Mirror Image

By SouthernSlider

Originally posted at JOC Fanatics BBoard.

PROLOGUE

It was a gorgeous day, bright blue sky, with no clouds, and just enough breeze to cool the skin warmed from the rays of a beaming sun. Quira couldnít stay inside any longer. Running this huge place was beginning to get to her. She donned her riding clothes, left her room quickly and nearly tripped as she ran down the long elaborate stair case. She flew out the door and headed straight for the stables, never ackowledging Aunt Auroraís presence on the porch or her question as to Quiraís destination. "Iíll listen to her rantings later." Quira thought. "Right now, I have got to feel the wind on my face and the power of Atlas beneath me."

She rounded the corner of the stables and ran head-on into Manson. Both promptly fell back, landing unceremoniously, on their backsides. "Geez, Quira. Whereís the fire?" Manson asked, as he rose, dusting off the dirt from his butt. He then offered a hand to help Quira to her feet.

"Sorry, Manson. Ouch!" she winced, as she was pulled up. "I was on my way to saddle up Atlas."

"Well, heís secure in his stall. He wonít go anywhere without you. Slow down and watch where youíre going." He adjusted his hat and stepped aside, making a big sweeping motion with his arms for her to pass.

"Oh, go suck an egg, Manson!" she sneered and continued on her way toward Atlasí stall.

CHAPTER ONE

The vortex opened, spitting out six weary sliders. They tumbled, rolled, and slammed into each other as each one exited onto the wide expanse of a verdant, grassy pasture land. "Mr. Brown, just once I wish you could use someone else as your landing pad. If itís the last thing I ever do, I will one day exit atop you and squash you like a bug!" Arturo pushed Remmy aside and made his way to his feet.

"Professor, why do you think I always jump into the vortex last. I know better than to go ahead of you." Remmy laughed, shaking his head as he stood up and stretched. One by one, Quinn, Colin, Maggie and Wade untangled legs and arms to stand and survey their surroundings, as they shared a chuckle with Remmy at the Professorís expense.

Maggie stretched out her arms, raised her face toward the sun and twirled around. "Oh, a girl could get used to this. Warm sun, cool breeze. And just look at this view!"

"Donít get too relaxed, Maggie. More than once weíve slid to a seeming paradise, only to find it a virtual hell." Quinn warned, as he looked around for trouble. But she was right in one respect. What a view! Beautiful pasture land, huge old oak trees and a gurgling stream to complete the picture. It looked nothing like his west coast.

"Aaahhhhhh!!!"

They all turned to look in the direction of a faint, but definite scream. "Quinn is right. We can not be too relaxed when we enter any world. Already there seems to be a problem." Colin lamented.

"Look! There." Wade pointed to her right. "Itís a runaway horse. Oh, my God! Itís rider just fell off!"

To a man, they began running toward the fallen stranger. Quinn reached the limp body first. Laying on her back, legs and head twisting sideways, she was unconscious. Quinn knelt, as the others approached, and put two fingers to her neck.

"Is she alive?" Wade asked, trying to catch her breath. The others knelt around her and stared.

"Yes, sheís got a pulse. But look, sheís hit her head. Sheís bleeding." Quinn answered.

"How badly? Here, let me see." The professor nudged Maggie out of the way to get a closer look at her head. He turned it slightly to see the open wound, and discovered the cause - a small rock. "Sheís hit her head on this rock, but it doesnít look too bad. I know it seems there is a lot of blood, but the gash isnít too deep."

"I wonder where she came from. I do not see a house or any building in sight." Colin looked around in every direction. "Maybe I can get the horse and he can help us. He will head for home." He saw the horse, lazily grazing by the stream they had noticed earlier, as if nothing were wrong. Colin rose and headed in that direction.

"I wonder what spooked the horse?" Maggie questioned.

Wade looked up. "Maybe she just isnít an accomplished rider."

"Oh, she can ride alright. Look at the way sheís dressed. A novice wouldnít wear a riding outfit like that." Maggie observed, as Colin walked up with the horse, reins in hand. He looked down at the woman, noticing, despite the blood, her incredible beauty.

"I do not know what happened, but here is the horse. He seems to be fine." Colin said.

Quinn jumped up and started giving orders. "Okay, guys. Iím going to get on. You gently lift her up to me. It looks like we might have to go pretty far to find someone, so this will be easier than carrying her while we walk." He started to mount as Colin handed him the reins. "Thanks, brother." He swung his leg over the large animal and waited for her limp body.

Maggie shed her over-blouse to get rid of some of the blood around the womanís face. The bleeding had stopped, but it had flowed quite a bit. Colin, Professor Arturo, and Remmy lifted her up slowly from the ground and raised her to Quinnís waiting arms. He wrestled with her a minute to postion her comfortably, resting her bloody head against his shoulder. He enclosed his arms around her and tugged at the reins to get the horse moving. The rest of the group followed along beside the horse as it slowly ambled along toward the stable, that they knew nothing about, and a pile of hay.

CHAPTER TWO

The group of travelers moved slowly wondering if they would ever find civilization. The cool breeze was now just a tease, not enough to be comfortable. Quinnís arms ached, but he couldnít move the woman too much for fear of hurting her more than she was already. The jostle of the moving horse was more than she needed as it was.

"Q-ball, you look like you could use a break. Maybe we should stop and do some swapping around." Remmy suggested.

"You just want the horse, Remmy." Quinn teased.

"Does it show that bad?" he replied, laughing.

"Guys, look." Colin interrupted. "That stand of trees. They are flanking a road."

"Heís right." said Wade. "And a road has got to lead to people."

Quinn turned the horse to the right and headed to the road Colin had seen. The others followed with a little more spring in their step. As they made their way, now feeling a little more positive about their situation, Quinn took a moment to observe his unconscious bundle. She was older than he, probably in her early to mid-thirties. A beautiful woman and a hard worker. The callouses on her hands were a testimony to that. Her tanned skin said that she was very familiar with the out-of-doors. But something about her face told Quinn she was sad. He couldnít put his finger on it, but it was there.

"Q-ball, which way now?" Remmy asked, pulling Quinn out of his lost thoughts. Quinn looked up to see the road and two rows of trees stretch indefinitely in both directions. He let out a sigh. Why was there always a decision to be made? And why did it always have to be his decision? "I donít know, Remmy. Why donít you pick the direction." he answered, sounding just a little snide.

"Why donít I pick it?" Maggie chimed in. "I say we go left." She had noticed Quinnís reaction to Remmyís question and wanted to derail a tiff between them.

"Why should you decide?" Wade whined. "I say we go right."

"Right?! Why? Just because I said left?" Maggie sniped back.

"Yeah, exactly!"

"Ladies, ladies. Please. Let us solve this little dilemma in a more scientific method than quibbling. We will flip a coin. Heads - right. Tails - left." The professor took a coin from his pocket and tossed it in the air. It landed on the road and puffed up a small cloud of dust. "Tails! Left it is." Maggie and Wade exchanged a sticking-out of tongues as the rest of the group chuckled. Then they all headed down the dirt road, hopefully toward some other people.

They rounded a bend in the road and Colin was the first to see it. "Look! A house."

"Great Jehosephat!" Thatís not a house. Itís a mansion!" exclaimed Remmy. "But at least it means people."

Maggie cleared her throat. "And just whoís idea was it to come in this direction?" she gloated as she stared at Wade. Wade rolled her eyes.

"Can it, Maggie. Iím tired of listening to you and Wade bicker. Besides, it was a lucky guess." Quinn growled. He was growing so weary of those two. "If this world has duct tape, Iím going to be hard-pressed not to use it on both of them." he thought, as he nudged the horse to a slightly faster gait.

It took several minutes before they even began to get close to the huge ediface. As they walked, they also started noticing other buildings; a huge barn and stable to the right, a row of small houses to the left. They looked empty and somewhat uncared for. Other buildings dotted the land around the barn, not giving away their purpose. There was still no sign of life.

As they approached the house, it became larger and larger. There was a brick wall on either side of the road about 200 yards in front of the house. It had a tall ornate gate, opened and slightly rusted. There were lost flower beds in front of the wall, now overrun by weeds. Quinn shook his head. It reminded him of some southern plantation house that he had seen in a book years ago. At one time it had to have flourished with life, human and animal alike. But now, it was desolate and in bad need of repair. With a little work, he knew it could be restored to its prime and flourish once again, if there were only people to do it.

"My God! Whatís happened?" came a voice yelling to their right. They all turned to see a man running toward them. He was not too tall, but nice looking, wearing over-alls and no shirt, bare-footed. Will had noticed the cloud of dust coming up the drive from the window at the top of the barn where he was working. As it came closer, he saw a whole group of people, more than he had seen in a year. Then, there he was. Atlas, Quiraís horse, but she was not the rider seated in the saddle. He ran quickly down the ladder and out the door. Only as he neared, did he notice the rider holding a limp body. "Quira! Dear God!" he whispered.

The group of sliders collectively heaved a sigh of relief at the sight and sound of human life. "Letís hope heís friendly." said Maggie.

"Weíve got a hurt woman here." Quinn yelled. "She fell off this horse while he was on a dead run. We donít know what spooked him."

Will reached them as Quinn finished his explanation. "Quira!" he expelled breathlessly.

"She hit her head on a small rock, but we donít think itís too bad. The cut isnít deep, but she has been unconscious since the fall." Quinn continued his explanation of the womanís injuries.

"Please, weíve got to get her inside. Rosalie will know what to do." Will said, still breathing heavy from the long run.

Colin approached Will and the horse. "Here, Quinn. Lower her to my arms. I will take her inside while our friend here catches his breath." Quinn carefully adjusted her weight, and let her slide into Colinís waiting arms. The horse side-stepped and Wade grabbed the reins.

"Woah, boy. Itís alright." she said and rubbed his long nose. Colin cradled Quira in his arms and turned to Will, telling him to lead the way. Quinn dismounted and all but Wade fell in behind Colin and Will, headed toward the house. "I will stay with the horse." she called out.

Will turned slightly and said, "Just let him go. Heíll head to the stables and Manson will take care of him." She did as she was told, and ran to catch up to the group heading up the steps to a huge porch surrounding the house.

CHAPTER THREE

Colin was laying Quira on a huge four-poster, canopied bed in a large, sparsely furnished bedroom, when a tall, dark-skinned woman came running through the door. "Lord, what has happened to my child?" she wailed. Rosalie was no kin, but this woman was her Ďchildí just the same, and nobody had better say anything to the contrary. Quira had saved her life more than once and Rosalie was forever attached to the woman. They all stepped back and let her get to the bed. "Will, get these people out of here. Iíll take care of this." she snapped as she began to examine Quiraís injuries. "Go tell Callie to bring me a basin of water and a rag! Go! Shoo!!"

"I will be glad to stay and help." offered Wade.

"No! Iíll do this myself. Now git!" Rosalie waved her hand to send the group on its way, Wade frowning at the rejection as she backed out of the door.

