Excerpt from Second Time Around

                                                               Bangor, Maine

    The car plunged off the cliff.


    David Stancowsky catapulted from sleep in time to hear the final echo of his cry fall away in his empty bedroom.
    In his empty house.

    He gave himself the requisite ten seconds to allow his breathing to return to normal.  There was no need
    to turn on a light--for he slept with one on.  He grabbed the hand towel which he placed on the bedside
    table every night and rubbed his face roughly, then wiped his balding head.  Would he ever be free of this

    Millie.  Her car flying off the cliff.  His fiancée dead.

    Over the past forty-six years he'd come up with many scenarios as to how and why it had happened.  Bad
    brakes, speed, she'd fallen asleep . . .  One police officer had even broached the idea of suicide, but David
    had cut him off.  How dare anyone even suggest . . . ?  Their life together had been perfect, their wedding
    imminent.  They had their entire lives in front of them.

    If the crash had happened today, with today's forensic technologies, they would have been able to tell him
    exactly what had happened.  But in 1958, a car crashed into the ocean was lost, and a splintered guard rail
    told all the story that could be told.  

    Or that would be told.

    David burrowed back into the covers, arranging his two body pillows on either side of him, remaking the moat
    that he nightly created in the middle of the king-sized bed.  Once settled, he adjusted the pillow for his head
    around his ears.

    Drowning out the silence.

    If only . . .

                                                                          Atlanta, Georgia

    They’d buried her mother a week ago.

    Vanessa Caldwell sat in the lawyer's office with her husband, Dudley, ready to hear the will of a mother she
    hadn't had contact with in thirty-four years.

    The lawyer had his back to them, fiddling with a VCR.

    "Can we please get this over with?" Vanessa asked. "I have things to do."

    Dudley put a calming hand on her knee and gave her a behave yourself look.

    Vanessa didn't feel like behaving herself. She wanted this over.  At her father’s request, she’d skipped the
    funeral .  Gladly.  She wasn't in the mood to play the grieving daughter before a crowd. What little  grief
    she did have was a one-act show that would be best played out here, as a way to expedite this last necessary
    step before she left the whole incident behind.  And if she didn't have to act at all?  That would be even
    better.  She’d play it by ear.

    Actually, she was interested in the will more for curiosity’s sake than a desire to get anything.  Whatever
    pittance her mother might have left her meant nothing.  Materially, she and Dudley were more than well off,
    so a few extra dollars would merely be added to their bank account.  And from a sentimental point of view?  
    There was no sentiment left. At age sixteen, when her parents divorced, Vanessa had chosen to live with her
    banker father rather than her independent, hippie mother.  She had no regrets. Until Vanessa’s marriage to
    Dudley, her father had provided the material requisites of life, while in return, Vanessa had filled the void
    caused by her mother’s absence.  The truth was, her father was a weak man.  He would have fallen apart if it
    hadn't been for her capable presence. They’d been a good team, the dependent and the dependable.   

    Bottom line:  he was Daddy.  This woman who'd died was Mother.

    "There,” the lawyer said, finally facing them.  "Sorry for the delay. These machines make me all thumbs. Are
    you ready?"

    “Sure."  Whatever.

    He pushed the Play button and moved out of the way. Vanessa could only assume the old woman who came on
    the screen was her mother.  She looked like an aged flower child, her white hair long and unruly, the design
    on her East Indian top punctuated with beads.  Vanessa would not have been surprised if she’d flashed a peace

    Yet when the woman started speaking, when she said, "Hello, Nessa" the voice spiked a connection, a memory
    to her childhood before her mother had abandoned them.  Vanessa felt the faintest hint of warmth, startling her
    with the knowledge that such an emotion had existed between them.  Once.

    "I hope you appreciate how this old free spirit is resorting to something very establishment by making this
    video for you, Nessa.  But I see no other way to talk to you, to tell you what's on my mind and my heart.  
    I hesitant to leave you any thing because that's where your father excelled.  I never could compete with
    that, nor could I compete with--or condone--the heady manipulation of people and events that are the
    hallmark of your father's life.  There is no peace in such an attitude.  No peace with the world, with God,
    or with oneself.  We both know what Yardley Pruitt wants, he gets one way or the other.  But you need to
    know that I wanted you, Nessa.  I fought for you in the courts.  You remember that, don't you?  I fought for
    you, but since your father could always make justice sing his own tune, I lost.  I lost everything.  I lost you,
    then lost sight of you . . . are you married? If so, I don’t even know your married name.  Do I have

    The woman on the video sniffed, then rearranged the flow of her broomstick skirt.  "Life is often difficult,
    Nessa, but I've found it best to 'rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces
    perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.'"  She smiled at the camera.  "Wise words.  
    If only we'd listen."  

