Chapter Thirteen

     The key turned in the lock.  He swore he could hear it
echo, even though he knew the house wasn't empty.  He had
left last night, angry.  No, not angry.  Enraged.  He hadn't
meant to do what he had done.  It ... just happened.  No, it
didn't just happen.  You let it happen.  It was your fault, not
hers.  Like it was never mom's fault ... always dad's.  He was
going to apologize, try to explain it to her.  Make it alright,
back to the way it was.  Better.  Even offer to go to
counselling, whatever it took to make it right.
     "Donna?  You here?"  Silence.  It was dawn on
Christmas morning and the sun was just beginning to rise.  She
must be asleep.
     When he had left last night, he drove straight to
Melanie's.  Where else would I go?  She's the only one who
would understand.  But she hadn't.  After he had told her what
had happened, she kicked him out, telling him she never wanted
to see him again.  "If you can hit her, you can hit me, and I
have no intention of waiting around for that to happen."  Now,
he had no one.  No one but Donna, he thought.
     He had spent the night in a hotel.  He refused to go to
his parents.  He would never let his father know that he had
become just like him.  No, not just like him.  I am not going to
become him, because I'm going to stop it here and now!
     "Donna!"  Still nothing.
     He stuck his head into the livingroom.  The tree still
stood its solitary vigil, a few gifts under it still wrapped,
waiting for either Donna or himself to open them.  The rest had
already been delivered or sent to those they were intended for.
     He walked into the kitchen.  The tea kettle was still on
the floor where it had fallen the night before, a small puddle of
water beside it.  He thought it strange that she hadn't picked it
up.  Maybe she was too upset, or just went up to bed, or
something.  He reached for it, placing the lid into position and
returning it to its usual spot on the stovetop.  Then he grabbed
a cloth to wipe up the spill.  It was then he noticed Bosco's
dishes.  They held the remains of his dinner from last night, but
nothing fresh, and the cat hadn't made an appearance when he
came in.  "Even the animals are turning against me."
     He walked back to the hallway, then turned, heading up
the stairs to the second floor.  Noticing the attic door was ajar,
he pushed it shut.  The click of the latch catching sounded
louder than it should have.  Continuing down the hallway, he
reached their bedroom.  The door stood open.  The room stood
empty.  He stopped just inside the doorway, staring at the pile
of clothes in the middle of the bed.  It wasn't like Donna to
leave the room in such disarray.  Disbelief, together with
shock, began to show on his face, as realization slowly came to
     "No.  She couldn't have.  She couldn't."  Running to
the dressers, he began to open all the drawers, finding Donna's
mostly empty.  The closet told the same story.  "No."  It came
in an anguished whisper.
     It was then he noticed the rings, her rings, on the
dresser.  He reached over to pick them up, gingerly holding
them in his palm.  The morning light reflected off the
diamonds.  He clenched them tightly in his fist, the nails of his
well-manicured fingers digging into the flesh of his white-collar
     He staggered back against the closet door, slamming it
against the wall, and slid to the floor.  He craddled his head in
his hands.  "Donna.  No."

     She had been driving all night.  With no particular
destination in mind.  She just had to get away.  As far away as
possible.  She decided to head north, along the Pacific Coast
Highway, or PCH as it's called in California.  The serenity of
the sea seemed to calm her nerves.
     She didn't know where she was going, but she knew she
would never return to Philip.  That part of her life should never
have happened.  She knew that now.  Philip wasn't meant for
her, and she wasn't meant for him.  They just should have
crossed paths, not merged them.
     She reached down to the radio, switching stations yet
again.  Every station was playing Christmas carols.  She had
almost forgot, had tried to forget, that today was Christmas
     She wondered if Philip was home yet.  Had he even
returned home?  Did he care that she wasn't there anymore? 
Despite what had occurred last night, she couldn't easily forget
that he was her husband, and that she had married him because
she loved him.  Or at least, she thought she had.  Had she
married him for love, or security, or ... fear of growing old
alone?  Just like Bonnie had said.
