BY: REBECCA MARKS
Rushing to work in New York in the winter of 2016, Melanie Swift is hit by a truck on the icy city street. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she “wakes up” on a freezing bench in Boston, shocked to find that, not only is she in a different city, but that it’s the year 1886. There, she meets a young doctor who falls in love with her and takes her to live in his home with him and his sisters. Confused and homesick, Melanie tries to adjust, but she can’t give up hope that she’ll somehow be reunited with the man she loves in own time. But what if she’s forced to live out her life in the past? Should she give in and learn to love the man who so clearly loves her, or continue to pine for a man who won’t even be born for another hundred years? And, most importantly, how can she be sure that her actions in the past won’t change the future in some terrible way?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Time Out by Rebecca Marks, Melanie Swift gets hit by a truck on the icy streets of New York on the way to work in 2016 and wakes up on a park bench in Boston in 1886. The first person she meets happens to be a doctor, Thomas Thornwell, who discovered her on the bench in the freezing weather dressed in only the hospital gown they put on her in 2016. Luckily Thomas acts quickly and has her transported to the local hospital before she freezes to death. But Melanie knows right away that something is wrong. Instead of a warm gasoline-powered ambulance, Melanie is taken to the hospital in a horse-drawn ambulance. Then there is the way everyone is dressed. But she is shocked, nonetheless, when she asks Thomas what year it is and he tells her it is 1886. Not only doesn’t she know how she got there, she doesn’t know how to get back to her own time and the man she left behind—the man whose memory won’t let her love Thomas as he loves her.
Though quite a change from Marks’s other series, the Dana Cohen Mysteries, Time Out is cute, clever, and highly entertaining. A real treat.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Time Out by Rebecca Marks is the story of a young woman who goes back in time from 2016 to 1886. Our heroine, Melanie Swift, rushes off to work in New York in the winter of 2016, where she falls in the icy street while hurrying to the bus stop and gets hit by a truck. She drifts in and out of consciousness while being transported to the hospital and then slips into a comma. When she wakes up, she is freezing and immediately knows something isn’t right. Instead of being in a warm hospital bed, she is on a cold park bench, in Boston of all places. She has no idea how she got there but is grateful for the doctor who happens to pass by on his way to work. He finds her on the park bench and summons the ambulance, which turns out to be a horse-drawn carriage. When she starts asking questions, clearly confused as to how she got to Boston from New York and from 2016 to 1886, they think she hit her head too hard. The young doctor who found her falls head over heels for her and takes her into his home once she leaves the hospital. But Melanie wants to go home to her own time and the man she loves there. She doesn’t want to stay in the past, but she doesn’t know why she is there, how she got there, or how to get back.
Time Out is a lighthearted, fast-paced, and intriguing story, filled with charming characters and some wonderful scenes—a delightful and entertaining read.
Today Melanie Swift was giving a big presentation for the CEO and a bunch of other upper level managers. This didn’t happen often, so she was freaking out big-time as she gathered all the materials she’d worked on most of the night. She caught sight of herself in a mirror as she flitted around the house, knocking down glasses she’d left on tray tables, tripping over the slippers she’d abandoned in the middle of the living room. She noticed that her blue eyes had deep circles underneath, and they were sunken into her head. She hadn’t slept much the past couple of days.
“Crap,” she said, as she ran into the bathroom, almost tripping on the area rug that she’d put down in the hallway. She started applying concealer under her eyes, but some of the white crème slid onto the bridge of her nose. “Shit, it’s impossible.” She wiped her face with her hand, and then ran her forearm under the running water, which had gotten too hot. “Ow!”
The skin on her arm above the wrist turned bright red. Her small bedroom looked as if it had survived a tornado–clothing, makeup, and shoes strewn around. It had come down to three suits: a black one, a red one, and the one she had ended up with, a robin’s egg blue one that offset her newly coiffed, newly streaked blonde hair, and a soft white silk blouse that clung to her curves. Back at the mirror she pulled the skirt down a little. She was tall, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to show too much leg, although…they were all middle-aged men.
On Saturday, she’d used a Groupon to go to a trendy salon on Madison Avenue and get the full treatment–haircut, foils, a facial, mani and pedi–and the stylist, Chloe, according to her nametag, had surveyed her handiwork afterward and pronounced Melanie a dead ringer for Charlize Theron. Charlize Theron! Good way to get a customer to come back, Melanie thought. But maybe she did look like Charlize Theron. Anyway, if today worked out the way she hoped it would, she wouldn’t ever need a Groupon to go back to that place again. Not bad for an art history major.
