The Color of Time
Since her magical summer romance at the age of sixteen, Sylvie Nichols has never been able to forget her first love. Years later, when she returns to the seaside town where she lost her heart to Ethan Foster, she is determined to lay the past to rest once and for all. But letting go becomes a challenge when Sylvie finds herself transported back to that long ago summer of love…and the turbulent events that followed. Soon, past and present begin to collide in strange and mystifying ways, and Sylvie can’t help but wonder if a true belief in miracles is powerful enough to change both her past and her future....
Release date: September 8, 2015
Publisher: Julianne MacLean Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 300
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The Color of Time
The Color of Time
By Julianne MacLean
Someone once told me, in a genuine effort to be helpful, I suppose, that I was crippled by regret. I couldn’t deny it. If I had a dime for every time I wished someone would invent a time machine—so that I could go back and do things differently—I’d be a rich woman today.
But we all know that time machines don’t exist. Of this, my sister has reminded me constantly. Jenn has told me for years that I need to let go of the past and move on with my life. She even took me into her home to live rent-free for a full year so that I could quit my toxic, dead-end job and go back to school.
I appreciated her help, honestly I did, and because of her, I am now a fully certified dental hygienist, working hard every day to look forward, not back.
Life is good. Change is good. Of that, at least, I am certain.
But no matter how far forward we travel in life, is it ever truly possible to let go of the past? Isn’t it part of who we are? Part of our identity? We can’t simply erase memories from our minds, so what are we to do? Fight every day to block them out? Turn away from them? Pretend they don’t exist? Wouldn’t that be fake and superficial?
All my life, these questions have plagued me, but finally I have the answers. I have them because of a simple phone call—a phone call I received one summer afternoon that changed the course of my life.
August 2, 2015
“What’s wrong?” Jenn asked, looking up from the magazine she was reading on the back deck. My pregnant younger sister removed her sunglasses and laid them on her lap.
I slid the glass door shut behind me and sat down on one of the plastic chairs. “Something bad happened. Gram just called. She was out in her yard on a ladder cleaning out the gutters…”
“Cleaning out the gutters?” Jenn sat forward on the lounge chair. “She’s eighty-seven! She should be hiring someone else to do that stuff!”
I raised my hands in mock surrender. “Hey, you’re preaching to the choir here, because that’s exactly what I told her.”
Jenn let out a worried huff and flopped back down again. “Is she okay?”
“Not really. She slipped on the bottom rung and fell off the ladder. It wasn’t a high fall, but still… Luckily Mrs. Cassidy was outside cleaning her pool and heard Gram calling for help. She’s in the hospital now and they just told her she broke her hip. She has to have surgery.”
Jenn covered her mouth with a hand. “Oh, no. Poor Gram.”
I nodded in agreement. “I’ve been worried about something like this happening, ever since Grampy died. That house and the yard are huge. There’s too much maintenance.”
“I agree,” Jenn replied. “But she’s still sharp as a tack, so she’s not ready for a nursing home, but maybe a nice retirement facility would be better for her. She could meet people her own age and not have to worry about mowing the lawn or weeding the garden.”
I considered that for a moment. “I can’t see her going for that. You know what she’s like. She can’t let go of things.”
I felt like the pot calling the kettle black.
Swinging her legs to the deck floor, Jenn set her magazine on the lounge chair cushion. “Yeah. And Mom says Gram is very attached to the house. She refuses to consider selling it.”
I leaned back in the chair and gripped the armrests. The sun was uncomfortably hot on the top of my head. “One of us will have to fly out to Maine and take care of her. She said her neighbor is being very helpful and is feeding her cat while she’s in the hospital, but what’s going to happen when Gram gets discharged? She can’t manage all alone in that house. She’ll need help.”
“Does Mom know yet?” Jenn asked.
“No,” I replied. “Gram said she called her but there was no answer.”
“Mom’s probably with a client,” Jenn said, “and the hair dryer’s going or something.”
Our mother, a sixty-three-year-old widow, had recently started her own mobile hairdressing business where she paid house calls to elderly women who couldn’t travel to a salon. She was very proud of herself for getting a bank loan, completely on her own, and purchasing all the equipment she needed along with a van that had advertising plastered on both sides.
