Tomorrow and Always: Prologue
Late August, 1776
Andrew McVie sat on the slope behind the lighthouse and waited. He wasn't certain what it was he waited for, but the need in him was so great it could not be denied.
He had awakened near Milltown before dawn that morning, as sharp of eye and clear of head as if he had slept a full night and more. The innkeeper, a good woman named Annie Willis with two sons serving under General Washington, had offered him fresh coffee and bread still warm from the ovens but he found himself unwilling to spend the time.
"A body cannot subsist on patriotism alone." She wrapped a loaf of bread in a clean white cloth then handed it to him. "Think of Mistress Willis when you sup and pray her boys come home to her again."
Patriotism. The very word that had filled his soul with fire not so many years ago held no meaning for him now. Indeed there were times when he felt as if he'd never known what it truly meant to sacrifice everything on the altar of Revolution.
They called him a hero. They said he risked his life to go where others feared to tread because he understood that the need of the Colonies far outweighed his own pitiful need for comfort. But they were wrong. All of them. Since he lost Elspeth and David he had been moving through the days both blind and deaf to anything but the pain inside his heart. It was easy to risk everything when you had nothing of value left to lose.
But now even his effectiveness as a spy had been taken from him.
He shifted position on the rock and rested his head in hands. His journey to Long Island to warn General Washington of a plot against his life had resulted in naught save embarrassment. Not only was General Washington not there but the soldiers he'd spoken with had looked at Andrew as if he was daft. "Surely you have spent too much time in the sun," one had laughed at Andrew's expense. "His Excellency is safely ensconced in Trenton now as we speak."
Later, he had sought solace in a tankard of ale but there was no solace to be found anywhere on God's green earth. The truth was plain as his own face in the glass each morning. His time was past. He could see that now. The torch had been passed while he dreamed, passed to men who were younger and stronger than Andrew. Men who were willing to fight the battles Andrew no longer understood.
A bitter laugh rose from the darkness of his soul. Indeed it would be better if he lay dead on the sandy soil of Long Island. He had nothing left to give, nothing left to offer, save a lifetime of regrets. Words he should have said, actions left untaken, the sad procession of mistakes made by a man who should have known better.
The ambitious young lawyer from Boston had been replaced by a patriot who no longer believed in the rebellion other men gave their life's blood to pursue.
None of it mattered any longer. He knew how it would all end. The Patriots would be victorious. The Crown would become an ally. The sun and the moon and stars would all remain in the heavens. And Andrew McVie would be alone.
He looked up at the lighthouse and shook his head at the absurdity of it all.
He'd never thought to set eyes upon the place again. Indeed he had no understanding how it was he'd come to this particular spot on the New Jersey shore when he had been traveling toward Princeton. All he knew was that the need to be here had overtaken him, driving reason from his brain. In truth he should be sitting at Rebekah Blakelee's table at this very moment, eating her fine food and considering how it was his life had amounted to so little.
He had neither wife nor child, no home where he could lay down his head and rest his weary heart. The loneliness he had accepted as his punishment ofttimes rose up from the depths of his soul and threatened to choke off the very air he breathed.
Other men had friends to share a summer's night or warm a cold winter's afternoon. Andrew had nothing but regrets and those regrets had grown sharp as a razor's edge these few weeks past, cutting him to the center of his being.
For a little while this summer he'd rediscovered his heart and believed that happiness could be possible for him in this lifetime.
Emilie Crosse had come to him on a morning such as this, in this very spot, spinning a story about a big red balloon that had carried her through the centuries. At first he had thought her mad and vowed to grant her a wide berth but he soon found it impossible to turn a blind eye to her considerable charms.
She intrigued him with her fierce intelligence. She delighted him with her saucy wit. At times her independence enraged him and he found himself longing for the more docile women of his acquaintance but again and again he found himself drawn back to her side.
Andrew was not a man given to flights of fancy. He did not believe in ghosts or portents or a world beyond the one in which he lived. But on the day he met Emilie Crosse in the cellar of the lighthouse he had the unyielding sense that his life would never again be the same.
She was taller and stronger than the good women of his acquaintance and she carried herself with a sense of purpose he envied, but still it was more than those traits that had captured his imagination. It was the world she'd left behind. A world of wonders so miraculous his mortal mind could scarcely comprehend their scope.