Jesus, I have to get a grip. Not like I’m the first person ever to go through this. Besides, I’m prepared, really. She glanced at the kitchen clock. Quarter after six. She was glad the bus her company provided left early, so she could get to work and rehearse her presentation before the meeting. She knew she should probably eat something, but the thought of putting anything in her mouth made her stomach churn.
Okay, okay, breathe. Calm down. She wished she could do one of those hot yoga classes now, just to sweat out some of this stress; but of course that was not possible. She pulled her rain coat out of the closet. It had been sleeting, and the streets were slushy and treacherous. She couldn’t find her waterproof boots, so she slipped her heels on. She’d just have to watch out for deep puddles. She grabbed her bag and a banana, and wriggled into her coat as she headed for the elevator. The doorman smiled and tipped his hat as she flew out the front door, not waiting for him to open it.
“What time is it, Joe?”
“It’s six-twenty-eight, Miss Swift.”
“Oh, God, I’m late.”
“Did you want me to grab you a taxi?”
“No thanks, I think I can make it. Bye!”
Breathing hard, she never turned to face him. She didn’t even wait for him to wish her a good day the way he always did. She hoped he wasn’t offended. It was only because she’d been able to get an entry-level job at this hedge fund that she could even afford to live in this neighborhood. The good friends she’d made at college would be judging her harshly now. They’d all majored in liberal arts and held themselves above the vagaries of a materialistic world. But she had to admit, she loved doing the things she’d never be able to do if she had gotten an unpaid internship at a museum or a ten-dollar-an-hour job in a gallery. Let them ridicule her sellout from their tiny walk-ups way uptown or in Queens.
It was freezing outside, and no one had been out there yet to salt and chip away at the frigid mess. Melanie’s scarf was too thin. She shivered and pulled her hood closer around her head as she watched her breath crystalizing. Juggling her laptop and the heavy bag full of papers, she made her way over the slick, icy sidewalks, pushing on toward the bus stop.
She couldn’t wait to see Justin today. He’d help calm her down. He was a good friend, and she’d confided in him how nervous she was about this presentation. He’d been at the company for a couple of years already, assigned to her as a “mentor,” but there was an undeniable attraction between them, even though she tried to fight it, to be more in line with company protocol. She giggled when she thought of all the times she’d doodled in her notebook during boring business meetings, “Mrs. Justin Hilliard,” like some middle-schooler. Anyway, he’d promised to sit with her on the bus today, to help her with nerves.
To take her mind off her presentation, she allowed herself to think about Justin, just a little. She was starting to have feelings for him that superseded a crush. He’d given her some clues that he might be feeling the same way, but he hadn’t asked her out. If she succeeded today, she decided–if everything went well–she’d invite him out to celebrate. It was a good excuse. She’d tell him it was to thank him for the support and advice he’d given her.
Walking fast, trying to run where the sidewalk was fairly well cleaned off, hanging on to her bag, praying not to slip–she had the bus stop in her sights. As she hurried to get there, the stinging, biting ice pellets slammed into her face, making harsh, stabbing attacks, edging under the fur lining of the rain coat hood, which she had tied under her chin. As Melanie began to cross the street, a pick-up truck came around the corner too fast. She hardly noticed it and didn’t feel herself losing traction until she was almost at the edge of the curb and stepped into a pile of freezing slush. She stomped down to get her balance, but the high heel on one shoe cracked and broke off, making a splat sound, and she crashed down hard, bags, computer, papers flying in all directions. Oh my god, I can’t control where my body is going, she realized, horrified.
She felt herself slipping into the street, head first, as the truck approached. She heard the brakes screech and screamed for it to stop, but it skidded into her, smashing her head and her body with a force she could never have imagined. Then everything went black, and she couldn’t move, couldn’t talk–but she could hear everything.
“Melanie? Are you all right?”
It was a ghostly voice, coming from behind her, but the heavy, quilted hood muffled it, and she couldn’t respond, anyway. She tried to turn her head toward the voice, wondering whether it was Justin’s. Maybe she could still get to work on time. She didn’t feel any pain.
“Melanie! Oh my God! Someone call nine-one-one, please!”
