I attempted, despite my trembling body, to remain standing while Fetia pinned the last pieces of gaudy red silk to the stays she’d tied entirely too tight. Juan Josef had excused himself from my room hours prior, instructing me to stay put as he left me alone with my babies and a racing mind.
Hours passed and as the sun began to lower outside my small window, my anxiety had been through the roof. With Zachary and Cecelia less than a day old, I’d tried to focus exclusively on them; feeding, changing, swaddling, and holding them; memorizing their little faces in the event that something happened to me. I tried to forget that I was a captive and that Jack and the others were ‘detained’ somewhere. Despite my best attempts to forget, constant movement on the other side of the bedroom door indicated there were others in the house with me, and I couldn’t help but torture myself with the possibilities of what might happen when someone finally came through it.
Could I run? Would I be able to fight whoever filled the doorframe, somehow get to the ship, and save the others with two newborns wrapped in my arms? How much did Juan Josef’s spy tell him about us? Might it be possible that they left out some of our people? None of us ever spoke to Phil, so it was possible he was still roaming free. Although he’d have no reason to save us and was the last person I wanted to find coming to my rescue, I held onto hope that, if he was still out there, he might try something just to save himself from being left alone in Tahiti. Was Kyle with him? Kyle and Fetia had been romantic with each other. If Fetia really was the spy, and if she felt a connection to Kyle in some way, she might’ve refrained from offering him up.
Fetia. It was hard to believe that she was capable of turning us in to Juan Josef. She was so young and timid, and she’d been with the captain for almost a year, spending every day with us since our arrival in Tahiti. She wouldn’t have had time to form an alliance with Juan Josef, so I had to assume it was her family that were the spies, and she was merely a pawn in a game she had no control over.
Rallying back and forth between feelings of hopelessness and attempts to formulate a plan to escape, I’d jumped when Fetia finally came through the door, red silk fabrics draped over her petite arm. She hadn’t spoken, but lit the lantern and candles, appearing just as shaken as I was as she motioned nervously for me to stand and allow her to dress me.
I hadn’t fought her. I was terrified of fighting anyone for fear of my children being punished for it. Juan Josef scared me in every way, and if she was a pawn in his game, I would respond to her with the same compliance I would him. When he’d stood over my babies, I had been more frightened than I’d been during the plane crash that brought us here; than I’d been when I’d looked out at the ocean and felt the helplessness of being stranded with no rescue; than I’d been when Chris informed us that we’d traveled back in time. The way he looked at me made my soul cower. I’d never met a man that radiated wickedness the way he did, and I had been unable to prevent my words from shaking during my encounter with him.
Obediently, I’d stood and let Fetia work. As she’d added articles of clothing, I tried to communicate with her. I pleaded for answers; begged her to tell me where the others were and what was going on outside my room. With the language barrier, I hadn’t expected her to respond. If she understood me at all, she did not give me any indication, keeping her eyes focused on her hands as she added more and more layers of clothing.
When she circled around to place a ruby necklace at my neck, her hands were trembling. She was afraid too, and I wondered if it was Juan Josef that frightened her, or if she was terrified that I might strangle her for the role she played in our capture. There was a part of me, the part that imagined Jack and the others locked in a jail cell somewhere, that desperately wanted to wrap my fingers around her small throat and squeeze.
Not that I was physically capable of violence in my state. Having given birth just one day prior, the simple act of standing seemed like it took every bit of strength I had. My insides burned, my breasts were tender, and my muscles felt like lead against my bones. My knees shook beneath the layers of fabric she’d wound around me, and mentally, I was entirely drained. I didn’t think I would be able to keep my eyes open, let alone deal with whatever Juan Josef had in store that required me to be dressed in such a way.
Fetia motioned to the chair near the door, touching her hair to communicate that she needed to style mine. I maneuvered awkwardly, unable to walk or bend naturally from the weight and tightness of the clothing.
I sighed once I’d finally sat, looking down at my breasts where they were squeezed and pushed by the stays like a half inflated balloon inside a tightening fist, threatening to pop with even the slightest addition of pressure. And pressure was something that was building by the minute. I would need to feed the babies again, and soon.