She talked of flying through the air inside a shiny metal bird, of men leaving their footprints on the surface of the moon. In her time existed contraptions that could out-think a man of Jefferson's intellect or Franklin's invention. Music could be captured on a shiny brown ribbon and listened to whenever you wished. Indeed entire libraries could be contained on an object the size of a saucer. The poorest of citizens possessed riches beyond Andrew's wildest dreams. Not even Fat George on his English throne could fathom the wonders of which Emilie spoke.
And still she talked of these things as if they were of little value, as if she cared not if she returned to her own time and place.
Not so the man she'd traveled through time with. Zane Grey Rutledge had no use for Andrew's world. He was a man of his own time and Andrew knew Zane would move heaven and earth to return there again with Emilie, to the world where they belonged.
And there was the rub.
To Andrew's everlasting dismay, Emilie had traveled backward through time with the man she'd once been married to. Andrew had watched helplessly as the couple had found their way back to each other, wishing with his entire being that he could be the man she loved. That she could somehow make him whole again in a way that neither rum nor revolution could accomplish.
But it wasn't to be. Emilie and Zane belonged together. In truth Andrew had known it from the start, known it deep in the part of his heart that had died with his wife and child so many years ago. A man might say Emilie and Zane were bound by the past they shared, the world they'd left behind, but Andrew believed a force more powerful than commonality linked their souls together.
Had it been that way with his Elspeth? Andrew could not remember. Late at night, in those moments before sleep claimed him, he saw her beloved face, heard the sound of her voice, felt the satin of her skin beneath his hand, but what she had thought and wished for and needed still danced somewhere beyond his ken.
"Aye," he muttered, wishing for rum or whiskey to blunt the edges of his pain. He had made so many mistakes, directed so little attention to matters of true importance that now he was doomed to go to sleep each night and wake up each morning in a world that held nothing for him but the shadows of what could have been.
His wife and child were dead and buried. The woman who'd captured his imagination loved another man. Not even the battle for independence that raged all around him was enough to ignite the fires of passion inside his cold and weary heart. It seemed he existed to do naught but take up space, counting down the days until he breathed his last.
Mayhap that was his destiny, he thought as he rose to his feet and walked to the edge of the outcropping of rocks that overlooked the water. To live alone there on the rugged island with only his own despair for company, as useless as the lighthouse was without a flame burning from the tower windows to guide the way for other lost and lonely souls.
If the Almighty had other plans for him Andrew couldn't fathom what they might be.
He stood there at the edge of land for a long time, scanning the horizon for a sign, something - anything - that would show him the wrongness of his thinking, prove to him that there was still a purpose to his existence. But he saw nothing, save an odd cloud cover drifting in from the Atlantic, vertical bands in shades of pewter that moved steadily toward him, casting shadows across the harbor and whipping the still waters into a froth.
The hairs on the back of his neck rose.
"'Tis naught but a storm gathering force," he said into the wind over the mournful call of the gulls. The Jersey coast was known for the unpredictability of its weather. A fortnight ago he'd heard a sailor at the Plumed Rooster weave a tail of a towering waterspout that had toppled his frigate and drowned half his crew. Surely a band of grey clouds was no cause for alarm.
Still the sight tugged hard at his memory, as if it held some significance he had forgotten. Enough, he thought, turning away. He had felt the need to see the lighthouse again and he had done so. Surely there was no reason for him to linger, not with a storm threatening. He would row back to the mainland, mount his horse, then reach Princeton before nightfall. Rebekah, the good wife of Josiah Blakelee, would provide a roof over his head and food for his rumbling belly. Tomorrow morning he would see Emilie and Zane, tell them about this foolish trip to the lighthouse, and--
A spot of crimson caught his eye. He narrowed his eyes, focusing in on the billowy fabric floating atop the choppy waters.
...a big red balloon, Andrew...that's how it happened....
Beads of sweat formed at his temples and across his forehead. He could hear Emilie's voice as clearly as he had on that first day.
Where is that red balloon, Mistress Emilie? he had asked, disbelief dripping from every syllable. Where is the basket?
I don't know, she had answered him simply. We crashed into the water. I assume all was lost.
He looked again but this time he saw nothing but the choppy water. Had the scrap of crimson been his imagination playing tricks upon his addled brain?