They all followed Will down the hall and the elaborate staircase to the foyer below. "Do I have a tatoo on my forehead that says ĎSnap at Wadeí?" she grumbled as they reached the bottom, "because thatís all anybody ever does anymore."

Quinn smiled and put his arm around her shoulder, squeezing softly, "Of course not, Wade. Sheís just worried, thatís all. And she doesnít know us from Adam. Iím sure, once she evaluates the womanís condition and gets control of the situation, sheíll come down here and thank us for getting her home."

"Quira." Will said, dryly.

"What?" asked Quinn

"Her nameís Quira." he said. "Please, go sit in there and Iíll return in a moment. I have to get Callie." He gestured to the room at his left and proceeded toward the back of the monstrous home.

They all entered the huge room, Quinn leading the way as usual, and looked all around curiously. A large sofa and a set of chairs graced one wall. Opposite that was a huge gaming table with a gorgeous chess set on top. Quinn moved to examine it. The pieces were made of alabaster. "Weird." he thought. "With all of the run-down conditions around here, why would they have something so elaborate?" A set of doors were next to the table, covered with sheer curtains. Professor Arturo could see they opened to a huge patio made of very old brick, with wrought iron tables and chairs placed in each of the four corners. The view beyond was much like they had seen upon entering this world. Beautiful, green, but void of human or animal life.

Each person found something in the room that intrigued them. Colinís eyes were drawn to a huge book laying on a table next to one of the chairs. He picked it up, sat down and started thumbing through it. After a few minutes, he came to a picture that made him stop in mid-flip. "Quinn. I think you should come look at this." he said. Quinn replaced the pawn he had been examining and walked over to see what had Colin so wide-eyed.

"Good grief!" Quinn took the book from Colinís hands and turned the page. There was more of the same. "Guys, come look at this." They all stopped their browsing and came to Quinnís side. A collective gasp left their lips.

"Do you think that is this world?" Wade asked.

"Iím sure it is." Quinn answered, "Look at this paragraph right here. Thatís proof enough for me." As they all took another look, they missed seeing that Will had come to the door to hear their strange conversation.

Will studied the strange group intensely as he leaned against the door jamb with arms crossed. "Six strangers, out of the blue. Where could they have come from?" he thought curiously. "And why do they find a book of maps so odd?" He stood up straight, and decided they needed watching for a while until he could learn more about them. He wouldnít question their odd behavior for the moment. "I hope you have found something good to entertain you while I was taking care of some things." he piped up. "I know itís not good manners to leave guests alone, but I needed to get Callie right away or Rosalie would have my head."

Quinn and the others looked up abruptly, startled at the manís entrance. They looked at each other momentarily, wondering if anything should be said about the map. Quinn gave them his ĎLetís not say anything to get us into trouble.í look and spoke up first. "Oh, weíre just fine. How is the lad....uh, Quira?"

"Well, sheís not regained consciousness yet, but Rosalie and Callie have her cleaned up and examined. Nothing seems to be broken, just an ugly knot on her head. Rosalie says sheíll come to when sheís good and ready." He paused a moment, then continued. "My nameís Will. I thank you folks for bringing Quira home."

Professor Arturo stepped foward from the group. "Well, my good man, I am certainly glad to hear that, uh, Rosalie, thinks the lady will be all right." Then he began to make introductions of the group. Will shook the hand of each man, one by one, and then tipped his hat to Maggie and Wade.

Wade took stock of the young man as he went to each person. He was about Wadeís height and had a very pleasant face. She thought he was kind of cute. He wasnít he-man muscular, but he did have a lean, firm frame. "Probably does a lot of strenuous work outside." she thought. As he approached her, at the professorís introduction, she smiled when he tipped his hat, but said nothing. Willís heart did a little flip.

"Will? Will, are you in there?" A call came from out in the hallway.

"Iím in here, Aunt Aurora We have guests"

"Guests! What do you mean, gue..." The plump woman stopped her body and her question as she entered into the doorway. She was slightly on the tall side, maybe 5í10" or 5í11", but a little on the wide side. Her hair was dark, but beginning to show streaks of gray. She dressed very neatly, dispite the fact that her clothing was quite old and worn-looking.

Will brought her out of her stare. "Aunt Aurora, there was an accident." he stated.

"An accident!" she interrupted. "Who? Donít tell me. It was Quira. She lit out of here like a bat out of hell. Had that stallion running wide open when she left. How bad?"

"She was thrown. Hit her head on a rock and knocked unconscious. But Rosalie said sheíd be fine. Nothing was broken. These good people found her and brought her home." Will explained.

Aunt Aurora left her spot in the doorway and walked to stand in front of the group, staring glaringly, all the way. "And just who Ďareí these Ďgood peopleí?" she asked very suspiciously.

"Madam, allow me to introduce myself." spoke the professor, since he was the one out in front and closest to this Ďold batí, he thought. "I am Maximillian Arturo. These are my friends, Quinn and Colin Mallory, Remberandt Brown, Maggie Beckett, and Wade Wells." He gestured toward each one as he called their name. "We were traveling across the land several miles away when we came upon the lady in peril."

Aunt Aurora knew there was more to their story than just traveling, but she held her tongue. Like Will, she felt they bore watching until more was learned. No need to let on too much suspicion. She stared at each one for just a moment then thanked them for bringing Quira home. Deciding she needed to Ďplay niceí for the moment, she told Will to take care of whatever they needed. "I want to go see Quira now." She turned to leave then turned back to the group. "Thank you again. And welcome to Oakland Plantation." Then she was gone. The sliders all looked to each other, wondering what they had gotten themselves into.

CHAPTER FOUR

Will became a gracious host after seeing to Quira. He took the sliders across the foyer to a huge dining room. It held a long table flanked by eleven chairs on either side and one at each end. There was a tall, glass-fronted cabinet holding very expensive china and crystal. The sideboard was on the opposite wall with a long ornate mirror above it. He urged the group to be seated and disappeared through a door next to the sideboard. Minutes later, he returned with a large tray filled with food. Behind him, a beautiful woman followed, also with a large tray balanced on her hand.

"Folks, this is Callie. Callie, these are the people that found Quira and brought her home." Will spoke. Callie nodded as she placed the tray at one end of the table.

"I can not thank you enough for helping my sister. She might have died out there if not for you. If there is anything that I can do for you, you only have to ask. I will be glad to help you in any way." She spoke as she passed out plates and silverware. Will began setting bowls of food on the table.

Quinn took notice of the resemblance between Quira and Callie. She was a few years younger probably, but did not have the sadness on her face that he had seen in Quira. As he took the plate and silverware she handed him, he looked up to see Colin staring at her. Quinn just smiled and kicked under the table to land a blow on Colinís shin to bring him out of his state of awe.

"Uuuuuhhhhmmmm!" grunted Colin. He leaned toward Quinn to speak without being heard by Callie. "What was that for?"

"To get you to close your mouth. Your chin was laying on the table." Quinn whispered, grinning. Colin rolled his eyes as he turned beet-red.

Remmy was next to Colin and had heard the exchange between brothers. He looked over at Colin, laughing quietly. "Farm-boy, maybe you just found yourself a Farm-girl."

"Cut it out, Remmy. She will hear you!" Colin said through clinched teeth.

When Callie had finished doling out the food, she left the same way she came in - tray balanced on her hand, but with a sideways glance back at Colin and a shy smile on her face. The entire group then proceeded to needle Colin about his reaction to her and hers in return. The redness on his face deepened.

Upstairs, Quira was beginning to come around. She moaned quietly and became restless under the sheets. Rosalie had cleaned her wound and face and had put a strong poltice on the gash to help it heal. Clothes had been stripped away and a fresh, clean, white cotton gown had replaced them. Her long hair had been brushed and she lay there like a goddess, the beautiful tresses framing her face. She moaned again, louder this time, and opened her eyes.

"Well, itís about time you was wakiní up." Rosalie grumbled. "I got better things to do than sit here and watch you sleep." Rosalie had put a chair right by her bed and was sitting there staring at Quira as she awoke.

"Rosalie." she said weakly. "What happened?"

"You fell off that danged horse of yours and hit your head. What was you doiní raciní through the fields like a bat out of hell? You couldíve killed yourself!" Rosalie was getting all worked up. She stood and adjusted the covers.

"How did I get home?"

"Well now, thatís real interesting. Weíve got company. Six travelers found you and brought you here." Rosalie explained.

"Travelers?!" Quira tried to rise up on her elbows. "Ow! Oh, my head." she winced and fell back to the pillow, as her head throbbed.

"Listen hear, now. I ainít gonna have you makiní your condition worse. You stay layiní down." Rosalie pointed and shook her finger in Quiraís face. "These folks just showed up with you. I didnít have no time to get an explanation about their appearance. I needed to tend to you. I think Will and Callie are takiní care of them now. But you donít be worryiní about Ďem."

"Rosalie, we havenít seen people in over a year. This is important. Iíll be fine. Please bring one of them up here. I want to talk to them and thank them for their help." Quira fussed over her hair and covers while Rosalie just glared at her. "Do it now! Iím okay."

Rosalie huffed out of the room and made her way downstairs. She entered the dining room just as the sliders were finishing their meal. She didnít step into the room, but stood at the door, hands on her hips. "My Quira is awake now and wants to talk to one of you. But Iím warning you, if you cause her any upset, Iíll wear you outta your frame!" No one moved or spoke. "Well, one of you come on!" She motioned with her arm and turned and walked away from the door. Quinn jumped up, threw his napkin on top of his empty plate as he looked around the table at the others, and walked out of the room to catch up to the bossy woman. Stares and silence were all the remaining group could muster until Remmy found the courage to speak, "I hope his frameís okay when he gets back."

CHAPTER FIVE

Quira had propped herself up wih a couple of pillows when Rosalie left to retrieve one of the visitors. She was waiting patiently, but nervously, when the door creaked open. Quinn peaked around the door ahead of his entrance. "Hi." he said, smiling, as he came into the room. "Iím glad to see that youíre awake."

Quira blinked. She wasnít prepared for the handsome sight before her. Her head throbbed and she closed her eyes.

"Are you alright?" Quinn said, hurrying over to the bed.

She opened her eyes and smiled weakly. "Iíll be just fine....as soon as I can get this anvil off my head. Rosalie tells me that you found me and brought me home. For that, I am eternally grateful."

"Iím just glad my friends and I were there when you fell. To tell you the truth, we were glad to see signs of life." Quinn replied.

"Who are you and where did you come from?" Quira asked. She hadnít seen anyone, other than her friends, for over a year. "Thereís not many people around here anymore. And those that are, are hundreds of miles away."

Quinn stood, fumbling around. She looked at him so intently. He swallowed hard, feeling nervous. "My name is Quinn.....Quinn Mallory. And where I come from is a long story. Itís kind of hard to explain." He paused and took a deep breath. "But I have some questions of my own, so I guess if I want answers, Iíll have to give some as well."

Quinn proceeded to explain who he and his friends were and how they came to this place through sliding. He watched her closely during his talk to see her reaction to his words. She sat up in her bed, never taking her eyes off of him. He felt so self-conscious. He fumbled and stammered, almost to the point of being embarrassed. She stared as if he were standing there without his clothes on. He finally ended his explanation, sat down, and waited for her to respond to his story.