Maybe this was what it felt like to be paralyzed. She thought she felt slush seeping into her mouth and nose. It tasted like dirt, but she couldn’t make her mouth move to spit it out. She heard others screaming, asking if she was okay, but she couldn’t respond. Her conscious self seemed to leave her body, and it was as if she was somewhere else. She knew she was lying there in the street, but she couldn’t see anything.
The truck stopped. The distraught driver emerged gasping, holding his hand up to his mouth, the driver’s door still open, and the alarm bell dinging to remind him to close it. Melanie couldn’t see him, didn’t even know he was standing over her, pacing from side to side, his eyes wild with fear, talking fast on his cell phone in a language she didn’t recognize. Now a small crowd had formed, despite the early hour and the terrible weather. Melanie heard a buzz of voices, but she couldn’t make out any words.
She heard Justin’s voice again, yelling at the nine-one-one operator to send an ambulance, “Hurry, please!” he was yelling, or maybe she was dreaming, “She’s badly injured. She’s not moving.”
She had no idea how much time passed, her heart beating loud and fast in her head. She gagged on the icy water. She had been cold at first, but now her body was numb, so the cold didn’t bother her anymore. Was she delirious, wondering whether her pounding heart counted as aerobic exercise? She wouldn’t have to go to the gym today. That made her happy for a moment, until she tried to move again but couldn’t.
“I’m a nurse,” she thought she heard someone say, and that was comforting. “Don’t try to move her. She could have some very serious injuries. You don’t want to make them worse.”
And then Justin’s voice, definitely Justin’s voice. “But what if she drowns with her face in the water like that?” And louder, “Melanie, honey, can you hear me? Please nod your head or something.”
Justin sounded hysterical. She wanted to comfort him. He’d called her honey. She would definitely ask him out.
Melanie tried to move her head, but after having edged her nose out of the frigid water so she could keep breathing, she was still immobilized, and she was getting scared. She had a fleeting thought that it would be nice to go to sleep, but she kept hearing Justin say, “Stay with us, Mel, the ambulance is on the way. Please stay with us.”
He sounded so desperate that she decided to do what he asked. She wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like a reasonable request. She would sleep later.
The siren shocked her out of her stupor, but when hands started to move her gently onto a hard board, she whimpered. It wasn’t exactly pain that she felt, but she didn’t want people touching her.
“Sorry, miss,” someone said in a foreign accent, but she couldn’t tell where it was from. “We don’t want to hurt you any more. Just try to relax. You’ll be at the hospital soon.” Someone was wiping off her face off with a cloth. “Can you tell us your name? Where you live?”
“Her name is Melanie Swift,” she heard Justin say. “She lives right up the street. Is she going to be all right?”
Relax? Hospital? There was no time to go to a hospital. She had to get to work. She tried to answer, but the only thing she could manage was a groan.
“We know you’re uncomfortable. You’ll be warm and dry soon. We’re getting you to the ER as quickly as we can. They’ll take care of you there. It’s going to be fine.” As he talked, he continued to nudge her body out of the street. Warm and dry sounded good. She felt herself being hoisted up on the board, a rigid brace secured around her neck and a mask attached to her face, blowing something cold into her nose. She tried to wriggle out of the brace and the mask, but she couldn’t move. A bump made her try to grip the board, but her arms were immobilized.
“Be careful!” she heard Justin yell.
Thanks, Justin. Be careful.
“It’s slippery,” someone else said. “Don’t drop her.”
Finally, she felt herself being laid down on a gurney, and then wheeled away across a bumpy road. Her eyes were closed, but she could tell there were bright lights flashing all around her. It was a little warmer, but she was still shivering. The mask on her face made it easier to breathe now, so she stopped fighting it. She tried to take deep breaths, but it hurt her ribs. Then she was lifted into the back of a vehicle–the bus? She felt optimistic. She hoped her suit hadn’t gotten dirty.
“I want to go with her,” she heard Justin say.
Of course, he’d go with her. They both had to get to work. It must be getting late.
“Are you family?”
“No, I work with her. I’m a good friend. Please let me go with her. I’m sure she’s scared.”
“She’s unconscious and in shock, sir, so she isn’t scared right now.”
Melanie was scared, so she was relieved when they finally said yes.
It helped to have Justin with her. She tried to open her eyes to smile at him, let him know she was relieved to have him here, but her eyes were shut tight, and she couldn’t get the lids to move.
