3/15/21

MDVL ch 1

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My Deja Vu Lover  
 PHOEBE MATTHEWS

LostLoves Books

Second edition: Copyright by Phoebe Matthews

Cover Design Copyright by LostLoves Books

First edition by TheWildRosePress

This is a work of fiction. With the exception of well-known historical personages, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.


CHAPTER 1

The first time I saw the accident was on Tuesday afternoon. I was standing with my friend Cyd at the corner of Westlake and Pine, waiting for the light to change to WALK so that we could cross Pine and check the sale racks at Nordie’s before I went to my interview and Cyd returned to her office.

There was nothing unusual about the day. It was typical Seattle late winter, the sky yellow-gray where the low sun tried to shine through the endless cloud cover, the  store fronts dull behind the mist, the sidewalks slick. People hurried, heads ducked, collars turned up, but only a few bothered with umbrellas. In Seattle we try to ignore rain.

I had clerked through the holidays at an exclusive dress shop, then been laid off when sales slowed.

Running my hand across my hair, I could feel the damp film on my long, thick mop and knew that by the time I reached my next interview, my conditioner-tamed curls would have dissolved into frizz. And then all anyone ever saw when they looked at me was blond bimbo. Actually, my hair is a light reddish brown, not blond, but I am short and curvy and have an upturned nose and full mouth and that’s the reaction I get, bimbo. Not a word people say aloud to me but there it is, written all over their faces.

My suit was rain-dotted, my new killer heels water-stained. Cyd ignored the mist as only she could, unaware that it left its sleek sheen on the broad planes of her face. Her gray eyes peered calmly through the streaked lenses of  her glasses. She spoke rapidly, planning a trip for us next spring, the first trip the four of us would take together, explaining we would travel in Macbeth’s car.

Cyd liked to make long range plans. I never planned anything past the next weekend.

“Tom’s car would never make it over the pass,” she said, laughed, and added, “if he could get it started at all. Come on, April, the light’s about to change.”

I tried to forget the two job interviews I had endured that morning, polite faces telling me the position was filled, nothing else opening, but do keep in touch. A weekend away, the four of us, sounded good, except the driving part. Deep in my gut I had this terror that filled me with nausea and took away my breath any time I was in a car on anything faster than a downtown street. No idea why. Never been in an accident. But this trip Cyd was planning, east across the Cascades, was months away and so why worry now.

As Cyd spoke, I imagined Macbeth at the wheel, Cyd beside him, Tom and me in the back and that might be okay.

And then I saw the crash.

I looked up at the stoplight. In its place was a palm tree. A blinding dazzle of blue sky, primary blue, the shade I used to color the sky when I was in first grade, was broken by palm fronds atop telephone-pole shaped tree trunks.  I could feel the sun heat, the vision was that realistic, and I smelled a cloying sweet cologne. I wasn’t sure if the cologne was mine or was being worn by the person next to me, a man, but before I could turn and look at him, I saw the oncoming car. Saw, in that other car, the three people who mattered most to me in all the world, Cyd, Macbeth and Tom.

Perspiration popped out on my face. My fingers cramped around the steering wheel. I peered through the sun-streaked windshield. I was driving, unbelieving, numb with fear, my thoughts a mirror of their terrified expressions. There was something different about them and about the car but I could not define it. All I could see, through the turmoil of my fury and horror, were the three pale ovals of their faces, their eyes wide. I saw Macbeth’s arm flash in front of Cyd’s shoulders as if to hold her back, and Cyd’s mouth formed the scream, No!  I saw the palms of Tom’s hands pressed against the windshield as though he could hold the two cars apart.

The man beside me in the car I was driving tried to grab the wheel and turn it, pulling. Pain shot through my wrists as I tightened my grip. He screamed a string of oaths, sound screeching with the tires, anger as hot as the day, my own voice ripping out of me. And somewhere inside me my heart exploded.

Even then, even while I stared at my best friends and my throat muscles cramped to hold back my own screams, I tried to bat away his hands, stop us, stop the car, and my foot jammed down hard on the gas.

And then I was back standing in the rain on the corner of Westlake and Pine, the center of the retail district in Seattle, surrounded by tall old buildings that housed Macy’s and Nordstrom, and by the glass-walled Westlake Mall, by so many other normal everyday sights.

My heart pounded against my ribs. My palms were wet with nervous perspiration. My breath came in quick gasps. Damp-coated people brushed past and cars swished by on the wet street. Overhead the monorail hissed away from the loading platform.

Cyd said, “April? What’s wrong?”

I was shaking violently in the cold rain. I stared at her but couldn’t speak.

She caught my arm, turned me around, led me across a couple of streets and into Nordie’s, marched me to the escalator. My brain was paralyzed. We rode up several levels, then walked the length of a floor past racks of clothing until we reached the store’s restaurant. It was almost empty now, a little late for lunch, a little early for coffee break. Cyd pushed me firmly into a booth and told me to stay there. I wanted to put my head down on the table but knew that if I did, I would probably pass out and fall off the bench.

Cyd returned with a coffee mug, not easy because this wasn’t a self-service place. She marched toward me in her neatly belted raincoat, a fierce expression on her face. A distressed waitress scurried behind her, but when Cyd turned her head so quickly that her short black hair fanned out and then she glared at the poor woman, the waitress did an abrupt turn away from her. I didn’t try to figure out Cyd’s action. I pressed my palms against the mug and let the warmth seep into my cold hands.

