Treading on Borrowed Time (Excerpt)

The breakfast room painfully reminded her of the sunroom of her parents’ house at Solomon Place, not as much in particulars as in its essence. It was situated to the back of the Creole Cottage as Nicholas had deemed it, a large airy room with an oval table made of a lighter wood that looked suspiciously like pine, and white French doors leading out onto a garden courtyard. The energy flowed in with the morning light filling her with longing for what was familiar.

Only a few moments earlier Nicholas had retrieved the two vials of insulin as well as a syringe and alcohol swabs. He didn’t wait for her to give herself an injection, just curtly requested that she return everything to the doctor’s bag, and then meet him in the breakfast room to which he gave her rather abrupt directions.  The whole exchange took a matter of seconds and left her befuddled. Then again, as strained as their last exchange was, she shouldn’t be all that surprised that he didn’t want a repeat.

It had literally been years since she’d used a syringe for an injection. But she did as requested, returning everything to the black leather bag. She was certain that he would return the vials to the kitchen in due course. One thing that she had gleaned from Nicholas Burke was that he was thorough.

It was only a quick left past the study and passage through a sort of den which led her into the breakfast room. Oddly enough it was completely deserted. She took a seat at the long table, deeply wishing for another time or perhaps a friendly face.

Nicholas entered shortly after her arrival — changed, buttoned up, properly in another suit looking more a man of their particular day. He smiled, “Everything all right?”

She looked at him a bit blankly, “In what sense?”

He nodded, “Right, well, Alice will be along with coffee and some biscuits I think presently.”

She narrowed her eyes, “Are you rich?”

“Excuse me?”

“I was wondering if you are rich. How does one maintain a domicile in another time frame?”

He frowned at the inquiry, “It’s complicated, and I would prefer that you don’t discuss this in front of Alice or her mother.”

“Why not? They think I’m crazy anyway.”

“Not crazy Julia, ill.”

She sighed, “Fine distinctions. How is it that you and Christian are looking for the same thing?”

He settled in a chair across from her at the table. “How well do you know him?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“We are collectors.”

“Collectors? Of what?”

“I suppose you could say esoteric treasures. Now, answer my question.”

“How well do I know him? I don’t know. How well can you know someone in two days?”

“Two days, is that all?”

She nodded, “Yes, but he seemed sincere.”

“Really? And this you gleaned in two days?”

“Well, as far as I know he hasn’t kidnapped anyone.”

But before he could respond, Alice appeared in the doorway with a rather large tray of food. And Nicholas’ face mutated into a wide smile. “Ah, thank you Alice, as you can see Mrs. Burke is looking much better this morning.” Julia shot him an irritated glance at his use of that title.

The young girl smiled in response to his graciousness. “Yes, Mr. Nicholas, I know you are happy to have your wife home again.” Julia stared dismally down into the plate of food that Alice had placed in front of her only seconds before. “Although Mrs. Burke has taken a disliking to her clothing.”

She looked up now sharply at the both of them with surprise. Nicholas took a sip from the porcelain coffee cup that Alice had also brought with her. “Is that so?”

“Yes sir, Mrs. Burke absolutely refused to put on all of her undergarments.”

“Hey,” Julia snapped out uncontrollably. “Please don’t talk about me when I’m sitting right here.

Alice smiled a little sheepishly, “I’m sorry Mrs. Burke. I just thought maybe it still had something to do with your illness.”

Nicholas leaned back a bit in the wooden chair, eying Julia with an indiscernible expression. “Was it anything terribly essential?” he asked.

Alice opened her mouth to answer when Julia interceded. “I think that’s quite enough Alice. My undergarments are no business of Mr. Burke’s.”

Alice gave Nicholas a quick glance, and he nodded as if to say he concurred with his pseudo-wife. “Thank you, Alice, I think we can handle things from here.”

She nodded, giving Julia a parting glance that told her explicitly that she was not at all pleased with the way things had proceeded.  She stared at him pointedly at Alice’s exit. “Was that really necessary?”

“She takes her job seriously. You better eat. I have a busy morning planned, and I don’t want you collapsing on me.”

She expected that they would be going out. In fact, she was wholly prepared for it. But instead, after breakfast and a half an hour of freshening up in her room, she was summoned by Alice to another room. It was one that she hadn’t seen before, but then again in this house that seemed a rather common occurrence. It appeared to be a small private sitting room of sorts at the end of the long hallway on the second floor. Alice had smiled and asked her if she needed anything, a cup of tea perhaps. Instead she asked quietly what the purpose was of this peculiar little room. It had an old-fashioned desk and chair against the wall. There was also a short sofa, about love-seat size, and a long chaise lounge chair. “Why, this is where Dr. Burke sees his patients.” Alice had responded to her inquiry.

“His patients?” she asked the girl. “He actually has patients here?”

And then a mark of confusion crossed her face. “Well, we assume so. We’ve heard conversations in here, sometimes late at night. He’s a very private man Mr. Nicholas.”

And Julia had smiled, understanding that Alice’s knowledge was limited in this matter and more so than that what she was willing to share with her in particular was also within limitation. So, Alice had left her there, gloves on, and even that silly hat perched atop her head in anticipation of at least temporarily being sprung. But here she was, trapped, in an even smaller room than before. She pulled off the small white gloves with disgust, tossing them onto the rose-colored antique loveseat soon to be followed by the ridiculous navy-blue hat. Then she plopped herself down onto the long matching chaise, closing her eyes, while feeling tears of frustration and depression threatening to eke out. Within a few moments, the door swung open.

She didn’t even acknowledge his entry, just waited as she heard the door close behind him. “I thought we were going out.” she murmured hotly. The façade of pretending to cooperate was wearing more than thin on her nerves.

“Not yet,” he replied softly.

She turned to look at him, as he settled into the wooden chair in front of his desk. “You know, it’s insane for you to keep me here. I can’t help you with this.  I can’t take much more of this.”

He glanced over to her, his expression dark and unreadable. “I’m sorry it’s been difficult for you. That’s why I thought we would start this way.”

She sat up a bit from her reclining position. “What way?” she asked.

“I want to hypnotize you,” he stated, as calmly as if he’d said he wanted to brush his teeth.

She felt completely stunned by his words. “Oh really? Well, that’s never going to happen.”

He frowned, “From your demeanor, I gather that you want to go home.”

Damn him, constantly holding this over her head. “God, you’re not being fair.”

His stare was disturbing, penetrative. “I need to understand what you know Julia.” She suddenly felt her head swirl in dizziness, and she closed her eyes to try to reorient. She heard something as though he were pulling his chair up closer to her, right beside the chaise. “Lie back, try to relax.” She shook her head, but she felt his hands on her, pushing her back into the semi-reclining position that the chair afforded.

“I can’t tell you anything,” she whispered, as she felt the pressure of his hand across her forehead. “I can’t trust you.”

“You can,” his voice was soothing. “I’m not going to hurt you. Let me see.”

Her eyes opened almost involuntarily, and he was there beside her, staring back at her with that dark intensity and the flood of familiarity. “I know. I feel it too,” he whispered.

“I know you,” she answered, compelled not at all because she wanted to.

She felt his hand against her cheek caressing, sending tendrils of sensation along her skin, but she knew it was because he wanted something — all of this only because he wanted something. “Show me,” he insisted. And then she closed her eyes and felt herself take flight.

Copyright ©2019 by Evelyn Klebert