Welcome to my new serial, Time Enough. This is the second story in my time travel trilogy that began with But World Enough and Time. Robin, Dean, Elizabeth are home with their new baby, but Robin wants to see Elizabeth (who was born in the 17th Century) better adapted to life in the 21st Century before leaving her brother and his little family to find the time traveler Roger in his native time. But their old nemesis, Donald Long, is still following them around with an even nastier trick up his sleeve.
Sullenly, Robin Parker shifted her mouse, then clicked. Six of hearts on seven of clubs. She clicked again and the five of spades and four of hearts landed on the six, and the column cleared. She sighed. Nothing like being the queen of Free Cell.
Robin continued moving the mouse and clicking, aware that she had come into her office in Pasadena, California, for the usual weekly meeting only because she was one of the business’s owners. Aware also that it was entirely possible that she would not be one of the owners for much longer. And she couldn’t help wondering if it would make any difference whether or not she was one of the owners.
For the past year, it had seemed like she did damned little of the engineering she had spent six years gaining her bachelor’s and master’s degrees to learn. Most days, if she hadn’t been holding somebody’s hand, she was holding two other people apart. She and her partner had held the small company together through a tech sector meltdown a couple years before, and though business was picking up, she still wasn’t doing what she really wanted to be doing. That was assuming she still knew what she wanted.
Move, click. Queen of clubs on king of diamonds. Move, click. A whole column starting with the jack of hearts on top of the queen. Another click, and the cards went like magic into their cells and the game was won. Robin stared at the green field and debated starting another game.
She thought back to the small black box safely hidden in her house. It reminded Robin of an old wireless router she’d had. But all she had to do was hold it and think about where she wanted to go and it would take Robin not just to anywhere on the planet, but just about any time, as well.
A knock on the door to her office startled her back to her present.
“Still mousing it?” asked Steve Wasserman, Robin’s business partner, as he wandered in and grinned at her.
Steve was of average height, slender, with brown hair, perfectly styled, and clothes that were always perfect.
Robin smiled and clicked the mouse next to her laptop. “I like antiques. So what? Have you finally got Garson to stop whining?”
“You should really cut him a break.” Sighing, Steve plopped down in one of the two chairs in front of Robin’s desk. He was wearing a burgundy tie, starched rose-colored shirt and flat front pants of ultra-fine wool and a perfectly sharp crease. “You can’t blame him for getting peeved when every time he designs something, Petrie oversells it and he has to re-work it.” He looked at her with a wan smile. “Are you okay?”
“Like hell you are, kiddo. You haven’t been fine since you left Rick. You were supposed to be spending all of July in Europe, and you come in here not even halfway through the month, announcing that you’re not here.”
Robin shrugged. “I had some luggage to pick up.”
“Which also meant you weren’t in Europe like you were supposed to be. But were you here? No. You’ve been working from home since then and it’s almost Labor Day.”
“That’s, what? Two weeks from today.”
Steve shook his head. “That’s not the issue, Robin. I’m perfectly happy with you working from home. You were a mess at the meeting this morning. I thought you were going to haul off and strangle Garson.”
“He’s a crybaby.” Robin growled, then held up her hands. “I agree Petrie can’t keep overselling things and expecting the team to turn it around in five minutes. But she’s up against it, too, and when the team keeps coming through on their end, she’s going to keep relying on that.”
“We’ve talked that one to death, Robin. I’m going to take care of it with Petrie. This isn’t about her or Garson. It’s about you.” Steve leaned forward. “We’re best friends, Robin. And except for wanting to kill Garson, you’ve been fine on the business end of things. But I also know you’ve been damned frustrated with it and life and I don’t know what all else. I thought Europe was supposed to fix that.”
Robin laughed sadly. “I guess it did, in a way.” She thought fast. “I’m in transition, Steve.” Which was true enough. Only Robin had no idea what she was transitioning to. “Things got a little… weird in England. Made me think about a lot of things.”
“Well…” Robin briefly debated not telling Steve the planned story, but then realized it would be good practice for when she had to tell her mother. “You know I got stuck taking Dean to England with me. It’s kind of complicated, but he’d been involved last fall with this young woman, Elizabeth, who suddenly broke up with him. Well, around the time I was breaking up with Rick, I found out that the reason that Elizabeth broke up with Dean was that she was pregnant with his baby. So, I ended up helping get her settled and back with Dean.”