     She hadn't thought she would ever be married to anyone
but Sam, that she and Sam would have family together, a life
together.  That they would grow old together.  But his death
had ended all that.  More than fifteen years together, over five
of those years waiting for his return, ended because someone
else in another timeline had died.  Someone they didn't even
know.  He had died because of his need to help everyone, to
save them from others or themselves.  But someone else from
somewhere else in time had died anyway, taking him, too.
     She had to stop dwelling on Sam.  He was gone and was
never coming back.  Wiping an errant tear from her cheek, she
continued on her northbound path.
     It was nearly sunrise, she could see the sun peaking over
her right shoulder.  She realized she had been driving for over
six-and-a-half hours straight, her legs and backside began to
protest.  The roadsign told her that Big Sur was the next exit,
so she decided to pull off and give her complaining body parts
a break.
     Since she still had well over a half-tank of gas, she
decided to go to the beach, rather than into the town itself.  A
few surfers were already there, waiting to catch the next waves
in the early dawn.
     "Even on a holiday, they're here.  Obsessed with the
challenge and sheer joy of the conquest of the sea," she said,
parking the car so she could watch them briefly before getting
     She walked around to the front, then leaned against the
hood, stretching first her right, then her left calf.  Standing, she
placed her hands on her lower back, leaning backwards,
stretching her strained muscles.  Finally, stretching her arms in
a large circle, she felt some of the tension release.  Reaching
back into the car, she grabbed her sunglasses, and put them on.
     She looked at the scene around her.  The sound of the
surf, the gulls flying into the wind, staying aloft yet hardly
moving, the sandy beach.  California oceanfront nature at its
finest.  It had been years since she had even been to the beach,
any beach.  Even though she and Philip lived less than an hour-
and-a-half from Long Beach, they never went there.  Not even
for an evening out.  'Maybe next weekend, hon.  I'm really
busy at the office.'  But next weekend never came.  Will never
     Shouting from below drew her attention.  A few surfers
raced towards the ocean, boards tucked under their arms.  At
first she thought that perhaps someone was in trouble.  She
removed her glasses to get a better look.  But, as they splashed
into the water, throwing their boards in front of them, hopping
on then paddling out, she realized they were simply enjoying
the solitude of having the beach and the surf entirely to
     She grinned weakly, happy for them.  At least
someone's having a good day, she thought.
     "Beautiful, isn't it."  The deep male voice came from
behind, startling her.
     "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to scare you.  I thought you
heard me pull up beside you."  He motioned to his bicycle
standing next to her car.
     "No, it's my fault.  I was miles away."  She turned her
gaze back to the surfers.  She didn't want to talk to anyone this
     "Been in an accident?"  He wasn't taking the hint.
     "Your eye.  That's quite a shiner."
     She had forgotten about her face.  She reached up, now
self-conscious about herself.  Gently touching her right eye, she
winced, imaging how it must look if it felt that tender.
     "It's nothing."
     "Really?  It looks pretty bad.  I'm a doctor, if you'd like
me to take a look at it."
     "No, really.  I'm fine."  She tried to turn away, to make
him go away.  But he wouldn't.  She slipped her sunglasses
back on.
     "Okay.  I get the hint.  Subject dropped."  They stood
in an uncomfortable silence.  "My name's Ken.  Ken Webster." 
He extended his hand.
     "Donna Breck ... Donna Elesee."  She took his hand. 
He responded with a firm handshake.
     "Nice to meet you, Donna Elesee.  What brings you to
Big Sur this early on Christmas morning?"
     "Just passing through.  Needed to stretch, but it's time
I got back on the road."  She moved towards her car, but he
stood in her way.  "Excuse me."
     "You look like you could use an ear to bend.  Mine's
available.  And free."
     "No, thank you.  I really must be going.  I ... I'm
expected at my parents this morning, and I'm already running
late."  She stepped around him as he watched her, not moving. 