    She gave her head the slightest shake and continued.  "But I mustn't digress.  The message I want to leave
    you with, dear daughter, is one of regret.  My deep regret, and my desire to relieve you of your own.  The
    truth is, I don’t know how your life turned out.  Are you happy?  Are you fulfilled?  Through the years I've
    seen a few clippings of your father’s life—bank PR stuff--but never any mention of you.  Yet knowing your
    father and his penchant for manipulating every breath of those in his domain under the guise of need, cannot
    have been to your advantage.  It grieves me to think about how many chances you may have missed to find
    your true character just by the fact that you are your father’s daughter.”

    Her mother sighed deeply.   “I would have given you those chances, Nessa, by letting you blossom out of your
    own dreams and desires, instead of letting your father maneuver your life and emotions by playing the guilt
    card.  I would even have let you fail, face consequences, and earn things on your own merit--not by having
    the right connections.  This is a lesson I've learned in my own life.  It's one I cherish.  But every instinct,
    every fiber of my being doubts that you've ever been afforded the opportunity to grow in yourself, your
    faith, or your character.  From the moment you chose your precious Daddy—"

    "That's enough!" Vanessa said.  "Turn it off."

    The lawyer hit the pause button and Dorian Pruitt's face froze oddly on the screen.  "You really need to let her
    finish, Ms. Caldwell," the lawyer said.

    Vanessa stood, gathering her purse.  "I see no reason to listen to my mother now, when she hasn't had the
    decency to contact me in decades.  You heard her.  She doesn't even know my married name.  She knows
    nothing about me.  I'm going to be fifty this year.  I am past the age of needing to listen to my mother.  
    Especially a strange, estranged one."

    Dudley pulled her arm.  "Come on, Vanessa.  Just a few more minutes.  What can it hurt?"

    She was weary of the whole thing.  "It hurts plenty when she says Daddy has ruined my character by being
    kind to me, nice to me, needing me, loving me.  That's absurd.  He's a wonderful man."

    Dudley cleared his throat.

    She glared at him and clipped each word.  "Don’t start."

    He adjusted himself in the leather arm chair.  "You know I won’t, but maybe I should.  What your mother says
    makes sense.  You have to admit he does push our guilt buttons a lot.”

    “We don’t help him out of a feeling of guilt, we help him out of love.  I am no one’s pawn.”

    He shrugged and pointed at the screen.  “I like her. I wish I’d known her.”

    “You can’t like her.“  I won’t allow it.

    He sighed.  “I’m not your enemy, Vanessa.  And if you’d stop being so defensive, and finish listening to the
    video, you might discover your mother isn't either."

    It was not like Dudley to confront her.  Theirs was a flat-line relationship.  Any deviation above or below
    that line was quickly dealt with in the fervent pursuit of the status quo.  "How can you be on her side? My
    father and I are the ones who were left behind when she ran out on us."

    The lawyer stepped between them.  "Ms. Caldwell.  Please listen to the rest of the video.  It was your mother's
    wish you see it."

    "So she can belittle my father and I?"

    He patted the back of her chair. "Please."

    It was evident they were not going to let her leave until this was finished.  So be it.  She returned to her seat.

    The lawyer messed with the remote.  "How do I back this thing up a few seconds?"

    "Here," Dudley said, reaching for it.  "Let me do it."

    He relinquished the control and Dudley made the picture dance backwards before hitting Play.

    Vanessa's mother continued.  ". . . the moment you chose your precious Daddy . . . you don't realize it, Nessa,
    but your entire life changed at that moment.  What could you have become, what kind of person might you
    be now, if we’d been allowed to keep our mother-daughter relationship alive?”

    What was this “allowed” business? Her mother was the one who’d made the choice never to see her again.

    Her mother put a hand to her chest.  "I know my life would have been richer for it.  And maybe all my worries
    about your father’s influence are moot.  Maybe your life is full of joy and purpose and all good things.  The
    tragedy is, I don’t know.  And so I must go on what I suspect.  Forgive me if I’m wrong, but my greatest hope
    for you stems out of my greatest fear ."  