“Mom’s going to freak,” Jenn said. “You know she’ll want to go out there, but it’s such bad timing for her—just when her business is starting to pick up.”
I agreed and gestured toward Jenn’s belly. “You certainly can’t go. You’re due in a month. They probably wouldn’t even let you fly. I, on the other hand…” Taking a deep breath and rising from the chair, I strode to the railing and looked out at the green lawn below.
Of course, I knew that if anyone should go, it should be me, because I was currently in between jobs—although not by choice. Two months ago I graduated at the top of my class from the dental hygienist program and was one of the first students hired by a large downtown dental office. It was a one-year maternity leave replacement, but they assured me that another job would open up in the meantime and I’d be offered something permanent.
Unfortunately for me, the new mother changed her mind after a month and decided she didn’t enjoy being at home with her baby all day long. She wanted to come back to work. As a result, I was shifted to a part-time position until something full-time opened up. It would probably happen eventually, I was told, but for now I was just filling in on a casual basis.
Turning to face my sister, I rested my elbows on the rail. “Clearly I’m the one who should go.”
“What about your job?” she asked.
I waved a dismissive hand. “They can get by without me for a few weeks. And I’m sure you and Jake will be happy to have the house to yourselves. I’ve overstayed my welcome as it is.”
Jenn stood and approached me. “You know we love having you. You can stay as long as you need to.”
“Thanks, but I’m thirty-three years old and you have a baby on the way. I don’t want to be a freeloader forever. Besides, I promised I’d get my own place as soon as I got a full-time job. I just don’t know when that’s going to happen.”
“It’s not a problem,” Jenn assured me. “But if you want to go to Maine, that’s fine, too. You’re right, Gram’s going to need help and I don’t know who else can go right now. But are you sure you want to go? You know what I mean, right? It’s been four years since you’ve been east, and you’ve come so far.”
Of course I knew what she was referring to—that I had only recently turned over a new leaf and clawed my way out of the emotional black pit in the ground where I’d been wallowing for the past sixteen years.
Sadly, the trouble started in Maine when Jenn and I used to travel there to spend summers with our grandparents—a Nichols’ family tradition. Our parents would accompany us for a week, then they’d leave us there so we could take sailing and tennis lessons until September when we would return to Montana.
It worked out fine when we were children, but the situation changed for Gram and Grampy after we hit puberty and lost interest in catching frogs. Summers were different after that. It was different for all of us.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie, or wake them up and face their sharp-toothed wrath. I knew which camp Jenn was in. She’d always urged me to tiptoe past that sleeping beast and go elsewhere. Forget I ever saw him. Pretend he didn’t exist.
I was more inclined to poke the dog with a stick.
* * *
I might as well confess it now, and I doubt you’ll be surprised: I’ve been in therapy for the past year. I shouldn’t say it as if it’s some terrible secret or something to be ashamed of, because it’s helped me cope with a number of important issues. My therapist isn’t like Jenn. Dr. Howard encourages me to talk about my feelings and cry if I need to.
I did a lot of that in the first few months and felt like a total wuss in her office, but lately I’d been feeling more solid on the inside.
As I boarded the plane, however, I found myself saying a silent prayer that this trip to Portland wouldn’t reverse my progress and knock me down like it had in the past. I crossed my fingers that it would be different this time. That I’d be able to handle it better and feel good about my life when I returned home again.
August 3, 2015
“Gram…oh my goodness.” I entered the hospital room, leaned over the bed and kissed her on the cheek. “How are you feeling?”
My grandmother, hooked up to oxygen and a jungle of IV tubes, blinked up at me sleepily. “Sylvie…?”
“Yes, it’s me. I just got off the plane and came straight here. Are you okay?”
She nodded her silver-haired head. “I had the operation.”
“I see that,” I said with a smile. “The nurse said you’re doing really well.”
Her eyes slowly closed, then they opened again. “What time is it?”
“It’s just past 8:00. Can I do anything for you?”
She shook her head and squeezed my hand. “You’re here, sweet pea. That’s all I could ever want.”