I stared at the closed door while Fetia began to pin my curls up. What was on the other side? I could hear shuffling; items being moved around the living room; glass clanging against glass, and furniture scraping against the bamboo floorboards, but I couldn’t hear voices. Was it Juan Josef on the other side or would I open it to find Jack and the others unharmed and waiting for me?
Although I knew, deep down, it wasn’t my people on the other side of that door, I wondered if I wouldn’t be even more horrified to face them if it were. I’d shared everything I knew about the possible way back through time with Juan Josef. I’d given him dates, times, and the coordinates willingly. Giving the coordinates and dates could allow Juan Josef and his men to go through time instead of us. I knew only three could go, and if he inserted his people, we would be forced to wait until March. In doing so, I’d stolen Chris’s deteriorating mind from him and had taken even more memories away from Anna and her son.
I thought about Juan Josef’s revelation to me. Twenty years ago for him had been 1977. Twenty years ago for the rest of us had been 1997. This meant time was moving slower on this side of the portal. Six months in this time would be one whole year there. Anna hadn’t lost a year and a half of her son’s life, she’d lost three. If she could go in September, Liam would be eight by the time she got to him. If we couldn’t get through as a result of my spilling my guts to Juan Josef, I would’ve taken yet another year of his life from her.
Now that I’d held my own children, I couldn’t imagine losing even a second of their lives. I hadn’t had five years to grow the kind of bond with them she had with her son. I’d barely had 24 hours. And yet, I would sacrifice Anna’s friendship, Chris’s mental health, and do just about anything to keep those two tiny humans beside me. Maria had called me selfish once, and I supposed I was because there was no amount of information I wouldn’t give to make sure my babies were safe; no length I wouldn’t go to in order to make sure Juan Josef wouldn’t separate them from me.
I peered over the baskets once more, needing to make sure both were still breathing, and I felt my pulse ease a little when I could see the subtle movement of their lungs filling and expelling air without any need of assistance. I had two healthy babies; two babies that the world had told me I’d never be able to have. Those two children and Jack were my whole world now, and no amount of obligation to anyone else would make me put their lives second. If that made me selfish, then so be it. I’d wear that title proudly for them.
I squeeze my eyes closed as Fetia pulled the last of my hair up into pins. I was almost ready. What would come next? After labor and a night spent mostly awake to feed and dote over my twins, my thinking was cloudy at best. I had to get my wits about me if I was ever going to get us out of whatever this predicament was.
What was this predicament, anyway? He already had all the information he needed. What more could he possibly want? While I’d tried to negotiate with him – promising him money and a partnership between our groups – he hadn’t given any indication that he was willing to take me up on that offer before he’d exited the room. If his mind was made up that he would go instead of us, why was he having me dressed? And why in such an elaborate garb?
I cringed as I considered that he might want something physical from me — why else send a fancy red dress and jewelry? — but I dismissed that notion almost immediately. Swollen from labor, and disheveled in every possible way, I would’ve been the least attractive woman in our group. If it was physical, he’d have had Maria, Lilly or Anna dressed instead of me. Unless… he was already doing that very thing? Were they out there dressed similarly? Were they alright?
I hadn’t gotten a look at the rest of his men when we were in Eimeo. I’d only seen the two he’d sent to guard us and had paid them very little attention in my search for Chris. Was there a much more sinister reason for my getting dressed in such a way? Would I and my friends serve as an offering to his men before they shipped out? If they were anything like the men aboard the Resolution, it wouldn’t matter that I had just given birth. I only needed the parts they lacked.
Fighting with nausea from both the nerves and the tightness of the corset, and feeling my palms sweat as I imagined what his men might be capable of, I almost fainted when the door opened and Juan Josef filled its frame.
“Come.” He said.
He was taller than I’d remembered him being when we’d come across him on the other island. His beard was thick black with bits of grey and there was a hint of green in his eyes that I hadn’t bothered to notice before. He might’ve even been attractive were it not for the darkness that emanated from him. He stared at me in such a way that made me feel as if I were naked before him; like he could see through the dress and even through my skin to the deepest parts of me; the parts of me that trembled and curled into themselves by the sheer nearness of him. From the look on his face, it was evident that he knew exactly what kind of effect his reappearance was having. The corner of his lip turned upward in a knowing smile as if to say, ‘I dare you to fight me now.’