Quira had been shocked at the beginning of his story. She was sure she had missed parts of it though. It was hard to concentrate on his words when looking at him. But what she did hear was too wild not to be true. And he seemed so serious and sincere. It was not a tall tale. "My goodness! Thatís really some story. I canít imagine traveling from world to world. We canít even travel very far on this one." She raised up and started to remove the covers. "Could you help me please? I would like to get up and walk while we discuss this more."

He wanted to ask her about this world, but it could wait a few minutes at least. "Do you think thatís wise? You might be dizzy and I wouldnít want ĎGeneral Pattoní coming in here ready to declare war. She would probably blame me if you fell."

"Who?" Quira asked, with a puzzled look. "Oh, you mean Rosalie. Sheís harmless. More bark than bite. Iíll be fine."

"Iím not so sure about that." he answered.

She slid off the side of the bed and immediately started to wobble. The room was spinning. Quinn grabbed her around the waist and held her closely. He started to say Ďtold you soí but her sweet scent clouded his mind and made him forget to speak. Quira latched onto his arm to steady herself. She wasnít sure if she was dizzy from the fall or because of this gorgeous man. She looked up. He was looking at her. His eyes were so blue, his lips so tantalizing. She couldnít stop herself.

Quira reached up to bring his face to hers He didnít resist. They came very close, pausing for seconds before bringing their lips together. She brought her hand around his neck and he embraced her totally, pressing her body against his. It was so delicious. How long had it been since she had been in a manís arms? Quira never wanted it to end.

Quinn was almost in a trance. This woman was so warm, so soft, so passionate. And he was so tired of having no one in his life to be this close to. He knew he shouldnít become involved, but he needed this. He needed it badly.

 

After Quinn had left to go upstairs, Will had encouraged the others to look around on their own. He needed to get back to the barn and check on Manson. They were more than welcome to explore the house and grounds freely. Maggie and Wade decided to go outside and have a look at the grounds. Professor Arturo wanted to go back to the sitting room and peruse the books. Remmy thought the girls shouldnít go exploring alone and asked Colin in he wanted to accompany them. He declined and the three left without him, suspecting he wanted to find Callie.

After they all left, Colin went through the door Callie had used to see if she was still around. The door led to a short corridor with shelves on either side. Another door was opposite him. He opened it to find Callie standing in the kitchen putting food and dishes away. She turned as she heard the door open.

"Hi." Colin said shyly. "I came to see if I could help."

"Oh, thank you. But it is not necessary. You are a guest. We do not expect you to work for your meals." she said sweetly, smiling at Colin.

"I do not mind. It would not seem like work if we could talk as we go." Colin answered. "My name is Colin. I believe Will called you Callie."

"That is right. It is short for Callisa. It is nice to meet you Colin. We do not get many visitors here. I am really glad you came. And I am especially grateful to you for helping Quira." She started to pick up a stack of plates as she spoke and Colin went to her side to help.

"Here, let me get those. They are too heavy for you to carry." he said. His hand brushed hers as she transferred the plates to his waiting arms. They just stood staring at each other at that point, neither one letting go of the load.

Colin came out of his trance long enough to pull the plates from her grasp and sit them on the table. Callie then realized she was staring and lowered her face, embarrassed. Colin put his fingers under her chin and lifted her face toward his and she slowly raised her eyes to gaze into his.

"Callie, you are a beautiful woman." She said nothing, but ever so slightly, moved a little closer to him. Colin lowered his head to let his lips meet hers. Brother and sister imitating brother and sister.

CHAPTER SIX

Professor Arturo sat down in the large over-stuffed chair and picked up the book of maps Colin had discovered earlier. He flipped to the map they had been studying when Will had interrupted. "Amazing. Itís as if someone had just turned it over. Everything is seen as if holding the page up to a mirror. According to this, we must be somewhere between Savannah, Georgia and Richmond, Virginia. That would be comparable to Los Angeles and San Francisco. And she called this Oakland Plantation. Hmmmmm. Maybe weíre in Richmond."

"Who are you talking to?" Aunt Aurora had entered the room in time to hear the professor voicing his thoughts aloud. He looked up with a jerk.

"Madam, I didnít hear you come in." he said as he rose from his chair.

"Of course not. You were too busy babbling to yourself!" She stepped toward Arturo as she spoke. "And why were you comparing Savannah and Richmond to Los Angeles and San Francisco? Why, theyíre all the way on the west coast and probably long gone by now. And they certainly never attained the status of our beloved southern cities even before the war."

To the professor, she was talking in riddles. "Madam, Iím afraid you have me at a disadvantage. My companions and I are not from around here and we are a little confused about a few things. Could you please provide some insight to our dilemma?" He was trying to be polite, but the phrase "old battle axe" was too close to the tip of his tongue for comfort. He was going to call her that to her face at any moment.

"Iíll say youíre not from around here. Youíve got more explaining to do than I have, and I want to hear it right now!" she grumbled as she sat down on the sofa, crossing her arms over her ample bosom. The glare she produced prompted the professor to sit also. He decided he may as well tell his story and almost hoped it would cause her great discomfort. But he wanted explanations too. Would she be willing to talk after listening to his wild tale or would she think him a lunatic.

Upstairs, Quinn and Quira had thrown all propriety out the window. Being total strangers to each other didnít seem to matter. Both had been so alone for so long, even though there were five other people around them daily. Their lives seemed to be following the same path. Everyone depended on them for guidance and answers. And they both had grown so very tired of the responsibility. For once, common sense had fled and they let themselves be vulnerable to someone else.

Quinn wasted no time in taking charge of the kiss. Quira had initiated it, all the while wondering if he would rebuff her. But rather than push her away, he took her in his arms. The kiss and the embrace continued. It seemed neither was willing to end it....ever. The passion was building and beginning to rage out of control.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Quinnís hands began to explore. They moved over Quiraís body, touching places he knew he had no right to touch. But Quira seemed to welcome it, almost demanded it. Her hands followed suit. Clothing began to disappear from their bodies. When they were totally free of the trappings of cloth, Quinn picked her up and carried her to the tall bed. Her arms were around his neck, her lips on his, all the way.

Quira lay back on the mound of pillows, and Quinnís body followed hers. The heat eminating from them could almost be seen radiating in the air. They were lost in each otherís passion and the weight of the world and worries they bore on their shoulders disappeared into oblivion. Their lovemaking raged. Their world was white-hot. The sounds from the room rang out to the entire plantation, but they never heard themselves, so enrapt were they with each other.

Aunt Aurora jumped up from her seat, interrupting Arturoís crazy explanations. "My God, what is going on up there?" she questioned, as she looked toward the tall ceiling.

The professor smiled slightly. "Madam, I think there is no problem. Maybe we could continue our discussion out on the porch, enjoying the cool breeze." He took a step toward the door and motioned for her to proceed ahead of him. He wanted to get her out of the house before she realized what she was hearing.

"This discussion can wait. Something is happening to Quira and I plan to see what is going on." she huffed as she started to the door.

"Madam, please. My young companion went up earlier. Rosalie had come down as dinner was ending to say that your Quira wanted to see one of us. And....." The professor never finished.

"Your young companion!? My God! Iíll kill him!" and she raced from the room, not allowing her girth to slow her down.

"Madam, please!" Arturo yelled as he followed after her. "How can a woman of so much poundage move so quickly." he mumbled as he huffed and puffed up the stairs.

Quinn rolled off of Quira to lay on the softness of the pillows at his back. They both labored arduously to catch their breath. Quira turned her head to look at Quinn, smiling as she asked, "Are all men from your world so wild and passionate.....and satisfying?"

Quinn smiled in return, rolled on his side to face her and opened his mouth to answer. The door flew open and banged against the wall behind it. Quinn and Quira simultaneously grabbed wildly for some covering, shocked out of their slowly calming state.

"Iíll kill you for hurtiní my Quira!" Rosalie screamed as she pointed a double-barrel shotgun right at Quinnís mid-section. Right behind her came Aunt Aurora.

"What the hell do you think youíre doing, coming up here and molesting my little girl!" she screamed, louder that Rosalie. Arturo was on her heels.

"Madam, please. Please!" he spouted, but stopped short when he saw Quinn and Quira in the bed. "Dear God!"

When Quira saw the gun she jumped up in front of Quinn, the covers falling to her waist. Quinn saw she was oblivious to her state of undress and reached around to try and cover her body with the sheet. Rosalie raised the gun higher, trying to take better aim.

"Donít you touch her! You done enough already!" she spat out.

"Rosalie!" Quira yelled in disgust. "Put that gun down! And all of you get out of here! This is none of your concern. Iím fine! Or at least I was until this parade!" Her head began to throb and she was afraid she would pass out before the mob. That would never do. Rosalie would fire that gun for sure if she fainted.

Just then, Callie and Colin raced through the door. "What is going on?" Callie asked, frantically. Her hand flew to her mouth as she gasped at the sight before her. "Oh, my lord!" Colin put one hand on her shoulder and covered his eyes with the other.

"I think we should not be here." he said quietly.

"Yes, my dear son. I think you are exactly right." the professor piped up. "Ladies, please. Let us give these young people some privacy. We have already stripped them of their dignity. Please, everyone. Come. Letís go." And he began to herd them to the door.

"Yes, please. Everyone go. Rosalie, you and Aunt Aurora, too. Please, get out!" Quira begged, as she saw them reluctant to follow the kind man. Both Rosalie and Aunt Aurora scowled and backed out of the room, very unhappily.

Finally, after the door closed, Quinn and Quira, both red-faced, turned to each other. In seconds, they were laughing hysterically at the turn of events. On the other side of the door, the professor and Colin grinned from ear to ear, as Callie blushed profusely. Rosalie and Aunt Aurora refused to see the hilarity in the situation and glared angrily at the two men as they huffed off in a snit.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Remmy, Wade, and Maggie had spent a good bit of time since dinner exploring the grounds and stables, most of it in the stables. Wade loved horses and was delighted to find several fine pieces of horse flesh that she could dote on. Will was more than willing to show Wade around and give her the background on those beautiful animals.

Remmy and Maggie finally had enough and decided to leave them to their horse talk and look around the grounds some more. Thatís when Maggie saw Manson. He was down close to a creek that ran behind the stables. There he was laboring over a tree stump; with his shirt off and sweat glistening over his back, he was swinging a heavy axe. Maggieís breath caught in her throat.

"Easy girl." Remmy said when he saw where her line of vision was headed. "We donít know this dude. And he doesnít know us. We canít assume everyone here is friendly. He might be like that crazy woman, Rosalie."

When Manson looked up and saw Maggie, his heart almost stopped. "Where did that lovely vision come from?" he thought. He let the axe fall to the ground and made his way toward the pair. Whoever the big guy was, Manson didnít care. This glorious creature was going to be his. "Well, hello there, gorgeous." he grinned broadly as he spoke.

