The Time Traveler’s Christmas – Amy Jarecki

Crouched in a defensive stance, Lachlan Wallace’s mind refused to focus. Sweat streamed from his brow, drained into his eyes and blurred his vision. His breathing rushed through his ears like an angry river. Everything around him moved in slow motion. He rubbed his forearm across his face and his white sleeve came back with a swath of blood. But nothing hurt, except Lachlan’s heart. Shifting his gaze to the time clock—five seconds left—the red numbers frozen in place while the judges consulted with each other to confirm the three points given to the American for his last kick. Maybe that’s what caused the bleeding. Lachlan didn’t care. He switched his sights to the scoreboard. Tied, UK nine, US nine. The American contender across the mat stared with the hunger of a rabid dog. Still, Lachlan could take him. He just needed a moment to focus. Damn.

Out of the starting gates, he’d suffered a vicious kick to the gut, but that wasn’t the reason for a ton of lead sinking to his toes. Just hang in there. I have to prove her wrong about something. The referee sliced his hand downward—the signal to engage. Lachlan’s legs moved like four hundred pound weights hung from his thighs. The American approached, growing blurrier by each fraction of a second. Holding his defensive stance, Lachlan shifted for a countermove as his opponent slightly raised his hind foot to his toes. A kick. Anticipating the move, years of training took over and Lachlan spun to the right, aiming a left roundhouse kick to the American’s head. A millisecond off, the man ducked and rolled away from what could have been the kick to end the fight.

Lachlan should have continued with the attack, pinning the man to the mat and issuing a three-point punch to the face, but Angela’s voice rang in his head. “I’ve filed for divorce. John and I moved your things to Container Village on Falkirk Road. You’ll be hearing from my solicitor. You’re such a loser. Don’t try to call. I’ve blocked your phone.” The rush of Lachlan’s breathing deafened his ears. Who the fuck is John? The unanswered question burst into a million stars as the American’s heel collided with Lachlan’s temple. BACK İN SCOTLAND with an overstuffed duffle hanging from his shoulder, Lachlan pushed the buzzer to Uncle Walter’s Glasgow flat.

Walter Tennant wasn’t really his uncle, but Lachlan had called the old archaeologist by that moniker ever since he could talk. “That you, laddie?” the disembodied voice crackled through the ancient speaker. “Yes, sir,” Lachlan said while the buzzer sounded. He pushed through the door and bounded up two flights of stairs. He never used a lift when stairs were available. Waiting in his doorway, Walter’s glasses were thick as Coke-bottle bottoms. The man had to be over eighty. Crusty, he’d lost most of his hair and his back stooped a bit, but other than that, the old archaeologist could pass for sixty-five. Walter’s neck craned as Lachlan topped the stairs. “How can you possibly look taller every time I see you?” At thirty, Lachlan had been six-foot-six for a good ten years.

“Maybe you’re shrinking.” He gave the old man a hug. “How’s life treating you, Uncle?” “No complaints. Your mum will be helping with the dig at Avoch Castle in the spring. Do you think you could take a couple weeks to join us?” Heck, Lachlan could barely think past tomorrow and Walter was asking about a dig that wouldn’t start for six months? “I’ll have to check my schedule. Avoch? Wasn’t it once Ormond Castle, the seat of Andrew de Moray?” Lachlan wasn’t a history buff like his mum, but he had a zest for anything about William Wallace and de Moray had been the great legend’s comrade in arms. “You are your mother’s son.” Walter ushered him inside the flat—threadbare carpet, an old TV, a recliner. “Hey, did you get a new couch?” Lachlan asked. “Aye.

Figured I needed someplace for the guests to sit.” “You planning on having guests?” “Nay. Just me and the cat—but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.” The cat was the reason for Lachlan’s visit. The timing was perfect. After he’d regained consciousness in the Brussels hospital, he’d called his mom who was in London for a series of lectures on Medieval History. By the time he arrived at the Edinburgh airport, he had an offer to cat sit for Uncle Walter for two weeks. Lachlan had changed his flight from Edinburgh to Glasgow, and there he stood with his duffle in tow. All he needed was to do a load or two of washing. “So where is the rascal?” Lachlan asked, peeking under the new red couch.

“Probably hiding under the Christmas tree—doubt if he’ll show his face until I come back, but you’ll know he’s here because the food will be eaten and he’ll leave a wee gift in the litter box.” Moving inside, Lachlan examined the tree, decked out with a rainbow of flashing lights, every branch adorned with a figurine of some sort. On closer inspection, the figurines were all historical figures—Mary, Queen of Scots, Henry VIII, Robert the Bruce, William Wallace—that statue gave Lachlan pause. After dropping his bag, he strode straight up to the tree and fingered the piece. Perhaps because he was a Wallace, his heart rate always spiked when faced with an image of Scotland’s hero. Maybe even because Lachlan had always wanted to be a man like his ancestor—decisive, passionate, strong, committed to right, focused and determined, willing to die for his country. A shiver crept down his arms. “Where’d you find all these?” Walter hobbled beside him. “Here and there. Collected them over the years.