Hesitantly, I rose from the chair and began to reach for the babies when he held up his hand.
“Leave them. Fetia will stay.”
“No.” I said, planting my feet. “I have done everything that you asked. I will continue to do whatever you want, and I won’t fight you, as long as they remain within my sight.”
He tilted his head to one side, a strand of his long black hair falling over his forehead as he flashed his teeth in a daring smile. “You won’t fight me, anyway. Leave them.”
I shook my head, feeling my voice tremble and hating myself for being so weak. “I can’t. They’ll need to be fed again soon.”
“When that time comes, I shall return you to this room. We will only just be there.” He pointed toward the living room where I could see a small round table and two chairs set out in front of the lit fireplace. A white tablecloth had been laid over the tabletop and dinner was served on two place settings surrounded by lit candles. I didn’t see anyone else in the room; no soldiers or guards or signs of my own people. What would be his intention once he’d gotten me alone in there?
I looked back to the baskets, Zachary and Cecelia both still sleeping soundly inside each. “Can I leave the door open?”
His eyes lingered on my breasts where my nipples were just barely covered by the corset, and I had to close my eyes to hide my disgust. “If you wish for the door to remain open, then I shall keep it open. Now come. Dine with me. I am not a patient man, and it would not bode well for you to continue to defy me throughout the evening.”
Opening my eyes, I swallowed, looking down at the dress he’d picked out for me where the candlelight reflected on its shimmering red surface. “And this?” I asked, waving my arm over the rich fabrics. “What is this for? What do you intend to do with me now that you’ve dolled me up like this?”
He took a deep breath and rolled his eyes impatiently. “I am a lot of things, madam, but I am not a man to force myself upon an unwilling female. It would be uncivilized to expect you to dine in only your shift.” I watched his fingers flex and curl into fists, “Now, I have already asked you several times to join me, and I shan’t ask you again. I have considered your offer and wish to speak more about it. I presumed you would be hungry after giving birth, and so I offer this conversation over dinner. We needn’t be unpleasant to one another.” He offered me his arm. “Come.”
I didn’t take his arm, but moved alongside him toward the living room, feeling every inch of distance my steps took me from the twins. I scanned the dimly lit living room and listened for signs of men either in the house or posted just outside. There were none.
“Sit,” he instructed, pulling out my chair for me. “I daresay you shall be delighted that I’ve had red meat prepared strictly for this occasion.”
I sat awkwardly in the dress, positioning myself so that I could see Fetia and the baskets in the other room through my peripherals. What would I do if she made a sudden movement? Would I be able to get to them?
On my plate was a giant slab of glistening steak with buttered boiled potatoes, cheese, wine, and bread. Having gone so long without the taste of any of those things, I would’ve otherwise been falling over myself at the promise of a meal I had spent the past year craving. As it stood, the only thing my eyes could focus upon was the knife sitting at the side of it all.
He took a seat across from me, unfolding his napkin to lay it across his lap before he picked up his wineglass and held it near his lips. “I had my only cow slaughtered just for you, and I spent the day overseeing its butchering so that I could offer you the finest cut. Please, rid me of my anticipation and take a bite so that I may enjoy the fruits of my labor by seeing your reaction.”
I stared at the knife, trying to dream up some kind of way to use it to get out of the situation. He was toying with me, I knew, and as a result, my nerves were wound too tightly to have any kind of appetite. “Where are the others?”
He sipped his wine and calmly set it on the table. “Was I unclear when I informed you that I am an impatient man? I have expressed my eagerness to watch you enjoy this meal that I have spent the entire day preparing for you, and yet I am met with resistance and mistrust. If you were a man, I should shove the steak into your mouth and force you to chew. Make no mistake, it is not beyond my character to do that very thing to a woman. Eat. I will ask the questions at this table when I am ready to do so, and you will answer them. Do I make myself clear?”
I nodded, picking up the fork and knife and cringing as I watched my hands quiver beyond my control while they cut into the steak.
I wanted to be so many things at that moment. I wanted to be defiant, to refuse him answers and remain silent and insubordinate until he’d released my people; to play the unwavering badass who would not be intimidated. I wanted to feed into his evident attraction; to flirt with him and give myself some sense of power over him. I wanted to be the heroine; to use the knife in my hand to deliver him one deadly jab to the throat so that I could run off and search his ship for the others.
