Alexis, Toria, Dave, and Will headed out together along a trail at mid-morning. Alexis stopped frequently to take pictures of plants along the way and Dave watched her. Before long, Will and Toria were well ahead of them.
"You don't need to hang back with me, Dave," said Alexis. "Toria will find a spot and wait for me. She's used to me."
"Do you mind me watching you?" Dave asked.
"Not at all." Alexis smiled up at him from her where she knelt getting a closeup of a wildflower. "I just didn't want you too feel you had to stay behind with me."
"I like being with you."
"Yes, I do. You sound surprised."
"I couldn't help but notice that you didn't like me much yesterday when we first met."
"I owe you an apology. I thought I knew your type."
"Yes. I am guilty of pre-judging you on your looks."
"I'm not doing very good with this, am I?" Dave gave a short nervous laugh. "It's just that most women I've known who wear sexy clothes and make themselves all up are out to get their hooks into a guy. And if they are really pretty, like you, they expect every guy to fall at their feet."
"I'm making you uncomfortable now, aren't I?"
"No. It's okay, but we probably should catch up with Toria and Will."
Alexis was uncomfortable although she wouldn't admit it to Dave. He couldn't know why she wore the makeup and clothes as she did. She wondered if her face was red, thinking about the low neckline on her tank top. Maybe the makeup would hide it if she were. Except for the clothes she wore to work, everything she owned had a low neckline. Alexis tried to rush off. Dave grabbed her hand. She stopped, but she didn't look at him.
"I'm sorry. Again. Although I'm not really sure what I did. Are you angry with me?"
"No!" Alexis looked at him. "I was thinking about something."
"Want to talk about it?"
"Not really. Oh look! There's a pink lady's slipper!"
"And you have to get it's picture, right?" Dave laughed and went along with the change of subject, but wondered what had been bothering her.
Alexis smiled at him. "You betcha!"
Toria and Will were far ahead on the trail, around a bend and out of site of the other couple.
"This is about where I usually stop and wait for Alex to catch up to me," said Toria. "That fallen tree makes a pretty good bench."
"The way the grass is worn in front of it I have a feeling it gets used that way quite a bit," said Will.
Toria sat down and threw her head back to look up at the sky.
"You always did like to watch the clouds, Victoria."
A startled Toria looked at Will. "What did you say?"
Will looked rather shocked himself. "I don't know why I said that. It just felt right. I guess you just looked like it was something you enjoy."
"It's OK, Will. You are right. My grandmother and I used to cloud watch together. I guess I inherited my fondness for cloud gazing from her."
Will sat beside her and looked up at the sky. "There's not a lot of clouds this morning."
"True. Just a few wisps. There were some pretty ones last night at sunset, though."
"Alex's pictures will be beautiful."
"I'm sure they will.Toria ... "
"I was just wondering when I could see you again. Will you be back here soon?"
"In about a month. Alexis and I have rented a cottage together for a week."
"I see. Would it be okay if I went down to Waterloo to visit you?"
Toria was silent. Her normally cautious self was battling the part of her that wanted to give a resounding yes to his question.
"Maybe I should have asked sooner. Is there a jealous boyfriend waiting for you there?"
Toria laughed. "No, not at all."
"What about you?"
"Is there a jealous girlfriend back in Toronto?"
"Nope. But, seriously, if you think I'm being too pushy to want to visit you, maybe we can keep in touch still and see each other when you return to the lake."
"I don't think you were being pushy, but we did just meet yesterday. I would like to keep in touch. Do you have email?"
"Sure. I'll write it down for you when I get back to the car. Toria, I hear Dave and Alexis, so they should be coming around that bend any moment. Before they do, may I kiss you?"
Toria smiled turned toward him. "I'd like that."
It wasn't a long kiss or a deep kiss, but Toria thought it was the sweetest kiss she had ever known.
"Hello, you two!" Toria heard Alexis mere seconds after Will had drawn away, before she had even opened her eyes. She quickly stood up.
"Hello! Did you get some good pictures?"
"I think so, but won't really know till I get back to my computer."
"Dave and I were discussing lunch plans," said Alexis. "Unless you two had something else in mind, we thought we'd drop by the grocery store and gets some stuff from the deli ... cold cuts, salads, that type of thing ... and have a picnic. Maybe down near the boat launch. It's not as busy as the beach."
"We could go to my cottage," suggested Will. There was a bit of an awkward silence and Will realized that Alexis and Toria would prefer a public place. He tried to correct his error. "I think I know where you mean, Alexis. That's a pretty spot."
"It is," agreed Toria. "Alex likes to take bird pictures there."
"You really give that camera a work out, don't you?" said Dave.
