What Goes Around is a continuing exploration into the mystery of romance and reincarnation.
A Veteran’s Administration Hospital volunteer experiences ethereal visions that are haunting, yet familiar. This historic romance transcends time from WWII to modern day Chicago. In 1942, a Royal Air Force Pilot crashes into the fields of northern France. What Goes Around is a novel of war and a race for survival through enemy lines. It is also a journey through time, harrowing adventures, and heart-warming romance.
Grace Rousseau pulled her muddy red Mustang into the parking space marked ‘Volunteer’ and pushed the gearshift into park. An awful day. The sky couldn’t decide whether to cry rain or spit snow. She turned off the engine and frowned at slush sluicing down the windshield churning distant shapes across the parking lot into wavering gray shadows. She felt around under the seat for an umbrella and then decided to dodge raindrops. Tucking a drawing portfolio into her parka, Grace scrambled out of the car and slammed the door. She splashed through icy puddles toward the hospital main entrance, blonde ponytail dancing side to side. Beyond the revolving door, warm air carried the pine scent of a large Douglas fir.
“I can’t find the damned star.” Melanie Benson bent over a cardboard carton of decorations, generous behind in the air. “It was in this box last year, right in this box.” Her red skirt rode up showing wrinkled thighs; nylon support hose rolled above her knees. “Some fool ate the damned star. I just know it.”
“I don’t think anybody ate it, Melanie.”
“The hell they didn’t. It’s made out of gingerbread.” Melanie stood erect and peered into the box. Hands on hips, white hair sprouted from the tight bun on top of her head. “That glitter will make some poor fella think he’s sick as a dog because his poop sparkles.”
Grace stifled a laugh and set her portfolio on the floor. Tossing her parka and scarf on top of it, she knelt beside the box and started to search. “Wouldn’t glitter make you sick?”
“Wasn’t that much. The glitter was sprinkled on that gingerbread icing. Lucky I used icing instead of cement.” Melanie dropped her spectacles to an ample bosom and the pearl chain hanging around her neck. “Guess I’ll just bake another. Pass me those red feathers.”
“They’re birds, cardinals.”
“Whatever.” Melanie took two cardinals and anchored talons around branches of the evergreen. “I see you brought your sketch pad. You going to do some portraits today?”
“Thought I would.” Handing Melanie two more cardinals, Grace added, “The patients seem to enjoy posing. They usually fall asleep before I’m done, though.”
“Get ‘em before lunch is served, dear, while their eyes are still open. I think their dinner is like a sleeping pill.”
* * * *
Still as a granite statue, Henry Ruskin sat hunched in a wheelchair, staring out the window of his room. Broken stone on a dirt path led to wooden steps dropping to the black expanse of a lake bubbling with an underwater fountain. A gray plaid shawl draped his shoulders, and his unruly thick hair was a dull white shot with mottled brown. It needed cut. Whiskers bristled from hollow cheeks.
Grace sat on the floor to Henry’s left, glancing from him to the sketch pad in her lap. She swished black charcoal over the page. The drawing wasn’t right, the face too young. Strong and healthy. She looked up at Henry again.
Blue veins traversed the parchment-like skin of bony hands. Translucent blue eyes, rheumy and moist, appeared focused on a distant copse of birch. She met his gaze in a reflection in the window glass. Adrenaline surged through her. Warmth rushed up her neck. A ruggedly handsome face smiled back. The face. His face. The face she’d been seeing for days. In windows. In shadows. In dreams. The face in her drawing.
Fog rolled from the lake toward the man, enfolding his legs. He extended a hand to her, beckoning.
Eyes wide and unblinking, Grace rose from the floor and took a tentative step to the window. A mirage from another time? A pilot? Crushed hat, open leather bomber jacket. Military? Words whispered from her, seeming to come from somewhere else, “Who are you?”
He laughed and opened his hands to her in a playful summons to join him.
“Are you real?” She touched a palm to the window glass. Cold. Of course you’re not.
He responded, but Grace couldn’t understand him and looked down at Henry. He’d fallen to sleep. Her head snapped back to the reflection of an old man in a wheelchair, to Henry’s reflection, chin dropped to his chest.
With tiny beads of perspiration on her brow, she inched back from the window. The broad expanse of lawn, the lake, pine cones and leaves falling from the trees, patches of wet snow on the stone walk. Normal. Her pulse slowed. The young man she’d seen was gone. Who was he? What was dense fog cleared. Where was he? She wanted to go to him, to touch him. A powerful drive deep inside pulled her to…to what?
