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“Did Doug say how long this is going to take?”
Abby said, blowing her bangs out of her eyes. “And remind me. Why exactly are
we using this antique instead of an electric one?”
said using an electric ice cream maker meant it didn’t count as homemade,” John
said, wiping his forehead with first his left T-shirt sleeve and then his
And I’m supposed to crank until I can’t turn it anymore.”
day was typical for southern Illinois in late August: hot and humid. At least
she was sitting on an icy, albeit uncomfortable, seat in the shady pavilion.
Doug Buchanan had to be sweltering out in the sun where he manned the deep-fat
fryer along with three of his cousins. Wearing a Cardinals cap to keep the sun
off his balding head and an apron that said, “Kiss the Cook,” Doug looked so
friendly and benign that Abby wondered again how she had ever thought of him as
of Doug’s cousins gestured their way and said something that she couldn’t make
out. Whatever it was made the other men laugh.
short distance away, under the shade of a maple tree, Jason and Jackson, Doug’s
twin teenage sons were practicing their washer-throwing skills in preparation
for the tournament to be held tomorrow. The washers clinked and clacked,
depending upon how, or whether, they hit the sand-filled wooden boxes. Those
sounds along with the rhythm of the turning crank and the hot afternoon made
Abby drowsy, and she surveyed the activities going on around her through a
to them, Doug’s wife Dora and a dozen other Buchanan women began unpacking
coolers and setting out dish after dish onto the groaning picnic tables under
Alton City Park Pavilion #1. Abby turned and smiled at the look on John’s face
as cakes, pies, bowls of watermelon chunks, and dozens of other goodies made
“Hey, Dora, is that potato salad?” he asked.
she said with a wide smile. “And I brought macaroni salad and deviled eggs.”
is nothing. Wait’ll tomorrow,” Doug called to them. “That’s when the ladies go
all out. I heard Aunt Hil’s making her chocolate chip cake.”
the second pavilion reserved for the event, Eulah and Beulah played dominoes
with several of the other elderly relatives. Fanning themselves with paper
plates, they chattered happily while they waited their turns.
smiled and a wave of contentment washed over her, knowing that she had been instrumental
in getting the Old Dears in touch with their Buchanan relatives. And now the
85-year-old twins were at their first-ever family reunion.
Merri came over, panting and red-faced, but smiling. On each arm clung—as they
had from the first half hour there—an adoring little girl. One little blonde
looked about four, the other about six.
are you doing?” Abby asked.
taking a break from the kiddie games,” Merri said. “I’m hot.”
was a different girl from the one Abby had met when she had arrived at the
beginning of summer to be her tutor. Naturally, she still had her moments of
sadness and snarky attitude. After all, her mother was hardly ever around and
her father was serving time in Joliet Prison. But Eulah and Beulah had made her
their pretend granddaughter and invited her to come along to the Buchanan
pushed Merri’s hair away from her sweaty face and grinned. “It’s hard work
being an honorary cousin, isn’t it?”
frowned, but it was easy to see she loved the little girls’ attention. “Yeah,
tell me about it,” she said. “Is the ice cream about done?”
quite,” John said. “I can still turn the crank. Slowly, but still.”
on, Mewwi,” the smaller girl lisped. “Let’s go swing on the swings.”
Merri said good-naturedly. She turned to look back as she was being dragged
away. “But don’t forget, John. You’re on my team in the water balloon war.”
won’t forget, squirt.”
lifted her hair and waited for a breeze to cool her own sweaty neck.
blew gently and then leaned down to kiss it. “Watch out, girlie. That’s what
led to the ice incident before.”
John had put a piece of ice down the back of her T-shirt, which had made her
leap up from the ice cream churn with a squeal. He had chased her around the
pavilion threatening her with more ice until she told him to behave or he’d
have to get someone else to help.
breath on her neck did anything but cool her off. Abby leaned back and kissed
his cheek. “Just stick to your job, ice cream boy.”
Buchanan brought a huge platter of fried fish over and handed it to his wife.
“Is the ice cream about done, John?”
laughed and glanced back at his grinning cousins. “You can stop now. Anyone
else would have quit a half hour ago. Anyone with normal-sized muscles,
it, Doug!” John said. “I think my arm may fall off.”
rose from her bumpy perch and rubbed her sore rear. “Yes, and a certain part of
packed the ice cream maker with more ice and covered it with thick blankets.
