"Past or Present" Chapter 1
The newsroom was hectic. It was nearing the deadline for the final print and the last of the articles were due in. Stephanie Mitchell was spell checking her piece on rising gas prices across the nation when Grant Westfield leaned over her cubicle.
“Sam actually gave you a plum article? And I gave him credit for being an intelligent man. I guess one can never tell when stupidity will strike,” his deep voice dripped with sarcasm and the hair on the back of Stephanie’s neck stood on end. He was the most obnoxious individual she had ever had the displeasure to meet. His good looks were classic and the other women that worked in the newsroom thought he was a god but to her he was Satan incarnate! It had been mutual hate on first sight.
“Well, in my opinion only a stupid person would find his decision stupid in the first place. And seeing as it is you…I rest my case,” she returned with a saccharine smile and her stomach clenched as he laughed harder and walked away.
“If I didn’t love this job so much I’d quit just so I’d never have to see him again!” she swore under her breath as she deleted a misspelled word in her article. She had worked here for six months and the blackest part of her day was when he passed her desk after delivering his copy to the editor. She tried to finish before him but she never seemed to be able to beat the deadline. It was as if she had to be punished with his presence everyday.
The beeping on her screen alerted her to the completion of the spell check and she pressed the print key. As she listened to the hum of the laser printer she sat back and remembered her first day here at the Island Gazette.
Everyone had been wonderful and she was so excited to finally have a shot at being a journalist, to see her words in print, and maybe have a chance at investigative reporting, that was what she had always longed for.
On her first day, the editor, Mr. Sam Weinman, had introduced her to all the staff and the top reporters. Grant Westfield was one of those top reporters. She couldn’t say why, since she had never met him before, but her body tensed for battle when he turned from his desk for that initial introduction. He must have felt a similar reaction for his laughing eyes narrowed with displeasure at the sight of her.
Thinking about it now, she couldn’t understand why they had such strong emotions when they had no history between them. She'd never felt so much animosity towards another human being in her life and it did truly baffle her. But then again he was so obnoxious she couldn’t really feel bad about hating him, he made it so easy.
“Hey! Stef? Do you want to stop for drinks after work?” Melanie breezed into her cubicle and sat down.
Melanie was her closest friend at the paper. She wrote the ‘Dear Auntie Mel’ column giving advice to the love weary, the love starved, and the love hopeless alike and she was pretty good at it too. She had a psychology background and it showed in her thoughtful and insightful answers. Even though they were two different personalities they blended well, and had quickly become great friends. Melanie was outspoken and boisterous where Stephanie was slow to trust and reserved.
The differences extended to their looks as well, Melanie was red haired and green-eyed, at five feet five she was cute and petite. Stephanie was taller at five feet seven and her figure was statuesque. Her hair was a warm chestnut color that complemented the blue green of her eyes. She was breathtakingly beautiful but never used it to her advantage, much to Mel's dismay.
Melanie was shocked that a great looking woman such as Stef hadn’t snared the best catch since Clark Gable and Cary Grant graced the movie screen. In that she meant Grant Westfield, and she was doubly shocked when the two she thought would make a perfect fit, actually hated each other on sight. So she was all the more determined to help Stephanie find her Mr. Right and to that end she kept hounding her to go out and meet more people.
“I’m not sure I’m up to it tonight, Mel. I was hoping to get in early tomorrow to talk with Mr. Weinman about the article on ‘Medical Fraud and HMO’s’. He’s been talking about investigating it further.”
“Stef, don’t waste your time. You know he’ll give that to the big guns. He always does. They have all the connections sewn up on how to get all the gritty details and inside names in any breaking story. You might as well sleep in tomorrow and have a good time tonight.”
“Not this time. I have a name, myself.”
“You have someone willing to give you information?”
“I think so. The man has a lot of connections. I just have to drive to his home in upstate New York on Sunday to meet with him privately. I'll need to get the papers backing before I go.”
“Good luck with that! I hope Sam gives it to you, but Stef…be very careful. This guy might not only want to give you information he might want something from you in return.”
Stephanie laughed. “He’s eighty-two if he’s a day and his intentions are purely legitimate. It’s his conscience, he knows what’s going on and he wants to set it straight.”