Bending forward, I kissed her on the forehead and brushed her hair away from her face. “I’m so glad I could come. I’ve missed you.”
“Me, too,” she replied. “Are you going to be okay?”
I chuckled softly. “I’m fine, Gram. I’m not the one who just broke a hip.”
“Mmm,” she replied in a breathy voice. “What day is it?”
“I’m so tired, I can’t keep track.”
“That’s because of the pain medication,” I told her. “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.” Suspecting she was about to drift off, I leaned a little closer to remind her why I was there. “Gram? Do you remember our conversation last night? You said your neighbor would have a key to your house?”
Her eyes lifted heavily. “Yes. Just knock on her door.”
“Mrs. Cassidy, right?”
Gram nodded. “Yes. She’s feeding Gordon.”
“Good. I’ll give him lots of love when I get there and I’ll be back to see you first thing in the morning.” I bent to kiss her again. “I love you. Sleep well.”
“You, too,” Gram replied.
I left the room and spoke to the duty nurse briefly about Gram’s prognosis before I walked out of the hospital with my giant blue suitcase in tow.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled up in front of Gram’s house in a cab. All the windows in Mrs. Cassidy’s house were brightly lit, so I felt comfortable letting the cab driver go.
As I gripped my suitcase handle and wheeled it up over the curb onto the sidewalk, a familiar fragrance of pink hedge roses and freshly cut grass wafted to my nostrils.
Stopping on the walk, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. Ah, what a smell…
There was something so invigorating about the salty sea air and how it mingled with the scents of the flowers and the earth. It was nothing like the mountain fragrances of Montana.
Filling my lungs and letting out a breath, I became immersed in fresh summer perfumes—the garden blossoms and the rich, damp earth lining the stone path. I gazed up at the starlit sky and listened to the sounds of crickets chirping noisily on Mrs. Cassidy’s lawn.
Memories of my youth flooded into my being, but for the first time in my adult life, I felt no sudden sinking pain or remorse, no regret over having returned to visit. Maybe it was simply the passage of time. Or maybe it was because I’d made so many changes over the past year. Maybe I was finally ready to let go and see the world differently.
Rolling my heavy suitcase bumpily along the uneven sidewalk to Mrs. Cassidy’s white painted gate, I flicked the latch and entered her yard. When at last I reached the front door, I rang the bell and waited. Before long, the door opened.
“Hello, Sylvie,” Mrs. Cassidy said. “We were expecting you. Come in, come in. My word, look at you.”
Mrs. Cassidy, an attractive, petite woman in her early seventies, pulled me into her arms and held me tight. “I remember when I could scoop you up like a little teddy bear. It’s been too long, sweetheart.”
I hugged her in return, then drew back and smiled. “I know. I’m so sorry. I haven’t been back in a while.”
It had been nearly five years since I’d visited Portland, and the last few times I’d kept my head down and avoided the people who knew what happened all those years ago.
“No apologies necessary,” she said. “You’re a darling to come and take care of Barbara. Now where is that key…?” She rifled through a china bowl on the foyer table—full of change, buttons and keys—until she found what she was looking for. “Here we are.”
Mrs. Cassidy held the key out to me. I took hold and slid it onto my own key ring. “Thanks so much for this,” I said, “and for calling the ambulance yesterday. It’s a good thing you were home.”
“It was no trouble at all,” Mrs. Cassidy replied. “How is she doing tonight?”
“Feeling pretty happy with the pain meds,” I said with a grin. “I doubt she’ll even remember I was there.”
Mrs. Cassidy nodded sympathetically. “You can visit her in the morning and say hello for the first time all over again.”
“I will,” I said with a laugh, “just as soon as I feed that big cat of hers.”
Feeling tired from the long flight across the country, I allowed Mrs. Cassidy to accompany me to the door.
“Let us know if you need anything,” she said. “We’re usually up until 11:00 watching CNN.”
“Thanks so much,” I said. “I appreciate it.”
A few minutes later, I was standing on my grandmother’s veranda, next to the white painted hanging swing, staring at the door with a strange fluttering sensation in my belly.
Let’s just get through this, I thought to myself, as I stepped forward and inserted the key into the lock.