Slowly the space around me came into focus, the wall of booths, the polished tables and chairs in the center, the commotion of customers through the open archways.

Cyd slid into the booth facing me. She tossed her purse on the table between us and her wet raincoat on the seat beside herself, then said, “Feeling better?”

My teeth stopped chattering so I guessed I was better and nodded. My suit jacket was wool. Mist beaded on it but did not soak through. I could feel moisture sliding through my frizzy hair. Grabbing at the handful of paper napkins that Cyd had dropped on the table, I scrubbed at my face and neck, dried my hands.

“Didn’t you bring an umbrella?”

She didn’t bother asking why I wasn’t wearing a coat. She knew I never did, not to interviews, because then I’d have to carry it around indoors and I hate doing that.

Had I started out the morning with an umbrella? “I think so.”

“Then you’ve left it somewhere.”

No point answering. Obviously, I had lost another umbrella. Like Hansel and Gretel with their bread crumbs, my trails of umbrellas disappeared all over Seattle and I could never track them.

“Hope you’re not coming down with flu,” she said, her voice softening.

Cyd really was my best and dearest friend, even if we were so different. She was organized and sensible and I admired her tremendously but didn’t even try to imitate. She was everything I wasn’t, tall, slim, her dark hair always sleek and shiny.

“No, I’m not sick.”

“Had anything to eat today? Shall I order lunch?” she asked.

“No.” I stared at her, not knowing how to explain.

As usual, she saw right through me and almost seemed to read my mind. “So what spooked you?”

“Don’t know,” I said, then met her gaze. “Okay. I saw a car crash. Two cars. Right before we crossed the street. Only the crash wasn’t there, not on Pine, but it was, too, right when we were waiting for the light.”

Cyd frowned. “There wasn’t any accident.”

“I know. I know that. But I saw it. I saw palm trees and blue sky and two cars. I was driving one of them.”

“This was a dream?”

“I was wide awake.” I wrung my folded hands literally, something I had heard of people doing but not actually seen anyone do.

Cyd reached across the table, placed one firm hand on top of my hands. Stopped me. Looked at me with those calm eyes. “Yes, I understand, it was kind of a vision, but have you seen it before? Like in a dream, or more likely, one of those recurring childhood nightmares.”

“No, not like that. Not my imagination. It was real. I was there. I could feel the heat and I could smell, oh damn, aftershave! That’s what it was, he wore aftershave, my dad used to wear that stuff, kind of a heavy sweet smell, and I was driving and there was this guy next to me but I don’t know who he was.”

“Maybe you’re remembering something that happened long ago.”

“How could I? I don’t drive,” I reminded her.

I was twenty-five years old and had never learned to drive because the truth was, I was afraid of cars and had been for as long as I could remember.

“Never? What about high school, driver’s ed?”

“Didn’t take driver’s ed,” I said.

At the table nearest our booth two women, about our ages, leaned toward each other. They were dressed Nordie style, casually expensive, carefully mismatched outfits. One spoke with angry intensity that made her voice carry. “I had a veil and Mom decided she didn’t like the way it fit on my hair, and there I was, five minutes before I went down the aisle, Mom with her comb out, messing around and nagging me and I wanted to deck her but, oh, you’ll see, you’ll probably go through the same crap.”

Cyd said, “April, you were probably in an accident when you were a child. You’ve forgotten.”

“I was driving.” The frantic terror rose in my mind again. I wanted so much to make Cyd understand but I’ve never been good at expressing myself.

She said, “Maybe it was your mother driving, maybe you remember her hands on the wheel. You know how nervous you are in cars?  I bet that’s it, you were in an accident, or maybe a near miss, something when you were three or four, something you’ve pushed into your subconscious.”

I tried to speak slowly, stay calm, but my voice burned in my throat and turned into a frantic whisper. “It wasn’t a memory or a nightmare. That crash was real and I was there. Driving. Not an accident. I wanted to wreck that car. I was furious with the man sitting next to me. I wanted to hurt him. But then I saw you and Tom and Macbeth staring through the windshield of the oncoming car and I didn’t want to hit you. But I couldn’t stop.”

Cyd said, “Drink your coffee. I’m going to go order lunch. Bet you skipped breakfast, huh? Never mind about that next interview. I’ll call and change it for you.”

“What about your job? You’ll be late.”

“I’ll phone and tell then I’ve got ptomaine. We’re so behind, nobody’s going to fire me.”

I grasped the edge of the table to keep my hands from shaking. “I can’t eat. Listen, Cyd, this happened. Or it is going to happen. I don’t get premonitions, never have, but maybe?”

“Definitely not a premonition,” Cyd said in that flat, confident voice. “Tell you what, when palm trees start growing in Seattle, I’ll start to worry.”

Macbeth sometimes calls me the waterworks because I am no good at controlling my emotions. I cry through movies, happy or sad, they do that to me, so there I was again, face suddenly burning, hot tears running down my face.

Cyd offered to go home with me but what for? I told her I was probably upset about the morning interviews and I’d be fine. What I didn’t tell her was that I needed the afternoon alone in our apartment pulling myself together, not talking to anyone.

“All right,” she said, “go home and eat something. Get some rest.”






CHAPTER 2

So that’s what I did, went home, hung up my wet suit on the shower curtain rod, pulled on sweats. Then I went back out to the front room and turned on the TV and set the sound at blast level. There was nothing on in the afternoon of interest but it created light flickers and noise I could ignore. If I played CDs on the stereo the music would have overwhelmed me, the mood I was in, and left me crying.