“So why didn’t you say anything about that?” Steve glared a little.
She hadn’t because that’s not what had really happened. Dean had found Elizabeth in a hidden room in an old castle they’d been touring. Elizabeth had been in a state of suspended animation – or what appeared to be, at any rate. It turned out that Roger, who was from the future, had brought Elizabeth forward in time for some purpose. While escaping him, Robin had acquired the hand-held time machine, and used it to bring her, Dean, and Elizabeth back to Elizabeth’s original time in seventeenth-century England. The intent was to get Elizabeth established some place other than her hometown, then leave.
Only it hadn’t happened that way. One of Roger’s colleagues, Donald Long, had tried to re-capture Elizabeth multiple times. Dean and Elizabeth had fallen in love and Elizabeth got pregnant. The machine had broken down, stranding them in eighteenth-century England for a time. They’d actually been gone for fifteen months, even though it had seemed like only two weeks to Steve and everyone else. Dean and Elizabeth were quite happy not to time travel anymore. Robin’s appetite had only been whetted.
Robin sighed. “Dean swore me to strictest secrecy because he wasn’t sure what he was going to do beyond supporting the kid. The thing was, Elizabeth really messed him up when she broke up with him because he was pretty serious about her. Anyway, Elizabeth sends us off to England because she’s not due until August, but then we get this call and she’s already had the baby. In fact, she had it right after we left, only she lost my cell phone number and didn’t get through until two days before that time I came in. So, for the past few weeks, they’ve been bonding, and I’ve been taking care of all three of them.”
“Gotcha.” Steve chuckled. “So that’s why you’ve been working from home. Why couldn’t you tell me?”
“That.” Robin reached over and tapped her screen to start a new game. She didn’t think Steve would believe that she and Dean had to bring Elizabeth up to date on almost four hundred years of human and technological development before the young woman met their mother. “I need to re-think things, Steve. I’m just not sure where I’m going right now.”
“Robin, you’re only twenty-nine. The biological clock can’t be ticking that loudly.”
Robin shot him an annoyed smirk. “It has nothing to do with that.” She paused. “It’s different. In some ways, I’ve already achieved all I set out to do. So now what? Playing babysitter to a bunch of techno-geek crybabies is not what I envisioned for my life.”
Again, it was a more truthful answer than Robin had planned.
Steve threw up his arms. “You want to know what your problem is?”
“Not really, but when has that stopped you?” Robin glared at him fondly.
“You want the fairy tale, the perfect relationship, the perfect career, the two-perfect kids. But you’re not perfect, Robin. And life isn’t perfect. Okay, I was probably wrong about hanging in there with Rick.”
“Probably?” Robin snorted. “Yeah, he liked Internet porn, but even without that, if he could have made love to his computer, he would have. He only needed me because I’m warmer than a plastic blow-up doll.”
“But it’s not about having a soul mate.”
“Says the guy who found his.”
Steve grinned happily. “Yeah, Rob is a great guy. But we still have to work at it. You’ve gotta be real and let somebody see it. You don’t do that well, Robin. Especially with guys. Well, straight guys. Your biggest loves are always the guys who are unavailable.”
Robin grimaced. “Yeah, I noticed that recently. Dean dumped some fear of intimacy crap on me.”
Steve leaned over and plopped his forearms on the desk. “You know, Robin, maybe you need to just take some time and get comfortable in your own skin.”
“Time.” Robin smiled softly to herself. “That’s exactly what I want.”
Or more accurately, time travel. Robin still wasn’t sure about why that held such an allure for her, but she knew she would be time traveling again soon. She just wasn’t sure when she’d leave her time for that of Roger.
Roger had told her things would be bad when she got there. He also told her that he would see her when she arrived. But he also told her not to leave before she got Dean and Elizabeth settled and assured her they’d be safe from Donald while they were in Pasadena. So, Robin stayed on, pushing Elizabeth as hard as she dared to get the young woman adjusted to her new world, which was both a lot easier and a lot harder than Robin expected.
“Anyway,” she said. “I’ve got to get things together.” She yawned. “Dean and Elizabeth have been staying at my place while Dean looks for a job and gets his school stuff together, which means there’s a new baby in the house, and we haven’t been sleeping too well.” She shook her head quickly. “So, what do we need to get on top of for the rest of this week?”