” “But isn’t it a little early to put up your tree?” “Why not? Besides, I like to look at my figurines.” He shot a thumb over his shoulder, gesturing toward the kitchen. “You want something to drink?” “I’m good, thanks.” Lachlan followed Walter into the kitchen. “Do you think you’ll have any trouble with the commute from Glasgow to Linlithgow?” The old man hobbled toward the sink. “As long as there’s no strike and the trains keep running, I don’t think it’ll be a problem for a couple weeks.” “That’s what I figured.” Walter looked away and drummed his fingers on the counter. “So, have you decided what you’re going to do?” Lachlan’s gut turned over. “Just taking it one day at a time at the moment.

” “I suppose that’s for the best. I’m glad I never married. Saved myself a shipload of strife.” “Yeah.” He didn’t want to talk to anyone about Angela. If only he didn’t have to face divorce crap now that he’d returned to Scotland—but he’d watched mates go through it and it never was pretty—always drew out, ripping them up on the inside. God, if only there was a way to avoid that kind of pain, he’d take his issue in karate kicks every day for the rest of his life. “Good thing you didn’t have any kids,” Walter said. “Isn’t that the truth?” Lachlan spotted the cat food feeder beside the refrigerator. It had about two liters of food in a plastic container that fed into a dish below—same with the water beside it.

“How often do I need to fill up the food?” “When it runs out.” “How long does all that last?” “A couple weeks or so.” “So…you needed me here to take care of a phantom cat that won’t need to be fed or watered during the entire time you’re away?” “I suppose you’ll need to clean the litter box a time or two.” Uncle Walter pointed. “It’s in the guest bathroom, so don’t forget to leave the door open.” Lachlan snorted. At least he had a quiet place to hang out until he found a flat to let. “Anything else?” “There’s some milk and Weetabix, otherwise you’re on your own for meals.” Walter meandered back to the living room, toward a suitcase, satchel and an antique-looking cane. “Call my cell if you need anything.

I’ll be meeting your parents at Heathrow and then we’ll fly to Malta from there.” Lachlan hadn’t seen his parents since arriving. Mum had yet another speaking engagement in London, so he’d probably passed their flight somewhere over Northumberland. Ah well, he didn’t want to be mollycoddled, not that his mother was the type who ever babied him. To be perfectly honest, Lachlan just wanted to be alone. He’d arranged for his partner to take his classes at the dojo for the week and the only commitments he had were kinesiology therapy at the hospital in Linlithgow. He’d earned his degree in kinesiology in the US at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Mum had encouraged him to study in America, especially since Lachlan’s granddad used to be the UK Ambassador to the Unites States. Lachlan had picked Wisconsin because it sounded western and produced fantastic linebackers. His freshman year, he’d hoped to walk on as a linebacker, but a cute blonde had swayed him toward karate.

Their romance lasted about a month, but Lachlan found a new love—martial arts, his strength, self-defense and samurai swords—he won nationals and had represented Great Britain in the Olympics where he earned the gold and now he also held three world titles. But the Olympics had earned him a knighthood. He’d nearly earned a fourth world title in Brussels right before his world had crashed around his ears. Nothing like a vindictive almost-ex-wife to cause a man to lose his edge two minutes before the final fight of the most important match in the world. Fuck. “You all right there, sport?” asked Walter, swinging his satchel over his shoulder. “Sure.” Lachlan scratched his head. “My mind wandered for a moment.” “I suppose that’s to be expected.

” The old fella grasped Lachlan’s shoulder and squeezed. “Just remember you mean a great deal to your mum and to me.” “Thanks.” Lachlan wished he felt like he meant a great deal to anyone at the moment —or anything positive to take away the black chasm filling his chest. “And remember your history, son. Though you may not realize it, Scotland’s history is in your blood.” “Aye, Mum never lets me forget it.” “I’ll wager she does not.” He pulled up the handle on his suitcase and looked at his watch. “Well, there’s a taxi waiting.

” Lachlan opened the door. “You need some help?” “Nay, I’ll take the lift.” He hobbled through, leaning on the cane in one hand and rolling along the suitcase with the other. “Very well.” Lachlan waved. “Don’t worry about anything here. The cat will be fine.” “Crumpet.” Walter strode into the hallway and pushed the button for the lift. “I beg your pardon?” “Crumpet—it’s the furball’s name.

” The doors opened and he stepped inside. “I suppose that will come in handy—see you in a fortnight?” The old man regarded him with owlish eyes made enormous by the distortion of his lenses. “Perhaps.” “You always did talk in riddles.” Lachlan laughed as he watched the metal doors close until Uncle Walter’s careworn, slightly comical face completely disappeared. With a long sigh, he picked up his duffle and headed back to the guest room. “Hiya, Crumpet,” he almost shouted. “Don’t even think about sleeping on the bed with me. I’m allergic.” Cat dander made his nose itch.