Then, after conferring with the women about the readiness of the food, he put
his fingers to his mouth and whistled for everyone to come and eat.
Reverend Goodson, the Old Dears’ pastor, prayed an uncharacteristically short
prayer, Merri and a gaggle of other kids converged on the food table. Dora
shooed them back and invited the oldest members of the family, including Eulah
and Beulah, to fill their plates first. John held Eulah’s plate while she made
her selections, and Abby held Beulah’s, and then they helped the ladies onto
the awkward picnic benches near their friends.
she and John filled their plates and went to sit by Merri.
that pinky fluffy stuff?” John said, pointing to Merri’s plate.
said it’s a salad, but it tastes good enough to be dessert.”
good to me,” he said after he had swallowed what looked to Abby like a
mountain-sized bite of potato salad. “I’m going to get some on my next trip.”
is going to take a while, isn’t it?” Abby said.
you try to hurry?” Merri said. “Me and Abby have to—”
and I,” Abby said.
Merri said. “Anyway, we have to get home and get ready for our girls’ night
with Kate. We’re going to make snickerdoodles and—”
are?” he said. “Bless you, my child. You know how I love snickerdoodles.”
you’re not a girl, John,” Merri explained earnestly. “So you know you can’t
come to our girls’ night, right?”
John,” Abby said, patting his bicep. “You’re definitely not a girl.”
okay, Merri,” he said. “I’ll survive.”
you’re going to love Kate,” Abby said. “She’s a riot.”
doesn’t sound good.”
laughed. “I mean, she’s a lot of fun. She always thinks of something crazy to
Abby’s disastrous roommate her freshman year at Ambassador College, Kate had
been a Godsend. After only a few weeks as sophomores, they had become best
friends. They didn’t share any classes together since Kate was majoring in art
and Abby in elementary education. But together they had explored Chicago’s art
museums to Kate’s delight, and bookstores and coffee shops to Abby’s.
it was true that Kate’s personality was so different from her own, Abby knew
they each brought balance to the friendship. As for herself, she needed to stop
being so serious all the time, to lighten up and go with the flow once in a
while. When Kate had decided to wear outdated and mismatched polyester clothes
from the thrift store to the dining hall just to see people’s faces, Abby had
gone along with the joke. Seeing the reactions had been educational, like one
of the experiments in her sociology class. And it had been amazingly freeing to
do something spontaneous and random.
sometimes Kate needed Abby to be the voice of reason. When Kate got the idea to
paint their dorm room purple suddenly after chapel one day, Abby had reminded
her that she had a test to study for and that they’d have to pay a small
fortune in primer and paint to convert the walls back to boring white for the
next students to occupy 205b Whitaker Hall.
visit today was another example of her spontaneity. Abby had been trying to get
Kate to come visit for weeks, but she had been caught up in a project with her
mother and unable to get away. Then, just two hours ago, she’d texted to say
she was coming. Now. But instead of spending their time together at Merri’s
house as they had planned all along, Kate had proposed a “friend-fest weekend
in Equality,” which according to John was a tiny, Podunk town three hours
southeast of Alton.
would have to talk Kate down from that hare-brained idea when she got there.
at the idiot,” John said, gesturing with a thumb.
electric blue PT Cruiser roared down the gravel road toward them, slowing only
minimally before skidding to a stop alongside the pavilions.
dust coated the windshield, and Abby couldn’t see the car’s occupants. But she
recognized the ARTCRZY license plate and began to disentangle herself from the
picnic table. “That idiot would be Kate,” she said with a laugh.
Sorry.” John wiped his hands and rose from the picnic table.
on, both of you,” Abby said. “I want to introduce you.”