But I was none of those things. With two babies so far away from me, I couldn’t help feeling intimidated, defeated, and meek as I took a bite I couldn’t taste, and forced myself to chew.
He enjoyed this kind of power, and he knew exactly what he was doing. Purposely refraining from posting guards in the room or inviting anyone else to dine with us, he wanted us to be alone; wanted me to know that he didn’t need help to overpower me; wanted to instill in me the knowledge that he, without any assistance, could throw me down and do as he pleased, toss me into a prison alongside the others, and steal my children away if I defied him.
He’d dressed me to make me uncomfortable, to humiliate me, and to assert his dominance over me. He’d chosen me because I was the weakest; because I had more to lose than anyone else and I would obey. Despite my early attempts to play it cool and appear unaffected by him, he’d seen through me. Whatever I offered him as a means to offset his power, he would simply take. He would not negotiate with me. He didn’t need to.
He smiled and picked up his own utensils. “Was that so difficult?” He sliced a large strip of meat, stacked a potato onto the fork alongside it, and shoved both brutishly into his mouth, not waiting to swallow to initiate his interrogation. “So… this plane crash. What argument could you make that would entitle your people to a settlement of any substantial means? It is not the fault of the airline that the plane traveled through time. Why would they have any reason to compensate you for it?”
I chewed slowly, begging my upset stomach to accept the food and not vomit. “One of the men with us is a lawyer. He said it wouldn’t matter what caused the airplane to go down. The airline would have to compensate us for pain and suffering regardless of the cause.”
Plucking his wineglass up from the table, he sipped loudly, washing the enormous bite he’d taken down, and expelling an audible exhale after he’d swallowed. “And the lawyer… he’s one of the ones you wish to send?”
“No.” For as much as I wanted to lie, I couldn’t. I had no way of knowing who he had detained or what he already knew about us. I didn’t want to risk putting anyone in harm’s way as a result of being caught in a lie. I had to tell the truth. “He has no attachment to our group, and couldn’t be trusted to come back for us. If we can make it to the future, we’d have much better luck hiring a lawyer there to work the lawsuit.”
His eyes lingered on my neckline. “And so you intend to send three of your people to travel to the future, sue the airline, and return here in March to willingly give me a share in their reward… Is that right?”
“Yes.” I hated how small my voice sounded.
“Why three? Why not one or all? I feel as though you are holding something back from me. You know something more about how it works. The math. You mentioned the possibility of a percentage. I had six on my boat, and three came through. That’s fifty percent. You were in a commercial airliner. Surely there were more than thirty on your flight?”
I nodded. I didn’t want to give him all the details; had tried to dance around the knowledge that only three would be able to cross through in September, but what was the point? That theory wasn’t concrete. Nothing was. For all I knew, we would navigate to the coordinates and absolutely nothing would happen. There’d be no storm and no portal, and then what? Would he think we’d tricked him? There was no reason for me to hold back any information since none of it was certain. If I offered up what I knew, maybe this man’s own experiences could solidify our theories, or shed light on details we hadn’t seen. I sighed. “Originally, we thought it might be fifteen percent because that aligned with our numbers and the notes we found in the journals, but then you showed up with fifty percent. I think it may be that only three can cross in September, and fifteen in March… maybe.”
“What year did the man in the journals come through?”
I poked at a potato with my knife. “1928.”
“Eat.” He ordered, pointing at my plate with his fork as he rose from his seat. He grinned at me as he set his napkin on the table. “I’d almost forgotten…” He hurried to a table near the door where, much to my surprise, an antique gramophone sat. It was old. The wear on its surface was indicative of at least a hundred years of time since its creation, meaning it’d had to have come back in time alongside him. I was pretty certain nothing like it would be invented for some time still, and with that kind of wear on its surface, it certainly didn’t belong in 1774.
He leaned to one side, glancing out the window before he laid a record on its surface, winding it for a while before he lowered the needle and a soft jazzy bass filled the room.
I hadn’t heard music in so long that I almost forgot I was his captive. As the piano joined the bass, the music sent a chill down my spine that forced my eyes closed.