"I could say the same to you, big boy." Maggie answered.

Remmy just rolled his eyes and mumbled under his breath, "I think Iím gonna be sick." Maggie landed an elbow to his side. "Ummphh" Remmy grunted.

"I donít know who you are or where you came from, but Iím not gonna question good fortune." Manson said, as he moved in closer, causing Remmy to step back. Just as he was about to make a quick move on Maggie, a commotion was heard in the direction of the big house.

"Shit, whatís going on now?" And he headed toward the house with Maggie and Remmy close behind. As they passed the stables, Will and Wade came out and almost collided with the trio head-on.

"Whatís up, Manson? Whoís doiní all that yellin?" Will asked.

"Hell if I know. Sounds like a danged riot!" was Mansonís only explanation.

The five of them rounded the corner of the barn and stopped dead in their tracks. On the porch of the huge mansion stood Aunt Aurora, Rosalie, with a shot-gun in her hand, and the professor, all three yelling at once. Callie and Colin were trying desparately to intervene, but to no avail. Aunt Aurora almost swatted Callie off the porch much like a pesky fly.

"Madam, I am NOT responsible for my young friend up there. He is a grown man." Arturo yelled.

"And a dead one, if I have anything to say about it." shouted Rosalie, as she waved her shot-gun in Arturoís face. Aunt Aurora stepped in front of Rosalie, shaking her finger in Arturoís face, almost babbling incoherently. Manson, Will, and the trio of sliders left their spot of observance and ran toward the loud group.

POW!!!!!

"My God, Rosalie shot him!" shouted Will.

"No, she couldnít have!" Wade screamed and sped past the rest toward the professor.

Remmy followed suit, screaming, "What have you done?"

CHAPTER NINE

Quinn and Quira continued to lay in bed, talking, after the mass exodus of shocked on-lookers. They were still somewhat embarrassed, yet amused at the scene that had taken place earlier. "Are we going to be able to leave this room and face that crowd below?" Quinn asked, as he caressed her cheek.

"Iím not sure. It will certainly be awkward. I just hope Rosalie and Aunt Aurora will have calmed down when we finally do go downstairs." Quira answered. She wasnít sure which was throbbing more, her heart or her head.

"Well, I just hope that Rosalie has put that stupid shot-gun away. I donít think today was the day that I had planned to be shot." Quinn replied with a grin. "Hey, I recall you saying something about Rosalieís bark being worse that her bite. Iím not so sure about that now"

"Donít worry. No one is going to get shot today.....or any other day!" Quira answered, holding her hand to the side of her head.

"Hey, are you alright?" Quinn asked, as he brought his hand up to the spot where she was holding her head.

POW!!!!!

Just as Quinn had gotten the words out of his mouth, the shot rang out from below. Quinn and Quira looked at each other in shocked disbelief.

"Oh my God! She couldnít have!" said Quira. Both she and Quinn jumped off the high bed and quickly grabbed for clothing.

"Who the hell did she shoot? It had to be the professor!" Quinn spoke, as he jerked his pants up and zipped them. "God, I hope heís not hurt bad!"

"I tell you, Rosalie didnít shoot anybody. She wouldnít do that! She couldnít do that!" Quira screamed as they both headed for the door. "Please, Lord. Please let me be right." was her silent plea as they headed down the long hall, nearly falling over each other as they flew down the curved staircase.

 

Out on the porch, the screaming stopped short at the sound of gunfire. No one moved, but looked immediately at Rosalie. They all felt their bodies for signs of wet, sticky blood. Professor Arturoís face was a ghostly white, as he glared at Rosalie. "Donít look at me! I didnít do nothiní. she said, somewhat bewildered.

Wade, Remmy, and the others reached the porch just as Callie started to speak, relieved to see the professor still standing.

"All right. That is enough. All of you!" said Callie, standing in the doorway with a pistol in her right hand. Her voice was quivering. She dropped the gun from her shaking hand as Colin ran to her side.

"Callie? That was you, hon? What are you doing?" Aunt Aurora questioned.

"It was the only way to get your attention. None of you would listen, so I went in the house and found Quiraís spare pistol. Now, you all are going to listen to me. What we saw upstairs is none of our business, and certainly the fault of no one here. We...."

Quira and Quinn flew out the door in the middle of Callieís speech, almost knocking her down. Colin grabbed her around the waist. "What the hell is going on here? Rosalie, who did you shoot?" Quira screamed, trying desparately to catch her breath.

"I didnít shoot nobody. Your sweet, innocent sister here, is the culprit." Rosalie said, pointing at Callie and taking herself off the hook.

"Callie?" asked Quira.

"I was just trying to get everyoneís attention. I didnít fire Ďatí anybody." she explained.

Remmy, Wade, and Maggie all looked at each other, bewildered. "Will someone tell us what is going on around here. What did you guys see upstairs that has everybody ready for the next gunfight at the O.K. Corral?" Maggie asked.

Quinn and Quira looked at each other and turned red-faced all over again as every head on the porch also turned to look at them. Quinn took a deep breath and stepped foward to the middle of the small crowd. "Uh, look folks. Why donít we all go inside, to the sitting room and have a little chat. Maybe if we explain how we came here and you folks explain a few things to us, then we can get along a little better; especially if we just forget about the last couple of hours." Quira turned to look at Quinn, a little miffed.

"Forget?!" she said, raising her right eyebrow.

"Quira, I didnít mean that the way it sounded." Quinn tried to explain. Then he turned to the crowd and saw that most of them were grinning at that last statement. "Please, everyone. Please just go into the sitting room." Everyone then headed through the doors, leaving Quinn and Quira on the porch alone. "Quira, I meant I want Ďthemí to forget what happened. I certainly didnít mean that ĎIí wanted to forget what happened. Besides, I couldnít if I Ďdidí want to. You know that." He put his arm around her waist and turned her towards the door. He then bent to pick up the forgotten pistol that Callie had dropped.

"I know, Quinn. I just wanted to give you a hard time. We donít want things to be too mellow around here, now do we." she said, laughing. Quinn squeezed her, slightly, and gave her a quick peck on the cheek as they headed inside.

On entering the foyer, Quinn placed the pistol on a nearby table and caught part of the conversation between Wade and the professor. "Would someone please tell me what you saw upstairs that caused all the shouting and gunfire?"

"Miss Wells, suffice it to say, that Mr. Mallory did a little more than talk when Rosalie carried him upstairs to see Quira. A beautiful damsel in distress, a handsome knight in shining armor......need I say more; except that they were interrupted by ĎAtilla the Huní and her Ďgun-totiní side-kick." the professor explained.

Wadeís eyes grew wide and her hand flew to her mouth. "Are you serious, professor? Quinn and Quira? Boy, he doesnít waste any time, does he?" Then she asked, "Did Rosalie really try to shoot him?"

Quinn and Quira turned to face each other once more as the conversation between Wade and the professor died away when they entered the sitting room. They stopped, embraced each other closely and stole one last kiss before facing the 10-man jury.

CHAPTER TEN

Quinn and Quira walked into the room and saw the ten pairs of eyes staring back at them. Colin and Callie had seated themselves on the large sofa next to Manson and Maggie. Mansonís hand was placed on Maggieís leg and Quinn swore he saw it moving upward, slightly. "God, please donít start another war just now; not when we finally have every one calm for a moment." Quinn thought.

Wade was seated in one of the big, over-stuffed chairs and Will in the other. He had pulled his chair closer to Wade. Professor Arturo and Remmy had taken two chairs from the gaming table across the room and put them beside Willís chair. They politely gestured for Aunt Aurora and Rosalie to seat themselves there and they stood behind them. The professor placed his hands behind his back and rocked back and forth on his feet, waiting to see how Quinn would handle this mixed audience.

Quinn cleared his throat, raked his fingers through his hair and gave a sideways glance at Quira. She smiled encouragingly and nodded her head for him to begin.

He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. "Go ahead, Quinn. Just tell them what you told me earlier." said Quira. Quinn looked at her, smiled a weak smile and turned back to the crowd. He saw Wade place her hand on Willís just at the same moment Colin took Callieís hand in his. Aunt Aurora crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. She raised her eyebrow as if daring him to speak.

Rosalie became impatient and placed both hands on her upper legs and stood up, saying, "Well, I ainít got all day. You been making some purty fast moves here on my Quira. How come you canít get your mouth to move that fast?"

"Rosalie! Iíll have none of Ďyourí mouth! That subject is closed! Do you hear me?!" Quira said, glaring at Rosalie.

Quinn jumped in before a shouting match ensued. "Look, itís just kind of hard to explain. And Iím already more than a little nervous here. But here goes." Quinn started talking, as Rosalie returned to her seat.

He did his best to explain everything he could about sliding, without boring them with technical details. Aunt Aurora never moved. She just glared at Quinn the entire time he spoke. Rosalie rolled her eyes and shook her head in disbelief on several occasions. Will looked at Wade at times, questioningly, to see if she would confirm Quinnís words. On those occasions, she just nodded Ďyesí and smiled. Will had a hard time believing it, but somehow he knew it was all true.

Manson just leaned back on the sofa with his left leg propped on his right knee. He didnít really care how this gorgeous creature and her friends came here, he just wanted to be alone with her. "God, will this babbling idiot never shut up! Heís had his turn; now I want mine." Manson thought, impatiently. He brought his arm back behind Maggie and began to trace his finger up and down her bare arm.

Quinn finally finished, but instead of giving his hosts a chance to ask questions or make comments, he immediately began his own questions. "Now, if you donít mind, I would like to ask some things about your world. For instance, this book of maps we found earlier." He went to the table where the book lay and picked it up. Turning to the page with the backwards America, he held it up to the audience. "Is this a map of your present USA?"

"Well, of course it is." Aunt Aurora spoke up. "Whatís so odd about that?"

"Itís backwards from our world." Quinn explained and he held it up to the light to show the image of his America through the thin page. "This is how our America looks."

"Why, thatís ridiculous!" said Rosalie.

"Rosalie, I think we should keep an open mind, here." Callie chimed in, very uncharacteristically. She looked at Colin with her sweet smile and squeezed his hand.

"Yes, Rosalie." Quira agreed. "Quinn has explained how every parallel world could differ from the next.

"My question is....... " he flipped the page as he spoke. "....about this map. What are all these ring-like patches of land?"

Quira took the book from his hands. She looked from the map to his face with a very sad expression. "This is all the land that is left in America. The war destroyed vast areas of land and left little land islands all across the country. The chasms are so deep and wide-spread that the people left on these little islands canít get to or communicate with the other little islands. Weíre stranded on our own little world. We make do as best we can. Life has reverted back to the life people lived ages ago." Quiraís eyes almost teared.

Professor Arturo came around the chair Aunt Aurora was sitting in. "Madam, what war are you speaking of?"

"Why the war between the east and the west. Did your world not have that great civil war?" Quira asked.

The sliders all looked around to each other. Quinn turned to Quira. "Uh, no, we didnít. About 130 years ago, we had a civil war between the north and south, but it did nothing like this." he said as he pointed to the map.