His bicycle sat directly in front of the driver's door.  "Would
you move your bike, please?"
     He took a few steps towards her, lifting the bicycle out
of her way.  She quickly got in, locking the door as she did. 
Revving the engine, she quickly backed out, then spun her
wheels as she sped out of the parking lot, spraying dust and
stones as she went.  The cyclist had to cover his face to avoid
being hit by the flying debris, but she didn't care.  He had
unnerved her.
     Don't be ridiculous.  He was just being friendly, she
thought.  But he had still scared her.
     She returned to the northbound highway.  The sun was
now fully visible in the eastern sky, a bright orange ball.  She
knew she could have stopped in Big Sur, but for some reason,
she didn't feel like she had gone far enough from San
Bernardino.  Far enough from Philip.
     She calmed herself down, slowing her speed, both of the
car and her heart, gaining control again.
     Another hour-and-a-half later, after rounding Monterey
Bay, she pulled into Davenport, a small coastal town.  A
handpainted sign, worn from years of seaspray and wind,
swung from a post at the end of a dirt driveway.  "Cottages For
Rent -- Year Round".  It feels ... right, she thought, and turned
off the road.
     At the end of the driveway stood a small cottage, the
kind you would see on the east coast moreso than on the west
side of the country.  The dashboard clock read 8:48 a.m.,
certainly not too early for someone to be up.  Stopping the car
in front of the door marked "Office", she approached the
old-fashioned screen door.  It swung open with a squeak,
waking the cat sleeping in the window.  It stretched its front
legs, splaying its fingers and yawning quietly, then curled back
into its previous position.  A thought of Bosco popped into
Donna's head.  "I hope he'll forgive me for leaving him at Dr.
Sue's", she said.
     "Can I hepp you, ma'am."  An elderly man stood behind
the counter.  To Donna, he appeared to be older than time.  His
face, no doubt withered from years, decades, of living so close
to the ocean, was wrinkled with deep crevasses.  His short,
stocky build told of years of hard labourous work, and was
encased in a long-ago white shirt, sleeves rolled up, and denim
overalls.  And his speech was tinged with a New England
accent.  In some ways, he reminded her of an aged Popeye,
minus the pipe and oversized biceps.
     "Yes, I was wondering if you had a cabin I could rent."
     "We-e-e-e-ll, lemme see."  He rubbed the stubble on his
withered chin, turning his back to her to view the rack of keys
on the wall behind the counter.  Most held red tags, which he
flipped over to read.  "How long you plannin' on stayin'?"
     "I don't know really.  A fews days, a week at most."
     "You plannin' on cookin' here or eatin' out."
     "Uh, I guess I'll be cooking most rest of the time."
     He flipped a few more key tags.  "I can give you a
smaller one, but only until Sunday mornin'.  Got a whole bunch
comin' in for New Year's ya know.  They been booked in for
     Sunday morning.  That was four days.  "Until Sunday's
fine.  I'll take it."
     The man took down a keyring, then reached under the
counter, pulling out a form.  "You'll need to fill this out.  Need
to know who y'are, car licence, that kinda stuff."  He placed a
pen on the form, then slid it in front of Donna.  "And I'll be
needin' a deposit, too.  Let's see, four nights ..." his eyes
squinted as he tried to process the calculations.  "Aw, heck,
just gimme a hundred bucks, and I'll let my son work it out
later.  He's in the house with the kids."
     Filling out the form, she paused at the section marked
'Home Address'.  After a moments hesitation, she wrote in
Sally's address, then signed her name to the bottom.
     Finished, she opened her wallet, taking out a hundred
dollar bill.  Placing it on the form, she handed both back to the
man, who handed her the cottage key in return.
     "Now, to get to the cottage, just go down the road
here," he raised his right arm, pointing in a circle beyond the
office, "take the first right and it'll be the last cottage on the
left.  Closest to the beach, too.  There's a barbeque all set up
in back, if you like that kinda stuff.  All the linens' already in
there; pots, pans, dishes.  You got any groceries?"
