Free Fiction Friday: The Ticket
In 1747, an ancient white-bearded Indian chants an incantation to open a rip in time.
Vaughn falls through that rip, her life saved.
Her world changes and sends her life in an unexpected direction.
Set in the Once Upon a Time series, this story introduces a glimpse of how it all began.
“The Ticket” by Kathryn Kelly is free on this website for one week only. the story is also available in ebook.
As Vaughn stepped through the door of the Natchez Under the Covers Bookstore, the shop bell jingled pleasantly.
She inhaled deeply - the scent of hot coffee and freshly baked cookies mixed with that unique scent of old books. Grass and vanilla. Maybe a little like chocolate.
She closed her eyes. Just for a moment. And savored the sensations that swept over her. The scents mixed with the sounds of muted, excited conversations with Dean Martin’sSilver Bellsfilling the air. It was only eight o’clock in the morning, but already the store was full of eager Black Friday shoppers.
The weather was unseasonable chilly outside – twenty-eight degrees last night according to the 93.4 top of the hour update they’d caught in the car on the drive down to the city. But inside, it was toasty warm - mostly from the central heat and a little from the oversized fireplace against the back wall of the bookstore.
Then she felt Jonathan’s hand pressed lightly against her back. She smiled over her shoulder at her husband. With a six-month-old baby at home, this was their first shopping foray out of the house in well over a year.
After Jonathan helped her out of her wool coat, she smoothed her light blue turtleneck sweater over the high waistband of her Levis jeans. Thankfully the baby weight had melted away with the heat of the summer.
Several of the other young ladies wore mini-skirts, but Vaughn couldn’t bring herself to walk around in public with bare legs. Being raised by Catholic nuns had left her with an indelible sense of propriety.
Besides, it was just too cold.
“Would you like a coffee?” Jonathan asked as he draped their coats over his arm.
As Jonathan went to stand in line at the coffee counter, Vaughn wandered through the new release section and picked up one of a dozen copies of the Flame and the Flowerby Kathleen Woodiwiss. After admiring the colorful book jacket, she fanned absently through the pages.
London 1799. She preferred books set in France, early 1700’s, but they were few and far between. Taking the book with her, she stepped around two teens giggling, their heads buried in the pages of the same book Vaughn carried in her hand.
The song changed to Baby It’s Cold Outside and she hummed to herself as she left the popular section of the store and wandered toward the warmth of the fireplace.
As always, she found herself in the classics section. It wasn’t crowded here. In fact, she was the only one in this section. She ran a hand along a leather-bound volume of Jane Eyre as she scanned the familiar titles.
This store had a mix of new books and used ones. She preferred the used ones. The pages worn with love. Now and then she’d find the names of previous owners or sometimes even notes left by previous readers.
She’d read them all – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, even Little Women.
While Jonathan was in Vietnam, she’d been left with little else to do but read.
After she’d read the classics, she’d moved into some of the more modern books, but they didn’t pull at her like the historicals.
“I thought I’d find you here,” Jonathan said, coming up behind her and handing her a cup of coffee. “What do you have there?”
She glanced at the book in her hand. Shrugged. “Looks like everybody’s reading it.”
He bent, kissed the top of her head. “Then you should have it.”
Jonathan bought her everything she wanted. He doted on her. He claimed that being the mother of his child was all she had to do.
A housekeeper came five days a week. Her name was Barbara, at least sixty-five years old, but with the energy of a thirty-year-old. Barbara cooked, cleaned, and helped Vaughn out with the baby on occasion. In fact, Barbara was minding the baby today.
“They told me that they have a bunch of new used books in the back of the store. Want to check them out?”
Vaughn’s eyes darted toward a table near the fireplace. It was stacked two feet high with books.
She caught her bottom lip between her teeth to keep her smile mostly to herself. “Sure,” she said, taking a quick sip of coffee.
“I’ll get you a chair,” Jonathan said.
Before she could protest, he was heading toward the back of the store where she knew he’d find a chair for her.
Even though he wasn’t wearing his army uniform today, he still walked tall and proud like the proud soldier he was. He rarely wore his uniform in public. On those rare occasions when he did, some people showed respect and appreciation, but there were others who called him names. Baby killer.