    Vanessa crossed her arms.  Joy?  Purpose?  Good things?  She’d like to shove those blessings in her mother’s
    face. It was disconcerting how correct this woman was about how Vanessa’s life had turned out, as well as
    her father’s continued presence.  And yet, it was also annoying.  Her mother was acting as if it was inevitable
    that her life was less than perfect, full of weakness, and void of meaning.  Vanessa knew exactly what she was doing.  
    And if anyone was controlling things, it was she.  Not her father.

    ". . . giving you all my possessions--such as they are.  And I want you to know that I've been very fulfilled
    being a second grade teacher.  It has not brought me your father's kind of riches, but it has made me rich.  
    Find that kind of wealth, Nessa.  Find the wealth that comes, from having faith, from trying your best, and
    from doing good out of love, not out of guilt or as a power-play.  I love you, flower-baby.  Always have.  
    Always will."

    The tape mercifully came to an end.  Dudley shut off the machine as the lawyer returned to his desk.  "Here
    are the keys to your mother's house.  It, and the contents, are yours to do with as you please.  She was a nice
    woman, your mother.  An interesting woman who knew her own mind.  I liked her very much."

    Good for you.  

    Vanessa stood to leave and Dudley followed.  Once in the parking lot, he asked, "Where to?"

    "My mother's house.  I want this done with.  Over."

    He opened her car door.  "Hasn't this got you thinking, Vanessa?  Don't you wonder how your life would have
    been dif--?"

    Vanessa shook her head vehemently.  "I will not deal with if-onlys.  I won't."

                                                                        Malibu, California

    Lane Holloway sat on her deck overlooking the Pacific, sipping a hazelnut mocha.  Joggers teased the edge
    of the waves as they sped past, flipping up sand behind them.  Seagulls dive-bombed fish and crustaceans in
    the shallows.  In her lap was a script--the script for the movie that would finally win her an Oscar.  Although
    she knew it wasn't a sure thing, she had a feeling about it.  Her agent concurred.  This was one of those
    special parts that would test her mettle as an actress and provide her with a vehicle to either shine or flop.
    It was up to her.  

    Her agent was currently negotiating the price.  She was happy to let him deal with such things.  What was
    a few million one way or the other? Just give her the chance to do it.  She'd earn their money back.  She was
    box office gold.

    The French doors to the deck opened behind her and her personal assistant and old high school chum Brandy
    Lopez came out.  "You're up early," Brandy said, putting away her keys.

    "You know I don't sleep well alone."

    Brandy set her notebook on the table. "Can I get you another mocha?"

    "I'm fine.  But help yourself."

    She disappeared inside.  Lane bookmarked the page in the script and tried to turn her thoughts to the other
    to-dos of the day.  Brandy liked to keep busy and Lane was glad to oblige. She was in awe of people who
    actually liked to serve others.  Lane much preferred being the serve-ee.  

    Brandy returned with her mocha and took a seat across the table.  Lane waited for her to ready her notebook
    and pen, as she did every weekday morning.  But this time Brandy just grinned at her.  

    "Uh-oh.  What's that smile for?" Lane asked.

    "I have a present for you."

       "You've got to quit doing that, Brand.  You're constantly buying me--"

    "Trinkets.  Hey, who knows you better than me?  Besides, they’re just little things.  Nothing big.  Nothing expensive.  
    You know that."

    "I do like that raspberry tea you found."

    "See?  I know what you like and I like to get it for you.  It gives me pleasure, and if you don't let me do it, I'll
    pout.  And you don't want to see me pout, do you?"

    Lane laughed.  No indeed, she did not want to witness a Brandy-pout. Her friend, not attractive to begin with,
    turned positively menacing when her brows dipped and her lip popped into prominence. Brandy had perfected
    pouting since their high school days. "So, what did you get me this time?"

    With flourish, Brandy pulled an envelope from the inside of her notebook.  "For you."

    There was nothing on the envelope but her name written in Brandy's cursive.  It was not sealed.  Inside she
    found a ticket.  "What's this?"

    "It's a lottery ticket.  But not just any lottery.  A Time Lottery ticket."

    The ticket had a printed number on it, the Time Travel Corporation--the TTC--logo, and a space where Brandy
    had written in Lane's name.  

    "See?" Brandy said, pointing at the ticket.  "It's yours and yours alone.  You can't give it to anyone else.  I bought
    it for you."

