Ch. 20 – The Choice

I have just posted Ch. 20: The Choice, the final chapter of A Quiet Moment. Thank you to all who have taken this journey with me. I started posting chapters of this novel as a distraction for people during the Covid-19 pandemic to perhaps give them something different to think about. A lot has happened since I began posting back in March. Events have been fast-paced and no doubt will continue to be so. Hopefully, if there is a take away from this novel I believe it is to be open to new perspectives, be open to learning, take care of each other, and value what is truly important in life — those Quiet Moments with the people we love. In the end, it’s all we really have. Please take care and as always I wish you all peace.

The Choice:

Chapter 20

Her head was reeling a bit when she walked into the Red Maple Corner Bookstore. It was quite crowded, she noted, just as she cleared the wooden doors. Even up to its second floor, she could see that it was quite jammed with people. She felt disturbingly uncomfortable immediately. Her skin crawled with unease. She hated crowds. In fact, they physically distressed her. There were always too many emotions bombarding her at the same time. It was actually sort of like an overload, confusing, turbulent.

Deliberately trying to somewhat insulate herself; she drifted to one side of the large main room. Examining her surroundings, she noticed that there was a new patio to the left of a pair of open French doors with a few sets of wrought iron chairs and tables. And just inside, rather close, there was a small wooden bar. She frowned, must be the purported tearoom. Well, it could be nice, if it wasn’t so ridiculously crowded.

Again, she struggled to focus on business. Her eyes scanned the room to pick up the nuances of remodeling that had been put into the store. In addition, she noted the varied types of artwork hanging on the walls, as well as on easels strategically placed here and there. As she superficially scanned everything, one painting in particular caught her eye. It struck her oddly as familiar. She diligently worked her way past a few chatting clusters of people to get a closer look. Then she understood. She couldn’t help but smile in recognition. It was one of Jacob’s. It had a small plaque under it entitled The Seaside Cottage. Warm memories wrapped around her for just an instant, transporting her out of this place. This was one from the gallery, the one that had captivated her so much. She remembered that she’d felt them there together. But at the time, it had alarmed her. Now, it just made her feel sad with longing. She deliberately made herself look away, wondering why he hadn’t mentioned it. But then again, maybe Bob had arranged it without his knowledge.

She forced herself to clear her mind. At this rate, she would have nothing written tomorrow but incoherent nonsense. Wouldn’t Claire love that?

Again, she tried to focus and allowed her eyes to be drawn slowly up the rather impressive, wooden staircase at the back of the room that led up to the second floor. At the top of it, on the landing, her gaze froze, and she simply stared for a moment. There was a man there in a dark blue suit leaning against the banister. He just looked back at her smiling and then waved her up. She closed her eyes, and then refocused only again to be greeted by the familiar visage of Dominick Trevor.

“You know, this is no good.”

“What’s that?” He asked, knowing very well what the “that” was that she wanted to discuss, but hoping against hope that she’d rediscover some tactfulness in the few seconds his evasion would give her.

“It’s time to pick up with your life. Talia’s not the only woman on the earth.”

He covered his face with his hand, what a mistake to let her come and visit. “Yes, that’s what I need, another excoriating relationship. Thanks, Mom, for looking out for me.”

“You know, sometimes I wonder if what you can’t live with is the mistake you made.”

He paused for a moment, hoping he hadn’t heard what he’d heard. “What does that mean?”

“The fact that you failed, you failed, seems harder to swallow than the loss of your wife.”

He was sitting on his sofa feeling rather stunned. After all, it had been only six months after his divorce was final. Didn’t he still merit a bit of understanding from dear old Mom? “Don’t you think you’re being a bit simplistic?”

She shrugged, “Maybe, maybe not, pride can be costly sometimes my boy. If you let it, it could cost you everything.”

He thought that maybe he should try to shake off the memory, but he didn’t. For the first time, maybe ever, he carefully turned her words over in his mind. What exactly was he mourning? What was or what he thought should have been?

Darkness had fallen on the small college town. And he was out driving, not at all sure where he was headed, not at all sure.

“Isn’t this a little irregular, even for you?”

She’d reached the second floor and stood beside him at the top of the stairs. Glancing at the people mingling around them, she noticed that they were looking at the two of them. They seemed to be seeing him, just as she did. Even now, he was full of surprises. “It’s important.”

“What is it?”

He wasn’t smiling now, and his dark eyes were very solemn. “Someone needs help.”

“Who?” she whispered, now feeling a bit concerned. She hadn’t sensed anything, but then she was preoccupied. Unexpectedly, he reached out and touched her forehead with the palm of his hand. She didn’t know how but she felt the contact. Then suddenly, the room around her began to swirl into a colorless spinning fog that encompassed everything.