“Sir, are you going to be okay? Is this your girlfriend?” The accent was talking to Justin now.
“Yeah, sure–I’m just really worried about her,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion, “This fucking accident never should have happened.”
She could imagine him staring down at her, a look of terror on his face, his eyes drawn into a narrow squint, his lips almost invisible, and his skin pale and gray. She was frustrated that he was so concerned about her but she couldn’t seem to get the words out to reassure him, tell him she liked him a lot, maybe loved him. She tried to raise her eyebrows, to signal something to him, to calm him. But it was impossible.
“Hang in there, honey,” he said. She could hear him, even over the din of the sirens and the clacking of the tire chains along the icy road. “We’re almost there. They’re going to help you. I need you to be all right.”
Where was she going? Was this vehicle taking them to work? Anyway, she trusted Justin to keep her safe. There were two other people–by their voices, one man and one woman–the man with the accent leaning over her, poking her, checking the mask on her face, which she tried again to shake off but couldn’t. Both of the people seemed professional, friendly, and reassuring. As they leaned down and she studied their voices, she thought they sounded confident. They had stuck something in her arm, and it felt cold. She wondered why it didn’t really hurt.
“Is she in pain?” Justin asked one of the people.
“She’s in shock,” he replied. “So no pain. She’s still unconscious. Her blood pressure is very low. It’s a serious head injury.”
Melanie wondered if they were talking about her. She tried to sleep, but all the noise and the constricting medical equipment kept her awake.
“Does she have family we can contact?”
Justin said something, but she wasn’t sure what. She wanted to tell them that her family didn’t live around here. She was from New Jersey. Her parents had been divorced, and her father had moved to LA years and years ago. He hadn’t been in touch with them since she was a small child. Then he had died, but right now she couldn’t remember what from. Her mother lived in Princeton now. She would give them her mother’s telephone number, except, for some reason, she couldn’t remember it, which was kind of funny, since she called her mother all the time.
“Her mom lives in New Jersey,” Justin said. “I’ll find out how you can reach her.”
Melanie tried to open her mouth to say something, but her lips were stuck shut and nothing came out. Except for the other-worldly sound of the siren, it was quiet now, but moments later the activity level around her increased again. She felt the gurney moving, felt the wheels bumping as they caught slightly in the grout lines of the sidewalk. Then she heard the words for the first time. “…unconscious, possible brain injury, broken ribs.”
She could hear them when they were close-by, but the voices drifted off as people held their hands over their mouths or turned their backs to her. She knew she was going somewhere fast. Felt the whoosh of a door opening, and then the harsh outside air changing to warmer inside air.
That was the next thing she heard. Okay, they were taking her to get a CT scan. She knew what that was. Her uncle had had one when he had a stroke. Her uncle got better. He’d said the CT scan didn’t hurt. Okay, a CT scan. They would figure out she was all right and let her go. She suddenly realized she wouldn’t be at work in time for the meeting. She tried to grab the gurney again, but none of her muscles worked at all. She tried to cry. It didn’t happen.
Next, there were people all over her, removing her clothes. She heard cloth ripping with a terrible sound. She felt frustrated that her expensive suit was being ruined. She tried to protest but couldn’t. The worst part was not being able to communicate.
She still felt no pain, but she couldn’t move, and finally she just stopped trying. She couldn’t tell how much time had passed, but she wasn’t bored, which was surprising. Boredom was something she hated, and she was easily bored. She had to be doing something, had to be moving, had to be rushing, energized.
She tried to count the seconds–one-one thousand, two-one thousand–but she kept losing count at about three. After a while the CT machine moved again, and then it went down, just as it had gone up in the beginning. She worried she’d feel the way she did on a roller coaster, as if her stomach didn’t move quite as quickly as the rest of her body. But this was a slow movement, and it didn’t take long. Finally they moved her out of that room and back to a bed. She hoped Justin was still there and was happy when he spoke to her.
“You’re going to be okay, honey. I won’t leave you,” he said.
“We suspect some brain swelling.” That was the next thing Melanie heard, but she didn’t know who was talking. “CT results will give us the whole picture.”
“What does that mean?” Justin’s voice.
“We have to watch her very carefully.”
“All right. I’m going to stay here until her mother arrives. Is that okay?”
Melanie wished she could hug him, tell him how she felt.
“Yes, that’s fine. Her mother’s on the way.”