Robin pushed aside her laptop and got out a notepad. For the next two hours, she and Steve worked out plans and goals, which they’d been doing every week. Robin left the office shortly after noon and walked home feeling relieved and wistful and annoyed, all at the same time.
She took a deep breath as she walked up to the bungalow she was slowly restoring. She’d always felt a deep affection for the tiny place, an affection that had only grown as she’d worked on it. The house had been built in the early Twentieth Century for a working class-family. Too tiny for a family these days, it seemed perfect for a single woman who had achieved most of her life dreams but hadn’t found herself yet.
Robin dropped her keys on the phone table next to the front door. The small living room was spare with polished dark wood floors and mission-style furniture finished in a rosewood stain and tan leather cushions. On one of the side walls was a fireplace and Robin had installed a flat screen TV covered by a cabinet over the fireplace mantle. The back wall of the room was bisected by the door to the dining room, with the couch on one side and bookshelves covering the entire wall on the other.
Dean had texted that he and Elizabeth were out taking baby Robin Mary to the doctor for a check-up. It was both Elizabeth’s and the baby’s first time, and the baby was coming due for some vaccinations. Robin hoped the visit would go well. They’d been putting it off as long as they could.
Robin had taken advantage of the little family’s absence to take a detour to her favorite sandwich place. She dumped her laptop bag on the couch, then opened the paper bag she was carrying. The tantalizing scent of pastrami wafted out. Pastrami was one of the better parts of the Twenty-First Century. Robin carried her lunch into the kitchen to get a plate and some milk.
Robin’s living room flowed into her dining room, which had only been finished a couple months before, with the same dark hardwood floors and spare mission furniture. Elizabeth had initially confused the dining room table with a worktable, so Robin had taken to keeping a tablecloth on to remind her not to cut things on its surface. A small nook off the main room opened out onto Robin’s side yard, and Robin had squeezed in a worktable and filing cabinet for a small home office.
The kitchen door, at the back end of the dining room, remained shut most of the time because Robin hadn’t started re-doing that room yet. It was a long room that reached to the back of the house. A small refrigerator occupied a niche that had been cut out next to the door from the dining room by an earlier occupant. A counter ran the length of the room, with a scratched-up porcelain sink in the middle. The top was beat-up formica framed by aluminum stripping, and the white cupboards were beat up and badly needed stripping of the many, many layers of paint that had built up over the years.
Nonetheless, the stove was almost new – or had been when Robin bought the house. It was backed up against the refrigerator niche. A small table sat nearby, almost in the way of a tiny corner cupboard that was open to the space under the house. Elizabeth had filled the shelves with bread, cheeses, cabbages, carrots, and potatoes. It had taken a couple weeks before she regularly remembered to use the refrigerator for any meats they’d bought. In fact, she was still getting used to the idea of having so much meat easily available. On Sundays, dinner would feature three or four different roasted meats and nothing else.
Robin dropped her bag on the table and got a plate from the cupboard and a glass. Neither she nor Dean had been able to teach Elizabeth much about modern cooking since neither of them cooked. Elizabeth had initially scoffed at the cookbooks they’d bought. After all, she knew perfectly well how to cook, and had taken over that task completely. But she had liked the glossy pictures of all the various dishes and was slowly becoming more interested in the recipes.
With her lunch dished out, Robin returned to the dining room, grabbed a reading tablet off her desk, then settled in to eat her lunch, reveling in the peace and quiet.
It didn’t last long. Dean and Elizabeth arrived home, both glaring and sullen, and baby Robbie was crying.
“What happened?” Robin asked, reaching to take the baby from Elizabeth.
Elizabeth tightened, then surrendered the infant. If Elizabeth was upset or frightened, it upset Robbie. They’d found that Robin had a knack for soothing the infant, and the only time that didn’t work was when the baby was hungry. And soothing Robbie went a long way toward calming Elizabeth down.
But as Robbie slowly stopped wailing, Robin could see that Elizabeth would not calm down any too quickly.
Tall and blonde, Dean constantly reminded Robin of the perennial surfer dude. He had broad shoulders and an easy-going demeanor that was yet another reason Robin tended to be jealous of her brother.