"What was this east-west war about?" Remmy asked.

"Population. Our eastern states from the Mississippi to the coast had become so over populated, that Congress wanted to send people west to Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and such. The western states didnít want anymore people, so...... to war they went. But the east did get their wish. There certainly isnít any over-population now."

"There will be if this young buck stays around here for long." Rosalie mumbled, but still loud enough for the others to hear.

The entire room, with the exception of Quira and Quinn, started to giggle. Quinnís face grew red with embarrassment and Quiraís from anger. "Rosalie, if you say one more word in that direction, I will banish you from this house.......FOREVER!"

Rosalie stood, "Hummphhh!" was all she could muster and stormed out of the room.

Quinn watched her exit, then turned to Quira. "You should go after her, Quira." he pleaded.

"Just leave her be for now. Iíll deal with her later." Quira responded. She turned back to the group. "Look folks, itís been a long and tiring day for all of us. I think we should all turn in and get some rest. We can ask more questions tomorrow when weíve gotten some sleep. Callie, you and Will help me show our guests to their rooms. Manson, please make sure the horses are fine before turning in, and Aunt Aurora, you can check the kitchen to make sure itís ready for breakfast in the morning." She turned and headed to the door, with a heavy sigh leaving her lips. "Everyone please follow me."

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Little good it did for Quira to take time placing everyone in their respective rooms. As soon as she was out of sight, the swapping began. Manson knocked on Maggieís and Wadeís door almost before Quira had closed it. When Wade opened the door, Will stood there with Manson, and asked her if she would care to go for a moonlit walk with him. Wade turned to see Maggieís pleading eyes that said, "and please donít come back any time soon."

Wade turned back to Will and said, "Sure, Iíd love to. Manson, why donít you come in and keep Maggie company while weíre gone."

Manson grinned broadly and stepped aside for Wade to exit. "Yes, maíam. I think Iíll do just that." As Wade and Will started down the hall, Manson stepped inside, closed the door and held out his arms. "Come here, you gorgeous thing, you. Old Manson, here, needs to give you a warm welcome to Oakland Plantation." She literally ran to his waiting arms, and the welcoming began.

Colin looked at Quinn, staring out of the tall window of their room. "Quinn?" Colin asked, then paused. Quinn didnít hear. "Quinn!" he said louder.

Quinn turned to face him, a tired, troubled look on his face. "Yes, Colin. What is it?"

"I just wanted to tell Callie good night. Do you think it would be too improper to go to her room to speak with her for a moment?" he asked.

"Youíre asking me!? I donít think Iíve done the Ďproperí thing all day long! Certainly not according to Aunt Aurora and Rosalie!" Quinn said, disgustedly.

Colin hung his head and replied quietly, "I guess I should not go. Those two would not hesitate to throw both of us out of this second-story window. And I do not want to get Callie into trouble."

Quinn stared at his brother. He looked so disappointed. Quinn walked over to him, put his arm around Colinís shoulder and said, "Brother, you go see Callie right now. Iím sure she would be ecstatic to see you at her door. And something tells me that little lady could take care of Aunt Aurora and Rosalie in a heartbeat. Sheís a lot tougher than she lets on."

Colin looked up, a smile spreading across his face. "Thanks, brother. I think I will just take your advice. See you later." With that, he walked out the door and down the hall towards the door he had seen Callie enter earlier.

Quinn was tired, but he knew he wouldnít sleep just yet. He left just minutes after Colin, in need of some fresh air and wide open space. He felt as if the room would close in on him if he stayed in it any longer. He went downstairs and through the sitting room to the doors opening onto the brick patio. Swinging both of them open, he stepped into the cool night air. Taking a deep breath, he let it out with a sigh and looked up towards the night sky.

"Couldnít sleep?" a voice asked.

Quinn jumped. He had seen no one as he came outside. He looked around, trying to adjust his eyes to the moon-lit darkness, and saw Quira sitting on the glider in the grass, several feet from the patio. He moved toward her as he spoke, "Looks like Iím not the only one." He took her hand in his as he sat.

Quira smiled slowly. "Itís been quite a day hasnít it?" she asked.

He returned her smile and answered, "You can say that again. I think I would put this one on my top ten list." After pausing a moment, he continued, "Are you feeling alright? Does your head bother you now?"

"It hurts a little, but Iím fine. Iím really not feeling dizzy anymore. Besides, Iím not sure my head was the cause of the dizziness anyway." She smiled coyly at him, then averted her eyes away from his. She could easily drown in his beautiful blue eyes if she werenít careful.

He cupped her chin in his hand and forced her to return her gaze to his. He then brought his lips to hers, slowly planting soft, feathery kisses at each corner of her mouth. Her entire body tingled and she forgot to breathe. Then his lips moved down to her neck, his warm breath searing her skin. She closed her eyes, mentally begging him not to stop.

Meanwhile, Remmy and the professor had the same wanderlust as all the others in the household. Neither was willing to call it a night just yet. They left their room together and proceeded downstairs and out onto the wide front porch. While talking over the events of the day, Remmy noticed a figure moving down the drive past the old brick wall at the entrance. He could tell from the silhouette that it was Rosalie. He rose from his rocking chair. "Professor, I think Iíll take a little walk around. Iím still somewhat restless and need to stretch my legs."

"Very well, my good man. Go right ahead. Iím enjoying this rocker immensely, so Iíll just stay right here for a while." the professor responded. Remmy emitted a slight chuckle and went down the steps towards Rosalie. With his back to the porch, he never saw Aunt Aurora come through the front door and replace him in the rocker next to the professor.

As he took the long walk, he laughed mentally at his thoughts on Rosalie. She was an onery sort, especially when it came to protecting Quira. But he would do the same for Quinn. Nobody had better mess with that boy, unless they wanted to feel the wrath of the Cryiní Man. He couldnít blame her feelings or maybe even her actions. After hearing the explanations about this world, he knew it must be hard on them to be all alone here, trying desperately to scrape out a life for themselves. And they had no one else to turn to. Much like him and his little group of sliders.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Quinn had continued his little feast on Quiraís neck for several minutes. He couldnít help himself at all. She tasted and smelled so good. But just when Quira thought she would go completely insane at his nibbling, he returned his eyes to hers. He said nothing for the moment, but just stared into her eyes, intently, seriously,....troubled. Quira returned his stare, slowly caressing his cheek with the back of her fingers, wondering what troubled him so.

He reached up to put his hand over hers. The corner of his mouth turned up slightly. His eyes still bore into hers, turning bluer by the moment. Finally he spoke, "You and I are so much alike. Both of us trying desperately to keep our little band together and growing so weary of it at the same time. I can see it in your eyes. I look at you and I feel as if Iím looking into a mirror. We all seem to have someone here that is a mirror image of ourselves. Colin and Callie are so much alike it scares me." He stood and took a few steps away from Quira. She wanted to take him in her arms, put his head to her chest and just rock away all of his pain. He continued his comparisons as she became lost in thought.

"Wade and Will seem very suited to each other. They both seem to be sweet on each other from what I saw." He turned to face her. "I see evidence of Remmy and Rosalie being similar. And the professor and your aunt. They all match perfectly. Even Maggie and Manson are alike. I could see the lust in their eyes the minute I saw them together." He smiled and ran his fingers through his hair. "Listen to me... talking about Ďtheirí lust. Iíve not been so innocent myself today."

Quira rose and went to his side. "Quinn, we all need someone. And I have always believed that there is someone out there waiting just for each one of us. Maybe your little Ďfamilyí and my little Ďfamilyí are just what we all need." He looked into her eyes wanting to believe she was right.

She pulled back to armís length and her face lit up, revealing the fact that a pleasant thought had invaded her mind. "Do you dance?" she asked.

"What?" he said, puzzled at the abrupt change in subject. "Uh, not very much. Sliding through the universe doesnít afford me much time for things like that. And there usually isnít a partner around that I would prefer." he said, still killing her with that soft, sweet smile.

"Well, you have time right now, and hopefully, a partner you can tolerate." She turned and went through the doors to the sitting room, giving him no chance to respond. When she returned, Quinn could hear the end of a song dying away in the background. Quira placed her body close to his, putting her left arm around his neck and taking his left hand into her right. A new tune began. "Listen closely to the words, Quinn." she whispered.

 

*******************************************

"I keep on thinking, I should be free,

This time just leave it alone.

With seventeen reasons not to believe,

Nothing goes, everybody knows, like you want it to be.

Chorus:

But here in my heart, thereís a dream thatís unbroken,

And it gets in my way, but it wonít be denied.

Here in my heart, the door is still open,

Waiting for you....to walk into my life.

 

What Iíve been feeling, I canít explain,

Lost in the blues of your eyes.

And Iím falling so hard, just like the rain,

Comes a time, when you cross the line,

And you know youíve got to believe.

ĎCause here in my heart, thereís a dream thatís unbroken,

And it gets in my way, but it wonít be denied.

Here in my heart, the door is still open,

Waiting for you.....to walk into my life.

I know I may never sleep again, till I see you.

I know life is too short and I canít pretend

Itís not about you......canít do without you.

Chorus:

But here in my heart, thereís a dream thatís unbroken,

And it getís in my way, but it wonít be denied.

Here in my heart, the door is still open,

Waiting for you.....to walk into my life.

 

<oh baby, you know>

............Thereís a dream thatís unbroken.

It gets in my way, but it wonít be denied.

Here in my heart, the door is still open,

Waiting for you.....to walk into my life.

*******************************************

Quinn and Quira held each other closely and moved slowly to the rhythm of the soft music. He tried to do as she had asked, but concentrating on the words was so hard to do with her in his arms. But he heard enough to know thatís exactly the way he felt. He did have a dream in his heart; and maybe, just maybe, it was about to come true.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

As Remmy approached Rosalie, he wasnít so sure of what he wanted to say. He was a little nervous and he hoped she would be civilized. Out here alone, in the dark, she could do anything and no one would know until it was too late.

Remmy shook his head and chuckled. "What am I thinking? Sure sheís gruff, but sheís really okay. Thereís nothing to be worried about." he said aloud, trying to convince himself. He continued his walk until he was only about three or four feet behind her.

"Rosalie? Itís Rembrandt. Can we talk?" he asked.

"I ainít got nothiní to say to you." she growled.

"Oh, come on, Rosalie. Take off your beligerent mask and letís have a little light conversation. Itís been one heck of a day for everyone. We could use a little friendly chat. And Iíd really like to be your friend." Remmy smiled, trying to coax her out of her angry mood.

"Hmmmph." was all he could get her to say.

"Look, I know youíre upset about Quinn and Quira, but theyíre both adults and Quinn didnít force himself on her. She obviously wanted it as bad as he did." He paused to see if she would respond, but he got nothing but silence. "Looks to me like both your little crew and mine are up against a lot of obstacles. Sometimes, thereís just got to be a release of all the pent-up feelings that come along. Thereís been no harm done. Besides, Q-ball is a very decent guy. I think he has some true feelings for Quira."

