For the second day in a row Bertie awoke with the sunlight streaming in a bedroom window and he alone in an unfamiliar bed. Apparently Noreen had arisen sometime between dawn and midday (which it now was) without disturbing him. As he moved to sit up and get out of bed he noticed that every muscle in his body was sore enough to complain about his movements. After a few seconds he realized the cause of this condition: it had been years, perhaps over a decade, since he had engaged in such a strenuous and long-lasting bout of lovemaking.
Groaning a few times while gaining a sitting position, this realization set him to thinking about his predicament. In this world—this time, he corrected himself—Natalie apparently was long dead and cute little Rosie, he calculated, would now be in her sixties, at least twenty years older than he was instead of the other way around. He wondered what had happened back where or when he had come from. Was he now listed as a missing person?
Quickly finding that this kind of thinking hurt his brain, he decided to concentrate on more immediate and practical matters, such as finding his clothes. Looking around the room he noticed a number of garments that had been flung carelessly about, many of which appeared to be his. He reflected that he hadn’t left his clothes in such disarray since his long-ago childhood back in Ben Allyn when he’d had his own room, which his parents were constantly telling him to clean up or else.
Arising more or less painfully and stretching his arms and legs in attempts to get the kinks out, he walked about the room, finding various articles of his clothing and putting them on. The last item was his lucky brown corduroy jacket, which he found lying in a crumpled heap in a far corner of the room near the still-closed door. Picking it up, he went through its pockets finding, with a sigh of relief, his gold Rolex, and noticed that it was now after one-thirty presumably (since the sun was shining) in the afternoon.
Cautiously he walked to the door after donning his jacket and opened it. He was immediately assailed by a very pleasant odor indeed. If his nose did not deceive him, he could swear it was the smell of bacon and eggs frying and fresh brewed coffee steaming.
Emerging from the bedroom, he found his way to the kitchen where Noreen, in a cute frilly little apron, was busying herself at the stove, spatula in hand.
Apparently sensing his presence she turned around and said, “Ah, Bertie. ‘Bout time you got up. Breakfast, brunch, or whatever you want to call it, is just about ready. Sit down at the table,” she indicated this with her spatula, “and make yourself comfortable. Coffee?”
“Yes please,” he said, “black.”
“Coming right up,” she said, pouring him a cup from an old-fashioned Proctor-Silex coffee pot. This she placed on the table in front of him and, in spite of its temperature, he began gulping greedily.
After they had eaten a hearty meal of eggs, bacon, toast and coffee, Bertie figured it was time to get down to business. Whether he wanted to or not, he had come to a decision. “Noreen,” he began, “there’s something I have to tell you.”
She looked at him coyly and batted her eyes. “Oh?” she said. “What could that be?”
Bertie stammered a little but forged bravely ahead. “I don’t really know how to tell you this, but I’m not the person you probably think I am.”
“What?” she said in reply, still acting flirtatiously. “You mean, you’re not really from Canada?”
“Uh, yeah, that’s one thing.”
She dropped the pose. “Oh come off it, Bertie. I knew it all along. You don’t talk Canadian. You don’t act Canadian. You certainly don’t dress Canadian.” She pointed at this feet, which were still encased only in the expensive oxblood loafers without socks he had put on that Friday morning so many, many years ago.
Somewhat taken aback, he nonetheless continued grimly. “I’m not even from this time. I have to get back.”
That was all he could say before she immediately cut in surprisingly by saying, “Oh, a time traveler, eh? Well, I certainly haven’t seen any of those around lately.” Then, fixing him with a piercing stare she said, “Okay, Bertie. Cards on table. Where do you want to go back to, and where do you have to go in order to do so? I know all about these time portals or whatever you call them. My God, I practically grew up on Heinlein and Star Trek so I know all about these things.”
Now totally bewildered, he wondered if she was being serious or just for some cruel reason putting him on and would very soon excuse herself to call the local mental institution. He decided that it was time to throw all his chips in the pot. “I’m really the younger version of Gil Hall. I guess I’ve been sent here to learn how to become what he already is in this time. I’ll show you my old ID from 1994 if you don’t believe me.”
She waved this away dismissively but did not alter her frank stare. “Of course. Now that you mention it, there is quite a resemblance.” Then she added with a chuckle, “And I suppose you need me to take you wherever it is you have to go. Am I right?”
Now he felt totally relieved, his suspicions had all but vanished and he reached over and grabbed her hand earnestly. “Yes,” he admitted, “yes. I have to get back. Will you help me?”
Kissing the hands that were holding hers she replied, “Of course I will, don’t get your knickers in a twist. Let me tell you something about me. I live for this stuff. I told you that I was born in Bakersfield and kind of a tomboy growing up. I live for the outdoors. I live for adventure. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane when I’m in the classroom staring at thirty-odd blank and stupid faces that are staring back at me. I go mountain climbing, I go hiking, I go camping every chance I can get, and fortunately for you the spring term at my college ended last week and I’ve been wondering how to fill my three weeks vacation before the summer term begins. So,” she gave him a big grin and put her big hands on his shoulders, “what better adventure than to help a hapless time traveler get back home to family and friends?” She gave him a hearty but somehow loving shake. “Now,” she said, sounding conspiratorial, “where and when?”
“Well,” he said, “Gil—old Gil, that is, not me—informs me that I have to get back through the time portal which will be exactly where I went through it in the first place. It’s a weird little hotel in an equally weird little town in the mountains called Las Claritas. Ever hear of it?”
Amazingly, she quickly replied, “Why yes, I go there all the time. They’ve got a great Hard Rock Café there and the music and the dancing are really out of this world. So, when do you have to be there?”
“Well,” he said again more hesitantly, “this is kind of the hard part. The time portal is supposed to appear at the same time I went through it, which is somewhere between about three-thirty and four o’clock in the morning.”
She seemed to take this in stride. “Well, good. All the better for us. We won’t be bothered by a crowd of people at that time of the night. So here’s what we’ll do. We’ll go to the theater as usual. You can bone up on the triple feature and then, when the last film is over, we’ll go to my place and pick up the power van and various other supplies we may need along the way. I guarantee you I can get us there in a couple of hours, two and a half max. That should give us plenty of time to scout out the area and find out where’s the best place to wait for your time portal’s arrival.”
“Gosh, thank you so much,” was all Bertie could say, as Noreen stood up abruptly.
“Tell you what,” she said, taking his hand. “Why don’t you prove that in the bedroom?”