“Well, maybe you have a chance. Let me know how it goes.”
Sunday afternoon found Stephanie driving slowly down an unfamiliar dirt road. She had followed the directions carefully but somewhere she must have made a wrong turn. She couldn’t seem to find the road again. It was as if someone had turned it into one big circle and she couldn’t get out of it. The barn on her left looked familiar and she could have sworn she had passed that odd looking tree several times before as well.
“It’s got to be to the right.” She spoke out loud to break the fearful silence in the car. She jerked the wheel with a bit too much power and her car swerved unsteadily on the gravel and dirt road. A large jackrabbit took that moment to jump out in front of her vehicle and she over corrected the steering to avoid it.
She never saw the ditch she landed in but she felt its impact as her head hit the steering wheel.
* * *
“You gave her the story? Why?” Grant shook his head in disbelief, “Of all the dumb reporters in the newsroom why her?”
“Calm down, Grant. I don’t know what you have against Stephanie but she’s a very good reporter and she has potential for becoming one of the best. I can see it and usually you’re a much more astute judge of character than you’ve been with her. I can’t help feeling your opinion is personal. Did you know her before she worked at the paper? Is it a case of love gone wrong?”
“I didn’t have to know her before to know she's incompetent and uses her looks to get ahead in the world.”
“That’s an awfully strong accusation when you don’t know the lady...Grant, what’s happened to you? It’s not like you to try to hurt a person’s career based solely on superficial opinions.”
Grant ran a weary unsteady hand through his hair. “I don’t know why I have such a strong dislike for her. It feels like it should be based on a past history, but I swear I’ve never met her before. It’s just pure instinct and a journalist relies on instinct. She’s just no good. I know it!”
“I still have to differ with you there. She hasn’t shown me anything that would even remotely support your opinion and until she does, I say you should rethink your own reactions. They’re almost too strong not to be pure hate, and you know as well as I what the flip side of hate is. I don’t have to say it do I?”
Grant made a disgusted face at his boss. “It isn’t love! I could no more love that lady than I could love a rattle snake both would surely kill you.”
Grant heard his words but couldn’t believe he’d said them and what was more he had a picture of himself saying this about her some where before, but how could that be? Where or when? He couldn’t place where but it felt like a certainty that he had, but that was impossible.
Grant looked at his boss, Sam had an odd expression on his face and he couldn’t blame him. He was beginning to worry himself about his strong convictions regarding Stephanie Mitchell.
“Grant I think you might need some time off. A small vacation might do you some good. I hear the skiing in Aspen is very good right now.”
“I’ll work it out. If I can’t get these feeling in line by weeks end then maybe I’ll take you up on that vacation offer.” Grant gave Sam a weak smile before leaving his office.
Sam shook his head; he really hoped Grant pulled himself together. He couldn’t understand what was wrong with him but it really was out of character for Grant to be so nasty.
When he’d hired Stephanie he had actually entertained the idea that the two might get along exceptionally well. He thought it might even be a love match. She was so beautiful and sweet and Grant was usually the perfect gentleman with women. The immediate animosity between them was not only unexpected but very strange.
Sam's reporter’s nose was twitching that there was more here than met the eye but the phone rang and he was soon engrossed in his daily business of keeping the paper running.
* * *
Stephanie didn’t know how long she was out but when she awoke it looked darker outside than she remembered. She tried to get out of the car but it was turned on the driver’s side and she had to pull against gravity to get to the passenger side of the car. She couldn’t open the door and so she worked to roll down the window and was able to hoist herself out, good thing she had an old 1972 Dodge Dart or she’d have been stuck in the car with non working power windows. Her cell phone had fallen somewhere in the car and she couldnt see it but she wasn't climbing back in to find it.
She looked around in the fading sunlight and realized there wasn’t any road nearby. Off in the distance she did see some smoke coming from what looked to be a farmhouse. It was her best shot at getting any help right now. She began to walk towards it.
After about ten minutes she had a better view of the house and a strange feeling came over her. It looked very familiar. She shrugged off the chilling feeling and decided she had probably passed it several times before she landed in the ditch. The sound of a door slamming caught her attention and she saw a woman running from the house. I hope this isn’t a bad time to get help; she worried.