"Feelings, my ass! The first time he saw that girl awake, he jumped her bones!" Rosalie huffed.

"Now how do you know that?" he said, getting irritated. "Maybe it was her. Maybe she jumped Ďhisí bones!" He didnít mean to start an argument and he regreted the words as soon as they left his mouth, but he had to defend Quinn. She was being so stubborn.

"Iíll have you know....," Rosalie started to shout, shaking her finger in Remmyís face.

Remmy grimaced at his stupid comment, then grabbed Rosalieís arm to remove her finger from in front of his face. "Now listen, here, woman...." he said sternly.

"Donít you Ďwomaní me, you, you...." she started, but couldnít think of anything bad enough to call him. He was only inches from her face, breathing right down her neck. She became flustered and confused. What in the world was happening to her?

Remmy still held her arm in one hand and had put his other arm around her waist to still her. "Rosalie, I hate to have to...I hate to...I....." he stammered. He had gotten too close and knew he was about to lose it. "Aw hell, what have I got to lose." he murmured and put his lips on hers. His hand released her arm and came around her waist. Instead of the resistence he thought he would get, she put her arms around his neck and returned his kiss with gusto.

---------

Aunt Aurora sat down in the chair that Remmy had vacated seconds earlier. She had come to the door, hoping to sit alone on the porch and contemplate the events of the day. When she saw the rockers occupied, she just stood there, wondering if she should intrude.

The travelersí story had been so outlandish. But there just seemed to be some truth to it. She guessed she really did believe them. And that boy with Quira. Well, it appeared that he was okay. He seemed to be in charge of this little group of his, even though he was one of the youngest. Seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. And Quira was attracted to him. Her judgement was usually not to be questioned. Aunt Aurora had never found Quira to go wrong. She guessed she and Rosalie had been too hard on them earlier.

She saw Remmy get up and head down the steps. Looking further down the dirt drive, she saw where he was headed. "Well, if heís leaving, maybe I can just go out and keep this gentleman company. Got to start making amends somewhere." she thought, and opened the door. She stepped out onto the porch and slid quietly into the rocker next to Arturo.

"Good evening, madam" Arturo politely stated. "Iím glad you could join me. It seems our conversation was interrupted earlier today. Maybe we can get it going again."

"Well, I guess weíll start it by me apologizing. I didnít much believe anything you had to say then. But with time to think it over, I guess I can believe it. Besides, itís too darn ludicrous to have been made up!"

"Madam, absolutely no apology is necessary. I can totally understand your skepticism. Iím not sure I would believe it myself if our roles were reversed." he answered.

They both rocked silently for a moment, then Aurora continued the conversation. "You like doing that sort of stuff?"

"You mean sliding? Well, there isnít much I can do about it now, regardless of my feelings, but yes, it has been very educational. I just wish we could control it a bit better." He paused. "It does become a little tiring sometimes. And we have no normalcy of life." He sighed. "I would like some normal routine for a change."

"Well, we can give you all the normal routine you can stand around here. Day in, day out, the same old thing; waking up and trying to survive from one day to the next. Nothing ever changes." she stated, whistfully.

"Madam, you donít know how tempting it is to just stay here,........where nothing ever changes." was his weary reply.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The music ended, but Quinn still held Quira in his arms, eyes closed, swaying gently to the music in his mind. He wasnít even aware that the music from inside had stopped. Quira was loath to tell him.

"Quira?" he whispered, still moving to an imaginary tune.

A soft, low "Hmmm?" was her only reply.

"Iím not leaving." he answered.

She jerked her eyes open and tensed her body against his. After a few seconds, she raised her head from his shoulder to look into his eyes. "What do you mean?"

His swaying finally stopped. Quinn released her from his embrace and took both her hands in his. His piercing, blue eyes bore into hers. What seemed like hours, but was only mere seconds, passed before he spoke. "I want to stay here.....with you. You could use another person. And I could be a big help. We could run this place together. Weíre a good fit." There was a long pause. "And I wouldnít have to lead this little band of weary travelers all over the universe anymore." He let out a sigh.

Quira wasnít sure how to respond. She knew what she wanted, but didnít know if it was right. This wasnít exactly heaven on earth. Not the best world in the universe to be living out oneís life. It was her way of life, but it was her world. She would play the hand she had been dealt. But Quinn. That was different. He wasnít born here. He didnít have to die here. As much as she wanted him......needed him...... she couldnít encourage him to stay. It just wasnít right. And besides, othersí lives depended on him. They needed him to get them home. She finally found the courage to speak.

"Quinn, I donít think that you have thought this through. If you donít leave when your supposed to, you can never leave. Itís not like deciding to stay a few extra days on vacation. There is a finality in this decision of yours." she tried to reason.

"I know. And thatís exactly what I want. Finality. Certainty. Iím very tired of never knowing when or where Iím going to be. Tired of the loneliness. Tired of the responsibility. Just very, very tired. I want a life.......with you." With those last two words, his arms enveloped her and he held her against him. He buried his face in her hair, taking in the fresh, clean scent. "Please, donít tell me I should leave." he begged.

--------

Colin sat with Callie on the love seat in her room. He had been more than a little nervous. Just being near Callie evoked that response, but he also didnít want the wrath of Rosalie and Aunt Aurora to rain down on him either. Hopefully they were sound asleep by now, and if he and Callie just sat here quietly and talked awhile, he could escape their detection. Unfortunately, sitting this close to Callie wasnít conducive to talking.

She had ushered him into the room with that innocent smile of hers, then taking his hand she led him to the loveseat. Now here, so close to her, all ideas of talk were quickly being replaced by the idea of touch. He looked into her eyes to search her heart. If he tried to kiss her, would she welcome it or turn away? He had to try.

He reached up to her face and ran his finger along the line of her jaw. She didnít move, but stared into his wondering eyes with her soulful ones. They began to move closer to each other. Eyes closed, lips met, ecstacy found. For seconds, their lips barely touched, but Colin knew it was the most wonderful feeling he had ever felt. He wanted more. His hand came behind her head, intertwining his fingers in her hair, and he gently pressed her lips to his. Callie brought her arms around his neck and returned his kiss in kind.

Callieís shy demeanor belied her inner passion. She immediately took over the kiss that Colin had started, almost to the point of being forceful. He was startled but pleased to be on the receiving end of such a kiss. He allowed her the lead and let the kiss run its course. When it did end and Callie realized what she had done, she blushed profusely.

"Oh my God! I am so sorry. I donít know what came over me!" she apologized, as she rose from the love seat and almost hurried to the other side of the room. She could feel her swollen lips as she put her fingers to her mouth. How could I!? she thought. He will think me a loose woman.

Colin was as surprised at her reaction to her actions as he was to the forwardness she displayed in her kiss. He had enjoyed the kiss immensely and did not want her upset over it. "Callie, please. Do not apologize." he begged as he made his way to her side. She stood with her back to him, too embarrassed to turn and face him. Colin just stood for a moment trying to decide what to say.

"I...I..enjoyed the kiss very much, Callie. So much so, that I would like to do it again." he said, nervously. At this confession, she spun around to face him. She was so sure she had disgusted him with her strong will. She did not think a man wanted a forceful woman. It was hard to look him in the eye, and she found herself concentrating on his sweet, crooked smile.

"Are....are you sure?" she whispered. "You do not think me a brazen woman for being so forward?"

He did not answer Callie in words, but with deed, instead.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Wade and Will had left the house by the back entrance. As they stepped off the porch, Wade looked up into the night sky and spotted the moon rising just over a stand of trees off to the right. A full moon, a gentle breeze and a very nice gentleman by her side. Did it get any better than this? she wondered. How long had it been since she had enjoyed an evening without worry and fear?

Will took her hand as they walked down the steps; and even in the moonlight, he noticed the sparkle in her eyes. She was so cute, he thought. There seemed to be so much life in her, something sorely missed at Oakland Plantation. Everyone just got through each day as it came. They didnít exactly live. But these strangers had put a different outlook on everyoneís face. He even saw it in Rosalie and Aunt Aurora.

As they walked toward the stream behind the house, Will found the courage to speak, "Wade?"

"Yes, Will?" she replied, with a small smile forming on her lips and in her eyes as she looked at him.

"Iím sure glad you folks decided to come here while on your slides around the universe." he said awkwardly. He wanted to talk, but he wasnít sure what to say. He hoped he didnít sound too much like he was babbling.

"Well, we didnít exactly Ďdecideí to come here, Will. It just happened. Of course, Iím glad it did. But we have no control over where weíre going. Unfortunately." she explained. Will noticed that last statement caused the smile to fade away from her lips..... and her eyes. He stopped and turned to face her.

"I guess it must be hard jumping from place to place, never knowing what youíre going to find, never having a home." He took one step closer to her, then lowered his gaze to the ground. When he looked up again, she was staring at him, a mixture of sadness and sparkle at war in the depths of her eyes.

"It was such an adventure at first. So thrilling, so awe-inspiring. We never knew what we would find. Wonderful worlds, horrible worlds, but we thought we would be back home soon. Now the grim reality has set in on all of us. We miss our families and our lives and weíre not sure weíll ever have them back." She stopped her speech and turned away from Will. Then continued, "Iím tired, Will. I am so very tired of all of it."

Willís heart ached. He hated for her to have such a burden on her young life. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her that he could take care of her. She would never, ever, have to worry again. He would fix everything. But of course, he couldnít say that. He couldnít fix anything, unless she was willing to stay here with him. And he knew she wouldnít; and he couldnít ask her to. Could he?

He walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. When she felt the warmth of his hands through her blouse, she closed her eyes to savor the moment.

At one time, she had wanted Quinn to be close to her, put his hands on her and comfort her. But it wasnít meant to be, and she had resigned herself to being alone. But now, here was Will. Kind, caring, gentle. Did she have the right to encourage his affection, knowing she would have to leave soon? Or did she have to leave soon? Why couldnít she stay if she wanted to?

Wade slowly turned to face Will. She brought her hand up to his cheek and softly traced his jaw line with her fingers, moving around his chin to the other side. He could stand the heat of her hand against his skin no more. He took her hand in his as he brought his other arm around her waist to pull her to him.

They had been silent for so many minutes, but he could keep quiet no longer. He had to speak his heart. As he pulled her closer, he whispered, "I could take care of you, Wade. You would never get tired of your life if you stayed with me." And with that he gently placed his lips on hers, hopefully conveying with his heart as well as his words, that he wanted her to stay.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

As the night wore on, the six pairs of males and females seemed to grow closer as they talked or walked, rocked or danced. They found they had so much in common in their personal lives and their fight for survival. It was quite eerie the way the threads of their lives seem to run along the same path. Each couple had commented on this and had also commented on each of the other couples. It wasnít their imagination or a secret wish, it was just obviously a fact. Without realizing what the separate conversations were about, to a man, each of the sliders had mentioned how tired they were of sliding and each host, secretly at first, and then openly, wished they would end their journey right here.

Quinn and Quira had slipped off to her room after the dance and Quinnís revelation of desire to stay here. As they passed Callieís door, Quinn allowed himself a smile, knowing Colin never left her room after saying goodnight.