Cyd and I had been roommates in college, stumbling over each other’s backpacks, bumping into each other’s open closet doors for two years. When Cyd and the guys graduated four years ago, college ended for me, too, even though I had only made it through three years and had barely enough credits accumulated to account for two years. I was weary of signing up for classes that were filled, or forcing myself to sit at a desk under a strip of fluorescent light committing to memory facts that bored me. And I was sick of staring at blank Blue Books in attempts to create exam answers to questions whose origins evaded me.

The U had fulfilled my requirements. I’d tramped across its wide acre of new bricks surrounded by block-shaped buildings, and jogged the tree-lined paths past its old Gothic-architectured heart. In its crowded housing and musty coffee shops I had found what I wanted.

During my early teens my parents had divorced. I’d been sent off to boarding school and then to college on a trust fund left for me by a grandmother, but what I wanted was family. And that’s what I found with my friends.

 So when the three of them graduated from the U, I went with them, renting an apartment on Capitol Hill with Cyd. Gave her an excuse to put off living with Macbeth.

“We’re okay for a weekend,” she once explained to me, and I thought okay was kind of cold, but judging other people’s sex lives is maybe not possible. “If I move in with him, we won’t last three months.”

As Tom and I didn’t have a relationship to figure out, that worked. There’d been a series of romantic disasters during those three years on campus. Between brief and sometimes steamy affairs with others, Tom and I had what could only be called casual sex, occasional, wonderful, and never discussed afterwards. Okay, we sometimes discussed sex, but we never discussed our lack of a relationship.

Tom and I liked each other and wanted to remain friends. Does it say something about both of us and our inability to commit to anything if I explain we agreed firmly on one point? Friends lasted, lovers didn’t.

When Tom found another girl, and he always did, guys do, I’d do some private weeping. But there was no point being jealous when I wasn’t willing to play the steady girlfriend role. Had he ever asked?  Sort of, in the middle of lovemaking, and afterwards we both pretended it had never happened.

Cyd and I had three rooms that were taller than they were wide. A bay window peered out toward the street through the tangle of vine maple that covered the old brick exterior. We painted the walls, cabinets, door frames, radiators, and anything else that took paint. Flat white of course. Macbeth, who knew how to do everything and did it well, built bookshelves for our boxwoods of books, hung a clothes rod across one end of our closetless bedroom, then wired Cyd’s stereo and mounted the speakers near the ceiling. He repaired the leaking refrigerator and the nonfunctioning stove, then shamed the landlord into paying for all the paint and lumber and rods as well as for the wiring and hardware for the repairs.

Cyd and I scrubbed the nothing-color carpet. For the first month we rolled out our sleeping bags every night. When my next quarterly check from my trust fund finally arrived, we bought twin beds. With her first paycheck and the attached confidence, Cyd added a couch to her credit card. It was long and soft and gray because Cyd loved gray. I bought throw pillows in a mismatch of colors.

Cyd had stood in the center of the room staring at them, the day I came home from a shopping trip with Tom. He followed obediently behind me, his arms so full he could hardly see around the packages. We made a game of ripping off the plastic coverings, dropping them on the floor, and laughed our way into silliness while tossing the pillows at each other and then onto the couch.

And then we noticed silent Cyd.

“What’s wrong?  Don’t you like them?”

She said slowly, “The velvet is nice. But you have one green pillow and a gold bolster and a red cushion and a whatever that is --”

“Halfway between blue and purple,” I said.

“Uh huh. And navy and wine. Plus they are all different shapes and sizes. Why?”

Hadn’t she looked at the rod that ran the width of our bedroom?  Half of it was hangers with neat gray stuff and the other half was hangers with every color ever invented. At least I was good about keeping my stuff on my side.

“Okay, we can take them back,” I said.

“Can we?” Tom asked. “We’ve torn off the plastic.”

“No,  no,” Cyd said quickly, “they’re fine, really.”  She had this determined expression on her face, the one she wore when it was time to clean the bathroom. I guess it worked, I guess she decided she could live with the cushions because she never mentioned them again.

Next, Mac had scrounged up table and chairs from somewhere. He was the one who liked to sit on a chair and eat from a table rather than sitting on the floor yoga-style.

Now, with the TV blocking out thinking, I made myself a nest of the velvet cushions on the floor beneath the bay window and worked slowly on a manicure. The concentration I applied to matching the curve of each nail to the other nails kept me comfortably brain dead.

Macbeth banged twice on the front door with his closed fist, causing the door to rattle, and then, in case I might possibly know anyone else who knocked that way, he shouted, “April, it’s me!”

“Come on in!” I shouted back.

He used his key. We were always losing ours. Macbeth was our backup in so many ways. And being Macbeth, he flipped on the overhead light as soon as he entered. Tom would have stumbled around in the gloom, no more aware that dusk had settled than I was, but Macbeth always knew where he was, what he was doing, and how it related to the rest of the world.

“What’s with sitting in the dark, babe?”

“I’m not reading, mother, so it’s okay, I won’t strain my eyes.”

Grabbing another cushion as he crossed the room, he settled himself on the floor beside me. “Cyd phoned. She’ll be working late. She sent me over because she’s worried about you. Something about a bummer day.”

