Welcome to your Monday Sidetrack! Start by reading the story all the way through. Then, if you need a bit more of a sidetrack from your day, go back and explore the hyperlinks I've found for this bit. That way, you'll get the most out of the whole post. Enjoy!
(This story begins with Monday Sidetrack: 6. Start there to get caught up one post at a time or go to https://www.lavendersidetrack.com/story-catchup to read all the previous posts as one long post. Then subscribe to find out what happens next!)
I was standing on the sidewalk in front of my home in Pennsylvania. My rose bush that would be full of yellow blossoms a few months later was enjoying its winter slumber along the edge of my front yard. I looked around and around and around. Everything looked as it always did. My car was missing, because it was parked at the Harrisburg airport. A fresh layer of snow had fallen and my neighbor had shoveled my driveway for me just as she said she would when I told her about my vacation.
My phone battery was down to 17%, but it had enough energy left to tell me that the date was January 20th, about what I expected. It wasn't any different from the lighthouse.
It was hard to know if I was still in Ruby and Viola's world or back in my own.
It was also very cold. January in Pennsylvania isn't the best time to be walking around in hiking sandals. I walked around to my back door, through six inches of snow, to get my spare key from the fake rock my mom and dad gave me for part of my housewarming gift. My feet were frozen by the time I got to the rock and the last thing I wanted to do was add my hands to the hypothermia watch list, but I was confident that it wouldn't take me long to find it and retrieve the key.
I did find the rock, frozen to the concrete, and began to scratch at the ice, jostle the rock, and search my mind for another way to get through that door. There was a basement window a few feet away and it would have become my next choice if the rock hadn't let loose with no warning and sent me flying into my yard. I didn't waste any time lying in the frigid cold. I scurried to the door. If anyone saw this, I could only hope they'd recognize me and not call the police.
My feet were getting colder by the second. A gust of wind blew through my summer pajamas and stalled me for a second while I recovered from the shock of it. I fumbled around with the rock, lost my patience, and threw it against the door. The rock's trap door, a pathetic piece of plastic, popped off and the key landed a few inches from my feet. It sank into the snow, but I could still see it and no amount of crystallized water vapor was going to keep me from getting inside.
It felt like my hand had a mind of its own, a rogue emergency response worker who knew exactly what to do. Within a couple of seconds, the door was open and I was running upstairs to fill the tub with hot water. It was the fastest way I could think of to get warm. My thermostat was set for 60 degrees while I was away, which was technically warmer than outside, but not warm enough.
Yes, I could have curled up in a blanket on the couch. I could have used my hair dryer to warm my hands and feet. I could have been less impulsive, but I wasn't and that will have to suffice for now.
I lay in the tub slouched down so that only my face, and knees, were exposed to the air. I closed my eyes and thought through everything I knew about the portals.
There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to when, where or how they appeared. The boat portal had a bright light, the tent zipper was almost invisible. Jumping off the lighthouse was a terrifying blur and Ruby's grey line was visible to me only from a steep angle. They all seemed to appear out of nowhere and nothing to me, but Ruby had known about the grey line she pointed out. It was part of her plan. She knew several times more than I did about portals and how they worked. There was no question about that. Even with all of that knowledge and accepting the fact that I was out of my element, I tried to figure out the puzzle. I wanted to go back and learn about my great-great-grandpa.
The tiny white and turquoise tiles around my tub turned into a vague background and I was lost in thought.
I didn't fall asleep in the tub, but I did lose enough time there for the water to turn cold before I realized it. When I kind of came to, I wasn't any closer to figuring out how I'd find another portal. I let some water out and added some more hot water to warm up again. After feeling better a few more minutes later, I made myself get out and put on some warm clothes. I chose thick socks, jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt and the thick fleece my college had sent me as a Thank You for speaking on a panel a few months before. It was, of course, way too big for me and I had to roll up the sleeves. On another day, the extra fabric might have been annoying. That day, I used every bit of it to convince myself that everything would be alright.
The snow outside didn't look capable of having portals. I stood in my living room looking out at the sidewalk where I had appeared and brainstormed ways to find my way back. I still needed to take Ruby to Cape Reinga, to help Viola find all the edges of her loop, to catch up with my fellow kayakers and finish my vacation. Then I realized that Ruby and Viola didn't actually need me. Now that Ruby's case could be opened and Viola knew she could go outside, they could go on without me. Ruby knew how to go through the right portals. She knew about the portal at the lighthouse. I started to wonder if she had intended for me to go through it alone. Were some portals one way only?
I put on my ski jacket, because my winter coat was in my car at the airport, a hat, gloves, and boots and went out to the sidewalk. There was no slit, no grey line, just snow, but I stared at the spot anyway. I looked around for witnesses. Then I lay down on the ground to get the steepest angle possible and looked again. The angle didn't make any difference. I couldn't see anything unusual. Then I went back inside and made a cup of hot chocolate, which I drank while staring into the mid-distance of my kitchen and thinking.
A portal could appear at any moment. I knew that and I'd be ready for it whenever it did. I'd also check that spot on the sidewalk every chance I got.