When do you know when something important is happening to you?

She was young that much she remembered, because it was a question that bothered her from a young age. But, when exactly she had asked Iris wasn’t clear now, only that the thought had flown from her mind to her lips.

They sat together in a peaceful glade somewhere that night, that night in her dreams. But the answer, at the time, seemed as perplexing as the question.

Usually, you don’t. The most important things usually happen in the quietest moments and a whole lifetime can turn on the choices you make then.

She frowned. She was sure that she had frowned because it surely wasn’t the answer she expected. Indeed, wasn’t the answer she wanted at all. She wanted clarity when all seemed cloudy mists and intangibles.

Then, if you don’t really know if it’s important, how do you know if you are making the right decision?

You must always try to make a good choice, not out of fear, but out of fairness and from your heart. If you always do this, then the past will be your friend when you gaze back upon that very important moment.

Then, it was only a question that had occurred to her, sprung from a young and overwhelmed mind. But now, it took on a new relevance, new concreteness in this moment, in this place that she found herself in once again.

She looked around slowly, disturbed, shook by the enormity of where she was. Perhaps, it was an illusion of some sort, but it didn’t have that feeling. It seemed as real and concrete as anything she’d ever experienced. She walked slowly through the aisles this time, absorbing, contemplating, not hurriedly as she had the first time. There was a different quality, distinct, detached, and then she halted and looked around. She looked forward and backward. There was no one here, but then that was true before. No one, except there was the girl up front, and of course he was here too.

Aimee stopped, taking in her apparel, the coat, her black gloves, and, in her pocket, her red hat. She wondered with real concern why she was here again, who it was that Dominick said needed help. Clearly, she knew now, although she had not known at the time, that this was indeed a very important moment. This was a time of choice, of decision, of change, but before, she hadn’t recognized it. Now, however, she did, and she remembered it all as though she were looking backwards through a long hallway.

If indeed, it was some sort of illusion, she knew that it carried import, knowledge, and must be given attention. It seemed there might be something here, something she’d missed.

It came to her strongly, as it had the first time, the pull. Hesitantly, and warily she began to walk in its direction. She walked slowly, passing aisles in the bookstore, and then halting somewhere near the center. Last time, she had approached cautiously, surreptitiously, but oddly, she wasn’t sure if that was necessary now.

So instead, she walked out into the center of the aisle where she knew she would be in full view of him.

And he was there, dressed the same, just as before, sitting in the chair with a large book in his hands. He looked up, seeming a bit surprised then slowly closed his book, placing it on the table beside him. For a moment, they just stared at each other quite awkwardly, both on some level recognizing the enormity of what they were experiencing.

And then he spoke, “Now, this is strange.”

She waited. Feeling quite disoriented, and then responded quietly, walking a few steps closer, “What did you say?”

He smiled, “I said this is very strange, being here like this.”

She didn’t quite know what to add to his assessment. “Unfortunately, that’s my life, full of such strangeness.”

He nodded, “I remember now. I was just traveling back in memories.”

She frowned, wondering for the first time if this was simply a machination of Jacob’s. “Memories?” she asked.

“And, I was thinking about a comforting time.”

She glanced about, “Here?”

“Maybe, I think so. I was sort of concentrating on it.”

“Meditating?”

“Maybe.”

She breathed deeply, and there was a sort of catch in her chest. That’s right, she’d forgotten. She was half-sick at this time. “Well, I guess that sort of explains it? Maybe, I don’t really know. This one is new to me.”

He smiled a bit. “Can you sit down and talk to me Aimee?”

There was a small wooden chair beside his, one she didn’t remember being there last time. But then again, this wasn’t exactly a memory. She wasn’t at all certain of what it was. She smiled, still feeling more than a bit awkward. There was a peculiar mix of feelings here, a familiarity as well as a wash of emotions from that day in the past — strangeness, trepidation, and yes that instant and disturbing draw to him that left her feeling nearly panicked. “What is it that you want to talk about?”

He leaned back. “I was thinking about going backwards, in my life, and changing things.”

She waited, confused as to what direction he was taking her, “Changing things is precarious. Everything’s connected, so one change can affect so many—” Her voice drifted off. An awareness was setting in now. There was an energy here that she could feel that hadn’t been before.

“That’s what I was thinking about, what you said about purpose, reason for things.” She heard his voice clearly, nearly in her mind, but it was almost drowned out by what else she was hearing — the absolute roar of it, a tumult of swirling, powerful energy. It chilled her, what she was feeling. She could see it in her mind, now two realities, two possibilities for the future. And here they were poised on it. Her heart was hammering wildly with fear.