    Lane set the ticket on the table between them.  "But the Time Lottery is for people who want to go back into
    their lives and relive something, change a choice they made.  I’m very content with my life here.  There’s
    nothing I want to change."

    Brandy crossed her arms.

    "There isn't."

    Brandy’s glare was second only to her pout in the negative affect it had on her looks.

    Lane stood and moved to the railing that overlooked the Malibu beach.  "You seem to forget that I'm living the
    American dream.  I'm a movie star.  I've kissed the hunks of my day:  Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt . . ."

    "You are the envy of hot-blooded women everywhere."


    "Unfortunately, your off-screen romances haven't been so successful.”

    “I got rid of Klaus.”

    Brandy shuddered.  “Yuck.  Good riddance.”

    Lane crossed her arms and looked toward the horizon.  "It's hard to find true love when you're famous."

    "Au contraire, Laney-girl.  Enter the Time Lottery." Brandy joined her at the railing and ran a hand over the
    back of her shoulders.  "I’m just looking after you. I know it’s ironic that plain ol’ Brandy found herself a
    wonderful husband and has four great kids, while Lane, the movie star stunner has nada.  I've asked God to
    explain, but He’s keeping mum.”

    Actually, Lane had come to the conclusion that God was keeping score, and since she’d already received a
    myriad of blessings, He wasn't about to give her more.  

    Brandy left her side to stick her finger in the soil of a potted geranium nearby.  “Forget loser-Klaus, I thought
    you might like to explore what would have happened if you hadn't dumped Joseph.”

    Joseph Brannerman was two men ago. “I think you liked Joseph more than I did.”

    Brandy moved on to check the ferns.  “These need water . . . I liked him only because he was perfect for you.”

    “So you've said.  Repeatedly.”

    Brandy turned her attention away from the plants.  “So I know as fact.  You’re way too picky.  Good men
    don’t grow on trees.  Take my Randy.”

    “I thought you wanted me to take Joseph?”

    She joined Lane back at the railing, her voice low.  “Promise you won’t tell?”


    “I also bought a ticket for myself.”

    Lane played the emotion “aghast” to perfection.  “Have you been holding out on me all these years?  Was
    there a Romeo in your past you want to explore more deeply?”

    “Randy is Romeo enough for me.  But I have always wondered what would have happened if I hadn't followed
    you out to Hollywood—if I’d stayed in Minnesota.”

    Lane put away her teasing. “You’d go back to Dawson?”

    “Maybe I could have helped my mom more.”

    Lane put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.  Brandy’s mother had been an abusive alcoholic
    and leaving her had been the hardest—yet best—thing her friend had ever done.  They watched the tide a
    few minutes.  Then Lane turned around and swept a hand to encompass her home.  "Enough of this talk.  I’d
    be stupid to go back.  Look at what I have.  This home, one in Montana, an apartment in New York."  She
    spotted the script on the table.  "And what about my acting?  That script will win me an Academy Award.  
    I know it."

    Brandy shook her head.  

    "Don't shake your head.  It's a good part.  It will let me explore new sides to my--"

    Brandy snickered.  "That's one way to put it.  Your back side, front side . . . yes, sirree, the world will see all
    sides of Lane Holloway."

    "Nudity doesn't have the stigma it once had.  All the big actresses are doing it.”

    “Well alrighty then.”

    Lane had discussed it with her agent and they'd decided the nudity was a necessary risk.  Besides, she was in
    good shape for thirty-five.  She had nothing to hide.  And much to gain.

    “Have you gotten around to reading that book I want you to make into a movie?” Brandy asked.

    She hadn't, but she said, “I started it.”

    “Baloney.  It’s probably still sitting on your bedside table.”  She took a step toward the French doors leading

    “No,” Lane said, stopping her.  “I haven’t.  But I will.”

    Brandy pointed at her.  “Making a movie out of that book may not win you an Oscar but it would be a good
    vehicle for you.  Great parts all around.  A gripping, life-changing story.  The young mother Merry loses her
    son and husband in a plane crash and comes to realize that her selfish discontent caused them to be on the
    plane in the first—“

    Lane raised a hand, stopping her.  “I’ll read it.  I promise.”

    “Yes, yes, so you say.”  Brandy returned to her seat at the table and opened her notebook, readying for the
    daily errands.  "As far as winning the Time Lottery?  Never fear, Laney-girl.  The chances of either one of us
    winning are slim.  After the success of last year's drawing I'm sure they'll sell a ton of tickets.  So don't worry
    about it.  I just thought it would be fun to think about."