Will had put a spell on Wade and she couldnít seem to resist anything he said or did. She had not realized how much she needed the gentle love of a man, of this man. When he had said he didnít want the night to end with her, she had told him it didnít have to. They both blushed profusely, then walked arm in arm to the house and Willís room. As she passed the door of herís and Maggieís room, she smiled and almost laughed. She knew she couldnít go back in there anyway. There was no way Maggie was going to let Manson out of that room any time soon.

Remmy and Rosalie had come walking up the dirt drive a couple of hours after Remmy had left the professor on the porch. They found him and Aunt Aurora still there, rocking away, deep in conversation. Remmy had even heard the professorís deep chuckles sprinkled throughout his words. "Well, will wonders never cease." he thought. "This afternoon she wanted to kill him, and I thought Rosalie would, and now look. Look at all of us. Weíve paired off like a bunch of thirteen year olds at the last hour of their first dance." He shook his head and laughed.

"Whatís so funny?" Rosalie asked. "You gotta joke rattling around in that empty head of yours you ainít shariní?"

Remmy half-stopped his chuckle and replied, "Rosalie, I donít know why I put up with you, woman. You sure can sound onery sometimes, when there just ainít no reason to." He reached and put his arm around her as they neared the porch. "Now, lighten up. I was just thinking how at odds we were with each other this afternoon, and now look at us. Me and you, the professor and Aunt Aurora. Weíre all getting along just fine."

"Hummph. Should have my head examined." she said gruffly, but with a smile on her lips.

The two couples exchanged pleasantries and the professor had conveyed to Remmy that he intended to spend the entire night on the porch and in the rocker. He was going to see the sun rise right over that stand of trees. Remmy took that as a cue that he and Rosalie wouldnít be disturbed at all.

Aunt Aurora felt it would be bad manners to leave a guest alone out here, so she told him she would be glad to stay to keep him company. If he wanted to talk, she would talk; and if he wanted to meditate, she would just rock along beside him in silence.

The night progressed into daylight with mirror images staring back at one another.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

As the sun rose over the trees in front of the professor, he stood to get a good, clear view. He had made a decision last night and now it was time to act upon it. He hoped the others would understand. As he turned to head into the house, he noticed Aurora sitting in the rocker, head bowed, fast asleep. He chuckled. She was going to talk to him all night if thatís what he wanted. She hadnít lasted an hour. Well, that was all right. There would be other nights,......lots of them. Her hand was resting on the arm of the rocker. Arturo bent to cover hers with his and gave it a gentle squeeze, then left the porch to find his companions.

----------------

Quira awoke at the first sign of light coming through her window. She was never one to let the sun settle on her eyelids. As she turned to look at Quinn, her heart skipped a beat. He looked so content and happy laying beside her.

She made a mental inventory as her eyes moved from the tip of his head, downward. His sandy hair was tousled; his thick lashes feathering his cheekbone; his lips slightly parted and the scar on his upper lip just screamed for her to touch it. His broad, tanned shoulders had a hint of freckles from the sun. As her eyes came to rest on his chest, she saw the steady rise and fall of it; strong, muscular, and so, so inviting.

Quira moved to place her head there and put her arm around his waist. What she wouldnít give to live the rest of her life with this wonderful man. To lay here beside him, night after night. To work beside him, to laugh with him, to cry with him. To create a life that she had never had before.

Could it be done? She didnít know. She had her life and he had his. They both had responsibilities to other people. Would it be fair to turn their backs on those responsibilities for their own happiness? Could they?

Quinn had expressed the desire to do so. And she wanted it so. Fate had brought them together. Would they tempt fate ........or not.

--------------

Colin and Callie came down the staircase holding hands and met Professor Arturo head on. "Ah. Finally." spoke the professor. "I was beginning to think the lot of you had left and forgotten to take me with you. Have you seen Quinn?"

"Uh, no Professor, we have not. There was no one stirring about up there as we left to come down to prepare breakfast. I just assumed everyone was still asleep. I think we all kept pretty late hours last night." Colin looked at Callie as he made that last statement and smiled. She returned it with an added blush.

The professor cleared his throat with obvious discomfort. "Uh, well, yes, my dear boy. I guess we did." He took a step toward the staircase. "I think I will just go and check to see if Mr. Brown is up and about yet." And with that he left the pair as they departed for the kitchen.

As the professor topped the stairs, Quinn and Quira were coming out of her room. "Professor!" Quinn said as he saw him coming their way.

"Mr. Mallory. Good morning, uh, Quira. Forgive me. I donít even know your last name, my dear."

"Good morning, Professor. Miller. Quira Miller. But please, donít stand on formality. Quira will do quite nicely." she said.

"Why, thank you, my dear." he returned as he bowed slightly, in her direction. Then he turned to Quinn. "Mr. Mallory, I need to have a discussion with you. Alone." he said, then turned back to Quira. "If you donít mind, madam."

"Why of course not, Professor. If you two will excuse me, I have a household to feed and I had best get to it." And she left the two men standing in the hallway alone.

Quinnís eyes followed her every move until she disappeared down the stairway, then he turned to the professor. "Iím glad to see you first thing this morning, Professor. I have something very important I need to discuss with you. Please keep an open mind and donít interrupt me until Iím finished."

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Quinn and the professor stepped into the dining room just as Callie and Colin were bringing out the trays of food from the kitchen. All the others were already seated around the table, talking quietly. The conversation ceased as they looked up and saw the solemn expressions on the faces of the two companions.

"What gives, guys? You two look like something bad has happened. What a minute. Whereís the timer? We arenít stuck here are we? Come on, guys, talk!" Remmy rambled nervously.

The professor looked at Quinn and then back to the eyes around the table. "No, no, Mr. Brown. The timer is fine. You arenít stuck here. And there is no problem. Please, everyone. The food looks delicious and Iím starved. Letís eat." He sat down next to Aunt Aurora as he finished his response to Remmyís near hysterics. She looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"You canít fool me, old man. Somethingís up. Iíve seen enough long faces in my lifetime to know thereís something wrong." She leaned over to grumble this near Arturoís ear so that the others couldnít hear. Professor Arturo gave her a "Be quiet, woman!" look and began to unfold his napkin. She saw the upset look quickly change to an angry one and decided to take his cue. She sighed softly and put her napkin in her lap as well.

Quinn slipped in next to Quira while the professor was trying to calm Remmy. She looked at him with questioning eyes, but all she got was a weak smile that really revealed nothing. Her heart was almost pounding. Could she get through this meal before speaking with Quinn. She wasnít sure.

Manson saw the tension in the air and didnít want it spoiling a good breakfast. He spoke up as the food began to be passed around. "Well, I trust everyone had a good night. I know I did!" He flashed a big grin in Maggieís direction and she elbowed him in the ribs. Never known for being subtle, he didnít try to just keep quiet. "Uuuhhhh. Damn, woman! What was that for?"

"Just eat your breakfast and shut up!" Maggie growled as she narrowed her eyes in his direction. All at the table chuckled slightly, except the professor, Aunt Aurora, and Rosalie. They just glared at Maggie as if she were the villain in this scenario. "What? Why is everyone looking at me?" she asked, irritated. Manson, just rolled his eyes.

"Geez." He jumped up, threw his napkin on the plate as the chair hit the floor and stomped toward the door. His comment had done just what he was trying to derail. His breakfast was ruined. He turned to the crowd as he went through the door. "Everyone here knows who everyone else was with last night. Donít make a federal case out of it!" And he left, leaving one and all, wide-eyed and speechless.

Maggie jumped up to follow after him. "Heís right. You people are ridiculous!" And she stormed out of the room in a bigger huff than Manson.

"Well, donít that just starch your shorts!" Remmy remarked. But he didnít let it keep him from putting a spoonful of those delicious grits into his mouth. "Mmm...mmm....mmm. Man, these are good! Good, stickiní-to-your-ribs grits. Just like my mamaís!" At that remark, the room took on a more relaxed atmosphere and the group settled in to eat, trying to forget the scene that had just occurred.

Quira moved the fork from her plate to her mouth almost robotically, never really knowing what she ate. She was screaming inside, wondering how the conversation with the professor went. She knew Quinn needed to discuss his plans with him and she wanted desperately to know what was said and what the outcome was. Would this meal never end?! She looked around the table to the others. They were chatting and laughing. How could they be so calm when her insides were turning flips, when she was about to go out of her mind? Her future was at stake here, and everyone was eating grits!

She almost threw the fork down onto the plate. Everyone looked up from their meal at the noise. "Sorry, it slipped." she stated, and dabbed her mouth clean with her napkin. Quira then turned to Quinn, "Quinn, I think we need to talk.........alone."

"Yes, I guess we do." he answered, and rose from the table.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Quinn took Quiraís hand as they walked out the door. His strides were much longer than hers and he was almost pulling her along as they went down the steps toward the grove of trees beside the house. Neither one of them said a word along the way.

 

"Well, we all know why Maggie and Manson left, but does anybody know what that was all about?" Wade asked. The professor just cleared his throat and took a sip of his coffee, under the intense glare of Aunt Aurora.

"Maximillian! Donít you have something to say?" she asked as she continued that stare with the raised eyebrow. "You know whatís going on around here."

"Yes, madam, I do, but Iím not at liberty to say at this moment." confessed Arturo. Then addressing the rest of the group, he said, "I think things will reveal themselves before this day is over. Just be patient, people. Young Mr. Mallory will tell all in his own good time."

"Well, that just explains everything." said Wade, disgustedly. "This is just about the craziest slide I have ever been on. How much time do we have left here anyway?"

Will looked at her with a little disappointment. "Sounds like your anxious to get out of here."

"Oh, I ...uh,....I didnít ....uh, mean it like that, Will. Honest. Itís just that... well,....well,.....I donít know. Thereís been so much bickering and now all this mystery. Itís just getting to me, I guess." Wade stumbled over her words trying to apologize to Will, but she didnít have much success. She could see she had wounded him terribly. Thatís the last thing she wanted after the wonderful night they had spent together. And she knew he wanted her to stay. In a way, thatís what she wanted too.

 

Quinn had led Quira down to the creek. There, a stone bench sat under a huge old oak tree.....a perfect place for them to talk. She sat first, still holding on to Quinnís hand. He looked into her up-turned face and took a deep breath and released it. Then he sat beside her, but couldnít seem to bring himself to speak.

Quira stared into those beautiful blue eyes.....and for a moment, became lost in their depths. Then she noticed the pain and the silence he offered. Her heart sank. When he spoke, it wasnít going to be what she wanted to hear. Her eyes began to water and she couldnít stop a tear from trailing down her cheek. She didnít want to cry, but her emotions were raw now and there was no control left in her.

Quinn still held her hand in his, but reached with the other hand to bring his thumb across her cheek, gently, to erase the tear that had escaped. Then he brought his hand around to the back of her head and guided her to him. His lips met hers. Briefly at first, like a butterfly alighting on a leaf, but then deeply, as if he could never get enough of her. Their arms went around each other and they held tight as if they knew if they ever let go, they would lose each other. When the kiss finally ended, Quinn just held her to him, not able to look at her.

