âDonât go anywhere,â she said to the card as she wedged it under the corner of the telephone. âIf this doesnât work, I may be needing you.â
She pressed the power button, then went back to her desk and picked up the folder marked Alaska . Behind her, she heard the computer booting up, but she kept her back turned while she flipped through the material. âIâve got enough to begin writing,â she muttered to herself. âAnything else I need, I can track down on the Internet.â
When she heard the music that marked the opening of Windows, Vita swiveled back around toward the computer. There was her desktop, displaying the familiar wallpaper scene of the Blue Ridge Mountains, surrounded by program icons.
Vita stifled a rush of disappointment and tried to force herself to feel relieved. She had been right. The Treasure Box programâ or virus, or whatever it wasâhad vanished. It was time to forget about Sophie and get back to work.
Biting her lower lip, she rolled her mouse over the word processing icon and clicked.
The screen flashed, and a low chuckle emanated from the computer speakers. âNot today,â the voice whispered. âThere are portals yet to open.â
The star-studded home page appeared on the monitor, with its tiny brass keyhole sparkling at the center. Vita gnawed at the inside of her cheek. Someone was playing games with her. She had put her feelings aside and convinced herself that she really did want to get back to work, and now this. A virus with an attitude.
âOK, OK,â she muttered. âLetâs just get this over with, all right?â She rolled her mouse over the keyhole, revealed the key, and inserted it into the lock. The invisible door in the sky swung open, just as it had when Vita had first entered Jacob Stillwaterâs workshop, and the same bright light blinded her.
But the scene that appeared on the screen was not Jacobâs shop, or his house, or even the big oak tree where Sophie and Rachel had played. It was a village green surrounding a large, splashing fountain. For a split second the sound of the water brought back an image of little Sophie being carried down the rapids, and Vita felt a fist squeeze her lungs, cutting off her breathing.
But there was no river. No white water. No danger.
Just a placid village square, occupied by a young couple sitting together on a park bench, holding hands.
Vita looked closely at them. The man was handsomeâimpeccably dressed with sandy hair, a broad forehead, and a strong jaw line with a deep cleft at the chin. She didnât recognize him, but there was something familiar about the woman. She was pleasant-looking, though not striking, with long brown hair pulled back from her face and deep blue eyes. Around her neck, a sparkling silver oval caught the sunlight and reflected it back like a beacon.
Rachel Woodlea. All grown up, and with a beau of her very own.
âOh, Derrick, itâs beautiful!â Rachel fingered the locket. Her voice still bore a shy, whispery quality, as it had when she was a little girl. She lowered her eyes and ducked her head. âWhat a special gift.â
âI searched everywhere to find one like your grandmotherâs, the one you gave to your little friend so long ago. What was her name? Sonya?â
âSophie. Iâve told you a dozen times. Sophie.â
Derrick shrugged. âWell, now you have a better one to replace it.â He leaned his head down and peered into her eyes. âHappy birthday, dearest Rachel. Now, no more gloomy memories about Sonya. Your twentieth birthday is a day for celebration.â
âI remember Sophieâs last birthday,â Rachel mused. âWe had a wonderful party, andââ
âNone of that.â Derrick held up a warning finger. âYou have to learn to let the past stay buried, Rachel. Think about the present, and about the future. Our future. The future