Ceiling lights suited Macbeth, have to admit, accenting the neat haircut, clean profile, tailored sports coat, dark slacks. I leaned my head back against the windowsill and treated him like eye candy, not that I would ever tell him so. He was Cyd’s guy.

“I’m okay.”

“Not coming down with anything?” He pressed the back of his hand against my forehead.

“A hangnail, maybe.”

“Cyd said you skipped an interview this afternoon.”

“How could I go with a hangnail?”

“You’re probably the last female on earth who can spend two hours pushing back her cuticles.”

I said, “Nobody loves a smartass.”

He smiled a quick smile that showed the gap between his front teeth and softened his face. “Babe, you’ve skipped three appointments this week.”

“Got my ass kicked twice today. Twice is enough.”

“So you’re quitting?”

“Typical, Macbeth. Nag, nag. You got that Midas touch, you know, everything works for you. Don’t expect the rest of us to meet your standards.” I said it like a joke but it was true. He could multitask and keep it all aimed at one ambition. Which is probably how he got the nickname Macbeth, short for Macklin Braithe, when he was a child. It stuck. “Bet you were the kid who picked up his games and went home if the other kids forgot the rules.”

He kept the smile but it looked forced. “You should go back to school and get your degree.”

“I wasn’t learning anything.”

“You’ll never get a decent job without a degree.”

“Or with one. Look at Cyd and Tom.”

They had their degrees from the U and they were both in jobs they hated, stuck in cubicles squinting into computers all day.

“So what did they expect with history majors? Get into something practical.”

Yes, sure, we’d been through this a dozen times. Reminding him I was a trust fund baby and could squeak by if I stuck with a shared apartment and pizza wouldn’t shut him up.

So I said the thing that always worked. “I love you, Macbeth.”

He said, “Sure, April, I love you, too,” but he didn’t look at me. Instead he stood up and walked out, pausing at the door to say, “I need to pick up Cyd. We’re going out to some new Italian place she’s heard about. Want to come with us?”

“No. I’m okay. Honest. Tom will be along soon.”

Macbeth nodded and left, pushing in the lock button on the door before he closed it. The knob rattled from the other side when he turned it to make sure he had locked me in safely. After his car pulled away from the curb, I got up and switched off the overhead light, then returned to the window to stare out at the darkening sky above the moving shadows of the vine leaves.

Could have told him to turn out the light when he left. Cyd would have done that. Not me. I’d spent my life avoiding confrontations, doing things my own way when no one was watching.

Once in a while I’d tried to defend myself, explain why I wanted something, and I either stumbled over crappy explanations, or screamed things I couldn’t take back, or dissolved into tears.  So I quit bothering and kept my thoughts to myself.

While I played with my thoughts, weaving them mentally through the vine maple like threads, I saw Tom hurrying along the sidewalk, his tall frame bent against the nonexistent wind. His head was lowered as though he could only move forward by butting his way through the mist. A forelock of dark wavy hair fell across his eyes. His trench coat flapped around his long legs.

I banged on the window glass and waved but being Tom and lost in his own thoughts, he didn’t hear me.

After I let him in he trailed me to the kitchen, his hands on my shoulders, and we stared together at the interior of  the fridge.

“We could do eggs,” I said.

“How about eggs benedict?”

“We don’t have ham. Or muffins.”

“It’s the hollandaise that counts. We can use toast.” He turned me to face him and wound his arms around me. He was tall and thin and average looking until you looked up into his eyes. Tom had thick black eyelashes out to there and his eyes were this lovely shade of dark brown, sparkling and teasing and full of promises he never remembered he’d made. Oh yes, I knew the boy well.

“Your coat’s wet.”

“Not inside,” he said, and opened it to wrap me up, pressing me against the rough wool of  his sweater. Right off I knew he’d split up with his latest girlfriend. He nuzzled my neck until I giggled.

“We’ll never get supper done this way.” I pushed away from him because I wasn’t about to be a consolation prize.

Despite the lack of ingredients, Tom, who was a fair cook, put together a hot meal while I, who wasn’t, turned off the TV and turned on the stereo and poured the wine.

We sat on the floor in the front room, stretched out among the pillows and bolsters we had dragged off the couch. Light from the kitchen doorway threw a patterned strip up one wall and across the ceiling of the entry hall, giving us all the light we needed. I could feel Tom watching me more than I could see him, his dark eyes shadows in his narrow face.

“What’s the problem, April?”

“A couple of job interviews, no job.”

“Sorry, lovey. Wish I could help.”

“What about you?” I asked, because I knew he hated his job. “Thought of something else to do?”

“Been thinking about going back to the U. God, I still owe on my student loan. But I need a master’s.”

That was Macbeth’s chant, that Cyd and Tom needed to get degrees in business or computer science. “What can you do with a master’s? Besides teach high school that is.”

“Teenagers? Right. Forget that plan.”

“I’d rather panhandle than go back to school,” I said.

“We could get married,” Tom said. He said that regularly between girlfriends.

“What’s-her-name left you, huh?”

He laughed. “Yeah. Something about me living with my folks. A turnoff, I guess.”

Tom lived with his parents and I lived on a very small trust fund set up by a grandmother. Real shortage of Macbeth ambition in there somewhere. Also, maybe you have to love something in order to be committed to it and I didn’t have a definition of love. Nothing and no one had ever happened to me that I could separate from the rest of my life and identify as love.