Vaughn didn’t understand. But there were so many things she was still learning. The books helped.
No matter what they said, Jonathan was a good man.
A patient man.
And he loved her.
She rummaged among the books, some she had read, others didn’t interest her.
After a few minutes, she had decided to move on, but then she saw the spine of a book she’d almost failed to notice. Don Quixote.
It had been years since she’d even thought about this book. She glanced over her shoulder. There must be a mistake. This book was old. Really old.
It didn’t belong here.
She gently slid it from beneath the other books and her hands shook as she held it in her hands.
Her throat dry, she opened the cover.
There. The ink was faded, but she could still read the name handwritten on the inside cover.
The book had been new when she’d signed it.
Less than four years ago.
About 4 years ago
Vaughn sat on the sofa in front of the fireplace, crackling with a low banked fire in what Nathaniel Becquerel called his garconniere. A gentleman’s apartment. His parents’ plantation house was within walking distance, just through the trees, but Nathaniel wasn’t allowed to sleep there now that he was an adult. His three sisters lived in the large house and propriety dictated that brothers and sisters not sleep in close proximity. Nathaniel laughed it off. Said he didn’t mind having his own little apartment.
The apartment smelled like wood smoke and cinnamon. Vaughn wasn’t sure where the cinnamon smell was coming from, but she didn’t mind. He had several worn books tossed on his desk and they smelled like grass and vanilla.
She was snuggled beneath a thick wool blanket, an open copy of Don Quixotein her lap.
Instead of being focused on the words; however, she stared at the flames in the fireplace and shivered with the warmth of the fire. A half-eaten pastry lay on a white china plate next to her. He’d called it a beignet. It was decadently tasty, but much too sweet.
She wasn’t supposed to be here.
Nathaniel had taken her in like a stray puppy after she and her traveling party had been set upon by Indians during a most horrific thunderstorm.
Even now, she couldn’t get the image of her friend Mary’s body out of her mind.
Vaughn’s life had been saved by an old Indian with a long white beard.
The old Indian had spoken to her in French, her native language. I can save you, but you have to travel. You have to travel through time.”
Vaughn shivered. She’d only had seconds to decide before she would meet the same fate as her friend. She had begged the French Indian to save her.
It may take centuries for the rip in time to heal. Both you and those of your blood can travel through the rip without warning. Be prepared.
Be prepared, he’d said. How did someone prepare to travel through time?
Vaughn was alone. An orphan. She had no one of her blood.
That was the very reason the nuns of France had sent her to America to be wed.
Born in 1698. Now sitting here in 1800 something. Compliments of the old white bearded Indian.
But most importantly, alive.
And safe and warm thanks to Nathaniel. He’d given her a long flowing blue dress with bundles of material that was much too long for her. She’d stepped on the skirt and nearly tripped twice in the two days she’d been wearing it.
Nathaniel hadn’t questioned how she suddenly appeared only feet from his horse, soaking wet, a valise clutched in her hands.
She’d been soaked from the storm and then suddenly she was here, years in the future, crouched low, Nathaniel atop his black horse looking down at her. She had stood, stretching to her full four feet eleven inches, her chin held high, clutching the valise holding her wedding dress.
And the man she was to wed in 1714 was completely forgotten.
About an hour later, Vaughn woke to the sound of the front door closing.
She sat up straight on the sofa, swiping her long brunette hair from her face.
With his long stride, Nathaniel was standing before her within seconds, before she could wipe the grogginess from her eyes.
He grinned and her heart melted, her lips mirroring his smile.
Nathaniel was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Even though she’d grown up in a convent for orphans, she was certain that he was more handsome than most.
He gazed at her through clear blue eyes as he sat on the couch next to her and took her hands in his.
“You have news?” She asked, forcing herself to concentrate.
“I have unfortunate news.” His expression grew serious.
Her heart sank. It had been too good to be true. “It’s hopeless then,” she tried to pull her hands away, but he looped his fingers with hers.