“Okay, good.” Justin’s voice was still a little choked.
Her mother was coming? Why had they called her mother? Her mother had a job and an apartment to take care of, and she would have had to come all the way from Princeton.
“What are you going to do for her? What is the prognosis?”
Justin’s voice got closer. She heard someone say they couldn’t give him any information, he was not a family member, there was HIPAA to be concerned about. But she wanted to know the answers too.
“Oh, Jesus, there are tears coming out of her eyes. Please help her. Melanie, honey–can an unconscious person be terrified?”
After that, voices floated in and out. Justin’s voice, other male and female voices, sometimes bending down close, sometimes farther away.
“Here, honey, I’m slipping this in the pocket of your hospital gown,” she heard Justin whisper close to her ear, as an object was inserted into her pocket. “Then when you wake up, you can call me.”
She felt herself being moved around, needles being stuck into her. She tried to sleep. She thought she heard Justin say goodbye, but she didn’t know if that was a dream. Soon after, she heard her mother.
“Oh God, what happened to her? She looks terrible. Can I touch her?”
“We’re sorry, Mrs. Swift, but she’s critical. We’re not sure whether she’ll need surgery, but we’re hoping she won’t. Will you sign the release just in case? Is she allergic to any medications?”
Now Melanie heard her mother crying, which was odd, because she couldn’t remember ever hearing her mother cry before.
“Can she hear us?”
“She never regained consciousness, Mrs. Swift. It’s hard to say whether she can hear.”
“Would you please just wipe the tears away from her face? Her face looks so terrible, as if she was beaten up. She’s so pretty–will her face be scarred? Why is her skin black and blue? Did she get hit in the face? Can you just tell me what you’re going to do for her?”
“The CT scan results look promising. Likely, we will lower her body temperature and keep her in a medically induced coma,” the male voice said.
“What does that do, Doctor?”
“With traumatic brain injury,” he said, “the brain often swells from the trauma, but unlike a swollen arm or face or leg, there’s no place for it to go. The skull is too hard a capsule. You don’t want the brain to swell downward and endanger the brain stem, right?”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Melanie’s mother said.
“Also, inflammation can cause the brain to press into the skull, which then can increase the pressure even more. This could cause the blood supply to be cut off. All the outcomes can be critical or even fatal.”
“Oh no…” her mother’s voice trailed off.
“So when we put a patient into a medically induced coma and lower her body temperature, it gives the brain some time to rest and heal, for the swelling to reverse itself. Our goal is to save as many brain cells as possible so that when she comes out of this, she will be back as close to normal as possible.”
“How low will her temperature be?” her mother asked, her voice sad and resigned.”
“Only the low-to-mid-nineties. Not lower.”
“Won’t that make her terribly uncomfortable?”
“She won’t feel anything, Mrs. Swift. You don’t have to worry. She won’t have any pain or discomfort.”
“You know this for a fact?”
“She will be anesthetized.”
“As long as she is not in pain. I couldn’t stand thinking that she went through this and she’s in pain too.”
“Believe me, it would be much worse for her if we didn’t do this.”
“I guess we don’t have time for a second opinion.” Then her mother gave a short, embarrassed laugh. “No, I know we don’t. I trust you. I’ll sign the release.”
“Thank you, it’s the right thing to do. But I’m afraid I must ask you to leave now. There’s a family waiting room right down the hall. We’ll be sure to keep you informed of everything that’s going on.”
Melanie heard footsteps and the soft closing of a door, and her mother’s voice became fainter. Then she felt something brush across her skin, but she didn’t know what. Perhaps they were drying her tears, as her mother had requested, although she hadn’t realized she’d been crying. She strained to hear the voices but couldn’t.
Next there was a flurry of activity, a door opening and banging, shoes squeaking, and she felt herself rolling along the floor, fast. She prayed she wouldn’t fall. She heard a beep, and a heavy door made a rumbling sound as if it was opening. Then she was rolled somewhere again. She felt as if she was dropping downward, which scared her even more. The door opened again with its loud rumble, and she was being rolled on a flat floor into a room. She sensed a very strong light in there, but she couldn’t open her eyes to look. Then there were voices, some hushed and some loud, and activity she could feel around her head. Someone put something over her face, and she wanted to brush it off, but she couldn’t. Then there was blackness and she was no longer aware of anything.
© 2017 by Rebecca Marks