She turned to him, but he was calm. How could he not feel what she was feeling? He was sitting there as though he was completely unaware of what was happening. She looked away from him, purely panicked, not knowing at all what to do. They were balancing on a precipice, although he did not seem to feel its presence.

And his voice continued smoothly, maddeningly calm, “I thought I would give you the choice now.” She stopped and turned to him, jolted by what she’d heard.

“What?” she whispered. She looked at him closely. It was Jacob, clearly Jacob, but the eyes. The eyes were changed. They were the eyes that she’d seen in a dream. “We all have to choose. Long ago, you chose me, maybe now you’ll choose differently.”

The roar became louder in her ears, the energy. In her mind, she could clearly see herself now getting up and walking away from him. Time was splitting before them, splitting then being remade. Her heart was beating so loudly that it was painful in her chest. “It’s there before you,” his voice, clearly in her mind, “It’s my gift to you. I owe you that much.”

She looked away from him, thinking, considering now what was being offered. It would be so easy, so easy to bolt up and run out the front doors. And her life would be hers to control again. And it would be— she saw clearly the odd energy surrounding them. It would take powerful energy, powerful old energy to diverge time. Something one shouldn’t attempt, not people like us. Her grandmother had spoken to her, told her that one day. But not today, it was a different day. She felt disoriented, dizzy. She felt his fingertips on her chin, gently pulling her back to face him.

His eyes so dark, blue, and then the smile, “Your choice, your choice.” His eyes were holding her, his strong eyes holding their reality together.

The breaths that she took hurt her. It was the infection, it wasn’t quite gone, and it was surely a mistake to have come out on such a cold wintry day. “I’m sorry,” he spoke quietly. “I promise I won’t keep you here long. Tell me.”

“Tell you what?” It was there, the choice that lay ahead. She could walk away, out the door and leave him here to rechart the last month of his life without her. There was the divergence in time. All of this was now possible.

And then she could see beyond, down the path what would be and what would not. There was a chill around her, because she could feel herself living that life apart from him now. She could feel the loss, the wanting, and the emptiness. She was silent in her self-imposed grief. And then, she heard his voice, his voice warming her. “Maybe, with us, there isn’t really a choice at all.”

She felt the roar diminish and a quiet surrounding her. It felt safe now. For some reason, they’d traveled past a very dangerous place. His hand held hers for an instant. And then, looking into his eyes, she saw only Jacob again. “Maybe we’ll puzzle all of this out somehow,” he murmured.

She stood up, “I should go.” She didn’t feel afraid now though. The divergence that had been created for an instant had dissipated, perhaps because she had chosen. The demons that were left for him seemed to be the conquerable kind, the kind that would heal of their own accord.

A mistiness fell across her eyes and she heard Iris’ voice clearly. Not yet, there is still one more place to go.

He walked the streets that led toward the gallery. It was quiet, dark, and largely deserted just now. He deliberately hadn’t parked close, so that he could walk. The air was chilled, crisp, but not bitingly cold. He breathed in deeply to clear his mind, allowing the turmoil within him to melt away, if only for moments. He looked around, trying to absorb where he was, how it used to make him feel. This area along the downtown mall used to be his favorite area of town. There was a creative quality to it. He and Talia would come down and have lunch at one of the restaurants at least once a week, at least in the beginning.

As he meandered along the street, he glanced from one establishment to another, remembering, clearly remembering the hope there seemed at first, hope that doesn’t die easily but goes down in a bloody battle.

He paused just outside of one of the shops on the Mall. It was already closed, but in his mind, he could clearly see her on a day long ago. It was years ago, and she was laughing as she came out of the gift store, filled with Knick knacks, mostly Irish, Celtic. She liked those sorts of things. There was a package in her hand, wrapped, a gift. She was smiling, so happy, and he was happy because she was.

He stood there for a moment in the mostly deserted, darkened street trying to recall exactly what she’d bought him. He’d smiled, kissed her, thanked her, but now he couldn’t remember what had made her so happy to give him. The memory faded slowly like a shadow in a bright day.

Quiet, a soundless, deceptive quiet filled the halls of the household. It was innerving, not a calming silence, but an uneasy one that only foreshadowed something that was impending, something unthinkable.

They weren’t alone in the house. He’d encouraged most to evacuate but some refused, those who had been with him, well, forever, it seemed. The last group had left early in the morning, the group that she was to be with, but she hadn’t gone. One of the older servants had wept, begged her to relent and join them. But she’d smiled and declined and kept herself quite out of sight, until it was too late.

She worked to keep herself very calm, so that he wouldn’t sense her here. He was distracted, that would work in her favor. If one had asked her why she had chosen this path, she was sure her answer would have been nonsensical. If it made no sense to her, how would anyone else be able to comprehend? There were no new beginnings here, only endings. Endings coming in violence, coming soon she thought.