"I know. I get carried away and it takes days to sort through and edit the pictures, but I love it!" said Alexis.
"Just remember you promised to send me some," said Dave.
"Oh?" asked Toria.
"Yes," said Alexis. "Dave gave me his email and I'll send him some pictures. Would you like me to send you some, Will?"
"I would," he replied. "If you don't mind."
"OK. I've a pencil and paper in my camera bag. Here. I'll let you write it down for me."
"I guess we better work our way back to the parking lot," suggested Toria. "Will we all go to the store or Alexis and I can get the groceries and meet you guys at the lake?"
"It's Alexis' spot so how about she drives Dave there while you and I go shopping?" Will asked Toria. "That ok with you two?" He looked at Alexis and Dave.
"Fine by me," said Dave.
"Me too," said Alexis. "Toria?"
"Sounds like a plan, then," agreed Toria. "Any special requests?"
"Nothing I can think of," said Alexis.
"I'm not fussy," said Dave. "It's too bad you two have to leave so early."
"You do?" asked Will looking at Toria.
Toria nodded. "By three at the latest. We promised my mom we'd make Sunday dinner."
"I see," said Will.
"We'll be back in a month," said Alexis. "Dave said he thought you two could visit then too."
"I'm sure we will," said Will.
"Good," said Toria.
"How does the week rental work? Monday through Sunday?" asked Will.
"We can take possession any time after 2 pm on Saturday afternoon and have to be out by 11 am the next Saturday," explained Toria.
"So that's part of two weekends, then?"
"Yep," replied Alexis.
"Good," said both men.
In the bakery department of the small grocery store, Toria was picking up a few buns when she spotted angel food cake. She picked one up and turned to Will.
"We have to get an angel food cake! I know it's your favourite!" she said to Will.
Will stared at her. "How did you know that?"
Toria frowned. "I don't know how. I just did. Strange. Like when you knew I liked cloud gazing."
"Yes. I suppose it is."
"Maybe we're soulmates," suggested Toria with a weak smile.
"You like angel food cake too?"
"Well, I don't dislike it."
"But not a favourite."
"Right. So much for that theory."
"No, I think we are soulmates still. I do know there's something extraordinary about you."
Toria smiled at that. She wanted to kiss him again.
"I don't think you should look at me like that in a grocery store," Will told her with a smile.
Toria shook her head. "Right. I think we better get some cold cuts."
"OK." Will was still smiling broadly as he followed her to the deli section.
At just about that same time, Alexis pulled into the parking area near the boat launch. Alexis quickly got out of the car.
Dave got out too. "Something I said?" he asked.
"No! Of course not," replied Alexis, truthfully.
Dave looked at her and lifted an eyebrow.
"I'm just concerned about Toria," she said half-truthfully. She would feel better with Toria here, but for her own sake.
"Will won't hurt her."
"Of course not."
"Are you afraid of me?"
"Of course not."
"That's a lot of 'of course nots', Alexis."
"Why would I be afraid of you?"
"I don't know why a woman of the world as you appear to be would be afraid to be alone with me."
Ha! thought Alexis. IF she was such a woman, maybe she wouldn't be afraid ... not of him ... but of the way she felt.
"Of course I'm not afraid to be alone with you." She hoped that sounded more convincing to him than it did to her.
She opened the trunk of her car and peered inside. "There's some folding chairs and the beach blanket in here. And a picnic basket and the cooler."
"Alexis." Dave put a hand on each shoulder and gently turned her to face him. "Be honest with me."
"I'm not afraid of you, Dave."
"I don't know."
"But you don't deny you are afraid."
"It's not fear. It's just ..."
"I don't know. OK. I feel ... "
"Attracted to me?" Dave filled in for her. Alexis nodded. "I would think you've been attracted to many men."
"There's a difference between appreciation and attraction."
"Alexis, you are a beautiful bundle of surprises."
"I am?" Alex looked up into Dave's eyes.
Dave started to bend his head down toward Alexis' when the spell between them was broken by the sound of a car pulling into the gravel lot. Dave felt like groaning at Will's bad timing.
"Yes, Alex, you are," he whispered softly.
What a day! thought Alexis as she stacked books on the cart to be returned to the shelves. Budget meetings were never fun. And then there was that strange phone call from Toria. Toria wanted Alexis to go straight to her apartment after work. After more than two weeks, it seems Toria had figured out why Will's name was so familiar, but wouldn't tell Alexis over the phone. Alexis hoped she didn't get home too late for what had become her nightly chat with Dave. Less than two weeks left till she saw him again. She smiled.
Alexis turned around at the sound of his voice, then wished she hadn't.
"Dave!" It was a half-whispered croak.
"I would have told you last night, but I wasn't sure till this morning that I'd be coming here today on business. Can you go out for lunch?"