As soon as I opened the door and flicked on the light, I felt a surprisingly pleasant rush of childhood nostalgia. Sadly, it only lasted for a few seconds, then it was followed by unavoidable thoughts of less happy times, which sucked the pleasant rush right out of me.
I tried to shake those thoughts away and focused instead on my surroundings. How small the house appeared to me now. The oak-paneled entranceway seemed narrower, as did the craftsman style staircase. The hanging lamp with its angular stained glass shade seemed not so far out of reach.
Turning to close and lock the door behind me, I jumped in fright when something brushed past my leg.
“Gordon!” My grandmother’s oversized tabby cat sat down on the braided entrance rug and gaped up at me with wide green eyes. I bent to pick him up. “Poor kitty. You must be feeling pretty lonely around here.”
Leaving my suitcase at the door, I scratched behind his ears, patted his silky head while he purred, and carried him to the kitchen to check his food bowl.
As I switched on the overhead light and glanced around at the wood cupboards and familiar countertop—which had not been updated for as long as I had been alive—I again found myself sucked in by the past, feeling as if some things would never change.
Not that I wanted them to. Tonight, there was something comforting about the familiarity of this house. Again, that surprised me, considering what happened here in my teens. Since then, nothing about Portland, Maine had ever made me feel at ease. At least not for the past sixteen years.
Seeing that there was plenty of food in Gordon’s bowl, I suspected he would just be happy to have company, so I set him down on the hardwood floor and said, “You can sleep with me tonight, big guy.”
I opened Gram’s refrigerator—an ancient appliance, straight out of the 1960s. “It’s a miracle this thing still runs,” I said to Gordon as I withdrew a carton of milk, poured myself a glass and added some chocolate powder from the cupboard, which I stirred around with a silver teaspoon.
Carrying my milk to the front parlor, I turned on a lamp and noticed Gram had treated herself to a new television set—a fifty-two-inch flat screen that dominated the area next to the fireplace.
“Good for you, Gram,” I said, picking up the remote and turning it on.
I sat down for a moment to relax before bed, but since I was still on Mountain Time, it felt too early to me. So I watched an episode of Two and a Half Men, a bit of Property Brothers, then I found a box of crackers and some double-smoked cheddar in the fridge, and stayed up late to watch The Tonight Show.
When it was over, I glanced at my suitcase, still standing on its wheels in the entranceway.
“I guess I better lug you upstairs before I fall asleep down here.”
A short while later, after I had unpacked in the spare bedroom, I changed into my white nightie and brushed my teeth.
As I turned off the bathroom light and padded down the hall, the house felt eerily quiet. I thought of Gram living here all alone and wondered if she minded the solitude. It was hard to believe it had been eight years since Grampy passed away. It seemed like yesterday that he was still with us.
Too exhausted to even read, I slipped into bed, decided not to set the alarm for the morning, switched off the light and went straight to sleep.
It was odd when I woke to the smell of bacon. At first I thought I was imagining it, but as the sleepy, jet-lag-induced fog in my brain cleared, I realized it was definitely bacon in the air.
My eyes opened to bright sunlight streaming in through the windows. Still groggy with sleep, I squinted at the blinding light and shaded my eyes. What time was it?
I glanced at the yellow numbers on the digital clock. It was almost 9:30 and I was at my grandmother’s house… But who the heck was cooking bacon in her kitchen?
Sitting up in bed with a whoosh of nervous butterflies—because I had been under the impression I was staying alone in the house—I tossed the covers aside and tiptoed out to the hall to peer over the railing. I couldn’t see past the bottom of the staircase, nor could I hear any sounds coming from the kitchen, so I decided, rather uncertainly and perhaps unwisely, to go downstairs and investigate.
* * *
At least it was my grandmother who was standing in front of the stove instead of some random intruder with bad intentions, but the butterflies of panic in my tummy flew into a frenzy nevertheless. “What the heck are you doing here? What about your hip?”
I rushed forward, thinking she’d need help to reach a chair, but even that made no sense. She’d just had surgery. Yesterday.
She turned to face me and I was bowled over by how terrific she looked—at least a full decade younger. Her hair was thicker, longer and colored brown, and she was wearing eye makeup.