Merri wiggled out of her space at the picnic
table and went to stand expectantly at Abby’s side. “I thought she wasn’t
supposed to be here until tonight.”
wasn’t,” Abby said. “But that’s Kate for you.”
car door opened, and Kate stepped out and rushed toward Abby. She was wearing a
pristine white sundress and heeled sandals. Her hair was a shining mahogany
mane that fell half way down her back.
threw her arms around her friend. “You look fabulous. How did you find us?”
went to the house first, and Merri’s mom told us where you were.”
seems like ages since the beginning of summer break. Wait a minute,” Abby said,
pulling back to look into Kate’s face. “We? We who?” Then, over her shoulder
she saw Kate’s boyfriend unfolding his tall, lanky frame from the passenger
seat. His polo shirt was the same brilliant white of Kate’s dress, and he wore
charcoal gray tailored slacks.
felt a quick burst of disappointment and shot a look at Kate, but she was
looking at Ryan as if he were the best thing since the invention of air
conditioning. She must have gone spontaneous again and decided to bring him
along. So much for their girls-only weekend.
pasted on a smile and said, “Ryan. You came too. Good. I want you to meet Merri
and John. Guys, this is my infamous roommate Kate Greenfield and her boyfriend
and John shook hands, but Kate thrust hers in Abby’s face. “Not boyfriend
anymore—fiancé! I told you he was going to ask. Isn’t it gorgeous?”
sun glinted off a huge diamond ring on Kate’s left hand. “You’re engaged? You
didn’t tell me.” Abby shook her head to clear it. “I mean, yes, it’s gorgeous.”
wanted to surprise you. I’ve been dying to tell you ever since Ryan popped the
question last weekend.”
hugged her again. “Have you set a date?”
smiled contentedly. “Next June after Kathryn graduates,” he said with an
indulgent smile. “One and a half carets of sparkle to hold her until then.” He
put an arm around Kate’s neck and kissed her temple. “But don’t worry, Kathryn.
I promise to upsize it as soon as I get my law practice.”
just graduated from the pre-law program at the University of Illinois,” Abby
explained to John.
I’ve never seen you around.”
campus,” Ryan said. “I think Kate said you’re at Urbana?”
right. Where will you go to law school?”
Ryan said. “It’s really the only choice.”
you really think so?” John said. “I have my eye on Kent.”
pushed a strand of silky dark brown hair back from his face. It was similar in
color and texture to John’s, only freakishly perfect in cut and style.
pulled her to the side and said in what passed for her version of a whisper,
“Why didn’t you tell me how hot John is? Wow! No wonder you’ve been going crazy
for him. We could have a double wedding, Abby.”
blinked in panic, but sneaking a look at the guys, she saw that they were still
talking about law schools. Hopefully, John hadn’t heard Kate’s outrageous
comment. “Kate! We’ve only known each other for a few weeks.”
just smiled knowingly and then turned and held out a hand to Merri. “You must
be Merri,” she said. “Abby’s told me so much about you.”
shook her hand, her expression changing to uncertainty. “Uh, really?”
Kate said. “About how smart you are, and nice.”
face brightened. “Abby told me about you, too. We’re going to my house after
looking forward to it.”
on, let’s get you guys some food first,” Abby said. “Wait until you see the
about if John and I go get food so you two can get started gabbing?” Ryan said.
so thoughtful.” Kate patted his arm.
the guys were lost in the crowd, Abby said, “Another imaginary star on Ryan’s
grinned. “He just keeps on racking them up.”
too,” Abby said. “I’ve lost track of how many stars he’s collected this week.
But, hey, you’re the one with stars—in your eyes.” She put her arms around Kate
and squeezed again. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
you think I should tell Ryan about his chart—you know, since we’re engaged
way! Well, at least not here with John around.” As far as Abby was concerned,
the fact that they had been rating them as possible marriage material was
something they never needed to know about.
smiled slyly. “Hmmm. You’d better be nice to me.”
on, brat,” Abby said, edging her way past a man carrying two heaping plates.
“Let’s show Kate where we’re sitting.”
was glad that she’d worn shorts. Hiking first one leg and then the other over
the picnic table bench, she managed to sit down halfway gracefully and then
glanced doubtfully at Kate’s skinny white dress.
her look, Kate said, “Don’t worry. I’m the queen of picnic table sitting. I did
a lot of contortions wearing fancy dresses when I ran for Miss Sangamon County.
I didn’t win the crown, but I did pick up this skill. Watch and learn.”
pulled it off gracefully, quickly, and without once flashing her underwear.
Abby said. “I can’t imagine why they didn’t pick you for queen. So quick, tell
me all about it before the guys get back. Did Ryan get down on one knee when he
he did. Of course, he asked the waiter to bring an extra napkin to kneel on so
he wouldn’t mess up his pants. He took me to Sixteen in the Trump Tower. It
looks out over the lights of downtown Chicago. It was so romantic. I wish you
could have been there. Well, not really. But you know what I mean.”
they have waiters in tuxedos,” Merri asked. “I always thought that’d be cool.”
did,” Kate said, grinning at Merri. “And it was cool.”
he hide the ring in your dessert,” Merri asked.