Having the sort of prettiness that attracts males, I’ve had guys following me since grade school, had sex for the first time when I was in high school and since then had several lovers except that they weren’t. I enjoyed sex but even at seventeen and not very worldly, I knew I didn’t love the guy.

“How can you do that, have affairs with guys you know you don’t love?” Cyd once asked me.

“I love the guy I’m with,” I had told her, “when I’m with him, and isn’t that a song?  Thing is, even then, I know in my head I could have as much fun with any of a half dozen other guys I know.”

To Tom I said, “So, lover, how would marriage solve our financial problems?”

“It wouldn’t,” he said and managed to knock over his glass of wine while reaching for me. “But it would make poverty more fun.”

“Uh huh. You could cook for me,” I said over my shoulder as I headed for the bathroom to grab a large towel. “And I could clean up after you,” I added as I knelt and mopped up the wine from the carpet. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings but I’m going to have to pass on your offer.”

“Okay. I’ll ask again next week.”

He would, too, he would still be around next week caring about me and so would Cyd and Macbeth. I could count on them which was why I adored them.

“Tom, do you believe in premonitions?”

“The first time I saw you I knew you were the woman I would marry.”

“Not that kind of premonition. Listen, be serious.”  Kneeling beside him, where he had stretched out on the carpet, I put my face close to his so I could see his expression in the dim light. He didn’t try to grab me, just lifted his face enough to kiss me. I socked his arm.

“Stop, be serious.”

“I’m always serious when I kiss.”

“I’ve got to tell you something. Cyd thinks I imagined it. I didn’t.”

 The scene was sharp, the palm trees, the brilliant sky, the shimmering heat, the wheel beneath my sweating hands, the oncoming car. I described it to Tom, quickly at first, afraid that like Cyd, he would think it was a memory of something I’d once seen.

He surpassed me by saying, “Describe the car we were in.”

“I’m not good at cars. Gray, I think, or maybe light blue, and lots of chrome, the fenders were chrome and it had wide strips around the front of the hood, and oh, there wasn’t any roof.”

“A convertible?”

“I guess so.”

“Do you know anyone who owns a gray convertible?”

“No, and I’ve never seen a car like it except, wait, I know, on PBS. That’s it, those Masterpiece Theater shows. Only those are in England and they don’t have palm trees.”

“You’ve lost me,” Tom said.

Leaning against him, I closed my eyes and tried to visualize the car. “You know those shows on TV that are set at some English country estate and the women wear thin little dresses, the kind Cyd looks for at vintage clothing stores, and everyone talks fast and drinks nonstop?”

“Mysteries? Dramas? Which series?”

“I can’t remember names, oh, they take place between the World Wars and everybody is very rich.”

“The twenties or thirties?”

“You’re the history major. Yes, I guess so.”

“All right. Now describe Cyd and Macbeth to me.”  He ran a fingertip down my nose and then across my lower lip.

I swatted his hand away.

“I can’t think when you do that.” But as I concentrated on the scene, I saw them all again, not a vision but a memory. “Cyd. She was sitting in the middle and staring right at me. You were all in a row, all three in front.”

“A bench seat that went all the way across the car. Was Cyd wearing the same style glasses?”

“No. No! She wasn’t wearing glasses. And her hair, it  was cut short and pressed tight to her head. In some ways she didn’t look like Cyd at all, her face was rounder, but I knew she was Cyd.”

“And me and Macbeth?”

“I couldn’t see you too well. You had one hand in front of your face, like you were trying to keep the sun out of your eyes. You were both wearing white shirts. And ties.”

“Macbeth, yes. Me, no,” Tom said.

“It was you and both of you had very short hair.”

“Like an army cut, straight across?”

“No, but your hair was either cut or combed close to your head, slicked back, I think maybe.”

“And the car you were driving? Describe the dashboard. What about the hood? Was it a convertible, too?”

“I can’t remember and it doesn’t matter, Tommy! What matters is that I killed us all, all of us, you, me, Macbeth, Cyd! It was so real. What if I saw something that is going to happen?”

“You’re describing the past, lovey. So whatever it is, it’s over.”

“Or we’re all on our way to a costume party. People renovate those old cars and make them look like new.”

I felt the tears rising and I hated that, hated going out of control. He touched my cheek, must have felt tears, because he pulled me down into his arms and stroked my hair and kissed me.

Then he piled pillows around me, building a wall of velvet and corduroy, saying, “That’s your barricade against the world.”

“Make the wall crenelated,” I laughed, gulping back tears.

He made a few attempts at stacking cushions. They slid off and he restacked, finally arranging them around us  until we sank down, giggling, in the center of the circle.

His hands and mouth were as familiar to me as my own because sometimes, between other others, we did that, forgot we weren’t lovers, remembered we did adore each other in our weird way. And I did not want to think about anything else.

“Am I the consolation prize?” I whispered.

He stopped kissing me and lifted his head. “Why would you think that?”

“You just broke up, didn’t you?”

“Oh.” He thought a moment, then said, “Lovey, I want you because I want you, that’s all. Should I quit?”

“You should, but then I’d have to go stand on a street corner and find somebody else.”

He laughed and between kisses he said other things, probably that he loved me, probably that I ought to marry him. I didn’t pay any attention because I knew him too well and he didn’t mean a word of it.

I did tell him, “I don’t believe a word you say.”

And he mumbled, “That’s good, because I don’t remember what I said.”

“Then just shut up and concentrate, Tommy boy.”

He was warm and familiar and safe and kind and gentle and loving and passionate and finally mind-blowing good.