Dusk had just begun to settle in, and she thought now, perhaps it was time, time to let him know.

Her sandals hit the floor rather harshly, echoing a bit. Never in the past had they seemed to make such a sound, but then never had they collided against the shroud of silence that had surrounded this place.

She paused on the threshold of his chamber. The doors were ajar, and she could plainly see him sitting in a chair, his back to her, facing the declining sunset. She waited, wondering for a moment if he were asleep. And then he spoke, “You should have left.”

“I know,” she answered, taken aback by the weariness in his voice.

“How many?” He started to speak again haltingly, “How many stayed behind?”

She walked a bit closer, then stopped, struck by the heaviness of the aura surrounding him. He felt lost to her, lost in the grayness. “Not many, some, but not many.”

There was a sigh, “They should have all gone. This place is death now.”

She lightly put her hand on his shoulder. It had become clear a few days ago to everyone else what inevitability her master had been struggling with for weeks. The ruler had been overthrown. A change of regime, and now the usurpers would clean up all the loose ends, particularly the king’s most trusted advisors. She asked, although she already knew his answer, “Why didn’t you make plans to save yourself?”

His voice sounded hollow, quite emptied out of emotion. “There wasn’t a point. It would have only been a delay. The empire is too vast to escape.” He reached out and softly placed his hand over hers. “I wish you’d gone. It would have comforted me to know that at least you were safe.”

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I couldn’t leave you. I can’t say why except my heart is bound up with you now. Forgive me.”

He looked up at her. His eyes darkened in the dim light of the room. “I felt your presence here earlier. I could have insisted you leave then. I’m sorry. I was weak. I suppose I didn’t want to face the unknown alone.”

“Aren’t your people well versed in the conditions of the afterlife?”

He nodded, replying a bit grimly, “Yes, but when one faces its inevitability, uncertainty tends to set in.”

She knelt beside him and calmly leaned her head on his arm. Oddly, she felt no fear. She felt calmness within her, although the storm raged everywhere about them. His hand softly stroked her hair, and then he whispered, “I won’t let them put you to the sword or worse, my beloved.”

She turned and looked up at him, “We will do whatever you wish.”

She watched calmly as he poured out two goblets of wine and then from a small ceramic jar added a powdery substance to the drinks. When their eyes met again, there was an understanding between them, an acceptance, an equality in their last moments.

When her vision regained focus, she was standing at the top of the stairs alone. There were still people about, murmuring, laughing, but no Dominick. She felt as though she were trembling everywhere in the aftermath of what she’d experienced, what she understood. She bent her head, in some ways wanting to cry, feeling as though she had indeed traveled a million miles in a few isolated moments.

Looking upward again, her eyes swept the mingling crowd below her on the ground floor. And then she saw him enter the door. It stunned her. Here he was, not nearly dressed up enough, wearing the clothes she’d packed for him at his house.

His eyes were scanning the crowd and then suddenly they looked up and caught hers. He didn’t smile, just continued to make his way toward her a bit like a hunter who had marked his target. She thought that she should try to meet him, but her legs were trembling so much that she wasn’t sure they would hold her. So instead, she watched silently as he ascended the staircase to where she was.

He paused in front of her on the landing. And then calmly pulled her into his arms. It was a quiet moment, not filled with fanfare. He whispered in her ear, “Do you think I’m going to like it in New Orleans?” She hugged him more tightly, feeling a deep peace fill her. It was a quiet moment, the kind that whole lifetimes can turn on.

Finis

Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert

Jacob Wyss is caught in a rut, in fact on the verge of being engulfed by it. After an excruciating and disillusioning divorce, his life as an artist in a sleepy-college town at the foot of the Appalachian mountains has become quiet, routine, and maddening in its predictability. One wintry day, his deep restlessness drives him out in precarious conditions to a largely empty bookstore nearly devoid of another living soul, nearly.

Aimee Marston isn’t like everyone else. On the surface, she lives a sedate life working as a feature writer for a small local newspaper in addition to several other editorial jobs to help make ends meet. But just beneath, her existence is largely not her own. She is a sensitive, an empathetic psychic, guided by her calling to use her gifts to help others. Unfortunately, as a result, her secretiveness has made her defensive, protective of herself, and prevented her from having much of a life of her own.

A psychic call for help sends Aimee out on a freezing January morning where her destiny and Jacob’s collide sending both their lives spiraling onto an unexpected and often disturbing track. Two lonely souls connect, not by accident, but by design. Theirs is the intersection of two spiritual paths, two lovers who must struggle to overcome the phantoms of a past life, as well as the challenges of their own inner demons to carve out an extraordinary future together.


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