspicious. “You… want another chance? You’re the one who dumped me.”
“I know. And I am so, so sorry. I love you and I want to be with you. I just...I didn’t think you’d want me after what I’ve done.”
“You mean sleeping around?” John shook his head. “I don’t care about that. All I want is you. I love you, exactly the way you are.”
“You do?” Her trembling voice held hope.
He seemed slightly more sober. “Yes, I absolutely do.”
She flew into his arms, and they kissed…and kept kissing…
Neil said, “Uh, I hate to interrupt, but maybe we should head back to the motel before I freeze my…” He shot a glance at Lorelei “…toes off.”
She grinned. Such a gentleman.
John and Dot broke apart. “You can go on,” John said. “We’re right behind you.”
Neil grimaced. “No way, bud. You’re not driving anywhere tonight. We’ll come get your car later.”
John frowned. “What’s going on, what’s all this about?”
“We’ll tell you on the way, but you’ll never believe it.”
Neil was right, John hadn’t believed it, but he didn’t care. He and Dot were together and, to him, that was all that mattered. They had gone upstairs, and Lorelei sat with Neil on the cushy sofa in front of the fire.
Neil shook his head. “Everything happened so fast earlier, I guess I more or less took the time travel thing as the truth. But, I gotta say, I’m dumbfounded. Can it really be?” He took her hand in his. “Are you really from the future? How does that even work?”
She let the moment wash over her…the rightness of it all...being with Neil, his thumb stroking the back of her hand… She nearly sighed with pleasure. “I think I’m still processing it myself. I just couldn’t deny the proof that I’d landed in 1956. And, I promise, I’m from 2018.”
He grunted. “That figures. The first woman I've ever thought I might see a future with, and you're not even of my world.”
His words brought tears to her throat. “I know. I've had a lot of relationships. I thought I was in love once, but he never made me feel the way you do.”
He lifted his brows. “So, this portal of yours. What would happen if I was with you?”
She gaped at him. “You mean, if you were in the car with me, when I drove back to 2018?” She mulled it over. “I don’t know how that would work… Would you really come?”
He took her face in his hands and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. “I can’t stand the thought of being five feet away from you, I certainly don’t want to be decades apart.”
She blinked back tears. “But, we don’t even know each other.”
He grinned. “That didn’t stop you from jumping in the middle of our business.”
She laughed. “In all fairness, I was saving your brother’s life.”
His expression sobered. “I know. And I can never thank you enough.” He brushed a lock of hair back from her face and trailed his finger down her cheek. “I’d like to get to know you. I can’t lose you. Not before we’ve even had a chance.”
She thought for a moment. “Or, I could stay here with you? Maybe for a little while until we see how it works out between us?” A thrill of excitement shot through her. Not only would she be with Neil, she’d get to experience all sorts of amazing things. The moon landing, Elvis’ rise to stardom, tons of inventions. She made a vow that she wouldn’t tell Neil about any of the events ahead of time…spoilers wouldn’t be fair. And, she would try really hard to be ethical and not bet on any Super Bowls, boxing matches, or World Series.
“You’d do that?” His eyes glittered like liquid steel in the light from the flickering fire.
She held her right hand up to gaze at the ring. Dorothy had wanted her to find her brave self. Starting a new life in the rockin’ fifties surely qualified. “Yes, I think I would.”
“Well, that’s definitely an option. We can spend our first Christmas together and make a decision about the future after that, right?”
She smiled. “That sounds perfect.”
He stood and reached out his hand. “Come with me.”
She let him pull her to her feet. He led her to the fireplace and pointed toward the ceiling. She looked up to find mistletoe hanging above them.
“Do you have mistletoe in the future?” He tugged her closer.
Stepping into his arms, she wrapped her hands around his neck. “Yes, we most definitely do. You know, some traditions are timeless.”
He flashed a sexy smile. “Then that means you know what it’s for?”Giddy anticipation tingled through her. “I know exactly what it’s for,” she whispered. With a contented sigh, she rose to her tiptoes and showed him.
Thank you for reading my contribution to our Christmas stories.
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Be sure to stay tuned for tomorrow's Christmas Free Read by the wonderful Barbara Edwards...