"What?" She hadn't wanted him to see her like this ... her hair in a single braid, almost no make up, a knee-length conservative black skirt with a black and white print blouse buttoned all the way up to the neat little peter pan collar. She could hear her mother's voice ringing in her ears. "No man's ever going to look at you with that round baby-face of yours unless you put some make up on. Show off some cleavage. It's your best feature and shows you aren't a little girl." She followed her mother's advice except here at the Library where she worked in the children's section. Most people thought she toned things down for her job. Only Toria knew the librarian Alexis was closer to the true Alexis than the party girl Alexis.
"I was hoping you could come have a bit of lunch with me," said Dave.
"I don't understand, Alexis. Like what?"
Alexis swept her right hand down the length of her pointing to her attire. "This!"
"There's something wrong with what you are wearing?"
"I don't understand. You look sweet. But if you don't want to go, that's OK."
"You think I look sweet?"
"Yes. Is there something wrong with that?"
"No! I never thought ..."
Dave leaned closer to her ear. "At the beach, you were sexy and gorgeous. Now you are sweet and beautiful. Either way, you are irresistible."
Alexis gaped at him, unable to speak. Dave just looked at her.
"I'd love to have lunch with you, Dave," Alexis finally managed to say.
Alexis arrived at Toria's house about the same time Toria did. "I stopped for Chinese take-out," Toria explained, as her work day ended earlier than Alexis'.
"Sounds good," said Alexis as they both entered the house. "Toria ..."
"Yes?" asked Toria.
"I had lunch with Dave today," said Alexis.
"Yes. You know. Will's friend? From the lake?"
"That Dave! He was here?"
"Yes. He came here on business, he said, and dropped by the Library."
"How did that go?" asked Toria, concerned. She knew how insecure Alexis could be without her heavy make up and being dressed up.
Alexis smiled at Toria. "It was really nice. I think he might really like me."
Toria hugged Alexis. "Of course he does! You are very likable!"
"You're my friend," said Alexis. "You have to say that."
"No, I don't. Alexis, have you ever known me to tell a lie?"
"That's true. Did you get some orange chicken?"
"I did. Grab some plates while I get the silverware."
"Remember the time we tried chopsticks?" laughed Alexis.
"I sure do! Which is why I'm getting out the forks."
As they sat eating, Alexis said, "I've told you my big news of the day. Now what was it that you wanted me here for?"
"Remember when we met Dave and Will I said Will's name was familiar to me?" asked Toria.
"Well ... you will find this difficult to believe ..."
"My grandmother mentioned him to me."
"One time at the beach, I think I was around 10 or 11, she told me someday I'd meet my William Neville."
"Wow! That's spooky. Wonder why she said that."
"I don't know. She was staring out at the lake as she often did. I can't say I really cared at the time, but somehow it stuck in my mind."
"But what does it mean?"
"I don't know ... yet. But when Grandma was dying she told me that when I met my William I was to ask my mother for the old box. That's what she called it. The old box. I never really gave it much thought."
"Right. That day at the beach, I experienced so many strange feelings. There was a battle playing out in my mind. One side said Will was a complete stranger while the other said that in my heart I knew he was my soulmate."
"Interesting. Dave and I talked about how each of you were acting so unlike yourselves. So did you ask your mom about the 'old box?'"
"I phoned her from work. She was awfully quiet at first, but said she'd have it ready for me to pick up after work. I went there for it before I picked up the Chinese. It's still in my car."
"You want me here while you open it?"
"If you don't mind? Alexis, I know it's weird but I'm almost afraid to look in that box."
"I think, if it were me, I would be too. Why don't we check our fortunes then get that box?"
"Alright. You first."
"OK. I hope mine doesn't say I'll meet a tall, dark stranger, because I am quite content with the one I've already met."
"You really like Dave, huh?"
"More than anyone I've ever met, Toria. I don't think he liked me at first. I don't really know why except he thought he knew 'my type,' whatever that means, and now I think he sees me as an individual person."
"Then he's a smart man," said Toria with a smile. "Now, what is your fortune."
"It says, 'Be yourself.'"
"How suitable! Mine says, 'The time is here.' How strange."
Toria had placed the wooden box on the coffeetable before sitting on the couch. It wasn't a very big box, only about the size of a pound box of chocolates. She stared at it.
"Want me to open it, Toria?" offered Alexis.
Toria took a deep breath. "Thanks Alex, but I can do this." She raised the lid. On top was an envelope addressed with 'Toria.' Although it had been several years, she recognized her grandmother's writing. She lifted it out and saw an envelope addressed to 'Vicky.' It seemed older than the one addressed to her. There appeared to be a diary or journal under it.