She knelt down and fumbled with the drawing material scattered on the floor. Closing the portfolio, she said, “All done for now.” For the first time, there was urgency. He was part of the past. Those clothes. When was he?
Melanie walked into the room and stepped toward Henry’s chair. “You’re a million miles away. Henry talking your ear off today?”
A load of wet snow dropped from the bough of an evergreen startling a pair of Canada geese by the path. Grace turned to Melanie. “Do you know anything about Henry? I mean, is there a reason why he doesn’t speak?”
“None the doctors can determine.” Melanie fussed with the crocheted lap blanket, tucking it around him. “Post-traumatic stress, likely. When this old fella served, it was called battle fatigue, before that shell-shock, and before that, a soldier’s heart. Old Henry, here, physically, well, he’s pushing a hundred. So….”
Grace looked at his reflection again. “Where did he come from?”
“Henry just sort of showed up, as far as anybody can remember. Unusual for a WWII vet. That behavior would be a Vietnam or Afghanistan saga, some guy just walking in off the street. We determined his identity through VA records using an old dog tag with a broken chain in his pocket.”
“There’s no address on the paperwork?”
“Sure. But what was once a farm on the west side is a strip mall, now. Beyond his enlistment in the forties and his service through WWII and later in Korea, we’re pretty much at a loss.”
The women stood quietly and watched Henry sleep.
Grace settled her gaze on the window pane.
* * * *
The few dishes washed, Grace poured a red wine and padded barefoot down the hall to the living room. She dimmed the rheostat of the torchiere as she said, “What do you suppose I saw today?”
Max, a large black and tan shepherd, circled on a soft flannel-covered baby mattress by the fireplace, settled, and yawned. He lowered head to paws, and his liquid brown eyes followed her across the darkened room.
“That man again.” Grace turned to the dog. “There’s no reason to think I’m crazy. We determined this already.”
Max raised his head and tipped it to the left thoughtfully.
“It’s the same face, the face of a man I know. Somehow.”
Max yawned again.
“But, I’ve never seen him before.”
She huffed warm breath on the window pane and drew a stick-man in the resulting fog. Wind created small dunes on the dark lawn, and tiny white crystals whisked through the light of a streetlamp. No telling how tall the man was, but he looked sort of stocky. Maybe that’s the jacket? He smoked cigarettes. Tapping a finger on the stick-man, she whispered, “Who are you?”
A gust rattled a long icicle loose from the eaves above the window, and it shattered on the sidewalk. Small chunks skid across the ice. In the window reflection, a tiny gold crucifix sparkled in the hollow of her throat.
* * * *
After midnight. A new client would be in the waiting room as soon as she arrived at the museum and she needed sleep to come easily. Grace turned the page of the novel and glanced at the green LED of the alarm clock. She finished the chapter and set the book on the nightstand.
Turning off the bedside lamp plunged the room into patchwork darkness. Woven into lace curtains were hummingbirds and wrens that passing headlights morphed into large birds, preying shadows on the walls. Snow crystals drifted to the smudged glass of the window, faded into specks, and slid down the glass.
Grace stretched her slender legs into the cool sheets and tugged up the wool blanket. Earthy cedar softened a whiff of moth balls. Closing her eyes, she let her mind drift to other shadows, to the handsome man she didn’t know. He was important in her life, somehow. What did the window reflection mean?
Coarse brown hair. Pale blue eyes.
The vision didn’t change, whether in a shadow, a dream.
Dusk. A deserted, quiet street. Snow-scented, cold wind rustled dried leaves.
The entire church can’t be seen from where she stands. Only the steeple. Tall and square, with dirty black tile and a christian cross at the apex. Deep behind the louvers of long windows are the shadows of silent bells. This is where they meet. Under the bells. This is where they plan.
A heavy black cape drapes her shoulders, and she steps into the wind across a narrow cobblestone lane, row-houses. Dingy green shutters frame windows. Sills hold empty flower boxes, and pots of dead geraniums decorate stoops.
The church front is in view now. Large, rectangular stone blocks abut the cracked sidewalk. A man locks the wood door of the church, waves and runs to her. A woman stands in the threshold of a row-house, beckoning her to hurry. Grey hair sprouts from a loose bun. A red sweater covers a flowered housedress, an apron with pockets. All familiar. The woman pulls her arm and the man pushes her from behind. He says, “Let’s get in the closet. Get under the clothes. Be still.”
The closet is dark, the floor dusty. Decades emanate from old coats around her. A square window, the glass fogged, rattles with wind. Knees pulled to chins, they sit on the floor amongst umbrellas and shoes and boxes, his arm around her.
The distant cadence of boots quickens her heartbeat.
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