     "Actually, no, I don't.  I just came right here off the
highway.  I hadn't plan on making the trip, so ..."
     "Alright then.  You're invited to Christmas dinner."
     "Oh, I couldn't."
     "Won't take no for an answer.  There's no place to shop
today, and I won't have you not eatin' any Christmas dinner. 
We eat around three o'clock.  And we don't dress fancy, just
comfortable."  The set of his jaw didn't allow for any further
     "Alright then.  I'll see you at three."  She started toward
the door, the turned back.  "Is there any place I can get some
     "Tilly's should be open today.  Never seen her close on
a holiday.  She's back towards the highway, on 'tother side of
town.  Can't miss it.  Big coffee cup on the sign."
     "Thanks, Mr. ..."
     "Jake.  No mister, just Jake."
     "Thanks, Jake.  And I'll see you this afternoon."  She
opened the door and left the office.

     Finding Tilly's was as easy as Jake had said.  The giant
neon coffee cup on the side could be seen from the highway. 
And it was open.  Several trucks stood outside.  Some were
smallsized transport-style, but most seemed to belong to locals. 
Donna parked as close to the door as possible, then walked
inside.  The combination of Christmas music blaring through
the speakers and at least a dozen male voices made the noise
level above normal.  However, once the men seated around the
restaurant noticed the lovely woman standing at the door, the
conversations slowly subsided.
     An older woman approached her.  "Can I help you?"
     Dressed in a waitress outfit, but wearing a Santa hat, the
slender woman appeared to be in her late sixties.  'Tilly' was
embroidered on the kerchief pinned to her left breast pocket.
     "Jake, at the cottages by the ocean, said I could get
some breakfast here."
     "Sure can.  Let me find you someplace nice to sit, away
from the riffraff over there."  She grinned, tossing the end
remark over her shoulder towards the truckers.
     "Who you callin' riffraff?  Must mean you, Joe."
     "I ain't riffraff.  Must be Sully."
     "Naw, I'm just riff.  Raff's at home."  The group
chuckled at their own humour, then returned to their prior
conversations.  The noise level was lower than before.
     Tilly lead Donna towards a table in a corner that seemed
less smokey, wiping the table with the cloth in her hand. 
Donna slid along the seat, stopping halfway.  Her view was of
the parking lot, but if you looked between the trucks, you could
see the highway, deserted this Christmas morning.
     "Yes, please."  Tilly wandered away, returning with a
mug full of what to Donna smelled like a very strong brew.
     "Do you know what you want, or do you need a menu." 
Donna looked up into the face of the woman who stood beside
the table.  Tilly smiled.  Donna returned the smile, but without
the same level of seasonally induced emotion.
     "Just some scrambled eggs and toast, please.  And some
fruit, if you have any."
     "I think there's some bananas, but I'm not sure.  Don't
get much call for fruit with customers like that."  She pointed
towards the men behind her.
     "Whatever you have will be fine."  Tilly walked away.
     Donna looked around her.  The restaurant was clean, if
well used.  Probably been here since the road was paved, she
thought, sipping her coffee.  It didn't take long for Tilly to
return with a plate, placing along side it a still slightly green
banana.  Donna ate her meal without really tasting it.  The
banana was too green for her liking, so she placed it in her
purse for later.
     Paying the bill, she returned to the cottage.  Pulling her
bags inside, she decided it was best to busy herself rather than
sit and wallow.  Emptying all the bags, she packed and
repacked, fitting everything in with room to spare.  She had set
aside what she decided to wear that afternoon, smoothing the
top with her hands.  Finished everything she could think of
doing, she looked at her watch.  It was just past eleven o'clock. 
She still had four hours to kill before returning to the main
house to share Christmas dinner with Jake and his family.
     Opening the curtains on the bay window as wide as
possible, she stood and looked out at the sea, counting the
seconds between waves as they crashed onto the shore.
     Slowly, finally, the tears came.  Tears for her lost life,
her lost love, herself.