Quira trembled as Quinn held her tight. He was leaving. She knew it. If he were staying, he would be rejoicing with her at this moment. She pulled back to look him in the eye. When Quinn saw the pain in her face, he knew he had to find the words to explain the situation. He took her hand as he cleared his throat and began. "The professor wants to stay here, too."

"What?" she interrupted before he could explain further.

"The professor wants to stay." he repeated. "He said he was tired of sliding all over the universe. He needed stability, routine. He loves this place and he says he just wants to live out his life here."

"I canít believe it." Quira answered. "Why thatís wonderful, Quinn. I know you and the professor are very close. If he were here too, then you wouldnít feel so separated from your past life." She was almost beside herself with joy,.......until she noticed Quinnís expression. The smile died on her lips.

Quinn tried to explain his less than joyous mood. "I told the professor that I wanted the exact same thing. That I want to spend the rest of my life right here.......with you. I want stability and routine too. I donít want to bear the responsibility for a group of people all alone. But after some discussion, we both agreed that both of us canít stay. We are the only ones that have any knowledge of sliding. One of us has to go with the rest, if any of us are to ever get home again."

"And you are the one who is to go." she said, slowly, sadly. She dropped his hand and stood, with her back to him. She was devastated, wounded beyond words, but could not let him see this. If he had to go, she would not make him feel guilty for leaving.

He rose and put his hands on her shoulders, gently squeezing them. He couldnít speak at that moment, but just stood there, his body against her back. She was motionless, and the silence was deafening. He then heard her trying to stifle the tears. He leaned and placed his forehead at the back of her head. He thought his heart would burst. "It has to be me, Quira. I got them into this,........I have to get them out." he whispered. "There is only one other way for us to be together. And I canít ask you to go, just as you wonít ask me to stay."

CHAPTER TWENTY

The day wore on. The people that had paired off last night seemed just as drawn to each other in the daylight. Maggie had followed Manson to the barn after their little exit at breakfast, and no one had seen them since. Wade and Will had excused themselves after everyone finished their meal. They headed toward the back of the house and out the doors to a quiet place for talking. Colin and Callie started clearing dishes from the table along with Rosalie, and Remmy decided to pitch in and help too. Later the two pairs would go their separate ways to be alone.

The professor rose from the table, satisfied with his meal and had a spring in his step as he left the room. Aunt Aurora, curious as to what he knew and why he was acting the way he was, followed closely behind. "Are you going to tell me whatís going on, or am I going to have to go get Rosalieís shot gun?!" she grumbled as he opened the front door.

"Madam, threaten me all you like. You will get nothing from me until the time is right." he replied to the threat. "Now if you would like to join me here again on this beautiful porch, in these wonderfully comfortable rocking chairs to sit and talk of pleasant things, then I would love to have your company."

She grumbled under her breath, but knew she would get nowhere with this impossibly stubborn man, so she decided to take him up on his offer and took a seat in the rocking chair to her left. Maybe if she kept him talking, he would slip and say something without thinking. She would keep it pleasant, and just inch the conversation along towards her goal.

Quinn and Quira had spent much of the morning right there by the creek. After the initial conversation had ended, they walked hand in hand along side the creek in silence. Both were lost in their own world of thoughts.

Quira had been cautious at first when Quinn mentioned during their dance that he wanted to stay. She knew it would be such a big step for him, and she thought it was just a momentary desire, not something that would ever actually happen. She had to guard herself against disappoinment. But as they had talked through the night between their interludes of love-making, her hopes had buoyed. He seemed so determined. The trials and tribulations of sliding had just gotten the best of him and he felt it was time for a change in plans. He knew the consequences of staying here, but it didnít seem to matter. What had the professor said to him that made him change his mind?

Quinn was so torn. He wanted to stay with Quira so desperately. And he knew he had given her such hope last night. But today, he had to change his mind. When he had met with the professor and each had expressed his desire to stay on this world and not slide, they both were shocked. The professor had spoken up first.

He was so excited, and Quinn knew he wanted this as desperately as he. Quinn almost said nothing of his desires to stay, not wanting to put a damper on the professors plans, but he had coaxed it out of him. After a lengthy discussion, they both knew that only one of them could stay. As he had told Quira, they were the only ones with the technical knowledge that could possibly get them home someday. And Quinnís sense of duty took over. He had gotten them into this mess, he would get them out. He took no argument from the professor. Quinn was leaving tonight when the timer counted down to zero, and the professor was staying here for the rest of his life.

Quinn and Quira walked back to the house in silence, never letting go of the hand each held.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

The day had gone by much too quickly for all concerned, but it had been pleasant for the most part. Now, all were gathered in the parlor of the mansion awaiting Quinnís mysterious news before the sliders had to leave. Quinn and Quira walked in, hand in hand, as they had been the entire day. Everyone stopped their conversation and trained questioning eyes on him.

They walked to the center of the room. Quira squeezed his hand gently, to show her support, then released it slowly and backed away, leaving Quinn to stand alone before the crowd. He cleared his throat and began.

"I, uh, guess thereís no easy way to do this, so Iíll just jump right in." Quinn stated, nervously. "In the very short time weíve been here, we have encountered a very beautiful place and weíve each met someone we feel very connected to. Both the professor and I have discovered that we want to stay here and not slide anymore."

Remmy, Maggie, Wade, and Colin all let out a collective gasp. Aunt Aurora had a very pleasant expression come over her face......not quite a smile, but almost. Rosalie rolled her eyes; Will and Callie both looked at Wade and Colin, and Manson, being his usual indiscreet self, jumped up and said, "Well, hell. Why donít all of yíall stay? I could get used to having Maggie around. Thatís for sure!"

"Will you just sit down and shut up?!" Maggie growled as she jerked at his shirt. Remmy chuckled. It did his heart good to see Maggie squirm.

Colin and Wade returned the glances Callie and Will had given with mixed feelings. They both sure felt something, but what about home? Never a chance to get back to family? They werenít sure. Colin rose and went to stand in front of Quinn. "Does this mean we are not going to try to get home?"

"No. I wouldnít do that to you guys. You know that. The professor is definitely staying. If anyone of you wants to leave, I will be going with you. I got you here, Iíll get you home......eventually." He looked to check the timer. There was a little more than one hour left. "Itís 8:05 now and 9:20 is the zero hour. Now, I think the rest of you have a decision to make. Why donít all of you go somewhere quiet to think and talk. If youíre sliding, be here at 9:15. Iíll be waiting to take you with me to continue our search for home."

With that said, Quira could no longer hold back the tears. They came spilling over her lids and ran down her cheeks uncontrollably. Quinn went to her side and held her tight, letting his own tears mingle with hers.

Professor Arturo stood, rubbing his palms together, and tried to erase the awkward moment. "Ladies and gentlemen, what say we do just as Mr. Mallory has suggested. I think everyone here has some thinking to do and deciding to do." He turned to Aurora and offered her his arm. "Madam, would you care to join me on the porch?" She took his arm and they led the group out the door toward each coupleís own private place of contemplation...........all but Colin and Callie.

Colin took Callieís hand and moved over to where Quinn and Quira stood in their embrace. He placed his hand on Quinnís shoulder. Quinn never moved.

"I am with you brother. If you go, I go too." He looked at Callie with this statement and saw the tears forming in her eyes.

Quinn slowly raised his head and turned toward Colin. "You canít do that, Colin. You have to make up your own mind. We are brothers and I will be forever grateful for finding you, but you have to live your life. You canít let Ďfamilyí stop you from finding your own way. Iíve done enough harm already with these other lives. I canít dicate your life too. Donít put that burden on me."

Colin saw that what he thought was support for Quinn had only made his burden heavier. "I understand brother. I will make my desicion based on my own feelings......just as you have made yours." he said almost sarcastically.

"Touche, brother." Quinn replied. He knew Colin was right, but it didnít change anything. He had to go if the others did, and leave his own desires behind. He returned to the close embrace with Quira, having nothing more to say to Colin. Callie then looked to Colin and said, "Why donít we leave the two of them alone, besides we need to talk." And they headed for the door.

********

9:05

Wade, Maggie and Remmy enter the room. Theyíre mirror images on this world are conspicuously absent. Quinn knew their decision had been made. Wade walked up to the pair. "We can slide without you, Quinn. You donít have to go."

"Iím leaving with the rest of you. End of discussion." he answered, in a tone that brooked no argument. Wade backed away and rejoined the others.

9:10

The professor and Aunt Aurora arrived. He went around to the others hugging and kissing and offering well-wishes to each one. They all tried their hand at convincing him to go, but to no avail. The professor had made his decision and was happy with it. He would miss his companions,....his friends..... but he had to consider himself here. Now was the time. He moved to Quinn to offer his thanks and concern. Neither spoke, but hugged fiercely. As the hug ended they just looked into each others eyes with love and understanding.

9:15

Colin and Callie rushed through the doorway, hand in hand. They made their way straight to Quinn and Quira.

"Brother, you know I will not stay without you, but I have a request. Since I can not stay, Callie wants to come with us. We talked about sliding and what all it entails. She is willing to take the chance. Please say it is okay." Colin was almost out of breath as he spoke. And Quinn knew he couldnít deny his brother. He was about to answer when Quira burst in with her own words.

"Callie! Are....are you sure?! I mean......this is what I wanted too, but was so desperately afraid to even voice it." She turned to Quinn. "I want to go with you! If you canít stay, then I can leave. Like you said, ĎYou canít ask me to go, and I wonít ask you to stay.í, but we can make our own decision for our own lives. You have decided that you have to leave........and I have decided that I have to go with you."

Rosalie and Aunt Aurora both felt their heart skip a beat. "Noooo.........my babies. You canít leave!" Rosalie screamed.

Quira and Callie both turned in her direction when they heard her lament. Quira quickly ran to her side. "Rosalie, I know this hurts. It hurts me to leave you, but it will hurt more to stay. I have this one chance to be happy, and I am going to take it.......consequences be damned. You and the others will be just fine here. And who knows, my genius lover may someday discover how to slide where he wants, when he wants and we will return. You just hold that thought and know that I love you all very much." She hugged them both and returned to Quinnís side.

Quinn was stunned. Never in his imagination, did he think that Quira would want to go with him. And he couldnít seem to come up with an argument to her logic. He just grabbed her and held on.

9:20

Quinn had enough presence of mind to see the timer had hit zero. He opened the vortex, motioned for the others to enter and took Quiraís hand. "Youíre in for the ride of your life." he said. "And I donít just mean the vortex. I can be a handful."

She smiled up at him sweetly and said, "I love a challenge. I just hope youíre up for the one thatís facing you! Iím about as wild as my horse, Atlas, sometime."

"I welcome the chance to tame you!" he responded. "Now, go!" They both jumped into the vortex, just behind Callie and Colin, sliding to a new world..........and a new life.

THE END


Alternate Earth 117
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