The whiteness subsided, and the world resolved around her. Light and shadow returned, and sound reached her ears. She breathed, thankful for the simple ability to draw oxygen into her body.
And with the breath came smells. Familiar smells. Clean smells. Smells of newness, of orderliness. With an undertone of—
She frowned. An undertone of coffee?
She focused her eyes and looked around.
She was back in her office.
She was still crossed-legged on the floor, as she'd been prior to her—journey, for lack of a better word. She looked down at herself to find that she was still wearing the dress she'd been lent by Lorrie.
She shook her head. The memories were fragmented, but a few of them were starting to come together. She'd been at an inn, and the innkeeper had been helping her try to find something. Something she'd lost.
She frowned and looked at her her arms, which were outstretched in front of her. Her hands were in an odd shape, as if she'd been holding something.
It almost looked like she'd been playing a hand-held video game. But there was nothing in her hands now.
Her frown deepened. There had been something in her hands. She knew that. But it was gone now.
Another device. Yes, she'd been holding another device. Not her own, but someone else's. Who else would have had a device like that? She hadn't been in a place where people had such things.
Suddenly her eyes widened. The relay clicked, the floodgates opened, and the memories came pouring into her conscious mind. The torrent was almost too much to bear.
Her hands dropped to her lap, and her face grew cold as the blood drained out of it.
Richard had been there. It had been Richard's device she'd been holding in her hands. She'd taken it out of his clothing. She'd had to search for it, but she'd found it, sewn into a seam in the back of his jacket.
She'd taken it because Richard had been dead.
She swallowed, hard.
Richard was dead.
Her ex-husband was dead.
She hung her head forward and began to sob. It didn't matter that they weren't together anymore. She'd loved him once, and he'd loved her. They'd been part of each other's lives.
And now he was dead.
Her body shook with the sobs. She put her face in her hands and rocked back and forth, the tears slipping between her fingers and onto her antique dress.
Through her grief and tears, she heard the sound of her office door opening.
"Rebecca! You're back! I thought I heard someth…"
It was Susan.
Rebecca kept her head in her hands and continued rocking, forward and backward.
"Rebecca, what's wrong?"
"Get out," Rebecca mumbled through her hands.
She pulled her head up and glared at Susan. "Get out!" she screamed. "And don't let anyone in here!"
Susan backed out of the office and closed the door behind her. Rebecca stared at the door for a long moment and tried hard to breathe normally.
At length she took her gaze from the door and scanned the room. She knew she couldn't stay on the floor. She didn't know how long she'd been sitting like that, but pins and needles cascaded up and down her legs, from just below the knee all the way to her toes. She took a deep breath, unfolded her legs, and struggled to her feet.
She staggered to the right and grabbed the edge of her desk. Slowly, painfully, she hobbled around the desk to her chair, her legs screaming in agony as the blood returned to them. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, she plunked herself into her chair and leaned forward onto the desk, cradling her head in her arms.
All she'd wanted was a little vacation. Just a break from the stresses at the office. She'd really wanted to visit a Jane Austen story, but there were none of those on Protagonize, so she'd chosen a story with a similar setting.
But it had all gone so horribly wrong. She'd arrived at the inn, the—what was its name?—The Withered Spoon. And there'd been a friendly innkeeper, Mister Witherspoon, who'd been nothing but kind to her. But she'd still been in her modern clothes, and Witherspoon had initially thought she'd been a demon, and she told him she was a time traveller from the year 2050, and there'd been a travel timepiece and a travel agent, and another agent who'd gotten accidentally transported to the Jurassic period and eaten by a dinosaur and...
Why the hell had she told him she was a time traveller? What had possessed her? What had gotten into her head? And why had the story suddenly adapted to that proclamation by providing her with a travel timepiece and a travel agent?
And why had Richard been there?
And why had he had to die?
It was all a muddle of fuzzy recollections, hazy images, and muted conversations. She could make no sense of it. The simple act of stepping into a story had somehow misfired, and she'd become confused. She'd momentarily forgotten where she'd come from and had given this wild, bizarre story to the innkeeper.
Somehow, she'd retained enough sense not to tell the man she came from outside his story, but the time travel fantasy was just as bad. The story might never recover from something like that.
Her breathing began to slow as the memories gradually sorted themselves out. She could feel a bit of flush return to her cheeks, and she sat up. She reached for a Kleenex, which she oughtn't have done without using the trademark symbol, and dabbed it at her eyes and cheeks. She grabbed a second and blew her nose with it.
She looked down at herself again and pulled at the fabric of the dress. It was a lovely thing, a floral pattern with puffed sleeves and layered skirts. It was anything but comfortable, but it looked elegant and feminine.
She remembered Lorrie—Lady Lorraine Maycourt—who had also been so kind to her, lending her a dress and supporting her in her grief when she'd first seen Richard's lifeless body.
And she remembered Lorrie's friend, a tall, dark, dashing figure of man, who'd perhaps been the only real bright spot in her tumultuous visit.
She remembered John Broddington.