Robin looked over at Elizabeth. The young woman was on the short side, and while not fat, she was significantly rounder than current fashion decreed was good. She had reddish-brown hair, pinned up and tucked under a kerchief instead of a mob cap. In fact, Elizabeth was wearing considerably more clothes than fashion and the hot Southern California weather decreed she should, namely a long, flower-print skirt, tights, shoes, and a long-sleeved blouse with a matching jacket over it. Elizabeth hadn’t quite gotten used to letting her shins show under her skirt.
“What’s going on?” Robin asked.
Dean looked over at Elizabeth, whose lips were pressed into a thin, tight line. His shoulders sagged.
“Didn’t Robbie get her vaccinations?” Robin asked.
Elizabeth snorted. “They pricked her heel!”
“We told you they’d want to test her blood,” Robin said, wincing because she’d forgotten to tell Elizabeth how the nurse would probably get that blood.
“Roger didn’t need to do that,” Elizabeth said.
“And we also told you that Roger comes from even further in the future, and they’ve discovered things we haven’t yet,” Robin said, looking over at Dean.
Robin suspected Dean had already told Elizabeth all these things, which meant that they were not the source of Elizabeth’s unhappiness. Fortunately, the baby had fallen asleep.
“Looks like the baby’s ready for her nap,” Dean said suddenly. “Um, Robin, you want to help me put her down?”
“I—” Elizabeth started, but then stopped when she saw Dean’s face. She flounced into the kitchen.
Robin followed Dean into the small bedroom at the back of the house. It was packed full with a bed and small crib and a bureau. The carpet on the floor was old, gray, and spotted and the window blinds on the two windows were down, but several of the slats were broken. Robin had used the room for storage until Dean and Elizabeth had moved in.
“So, what happened?” Robin asked Dean as she got a fresh diaper from the pile on the bureau.
“It was the insurance,” Dean said.
“I told you to put it on the debit card,” Robin said. She laid down the changing mat on the bed and began changing the baby’s diaper.
“I know. I did.” Dean sagged down on the bed next to the baby. “It’s just that they asked whether my wife was on my insurance or just the baby.”
“And Elizabeth’s not your wife yet.”
“It’s that stupid promise I made to her when we first landed in the Eighteenth Century,” Dean sighed. “We’re home now, so she figures I should make good on it.”
“Well, you did say you would as soon as we got back home. And it’s been almost six weeks now.”
“You’re the one who told us not to,” Dean groaned.
“I told you two to wait until Elizabeth had recovered from having the baby,” Robin said.
Dean sighed again. “I know.” He put his head in his hands. “The worst of it is, she won’t fight with me.” He looked up at Robin. “You ever hear of family of origin issues? Elizabeth’s got period of origin issues. All that training to be a virtuous, obedient wife. She just does whatever I tell her to, then sulks when she’s mad at me.”
Robin finished snapping up the baby’s onesie and re-wrapped the receiving blanket around her.
“Alright,” she said. “I’ll talk to her about that. But it’s hard training to overcome and there are plenty of women these days who pull the same nonsense. At least Elizabeth has an excuse.”
“Yeah, but that’s not much help right now,” Dean said.
Robin laid the baby in the crib. “You know, Elizabeth has a point. You did promise, and if you’re not going to follow through, you’d better have a really good reason.”
“I’m not going to abandon her!”
“No, you won’t.” Robin sighed as she sat down next to her brother. “But it would have been bad enough for you to abandon her back in her own time. And I know she was scared you would because she told me so. You’ve got to figure it’s even worse now, what with all this new magic and different expectations.”
“She doesn’t have anything to worry about. And I’ve told her that over and over.”
“I know, and she believes you. But being married would help, especially since she hasn’t figured out how easy divorce is now.”
“It’s not that easy,” Dean grumbled. “Ralphie’s was a mess, and they weren’t married long enough to have anything in common to split.”
Ralphie was their cousin. He and Dean were particularly close, even though Ralphie was closer to Robin in age. Ralphie’s wedding had been completely over the top, which only underscored the ugly divorce eight months later.
“In Elizabeth’s time, divorce was almost non-existent and involved the Pope,” Robin said. “So, yeah. I think she’ll feel a lot more secure if you two were married.”
“Great.” Dean sounded almost as if he was going to burst into tears.
“What’s wrong, Dean?” Robin asked gently. “Don’t you want to marry Elizabeth?”
“Yeah, I do.” Dean popped up and began pacing. “It’s not that.”
Robin could see that it really wasn’t. “Then what is it?”
“It’s… Well…” Dean sighed deeply and sank back down onto the bed. “It’s when I called Dad last month after we got back here.”