    Lane acquiesced and gave her a hug from behind.  "And I thank you for your continued thoughtfulness." And it
    would make her think.

    If only . . .

                                                                        Kansas City

    Alexander MacMillan opened his front door only to have Cheryl Nickolby burst past him, slam the door shut,
    and press herself against it like a woman on the run.  "Phew!  I made it!"

    He crossed his arms and rolled his eyes.  "What are you doing?"

    She relaxed her stance, smoothed her brown pants and sweater, then yanked him close with such force that he
    expelled a puff of air.  After a hello-kiss that left him even more breathless, she stepped back and answered his
    question.  "I’m only following your directions.  You've stressed the need for discretion, and emphasized the
    necessity to never, ever, ever let anyone from the media know that you, the Time Lottery Czar are dating me,
    Mistress of the first Lottery and doctor extraordinaire."  She clapped her hands to her chest dramatically.  
    "Heaven forbid the world know we have the hots for each other."

    Mac looked behind him, checking on six-year-old ears.  "We care about each other."

    "Same thing," she said.  She moved past him and clapped her hands.  "Now, where's the real man in my life?  
    Andrew?  Olly olly oxen free!"

    Andrew came running from upstairs, jumped from the third step, and barreled into her, wrapping his arms
    around her waist.  

    "Whoa, bud!     Nice to see you too."

    He let her loose.  "I made the garlic bread but I spilled spaghetti sauce on my shirt so I had to change."

    "If you were making the bread how did you spill sauce--?"

    Mac rumpled his hair.  "Long story.  Let's eat."

    During dinner Mac found himself watching Cheryl as she teased Andrew and told them about her new job at a
    local hospital.  For her to leave Boulder, Colorado and move to Kansas City to be near the two of them still
    left him stunned.  Actually, everything about Cheryl left him stunned.  She was a stunning woman.  For Mac
    to have found two women in his lifetime, first Holly, and now Cheryl . . .

    The women were two ends of a spectrum.  Where dear Holly had been ten years younger than he, petite,
    dark-haired, sweet, and domestic, Cheryl was ten years older--nearly forty-eight--tall, blond, vivacious, and
    a brilliant surgeon.  It didn't make sense that such diverse women would fit into his life.  Fit with him.  And
    yet they did.  Each in their time.

    Ha.  Time.  The unrelenting taskmaster.

    And yet . . . the whole Time Lottery phenomenon still astounded him.  For the winners to be able to go back
    in time, into their own lives and change something, explore their Alternate Reality--their Alternity--was miracle
    enough.  But to be offered the choice to stay there and live out that new choice, or come back to this one
    was mind-boggling.  Mac was beyond glad that Cheryl had chosen to come back to the present.  To be here.  
    In his life.

    Actually, as incentive to take the job as the public relations liaison for the TTC, Mac had been offered a chance
    to go back into his life, to the time before Holly was murdered by an intruder, to change her death to life.  
    In spite of the temptation, he'd refused.  To go back and live a life with Holly in his Alternity would be to
    leave their son here, alone.  It was something he could not do.

    "Can I be excused?" Andrew asked.

    "May I.  And yes, you may."

    Mac and Cheryl sat in silence until they heard the TV in the family room.  Then Cheryl put a hand on Mac's.  
    "I saw you deep in thought.  About what?"

    He smiled and kissed her hand.

    She got out of her chair and he gladly made room on his lap.  "I'm finding this secrecy very hard, you know.  
    I'm not a secretive person.  What you see is what you get."

    "An attribute."

    "I've already heard the buzz about me moving to Kansas City.  A reporter asked me about it."

    "What did you say?"

    "That I'd fallen in love with the town when I'd come here to participate in the Time Lottery.  And after my
    experience in the past I felt the need for a fresh start.  Plus, I said I'd befriended the most amazing, sexy man
    who has the ability to make my epidermis tingle in a most delightful way."

    He leaned his head against her neck.  "You saved me, you know. My decision not to go back . . ."

    "Shh."  She began to rock and he joined in the rhythm.  

    "I want to tell the world about us, Cheryl.  I do."

    "I know."

    "We just need to get through the next Lottery.  Then the attention will be on the new winners and we can be
    free to be, you and me.

    "Free to be us."

    He closed his eyes and was comforted by the beat of her heart.

    If only . . . (continued)

                                                                        Copyright 2004 Nancy Moser
                                                                                Mustard Seed Press