Our barricade fell in on us unnoticed.






CHAPTER 3

We were dressed and watching TV by the time Macbeth brought Cyd home. Tom was stretched out on the couch half asleep, one arm draped around me. I sat on the carpet next to him, leaning back with my head resting against him.

They had gone out to dinner at some Italian place in the Pioneer Square area that overflowed with atmosphere and fascinating people, Cyd said, waving her arms and doing one-line descriptions of customers and waiters.

Macbeth said, “The pasta was lumpy.”

Ignoring him, Cyd continued her chatter while she went into the kitchen, filled two tumblers with wine, then returned. She wore a straight, sleeveless dress that fit under a suit jacket for work, a style of dress that looks wonderful on really slim women like Cyd. Every shiny dark hair on her head hung neat and straight, not quite touching her shoulders. When she moved, her hair swung out. Very jealous, yes, I was. Good thing she’s also such a terrific friend.

“The clientele is very arty,” she explained.

“They dress in Salvation Army rejects,” Macbeth said.

“We ran into Lisa from our dorm, remember her? Always starting something, never finishing? She’s into reincarnation now. Goes to some hypnotist who took her back to a Gold Rush wagon train memory.”

“An earlier life?” Tom asked, half-opening his eyes.

“No, this life, she’s well-preserved. God, Tom. Of course an earlier life. He put her in a kind of trance and she was sitting on a buckboard. Lisa said she could see the other wagons and hear people calling to each other and she even smelled the dust and the horses. She says she knew there was this man sitting next to her and she knew he was her husband and they were excited about the journey, but when she tried to turn her head to see him, the trance ended.”

The pressure in my ribcage stopped my breathing. The muscles tightened in my neck and shoulders. It was as though I was paralyzed, a mind held captive in an immovable tower. I could feel the man beside me in the car and smell his cologne. I could see my hands on the steering wheel.

Macbeth leaned down and touched my arm. “April?  Where are you?”

I shuddered and began to breathe again. “That’s what it was like. I could see and smell and touch, but it was another place and time. Do you think I was remembering another life?”

“I wish you hadn’t mentioned Lisa and her stupid reincarnation story,” Macbeth said to Cyd. By the way his eyes narrowed, I knew Cyd had told him what had happened to me.

“Maybe it’s not a story,” Tom said. “Maybe it’s real. Maybe Lisa saw a former life.”

Macbeth said, “Which history prof taught you that, buddy? Reincarnation is a theory, one more superstition sometimes tied to a religion by people who need a crutch to get through life.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Listen, babe, even if it were true, even if they could prove it in a lab, it wouldn’t change anything. You can’t go back and change the past. So what’s the point? Done is done.”

He was usually right and that was okay because Macbeth kept the rest of us from flying off into self-destruct, well, he saved Tom and me. Cyd had her own built in system. If Mac was sure, then maybe he had a better explanation.

I said, “It makes a difference to me. If I knew for positive the crash I saw was something in a former life, over, done in a past life, couldn’t still be waiting to happen, I could forget it.”

Macbeth narrowed his eyes, ran his hand over his hair, glared at me, then tried to smile. “Okay, whatever you saw, it’s over. Probably a scene from a movie you’ve forgotten.”

“That won’t do. Let’s say I don’t believe in reincarnation and the past. That means the crash scene is a premonition. Something still going to happen.” 

“No. April. Do you want to believe in reincarnation? Go ahead, because it puts your nightmare in the past.” Poor Macbeth. I was forcing him to argue against his own logic. “One thing I am sure of. No one can see the future.”

Okay, he was right, I decided. Forget the whole thing, credit it to a dizzy spell. Lay the blame on skipping breakfast.

That’s what I decided.

And then I ceased being me.

***

I was a girl standing on a concrete sidewalk in front of a stucco bungalow on a street of stucco bungalows, low one-story houses that would have been called summer cottages back home in Minnesota but here, in California, people lived in them year round. Painted in pastel shades, most of them beige or pink, the low bungalows had multi-paned windows below faded awnings. Red-tile trim edged the flat roofs. The front gardens were patches of brown grass with strips of foundation plantings, spiky oleander bushes behind sprawling geraniums, both with flowers in harsh shades of pink. The sky was so bright it made my eyes ache.

At least thirty people from the moving picture company milled about in the street, trying to look busy while they waited.

Near me a cameraman rolled his shirt sleeves to his elbows. He stood behind his large camera with its tripod of wooden legs that raised it to his eye level. He reached out to rest one hand on the crank and his lips moved as he counted to himself, preparing to start his steady rhythm of two turns per second.

On his far side, a boy held a black umbrella at an angle that shaded the camera lens and the man behind it.

Beneath another umbrella the director sat in an oak rocking chair, leaning forward, elbows on knees, a long cigar clenched in his fingers. He was a heavy man with graying hair slicked back from his forehead and a narrow, combed mustache, and he wore light slacks, a short-sleeved shirt, and a watch with a wide gold band.

An actor stood less than ten feet from the camera, costumed in an army uniform, clutching a fiber suitcase with metal edges and corners, and practiced a dismayed expression, his facial muscles taut. The glaring sun cast dark shadows.

The director shouted, “Push his hat back. I can’t see his eyes.” 

An assistant shouted, “Wardrobe, fix the hat!”

Wardrobe said, in a tone of apology, “That’s the way the army wears them, sir.”