“No.” He pulled her hands to his lips, kissed the back of one hand, then the other. “My father is unwilling to break my betrothal.”
“You’ll be married then.” She turned away, half-heartedly pulling her hands. Again, he didn’t release her.
She heard the smile in his voice and turned her gaze back to his. She didn’t bother to hide her confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“I have a solution.”
Her thoughts darted here and there, but she could see no way to resolve this. Nathaniel was betrothed to his distant cousin. “It’s naught to worry about,” she said, lowering her gaze to stare at their hands looped together. “I understand.”
“Vaughn. Since the moment I saw you, I knew that we were meant to be.”
She felt the heat rise in her cheeks. “There are so many things that you don’t… that I can’t tell you because I don’t understand.” You must travel through time.
“It matters not to me. Before I found you, I was willing to do my father’s bidding. To marry someone I care nothing about in order to help my family. But now I must follow my heart.”
She lifted her chin. Blinked and met his gaze. Was lost in his deep blue eyes. Eyes that danced with happiness when he looked at her.
He released one of her hands and cupped her chin, running his thumb across her cheek. Her eyes drifted closed and her lips parted.
Then she felt his breath softly against her lips.
“I apologize for being so bold,” he whispered. “But…” His lips brushed against hers, light as a feather, so light she almost thought she might have imagined it.
She opened her eyes and he was sitting up straight again, smiling again.
“I haven’t had the chance to tell you what I’ve planned.”
She smiled at his boyish enthusiasm. “What is it that you have on your mind?”
Reaching into the pocket of his tailcoat, he pulled out a ticket. “We’ll go away,” he declared.
Her lips still tingled from his kiss. “Go where?”
“I have a cousin – on my mother’s side – who lives in Boston. We’ll go there. He owns a general store and has no heirs to leave it to. I can learn the business, then he can pass the store along to us. Keep it in the family.”
“Boston?” She knew of Boston. Had read about it.
“I know it’s not proper.” He continued. “But you can travel as my sister. Until we can be married.”
Vaughn was speechless. Her world had been turned upside down and was spinning. She’d left her home, a convent in France, to marry a man she’d never met. Then after reaching America, her traveling party had been set upon by Indians.
In order to avoid being killed, she’d been sent through time.
And now, this man wanted to take her with him to Boston.
Nathaniel ran a hand through his hair. “It’s too much.”
She shook her head. “It’s not that. I just…”
“Here.” He pressed the stagecoach ticket in her hand. “I have some affairs to take care of. I have to ride into town. I’ll spend the night there and return in the morning. You can tell me then if you’d like to go with me.”
Vaughn’s head was spinning. How could she not want to go with this handsome man who set her heart aflutter?
He pressed a kiss on her forehead, then left her.
Vaughn held the stagecoach ticket in her hand. It was for Thursday, two days from now, at eight in the morning.
Was this so much different than marrying a man she’d never met?
Yes.This was different. This man – Nathaniel – was someone she had not only met, but she wanted to marry him.
She placed the ticket in the pages of Don Quixote and held the book against her chest.
Of course, she would go with him.
How could she not?
The sun was setting, its brilliant colors splashed against the sky, as Vaughn followed the servant who had introduced herself as Martha, along the path leading to the plantation house. The air was cold against her skin, but compared to the winters she’d grown up with in France, it was more invigorating than anything else.
The evening air was filled with bacon. Vaughn’s stomach growled. She’d barely eaten in days. It wasn’t from a lack of food, but her stomach was full of nerves, making it difficult to eat anything at all.
When the woman had said she was summoned, Vaughn saw no choice other than to go with her.
She clutched her skirts high to avoid stepping on them.
She heard singing in the distance. Singing and steel striking against steel. The work of the planation, it seemed, never stopped.
Perhaps Nathaniel’s father had changed his mind and would allow them to marry.
Or even more likely, he wanted to meet Vaughn in order to help him decide.
Yes, that was it.
They approached the house and walked up the steps to cross the wide veranda. Vaughn reached out and ran a hand along one of the white columns, large enough that she could hide behind it.
Following the servant, she stepped into the foyer onto the polished mahogany floor.