The woman was running in her direction so she stopped and waited. When the woman was a bit closer Stephanie could see that she was wearing some sort of long dress. Like the kind you would see on women in the Pennsylvania Dutch area, but then again she thought it was too colorful and rich looking a dress. Was the woman going to a costume ball?
She continued to watch with curiosity at the woman approaching her.
Victoria Pennington had had enough of the mean spirited, tyrant of a man she had married. He could burn in Hades for all she cared. The tears ran down her face. She was sick of his accusations of her indiscretions when she was the innocent one! The audacity of the man to call her names and accuse her of infidelity when he was the one who'd been unfaithful. One of his mistresses lived in their very house and had possibly borne him a child. Yet he called her the evil one.
Victoria wept harder. She had loved him once, but their wedding day seemed like a lifetime ago. She had felt a love so encompassing on that day she couldn’t take a breath that wasn’t his. How had it all gone wrong? She gasped and nearly lost her balance when she almost ran into someone in her path. Looking up she stared into eyes the same color as hers. A woman in very strange clothing, man’s pants to be exact, was standing there looking back at her with an odd expression.
“Who are you?” Victoria whispered as an unknown fear shot through her.
“I’m Stephanie Mitchell. Don’t be afraid. My car landed in a ditch nearby and I just need to use your phone to call for road service but I see you’re upset about something. I guess it’s a bad time but can you tell me where I can get some help?”
Victoria stared at the woman and listened to the strange tongue and dialect in which she spoke. The words sounded English but many had no meaning to her. How very strange, she thought.
”I know not what you speak of. I have no such devise in my home to call for help. I have a horse I could allow you to borrow to reach your destination.” Victoria stared at her as she answered. She felt as if she should know this odd woman. She looked a reflection of herself. She could pass for a relative. Victoria took a step closer to the strange woman and then it happened.
A charge of electricity so powerful snapped between them that both women were simultaneously frozen by it. They stared into each other’s face and both immediately realized they were looking at themselves. The life of Victoria would become the life of Stephanie, as they were the same soul in different lifetimes. The knowledge was instantaneous and the intensity of the awareness made it impossible to deny the odd understanding.
“Oh my God!” Stephanie rasped as she saw in full memory her prior life as Victoria. In that flash of memory she knew it all. She knew the anguish of the love she should have had but had somehow been destroyed and knew without a doubt that the anger and hate from this life had carried over to the life she lived now. It was the reason why it was impossible for her to trust and love someone completely. The reason why she hated Grant Westfield as if she knew him.
Victoria Pennington began to shake seeing the life she would step into after this current miserable existence ended and it was not a welcome sight. She would carry her bitterness with her, vowing never to love again.
“Step back.” Stephanie whispered, an intuition she could not explain warned that they could not get any closer for they could not share the same space.
Victoria was still dazed by all she was feeling and had not heard Stephanie’s warning clearly, “What?” she asked as she stepped closer.
Both women cried out at the same time. A harsh and resounding “No!” reverberated in the air but the force of their denial was lost on the wind as they were pulled magnetically closer and their bodies fused before breaking apart in different directions.
Stephanie was knocked to the ground by the force of it and it took several moments before she was able to clear her vision and thoughts. She knew she was lying on a deep carpet of green grass when she finally opened her eyes and stared up at a darkening sky. Cautiously she turned her head looking for Victoria but she was alone.
She lifted herself up on her elbows but a dizzy feeling overcame her so quickly she put her head back down onto the soft grass and prayed the feeling would go away and prayed she was dreaming.
The feeling didn’t go away but a new one began. She felt suddenly nauseous. She sat up and grabbed hold of her stomach…that was when she realized something else had changed. She opened her eyes and looked down at her clothing.
She now wore the old fashioned dress that had been on Victoria.
The scream that left her throat carried easily to the man walking slowly towards her.
“Must you now upset the cattle as well, my dear?”
The sarcastic voice above her had her seeing images of Grant but when she focused on the man approaching her it wasn’t Grant, but she knew this handsome man as well. He was Victoria’s husband Harrison. Harrison Pennington who she knew would become Grant Westfield, the sudden insight into their souls blurred her vision and her mind screamed silently. She had just been transported to Hell!