The director waved his cigar at the actor. “Turn a little to the left, Will. Tilt your chin up.” 

The acting coach stepped into the scene, put his hand on the actor’s chin, then turned his face until the shadow no longer obscured his eyes.

The cameraman bent toward the director to whisper. The director nodded and said, “Six inches to the left. There. Good.”

I stood on the walk with three other actresses, waiting. If they didn’t use us soon, my chances would be ruined. I would look so terrible in the pictures that, even if they didn’t cut my scene, no one would notice me and rush to offer me a contract. My make-up itched on my hot skin. I could feel the tips of my hair, where my bob was combed forward across my cheeks, sticking to my rouge. Much longer in the sun and the Delica liquid color on my eyelashes would start to run in black rivers down the sides of my powdered nose.

My new rayon step-ins and my silk stockings clung to the perspiration on my body and legs. My crepe frock, in French blue, which I’d had to pay for myself because this studio was so cheap it only paid for the clothes for its stars, drooped in deep wrinkles.

And I felt as weary as my garments. We had all been kept up until eleven o’clock the previous night for an “emergency” filming. Whenever they decided to work us nights they called it an emergency. We’d had four emergencies this week. My arms hung limp at my sides.

Laurence’s fingertips barely brushed the back of my hand.

He whispered, “Be wonderful, Silver.”

The fragrance of his Eau de Coty shaving lotion, which I had given him, hung in the dry air.

I turned and watched him walk away from me toward the grip-prop man. He didn’t normally speak to me on the set but he must have known how discouraged I felt.

Watching him, I let my mind sing, “Laurence loves me,” and had I dared, I would have blown him a kiss.

But of course I didn’t. He would be furious. Still, I was happier knowing he was on the set and my gaze followed him as he stood talking to a crew member across the street, his back to me, his broad shoulders squared proudly, his blond hair gleaming in the sunlight.

Beside me the actress in the red dress said, “If they don’t use us soon, I am gonna pee right here on the sidewalk.”

The two others pretended not to hear her.

Over the clattering of the camera the director shouted, “All right, tea dance ladies, get ready to enter when I say. Remember, keep it moving, chatter, look at each other, not at the camera.”

Tea dance ladies, that was us.

I fluffed my skirt and prayed it wasn’t glued to the back of my legs, then ran my tongue between my lips and teeth to unstick them. I tried to feel my smile lift my eyes, the way my acting teacher had instructed me. The two actresses, the ones who had raised their eyebrows and ignored the woman in red, now bent over and clutched their thighs. Through the material of their skirts they pulled up on the bumps of their garters to tighten the sags out of their stockings. The woman in red casually leaned down, ran her hands up one leg to check her seam and smooth the silk, then gave her garter a quick roll above her knee to tighten it. Her skirt lifted, caught by her wrists, exposing the lacy edge of her step-ins stuck to the back of her thigh. Slowly she went through the same maneuver with her other leg.

An assistant director appeared beside us. He combed his hair in a style identical to the director’s but lacked a mustache. He, too, wore a short-sleeved shirt, slacks, oxfords, and carried a cigarette in a casual droop between his fingers.

He said, “Now, girls, you are four young society ladies, so try to look bright and saucy. You’re returning from an afternoon tea dance and you are very gay, very vivacious, so busy gossiping you don’t notice the soldier. Keep talking as you walk by, but keep your voices to whispers so you can hear the director. I want you in the red nearest the camera, dear. Lillian and Sally, you in front, and what’s your name, blondie?” he said looking at me.

  And then not waiting for my answer he continued, “You be on the far side turning to face the camera as you walk, dear, but don’t look directly into it.”

The actress in red blurted, “All you’ll see is my back!”

“The director wants a good shot of your haircut, dear. Very chic.”

“He said that?” She looked doubtful.

“Especially noticed you, dear, because of the haircut. We’ll get a nice profile of you as you walk by.”

When she opened her mouth to ask another question, he held a finger to his lips and pointed toward the director.

The director leaned back in his rocking chair, lifted his megaphone with his initials painted on it, and shouted, “Now, tea dance ladies, walk this way! Lighter, girls, lots of hand-waving as you talk, watch your feet, don’t step out of your marks, no! Don’t look down, look at each other, you there in the red, face away from the camera, that’s it, I want the back of that bob, don’t walk so fast, pause, go on talking, laughing, you don’t see the soldier, good, now move on slowly, still laughing. 

“You in the blue, turn, glance back, yes, that’s right, look at the soldier, now slowly stop smiling. I want a long thoughtful look. Good, now turn back to your friends, now pause, all right, now start smiling again. Great! Cut.”

As he spoke, I turned back, widened my eyes, put on my pensive face, one of the dozens of expressions I had practiced in the mirror, almost raised my hand to brush away a strand of hair that fell across my forehead, remembered I must do only what the director said, saw the camera pointed directly at me, turned again to my three “friends,” and did a slow thoughtful smile.

That was the most acting I had ever been given to do and my heart pounded wildly. Perspiration ran from my armpits down my sides.

When the director called, “Cut,” I lifted my arms as much as I could without being conspicuous, toying with my hairdo as coverup, trying to keep my dress dry.

I squinted against the sun, searching for Laurence. It meant so much to me to know if he had seen me act. He had told me to be wonderful and I’d tried. But now I could not see him anywhere, and a rush of sadness overwhelmed me because I wasn’t at all sure I could ever make him love me as much as I loved him.

***

  The scene shattered.