"No," he said aloud, gaining strength from the sound of his own voice. "'Tis there. It exists."
The cloud cover was settling itself around the island, obscuring the top of the lighthouse. A damp wind, too chilly for late August, stung his face with salt as a sense of destiny began to build inside his chest.
The sight of Emilie and Rutledge rowing toward the island from the mainland came as no surprise. They would help him find his way in their world as he had helped them in his.
A few minutes later Emilie embraced him. "Andrew! What on earth--?" Her face was taut with anxiety.
"I was on my way to the Blakelees'," he said.
"We were on our way to Philadelphia," said Zane.
Andrew and Rutledge clasped hands in the awkward way of men who shared more than either would admit.
"The cloud cover," Andrew said, pointing. "It seems most familiar to me but I cannot say why."
"Oh God...." Emilie's face went pale and she sagged against Rutledge. "Please not now--"
"Why are you here?" Rutledge asked him.
Suddenly he knew beyond doubt. "Because there is no other place for me in this world."
"Let's leave," Emilie said, her voice holding a touch of panic. "We don't have to be here at all, none of us do. We can row back to the mainland before the storm hits." She started for the rowboats but Rutledge grabbed her by the wrist.
"Look," he said, pointing beyond the lighthouse.
Andrew turned slowly. His breath caught sharply in his throat as he saw the magnificent sight before him. A large basket danced lightly across the rocks, suspended by ropes attached to a crimson balloon so large it dwarfed even the lighthouse.
"Sweet God in heaven," he whispered in awe. Despite its size the vessel seemed so fragile, so insubstantial, that he wondered how it was it had survived its amazing journey.
Rutledge swept Emilie into his arms. For the first time Andrew felt not the smallest pang of envy. She belonged to Rutledge and she always would. "This is our chance, Em!" Rutledge spun her around. "You said it wouldn't happen but it did. This is our chance to go back home where we belong."
Andrew heard the squeak of rope against wicker. "It's beginning to rise!"
Emilie pulled away from Rutledge. "This can't be," she murmured. "You just don't understand."
"We don't belong here, Em," Rutledge pleaded. "Let's--"
"Zane--" Her voice broke. "I can't...there are reasons I--" She tossed her embroidered purse to Zane but it fell to the ground at her husband's feet. Gathering up her skirts, she ran toward the lighthouse.
"Stay or go, man!" Andrew bellowed as the winds howled around them. That glittering world they had described was calling to him. "The chance may ne'er come again."
"You're right, McVie." Suddenly Zane smiled, a smile that could mean but one thing. "Damn right."
With that Zane turned and went to join his wife.
The basket shuddered then rose higher. Somehow Andrew had never imagined braving the mysteries of time without his friends from the 20th century. But there was no hope for it. He was sick unto death of struggle. The happiness others took for granted was not part of the Almighty's plan for him but this grand adventure was and he'd be more than a fool to let this oppotunity slip through his fingers. In the glittering world Zane and Emilie described, he could lose himself in the wonder of it all and maybe - just maybe - forget that there'd been a time when he'd wanted more.
He reached down and scooped up Emilie's fabric purse and tucked it into the cuff of his leather boot.
"Stay or go," he said again. If only someone could prove that his existence here mattered, that one small thing he said or did lived on. But he was asking for the impossible. Hadn't Emilie said his name vanished from the history books, never to reappear?
Maybe the reason he vanished from the history books was because he vanished from the 18th century entirely. Maybe he had accomplished all he was meant to accomplish in this world and it was time to seek newer worlds to conquer.
And maybe he was crazy as a mad dog baying at the full moon. Did any of it matter a whit in the greater scheme of things? When you'd already lost everything, not even death seemed too much to risk.
The world Andrew McVie had known since birth no longer seemed familiar. This was the reason he'd been drawn to this place, at this moment in time. Moments ago his future had seemed as bleak as the skies overhead. Now, in the blink of an eye, he found himself filled with hope for the first time in years. His life here was over and his new life in the future was about to begin. He prayed God there would be a place for him there.
His dreams were of other times, and to deny them would be to consign himself to an early grave and so he climbed into the basket just before it floated free of the earth's shackles and headed into the unknown.
The last thing he saw as the balloon rose up into the clouds was Emilie and Zane silhouetted in the window. They were waving goodbye.