Their father lived in Northern California and had since he and their mother divorced when Robin was thirteen. The split had been amicable, as the relationship had mostly just faded away. Her parents had remained friends with each other, and Dean and Robin were close to their father.
“Was Dad mad?” Robin asked.
Dean winced. “Sort of. Mostly worried, I think.”
“Well, you can hardly blame him.”
“I get that. He just…” Dean closed his eyes and shivered. “I told him that Elizabeth and I were probably just going to go to Las Vegas, keep it small and fast and private.”
“I think the county courthouse would be better,” Robin said.
“That’s not it,” Dean growled. “Dad just said that he didn’t think that was such a good idea. I mean, he wasn’t wild about the getting married part, but he wasn’t saying I shouldn’t. He just didn’t think we should run off without… without inviting Mom, at least.”
Robin nodded. “And you’re scared to death of telling her.”
Dean squeezed his eyes shut. “Wouldn’t you be?”
“Well, yeah. But I’m not her fair-haired treasure. You are.”
“Not so much at the moment.” Dean sighed. “She’s been mad at me since I told her I wasn’t going to be a medical doctor.”
“What? That’s been years.”
“Yeah.” Dean sighed again. “But last winter I told her I’m not so sure I’m going to get the PhD. I don’t technically need it to do what I want to do. Unless I go in hard for the research. Which I might. And I didn’t say I wasn’t going to do it. But she hit the ceiling. Said I was wasting my talent, and that I was being completely immature and that I’d be leaning on her and you for the rest of my life.”
“And then she talked us both into going to Europe together.” Robin rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Didn’t she get that was kind of setting you up for dependence?”
“I think that’s what she wants,” Dean grumbled. “That internship I had last year? I thought I was going to be able to move out, then she said that if I had that much money, I could pay for my school fees and books, too. Which killed moving out.”
Robin thought it over. She’d had her own fights with their mother over how independent she was going to be. She sighed.
“Look, Dean, I can’t rescue you on this one. With Elizabeth and with Mom. I mean, I can talk to Elizabeth about being more upfront about it when she’s mad. But you have to fix the mad part.”
“I don’t want you to fix it,” Dean snapped. “I can’t spend the rest of my life letting you take care of me. I’ve got a kid, damn it. It’s time I stepped up.” He sank into himself. “I just didn’t think it would be so hard.”
“Dare I ask how the job interviews are going?”
He shrugged. “Not so bad. It’s just that I don’t think I’m going to be leaving here any too soon.” He looked at her. “You don’t mind, do you? I don’t want to go back to Mom’s. I’m scared enough she’s going to stop paying my school fees as it is.”
“I…” Robin groaned. “Look, I don’t want to keep you dependent. Believe me, I don’t. But I can take care of your tuition and anything you can’t. Okay? And you can stay here, too. We just need an exit plan. Is that fair?”
Utterly relieved, Dean threw his arms around Robin. “Woh. That’s the best!”
Robin gingerly hugged him back. “It will be alright, Dean. But I need a good faith exit plan, in writing, by the end of the week. And you need to call Mom and get things settled with Elizabeth. Okay?”
“More than okay. I’ll have it. Honest.”
Robin got up. She wasn’t terribly sure she should be backing her brother by supporting him financially. But he had been acting a lot more responsibly of late. And it wasn’t fair to throw him, Elizabeth, and the baby to the wolves, or worse yet, their mother, until Dean had officially abused the privilege.
But thinking of their mother made Robin cringe inwardly. Marlene Westmore was a formidable woman. She’d had to have been to not only establish her career as a cardiology surgeon, but head up one of the larger and more prestigious practices in Orange County. She’d always told her two children that they should do what they wanted to do with their lives. But there was no escaping that she’d harbored dreams of them following in her footsteps in the medical field. She’d accepted Robin’s decision to become an engineer, as that meant another woman in a largely male field.
Dean was another matter altogether. Robin could well imagine that their mother was hurt by Dean’s decision not to pursue his doctorate. He’d always been her favorite, and as Robin thought about it, Dean’s ability to just amiably go along with things may have been his way of getting along with his mother.
Still, that was now his problem, and as Robin made her way to the kitchen to talk to Elizabeth, she was a little surprised to see Dean pulling out his iPhone. Seconds later, she could hear Dean talking to their mother.