"This top letter is from my grandmother," she told Alexis. She opened the envelope and took out the pages inside.
Alexis watched as Toria silently read the letter. Toria looked pale but her eyes moved over the pages. When she was finished, Toria dropped the letter into her lap and sat quietly.
"Toria? Are you alright?" asked Alexis.
"I'm fine. Really. It's so unbelievable, but I do believe it. I feel it."
"The other letter is from my great-great-grandmother to my grandmother. We are all Victorias but my grandmother went by Vicky and her grandmother by the full Victoria. The journal also belonged to Victoria. The story starts with her at the beginning of the twentieth century. Grandma tells the story here in her letter, but thought I should have the journal and letter from Victoria, too."
"What story is that?"
"It sounds so crazy."
"Do you want to tell me?"
"Victoria St. John's father was a wealthy banker and politician. William Neville worked as a stableboy for her father. Victoria worshipped him from the time she was quite young as he was eight years her senior. As she got older, the two fell in love. She was 16 when he quit working for her father to work in a factory, thinking to save enough to buy a home. But her father found out and had him arrested, claiming William had stolen from him. He told William he would drop the charges if he left town and never contacted Victoria. Either way, he would be out of Victoria's life, so he left hoping to somehow come back for Victoria or for her to come to him. But, Victoria's father never gave them a chance. He arranged a marriage for her with an older, wealthy patron of his bank."
"Victoria agreed to that?"
"No ... "
"What happened, Toria?"
"Her father whipped her and locked her in her room. She was given only water until she agreed to the marriage."
"How does that relate to you and Will?"
"It doesn't. Well, not directly. Victoria was a very unhappy woman, but many years later, after she was widowed, she met a gypsy fortune teller who gave her a sort of hope. The gypsy sensed her misery and told her that she had met her true soulmate and that they would have their chance again; that part of her would live through her daughter's daughter and through her granddaughter's granddaughter and so on until the time was right, just as part of William would through his son's son and grandson's grandson. Victoria told her daughter, who was by then married and had given birth to my grandmother, what the gypsy said, but her daughter felt it was a betrayal of her father that her mother loved another man and turned against her mother. Victoria entrusted her journal and the letter for her granddaughter, Vicky, with a lawyer to give to her on her twenty-first birthday. Unfortunately, it came too late to Vicky. She met William's grandson, Bill, the summer she was seventeen. She spent the summer at the lake with the family of her closest friend and that's where they met. When she went home at the end of summer, with many promises between her and Bill, she told her mother about falling in love at the beach with Bill Neville. Her mother recognized the name immediately, knew of the gypsy's words to her mother, and decided to put an end to things. Vicky's father owned a business with branches out west so they moved. She never heard from Bill and married my grandfather when she was 20. When she received the letter and journal, she confronted her mother and found out that Bill had written her but her mother had taken the letters. Unlike Victoria, Vicky did marry of her own free will and wasn't unhappy, but always felt like there was something missing. She was unsure how to tell me, but felt sure that I was fated to meet William's great-great-grandson. That's why she had us move back here when I was a child and took me to the beach. My mother was a more understanding woman than Grandma's mother had been, but Vicky was reluctant to tell her the whole story. Instead she left the journal and letters in my mother's care. Mom said Grandma asked that she not look into the box and she had honoured that request. She thought of giving it to me on my twenty-first birthday, but Grandma had told her to give it to me when I asked, so she waited. For some reason it took me longer to meet my William than it did Victoria and Vicky. So, that's the story."
"You believe you are the reincarnation of your grandmother and great-great-grandmother? And Will is the reincarnation of that William?" asked a shocked Alexis.
"No. I don't think it means that," replied Toria.
"That a part of them has been passed down but we are still each individuals; that that part is the soulmate of a similar part in the descendants of William."
"I know it sounds strange, but it makes sense."
"Will and I thought we knew each other as soon as we saw each other."
"When we were trying to think where we met we asked each other about being in plays. He had images of me as Victoria and Vicky by the clothes he described. I had pictures in my mind that must have been William and Bill."
"Yes. And he knew I loved to watch the clouds. I knew his favourite cake is angel food. We both were first brought to that beach by our grandparents. I bet his grandfather was Grandma's Bill."
"I guess there's some sort of logic to that."
"This time we can make it right. There's no one to stop us."
"Toria, do you think you might be reading too much into this?"
"What do you mean?"
"You hardly know Will at all. Are you going to believe he's your soulmate based on these letters?"
"No. I already realized there was something very special about him. The letters just confirmed it."
"Are you going to tell Will about this?"
"How? By email? Phone?"
"No. This has to be in person. When we go back to the lake."
"What if he thinks you are crazy?"
"Then he's not the right man for me afterall."
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