“What do you mean?” she asked with a bewildered frown, holding up a spatula. “What’s wrong with my hip?”
I stared at her for a moment, openmouthed, and was startled when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Whirling around, I found myself gaping up at my tall grandfather with his warm and caring eyes behind large, Coke-bottle glasses.
Without a second’s rational thought, I threw my arms around his waist and hugged him tightly.
In that blissful moment—as I reveled in the soothing sensation of his hand rubbing up and down my back while he laughed—I realized I was dreaming. It was one of those rare and extraordinary experiences that occur just before you wake, when you are consciously aware that you’re asleep and dreaming. The dream feels impossibly real and you feel in control of what will happen next.
Please, don’t let it end yet. Don’t wake up… Just a few more minutes…
I backed up a step and regarded my grandfather with a powerful wave of love in my heart. “Hi, Grampy.”
“Morning kiddo,” he said jubilantly. “Are you hungry?”
I turned to face Gram again. She was holding out a plate of bacon, scrambled eggs and toast. The smell of the hot breakfast flooded my senses and caused me to salivate, and the joy I felt in the presence of my grandparents made me laugh out loud.
“What’s so funny?” Gram asked.
“Nothing, I’m just happy,” I replied, taking the plate from her and sitting down at the table.
The next thing I knew, the dream spirited me, in a flash, to the lake with my summer friends. I sprinted to the end of the dock and leapt in like a cannonball.
Kersplash! The cool water engulfed me, flowed thunderously into my ears as I sank to the sandy bottom. I pushed off with the ball of my foot and paddled against the resistance of the depths, following the bubbles upward toward the bright, wavy surface and sunlight above.
When at last I broke through and gulped in a breath of fresh air, Ethan was there in front of me, treading water and smiling.
So handsome…so real…
Shock quivered through me and I nearly went under again—for he was my one and only true love. I hadn’t seen him since my youth, but this morning, in this vibrant, extraordinary dream, it was summertime in Portland, Maine. The year was 1998 and I was sixteen years old.
I swam to Ethan eagerly and wrapped my arms around his neck, felt his smooth skin and muscular shoulders beneath my hands, kissed him passionately on the mouth. We sank down together and kissed beneath the surface of the water until we couldn’t hold our breaths any longer. He dragged me up by the hand.
“I love you so much!” I cried out, splashing around, desperate to tell him this one important thing before the dream ended.
“I love you, too,” he replied, laughing at my exuberance. “Forever. Come on, let’s go.” He began to swim away, back to the pebbly beach and the place where we’d left our towels.
I remained where I was, however, treading water with some difficulty, bobbing up and down beneath the surface, catching brief, watery glimpses of him on the beach, drying off with the towel, pulling on a blue T-shirt.
“Are you coming out?” he shouted.
I wanted to. More than anything. All I wanted was to touch him again, to hold him and stay there with him forever at the lake where we’d loved each other so passionately.
Suddenly my eyes flew open and I sat bolt upright in bed.
I was back in my grandmother’s house. The dream was over. Everything was quiet. It was 2015 again.
A quick glance at the clock told me it was 10:00 a.m. The sun was shining outside.
Still wallowing in the vividness of the dream, my heart pounded with excitement, which was an odd feeling. Usually, thoughts of Ethan left me feeling empty and morose.
I flopped back down onto the pillows as an unexpected wave of euphoria moved me to tears at the memory of that kiss in the water. Ethan! It was as if I’d actually touched him, heard his voice and tasted his lips—those lips I once knew so well. As I lay there in bed, his presence remained fresh in my mind. I could still hear him so clearly, calling to me from the shoreline...
Then the memory of the dream began to fade from my mind, and though I fought to hold onto the feelings and sensations, the thrills and the euphoria, everything pulled away from me. I had to remind myself that it was just a dream. Nothing had changed. I was still thirty-three years old. Ethan was gone and I would never see him again. Not in this lifetime.
Pressing a hand to my forehead, I closed my eyes and lay still for a long while, doing my best to steer clear of the familiar gloom.
It was just a dream. Nothing but a dream.
But wow, I thought to myself. It felt so real. How was that possible?
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