“A gift from my wife.” He said, pulling me back to reality to find him still standing near the door watching me. “I never liked the sound of an 8-track, and she bought this for me on my twenty-fifth birthday to take with me on my boat.” He smiled. “Said it was so I could bring my music wherever I went.” He let out a long breath, closing his eyes as a single trumpet joined the mix of piano, drums, and bass to identify the player as Miles Davis. “It was almost like she knew just how far I would go… I hadn’t thought so then, but it is the best gift I could’ve ever received.”
“What was her name?” I asked, hoping with the addition of music, he might reveal some softer side of him that could place us on more even ground.
“Gloria.” His lip curled upward as he said the name.
“Is she why you’re so desperate to get home?”
His smile promptly disappeared, and he frowned at me, turning his head to one side. “No. She’s what? Almost seventy now? My reasons for going back have nothing to do with her.”
“Well, you obviously have strong reasons driving you, otherwise you wouldn’t need to go to such extremes to ensure you got there. What’s so important that you would threaten the lives of my babies, imprison my friends, and work so hard to intimidate me into telling you everything I know?”
He crossed the room and sat back down in his seat, observing me for a moment through narrowed eyes. “Money.”
“Money?” I echoed. “You’re putting us through all this for money? I’ve already told you, if you let us go, I can get you money. I can—
“I was a very rich man.” He said, stabbing into his steak and slicing another large chunk off. “I left behind an estate worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I had riches you could only dream of; yachts and mansions and airplanes and servants… and the women…” He smirked. “So many women to choose from that if I told you a number, you would think I was lying.” Again, he pointed at my plate with his knife. “Eat.”
He waited until I’d taken a bite to continue, leaning back in his chair as he chewed to one side. “I had respect. Everyone knew my name and lined up to dine at the table of Juan Josef.” He huffed. “Here, I have spent twenty long years wasting away on a ship full of filthy savages for a crew, being snubbed by society, and looked at like I am no one. I am not no one and I am sick and tired of being treated as such. I want the life that has been stolen from me. I want to return and be the man that I was.”
I sat up straighter, keeping one eye on Fetia where she was looking down on Zachary’s basket. “But if you went through now… it’s been forty years… No one would believe that you are you.”
“I would not need to be Juan Josef Sr., my dear.” He raised an eyebrow as he brought his wineglass to his lips. With his attention momentarily pulled from me to the wine, I discreetly slid my knife into the sleeve of my dress. “I have a son who bears my resemblance,” he continued. “He escorted you to your friend that day on Eimeo. I am forty-seven years old… The same age he should be if he were to return.”
His son… I tried to remember the two men that had led us to Chris. I’d been so caught up in searching for signs of him that I hadn’t taken a good look at them; hadn’t noticed the resemblance. “You wouldn’t take your son with you?”
“No.” He said simply. “He has lived his whole life here, and does not wish to return. I shall go without him. As Juan Josef Jr., I would be entitled to everything I once owned. I would return to my home in Columbia a proud man with the respect I deserve.”
I stared down at my dinner. Offering him any part of our settlement wouldn’t help me negotiate the release of my people, not when he already had a claim of his own. Our promise of money wouldn’t give me the leverage I desperately needed, so, feeling a bit more relaxed with the soft jazz in the background, I tried a different approach. “Look, there’s no evidence of anyone ever making it to the future. You would think, if someone had made it, they would travel back and forth through time. There would be some indication in these parts – stories or legends – to prove it was possible. We have been searching for a year for those very stories and have come up with nothing. What if we sail to that location, find the storm, and the people that go through find themselves even further back in time? What if it only goes backward? If you go through now, what would you have in the 16th century? There’d be no riches, no respect, no notoriety, and possibly no ship. You’d have to start all over again. If time moves as slowly there as it does here, you would be that much further removed from the people who know your name. That thought terrifies me enough that I don’t ever want to go back to that storm. Does it not frighten you?”
“That thought is why I am considering your offer.” He said cooly, extending his palm toward me. “Come. If you will not eat, dance with me.”
“No, no… I’m eating.” I hurried to plunge my fork into a potato, mortified at the idea of his hands on my body.
“That wasn’t a question.” He said, rising to his feet. “Come.”