“April. Honey. Are you all right?” 

Tom’s voice startled me, shocked me, drove me deep into one last second of blazing sun and then I was back in our front room sprawled on the couch, and they were all staring at me. Tom leaned over me, his hand on my shoulder.

“Hey, babe, you fall asleep?” Macbeth asked. He stood in the kitchen doorway holding a wine glass.

I tried to smile, make a joke of it, mumbling, “Yeah, I guess so.”

My last memory was of sitting on the floor, and Tom was on the couch, so I must have crashed over on the rug. He must have picked me up and put me on the couch.

I hadn’t been asleep, not dreaming, no, I’d been in another world. And I had felt a love that was so achingly deep it consumed me. Terrified me, too, because in all my life as April Didrickson, I had never loved anyone that way. Compared to the way I felt about the man named Laurence, I had never been in love in this life and if love could hurt that much, I hoped I never would be.

“I think you passed out,” Tom said softly, leaning close to me. “Do you feel sick?”

I couldn’t remember what had happened. I shook my head no.

Cyd read my silence the way she sometimes read my mind. “You’ve been seeing things again.”

Tom touched my face to gently brush my hair back with his fingertips. “Was it that accident?  Were you thinking about that again?”

Macbeth stood and glared down at us. He sounded angry, I don’t know why. “She doesn’t have to tell us every thought she ever has, guys. Let it go.”

“No, it’s all right,” I said slowly. If I explained, maybe they could figure out why this was happening to me. “I saw a film company in, umm, California, I suppose. They were making a silent film, or I think it was, and I was an actress.”

“A movie star?” Cyd asked. “Wow.”

“No, I was part of a crowd scene, sort of. Hard to explain.”

“Maybe you became a star later. What was your name?” she asked and I knew Cyd liked the whole reincarnation idea and wanted to go there whether I did or not.

“Greta Garbo,” Macbeth said.

Cyd said, “Stop that,” and made a face at him.

I said, “I don’t know. The director called me blondie, but that wasn’t my name.”

“You were a blond?”

“I suppose so. My hair was very short. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it with my hands. God, I was sweating like a pig. They were filming outside. This is really boring, right?  Like telling each other’s dreams, really boring. I must have been asleep.” 

Although I needed someone else to tell me what was going on, I realized I didn’t want to sit here and tell Tom there was a man in the dream and I loved him in a way that transcended anything I’d ever felt. Tommy and I weren’t in love and we both knew it, but still, he was a great lover and well, the whole thing was too ridiculous and embarrassing.

“Maybe I’m losing my mind.”

“Any minute now,” Macbeth agreed.

The three of them exchanged looks and I knew them all so well, I could have supplied dialogue for their silent agreement. We will talk about something else and let April calm down. 

They spent the rest of the evening arguing about a fictionalized biography of Napoleon that had been a PBS special, and whether or not Napoleon was fond of garlic. That’s how mind-boggling important our conversations usually were. For some obscure reason, Tom favored the Napoleon-loved-garlic theory and Cyd opposed it.

“How can anyone know?” Macbeth demanded of them.

He didn’t like theories. I’d heard his argument before. According to him, theories were either intentional lies or were an excuse for lack of research.

He continued, “At best, all you have are written accounts of the man by people who may have sat near him at dinner, and did he clean his plate because that’s the way he’d been raised? Or did this writer assume anyone with Italian heritage likes garlic?  He could write anything about Napoleon, depending on the impression he wanted to create, and so could anyone in the past who claimed to know him.”

“So you think biographers make facts up?” Cyd asked.

“Look at the magazines at the supermarket checkout counters. And those people are all alive to refute the writers. Most don’t bother.”

Tom said, “We have to accept history on the basis of what’s been written. There is no way to verify past events.”

Cyd took off her glasses and then stared at me and said slowly, “Except by going back to them. Maybe reincarnation has a purpose.”

“Shell game,” Macbeth snorted. “Have you ever heard of anyone having a reincarnation memory that clarified an historical fact?”

“How do I know where biographers get their stuff?  Maybe Lisa is on to something. Maybe we should all go to this hypnotist and get regressed. And don’t bother telling me I am already regressed, bloody boy.” Pushing her sleek hair back from her face, Cyd scowled at him.

Macbeth did his gap-toothed smile at her.

Tom sat beside me on the couch, his arm loosely around my shoulders. He leaned toward me and said softly, “You don’t have to go with Cyd if you don’t want to. How about this, I’ll go with her and then I’ll tell you what it was like. And you can think about it and say yes or no.” 

I nodded but I didn’t say anything. Maybe it was a premonition or maybe it was just common sense trying to regain control, but either way, it seemed to me the pursuit of the past would lead to disaster. But the choice wasn’t mine. I’d like to believe that. Some other power controlled me.

Maybe predestination, that was a good cop-out, right? Maybe I was predestined to remember another life and therefore all the blame belonged to someone else, not me.
=========================================

Romantic Suspense      302p  
"thoroughly unpredictable romance... Treat yourself to a fast and very original read!" --Snapdragon, LongAndShortReviews

The historic setting is enthralling - to say nothing of the man! Matthews really nails this... --Snapdragon for LongAndShortReviews

Matthews has written a new and amazing story that takes historical romance into a new area. --Hollie for Coffee Time Romance

...clever plotting...great natural dialogue...an original, memorable read. --Vasiliki Scurfield for BETWEEN THE LINES

 
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