Walter had left a towel on the bed for him and a gift bag with a tag that read “To the champ”. He tossed his duffle against the wall, then stripped off his jeans, pulled on a pair of black karate pants and his favorite grey zip-neck sweatshirt with a picture of man’s evolution across the chest, ending with modern man performing a classic side kick. He took in a deep breath and the chasm in his chest stretched, making his head swim. He wished the pain had been caused by his concussion. The sounds of the empty flat intensified his misery—the hum of the refrigerator, the tic-tic of the radiator attached to the far wall. So this is where I’ve landed? Yeah, Lachlan had lost a match or two, but he’d never completely lost everything—at least that’s how it felt. His knees gave out as he dropped to the bed. He’d lost his townhouse—only five blocks from the dojo he’d started up with his best friend. He’d lost the only woman he’d ever loved. He’d taken his time dating Angela, getting to know her, learning everything about her, living with her, sleeping with her, waking up every morning beside her.

He tried to hold it in, but his gut erupted making a sob strain through his throat. Curling into a ball, he gnashed his teeth, squeezed his fists and clamped every muscle in his body, but the pain in his heart hurt even more. What had he done wrong? Yes, he’d noticed she’d grown more distant, but figured it was her work. Being a schoolteacher always had its ups and downs for her, especially at the beginning of a school year. John? Fuck. Lachlan had never wanted to beat the shit out of anyone before, but he just might risk going to jail if only to smash his fist into the turd’s face—break the bastard’s knee with a kick—cripple him for life. Shoving the heels of his hands against his temples, he tried to meditate on something good, something warm, something happy—the sun. Lachlan never used karate for vengeance. He taught his students self-control and defensive moves to avoid attack. He preached the need to use peaceful tactics to diffuse arguments and only resort to a fight when there was no other option.

But he’d make an exception. After the onslaught of toe-curling anguish, Lachlan rolled to his back and stared at the ceiling. If only he could hide in Uncle Walter’s flat for the rest of his life, he might survive. He could spend his days in meditation, erasing Angela from his memory, overcoming his deep-seated desire to do harm to the man she’d cheated with. He hated the sickly pain eating his heart, eating away at himself. Where had he gone wrong? Had he been such a bad husband? Yes, they’d had their disagreements, but didn’t all couples? God dammit, he’d put the woman on a pedestal. He’d done his share of the cooking and cleaning. Hadn’t he? Sitting up, he regarded himself in the mirror. God, he looked like shit. But who wouldn’t after spending the night in a foreign hospital, being discharged with a warning to take it easy and see his doctor as soon as he arrived home.

The nursing staff had acted so goddamned chipper. How were they to know the rug had been pulled out from under his entire life? Christ, Lachlan didn’t care about a wee strike to the head. He hissed when he touched the bruise at his temple, partially hidden by a mop of shoulder-length brown hair usually secured at the back of his crown with a band the way Angela wanted it. Maybe he should shave his head. Or maybe he should grow it even longer, travel to Alaska and become a mountain man. He certainly looked the part—thick beard, with two days of growth on his cheeks and neck where it shouldn’t be—and it itched like a bitch. His hip knocked the gift bag over. Lachlan shifted his gaze and stared at it for a moment. It wasn’t like Walter to leave a gift. Heaving a sigh, he reached for the bag and pulled out a note.

Dear Champ, I presumed you would figure out that Crumpet could take care of himself for a week or two. But I also knew you’d be hurting on the inside. Believe it or not, I’ve suffered a tragedy or two in my lifetime, as well. Right, so go ahead and pull out the medallion inside. This isn’t a gift, but a loan. I lent it to your mother before you were born after she’d experienced a tragedy and it turned her life around in a miraculous way. Go on, now. Hold it in your palm and put it around your neck. Feel the temperature of the metal against your chest. Lachlan dug inside the bag and pulled out the medallion.

It was about the size of a fifty-cent piece but round rather than being a decagon. Heavier than it looked, the worn piece was inscribed in Latin. Lachlan turned Walter’s note over. As you can see, this old relic is inscribed in Latin. I found it when excavating the Fail Monastery ruins eons ago. The front reads: “Verum est quasi malis navis in nocte” and means “truth is like a beacon”. Lachlan confirmed Walter’s statement, then flipped the medallion to the back. On the reverse it reads: “Sed pauci volunt sequi”, translated: “but few choose to follow”. He rubbed the hunk of bronze between his fingers. Truth is like a beacon, but few choose to follow.

Indeed, his mother had always drilled into him the importance of the truth. She’d spent most of her life trying to interpret historical facts and take her findings to the world. Honestly, Lachlan’s entire life had been a quest to seek the truth. His dedication to martial arts and kinesiology, to finding the body’s balance, energy, peace and healing all centered around the need for a man to be truthful to himself. Otherwise, Zen could not be achieved. Inner peace could not be found. The problem? His inner peace had been obliterated with a single phone call. He slipped the leather thong over his head and plopped back to the pillows, staring at the paint chipping off the ceiling until sleep took the pain in his heart away

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