I stared at his offered hand; the steak rising up to sit in my throat as I surrendered to take it. “I really shouldn’t… so soon after giving birth… My body is in no condition—
He jerked me to my feet, pulling with enough force that my body was driven to press against his. I saw the menace in his eyes as he observed my cleavage from such an angle, and I swallowed the bile that rose in the back of my mouth as a result. With the cool metal of the knife against my forearm, I wondered if I could stab him. Did I have it in me? Was the blade sharp enough? Would I be strong enough to drive it into his throat or would it simply graze him and agitate him further?
“Here is my offer.” He said, holding me in place against him. “I will allow your people to go ahead of me, but I must have confirmation that they have indeed made it. I cannot trust them to return for you, and so I shall send my son along with them.”
“But you said your son didn’t want to—
“My youngest son.”
He took my right hand in his left, winding his other arm around my back to lead us away from the table and sway to the gentle piano and trumpet.
“We shall follow along with your original strategy; keeping a distance from the vessel we send through to watch as they pass.” He spun me aggressively with the growing tempo. “I shall then return us all here to wait for their arrival in March.” He brought his face closer to mine; basking in the tremors that his nearness sent through me.
“You know that I am afraid.” I said, wincing as my burning abdomen protested with the movement. “Why continue to prove that you have power over me by making me uncomfortable? You know that I won’t fight you. You have all the power. What do you want from me?”
“You remind me of Gloria.” He bit his lower lip, rocking us slowly as the drums came in. “You have that same look about you. And this…” He squeezed my hand where it was locked in his. “This is not about power, my dear. This is about trust.”
“Trust?” I laughed haughtily. “I’m supposed to trust you after you’ve taken us all captive? After you continue to threaten my day-old children? After you’ve just sat there and commanded me to eat as if I were your dog?”
He pulled me closer. “This is not about you trusting me. It’s about my ability to trust you. You think I did not notice that your knife has gone missing?”
I stiffened, and he held me tighter still, grinning mischievously down at me as he continued the dance. “Where exactly did you intend to stab me? The chest?” Keeping his hand on my back to hold me in place, he released my hand so that he could run a thumb up the crease between my breasts. “The neck, perhaps?” He smoothed his calloused palm up the side of my throat, and I squeezed my eyes closed as his fingers gripped my hair and jerked my head backward. “Come on then, do it,” he hissed against my neck. “Pull the knife out and stab me with it. See if you can kill me.”
“No.” I breathed, trying to turn my head against his grip to see into the bedroom.
“You hid it for a reason. Go on and do it.” He let go and stood with his hands held out at his sides. “See if you can make it stick. Go on, stab me as hard as you can. I dare you.”
I shook my head. “I can’t. It was a mistake.”
The trumpet grew stronger, seemingly attempting to interrupt us, and his voice increased a decibel as a result. “Where is it now?”
“Here.” I hurriedly pulled the knife from my sleeve, letting it drop to the floor and clang against the bamboo. “I shouldn’t have done it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
His eyes darkened and he licked his lips. “And what will you do to regain my trust? Eh? After you have so evidently betrayed me, how will you prevent me from punishing you? From separating you from your children who, by the looks of things, are getting hungry?”
“Anything.” I looked toward the room to see Fetia pulling Cecelia against her shoulder. “I’ll do anything. I’m sorry. I won’t fight you. Whatever you want… please. It was a mistake.”
“Anything?” He stepped closer, his hot and heavy breath moving over my lips.
Disgusted, I swallowed. “Anything. Just please don’t take them from me.”
“So then it is safe for me to assume that you are not an unwilling female anymore?” He ran his finger over my lower lip and I recoiled.
Once again, I was trembling. “If…” I looked back toward the room where Cecelia was starting to fuss. Tears welled in my eyes as Fetia rocked her softly, but I blinked them away and stood straighter. “If that’s what it’ll take to keep them, then I won’t fight you.”
He leaned in closer, so close I could almost feel his lips on my own. “I shall remember that, then.” He whispered, stepping away from me to bow. “…for when you are in the condition.” Straightening, he smiled casually. “I gave you my word that you would be returned to your children when the need should arise. Go.”
I frowned, looking between the bedroom and him. I had so much more I’d meant to discuss. I needed to negotiate; needed to find out what he intended to do with the others. “The others… they—
“They are being served steak and potatoes on the ship as we speak. Go and tend to the babies, then we shall join them on the ship to work out the terms of their release.”