Her attention was immediately drawn to a tall grandfather clock ticking away the seconds.
“Wait here,” the servant said, leaving her.
Vaughn went to stand in front of the clock. She looked up into its face, mesmerized by the steady tick toc of the rhythm.
The woman reappeared. “Come with me.”
Vaughn followed her up the stairs to the top of the landing.
She kept one hand on the banister as she went up the steps.
She felt lightheaded.
Lightheaded and not a little ill.
She should have eaten more.
“Wait,” she said. “Can I rest a moment?”
The woman stopped and looked at her with an odd expression. “Are you ill?”
“Yes,” Vaughn whispered. “I think so.”
She dropped her skirts and turned to sit on the nearest step.
As she turned, she felt herself spinning. It was different somehow from the way she’d felt when the old Indian had sent her through time.
Yet, in some ways it was similar. She felt she was falling. The seconds stretched until finally she was sitting on the step.
“I apologize,” she said, looking over her shoulder.
The woman was gone.
She turned and a tall black man wearing a formal frock coat stood at the bottom of the stairs. He was young. Not much older than she, but he looked like he’d seen a ghost.
“Can I help you, Miss?” He said, seeming to pull himself together.
“I was summoned here. Where is the girl? The one named Martha.”
The man shook his head. “There’s no girl named Martha here. My name is Villars. I’m the butler.”
Vaughn stood in the crowded bookstore and clutched the copy of Don Quixote in her hands. The coffee she’d sipped was bitter in her throat.
A middle-aged couple stepped around her.
The man whispered to the woman. “Probably spaced out on drugs.”
The woman glanced at her. Shrugged. “Aren’t they all?”
Vaughn remained frozen in place, their comments having no effect on her.
The heat from the fireplace was much too warm now. Balancing the book from one hand to the other, she pushed up the sleeves of her wool sweater.
She glanced over her shoulder. Jonathan was nowhere in sight. He’d gone off to get something. A chair.
She turned and propped against the display table.
Her fingers trembling, she flipped to the middle of the book. Turned a few pages. The paper was stained with the years, the edges crumbling beneath her fingertips.
Her heart pounding her ears, she turned another page. Then another and another.
Her breath caught in her throat.
There. Tucked deep into the spine of the book was the stagecoach ticket.
Dated December 2, 1714.
As she pulled the faded ticket from the book, her vision narrowed and everything around her faded into the background, leaving her in a haze.
She was no longer wearing Levis. She was wearing the light blue dress that was two sizes too big and much too long.
Her blinked several times and her eyes focused.
Nathaniel stood no more than five feet in front of her. He wore his charcoal tailcoat and matching trousers. His white shirt was open at the collar.
Even in the haze, she saw him clearly.
And he saw her. He held his hand out to her.
Her heart soared. This man from another time still had her love.
She held out her own hand.
He smiled and laced his fingers with hers.
She felt his touch in every cell of her body. Her pulse soared.
“I finally found you a chair, my love.”
The smile disappeared from Nathaniel’s lips as their fingers slipped apart.
“No!” Vaughn grasped for him with both hands, but he seemed to move further and further away.
“Vaughn, are you okay?”
She heard Jonathan’s voice near her ear and felt him take her arm.
Nathaniel had disappeared completely now and she realized she was again wearing her jeans and sweater.
She slipped out of Jonathan’s grasp and slid to the floor.
Though she felt her husband’s presence at her side, her mind froze.
She could still feel the pressure of Nathaniel’s fingers on hers.
Nathaniel. The man heart longed for.
As she began to regain her senses, she realized she still held the ticket in her hand. “The book,” she said.
Don Quixote lay on the floor next to her. She grabbed it up and put the ticket back in it.
Nathaniel. A man who would forever be in her past.
She turned to Jonathan and gave him a wobbly smile in response to his concerned expression.
“What happened?” He asked.
She shook her head. “Nothing, my love.” She took his hand and allowed him to help her up. “I merely felt faint for a moment.”
She’d had a glimpse from a time long past.
But now, in this time, she had a child and man who loved her.
She had no choice but to be content.
Copyright @ 2019 by Kathryn Kelly