I don’t think that’s Ryan’s style,” Kate said, laughing. “But it was wrapped in
beautiful paper and ribbons. I nearly fainted when I opened the box and saw the
size of the diamond.” She held her ring out for them to admire again.
you’re going to ruin your Manuela sitting on that picnic bench.” Ryan was back
with two plates. A small frown marred his handsome face for a moment and then
be fine,” Kate said.
Merri Christmas, move over,” John said.
she had scooted over, Merri looked up at Ryan. “What’s a Manuela?”
and Ryan set the plates they carried on the table and then squeezed in at the
smiled her thanks and answered the question for Ryan. “Manuela is a designer
from New York,” she explained. “I’m wearing one of her dresses.”
bought that dress for Kathryn last weekend in Chicago. It set me back three
hundred dollars.” He smiled down at Kate. “But she’s worth every penny.”
concentrated on keeping a pleasant expression on her face. People who dropped
price tags into a conversation never impressed her. It was a pretty dress but
not Kate’s usual casual style. And she wasn’t wearing the bright, funky jewelry
she usually did—jewelry she had designed, created, and made a small business of
selling on campus.
looked from John’s plate heaped high with fried fish and various side dishes to
the plate of raw broccoli and carrot sticks Ryan had put in front of her.
“Where’s the food, Ryan?”
drat. Is all the good stuff gone?” Abby asked.
assumed you wouldn’t want any of it, Kathryn. It’s all loaded with carbs and
I do,” Merri declared and headed back to the food table with her plate.
watched Merri leave and muttered something that Abby didn’t quite catch. It
sounded like, “I rest my case.”
blinked. She waited for her roomie to say she loved carbs and fat. That she
lived for carbs and fat. That her favorite entertainment was carbs and fat.
Kate merely smoothed the front of her dress and smiled. “You’re right, Ryan.”
get something later in the city.” Ryan took a meager bite of fruit salad from
his plate. “I was reading online about St. Charles and the downtown St. Louis
scene. Sounds like there are a few decent restaurants around.”
John said drily, “they have a few.”
want you to come celebrate with us,” Kate said.
patted his lips with a napkin and took out his phone. “You, too, Roberts, of
course. I’ll make reservations. Is seven o’clock all right?”
then, after dinner,” Kate said, “we can zip on down to Equality so that
tomorrow we’ll have all day to—”
that. What made you choose Equality for our little friend-fest weekend,” Abby
said, using air quotes. “John says it’s just a tiny town.”
town, but a big help with my project. At least I hope so.”
says you have some kind of weird genealogy program.” Ryan’s voice rose at the
end and Abby wasn’t sure if he was making a statement or asking a question.
not what Beautiful House is… not exactly.”
“It’s all your fault, Abby,” Kate said. “I
made the mistake of telling Mom about your adventures with the Old Dears’
genealogy. Now she is obsessed with tracing our family tree. But we came to a
dead end with the Greenfield side of the family. Since you got us hooked, it’s
only fair you lend us your expertise.”
is kind of addictive,” Abby said. “And Eulah and Beulah are so happy we found
their Buchanan relatives for them.”
wants me to paint a wall mural of our family tree in Dad’s den as a surprise.
Here, let me show you what I had in mind.” Kate took a pen from her purse and
began sketching a whimsical tree on a paper napkin. “I thought I’d draw faces
on the leaves. And each person will have some sort of item symbolizing them.
Like for me, I’ll put a paint brush to show my love for art.”
mere seconds, Kate had drawn an amazingly detailed sketch, and as always Abby
was astounded by her talent.
is so cool,” Merri said, returning with a plate of mostly potato chips and pink
smiled. “Thanks, sweetie. But it won’t look very cool if it’s all lopsided. And
I’m running out of time. The only opportunity I’ll have to paint it is next
month while Mom and Dad are gone to Colorado on vacation. So that’s why I
thought if you went with us and we used the program…”
shot a meaningful look at Kate, willing her to stop talking. Fortunately, she
seemed to get the message.
talk about it later,” Abby said, tipping her head toward Merri. Whether or not
she agreed to go along with them to Equality, it sounded like the girls-only
night was off the agenda, and she needed time to figure out how to tell Merri.
glanced at John for his take. He didn’t look happy. It was flattering to think
he was disappointed that she’d be gone for the weekend. But then he was
probably only worried about losing control of the program.
had been telling Kate about Beautiful House and all they’d uncovered with it
for the past two and a half months. And for those two and a half months, Kate
had steadfastly insisted Abby was joking about the program’s abilities.
Eventually, she had decided it was just as well Kate didn’t believe her because
they had begun to realize how dangerous it would be if the program fell into
the wrong hands.
But now that Kate had finally come, she
couldn’t resist setting her straight. “Listen to me,” she said, putting her
face up to Kate’s. “Look at my face. Read my lips. Notice that I’m not kidding
around. This is not ordinary genealogy software. It—”
no longer works,” John said, staring at Abby behind Kate’s back. “Not right
anyway, not since the Fourth of July.”
it does still work a little?” Kate said hopefully.
but—” John said.
Ryan said. “Let’s go have a look at it.”
Abby said, shrugging her shoulders at the look John gave her. “But first I want
you to meet the Old Dears. There they are at the far end of the pavilion.”
twins, in their identical lavender pants and sequined tops, stood one on either
side of Doug Buchanan, as he struggled with a karaoke microphone.
they cute,” Kate said, laughing. “How do you ever tell them apart?”
always cheerful and Eulah’s…not so much.”
microphone squealed. “Test, test, test,” Doug said into it. “Can you hear me in
woman behind them called out, “Louder, Dougie.”
man two tables over called out, “Hey, if you’re taking requests, I want Proud
crowd laughed, and Ryan rolled his eyes. “If they’re going to start singing,
wait,” Abby said. “Doug’s up to something.”
now,” Doug said, “you’ve all met these two sweet ladies. Now, it’s time to
welcome them officially into the Buchanan clan.” One of Doug’s sons handed each
beaming lady a yellow T-shirt.
happily, the Old Dears held up the shirts so the audience could see that
printed on the fronts were the words, I Survived My First Buchanan Reunion. The
crowd erupted in applause and whistles.
we put their names on the back so you can tell them apart,” Doug continued.
cheers turned to laughter when the audience realized the twins had been handed
the wrong shirts. After trading, Eulah and Beulah held the shirts up again for
everyone to see their names in blue script. Doug went on to remind everyone to
be back tomorrow for more great food, the water balloon war, the quilt auction,
and the washer tournament.
“Can we leave now?” Kate asked. “I can’t wait
to try out your program.”
sure you don’t want to stick around?” Ryan said in a fake southern accent. “I
have a hankerin’ to play worshers. I bet you five dollars I can whup you, too.”
I guess we can leave now,” Abby said. She had looked forward to Kate meeting
the ladies, but Eulah and Beulah would have lots of questions that were bound
to take more time than Kate—and especially Ryan—would want to spend.
the way to their cars, John waited until Kate and Ryan were out of earshot. “I
thought we agreed not to let anyone else in on this until we could figure out
what to do with the program. You know how dangerous it could be if this gets
Merri said. “That’s the first rule. Besides, we’re the three musketeers.
Whoever heard of the five musketeers?”
“I know, I know,” Abby said. “I don’t know
what came over me. Kate’s always been so…so…annoying about it, an agnostic, you
might say. I don’t know what made her change her mind, and I had no idea she
had told Ryan about it.”
of which, how well do you know Turner?”
only met him a few times when he came to campus to visit Kate. He seemed nice
think he’s a jackass,” Merri declared.
snorted a laugh. “Yeah, you’re right about that, squirt. But don’t say that
just have to give it time,” Abby said. “Maybe he’ll grow on us.”
until he does,” John said, “I think we should stall on showing them the
Merri said. “Now that it’s not working right, all they’ll see is a bunch of
houses from around the world.”
won’t hurt for them to see that,” Abby said, “We just won’t mention that the
way we helped Eulah and Beulah fill out their family tree was by time-surfing
back to meet their ancestors.
************************************* Deborah Heal is the author of the YA Time and Again virtual time
travel trilogy, which has been described as “Back to the Future with a dash of